Category: Short Stories

“What Does Your Enemy Say?” By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

“What Does Your Enemy Say?”
By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

“What does your enemy say?” Our teacher, Radha Krishnaji at Bhupendra High School, Narnaul, a district town in the erstwhile Patiala State, was a Master of English idioms and made us learn so many of them by rot.
This is idiomatic English; it means, “What is the time by your watch?”
He used to wear a big round watch tied by a slipknot to a noose-like cord suspended from his neck into the front pocket of his shirt. He pulled up the strings and held his pocket watch in his right hand, looked at it cursorily for a moment and repeated: “What does your enemy say?”

I learned the idiom and it got stuck to my memory. Whenever I met my classmates, we turned back in time, recalled our Master Ji and asked: “Who is our enemy? Is it Time? Or is it our watch?

Our confabulation always ended inconclusively, leaving us in a greater state of confusion and excitement about “What does your enemy say?”

We never dared ask questions in the class, nor were we allowed to make suggestions nor lead a discussion. That this idiom would keep nagging me all my life, and lead me to strange actions and experiences, I had little idea then! It has triggered me to act in foolhardy ways to seek practical and experiential answers to the question: “What does your enemy say?”

“I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop”, bring Master Radha Krishna ji back and tell him, “No one in England I have heard use this expression nor in Canada, nor in other English speaking countries”. None of my Professors at the University of Toronto where I wrote my thesis, “Achilles’ Spear: Problem of Time and Consciousness” was familiar with this expression.

What does your enemy say? I was impelled to answer this question many a time in thought and action and felt even more unsatisfied like cigarette smokers craving for one puff more!

I had not yet fulfilled all the requirements for my doctorate that I got a job offer from the University of Guelph. My main reason to prefer Guelph U was that it had the so-called Trimester system. That is, if I taught three semesters in a row, I could avail of the next two semesters as paid vacation, traveling anywhere I liked. In Two-semester universities, every seventh year was the Sabbatical Year.

A couple of days after joining my academic duties, I joined the Guelph Flying Club. Each time, I went up in the sky with Mike Taylor, our Flying Instructor, I felt like I was soaring into a ‘No-time Zone’-Canada has six of them! Each time, Mike turned off the throttle perfect calm settled around us and I would close my eyes. Mike had to shove me to resume flying.

One morning, I went to the Flying Club and found a Cessna 180 whirring on the runway.

I could not resist the mechanical bird. I did not care to sign the log book. Just jumped into the cockpit and surged into the sky. On reaching the serene heights, I silenced the engine. The little Cessna stalled and hung in the air. I closed my eyes and silently uttered: “What does your enemy say?”

No time here. No watch on my wrist. No answer to the question either. Only deep, dreamless sleep. I do not remember how long but it lasted till I felt a sensation of a steep descent. It roused me from my meditation. Cessna was plummeting into, what later I was told, Guelph Lake.

I was disqualified from the Flying Club membership and earned a good deal of free publicity. This did not please Dean H.M.H. Mackinnon who summoned me to his office. Heavy classical scholarship permanently enthroned in his thick glasses, his unsmiling face looked unusually scary.

“What are your plans for next year?”

I dared not say, “I have no plans”. He was a pucca North American WASP [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] and had little affection for those who do not plan their time.

I simply uttered, “I intend to go to India at the end of the third semester”

“You are not going anywhere, Jitendra. You will write your General Examination and fulfill other Ph.D. requirements– if you wish your contract to be renewed.”

I did not take the threat seriously and came out of the Dean’s office determined to go to India. My Guru, Marshall McLuhan had already published a few articles by me in his “Explorations”, a highly respected Quarterly.

My dissertation too was with a publisher. I had also read a long paper at The Learned Societies of Canada which was accepted by “The Journal of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research”.

“Publish or perish” was the rule for academic survival and I was confident of getting an academic post. Several new universities were also coming up in Canada then.

“Plan your work and work your plan, Jitendra”, was Dean Mackinnon’s parting advice.

“What about spontaneity?” I shouted to myself most inaudibly and exited.

I had never fancied myself to be an academic. I wanted to be a wanderer if I could afford to be one.

I returned to my office, called my friendly Bank Manager Mutrie who, as ever was ready to finance my trip to India, which included the purchase of a factory-fresh Diesel Mercedes at their Stuttgart Manufacturing plant in Germany under a ’Travel Now, Pay Later’ plan.

At the end of the third semester, I flew to England and after a few days at Cambridge where I met E.M. Forster I flew to Stuttgart to pick up my Mercedes. I had to wait in their Canteen as it was being given the final touches and a Carnet du Passage was being prepared for me to drive it away from Germany.

The only other buyer was a Malagasy diplomat, linah Luciano, a very articulate, middle-aged, most appropriate person to speak to about Time.

“We Malagasy experience time as flowing behind us, literally behind our head and the past keeps spanning before us”.

“How?”, I said, feeling as if I was doing Shirs Aasan like Nehru trying to see the world upside down.

“It’s simple; the past we can see and know, it always interplays with our actions”.

Feeling even more ignorant, I again said, “How?”

“Actually, we go on consulting our ancestors, we even dig out their bones, if required for seeking their advice”, explained Monsieur Luciano.

“Like Mackenzie King of Canada who used to consult his dead mother”, I rejoined.

“Who, Mackenzie King?”

“He was a former Prime Minister of Canada”, I informed.

“And how do you perceive the future?” I asked.

“Actually, we do not. Anyway, it is behind our heads, so we cannot see it”.

“It is not time but people’s volition that decides things in Madagascar”.

“I don’t understand”, I confessed.

“In Germany and Switzerland, have you noticed how obsessed they are with punctuality? Trains departing 7-03 Yverdon, arriving 7-49 Lucerne”.

“Is it not good?”

“We are not talking about good or bad. In Madagascar, a train shall leave only when it is full”

I relished what diplomat Luciano was telling me.

“Is the train meant for people, or is it being run for Time?” Luciano had a mischievous smile for the topsy-turvy world of western civilization.

“In my country, a train will not leave until it is full” and “No company is ready to run a passenger train there. We have only freight trains.”

My Mercedes had arrived. I took leave of the learned diplomat and started driving. Pride and patriotism intensified by an excruciating twisted ankle held me up for three weeks at Charlottenburg, West Berlin where Netaji Subhash Bose had stayed as Hitler’s guest.

Crossing the Berlin Wall, a most friendly Russian Immigration Officer issued me a Visa in a matter of minutes. We together drove in my Mercedes to the nearby Ratskeller in the basement of the Rathaus.

Over lunch, I said, “Time runs faster in West Berlin”. Vladislav, my Russian friend of the moment, promptly retorted, “They are all crazy on the other side of the Wall”, then apprehensively tipped, “I must tell you there is no Mercedes Service in Russia. Change your route”.

Thence, my Mercedes and I crossed from Europe to Asia at Uskudr on a ferry. The blue waters reminded me of many other places, of Port Said and Capri where the sea and sky had appeared literally to mate merging the Here into Eternity. Time and Endlessness of Time!

“What does your enemy say?” was on my mind and I had my heart’s fill asking and getting answers of all kinds of people I met during my long journey.

At Trabzon, a mountain resort on the Black Sea, a young Turk, Abuzer Abidin took me to a Hamam, a Turkish Bath, where we were bathed, wrapped in white chaddars and served Kahava. We came out and walked up to a cliff overlooking the Black Sea. I asked Abuzer, “Is there any phrase like ‘What does your enemy say’ in Turkish?”

“Let us not talk of enemies. We are friends”. He planted two kisses, one each on my two cheeks, took away a little black comb peeping out from the front pocket of my jacket and put a green one from his pocket into mine and parted.

At Salonica, capital of Greek Macedonia, I stopped several academics at Aristotle University to enquire, “How would Aristotle respond to ‘What Does Your Enemy Say?’ Their answers setoff a splitting ache and serious doubts in my head about Aristotle’s Greek origin, even his existence.

Did I fulfill my wish to stop Time or did Time stop for me? How and where I met my Masterji? How old was he and how old was I when we met? Did I ask, “Time or Watch, who is our enemy, Sir?” Or, I simply forgot about it.

On reaching India, I did drive to Narnaul. Met my old schoolmates. They said, “Master Radha Krishnaji retired at 55, not seen since”.

I was slothful in my search for Masterji because my cousin, Sudhir, Deputy Manager with Indian Oil Corporation at Varanasi was abducted by oil mafia during an Inquiry he was conducting in a case of diesel pilferage from the Company’s containers at Mughal Sarai.

Instead of Varanasi, I drove to 1, Rajpur Road, Dehradun where my stepmother Shanta Sharma lived [now, Mridula Sharma, my step-sister; the reader may please check]. Finding me despondent, she straightway took me to Swami Satyanand’s Rishikesh Ashram.

Most of the way we were silent but as we reached, she said, ”Swamiji is eighty-two years but he appears 52 or less”.

“How do you know him?”

“I know him from my Gurukul days. After your father’s death in Nasik, I and Mridula returned to our Khukhri Market Flat, Dehradun and renewed my contact with Swamiji’s Ashram. Seth Ram Prasadji also used to come to the Ashram. This is where Mridula started babbling about her previous birth and recognized Sethji as her father in the previous birth. Sethji soon adopted her under Swamiji’s guidance and gifted Mridula 1, Rajpur Road where now we live.”

I had read the story in papers.

We are born again and again in Time. Which Time? Time of the clocks and calendars or there is some other Time!

We sat in front of Swamiji, he on his raised Aasan. He surely looked less than fifty. Should one believe one’s eyes or the municipal or school records or calendars? That is why the Hindus care little for history, rulers, rajas, maharajas, things temporal and much more for Sanyasis!

Many devotees sought Swamiji’s advice and he was generous with his time and wisdom. My stepmother nudged me to ask something.

“Why do we take the Sea and Sky as symbols of Eternity?”

I thought it was a profound question but Swamiji debunked the whole idea of Eternity and deflated my academic ego.

“This is your westernized tutored sensibility; there is no such thing as Here or Eternity. There is Time or the Timeless”.

I gaped at him.

“Can one live timelessly?” I timidly asked.

“Yes, in time and timelessly. Not so mysterious either. Live desirelessly and you are living timelessly”.

Finding me nonplussed, Swami Satyanandji turned his gaze to Mridula and said to me,
“Look at Mridula! No death or birth for her, only exchange of atoms. Changing places. She got what was hers in her last birth. 1, Rajpur Road”.

More than his discourse on Time, death, birth, timeless, I was lured by his looks. “Is he 82 or 48, 47?”

While driving back, I said to my step-mother, “I wish I could live with Swamiji rest of my life”.

She sighed sadly, “Your father was in the habit of leaving things half-done or undone”.

I returned to Canada. Dean MacKinnon did not renew my contract at Guelph U but Donald Theall invited me to join McGill. I completed my doctorate and am still teaching at McGill. There is no retirement age in Canada.

That night, I had returned from my seventh sabbatical leave from Birds of Paradise, Papua; was still unpacking when John Harney called:
“I am at the Bistro. Come”.

We had several beers and then drove around aimlessly.

“Have you regretted giving up academic life?”

“No, I have tons of money. I joined my Dad’s business”

“What do you do with tons of money? Nothing much. Make more of it”.

“Do you also have tons of Time?”

“I have no time for anyone, not even for myself at times. But ‘Time is Money’ makes time pass quickly for me”.

I don’t know when we reached the Laurentian Mountains.

“This is Vajrayāna Vihar”, said John Harney.
“James George, our first High Commissioner to India brought lots of Tibetan Buddhists; a mad man in brown Lama habit is seen lurking about this lodge. I knew you will love it here”

“Yes, John leave me here”

In that uncertain morning hour, crowding, whirling fall leaves made rapid short loud sounds at times imitating several asthma patients rasping, wheezing, chasing one another as black-white spruce, balsam fir, larch, poplar, white birch swung and danced on the shoulders of tall mountains feeling taller and seeing farther than they.

Suddenly, I was blown toward and caught the sight of my Masterji.

“Masterji?”

“Jitendra?”

Were we ghosts? Or like ones we see in dreams.

As I moved forward, I saw Masterji did not have his specs, he appeared less than forty and I was more than eighty.

Reading worldly curiosity on my face, he said: “Yes, I no longer wear glasses; I was fifty years when I taught you “What does your enemy say?” I had myself learned it from my teacher”.

He tweaked his ears as he recalled his teacher.

“Now?”

“Now I am forty, my son”

My son! Someone my son’s age, calling me ‘my son’!

Anyway, I touched his feet. “Time means less to you than it does to me and much, much less than it does to John Harney”.

“We at Vajrayāna Vihar do not live in the past, present, future.”

“Don’t you live in Time?”

“We do, all things and beings do”

“Then, how is it, you and I have different vestiges of time?” said I.

“Your world is too conscious of time; increasingly, it wants everything instantly. Soon children will have no time to grow, have no memories. No childhood either. They will be eighty, ninety, one-fifty, even before they are ten. You are lucky to live on memories at eighty-two.”

“Come with me Masterji, and teach these things to others”, I implored.

“As soon as I step out, your world will treat me as a mad and old man of one-twenty. I might die of old age”.

“In fact, I had gone mad after my retirement but Lama James is always in need of madmen. They perceive right, he says.”

“How do you stop time, Masterji?”

“We don’t”

“Then?”

“We live internally”

“Internally?”

“Yes, Man began to know death from life when he started measuring time.”

“You mean, he began to live externally”, I said.

“Yes, Time appears but is not. Your age and know the time when you live externally”

Before I could speak further, my Masterji said,
“Are you carrying that picture postcard you wrote to Sudhir at Capri but never posted it because you had no Italian stamps?”

