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Monday, March 4, 2013

Officer Is Coming to The Village!

Original ( Officeru uoolloki vastunnadu ) in Telugu –   Talluru Nageswararao
Translated by –  grkmurty

Talluru  Nageswararao was a story-writer of repute in Telugu. He worked as a lecturer in VSR College, Tenali, and later worked for Telugu Academy, Hyderabad.

According to Hitasri, Nageswararao was one writer who could translate Telugu rural life into words more artistically conveying its varied complexities, of course, adding his own perspective to make the narration more realistic. For Hitasri, the present story, “Officer Is Coming to the Village!”, is a  story that depicts a well-known scene from our villages—the interplay of the familiar characters, viz., farmers, a President and an officer, executing a certain habitual ‘graft’ in a matter-of-fact way. At the end, time, of course, plays a crude joke on the officer bringing in certain stillness, a stillness that reflects the sad state of affairs of our society and its leaders. The irony is that the story sounds real or credible even today.  Its poignancy of tone and delicacy of narration had perhaps made Hitasri label it as the most liked story of him. It was translated and published by Sarika, a noted monthly in Hindi.

Read On....
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No sooner did the RTC bus stop at the bus stand than Chidambaram, the Shavukar, jumped on the road. Unmindful of his status, his age, his esteem, he, like a just released life prisoner from the central jail, freely breathed in the fresh air. The drive from the town that he had undertaken by sitting in the bus for more than half an hour reminded him of the days of his imprisonment for having participated in the Dandi Salt March. The worn-out earthen pot-like bus, the shredded old shirt-like road, tightly packed passengers – chi, chi, traveling by this bus is nothing but undergoing the punishment for the sins committed in the previous birth right in this very life!  Thus thinking, Chidambaram, the Shavukar and the President of that village Panchyat Board, stood under the eaves of a Palmyra hut in the bus stand.  

Paleru, who was waiting for the return of the landlord from the town near the pan shop, having seen him, came hurriedly to Chidambaram and took the bag from his hand. Mopping up the sweat on the face with the zari-bordered upper cloth, Shavukar started off towards his village.

The Sun had almost disappeared from the western horizon. Dusk was spreading its darkness. Street lamps suddenly made their presence felt.

Sitting by the chariot-house located in the center of the village, about a dozen farmers were chit chatting. A lecture about the Anthrax disease of oxen and their control was being aired by the Panchayat radio.

Seeing the Shavukar, Chidambaram, from a distance, Veerayya bawled: “Where from? Is it from the town?”

He stopped at them. Paleru went home with the bag.

Saying, “Common babai, sit here”, a young fellow showed him the place to sit.

“What news from the town?”

Saying, “The procurement officer is coming to our village tomorrow to collect paddy. A clerk working in his office told me”, Chidambaram garu tucked himself on the deck.   

All the farmers sitting there suddenly turned towards him paying intense attention. “How mush paddy they are likely to acquire?”

“It seems we must give at the rate of seven bags per acre. It was announced in yesterday’s newspaper too! Irrespective of whether one is a poor or rich farmer, and without any discrimination, they would, it seems, collect from everybody, and if required even by force. Officer is coming to the village tomorrow at 10 in the morning along with his office staff. It seems they plan to collect around 14 000 bags of paddy... by any means... from our village.”     

“What’s the government’s rate?”

“Darn’t! … Quite insignificant … petty thirty rupees. Market rate is forty five rupees. Which farmer would like to give away his produce at such a low price?”

“What else can we do? It’s the government order. Can we defy the government?” 

Not knowing what to do, all the farmers fell into a deep thought. Animated discussions continued for sometime. Each one aired one suggestion or the other. But none of them appeared to be adoptable. Finally, they transferred the responsibility of ensuring that no procurement took place from the village to the village Shavukar and Panchayat President Chidambaram garu. The acceptance of that responsibility had become inevitable for him. Accepting it as though out of compulsion, he promised the farmers to design a way out of the problem and work to the best of his abilities to save them.

Just like the sunshine that had been released by the clouds, all the farmers heaved a sigh of relief.

That night all the big farmers of the village assembled at Chidambaram’s house. While having dinner, the Shavukar hatched a strategy. Indeed, he was an expert in such scheming. With a cheroot in mouth, coming into the hall, flashing a dignified smile, he looked at the assemblage royally.

“Today, our nation is facing a great food crisis. Lakhs and lakhs of people in states like UP, Bihar are starving in want of food grains. Although we are importing food grains from countries such as America and Russia, they are found to be quite inadequate to mitigate the crisis. We are all one nation. We are all of one race – Indians. Of the 50 crore people living in our country, even if one dies of hunger, it is a shame for the government; losing a fellow Indian would become a personal grief for us. Therefore, it has become the immediate responsibility of the government to arrest starvation deaths by procuring food grains from surplus states and supplying to the deficit states. Since it is the responsibility of citizens to support the task undertaken by the government, we must – despite our disinterest – stand by the procurement policy of the government! Each one of us must give at the rate of at least one bag per acre. In our village we have about 2000 acres under irrigation. We shall therefore give 2000 bags to the procurement officer. Now coming to the question of protecting ourselves from giving the balance 12000 bags, there is a way out. There is a difference of Rs 14 between the market price and the government price. If we all come together, stand as one, collect money from the whole village at the rate of four rupees per bag and present it to the procurement officer, he would never again look at our village. It shall be my responsibility to discretely pass on the money to the officer without any hiccups!” said Shavukar Chidambaram garu.             

All the farmers nodded their heads. They were all appreciative of the plan of Shavukaru garu, for he explained it so lucidly.

Collection of money started that very night. A couple of elders went around the village and by early morning collected 8000 rupees. Placing it in the hands of shavukau garu, and saying, “the rest is your responsibility”, they retired.

Receiving the money, Chidambaram garu, greeted them with a mild smile, as though granting them assurance.

Next morning, around 11 o’clock, the procurement officer came. He didn’t, of course, enter the village. Around half a kilometer away from the village, along the roadside, Chidambaram garu had a lemon garden. Amidst it, there was a beautiful bungalow.  After waiting for him for almost an hour and a half, like a hunter laying a trap to catch an animal, Chidamburum garu caught hold of the officer and with his sweet conversation, nudged him into his bungalow. On the previous day itself, he had collected all the information about the officer’s background, his mental weaknesses, likes and dislikes, habits in detail from his office in the town.  

The officer came in a jeep without the usual paraphernalia such as bedding and suitcase, perhaps to go back by evening. The accompanying staff too got down at the bungalow. Learning about it, the village karnam, munsif, and a few other important farmers came to the bungalow hurriedly.   

The bungalow, being surrounded by lush green fields and peaceful atmosphere, had a beautiful ambiance. There was a row of coconut trees all around the farm premises, as if a compound wall had been erected. Behind them, lemon trees stood in rows like soldiers ready to take orders.  There was a flower-garden just in front of the bungalow. Its flowers of different colors—appearing like girls in new saris welcoming the guests—stood spreading beauty and fragrance all around. A little away from it, a couple of laborers were channeling water from the well to the lemon trees using an electric pump.

That afternoon, an exclusive arrangement had been made for the officer’s lunch in a special room in that bungalow. The rest of the staff, assembling under the shade of coconut trees, were chit-chatting.

The officer, a known food-lover, was served tasty food. On the one side chicken biriyani, chicken fry, chicken curry, fish cutlet, omelet, prawn soup, and whatnot! On the other side, three jars full of Golden Eagle beer!  Over it, food was being served by Vanajakshi. She was the daughter of the gardener, Kistaiah. She was in her adolescence. She had all the expertise to charm any kind of man. She had adorned herself with a glittering sari and colorful blouse. As she was serving food with a smile like that of moonlight, the officer could not feel the taste of food, for desires, spreading like a creeping twine, curtained it … It was like the lightning in the dark sky!

After having lunch, sitting on a sofa, and lighting a Gold Flake cigarette, puffing out smoke in rings, the officer thought of Vanajakshi. The officer is brimming with the age. For him, the real beautiful women were only in the countryside! As the life in urban centers was artificial, the beauty of the women residing there too was artificial! Obviously, isn’t there a difference between a flower sold in the market and the one that is on the plant?

Chidambaram garu came in silently to the officer, who was swaying in his own sweet imagination just as a cat that came in discreetly to drink milk. Sitting on the sofa in front of the bed, sporting a bright smile, he looked at the windows of the room. The light of the midday sun had kept the darkness out of the room.

The officer yawned … perhaps getting sleepy! The Shavukar realized the implicit meaning of that yawning. Pulling out the cash from the right side pocket of his khadi lalchi, he put it on the officer’s palm, just as keeping prasadam on a banana leaf.

Tucking that cash into his pant pocket, the officer smiled tenderly.

“You please take rest. At this odd hour, how can you come to the village? You may send your staff. Standing by them I shall arrange for procuring around 2000 bags,” said Chidambaram.
That suggestion suited the officer. Like a sharp knife, Vanajakshi flashed in his mind. Calling his staff, he ordered them to go along with Chidambaram to the village and procure paddy as he directed. He added, “I shall join you after taking an hour’s rest.”

Boarding the jeep, they all went to the village. Shavukar sat in the front seat of the jeep.

Although he was lying on the cot for long—yet the officer could not get sleep. He was turning this and that side. The temptations were making him restless. The more he thought of Vanajakshi, the more was the disturbance—as though snakes were crawling over the spinal cord. He was lighting cigarette after cigarette.

Silence was ruling the roost. From a distance, the sounds of electric motor, voices of labor, twittering of the birds on the lemon trees were audible indistinctly.   

Half an hour had passed.

Slowly the door opened.

Vanajakshi came in asking, “Babugaru! Do you need water to drink?”

Cool breeze blew over his body. His face got freshened.

“Yes!” said the officer with a smile.

Felt as though a thunder had struck.

After a couple of minutes, Vanajakshi came into the room with a water glass in hand. She didn’t of course, go out of the room immediately.  Stayed back for quite long!

Shavukar Chidambaram arranged personally for a collection of 2000 bags of paddy. By then it was late in the evening. Getting the office staff into the jeep, saying he would join them soon, he came home.

Washing his feet, hands and face with water from the tub near the veranda, straightaway he came into the house.  Opening the iron chest and offering namaskar to Lakshmidevi, he pulled out the currency note bundle from the left side pocket of the khadi shirt. Counted them. Thirty hundred rupee notes! Smiled with contentment. Safely tucked them in the iron chest.

Exactly then, the officer sleeping in the farmhouse of the Shavukar located outside the village, woke up lazily. Yawning, he looked around the cot that he was lying down. Vanajakshi was not there. But the tattered petals of the rose flowers that Vanajakshi had tucked in her hair were all over the bed.

A sensuous smile flashed across the officer’s lips smoothly.

The officer got up from the bed. Looked at the coat-stand. His heart queered. Felt as though a thunder had struck.

– His terylene pant and shirt that were hanged on the coat-stand were missing.
…could hear the sound of jeep coming in … and stopping in front of the farmhouse.

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