Fiction: COUNTERPOINT

Ashok Kumar Dash

Mera naam Dr. Rama Rao, double M.A., PhD…”

Singing thus to the accompaniment of a tabor and a pipe, Rama Rao started whirling and whirling. And Sukanto was transported light-years away in spacelessness….

************

            “Stop”, said Sukanto to the driver. The car came to a halt.

            A few yards ahead flowed the river Chanchala.

            Sukanto looked at his watch. It was 4:00 am. Not before another two hours would a soul be here for morning walk, especially in the cold of this winter. Mr. Rohit Kulkarni, CMD generally comes between 5:30 am to 6:00 am. Sukanto felt his waistcoat pocket. The revolver was lying there intact. Before moving out on his mission Sukanto had ensured that the revolver was loaded in full. “It is today or never”- Sukanto had taken the final call.

            Sukanto felt drowsy. Why not take a nap? He closed his eyes. Kalicharan, the driver, was snoring in his seat.

            Time flew back.

************

            Gopalpur. A sleepy mining town. Yes, here was Sukanto born. His father was the Head Clerk in the Mining Division of Narayani Iron Ore Mines Ltd. situated over there. The family lived in the company’s quarters in Babu Lines. ‘Babus’ meant ‘Clerks’. Hence all the quarters were allotted to ‘Clerks’ only.

            Call it his bad luck or good luck, Sukanto grew up at Gopalpur. Bad luck because it was an obscure small town devoid of standard civic amenities. Good luck because he was brought up in the lap of nature and tranquility.

            1962.

            Sukanto was a school student then, studying in Class VIII. It was a morning school. Coming back from school, Sukanto had ample time at home.

            Afternoons were long, particularly in summer. He would sit on a charpoyon the verandah, doing his studies. Adjacent to the verandah, in a room, mom would be chatting with a few ladies of the mohalla. Good pastime to idle away the lazy afternoons. She would occasionally be calling out, “Babu, arn’t you reading, eh? Don’t waste your time. Dad will be annoyed.”

            “Okay, mom”, he would briefly reply.

            But his eyes and ears would be keenly waiting for the usual sights and sounds. He would frequently be lifting his eyes from the books and looking at the lane passing through the mohalla to have the glimpses of the familiar faces.

            Someday it would be Sunita Masi, the fisherwoman, carrying a medium-size cane basket full of fishes calling out, “Didi, o didimaachlibeyki go? Tatkaanyechilodir lay.” (Didi, o didi won’t you have fish? Fresh from the river.)

            Sometimes it would be a bioscopewala, a bangle-seller, a candyfloss vendor and the like.

            But one day appeared a strange man. He had flowing beards, long hairs, and untidy clothes. He looked like a lunatic. He was carrying a tabor hanging from a belt flung across his shoulder and dangling at his left hip. He had also a pipe in his hand.

            There was a cemented chabootara (platform) opposite Sukanto’s house. It was built for occasional performance of jatra (folk-theatre) by amateur artists of the mohalla and evening adda by the seniors.

            The man ascended the chabootara and with a whirling motion started singing “Mera naamDr. Rama Rao, double M.A., PhD…” to the accompaniment of his tabor and pipe.

            After having done with, Rama Rao took a break to regain his composure. When he caught Sukanto’s sight, he started inching towards him (Sukanto). Sukanto felt nervous. What was the man upto? Closer and closer he came and Sukanto was stupefied. With arms wide open the man looked straight into his eyes and said, “Oh, Raja, my son! I knew you would come back. No power on earth can snatch you from me, let alone abduct and murder you.”

            He tried to hug Sukanto but the latter retracted and said, “No, no, you are mistaken. I am neither Raja nor your son. I am Sukanto and Dipankar Roy is my father.”

            “Okay, never mind. I mean no harm to you. From today you are my son too. I’ll call you by name Raja.” said Rama Rao.

            He smiled at Sukanto. Sukanto’s stupor started thawing out. He mustered courage and asked,

            “Where are you coming from, Sir?”

            “Nowhere.”

            “Where are you heading for?”

            “Nowhere.”

            “Where do you live in?”

            “Everywhere.”

            “O, you speak strange things!”

            “Not strange, but sensible. Bye, see you again.”

            Turning his back Rama Rao went his way. Sukanto watched him in awe and wonder till the figure receded and finally disappeared.

            1964.

            Sukanto was in Class X. His father taught him Algebra. It was a Sunday morning. For his friends it was a fun day but for him it was a ‘gun day’. His father taught him at gunpoint.

            “Babu”, his father said, “I will be back from market in an hour. Solve these five sums on ‘equation’. I’ll check on return. Failing, you had it.”

            He was back exactly on time. “Have you solved your sums?”, he asked Sukanto.

            “No papa, I’m trying.”

            “Damn with your trying. You idiot! Bring your ‘ass-cap’, be quick”, he shouted.

            Shivering in fear of getting beaten Sukanto brought the ‘ass-cap’. His father snatched the cap from Sukanto and put it on the latter’s head. The cap read in bold letters ‘I AM AN ASS’. He made Sukanto stand by the roadside for an hour. The passers-bylooked at Sukanto, laughed at him, and some of them jeered at him. He felt like dying of humiliation. What was more, he felt crippled from within beyond redemption.

            That afternoon nobody was there in Sukanto’s house. He sat alone on the verandah doing his assignments. Unable to concentrate, he was looking at an obese man moving to and fro monotonously in the lane. Up in the sky a lone crane was flying mutely towards a destination unknown. All of a sudden, the familiar song came floating in the air:

            “Mera naam Dr. Rama Rao, double M.A., PhD…”

            Soon afterwards Rama Rao was standing outside the gate of Sukanto’s house. “May I come in Raja?”, he asked.

            Since he had struck a chord of kinship somewhere in Sukanto’s heart, the latter had now no hesitation calling him in. “Do come in please”, Sukanto answered.

            Rama Rao sat at one end of Sukanto’s charpoy and aksed, “What are you doing?”

            “Trying to solve a few sums on equation”

            “Solved?”

            “No, I find it quite difficult.”

            “May I help you?”

            “My pleasure.”

            He then explained the nuances of equation and its thumb rules to Sukanto. He also gave Sukanto some tips which he might like to apply. “Remember, nothing is impossible”, he said. He left promising to come some other day.

            Months passed.

            Sukanto had a classmate named Bappa. He was a bit of a bully. One day returning home from school, he blocked Sukanto’s road. Closer and closer he came and lit a cigarette. He started releasing puffs of smoke on Sukanto’s face.

            “Keep off”, Sukanto retorted, “I can’t withstand smoke.”

            “How dare you order me?” asked Bappa and started thrashing Sukanto with kicks and blows.

            Sukanto was howling in pain. Just at that moment Rama Rao appeared (God knows from where?) and rescued Sukanto from the clutches of Bappa, slapped him left and right and made him apologise to Sukanto. “Should you ever dare to touch him, I’ll play hell with you. Now get lost from here”, he threatened Bappa.

            Bappa took to his heels. After he had gone, Rama Rao asked Sukanto, “Now tell me Raja, why didn’t you retaliate?”

            “I simply can’t. I detest violence.” Sukanto replied.

            “It’s not your magnanimity but sheer cowardice. If you can’t stand against the wrong you are a coward, nay, a hijra (eunuch). And God will never forgive you. Remember Tagore’s words:

He who commits wrong or condones the same,                                                    May Your contempt singe like a reed in flame.”

Then he left.

            Time passed.

            After doing his matriculation, Sukanto moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata) for his higher studies. All these years he had practically no contact with Rama Rao.

            But once when Sukanto came to his hometown during Pujas he had a chance meeting with Rama Rao. He had grown old. They sat hours together on the riverbank watching the river Chanchala babbling by. Sukanto broke the silence, “Dr. Rao, you are highly qualified. If you don’t mind, may I know what do you do?”

            “I teach”, replied Rama Rao.

            “Wow! That’s great. Which college?”

            “All the world’s my college.”

            “Which subject do you teach?”

            “Eliminology.”

            “I haven’t heard of this subject.”

            “It’s the science of weeding out unwanted, unruly, and vicious elements from the earth.”

            “Your words are very puzzling. I can’t understand. By the way, will you be available here next year during Pujas?”

            “I can’t promise. I am ageing. And at my age, you can never tell. But never mind. Even if I am not there my spirit will be alive. Call me anytime, if need be, and my spirit will start working for you. Adieu.”

            And Rama Rao disappeared.

            Sukanto graduated with distinction in Sociology (Honours) followed by MBA in Human Resources Management.

            1977.

            Sukanto joined NarayaniIron Ore Mines Ltd. as an Executive Trainee (HR) and served for 30 long years in different positions. His father had since been retired. Sukanto saw many ups and downs in the Company’s life and his own service career. Although he worked for 30 years, his career growth was very tardy. He rose up to the rank of Chief Manager (HR) only. As he did not compromise with the vested interests of the Company, he was not in the good book of the Management either. He was wrongfully superseded by his juniors. His innovative ideas were projected by his HOD as his own for his meteoric rise.

            A turning point in his life came when the company decided to close down the mines in a phased manner because of high cost of production and low turnover. The poor employees were targeted on various grounds such as age, length of services, medical unfitness and the like and counselled for voluntary retirement (VR).

            An urgent meeting of all the HODs was called by Mr. Kulkarni, GM. In the meeting he communicated the Management’s decision to serve the targeted employees with notice to opt for VR failing which their services would be terminated, electricity and water supply to their quarters would be discontinued and they would be finally evicted from the Company’s quarters. Sukanto was instructed to take follow-up actions immediately.

            Sukanto was in a fix. He had a long association of above fifty years with the people of Gopalpur who formed the major chunk of the workforce of the Iron Ore Mines. They were, as it were, the part and parcel of his own family. How could he be rude enough to throw these people, with whom he has grown up, out of their employment and shelter and let their families come on the street and starve? It would be grossly inhuman and sinful. What a predicament!

            Sukanto mustered up the courage and pleaded not to proceed with such a harsh action on humanitarian ground and instead suggested, “Sir, can we not think of some alternative measures such as technological innovations, diversification, modernisation etc. for the Company’s survival?”

            Frowning at him Mr. Kulkarni, GM said, “You blockhead, you deadwood, you good-for-nothing, do you think the Management are a fool? Mind you, we mean business, not charity. Either you do as directed or go on long leave.” All present were chuckling.

            The next day Sukanto tendered his resignation.

            All his efforts to get a new job went in vain but his daughter Soma, a fresh MBA, got a job in an MNC in Bengaluru. From Gopalpur they shifted to Bengaluru. Life was back on track.

            Man proposes, God disposes. Sukanto never knew that destiny had another severe blow in store for him.

            Even one year had not yet passed when one day Soma told him that she would be a bit late returning home as she had to attend a party thrown by her boss on his promotion. But when she did not return till 11:00 pm Sukanto called her up but her mobile was switched off. He called up her boss but no response. He got panicky and restless. He lodged an FIR with the Police Station. The police swung into action and the next day recovered her dead body lying at a forlorn corner by the roadside at Marathahalli.

            The police arrested the boss. The incident was reported in the newspaper. From the photograph of the boss published in the newspaper along with the report, Sukanto found to his utter dismay and anger that he was the same Rohit Kulkarni who was once his G.M. at Narayani Iron Ore Mines Ltd.

            The post-mortem report revealed that it was a case of brutal rape and murder. Her mouth was gagged, she was brutally raped and strangled to death.

            To think of the utter helplessness and ordeal of his daughter and the heinous brutality perpetrated on her by the boss before she succumbed, Sukanto convulsed in a terrible rage from within.

Sukanto lost the legal battle for lack of ‘sufficient’, ‘corroborative’ and ‘conclusive’ evidences to prove the charges, levelled against Mr. Kulkarni, beyond doubt. Mr. Kulkarni was therefore acquitted of all the charges by the honourable Court of Law.

But Sukanto knew the truth. He knew he owed to his daughter the solemn responsibility to mete out justice to her. Else her departed soul would never rest in peace. He had therefore taken the final call.

He had so long been searching for an opportune moment. He came to know that Mr. Kulkarni had again been hired by the Narayani Iron Ore Mines as CMD.

Sukanto left Bengaluru and came back to his own house at Bhavnagar some seven kilometers away from Gopalpur. He had been tracking Mr. Kulkarni’s movements very closely for last one month. He had observed that Mr. Kulkarni took a morning stroll accompanied by his Alsatian along the bank of river Chanchala everyday early in the morning between 5.30 a.m. to 6.00 a.m.

 

************

           

            Sukanto looked at his watch. It was 5.45 a.m. The driver Kalu was fast asleep. By sliding down the window glass Sukanto peeped out. There was an absolute calm outside barring the babbling of the river and occasional whinnings of some stray dogs. Although it was foggy, Sukanto could very well see a figure strolling with his Alsatian leisurely. Now it was coming nearer and nearer. Yes, his face was now visible. It was Mr. Kulkarni. Sukanto whisked the revolver from his waistcoat poket and targeted Mr. Kulkarni. Now he was well within range. He gripped the trigger with his forefinger. But before he could give it a pull a strange numbness overpowered him. He felt an uncontrollable dizziness in his head. Exactly at that moment he heard the song floating in ‘Mera naam Dr. Rama Rao…’ He heard Rama Rao calling him, “Hey Raja, why delay? Shoot that brute right now.”

            By now Sukanto was almost at the point of disintegration. He was once again caught between two opposing pulls- to kill or not to kill- each vying to outdo the other with all its might. He felt a terrible ache in his head as if it would burst away. Unable to bear the pain any longer he turned the revolver towards him and pulled the trigger to shoot himself instead.

            A big thud and a shrill scream rent the morning air.

 

************

 

            With a big jerk Sukanto got up in his bed. His throat had dried up. He was gasping. Randomly he groped his body and felt his breath to be sure he was alive. He fumbled for a glass of water.

            Raghu, the domestic help, was holding him and standing by his side. He gave Sukanto a glass of water which he gulped.

            “What happened to you, Babu? Why did you scream in your sleep? Did you see some bad dream?” Raghu asked.

            “Yes Raghu. It was a nightmare.”

            “Never mind, Babu. Dreams are all unreal. It is almost 7.00 a.m. now. Please freshen yourself up. I’m bringing morning tea for you.”

            Raghu left the room and within no time re-entered with a cup of steaming tea and the day’s newspaper.

            Sitting in his armchair Sukanto started leafing through the newspaper. Coming to the ‘Region’ page he was startled. The headline read:

 

ROHIT KULKARNI, CMD, NARAYANI IRON ORE MINES, SHOT AT. SUCCUMBS.

           

For a moment he was dumbfounded. But in no time he shook his stupor off and, sipping from his cup of tea, muttered, “B-a-s-t-a-r-d.”
***

Ashok Kumar Dash retired from a high rank in HR Department, Hindustan Copper Limited (A Govt. of India Enterprise) and was attracted towards his first love ‘teaching’ once again. Presently a faculty in the Dept. Of English, Karim City College, Jamshedpur, Prof. Dash has a passion towards literatures in Bengali, Odia, and English. 

No comments :

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।