“I always carry it in the hope of handing it to Sudhir myself”

“You can do it now”, Masterji pointed to Sudhir running toward me. He was as we were together in school, fourteen years!”

I recognized him alright. He has always existed in my memory.

“Bir [brother in Haryanavi]”

“Where were you? Did not the Mafia abduct you at Mughal Sarai?”

“They did. I escaped and never felt like returning to Sansar, the Time-World. I met George in Bhutan; he brought me here.”

We hugged,I eighty-two-year elder and he, a fourteen-year kid brother. I gave him the picture postcard:
“Dear Sudhir, Ever since I shipped myself via Llyod Tristano’s ‘Asia’ from Bombay to Genoa,I have longed for that glimpse of Eternity as mer and moon fore-played and the ‘Asia’ skirted the Island of Capri in the Mediterranean! I threw my wristwatch into the gentle sea, sort of offering from a Time’s creature –Jitendra”

I am packing for my eighth sabbatical leave at eighty-nine. Finally, I am going to Madagascar. I shall meet Luciano and read out to him my story!

Candid Camera A story about an Indian boy who became a girl in Canada By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

Candid Camera

A story about an Indian boy who became a girl in Canada

By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

I was then living in Professors’ Colony, Sonipat, Haryana. My neighbors, all of them, were colleagues and lecturers in the Hindu College. I was Head of the English Department and Ashwini Miglani, a lecturer in the same department, was a frequent visitor to my flat. He usually came on the pretext of discussing some poem, short story or a play but always asked me questions about life in western countries of Europe and North America I had lived, worked in or visited during my long stint abroad. He hesitated while satisfying his curiosity about other countries, at times, took a long pause before asking me questions about sex life or my escapades in western countries. He was much younger and respectful to me and I felt it was the usual deferential reserve the youngsters of my generation observed toward elders. But when he persisted with his unnecessary demurral that his taut face made too obvious, I myself one day,  as he stood up to leave after tea and biscuits, said to him, “ Professor Miglani, please sit down for a minute”.

“Yes, Sir”,  Ashwini Miglani said while sitting back in the easy chair and looking at me with heavy downcast eyes.

“Do you have anything else on your mind?”

“No Sir, yes, sir”, was his response.

“Come on Professor, we are neighbors and a fraternity. There need be no reservations between us. Please be frank and say it all”

Our talk lasted till dinner time. And he told me mostly about his brother-in-law, Shashi, his wife’s brother, who several years back had gone to Canada.

“Where is he now?

“We do not know, Sir. That is what I wanted to talk about. I tried several times during last few days but hesitated. In fact, I wanted to seek your advice in this delicate matter which I cannot discuss with everyone. It is a private family matter and has to be kept confidential”

“You may trust me”, I said, becoming a bit curious myself.

“Shashi is four years younger to my wife Sheela, Sir”

“Yes, go ahead, Professor”, I said.

“He had just passed his B.A. when Sheela and I got married. My father-in-law is in Handloom business and has a factory in Panipat. Almost his entire production gets exported to Sweden and he is a man of property with few family obligations. After Sheela’s marriage, my father-in-law, wanted his only son, Shashi, to join him in his business but Shashi insisted and went to Canada for higher studies. For a couple of years my father-in-law sent him money. He had no problem because his foreign earnings were sizeable and restrictions on foreign exchange did not apply to him. All was well, then, after two- three years,  Shashi stopped asking for money and said he did not need his father’s money any more.

My father spoke to him on phone and asked if he had taken up a job to which he replied, “No, no. I do not need to work in life”.

My father-in-law was much worried about what was happening to his son because he found Shashi’s voice squeaky, somewhat abnormal,very different   from the voice he was used to hearing since Shashi’s childhood. He could disclose this fact to no one. For quite a few months, he did not tell all this to his wife, Shashi’s mother even. But Shashi was always on his mind and he imagined all kinds of things about his son who was reluctant to reveal anything about himself.

“I am okay, Papa. I will come and surprise you”, Shashi would reiterate to his father’s entreaties to return home. But my father-in-law was not convinced. He could not go to Canada because of the business. There was a strike in the factory and his Chief Manager had resigned and moved to Ludhiana. His friends also said his worries were unnecessary. If his son does not need money from India that meant he was doing well and supporting himself with his own earnings. In the USA and Canada, one gets jobs easily and the young fellow must be having great fun.

My father-in-law began to call Shashi more often on phone. This made Shashi change his phone number and perhaps also his place of residence.

Miglani stopped, looked at me with imploring eyes and said, “Can you help us, Sir?”

“How?”

“Do you know someone who could find Shashi’s  whereabouts and find more about him. You have lived in Canada for a long time, Sir”.

“Yes, I have but I have lost my contacts there. There were very few Indians there then and I lived in the University of Toronto itself. I was a Don of Taylor House at the University College and all my students were Canadians, so also my colleagues. One or two Indians I knew at the university have since returned to India. Like K.C. Agrawal, a Chemistry researcher   who is currently working at the PUSA INSTITUTE. Anyway, I will think about it and let you know”.

Miglani left, only to return in a couple of minutes. I was still in the lawn and seeing him, I walked to the gate. Miglani whispered, “Please, Sir, do not tell anyone”.

“Oh, no, Professor, rest assured, this will remain between you and me”.

Ashwini Miglani hurried home.

Next day I typed out two letters, one to Porter Abbot and another to Jon Pierce who were my classmates at University of Toronto and we were nocturnal pals.Did many things together. I had not corresponded with them for a while and did not know what they were doing then. At least, Jon would find the errand interesting as he was a free spirit and preferred part-time jobs. Though not a fool he was capable of rushing in where angels fear to tread. I only hoped, he still was reading existentialist philosophers and doing things that went against his grain.

Next day, I stopped Ashwini in the crowded College Quadrangle as both of us were moving in opposite directions to meet our respective classes and whispered, “I have mailed two letters to my friends”.

“Thank you, Sir”, he responded in a faintly audible voice as students were crisscrossing the Quadrangle and corridors helter-skelter.

After nearly four weeks, Jon responded with a good deal of gusto. Said, I had given him a good assignment. In his quest for Shashi Ajwani, he had met an Indian Maharaja, a real one, with a lavish style of living. “This fellow is fabulous. He has rooms booked in five-star hotels, throws gay parties, owns mining interests in Canada and knows how to burn the candle at both ends and a bit in the middle too. And he has taken a fancy to Shashi Ajwani and plans to marry him in India.”

I showed the letter to Ashwini Miglani at tea the same day as I received Jon Pierce’s letter. He read it again and again and got puzzled more and more. His face fell. “Maharaja to marry Shashi… ” He seemed unprepared to hear and grasp the meaning of such news about Shashi, his brother-in-law.

