Vantage point

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mhais by P.L. "PuLa" Deshpande Part 2

continued from Part 1

Madhu might have continued in this sanctimonious vein for a lot longer, but someone shouted,

"Look look! The cops are coming!"

And both groups turned their gaze towards that direction. Two-three people were walking towards us about a quarter mile away.

Meanwhile an ST bus headed to Chiplun stopped near us. The driver of that bus started talking with our driver. As we all know that there is a law in nature that if two bus drivers or two truck drivers, when they converge at one point coming from opposite directions... and yes, two ants as well, they have to stop for a little while and mutter something to each other. Who knows what they talk about? They probably warn each other about the presence of cops in either direction. Anyway, our driver sent a message with the other driver for the ST folks in Chiplun to send another bus while this Mhais issue was being sorted out.

By then, the three people finally reached the spot. It was difficult to figure out exactly who among them, if any, were cops. So assuming that the most confident looking of the three might be a cop, the khadi politician stepped forward, and politely said to him,

"He-he. Hmm.." he smiled, "I was saying... please get done with the FIR quickly, if it isn't too much trouble, and free us from this predicament."

"Why are you telling me that?" the guy growled back, "Tell this guy. He is the cop. I have been through enough trouble hunting cops. I went to the outpost, and there wasn't a single constable to be found. No inspector around either. Fortunately I found this Orderly, so got him along."

So the villagers turned towards the Orderly and paid their respects. It was around noon, and yet the Orderly's eyes seemed heavy with lethargy, as if just woken up. Looking at his face, many of us thought that he either didn't get enough winks last night, or got more than enough drinks last night. Without any concern of splattering anyone, he spat out a quart or so of paan-juice in front of him, and in a voice as heavy as his eyes, he fired of the first official question,

"Who is the diver(sic)?"

The driver stepped forward.

"Let's see your lie-sun". The driver handed over his 'lie-sun'.

The Orderly started examining the license in a manner resembling a rookie astrologer examining his first horoscope. Other curious people also crowded around the Orderly and peered over his shoulder, muttering "Yes yes, let's see the license." Now what's so visually appealing about a license that everyone rushed to see it? Nothing. But still, a bunch of people almost mobbed the orderly.

That's when a passing truck stopped. It's driver, a Sardarji, got down and got himself abreast of the whole situation. And then said at the top of his voice,

"Even if a man dies, no one gets too bothered these days. What's the big deal if a bhains is dying? Just work something out amongst yourselves, all of you", and with that unsolicited and useless bit of advice, went on his way, his tailpipe firing a healthy amount of black smoke in our direction.

"What's your name?" the Orderly asked our driver.

"It's written on the license there," Madhu interjected "Shivram Govind."

"Sir, you all please don't come in between. I am talking to the diver."

"But I don't see the point in asking him his name again, after reading it on his license.." Madhu started arguing.

"Listen. Let me follow our due process" the Orderly said and in a sterner voice continued, "DON'T INTERFERE!!!"

Madhu shrank away a bit due to the gruff police-y scolding. Luckily the almost-petite girl was not nearby. But he regained his composure in a few seconds and said with barely concealed hubris,

"Heh.. heh... just admit that you can't read English."

"What I can read and can't read is my personal matter, UNDERSTAND?? I don't like wise guys, I warn you." the barb about English had clearly hit a sore spot. Because he then spat out some paan-juice with such force, it could have easily qualified him for the finals of a paan-juice-spitting event at the Olympics.

"Hey Shivram Govind" the Orderly said wiping his lips, "tell me your name."

"The same, the same", said the driver.

"What's same?" the Orderly thundered.

"Shivram Govind"

"So give a straight answer. Don't be a wiseguy. Address?"

"Parve Chawl, Chimji Bhomji Street, Bombay 10" the driver answered straight.

"But Orderly-saab" another passenger interjected, "Why don't you quickly do the FIR instead of talking to the driver? We have been stranded here for over three hours now."

"Sir, I told you before," the Orderly replied, "Let me follow our due process."

"But what the hell? We are being fried in this sun." Usman Bhai now jumped into the fray, "There isn't even any milk for our kids. What sort of a village is this? No milk, even??"

"Where will the milk come from if you ST people go around killing all our mhais?" a long-awaited contribution from the villager camp.

"Nonsense!" Usman Bhai turned towards him "Tell me, how many dozen mhais did we kill of your? How many dozen? Orderly-saab, you conduct the inquiry for the FIR, write down whatever you have to on a paper, and set us poor passengers free. Eh? What do you say, folks? Am I not right? This whole damn delay since the morning."

"Hey, did I cause the delay?" the Orderly said.

"When did we say you caused the delay? We're not stupid, you know" another passenger piped up. The fear of police was clearly subsiding. The way those frogs in one of Aesop's fables started hopping on a log after they stopped fearing it, passengers started hopping around the Orderly.

"But still what is this? It took more than three hours after the accident for the police to show up. How professional and inefficient! But of course when it comes to extorting money from the public..."

"Don't talk too much rot about us I warn you!!!" the Orderly shouted.

"But why not?" Madhu eased back into the passengers camp. "Why not? Why were the no cops at the site of an accident? Do you need engraved invitations to come? This is an accident, not someone's wedding reception that someone needs to invite you to come over."

"What am I, some sort of God to know what's happening everywhere? Was I supposed to get some vision that you folks were going to kill a mhais?" the Orderly responded.

"We didn't kill the mhais."

"Your ST killed it."

"Our ST????" the teacher entered the ring, "Our ST??? Tell me, if a mhais strolls in front of a speeding bus, then what do you expect? That it will give milk instead of dying?" As clear as dictation.

"Acually, it's not the driver's fault" another passenger said, "It's the mhais' fault."

"Yeah right. The mhais is supposed to have brains?" a villager shot back.

"The mhais might not have any, but don't you people have brains? Why do you leave them open like this outside their stables?"

"Then where will they graze? Tell me, where will they graze? Just because you folks are from Mumbai, you think you can get away with spouting any nonsense?"

"Hmm... who is the owner of the Mhais?", the Orderly asked. The owner stepped forward. "Your name?"

"Dharma Mandavkar"

"Father's name?"

"Yeshya, deceased." Dharma must have some experience with court cases and such, because he seemed to know exactly when to use terms like 'deceased'.

"Orderly-saab, start the FIR, please." another passenger joined the chorus.

"Sir, let me follow our due process. Don't interrupt me all the time. OK, listen, you, Mandavkaree."

"His name isn't Mandavkaree, it's Mandavkar" a passenger added helpfully.

"YOU PASSENGER FOLKS, GET AWAY FROM ME AND STAND THERE!!!" the Orderly raised his voice to newer high.

"OK, OK, we'll get away, but please, free us from this mess."

"That'll take time." the Orderly said.

"Take time? Why? You have all the papers and forms with you. Just take down all the statements and finish the FIR."

"I don't have authority." the Orderly said.

"You don't have authority? So you're not police?"

"Not police? Then what am I, a thief?"

"Then why don't you start the FIR?"

"I don't have authority"

"So who has authority?"

"Our sub-inspector."

"So why didn't you get him along? Did you come to check the mhais' pulse?" people were getting angrier by the minute. "So no FIR until the sub-inspector comes?"

"No" said the Orderly.

"So when will he get here?"

"He's gone to Chiplun."

"So we have to sit around in this sun until he comes back from Chiplun?" a passenger said. "That's horrible. Listen, driver, I tell you, put the bus in reverse, back up, and let's get going. Let's see what happens. If some complication arises, take down our names and addresses and we'll help you out. Come on folks!"

Passengers started climbing back on the bus. But the driver was sitting where he was. Calmly, he took out two cigarettes from his pocket. Lit one for himself, and passed the second one to the conductor.

"Come on, driver. We told you we'll bear the responsibility. Come on!"

"Come on? What come on?" the driver answered, "My license is still in his hand." Realizing the futility of the situation, the passengers got down from the bus again.

"Hmmm.. what time did the accident happen?" the Orderly asked the driver. But a passenger jumped in before the driver could answer.

"Why are you asking useless questions if you have no authority? Idiot! Tell you what, go back to your outpost and take a nap until the sub-inspector returns."

The passengers had now fully resigned themselves to the circumstances. Cigarettes and snacks started being passed around. And a few groups of people sat around shooting the breeze, waiting for their fate to rescue them. Madhu meanwhile introduced himself to the almost-pretty almost-petite girl's father and struck up a conversation.

"Seriously, the Honors course is so difficult. And professors these days don't have any knowledge. Furthermore...." he continued dispensing his spiel.

Bagunana, meanwhile kept moving from group to group, sampling all the foods, and made sure his lunch was taken care of without spending a penny. As he eyed the omelettes in Usman Bhai's aluminum lunch box, he said,

"Say what you will, Usman Bhai, I believe all religions are equally correct and pious.... pass some of that omelette, will you?", and he slipped away to appropriate some curd-rice from the teacher.

People had settled down comfortably as if they would be staying for a week. The Orderly had also by now assimilated in the group, and was smoking a cigarette borrowed from someone. Another couple of hours passed in this lethargic mode. And finally there was a noise of a vehicle horn. An official-looking pick-up van was motoring towards us.

"Looks like the real cops are here now!" someone said. And everyone ran towards the road once again. The van reached the accident spot. A couple of ST officials, an inspector, a constable and a veterinary doctor trooped out of it. The Orderly swooped in and smarty saluted the inspector. And the ST officials started talking to the driver and the conductor.

As soon as they saw the inspector, all the leading lights of the passenger camp, like Usman Bhai, khadi politician, Madhu Manushte, Teacher, Bagunana, etc. forged ahead. Leading the way, Madhu Manushte. He reached the inspector, and said to him in chaste English,

"You see, you see, sir. You see, we have been held up here, you see, for more than half past six hours, you see.", a nice missile of Bombay English fired at the inspector. The inspector however, clearly unimpressed, brushed him aside like a fly, and said in his truly stern police-y voice,

"Where is the driver?". The driver stepped ahead.

"License?" the Orderly handed over the license.

With the license in his hand, the inspector, accompanied by the ST officials, the driver, mandavkar, passenger leaders, other villagers, led somewhat of a procession towards the mhais.

"Get the measuring tape out." the inspector commanded, and the constable produced a tape. "OK, where did the mhais come in front of the bus?"

"Sir, I'll tell you, I'll tell you", one villager chirped.

"Shut up! You, driver, Shivram Govind, tell me, where did the mhais come in front of your bus?" the inspector was taking charge.

"Sir, I swear, I was going at barely twenty. When my bus was near that mango tree, the mhais which was on the side, suddenly walked on to the road." Without anyone telling him to do so, the constable ran towards the mango tree with his measuring tape. The orderly took the other end of the tape and started measuring the distance till the mhais.

Now the measuring tape turned out to be so ancient and jaded, that neither of them could make out the numbers on it. So the same distance was recorded at different occasions as anywhere from 100 yards to 25 feet. Finally, they gave up on the tape and the language of 50 paces, 10 paces, and so on was adopted. Then the two obsessively just kept measuring any distance they possible could.

"You two, find out where the brake was pressed. Find the marks." the inspector said to them. Then he turned to the vet and said, "Doctor, take a look at the mhais' wounds."

One of the ST officials started examining the bus' wounds, and the vet started examining the mhais' wounds.

"Any broken bones?" the inspector asked.

"Tough to say for sure," the vet replied "we'll have to get an X-ray taken."

"Oh wow!" khadi politician said in astonishment, "They can get X-rays for a mhais too, nowadays? It wasn't so in the old days. In fact before independence....", and GO! He started with his stock speech about the days before independence, and independence itself. He captured half a dozen folks and made them listen to everything he had so say.

Meanwhile the inspector, with the rest of the procession, started walking towards the brake marks. He stopped in between, and said,

"Ah. I see there's a lot of blood at this spot. But why here, and not there..."

"Blood?" the Teacher derisively said. "What blood? Your stupid Orderly has been spitting paan-juice all over the place. Manner-less fellow! Some drops even messed up my dhoti.", and then as if introducing evidence in court, he held up a corner of his dhoti and showed everyone the stains. The Orderly suddenly thought of measuring some other distance and exited the procession.

"Where's the animal's owner?" the inspector asked, and the owner stepped forward. "What's your name?"

"Dharma Mandavkar, Golmirey village, Chilpun taluka, Ratnagiri district, age 40, profession farmer." Dharma said the whole thing in a single breath, as if out of experience.

"I see. Did anyone witness the accident?"

"Sir, I'll tell you." the geriatric villager stepped forward. "Well...what happened.... what happened..."

"You tell me what happened. What can I tell you?" the inspector said impatiently.

"Yes yes, telling you. So sir... what happened...what happened was.."

The inspector sharply drew his breath with irritation, and the old man got to the point. Well, what he thought was the point.

"I was at Jilgya Maslekar's place. And I chewed some tobacco. Yes? And I had left his place to go. Yes?"

"And then?"

"Yes, yes, telling"

"Dada, you wait." he was interrupted by Supdu Sutaar, the village carpenter who had been silent so far. "I'll tell him. Sir, I saw the accident live-ly. Saw it live-ly."

"Alright, you saw it live-ly? Then tell me what you saw live-ly." the inspector turned to him.

"What happened, Sir, was, I chewed some tobacco, but at Zaglya's place, not Jilgya's..."

"You also chewed tobacco? Excellent!" the inspector thundered, "What does that have to do with anything? Get to the point!"

"Yes, yes, but let me finish what I... if you don't believe me, wait, Zaglya, did I chew tobacco at your place or not?". Zaglya answered in the affirmative. "See, I told you, Sir, I chewed tobacco. And then I was going... where?"

"How the hell should I know where?" the inspectors' annoyance was boiling over by now. "You tell me where you were going."

"I was going to Harchand Palav's place. Come here, Harchand." and Harchand stepped forward. "I was going to his place to fix his cupboard."

"But the cupbo..." the inspector tried to get a word in.

"Yes, just listen. Now, Sir, why did I go to Harchand Palav's place?"

"How would I know?"

"To fix his cupboard!"

"But what does that have to do with the mhais? Was the mhais inside the cupboard?"

"No. But what am I telling you? Listen. What happened to the mhais was...." Supdu showed some promising signs of getting back on track but veered away again, "All the hinges on Harchand Palav's cupboard were completely rusted and useless. Am I right, Harchand? Weren't they completely rusted? Tell him?"

"What does him telling me have anything to do with it? Tell me about the mhais." the inspector was at the end of his tether by now.

"Yes, so what I am saying is.... Harchand.."

"Harchand, you tell me what happened." the inspector turned to Harchand.

"OK, what happened Sir.." Harchand said.

"Just tell me what happened with mhais!!!" the inspector nearly exploded.

"What happened was... that thing, that thing was somewhat at the bottom, and that other thing was on top." Harchand helpfully added.

"What was at the bottom? What was on top?"

"I mean Dharma's mhais was at the bottom and the ST was on top."

"So did you or did you not see the actual accident happening?" the inspector wearily asked.

"Me? Who me? No, no, no, no!" Harchand replied. "I didn't see it happening. Why would I lie, Sir? I don't like lying. I just told you what I saw."

"Please, for god's sake, did anyone actually see the bus hitting the Mhais?" the inspector was now close to tears and decided to try another approach, "Who was in the front seat?"

"Heh, that was me. Me." the politician stepped forward.

"Your name?" the inspector asked.

"Babasaheb More." As soon as he heard the name Babasaheb More, the inspector's attitude completely changed.

"Oh, sorry, sorry. I didn't realize it was you, Sir." he said submissively, "You have seen, Sir, how sincerely I am conducting this investigation. But no one is cooperating at all. But how're you doing, Sir? Headed to Mumbai?"

"Yes. There's a meeting in the Chief Minister's office. Going for that. So you are posted at Chiplun these days?"

"Yes, Sir. Was transferred from Vengurla. I am sorry for all this inconvenience to you, Sir. Constable, get the register."

The constable immediately produced the register. He wrote down Babasaheb's statement about how it was the fault of the mhais and not the driver. The inspector started writing the FIR. Meanwhile the ST official offered the inspector a cigarette. With one eye on Babasaheb, he said,

"No, thanks. I don't smoke or drink."

"That's very commendable" Babasaheb beamed approvingly, " It is so rare to find such simple and virtuous men in the police force these days." effectively, a character certificate for the inspector.

This unexpected turn of events had suddenly raised Babasaheb's stock with all of us. The driver was looking at him with gratitude in his eyes. Dharma Mandavkar had stepped away and was standing there meekly. The inspector asked him,

"How much did you buy the mhais for?"

"Two hundred rupees." he quietly answered.

"Hah, now it's two hundred?" a passenger jumped in. "A while back he was saying eight hundred. Such a blatant lie. What a liar this man is. And said the mhais gave 15 litres of milk. Hmpf!"

The inspector writing down the whole FIR at an amazing pace. He asked the vet,

"Doctor, did you examine the wounds? Did the wheels go over the mhais?"

"No way to say for sure." he replied.

"So it's most likely that the wheels did not do over the mhais?" the inspector prompted.

"Yes, yes, most likely. Most likely the mhais just has bruises." the vet caught on fast.

"Hmm.. so why did you people not put some sort of oil or something on the bruises?" the inspector asked Dharma.

"But what about my compensation? Who will pay for it?" Dharma mustered up some courage.

"You see, Babasaheb. Your voters are becoming more aware and assertive now, like the voters in a free country should." the inspector made a feeble attempt to banter, and everyone from Babasaheb onwards laughed heartily. "Alright, who else witnessed the accident? Did you?"

"Me?" Usman Bhai who had been asked the question gave a start. "No, no. I did not actually witness it. When the brakes were slammed, I fell on top of our Idrus Miyaan. And his glasses fell down. This is Idrus Miyaan, my son-in-law. Come here, Idrus. He works in Africa. And that there is my girl. And with her is my girl's girl. She is six months old. The girl's girl, I mean. Not the girl..."

"What's all this girl girl girl?" the inspector interrupted him. "Tell me about the mhais."

"Yes, yes. So the brakes were slammed, we all fell on top of each other. And the bus came to a halt. Babasaheb was sitting in front. He shouted "Mhais, Mhais!" and we got down and saw it was indeed a mhais mhais. That a mhais had come under the bus..."

That's when Babasaheb discreetly tugged at Usman Bhai's shirt, and Usman Bhai got the message and said,

"... but one thing is for sure. The bus wasn't really going very fast. What could the driver do if the mhais came in front? Everyone should take care of their own cattle, right, Sir?"

After an hour of this farce, the FIR was finally finished. The inspector read it out aloud, and asked many of us to sign it. We signed it, but didn't quite understand how a lot of details in the FIR were relevant to the accident.

For instance, there is a blackberry tree about 50 paces away from the site of accident, and a mango tree to the south-west, the total number of passengers and their luggage, Dharma Mandavkar's barn is 61 paces from the highway... and so on.

However, the mhais' wounds were described perfunctorily - it appears as if there might have been bleeding, it does not appear as if there are any broken bones, the mhais was walking from the east towards the north east, one horn of the mhais is 2.25 inches longer than the other (the constable had originally written 2.25 yards), and so on.

The whole FIR was filled with such bizarre details. It was read out aloud, signed by us. The teacher, before signing it asked around at least half a dozen time "my signing this won't lead to any complications for me, right?", and after being re-assured, signed it timidly and passed it on. Usman Bhai signed it in urdu. Madhu Manushte... well.. this was the first FIR of his life. So he put down a long and elaborate signature in english, and as a suffix added, "Junior, B.A.".

Bagunana, when summoned, got up from his place, said, "I should sign it? of course, I will!", scribbled something extremely illegible, and went back and said to Jhampya Damle "Heh, You know what name I signed? Nana Phadnavis!" Babasaheb of course ensured that here too, his name was first.

Finally all the signatures were done, and the FIR was officially finished. he passengers breathed a big sigh of relief. The next big question was picking up the mhais from the front of the bus. But it was possible to put the bus in reverse, back up, and then get going, so passengers thought that question was up to the mhais and the villagers. Everyone started climbing aboard the bus, keen to get going after almost half a day's delay. The villagers went to remove the cots from around the mhais. That's when we heard the cry once again,

"Mhais! Mhais! Mhais!!!!"

All of us ran down to see what had gone wrong now. The four cots had been knocked down. And as it happened, the heroine of this whole saga, probably unwilling to disturb all us important people busy with the FIR, had finished her nap, gotten up, and ambled away on her four feet a long time ago.


Labels: , , , , ,