Ganesh was sitting in his village office. A crowd of villagers had thronged the office. More than those who had come with some work in hand, there were those who had none. A few sat on the platform crushing tobacco and some were smoking chillums. In the office, the Grampanchayat, at its own cost, had purchased a large radio and putting it on people listened to news or songs. The period around eight on Wednesday evenings was strictly reserved for the youth. They never allowed any one to put on any thing other than Binaca Geetmala, a weekly hit parade of popular Hindi film music People sitting on the slabs were listening to news broadcast by the radio. Ganesh’s office was in the same hall. Three tables were joined together and placed in a corner. Behind the tables were placed two chairs. Of the two, one in the extreme corner was occupied by Ganesh. Two persons were standing in front Ganesh’s table. One of them was an uneducated aged villager. Ganesh asked him.
“Yes, what do you want?”
“Sir .. that 7-11 or something like that…,” the villager said.
“7-12” Ganesh corrected him.
“Yes. That’s it.” The villager said getting excited.
“Do you have an old 7-12 or its copy?”
The villager gave a questioning look to first Ganesh and then to the 20-21 year old youth standing next to him.
“Tell me your name,” Ganesh asked.
“Ganpat Sadoba Khot,” the villager told him his name.
Ganesh recorded it in a register kept on the table before him.
“Do you know the Survey number?”
The villager again gave a questioning look, first to Ganesh and next to the lad standing beside him.
“This is always the trouble with you people .. You don’t have copy of the old 7-12.. and you also don’t know the Survey Number… You only know your name, And that’s quite a fortune.. To search records only from a name will take time… Come next Monday..” Ganesh said with obvious irritation.
“See if it can be done earlier, Sir” the villager pleaded with utmost submissiveness.
“Okay.. okay .. come and take a chance on Thursday,” Ganesh told him trying to cut him short.
The villager went away with folded hands.
“Yes, what is it that you want?” Ganesh asked another lad who stood there.
“We and our cousins have problem of sharing … I came to find out how we can settle it.”
Gaensh had seen that lad many times coming to Madhurani’s shop. Ganesh was tackling office work but his thoughts were constantly about Madhurani. A fly, when brushed away from one side of the ear, going to the other and when brushed away from there too, buzzing continuously from the earlier one.
“Sit down,” Ganesh pointed at a chair and asked him to take seat.
Just then the villager who had come earlier returned.
“Now, what is it?” Ganesh smirked.
“No, how much will it cost for my work?” the villager asked in a hesitating voice.
“Why, don’s you know it?”
The villager shook his head. Pandu is sitting on the platform outside, find out from him, “Ganesh tried to ignore the villager and said without looking at him.
“yes sir” the villager said.
Sir had asked me to take the chair but had I heard correctly?... With this uncertainty the lad, for some time, looked at Ganesh and then looking at the chair he lingered on.
“Why don’t you sit?” Ganesh again asked him to take a seat.
He sat feeling slightly embarrassed.
The villager looked at the lad who sat in the chair and then also at Ganesh and went out.
From the corner of his eyes, Ganesh saw the villager going out and he straight away came to the point.
“I have seen you many times in Madhurani’s shop,”
“Yes… I buy my provisions ,, that shop is nearer,” he said blushing.
“Many young people gather there in the evenings .. what’s the matter?” Ganesh was trying to take a stock of various things but his main objective was to learn more about Madhurani.
“Nothing, Sir. They gather there to smoke beedis. Useless buggers… what else can they do?” he said.
“Don’t bluff…” Ganesh said smiling to himself.
“It is like this, Sir. Where there is jaggery, flies will automatically gather, won’t they?” he said reducing his one eye to a narrow wink.
“That means.. even you… “
No, Sir ” I go there because other boys gather there.”
“Is that so?” Ganesh smiled to himself and gave the lad a sharp look
Feeling embarrassed the boy began to look here and there. Just then a village lad came inside. Ganesh gave him a displeased look. He had wanted to ask some more questions to the lad sitting before him. And he did not want anyone else nearby. But the village lad stood there determinedly.
“But isn’t there any one else in her house?... It is only her that I always see sitting at the cash counter.” Ganesh had thought that if he carried out the conversation without taking Madhurani’s name the other lad would not make out anything.
“Her father in law is there.. But he is always rolling in the dust bin, dead drunk,” the boy told him.
“And her husband?” Ganesh asked what was an important question from his point of view.
“Sir , her husband has died.. Poor one.. within a year of marriage he died.”
“Who says that he died?... The Patil got him killed.” The second lad who was still standing near Ganesh’s table said.
“Hey the son of bitch,.. the Patil has already proved the matter in the court,” the lad who had sat in the chair now got up in excitement and said.
“Patil has great influence in the court… There he will pay an amount and make a dead person come alive… If he needs to do that…”
“Oye, don’t speak whatever comes to your tongue and blow like into a hollow pipe.
Both were about to break into a heated argument. Ganesh interrupted,
“Hey, first you go out… let me finish his work.. then, you can come in.”
The lad who had come later on was sent out by Ganesh.
Giving filthy abuses, looking over his shoulders every now and then, he went out.
Then Ganesh extracted all possible information about Madhurani.
Within a year of her marriage, her husband had died…
Poor one, she was ill fated…
How her heart must be aching.
Ganesh began to feel sympathy for her.
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote