Rushing at the Eleventh Hour! (Hindi Short Fiction)

Dharmpal Mahendra Jain

Original (Hindi): Dharmpal Mahendra Jain
Translated by Deepa Kumawat


Ah, the thrill of rushing at the eleventh hour! I must confess, I'm in love with it. In fact, I always eagerly wait for it at any juncture of life. Isn't it interesting how the echo of the "last date" startles and stirs my inner conscience so abruptly? At the last date, I suddenly transform from a man of flesh into a machine, finishing months of work in the blink of an eye. I don't think I'm an exceptional case, right? Everyone's potential, flair, and ability are judged posthumously. Alas! What inane and impossible people we are! I wish we could recognize one's good and bestow our love ahead of one's last breath.
I had a golden opportunity to learn about "the first and the last" dates of the month while I was being imparted words of wisdom in my early school days. But the realization of the imminent "last date," approaching unnoticed anytime and anywhere, took years to materialize. I can still recall the day we had to submit our final term examination forms. Our reverend teachers distributed the blank application forms among us and directed us to sit in a stinky hall and hurry up. One of our teachers dictated the instructions to fill in the blanks while a few others took turns to peep at our pious last-minute attempts. As soon as we finished, the teachers didn't take extra time to collect the stipulated fees and, after stamping them, promptly sent the applications to the head office. Ah! How happy our principal was that finally, the work got accomplished on the "last date." Since that day, I always feel drawn to wait for the "last date." And you know, some of my friends don't even bother with the "last date"; they take it as a privilege to have the proud "last-minute" and rush at the eleventh hour as if their work is as important as the question raised in the legislative assembly.

Deepa Kumawat
The present generation has become prone to dilly-dallying their work to such "last dates." For instance, one-third of the punctual applicants apply for various competitive exams at the final hours. And this mental stubbornness of ours leads to an extension of the "last date" as a lucrative offer of one more chance that doubles the wallet of the waiting gamers. Fortunately, this "last date" further lures one with an upcoming new "last date." Surprisingly, it is very consoling that maximum applicants again take the opportunity to fill it by the extended "last date."
The "last date" gifts have a lasting impact on students. It awakens the active and hidden visionary self in them. Like snakes and mongooses, university exams and students act as sworn enemies. The entire past year, they had to organize various versatile campaigns. And the petty emerging book-sellers make money out of it by selling "one-day" quick study material on these "last dates." As soon as the exam schedule is published, the talented students start regurgitating the few words of wisdom printed on the holy pages of the paper. "Busy teachers deferred the classes the entire year. Some novice intellectuals tried to teach yet couldn't complete the syllabus; some finished the syllabus but we couldn't understand how it got finished?" Now, the wise students start demanding the extension of the exam dates, extra classes, and the completion of their so-called crucial syllabus. By the way, if there were no examination dates, students would hardly ever get to know the names of their elective subjects. Books would be an illusion to them, and teachers would be a labyrinth. They wouldn't even get the chance of dusting off the hibernating books.
For a bureaucratic system, the 'last-date' generally falls on the thirty-first of March. The glucose level rises up with high energy in all government employees. They shop for all their needs within the stipulated final minutes and get their yearly procurement done. Maybe on the rest of the days of the year, they were waiting for the pious 'last date.'
The 'last date' is a prime necessity of our dynamic society. 'Let the last day draw a little closer; till then we have enough. . .' Wasting time for this bare challenge, we often kneel down before the time-wheel to control us. Maybe if 'last-dates' were never introduced, it would be doubtful that we would pay the electricity bills and would cause the fuse of the electricity department to crash. We would gulp the water bills and would pay off the debts on smoking by one due insurance installment. Surprisingly, the neurosis of the 'last date' is not only popular among lower and middle classes. The gusto is much neurotic and zany among the elite classes. The 'last date' brings lots of hope and despair to them. They enjoy like never before, and each nano-moment of the 'last-date' is preciously spent on adjusting taxes- to turn black money into white and vice versa. In fact, they get perturbed whether to eat or drink. They keep relishing in doldrums within their inner eternal magic pool.
The 'last-date' manifests its theatrics in election campaigns too. To get labeled as an authorized candidate, people move towards the thresholds of a holy party-gates in the capital city. Many prophets, along with their followers, get stuck there. Sometimes, more than one clown gets a ticket to enter the same sheath, and as the 'last date' gets closer, the party office becomes no less than a battlefield. I feel that if the Election Commission does not fix any 'last date' for the election processes, the election will remain a dream in this country, and the overqualified ticket aspirants would build a novel refugee center in Delhi.
I often feel and pray at the eleventh hour, "May the day stretch more than a hundred hours; may the office hours extend up to ten times; may the body and mind start acting like computers. . . ." But what's the sense? Even if this magic happens, we will not change ourselves. Then, we will be prone to the 'last-minute'. Just as in the present moment too, if the train is just about to leave, we'll rush to the station; if the bank is open for the last minute, we'll reach to get some of our money, and moreover, when death has whispered into our ears, we'll call the doctor in the last minute to let them be blamed forever.
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(Dr. DEEPA KUMAWAT is an Assistant Professor in English. She has extensively translated short stories from Hindi. Her research work is on the linguistic aspects of translation.)

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