Within a week, I got another letter from Jon. He wrote, “Shashi Ajwani is still enrolled at Ryerson Institute of   Technology at Jarvis Street, Toronto. He has a room at the Institute’s Students Residence but is living with the Maharaja in the nearby Four Seasons Hotel suite. Actually, he is no longer he. Shashi is now ‘she’. Has changed his sex and is enjoying the physical conversion, that is, Shashi has already gone through a sex reassignment surgery at the Maharaja’s expense. His dick is now a pussy, if you know what I mean.

The Maharaja belongs to the erstwhile Porbandar State and is proud of being a descendant of a Maharaja under whom Mahatama Gandhi’s father served as Prime Minister or Dewan. Gandhi was born in Porbandar too. He is hetero and homo at will. A most knowledgeable and articulate fellow.    He has appeared on various television channels and runs a charity  called Porbandar Trust  which works for LGBT Rights to live freely in society and without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association. Jitendra, you have always been nice to me and this Maharaja, Narendra Singh, has appointed me his media advisor. This is great and sudden boost to my earnings. I am a part-time stringer with CTV.”

I had not yet acknowledged Jon’s letter that only two days later I got another letter from him.

Jon this time wrote: “I am delighted to inform you that the gay Indian prince Narendra has thrown open his fabulous Huzoor Palace doors to vulnerable LGBT people. He says he will devote more time to change the life of LGBT people in India where same sex relations are illegal. Lesbians, gays, transgender and other Indians shunned for their sexuality can regard his palace and its guest houses as their home and can enjoy the Maharaja’s hospitality anytime. They can hold meetings and conventions and Maharaja’s Charitable Trust will extend legal and financial support to the LGBT community.

My friend, yes, I can call Prince Narendra my friend and benefactor, is heir apparent to the throne of Porbandar, birth place of Sudama, Krishna’s friend of Mahabharata fame. He calls me Sudama, and I like it.

While announcing his mission in India, the Maharaja last night on Canada Television said, “LGBT faced unbearable pressure from their families, were forced to marry, or thrown out of their homes and had nowhere to go, often condemned to lead a life of exclusion and isolation with no means to support themselves.  So I am building a centre for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) right inside my ancestral palace.”

He went on without a trace of self-pity or regret, “Fate will keep me childfree even after I marry Shashi Ajwani and she has agreed with me to use our palace and income from our Canadian mining operations for this good purpose? Our LGBT Centre will offer rooms, a medical facility and training in English and vocational skills to help my people find jobs.”

I may add Jitendra that Narendra the prince was disowned by his mother through a newspaper advertisement for his being a homo but, being a rich Maharaja, he is still in the limelight and gets invited by the high and mighty here in Canada. He is vocally critical of India’s colonial-era law that criminalizes consensual sexual relations between same sex adults*. He is renovating and extending his palace, built in 1930, on the 25-acre site, fitting it with solar panels for power, a part of the land will have an organic farm.

PS. Shashi will live happily forever with Narendra –JP.

The college bell rang and I left a bunch of other letters on my table and went to meet my class. Returning to my office, I scrambled my papers and saw another blue airmail envelop and Jon’s handwriting. This letter was in continuation of the previous one, and read, “Jitendra, Canada TV has revised my contract. I will be interviewing Shashi next week”

I kept showing these letters to Ashwini. He said, “I cannot reveal all these developments to my father-in-law, Shashi’s father, nor to my own wife, Shashi’s  sister. They will breakdown.”

A week later, Jon wrote, “Shashi was born in a boy’s body but was conscious of her feminine softness. School kids teased him. He liked boy things. When he was thirteen he started having feminine thoughts and cupped breasts. No incident during school days and he remained a boy. In college, his gender transition began and he came to Canada and his appearance became feminized- curvy hips, bubble butt, c-cup paps and he was on HRT, estrogen and anti-androgen, etc. Shashi moved over to LGBT community and felt safe. Met Maharaja Narendra who paid for his surgery and Shashi fulfilled his dream of becoming a woman. Her sex reassignment surgery was successful. She thinks, she is very lucky and is looking forward to living with Narendra Maharaja as his wife. Watching Shashi and Narendra is for me an altogether new experience, Jitendra. Prince Narendra trusts and confides in me. He is hallowed by his love for Shashi. Shashi is a typical Indian lady. She values her virginity; ‘has not allowed me to break her in’, Narendra told me in good humor”.

Ashwini was sad and stopped coming to me. He was no longer interested in reading Jon’s letters about his brother-in-law.

One day I received a letter and in the evening a telegram from Jon Pierce: ‘REACHING PORBANDAR  October 20. PLEASE JITENDRA COME. CARRY A TOOTHBRUSH IF YOU LIKE.VISIT PAID FOR THANK MAHARAJA’S HOSPITALITY.

These events were well-timed. The college was to close for Dussera holidays from October 21. I had full four days to decide and prepare. I was then a bachelor. It was exciting. For the first time, I visited Ashwini’s flat. The flat was locked. He and his family had gone to Panipat, Professor Kajal who lived in the same block told me.

I travelled Airconditioned First Class and boarded the Delhi-Ahmedabad night train. Maharaja’s cars were waiting to pick up guests at Ahmedabad and I was lodged in the Maharaja’s guesthouse next to Jon Pierce. He was mixing a martini for himself and his room had a little bar in the corner as had mine. Gandhi’s birth place was flowing with liquor as a consequence of Prohibition and nexus between the police and bootleggers.

We hugged and talked of university days. Jon said he had four days and was there to make a television program and documentary on Porbandar for CTV. “The big event is tomorrow evening when prior to the wedding ceremony there will be a Drag Queen show. I have to go and check the arrangements. I will be sitting in the commentator’s box. You may sit with me, if you like. This is for the straight people performed by feminine transsexual women. Shashi will be one of them and focus of attention,” Jon gave me a dope on events he was covering for CTV. He had a tiring schedule and I too was fatigued from the train travel. So we had a quick evening meal in the dining hall and hit the sack.

I missed the morning events, including a meeting with Maharaja Narendra as I slept in. After lunch, both Jon and I had a little a nap and then dressed for the evening.

I sat with Jon in the Commentary Box from where Jon was commenting on the happenings. His assistant Eric Rump was to conduct a brief interview with Shashi about which she had not been told. His cameraman Paul had received directions in advance. The show was a part of CTV’s weekly serial called ‘The Candid Camera’.

Reverse countdown had started for the Drag Queen Show and camera was focused on Eric Rump who was waiting for the banquet hall to open for him to enter and look for Shashi. Just then, Jon held the mike and started to speak and we could see him and Eric alternately on the screen. As the camera brought Eric Rump into focus, Jon started speaking, “This is our reporter Eric Rump (the camera was now closing up on Eric and panning out to the banquet hall and Eric swerving and moving into the glittering banquet hall as if searching for someone) as Jon Pierce continuing with his commentary, said: He is looking for a girl, who does not know he exists, or the story that has brought him here. He has no reasons to be discreet but still he has to be careful. He is standing near the doorway and surveying the golden banquet hall, which is filled with refined bodies in saris and jackets, and beautiful young women with straight hair who never make facial expressions. But they will, soon. Any moment now.    

After a pause, he said, “I am Jon Pierce and you are watching your popular show ‘Candid Camera’. We are right now, in the Golden Banquet Hall of the Huzoor Mahal, a historical palace, in Porbandar, India. Porbandar, Porbandar where Mahatama Gandhi was born. A town made immortal by Mahabharata. Sudama, Krishna’s proverbial friend lived here. Porbandar is also called Sudama Nagri, City of Sudama. It’s all so romantic, out of this world, the sea, the sky, the sun seem to descend on this town for a tryst and as two times meet the shimmer of the setting sun on a lapping ocean, under the endless variety of skies play hide-and-seek and stagger our imagination [a montage of images of sights and sounds of the sea, bevies  of evening flying birds, the setting sun and then the camera turned to the Golden Banquet Hall and Eric Rump entered the hall with his crew .. to spot and meet Shashi, the bride].”

A day after the wedding ceremonies, Jon and I visited Dwarka and Somnath, where he took some camera shots, and parted with an embrace at Ahmedabad Railway station.

On returning to Sonipat, as I opened my flat, I found  a piece of paper rustling under my shoe. Ashwini Miglani had slipped a note under my flat’s front door: “Sad events have overtaken. I had to resign and take over my father-in-laws business. He is no more. I am grateful to you for tea and sympathy, Sir”- Ashwini.

There was no mention about Shashi. Within a month, I retired and moved from Sonipat to Delhi. Whenever I travel to Chandigarh, I think of Ashwini, feel like looking him up when I inevitably cross Panipat but have never done so. Nor has Ashwini ever come to see me. Nor did I ever think that I would write a story of which he’d be the protagonist.

* Transgender Laws since have changed in India.

===The End===

Inamoratos’ Existentialist Leap , A Short Story By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

      Inamoratos’ Existentialist Leap , A Short Story  By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

On a pleasantly warm Saturday morning a lad came to Timothy & Brother store in London’s Savile Row which is home to world famous traditional bespoke tailoring for men. He presented  written instructions on the back of an envelope bearing a cancelled stamp and addressed to Robert B. Singh, 73Forelease Road, Maidenhead which read, “To Timothy Stores: Please give to bearer the suit, pants I purchased last week; kindly put change in envelope in inside coat pocket. Trust, alterations are okay. Thanking you for your courtesies, I remain- Robert Singh [signed].”

Timothy’s called the police. The boy was arrested but released when he disclosed that he was only doing an errand for a “gent” who was awaiting him nearby. Instead Mr. Robert Singh was held for interrogation.

Robert, a dapper, somewhat anemic, young man confessed that his real name was Ravinder Bahadur Singh and he lived at a ramshackle cottage in the City of London’s 23Bread Street, a relic of his great grandfather Late Maharaja Bhupendra Singh of Patiala’s  property that had seen better days. He requested that his wife Rosy Singh be informed as soon as possible of what had happened.

At Police Headquarters he was identified as the forger actively engaged during preceding months in passing bad cheques throughout the city. More recently, LLyod’s Bank was his frequent target for £1600 on May 20, for £2901 May 30,for $5113.50 and £710 on June 4,and £900 “to bearer,” on June 8 at  Harrods Bank. This one inexplicably was cashed at the bank itself.

Police were certain that the forger had finally been caught. Therefore, the precinct policemen Eric Rump and Jack McLeod visited 23Bread Street. A young girl of attractive appearance opened the door whom they conveyed the unpleasant message. Mrs. Singh appeared duly shocked at the news; she insisted on her husband’s innocence. Officers departed without much ado.

Mutual jealousies and pettifogging exist in every organization and City of London Police Headquarters are no exception. The plain-clothes men and uniformed cadres often belittled each other’s successes. The police department, having earned the credit for the arrest, simply “forgot” to tell detectives Arthur Stanly and Eugene Cork about police constable Eric Rump and Jack McLeod’s meeting with Mrs. Singh.

Yet, Stanly doubted and Cork agreed if Singh alone could carry out his operations. Therefore, Stanly enquired at the Old Bailey Prison about the names and addresses of visitors who came to see the prisoner. The gateman said that no one had turned up but right then a young girl brusquely stepped to the wicket and sought permission to meet Mr. Ravinder Singh. Detective Stanly at once called the Prison Office and told the warden to detain her temporarily and say “No” to her request. A few minutes later the girl turned back dejectedly.

Stanly was no reader of Sherlock Holmes or other classic   detective fiction. He was a real sleuth and depended on his own devices. Therefore, he donned a shabby suit, denied himself his overdue visit to the barber and, right away went to 23Bread Street. He saw the same girl reading a newspaper while swaying in a rocking chair in the veranda. He did not know that the girl he had seen and was now seeing was Mr. Singh’s wife. Nor did he suspect in the least the girl to be herself a forger. He only envisaged she might hold some clue to the accomplices or gang behind Mr. Singh so he might get additional evidence against Ravinder Singh, the accused.

Sheepishly, he introduced himself as an old pal of “Ravi” unfortunately locked up in the same cell with him. After a pause, Stanly sighed, “Poor Ravi; he is in desperate need of morphine”.

“Poor Ravi”, cried the girl, “couldn’t you smuggle some for him?”

“Hard job with those turnkeys, but I have already done that.” And he related stories about his being together with Singh in a Deaddiction Centre, other places.

Her responsive exclamations, questions, and expressions established rapport between the two and confirmed that she was Singh’s wife. He gathered the couple lived in comparative comfort, and she was a well-educated woman. She, however, uttered nothing about her husband’s offences or of any persons connected with them.

Stanly who had introduced himself as Steward suggested and the girl slipped on her coat and hat and walked with Stanly to Police Headquarters where Stanly’s fellow detectives convinced her that her husband had already received a small hypodermic syringe as Stanly alias Steward had told her. Mrs. Singh was now in good humor and invited the supposed crook to lunch with her at the Savoy.

At lunch the girl enquired of her new acquaintance what his particular “graft” was. He said he was an expert ‘second storey man’, and gave accounts of bold robberies and clever “tricks” in many cities. Mrs. Singh was convinced that Stanly [or Steward, his assumed name] was an expert “gun” of much expertise.

Steward or Stanly took another chance.“Ravi wanted me to say that you better put the gang wise”, he said and waited for Mrs. Singh’s response.

“Gang, what gang? You mean Dutch and Sweeney.”

“Don’t know,” he played safe, “Ravi didn’t say who they were—just to put them ‘wise.'”

Unexpectedly, she came directly to the point.

“Do you want to make a lot of money?”

Steward or Stanly replied, “Why not?”

“Do you know what they have got Ravi for?” enquired the girl.

“Phoney paper, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Rosy Singh “but Ravinder Singh didn’t write those cheques. I wrote them. If you join me we can make enough money to get your friend Ravi out and be comfortable yourself into the bargain”

“I don’t believe. Never met a woman that was so clever at that sort of game”.

“Oh, you don’t know me. Why, I can copy anything in a few moments—really I can.”

“Too dangerous,” remarked Stanly alias Steward.”I might get settled for ten years.”

“No, you won’t”, she continued.”It’s the easiest thing in the world. All you need do is to pick the mail out of some box with a copper wire and a little piece of wax—and you can’t miss among the letters some cheque made out in payment of a bill. There! You have the bank, and the signature.”

“Then”  

“Then you write to the bank requesting for a new cheque book, sign the name that appears on the cheque. If you can dupe the cashier to handover your messenger a new cheque book you can safely gamble on his paying a cheque signed with the same name.”

“Really”!

 “Yes, but watch out. Never overdraw the account. I have made hundreds of cheques and banks have certified without fail!”

Stanly smiled thinly.

“Listen. Make out a fat cheque, then, go to a good store, buy something, tell to forward the cheque to the bank for certification, and that you’ll send for the goods and the change the next or some other day. The bank certifies the cheque, and you get the money.”

“Not always,” said Stanly

Mrs. Singh nodded agreement but added, “Ravinder and I have averaged over two hundred pounds a day for months.”

“Good, but how does the one who writes the cheque identify himself?  Say, I go into Harrods, pick out expensive jewellery, tell I am Steward of 73Forelease Road, Maidenhead and the floorwalker says, ‘Sorry, Mr. Steward we don’t know you?’”

“Dangle a few letters to him” instructed Rosy Singh, “Letters and envelopes.”

“From where”, asked Stanly alias Steward?

“Silly boy; Send to yourself through the post, as many as you like.”

The ‘second storey man’ persisted, “But how can I mail myself a letter to 73Forelease Road, Maidenhead when I don’t live there?”

Mrs. Singh smiled, “I’m glad I can disclose a new game I have invented myself. You want letters of identification? Buy a bundle of stamped envelopes and write your own name and address on them in pencil. When received, rub off the pencil address and put down anybody’s address in ink.”

“Rosy,” said Stanly, “You are a genius, you got the gray matter. I’ll do these lucrative errands for you.”

“You can do it in style; on a lucky day if you find a letter and bill head together in the mail, copy and write your request for the cheque book and your order for the goods on printed paper exactly like it. That’s the final touch, you see. We did that with a dentist named M. Budd of 137Burlington Street.

“I give in”, said the second-storey specialist.

They rose and went to her place for a practical lesson.

Zestfully, she said to her would-be cohort.”Now, come to the desk in the French window and see my regular handwriting. She pulled a pad and wrote in a fair, round hand: “Mr. James D. HOWELL”; she continued with changing her slant and said, “Viola! Here is the signature we fooled the Lincoln National Bank with” and with variable orthography she produced the signature that got poor Ravi into trouble; she went on inscribing E. Biers and also wrote ‘poor Ravi’.

“By George, Rosy, a wonder you are! Can you copy my name? “With a flare she wrote, “Stiward”, Stanly’s assumed name with wrong spellings varying a stub and fine point nibs.

“Sure, count me in; we’ll get enough money to get Ravi Bahadur out!”. Saying this, detective Stanly swept the documentary evidence off the desk enough to convict a dozen women and pirated it under Rosy’s wide open eyes.

They were now bosom friends. Rosy advised Stanly, that is, Steward to go, make himself presentable, come back for Indian dinner at the Taj restaurant and hunt for sample mail boxes.

As soon as the fake friend left, Macavity the cat jumped from the old fashioned ventilator. Positioning himself on the writing table, he meowed persistently to Rosy facing him from her chair. Was the friendly animal reminding the thriving forger of something? Perhaps Macavity wanted Rosy to remember who had launched her on a successful crime career.

“Yes, yes, my feline friend”, Rosy played up and repeated lines from T.S.Eliot’s ode to Macavity after whom Rosy and Ravi had named this street cat:

“And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.

Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled.

Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair –

Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:

‘It must have been Macavity!’- but he’s a mile away.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,

There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity. At whatever time the deed took place – MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!

Macavity…..: the Napoleon of Crime!”

Rosy sweet-talked to the proud, haughty, criminal cat: “You are of Indian origin like me; you like milk, not meat; carrots not parrots; peas and ground nuts; not fish or greasy omelets, you are a vegetarian. At this, Napolean of Crime jumped high and thumped on the table scattering pad, papers and pens in all directions.

Rosy brought a bowl of milk and gently offered it to the animal who after sitting in her lap for a while departed nonchalantly leaving Rosy Singh lost in memories: How on a Sunday morning, Macavity had snatched from an urchin a bundle of envelops he was trying to fish out from the Post Box at the street’s edge with a copper wire, its probing end twisted into a lump of wax. Macavity, as a practiced looter leapt to and pawed the booty, firmly held it in his mouth, ran to Rosy and Ravi, placed it before their feet and disappeared into the back street.

The loving couple had accepted the gift most graciously. Sitting on a nearby park bench they opened envelops and found several cheques in payment of bills. Together they schemed and conspired to turn the dear animal’s gift into perpetual moolah. And they never looked back. Macavity was now on friendly visiting terms and they shared their secrets with him openly.

Rosy also recalled how they had argued and debated about  going against their middle class norms. They had been reading Sartre’s Being And Nothing, the Bible of Existentialism: Existence is absurd. Life has no meaning. Death is the ultimate absurdity. One is born by chance; one dies by chance. There is no God. This Human Condition demands that one must make use of freedom; only freedom of choice can allow one to escape “nausea” and authenticate one’s existence. That means one must not merely think but act even if it means going against one’s grain! Together they had shouted: Let’s break out of this bourgeois shell and be born again. And they  took the so-called existentialist leap on that weekend in a London Park.

She broke off from her reverie. Got up and dressed for meeting her dinner guest at the Taj, St. James Court. Stanly alias Steward was waiting for her a few steps away. Both walked together when a cop accosted them and rudely said to Steward, the sleuth pretending as a criminal:”What are you doing here in London? I gave you only five hours to fly the cage? And who’s this woman?”

“I was going”, answered Steward”;“honest I am leaving; this lady’s okay; hasn’t done a thing.”

“Well, I must lock you up at Headquarters for the night,” said Eric Rump rudely, “The girl can go.”

“Oh, Mr.Rump, have dinner with us”, implored Mrs. Rosy Singh, “my friend hasn’t had anything to eat, he is hungry”

“Nothing doing, Miss” and Rump led Steward alias Stanly in the opposite direction. That was a preplanned police stratagem.

Steward never came back but a couple of hours later a ruffianly yokel knocked at Rosy’s door. He said he was Sweeney and, Mr. Ravinder Bahadur Singh, now behind the bars, had sent him to get morphine. He said he was her husband’s trusted cock, done things together and was just released from the same jail.

Mrs. Singh listened to him forbearingly and said, “But I do not know you”. She had become extra careful about strangers after the catastrophic fiasco with Steward alias Stanly though she did not yet know that he was a police detective and only pretending to be Ravi’s jail mate.

She gazed into Sweeney’s eyes and said, “What morphine you are talking about? My husband is no addict. He is a decent gentleman of royal lineage”.

Sweeny got up, said, “couldn’t care less” and hurtled toward the door.

Meanwhile, hand-writing experts testified that the E. Biers and other signatures were as perfect as originals and Mrs. Rosy Singh was, indeed, a “free hand” forger. Her forgeries were written by a muscular imitation of the pen movement of the writers of the genuine signatures, nearly impossible to detect.

The police, now confident of getting the real forger convicted, freed Ravinder Bahadur Singh but advised him not to leave London.

Ravinder was a jealous and suspicious husband though Rosy was a loving wife and eager to find ways to help her husband escape from the clutches of law. She was totally in the dark about his having been let off by the police.

She was happily surprised when after midnight Ravinder walked in. He was not his usual self and very inarticulate. It seems the sleuths had been telling tales about his wife having another companion and doing brisk business unaffected by his absence. Perhaps he was angry because his wife had refused to send dope through Sweeney.

The loving couple had never quarreled before but tonight Ravinder became furiously violent without reason. After a few drinks, he started thrashing her delicate wife. She was shocked, seriously injured and fell unconsciousness. Ravinder quietly slithered from the scene.

She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window, she discovered that she was now the weary possessor of a pounding headache, and at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse.

On top of that, a few hours later that Sunday noon she was taken into custody by a posse of police. Stanly, the detective had accompanied them.

Was it a cat triggered weekend fun or a Fate enacted farce played out on that weekend to these London inamoratos? Were the couple really free to make their existentialist choice or what happened to them was all predestined?

Let the reader riddle with these and many more questions the story of Rosy and Ravinder has left behind. It had all started on a Sunday and ended on a Sunday too. Coincidence!

====The End of ‘Inamoratos Existentialist Leap’ By Jitendra Kumar Sharma====

No Indian can murder a Britisher, A short story by Jitendra Kumar Sharma

We grew up in this town but feel so very alien during this short visit.

My brother Trevor and I had come back to Karnal to sell our bunglow, next to Liaqat Ali Khan [now Pakistan’s Prime Minister]’s sprawling Estate. How soon the scene has changed!  The Liaqat estate has been converted into Dayal Singh College. No white Angrez can be seen here now. Yet, only a decade ago, a score of them dominated this mofussil town.

 Both Liaqat Ali and my father Lawrence Sanders practiced in the District Cou

No Indian can murder a Britisher

BY  Jitendra Kumar Sharma 

It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had got puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back….

and ruminated: We grew up in this town but feel so very alien during this short visit.

My brother Trevor and I had come back to Karnal to sell our bunglow, next to Liaqat Ali Khan [now Pakistan’s Prime Minister]’s sprawling Estate. How soon the scene has changed!  The Liaqat estate has been converted into Dayal Singh College. No white Angrez can be seen here now. Yet, only a decade ago, a score of them dominated this mofussil town.

 Both Liaqat Ali and my father Lawrence Sanders practiced in the District Courts at Karnal and were frequent visitors to each other’s house. The Four o’clock tea and game of tennis was a daily ritual that brought them together. In the club, they drank and played cards. And, of course, in the courts they often faced each other.

Liaqat Ali was a typical Indian zamindar[landlord] and kept the plebeians at bay. My father did not consider all locals as vulgar. He argued their cases and mixed with them socially, though seldom concealed from them his sense of racial superiority.

Among his favorites was Wazir Ali. My father called him Wazi. Sometimes, he intentionally called him Baji. Many Indians were unable to say Wazi, including the Magistrate Gokul Dass, who called Wazir, Bajeer. My father would, at times when he was in a more jovial mood, hail Wazi as Bajeer imitating Gokul Dass’s accent and pronunciation and both laughed in guffaws.

My father always spoke Urdu with his local acquaintances and was popular among them. He often appeared before Gokul Dass and won cases for his native clients. Gokul Dass was known for showing servile deference toward my father and seldom gave a verdict against him. Was it because my father belonged to the British ruling class? Greater the notoriety of Gokul Dass for his  servility toward my father, higher the demand for my father as a surefire winner of cases in the Magistrate Gokul Dass’ court!

During the Monsoon, Wazir came wearing a two-and-half maund  bori [a jute bag that can hold 100 ser of grain], an improvised rain coat to protect himself and his modest kameez pyjama and waistcoat against the raining clouds. He would walk laggardly all the way but from the outer phatak gate he would rush at full speed to our verandah and pretend shivering. He would get a hot cup of tea, English style, as a reward for his sprint.

After the tea, he would invariably ask my father, “Sahib, which is the best season of Hindostan?” Even before my father answered “The Monsoon season”, Wazi would put his next question, “And Sahib, which is the worst season of Hindostan”? Both he and my father would together say it in unison, “The rainy season!”

Why did we choose to come during the rains, if the purpose was to sell the house? It was not the best time to find customers.  In fact, the house had already been sold. Before handing it over to the buyer, we wanted to relive a few days of childhood and remember our father in his house. Rains he loved and mangoes and the koel. He used to mimic the koel’s voice and throw mango parties. We remembered and we wept as we recalled the past. Again and again.

Trevor had not returned. It was thundering and raining cats and dogs. The muddy stream of rainy water was rising, swelling and freely entering the neglected vast garden from all sides.  What was a puddle a while ago, now looked like a veritable pond. The boundary wall was already falling in several place. Flooding water was attacking it like a hungry tiger attacks and gnaws at a gentle cow!

 And then this soft knock at the door. From the knock I knew it was not my brother. Trevor’s door knocking is rhythmic. There was subdued rudeness in this soft knock. I did not open the door. The knock became persistent and I heard a familiar native voice. “Kholo, baby, main hoon” [Open, baby, it’s me].The voice sounded familiar yet it had a far and fearful tone. As the knock became louder and ruder, bolder became   my resolve to ignore it. Now the knocking stopped. And, also the rain.

The silence was even more frightening than the knocking. I turned to go to the balcony and shuffled the window drape to see if the knocker was leaving. Before I could look through the window pane, knocking resumed. It was louder but there was no hint of breaking open the door. I returned to the easy chair my father used to nap in with his long legs stretched over its long arms. I was getting used to the noise and nuisance the knocker was inflicting on me.

I heard two voices now exchanging greetings. “I have come to see you Chhotey Sahib and baby Miss”. Trevor was back. His familiar, rhythmic knocking was reassuring. He gently said, “It’s me, Christine”. I jumped toward the door, and swiftly unbolted it.

I opened the door and looked intently at the strangely familiar face. The man was tall and slender with grey eyes. His build and mustaches were just like my father’s. I found myself resisting from embracing him. Did I not know that my father was dead? Nor was it a ghost because my brother was standing by him. Before I could get puzzled, Trevor said, “The College Principal had detained me for a chat. He wants to go to UK for doing a doctorate and wanted me to suggest the right university he ought to apply, etc……”.

Turning to the familiar stranger and looking at me, he said, “Do you recognize Wazir Ali?” I did and we all three sat talking about the past. He was no longer his former self. Instead of his peculiar gusto, guilt spewed from his voice. Or, did I only sense so?

In the old days, Wazi had engaged my father as a defence lawyer and continued to visit our house even after my father had won his case in Gokul Dass’s court. There was a striking resemblance between Wazi and my father, both in temperament and physique but for Wazir Ali’s slightly less white complexion. Were they drawn together because of their odd resemblance?

My father preferred to discuss politics with Wazir Ali rather than with Liaqat Ali who had become a hard-boiled politician.

Father also played Halma with Wazir Ali and with no one else. My father had taught him this board game. Wazi played Halma excitedly, skillfully and was unrestrained in his elation over winning a game. He forgot all about his racial inferiority   whenever he beat my father in a game of Halma. My father did not like to lose a case in the courts, much less a game of Halma.

My brother and I watched them play under the canopy of the mango tree, a servant in livery swaying a large palm-leaf fan to keep the flies and mosquitoes away from the two dedicated players. Wazi wore a red Turkish fez and, on some festive occasions, a formal black achkan [a buttoned up long coat], and white chooridars. My father at home wore casual clothes, often a sarong and sandals but that did not detract from his superiority.

Indoors, Wazir Ali always took off his shoes and left them outside the drawing room. He was consciously respectful to my father at the beginning of their Halma game but he became less respectful as the game progressed. They argued volubly, loudly and reached moments of equality but never for long. My mother, however, thought Wazir frequently exceeded his social limits and was insolent toward my father. Anyway, game over, they sat relaxed over whiskey and cigareetes. Wazi was a stout Muslim; he neither drank nor smoked.

After the game, Wazi and my father launched into a long, wide ranging discussion. Local affairs, law suits, intrigues, politics, culture, philosophy, religions. Transitions from one topic to another were seamless. Neither of them was committed to any belief or cause and freely changed stance and reversed their positions on any point of argument. Often Wazi would start with his anti-Raj tirade and end up praising it when he saw my father becoming too critical of the British Rule in India.

They conversed in Urdu. Wazi, though not a lawyer, was a munshi, nonetheless and argued with great fervor. He didn’t care for winning or losing his point of argument. He simply and zestfully argued endlessly. My father became jittery, sarcastic, witty, if he felt he was losing. If he was winning, he was cool, grandiose, condescending. Not so much my father’s arguments but his unpredictable show of condescension or hauteur irked and galled Wazi enormously.

To me and my kid brother, our vicarious pleasure at watching Wazir Ali and Lawrence Sanders play and argue seemed never ending and timeless. We hoped it would never end. But, like all things, it did and before our eyes.

One rainy day, we all sat in the veranda. In one corner, Wazi and my father, Halma board between them, looked at each other intently. Suddenly, my father got up and laid himself back in the long chair. He inclined into it as he always did, his back resting at the chair’s enormous back and his long legs spread out over its long arms. Wazi  kept  sitting  on  his  cushioned game chair. He repeatedly spied the winning and defeated Halma men still arrayed on the board. A sly smile danced on his mustaches as he twirled them with ineluctable glee. Wazi abruptly laughed and his laughter became uncontrollable.

My father found himself in a fit of rage. Wazi’s laughter was outrageous and insulting. All the more so, because he had won game after game.

Looking disparagingly at Wazi, he said, “The Rajputs  at Chittor in 1303 gave that damned Allaudin Khillji a run for his Sultanate?”

There was no context for this historical reminder. His intent was simply to insult Wazir Ali, the proud Mussalman who regarded his ancestors as the true predecessors of the British Rulers of India. Even we children understood that and felt that his defeat and aching pride had made my father burst out  with this impertinent  sally.

Wazi laughed derisively and riposted. “The Rajputs burnt their women and perished on the conqueror’s spear”

My father: “Rajputs were chivalrous”

Wazi: “Chivalrous, my foot!” and excitedly and rashly he blurted, “Had I been chivalrous today, you would have won the game”.

Fire descended in my father’s eyes! “You bastard! Get out of here”

No sooner had Wazi  gone a few steps than my father sharply pulled his sandal dangling in his right foot and threw at the departing guest. It hit him on his head.

Wazi turned back, picked the hurled shoe from the ground and surprisingly put it back in my father’s foot. Then he stood and glared at my father. Silently and coolly he pulled out a big knife from inside his deep pocket, and with full force he thrust it into my father’s thorax. My father groaned and was dead. We rushed toward our dying, dead father. We did not see when Wazi slinked away. Later we heard he was absconding and police had registered a case of murder against him. Some said, he had joined the Ahrars or Razakars, anti-British rebel organizations. He remained a fugitive and eluded justice.

My mother had never liked India. She took us to England by the first boat we could get for boarding at Bombay port. We lost track of Wazi and also interest in him. We kept hearing that he was under trial in Gokul Dass’s court who had become  the District and Sessions Judge of Karnal.

India was being ruled by Indians now!

Today, on this rainy day, Wazi was produced before Judge Gokul Dass who was to retire that very afternoon. He pronounced his judgment. Lawyers and some lower staff and lawyers’ munshis had crowded the Gokul Dass’ Court. They talked among themselves of old days when my father, Lawrence Sanders, practiced in these District Courts. “Wazir Ali will surely go to the gallows”, some said it loudly. There were whispers: “Sanders’ ghost must be haunting Gokul Dass”,

“The Judge will break his pen’s nib and write his last judgment- convicted for cold blooded murder of an English man. Hang the guilty by neck until …”.

The above details Wazi himself told me and my brother. He  had walked straight from Gokul Dass’s court  to our house. He said because of rain the civil courts were deserted and several lawyers and munshis told him that we were in Karnal to sell the Sanders Villa.

This is what he told us:

 “In a moment of remorse, I had surrendered to the police. I wanted to be hanged like all murderers should. But strange are the ways of Fate and/or of the Judges. I confessed to murdering Sanders Sahib but Gokul Dass set aside all evidence and my confession too. He who had always felt the lordly presence of Sanders Sahib in the court, took only a few minutes in setting me at liberty.

‘No Indian can murder a Britisher, only the British killed and can kill Indians’. It was so unlike Judge Gokul Dass to write and pronounce such a judgment. He even pronounced my name correctly. He called me WAZIR, NOT BAJEER!”

Wazi  got up from the sofa , spread out his arms, knelt down and put  his right hand on my brother Trevor’s knee and mumbled with a gulp in his throat, “ Gokul Dass has not freed me Sahib, he has condemned me to die every waking moment. Sahib and Baby Miss, Never Forgive Me. I beseech you, never forgive me”.

He prostrated himself, then stood up and silently departed from the scene. 

===The End====

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