Ganeshrao and Vinya were about to enter the vast compound when a security guard stopped them. Only when they identified themselves and told him the purpose of their visit, did he allow them in. They entered and began to walk on the wide road lined on both sides with ornamental trees. All along the road there were tall, high-rising Ashoka and Nilgiri trees. As the two walked on, the bungalow began to show itself little by little. When they went further, the entire bungalow presented itself to them. No, it wasn’t a bungalow, it was virtually a palace. A huge compound wall ran all along its four sides and huge trees stood majestically within. From outside only the trees were visible and no one could suspect that they had a bungalow in their midst. When they reached the bungalow, they saw that it was teeming with people. Outside the bungalow several flocks of people squatted under the shade of trees. There were people of all sorts… in dhotis, pyjamas and in shirt-trousers. People of all kinds. There seemed to be more people from villages wearing dhotis.
Among them some, who were attired in Khadi shirt and pyjama or dhoti and who were leaders or who considered themselves leaders, were strutting about. Some how Ganeshrao was given to believe that any one sporting a Gandhi cap that too, placed at an angle on his head, was a political leader. Ganeshrao was always in awe of such people and therefore as far as possible he avoided coming in contact with them. But today...the situation was such that he was helpless.
People were lingering outside the bungalow waiting for their turn.
But it would not be necessary for me to wait like them...
I know the Minister from close quarters....
Being sure of this, Ganeshrao threw a glance at the people waiting all around. There was just a hint of contempt in his glance.
“Vinu, come. Let’s straight away go in,” Ganeshrao said to his son, proud and confident of his close acquaintance.
Both went inside the bungalow. At the entrance there was a huge lounge for people to wait. There were arrangements for their seating. Ganeshrao entered the hall accompanied by Vinu. He once again glanced at those who were awaiting their turn. Some of them, wearing freshly starched clothes like politicians, were seated with full confidence and expectation. Some people were pathetically looking at the inner door waiting for them to be called. Seeing so many people, some of whom were certainly, higher in status and prestige than him, Ganeshrao’s confidence began to waver. But no, why should he fear when he knew the Minister so closely?
He shook off the feeling of inferiority and, looking around; he chose one of the four-five doors that could perhaps take him to the Minister. He unhesitatingly began to go through it.
A strong ruffian steeped in his way and asked roughly, “What do you want?”
“I want to meet the Minister”
“All these people are also here to meet the Minister,” the man replied gruffly.
“No. But I know the Minister very well,” Ganeshrao told him with a certain pride.
The man looked at Ganeshrao from head to foot with contempt and said, “Everyone who comes here claims the same thing. Go to that counter. Write your name, address and purpose of visit on a slip of paper and leave the slip there. When your name is called, only then can you go in.”
“Look! If you really know the Minister that well, you will be called soon,” the ruffian tried to explain him as he would to a naïve child.
Even then Ganeshrao did not feel like moving away. Another man, who was sitting nearby and had overheard this exchange, calmly explained the procedure of going in. Ganeshrao’s face reflected the insult which he was facing just then. Trying to ignore the insult and avoiding Vinya’s eyes, he meekly went to the counter. There, too, was a long queue. He joined the queue. Ganeshrao sensed that Vinya was purposefully trying to catch his eyes.
Is this your ‘close’ acquaintance? He seemed to ask.
Instead of facing this insult it would have been better had he not known the Minister. At least he would not have been so insulted.
Perhaps this was what Vinya wanted to tell him, Ganeshrao thought, looking at him from the corner of his eyes.
When his turn came in the queue at the counter, Ganeshrao handed the slip on which he had written his name, address and purpose of visit. Then, turning back, he tried to spot a vacant chair in the lounge. There was none. He looked all over. He also walked around the lounge. He couldn’t find a single unoccupied chair. Vinya was standing at the door giving his father an angry stare. At last Ganeshrao began to avoid his son’s angry and annoyed stare.
“Ganeshrao, Sir,” suddenly a voice sounded from behind.
Ganeshrao turned in surprise.
Good, at least there was someone here who recognised him.
He felt relieved. Before turning back, he threw a glance at his son. There was no change in the expression on his son’s face. When he turned he saw that a villager, calling him, had got up from his chair. He could not place him. Perhaps the villager had recognised him. In the course of job one comes across thousands of persons. It is impossible to remember each and every one of them. Moreover, with his advancing age his memory also had not remained sharp as before.
He smiled at the villager.
“Come, Sir…have this seat,” the villager offered him his chair.
Happily he walked to the villager. He was truly touched. Patting the villager affectionately on his back, he said, “Oh,.let it be. Remain seated. I’ll go and wait outside.”
“No, Sir. How can that be? You, remaining standing and I sitting in this chair? Please, Sir, take the chair,” he offered politely.
“It did not seem proper to make the villager get up from his seat. He could not however, refuse his repeated pleadings. Finally, gratefully accepting his repeated pleadings he took the chair. After occupying it he looked at the door. He could not see his son there. Perhaps he must have gone out, to stand in the cool breeze.
“I’ll be outside, Sir,” the villager said and he, too, went out of the lounge.
He walked away so quickly that Ganeshrao did not even have an opportunity to thank him.
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote