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The Fire

by Inder Krishen Koul (Talib Kashmiri)

NOTE: This story is the translated version of one of the stories "Aag" from the Urdu story book "Shanakht-e-Gul" by Talib Kashmiri.

"Oh! My God…….The final exams are right on my head and see these people……… they aren’t giving a chance to me to study in peace…….. Here Dad isn’t also keeping well and there those flunkey followers of God are playing the loudspeaker in the temple at such a high pitch almost twelve hours a day that the eardrums appear on the brink of bursting anytime……. Who’s now going to plead with them and make them understand how this continued noise pollution has been detrimentally interfering in our daily life ………" Shanker murmured and his exasperation wasn’t ill founded. He as well as his father Charan Das had many a time in the past requested Mahant Gopal Chander Tripathi the head priest of the Shiv Temple situated in their locality to use the temple loudspeaker for an hour or so daily in the mornings and evenings so that no disturbance was caused to the people during rest of the time. But unfortunately their implorations fell on deaf ears and the whole matter not only went on being put off every time but on certain occasions it was a cause of deep irritation to the son and father when the Mahant would pass such sarcastic remarks as…. "What you people know about the value of worship…… virtues of hymns and devotional songs….. You’re ignorant." The result was that on one hand Shanker Das couldn’t concentrate on his studies and on the other his father, already suffering from several ailments, was also now afflicted with insomnia causing further deterioration in his health.

Shanker Das the only son amongst four children of Charan Das born after constant prayers, repeated implorations and offerings to gods and deities was an intelligent, obedient and promising youth. Two years back he passed his tenth class examination with flying colors making some of his self accredited class fellows eat a humble pie and proved that talent is a  trait inherent in  ones genes and not a property inherited from ones parents. He was fully hopeful that with the kind blessings of God, prayers of his parents, special privileges given by the Government for uplift of neglected sections of the society and his hard work he would succeed in getting admission into the Medical College. But now a feeling had started gripping him that the much expected success might elude him due to the severe disturbance in his studies caused by the uninterrupted noise coming out of the temple loudspeaker. Hence, for the purpose of getting rid of this problem he decided to approach Mr. Bhagat, the most respected person of the area belonging to his community and without disclosing anything to his father or any other family member left to meet him at his bungalow.

Dhyan Chand Bhagat in his capacity as a prominent leader of Dalit Peoples Sangh had several stints as Member Legislative Assembly and in his constituency Brahm Dutt Sharma of Durga Vahini Dal was the only political leader of stature who has had the sole distinction of being called his political rival. Macheivellian politicking was the most favorite pastime of both D C Bhagat and B D Sharma and since during the three decades prior to the last Assembly elections no other local candidate had ventured to jump into the fray, the people of this constituency had regularly been almost in alternate succession returning them as their representatives in the State Assembly. But in the last Assembly elections a young local independent candidate Chander Kiran not only rewrote a new history in this constituency by giving a crushing defeat to both these veteran political stalwarts but also paved way for a secret understanding in future between these two traditional rivals in the political arena. Chander Kiran made a very keen and calculated study of political arithmetic and demonstrated extraordinary kind of political acumen by joining hands with Janta Janardan Party which ultimately came into power, thereby proving beyond any doubt that his success as an Independent candidate gave him an unrestricted independence (say license) after the elections to join any political party of his choice catering to his best personal interests.

After a prolonged wait for more than two hours the Personal Secretary finally permitted Shanker Das to see Mr. Bhagat. Immediately on entering the room he not only said Namaste with folded hands but also touched his feet as a mark of respect. The leader responded with a silent nod after which Shanker related his problem concluding his request thus ……, "Sir, it’s my humble submission in case you use your influence and good offices with the Managing Committee of the temple and deliver us from this predicament we shall remain always indebted to you for this act of kindness……….Sir, it’s a small request and definitely not a difficult task for you……."

"What did you say…..a small request?? O! my lad, it involves the question of Freedom of Religion and you must know that it’s enshrined in our Constitution as a Fundamental Right…….You know these people will say that they’re worshipping God, conducting religious discourses and chanting hymns in the praise of gods………Who’ll deny this. Nobody will claim that they’re doing anything irreligious and therefore who has got guts to refrain them. Now suppose I try making my effort to prevail upon these people…….you know, leaders of both ruling JJP as well as the main opposition party DVD will raise such hue and cry and accuse my Party DPS of trying to infringe the Right to Freedom of Religion, that the chair of power for which our party has been struggling so hard will remain only a dream not come true for us…….I’m sorry my lad…….Very sorry…….I can’t help you in this regard……..," said Mr. Bhagat while expressing his inability.

" O K , Sir…….I understand……..Why should you take so much risk for ordinary people like us particularly when there’re still three years left for the next Assembly elections……..Anyway, I offer my sincere apologies for having encroached upon and wasted five minutes of your precious time," said a disappointed Shanker while getting up to leave, thinking that up till now he had known DVD and DPS only as the abbreviated forms of Digital Video Disc and Delhi Public School and God knew how Brahm Dutt’s Durga Vahini Dal and Dhyan Chand Bhagat’s Dalit Peoples Sangh had been dragged into this matter, because elections or no elections come what may, Shanker had absolutely no interest in politics. The way Shanker spoke and conducted himself forthrightly before MLA Mr. Bhagat definitely impressed him and he called him back from the door……, "O My lad!.........Do come over here……Are you feeling annoyed?........ You appear to me as an enterprising youth full of potential….What’s your age?"

"Sir……I’m nineteen……..I’ve to appear in the Twelfth class examination," replied Shanker unassumingly.

"Are you a member of any political party?" asked the leader.

"No, Sir…….I’m still studying," replied Shanker.

"What if you’re still receiving your education? All our leaders worth any name had stepped into politics in the prime of their youth when they were still in their schools and colleges and you know how they touched the highest pinnacles of glory in the political field…….the whole nation, the whole world eulogizes and  remembers them……..you too can reach that goal………You join our Party ……..Yes……Yes, I mean not the main Party but its Youth Wing………Do you understand?" said Mr. Bhagat at the end of his speech.

Reduced to straits, Shanker despite having the least interest in politics perforce agreed having also been driven by the thought that once having got rid of this bloody loudspeaker nuisance who would care if he joined the Party or not and construed it to be not a bad bargain.

"Alright, now let me know, what’s your problem," enquired Mr. Bhagat as if what Shanker said so far had fallen on deaf ears.

"Sir, I was speaking about the loudspeaker problem," reminded Shanker.

"O! Yes………Now I remember……… Why don’t you do one thing ………I’ve a plan in my mind………It involves no complication …… no botheration………no need to catch at anybody’s feet or to take anyone’s obligation on ones head," said Mr. Bhagat with a crafty smile on his face which unfortunately poor Shanker couldn’t take note of.

"What kind of plan, Sir?" asked Shanker with curiosity.

"Look here my lad………You’re a young boy…….You’ve got tremendous energy in you………You’ve lot of zeal, zest and courage……. Isn’t it so?............Why don’t you climb that temple Kalsh(dome) yourself at an opportune time and turn the loudspeaker a bit around in the other direction and the matter is finished………And for example if someone objects, of which there is the remotest possibility, then what for we’re here…….We’ll take care of  things…….After all it’s we people here who’ve spent our entire life in the service of mankind for no personal gains…...Do you understand?" said Mr. Bhagat.

"Yes Sir…….But I feel I don’t have that much courage and it’s also very difficult to reach the top of the Kalsh," said Shanker while expressing his inability for the proposed misadventure.

"O My lad!........There’s absolutely no problem in it because a strong branch of the nearby Peepal tree straightway overhangs the temple Kalsh with whose support you can very easily reach near the top where the loudspeaker has been installed. As far as courage is concerned haven’t you heard the fable ‘Where there’s will, there’s the way’……..So I’ve shown you the way, now it depends upon your will," said Mr. Bhagat as an astute politician and his words have had their impact on Shanker who reluctantly agreed and said  , " O K Sir…….I’ll make a try tonight itself ……. but please don’t forget you promise, Sir……..In case there’s any problem, please do come to my rescue……..I only count on you, Sir….."

The moment Shanker left, Mr.Bhagat stuffed two pinchfuls of chewable mixture of lime and tobacco between his pale yellow teeth and reddish brown gums and reached for his phone intentionally avoiding to give any trouble to his PA to connect him with his one time arch rival B D Sharma of DVD. The phone on the other side was incidentally picked up by Mr. Sharma  himself and  Mr. Bhagat addressed  him …….. , "Hello! .......... Who’s speaking?..........Mr. B D ?..........O! Yes…..Yes …… Everything here is fine …….Yes……Yes……You’re the one whose blessings we always crave for………Nothing much serious……..In fact I wanted to share a piece of information with you………No…….No…….It’ll be as much useful to me as to you and both of us can stand benefited equally…….. It only depends upon you and the way you use your DVD…….Yes…….Yes……. I’m coming right onto the topic. It has come to my knowledge that some anti social element will be trying to steal the costly golden parasol from the Kalsh of the Shiv temple tonight at anytime…….. I don’t know who this thief would be but the information has come through a very reliable channel and I’m inclined to believe it……..As far as the future strategy is concerned you’re the best judge, but when time demands you can depend upon me and my party’s fullest cooperation because at the moment our common enemy is only one man….. Chander Kiran…….. And our common goal is also the same……Chair of Power."

After hanging up what Mr. Sharma did was that he summoned some of his trusted musclemen and asked them to maintain a secret but constant vigil around the Shiv temple that night. A couple of   zealous musclemen also carried bamboo sticks with them to meet any unforeseen eventuality. At the dead of night when there was a rustle of leaves on the Peepal tree, Ghanshyam, the chief muscleman roared……., "O!……..You rogue of a man……..Who’re you there on the tree? ..........Have you come to steal the golden parasol of God……..Get down, you fool or else I know how to bring you down…….You wretched fellow …….,"

There was no reaction from the other side, but a small twig of the tree detached by a strong gust of wind fell suddenly on the ground hitting per chance one of the musclemen who got frightened and out of panic started hurling filthiest abuses on the one up in the tree……, " You rascal……..Son of a bitch……. Bastard……..How you dare hurling stones on us……..Come down and I’ll teach you a lesson……..You scoundrel…….," and this was immediately followed by heavy stone pelting towards the spot on the tree where Shanker had been hiding behind some branch. Within no time some other people of the locality also joined this stoning spree and in the melee why and on whose behest certain anti social elements selectively targeted   the houses of people belonging to a particular community nobody knew. But  stone pelting was replied with stone pelting from the other side too. The weak and the middle aged men and women contended with hurling as many abuses as existing in their vocabulary. Helpless and lonely Shanker Das kept on crying hoarse from the tree…….., " I’m not a thief, believe me……..I’m Shanker……. Shanker Das son of Charan Das of this very locality…….I only wanted to turn the loudspeaker…….," but who would listen to that hapless poor fellow and all his shrieks got drowned in the din like drops of water in the roaring waves of an ocean. Everyone seemed to have gone berserk raining stones as if some ferocious beast had entered a human habitation. B D Sharma lost no time to call the Inspector in charge Police station and addressed him in very strong words……., "Hello Mr. Inspector! I’m Brahm Dutt ...........Are you asleep as ever?…….Why don’t you wake up and see what is happening in your jurisdiction. See how much the times have changed…….these fellows dictated terms to us and we kept quiet, but now they aren’t sparing even our gods and places of worship which could be even the most venerated Shiv temple…….. And your Minister……..Yes…..Yes……I mean the same fellow Chander Kiran who must be sleeping and snoring after one of his daily delightful but tiresome nights in his private harem ……Mr. Inspector, go and wake up that sleeping Minister of yours and see the orgy of violence and reign of terror let lose by these fellows under your very nose……..So deplorable……..extremely deplorable……."

Inspector Jugal Kishore who was really one of the blue eyed boys of Minister, Chander Kiran, after making some unwanted queries sent a posse of policemen to the place of occurrence and himself also proceeded in his jeep after trying in vain to inform his Godfather Minster. In a bid to pacify the irate mob he took out his service revolver from its holster and pointed it towards the tree where profusely bleeding Shanker was hiding. Firing a volley of lewd invectives the Inspector threatened him to come down immediately or else face the bullets. Despite being awestruck Shanker nevertheless on seeing the uniformed guardians of law felt enough courage in him and started climbing down. But unfortunately out of fear and panic he slipped and fell with a might bang on the ground receiving serious head injuries resulting in his death on the spot.

Now the situation of the whole case took an entirely different and unexpected turn. The exuberant zealots of DVD, some of them carrying bamboos, started disappearing quietly one after the other. B D Bhagat who had been keeping himself abreast of the latest developments, at his residence through some of his trusted party workers, when informed about the death of Shanker Das, proceeded forthwith to the site of the incident along with a large contingent of his party activists. Running down upon the Police Inspector in strongest words he yelled …, "So, Mr. Inspector this is the pathetic condition of the neglected sections of the society and the cruel apathy of the present useless and rotten Janta Janardhan Party Government towards them in this state……… The downtrodden innocents are being killed mercilessly only because they also want to bow their heads before God and worship Him in His house……..Go on firing bullets on the innocent people ……..We’ll see how long your bullets will pierce through our bodies……. And you’ll see our breasts would outnumber the bullets Mahavir has in all the weapons in his arsenal," and then addressing the infuriated mob he went on……., "Dear brethren, try to understand why the present state government headed by Mahavir Singh Hichkolia is dead set to demoralize and dishonor the poor and backward  sections in this state and destroy them physically ………. We’ve till now tolerated enough of ruthless exploitation, but from now onwards no more exploitation……. No more disgrace…….. No more," and his inflammatory speech received an instant response from the angry crowd who started a fierce spate of brick batting on the police which within moments turned into a full fledged communal clash. Despite additional armed police force being rushed to control the stone pelting mobs the rioting spread in the whole locality and then the whole city. Hundreds of innocent people were the victims of stabbing, looting, arson, molestation and the like and Government as well as private property worth crores was set ablaze by the hooligans. 

The state Chief Minister immediately called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet to review the deteriorating law and order situation and curfew was imposed in the entire capital city and other hypersensitive areas adjoining it. But the more the measures were taken to contain the violence the more the malady spread to other cities and towns. One could see fire and blazes here and there everywhere.........but none to extinguish them ……… People seemed to have been possessed by the abominable Devil of death and destruction. Scores of  people mostly  innocents were brutally murdered and for three complete days the perpetrators of violence had a field day, with the state Government machinery having abjectly failed to curb and control the unruly goonda elements working at the behest of certain political party leaders. All the steps taken by the Administration to prevent escalation of the trouble failed miserably and rumors started circulating in political circles that Janta Janardhan Party government was likely to be dislodged any moment and such type of rumors were further strengthened in the wake of the Central Government having called for a detailed report from the state Governor.

In view of these quick developments all the political parties and their leaders became active overnight as if they had sighted the pitcher of divine elixir and the possibilities of opening up of their coffers filled up to the brim, brightened beyond expectations. DVD which had a strength of 32 in the 100 member State Legislative Assembly and whose President Rama Kant had been a very strong contender for the post of Chief Minister for the last several decades convened a secret late night meeting of his party leaders including B D Sharma at his residence, in order to explore the possibility of forming a new Government with the cooperation of other political parties and the Independents. When the question of seeking the cooperation of  DPS which had 12 members in the House and had in the past always remained a strong rival of DVD on ‘ideological grounds’ came into consideration it was unanimously decided to shun and sink all previous ‘ideological differences’ and to make serious efforts for enlisting their support in the formation of new Government. In this connection Brahm Dutt Sharma agreed to take the responsibility of motivating the DPS leadership on the explicit condition that in the event of formation of the new coalition Government he would accept nothing less than the portfolio of a full fledged Minister of Public Works which was readily consented to be one and all. The moment secret meeting concluded, Brahm Dutt established contact with Mr. Bhagat who too was attending a similar meeting of his party MLAs and other leaders at some unknown location. This was followed by a personal in camera meeting first between the two and then with some other trusted stalwarts of both the parties including Rama Kant of DVD as well as the ‘Independents’ excluding of course, the arch rival Chander Kant. All things settled by late night which among other issues included  exchange of several suitcases stuffed with cash, distribution of portfolios of the would-be Council of Ministers, giving due recognition to the aspirations of the 8 ‘Independents’ for their unstinted  cooperation in unseating the active partner in the ruling coalition etc. etc. the entire group of 52 members of the august House proceeded in all their delight to the Governor House in the wee hours.    

Thanks to some over enthusiastic and inquisitive media personnel and other correspondents who had got a wind of the coming developments, that all the morning newspapers and TV channels carried special reports and bulletins with such spicy banners and headlines as………, "Janta Janardhan Party Govt. dismissed",……… " Hichkolia Government breathes its last with its final hiccup,"……… "Inter-community clashes reduce Mahaveer Government to ashes,"……. "Greed for chair…….. Two Enemies get together……..Mahaveer caught unaware,"……..etc. etc.

Two days later when the new state Government took oath of office and allegiance to the Constitution, the Shiv temple was decorated with colorful balloons and festoons, sweets were distributed generously and in the evening the entire locality including the whole  temple complex was exotically illuminated. Forgetting what had happened just a few days back, people drank and danced to the music of drums, gongs and cymbals expressing their joy……..Members of upper and lower castes hugged each other just like friends or relatives separated for years together do when they meet…….. And why shouldn’t they do so, now that this reunion had taken place at the Government level whose best example was being served by tossing of glasses a joint champagne party of Brahm Dutt Sharma and Dhyan Chand Bhagat hosted by one of their common friends at his farm ouse located in the silent and salubrious outskirts of the city. During the party Mr. Bhagat in an inebriated state showering compliments on Mr. Sharma said…….., "Mr. Minister of Works, you’re really………. a wonderful person, Sir……..If anyone has to learn……..to put something……..or some situation on fire……..he should consult you," and Mr. Sharma returned the compliment……., "O! You Mr. Honorable Deputy CM……..You too aren’t an amateur……..in the field of politics …… Who else than you have the expertise……. of putting the spark in the hay……You’re no less a wonderful person………Sir."

And there on the far side in the Shiv temple locality one of the two dead drunk ruffians Chandu tremblingly pointed his hand towards a lone house in the row asked his companion Bansi……., " O!…..O!.......O! My friend……… P…P….Please tell me…….Wh…..Wh…Why any light isn’t on in  th…… th….. that house…….Ar……Ar……Aren’t they…….ha….. ha……..happy today??? .......... "

"O!…..O!.......O! My dear Chandu……..Ye’ll al…… al……. always remain a stupid………Don’t Ye know it’s the ho…….ho……house of same Ch……..Ch…….Charan Das……who…….who….whose son had di ……. di…….. died after a fall from the temp……..temp…….temple and all these rio………rio…….riots had started……. This fool Ch…….. Ch……. Charan Das’ll always re……..re…….remain a pauper……let him be so," replied  Bansi  in a similar intoxicated state.

"O!..........Now I understand……..You mean th……th…..that thief who had co……..co…….come to steal the Go……..Go…….God’s parasol………

Anyhow it’s OK now……..Be…….Be……Better than OK ………. Be…….Be …….Because we’ve got a chance to ta…….ta…… taste English booze……… Otherwise who ca…….ca…….cares for junk like us ………. O God! Give him …….. pea…….pea……peace," prayed Chandu while gulping down the last sips from the bottle itself.

Next day the management of Shiv temple organized a special prayer-cum-worship function in the temple complex wherein the chief guests were the new Deputy CM and the Public Works Minster, and other invitees included several MLAs and other top ranking state officials. In their exciting speeches the Guests of Honor while expressing thanks to the people for having rejected the previous anti-people and inefficient government in the state declared that by doing so they had demonstrated their exemplary political vision, maturity and  farsightedness. On this occasion these leaders also presented a cheque of two lakh rupees to the next of kin of late Shanker Das in lieu for his supreme sacrifice for the society. After this was over a special fire brigade crane which had mysteriously disappeared during the days of violence and arson, suddenly reappeared and brought the Chief Guests right up to the Kalsh of the temple to enable them to offer floral petals and place huge colorful wreaths and garlands on the temple……. And in the open courtyard of the temple below, the people unmindful of what had happened and what was going around, went on clapping their hands and chanting a combination of hymns and slogans in a frenzied state. But again one of the two drunk ruffians of yesterday whose drunkenness had subsided to a considerable extent over the night asked the other…….., " O! Chandu, look ………What’s going on over there!!! Mr. Bhgat has garlanded the loudspeaker while Mr. Sharma has placed the wreath on the parasol ………And nobody has offered flowers or garlanded the God’s idol ………Indeed very surprising……..Isn’t it???..........Haven’t they started doing things wrongly right now when they’ve ascended the chairs of power?" ……… And Chandu chiding him with a mild slap on his cheek replied ……., "Be quiet, Bansi………Be quiet, you stupid fellow……… Keep on clapping …….. I think Ye are still not out of your intoxication ……… Ye don’t know they’re Great people ……….they’re leaders and not bloody fools like ye and me……….They do wrong things but they don’t do things wrongly……..," and then both of them rejoined others clapping their hands more vigorously.  

(Disclaimer: All the incidents, characters, organisations etc. mentioned in this story are imaginary and their resemblance with any real person living or dead, can be a mere coincidence.)  
 

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