Being a Thursday, it was the day of the weekly bazaar. Right from the morning the streets had begun to get crowded with people and there was an excitement in the air. Villagers from neighbouring areas were arriving for Ujni’a weekly market. Ganesh also had his bath in the morning and set out for his office. Being a weekly bazaar people from nearby villages would also come to him. The pressure of work would therefore be more than other days. That is why he had started early from his room. After coming out he had thrown a glance at Madhurani’s shop. She too responded, by flashing a dazzling smile at him. His footsteps that had started for his office now automatically turned towards her shop. She had just then opened the shop and had taken her place behind the cash counter. There were no customers in the shop. And her servant too, had not yet arrived. Or, perhaps, she might have sent him elsewhere.
“Come, Ganesh”, she called him stressing his name ‘Ganesh’.
She had addressed him as Ganesh softly and a little hesitatingly
This was the first time that she had addressed him in the familiar first person singular. At other times she used to call him “Ganeshrao”.
Ganesh’ heart began to beat fast.
“What shall I give you? Tell me”
She had said the words “What shall I give you” with a special meaning and in a particular style.
Ganesh became confused. His heart began to beat faster and his face began to turn red. He looked around. He did not know what to do. Though no one was in the shop but several people were seen around going to the bazaar.
“Give me a cigarette” he somehow managed to blurt.
She gave him a questioning look. For, he had addressed her in the respectful second person. Her sharp look was trying to tell him something.
He corrected himself and addressed her in the familiar first person singular.- ‘Honey’
She took out a cigarette and placed it in his hand.
On the pretext of taking the cigarette he also held her hand. Feeling shy, she looked down and politely extracted her hand from his.
Just then a customer came in. Ganesh stood awkwardly waiting for the customer to finish his purchase and leave. The customer purchased something and began to leave. Ganesh felt relieved. But just then another customer followed. Behind him a third one came and then a string of customers began to arrive.
“So, I will make a move..” with great difficulty he left the term ‘Honey’ unuttered. Madhurani merely looked at him and smiled. He turned back and began to trace heavy steps towards his office.
When Ganesh reached his office he found quite a crowd of people gathered around his table. Some had come for certificates, some needed paper work for their loans, and a few others wanted to have papers and forms necessary for availing subsidies announced by the government. Ganesh at once plunged into the work. As he was getting an additional income from those works, perhaps he was not feeling bored or tired. Outside, on the platform, Pandu sat collecting money. Even earlier, during the times of Kharade Saheb he had done this job. Even before people stepped in Pandu collected money from them and gave them a chit. Pandu was not much educated. But even if he had studied only till the second standard, he was doing his job satisfactorily. This made it easy for Ganesh on two counts. One, there was no need for him to actually receive any money and as such there was no fear of anti-corruption wing. As it is, he knew well that the anti corruption division would not come to his village so soon. Yet, it was always prudent to be careful. The other advantage with Pandu was that Ganesh could avoid talking to people to find out what they exactly needed. At the end of the day, Ganesh paid him handsome reward. It was in anticipation of this reward that Pandu worked the whole day for Ganesh.
Now there was only one person remaining near Ganesh’s table. Seeing him alone, Ganesh heaved a sigh of relief and looked into his watch. It was nearing one. Right from the morning he could not snatch time even to sip some water. Now he had started feeling hungry. His throat was also parched. He thought that he would tackle this lone remaining villager and then take a round in the bazaar outside and eat whatever was available.
Just then a lad came from outside. He was holding a brass glass. Without a word he placed the glass before Gaensh and turned to go away.
“What is it?” Ganesh asked the boy.
“I don’t know,” the boy gestured with his shoulders and said. “Pandu-dada has sent it,” he added and went away.
Ganesh took the glass in his hand, peeped into it and then took a sip. He felt relaxed. Pandu, who sat outside on the platform, had gathered money somehow and had arranged to procure a glass of sherbet. The sherbet was made out of aniseeds. Take cool water from a mud-pot, add sugar and then put in finely powdered aniseeds. Sieve it and the cooling aniseed-sherbet became ready. It was for the first time that Ganesh was having such aniseed-sherbet here, in Ujni. He liked it very much. He quickly gulped the remaining sherbet. Of course, it was also because he was that much thirsty.
Now Ganesh called that lone visitor. He was an extremely tall 22 year old village-boy.
“What do you want?”
“Father has sent me,” the boy answered.
“Okay, your father has sent you.. but what work do you have? Ganesh asked.
The boy strained to remember.
“Did you meet Pandu, outside?” Ganesh asked.
“Yes, I have met him,” he said.
“Then, he must have given you some chit.. didn’t he?”
“Yes, he has given,” he took out a crumpled chit from his shirt pocket and gave it to Ganesh.
“You’re really mad,” Ganesh said thoroughly annoyed.
Ganesh glanced at that crumpled paper and looked at the boy in amazement. Ganesh opened that crumpled paper. He tried to read what was written on it. But the paper was so badly crumpled that Ganesh could not make out what was written on it.
“Do you know how to read and write?”
“Yes, of course,” he said proudly.
“Good. Then come here and read this out to me… what is it that is written on this chit,” Ganesh said continuing to make an effort to read it.
First, the boy tried to find out a way to reach Ganesh. In front of Ganesh three tables, joined to each other were placed and Ganesh sat in the left corner, leaning against the wall. There was a way beyond the three tables, in the right hand corner near the wall. Then the boy tried to move the second table near Ganesh and tried to get in. But then he thought over it and raising his long legs high he crossed the second table and reached Ganesh’s side. Ganesh saw him do this with great amazement.
“Hey, have you gone mad?” Ganesh shouted at him to scold him. But next moment he recollected the expression on the boy’s face and his strange way of crossing the table and found them amusing.
“What a mad man you are! The way is form the other side. Instead of coming from over there you are jumping over the table..,” Ganesh commented with laughter ringing in his voice.
What should he call him? Should he laugh or become angry? Ganesh couldn’t make out what to do. By then, the boy had crossed the table and, bending over Ganesh, had begun to read what was written on the chit, “Certificate for Agricultural Land”
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote