How Blue is my Sapphire by Jitendra Kumar Sharma There was a knock at the door!“At this hour”,I said to myself as the old grandfather clock struck twelve.Sudhir was unlikely to visit me.I had left him only an hour ago.No one else knew my new address.This old house in Mehrauli at the edge of the tediously turning,twisting Metcalfe lane,overlooking the hilly terrains and sprawling jungle below.A relic of the British Raj.

 

                   How Blue is my Sapphire

                   by Jitendra Kumar Sharma

All of us live with our past.All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past.I think that is who I am…..

Enveloped in such thoughts I slipped into my bed.That February First night was wintry and dark.The benign embrace of the Indian quilt brought alive Eliot’s line,“Winter kept us warm”, and I twirled and turned in its cozy warmth.

There was a knock at the door!“At this hour”,I said to myself as the old grandfather clock struck twelve.Sudhir was unlikely to visit me.I had left him only an hour ago.No one else knew my new address.This old house in Mehrauli at the edge of the tediously turning,twisting Metcalfe lane,overlooking the hilly terrains and sprawling jungle below.A relic of the British Raj.

Mercifully,there was no knocking.I was now fondly curling,clinging,cuddling and in womblike bliss descending deeper into the unknown when the unblessed knocker struck again.

This time knocks were bolder,more determined and instead of the old wall clock’s chiming,a jackal responded with a deep,long howl from the jungle below.The sound pierced through the thick silence of the winter night.I got up in a huff and involuntarily threw off the warm quilt.

“The mid-night knock?” 

Elections had been declared but the Emergency was not lifted. Anyone could be arrested or detained any time.Many friends and colleagues were in jail.

Impulsively,I leaped to the side room where my socialist comrades had stacked three boxes of dynamite sticks but the incessant knocking at the door made me shriek,“Who is it?”There was no reply. A pause and the madly desperate pounding resumed.

I scrambled for the torch under my pillow,flashed it and moved to the entrance gate where the deviling knocks were coming from.It was an old haveli like gate with a long heavy sliding wooden bar to shut and open it.It had remained unused for considerable period of time and needed extra effort to slide it to unbar its one door,more effort to open the other door.

I had to unbar both the doors because it was Piara Singh Panjhazari,the tall,hefty,khadi-clad Rajya Sabha Member of the ruling party whom Nehru had once described as“that fat ugly man,with ugly face and ugly ideas” but his daughter Prime Minister had nominated him to Rajya Sabha for the third time in a row!

He pushed himself in and greeted me with the words,“Oh,doctorji,how lucky I am to finally find you”.

I switched on the lights and he thumped into an undusted sofa scattering slight plumes of dust that invaded our nostrils with particles of past and future history.

Panjhazari placed on the dusty table a bottle of Black Dog and a copy of my just released book,India Unbound,Essays in National Consciousness.

“Panjhazari Ji,you know I do not drink.”

“Yes, but you know I drink”and he added,“I also know you do not keep and read your own books”.

“How did you find my address?”I inquired.

“From Sudhir,Sudhir Gupta,Agriculture Minister’s junior most typist.”

“He gave my address to you?”

“Doctor Ji,not before I parted with Rs.10,000/- and a bottle of Johnnie Walker”

“Really!”

“Please get me some water.I am sure you have no fridge,nor a bottle of soda.”

Panjhazari downed two measures of neat scotch, then drank a full glass of water and uttered, “Many thanks, doctor ji.”

He picked up my book and said,“Look doctorji, I have not come to you for getting drunk but to awaken you and keep you awake”.

“Panjhazariji, I am too tired and in need of deep sleep”.

“This is not the time to sleep. We, practical politicians call it the night of the slayers. Tickets of both Ruling Party and the United Opposition are on sale and I want to be both a Ruling Party and Opposition candidate for the Lok Sabha elections”.

I laughed but Panjhazari was serious.“You have called me Fortune’s Minion but I don’t take chances. Situation is not clear. I have already made sure of Ruling Party ticket. In fact, this is the copy of the final list, duly signed by the Prime Minister, but the Ruling Party has no chance after twenty-one months of Emergency, docotrji.”

He opened my book, India Unbound and read ,“The curtain that divided the ‘free’ men in prison and the ‘unfree’ outside the prison walls was lifted up. The transparency of Indian history gave them a common vision.”

“What meaning do you find in these words?”

Quite the opposite of what you believe, doctorji. In your own words: “Indian Freedom is not merely political; something undying and spiritual has gone into its making.”

“Was Gandhi not spiritual?” I averred.

“Yes, doctorji, but he never contested elections. When it came to politics of conflict, he was a pucca baniya, doctorji. He knew political conflict generates money. In South Africa, he learnt the politics of conflict from his mentor Jan Christian Smuts and practiced it in India. In Africa, he made little money as a lawyer, but he had no dearth of funds for his political conflict. Same in India. He lived on political money all his life.”

“Please go on”, I urged.

“Both the Ruling Party and the Opposition see Elections as Indian Freedom and want Money to win them. Money is their common vision, doctorji. Ruling Party has loads of it. I know it because I am Party treasurer. As I see it, the Opposition has the Votes but no Notes, hence no heart to fight these Elections.”

We rambled over Indian politics from Mahatma Gandhi to Indira Gandhi. I was now as awake and alert as Panjhazari wanted me to be. We simply ignored the jackals’ howling and birds’ twittering. But then there was a high-pitched noise which brought a smile on Panjhazari’s grim face.

“O, doctorji, you have mongooses in your ghost house. They are giggling and making love”.

Then he continued, “Prime Minister is scared of a split in her Party. She suspects the Agriculture Minister is getting over ambitious. I know, you are very close to him and have been seeing him after resigning as Director of the Political Training Centre. Prime Minister says, it was on your advice she declared elections.”

“Nice of her to acknowledge the Training Centre’s contribution to declaration of elections because newspapers have been crediting Intelligence Bureau for convincing the Prime Minister that she is at the peak of her popularity”.

“Yes, you know, PM is a shrewd Lady. IB has never said, she was unpopular at anytime. You, on the contrary, wrote she could “regain” [he repeated regain] her popularity by lifting the Emergency and declaring the Elections and catch the Opposition unprepared”.

“But why did she not lift the Emergency simultaneously with the declaration of Elections? I doubt if she can now win the elections. All that is required is one good resignation from the Ruling Party, and the Opposition shall unite, rally around on a common platform and smash the Ruling Party to smithereens at the hustings”.

“That is why I request you to take me to the Agriculture Minister. He is virtually No.2 and can bring the house crumbling down, if he resigns.”

“By the way, when did you see me last?

“Why doctorji, I clearly remember when I spotted you driving near Raisina Road, stopped you, sat with you letting my driver follow us and asked you to drive to Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet Mujibur Rehman.Later, you wrote the article “The Tragic Hero” in our weekly, Socialist India.” 

 In party meetings you also called his colleague, Mushtak Ahmed Khondokar, “shifty, Cassius-like”.  And he turned out to be the Prime Conspirator against Mujib, doctor ji.

“Are you not committing a Freudian slip?”

“What’s that, doctorji?”

“Never mind, where were you on the afternoon of June 25,1975, Panjhazariji?”

“What a memory you have,doctorji? Of course, we were both at Prime Minister’s House; leaders were coming and going, PM flitting between her house and the crowd under the shamiana, all waiting for SSRay to return from the Supreme Court. Then Mrs. Gandhi, in crumpled, off white sari, her eyes popping out from sleeplessness and anxiety went in with SS Ray, remained closeted with him, both came out on the verandah; Sidharath Ray gave a very positive interpretation of Justice Iyer’s verdict, then suddenly the crowd started dispersing…”

Panjhazari stopped. I rejoined,“and you said, come aside, doctor, I do not know what is happening here, I do not know, you are a spy or am I a CID, then as I started walking with the Defence Minister, now Agriculture Minister, you gave me a slip and disappeared till your knocking at my door a while ago.”

Suddenly, a mongoose sprang into the cluttered room, started frolicking intermittently pausing and sitting on its haunches to watch us intently.

“Didn’t I tell you, doctorji, you have mongooses in this place?”

“You were right”.

“A good omen,doctorji. We can learn from this little animal how to live and survive among snakes. He appears very familiar with this house.”

The mongoose’s frisking  disrupted our conversation and changed the topic.

“Do you believe in Astrology, doctorji?”

I mused and said, “I do believe in Astrology but not in astrologers”.

“How intelligent you are, doctorji!”

The mongoose disappeared. The clock struck four.

“Seeing a mongoose early in the morning is a good sign”, joyfully bubbled Panjhazari and joined both his hands to thank the mongoose for visiting us and added,

“You may have a hidden treasure in this spooky house, doctorji”.

I gave out a long laugh but the mongoose came back and jumped on our table, almost upsetting the liquor bottle. Panjhazari eagerly grabbed the bottle into his lap.

 

The gentle animal comfortably sat on the table, spied us both raptly, then emptied from his little mouth a Blue Sapphire-studded ring and ran away.

“Did I not tell you, doctorji, you have a treasure in your house?”

There was something supernatural about Panjhazari,“that fat ugly man, with ugly face and ugly ideas”.

“There was reason for Indira Gandhi to get Panjhazari elected to the Upper House three times and keep him as the Ruling Party’s Treasurer”.

Suddenly, I came under Panhazari’s spell. He picked up the Blue Sapphire, examined it, compared it to several diamonds in the rings on his fingers and pronounced, “Rare, real blue sapphire, deeper blue than mine”; he held both for my observation.

I said, “You wear it”. He said, “No, today you need to be Fortune’s Fool instead of me, luckier than I for both our sake, doctorji”.

After toilet and bath, Panjhazari suggested breakfast at a wayside dhaba, “Avoid big hotels, newspaperwallas lurking there!

We drove to the Agriculture Minister’s 6, Krishna Menon Road House. It was 8-15 a.m. Sudhir was already there. He was weeping all alone in the verandah.

“Why are you crying Sudhir?”

“Babuji has resigned”.

“But you typed his one-line resignation. I myself dictated it to you last night”.

“I did not know, I only typed.”

“So you made the Agriculture Minister resign. My hunch was correct”, said Panjhazari.

Sudhir said, “Babuji is calling you inside, doctor sahib.”

I turned to Panjhazari,“Come with me, you want to meet the leader”.

“But he has already resigned. I will meet you at my 8,Kushak Road Bunglow, just behind. I know you are fond of walking. I shall wait there for you.”

A little later, I was with Panjhazari again,“Why did you change your mind. Babuji is the best Prime Minister………”

Panjhazari interrupted and completed the sentence in his own way, “India shall never have. You understand politics, poor me sniffs politics, doctorji.”

“You are a true political animal”.

“Yes, like a dog, I smell politics and have one Master at a time”.

“Babuji would have welcomed you.”

“My instinct says, he will not be the boss. Take me to the Opposition Party President. But before that, I must show you something”.

Panjhazari took me inside. We moved from room to room stacked to the ceiling with bundles and boxes of 500/-rupee notes.“This is more than enough for the Opposition to fight elections as grandly as the ruling party.”

“Enough dynamite I have to set ablaze this cursed house of corruption” but Panjhazari’s satanic stare shooed away the rising spectre of socialism from my mind as he said, “If President Shashi Singh accepts me, all these notes belong to the Opposition. This is their election money”.

“Do you know, what opinion Opposition President has of you?”

“I do. But when he sees these roomfuls of notes, he shall love this ‘ugly fat man,with ugly face and ugly ideas”.

“Not the  Shashi Singh that I know.”

“Yes, he has written Preface to your India Unbound. He is hard to flatter. You and I were with him in the Central Hall [he was then in the ruling party] when I happened to say, ‘you and I are alike’.”

“Yes, I remember, how crassly he had retorted, “The day I become like you, Panjhazari, I should drown myself in my village well.”

“Indira Gandhi was always polite. She wanted to give you Rajya Sabha but you preferred to be Director of Political Institute.  She said ‘you can be both’.You said,“No.” Party building first, power politics later. You wrote the Ruling Party Manifesto and resigned. Now, President Singh will want you to write the United Opposition Party Manifesto.”

“No, I want to contest election.”

“Let’s see if SS gives you ticket?”

We sank into big sofas and sleep overtook us. When we woke up, Panjhazari suggested we met the Opposition Prez SSingh. We drove to 3 A South Avenue. He was meeting the crowd, sometimes walking and talking with eager ticket-seekers. He accepted our greetings and also my suggestion to sit in my car and drive around, “Yes, that’ll be a relief.I am hungry. We drove to Panjhazari’s nearby 8 Kushak”.

Panjhazari showed him his 500-rupee note packed rooms.“All yours, fight the elections , boss. Funds,  no worry.”

“Shashi Singh tightly embraced Panjhazari and turning to me  said,“This is a real coup, doctor!”.

I complained, “State Prez Chandram is selling tickets for Haryana 50,000/- each”.

“Rajniti Sadhuon Ka Dera Nahin Hai [Politics in no hermitage], doctor Sahib. By the way,you do not figure in Babuji’s list of 28 candidates. You start working on the Manifesto.”

Panjhazari looked at me cynically, then, turned to the Opposition Prez,“No,both doctorji and I shall contest as Opposition candidates”, he declared while handing over the keys of his currency notes-laden government bunglow .”

“Done”, said Opposition Prez and shook our hands in a threesome.

We left SS at his residence, drove to my ghost house. Panjhzari picked up a Highland Park Single Malt Scotch Whisky and food at Claridge’s and we sat for a long session. I was no longer a teetotaler after the day’s politics.

 

When we were inebriated, the Mongoose came. We offered him drinks but he turned down our offer and skipped around.

I took off the Blue Sapphire, “Panjhazariji, now you keep it”. He did not reply; instead poured another drink.

Sudden, simultaneous sounds of Panjhazari’s booming fart and shattering snore rattled the amiable mongoose who was fixedly watching Panjhazari with curiosity. Regaining composure, the little animal turned slowly toward me, shyly removed the blue sapphire from my palm and snugly hopped back to his hideaway.

“The Mongoose has been asking us”, Panjhazari drunkenly stammered, “How Blue is my Sapphire?”

The grandfather clock auspiciously chimed, “Very Blue,Very Blue, Very Blue….Twelve O’clock.”

==The End

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