Written by Hari Krishan Koul | Translated from Kashmiri by M. Siddiq Beigh
The great God be thanked that I came by a taxi right at my doorstep. I asked the driver to move straight to the college and I had a look in the mirror fixed in the front of the driver. My ears were still smeared with soap-lather, and I wiped it with my hanky. A knot of my necktie had got under a wing of my collar, which I put right. It was three minutes to ten as I looked at my watch, and my class would start at exact ten. I thought I would be late that day also as I was wont to. That day, too, I should have to put up with my boss scolding’s.
The taxi driver left me at the college gate at three past ten. I thought the boss would be in front of the college, and it would be prudent to enter the classroom unnoticed from the backside. But as ill luck would have it, the boss was there talking to the professors in the lawn in the backside. I was not aware of his presence, I almost jumped over the rungs on the stairs, went straight into the class and wrote about the day’s topic on the black board. All of a sudden, there was a sort of commotion there. As I looked towards the students, they were bursting with laughter. The only girl student in the class had cast her head down. Amidst this pandemonium, one of the boys got up and pointed out to my legs, I, too looked at my legs, …and I felt as if I was hurled down from the skies, I had put on my shirt all right, my coat also, my necktie, too, all right, but had forgotten to put on my pants in the flurry while leaving the college.
I at once bundled myself in the chair and hid my legs behind the desk. I felt if my life was slipping out of me through those very legs, and I would drop dead right there. I clung to the desk desperately and I was all sweat. I would not bring myself to think the pass I had come to. Granted that I suffer from amnesia, now forgetting my pen, and then my hanky, and this too that sometimes, after boarding a Tonga, I recollect that I carry no money with, but this! Never! What a come down today!
To be at the college, that too, without your pants on is not a pardonable crime. And then in a college where girls also study beside the boys! No punishment is too great for this. “But how shall I agree to my being a culprit?” I asked myself. I have not come here naked on purpose. To see to it whether I have put on my pants was not my task alone; others also were obliged to see to it. Agreed that I forgot to do it myself, were not others bound to remind me of this? I alone I am not culpable, others too, are to blame; the taxi driver could have reminded me of my nakedness while I sat in his taxi. But then, why should he have bothered? He was cornered with his fare only. Again, the people at college gate were also duty-bound. I can collect that as soon as I entered the college gate, he wanted to say something, but had remained silent. It is possible that he was scared of meddling in others affairs. Four months back he had reported that the girl with Roll No. 7 of the final year and a professor were performing practical’s till late in the chemistry laboratory. But the professor was none the worse for it, the peon’s pay was withheld for two months for misreporting. Still he should have whispered in my ear that I was naked, and I could not have the guts to complain him to the boss. But he was afraid. It passes one’s understanding why a man is afraid of things, even when it uncalled for.
I, too, perhaps am afraid without their being a need to be. I should be in fact have been afraid had I harbored an evil intent, if I had intentionally been to the college naked. My conscience on the contrary was clear. Then for forgetfulness, some allowance is to be made, as it cannot be helped. The boss, too, once left his watch at his home, and if that was not considered blameworthy, why should blame be attached to me? Cost wise his watch would be three to four hundred, and my pants worth hardly thirty. I thought.
I did not take up a new lesson with the class; I instead asked them to jot down, without any noise, the previous day’s lesson in their notebooks. They took to writing in their notebooks, and I looked through the glass panes of the window. There were many professors standing outside my classroom. I looked again to make sure if they had encircled me on the boss’s asking. Clearly enough, the boss had seen me in the plight and had got me detained there. He himself was there at some distance from the professor’s, thinking something over. As he went to his own room, one professor said to the other, “I will let you know all that happened then. I was wise on my part that I put on my pants at once. She, too, put on an act and stimulated unconsciousness for still some time. What could they discover as they came in! They felt abashed. What I mean to say is that keep your doing from others’ sight is a must, not the tactlessness like that of his!”
Another professor, an elderly one, at that added, “Right, may God save everyone from exposure.”
I had a mind that I would right from there yell that I needed nobody to keep me from the exposure. I had not committed any sin. If only senses had not taken leave of me, I would for certain have put on my pants; I would readily swear on it, anywhere they like. The truth for the matter is that I had to keep awake twelve-thirty because of an anxiety. It was for this that I woke up rather late. Despite this, I had finished shaving myself, taking a bath, having my meals only up to nine. I put some change in my coat pocket. By way of preparation, I had put in the pocket a cigarette packet, matchbox, a handkerchief and a fountain pen. And then I had a mind to have a look at that day’s lessons. This watch of mine behaves well till it is nine, but after that, God knows why, takes a single leap from nine thirty to quarter ten. I had got conscious of it many times. That morning, too, the watch had taken a leap as it were. I had put off my pajamas and shirt I wore at my home, and put on a new shirt, arranged my tie, slipped my arms in the coat sleeves and left. My intention was not to miss the class, and not let the boys free. If they let loose, they were left unattended; they might resort to arson, strike crackers and very likely start an agitation that might set the whole country ablaze; the government might get disturbed, its interests might be in jeopardy, as a government servant my interests being identical with its own. I had flurried because of this. May this hurry be confounded!
The boss came out of his room to the professors who were encircling me. He told them, “I had been to the Hon’ble minister’s and he told me that he would be arriving in due time.”
The ground under my feet began to slip. It had never dawned on me that the matter had a necessity to be informed and that whatever happens in the college had to be reported to the minister. “However, I will admit my mistake before him…not the mistake, forgetfulness rather. Everybody suffers from this ailment after thirty-five years. I will remind him that soon after assuming power, a few years back, he had held out a promise that he would extirpate corruption and lawlessness, but after taking over power, he forgot to keep his promise, his hands being very full. But his intentions were clear. Had he remembered that he undoubtedly would have rooted out corruption and lawfulness? By the same token, had I remembered, I would have put on my pants, God forbid, I had harbored no evil designs as he had not any.”
All of a sudden, somebody’s sound of weeping reached my ears. I looked up and saw the solitary girl in the class shedding tears. She had been weeping piteously. I got up and went to her, being myself high-strung. I held her head close to my bosom and began to weep too. Both of us kept crying for long. Then she got up and wiped off my tears with her sari. She then took up this very sari and handed it over to me. But I drew back and taking my seat in the chair, told her, “Do you take me for so shameless a creature that I will hide my nakedness with your sari after laying you bare? I am not that man! Is your sari the only thing left to me in the world to hide my shame with? Do not be perturbed and weep not. Leave it to me, and see how I find a way out.”
The boss sent for two to four more professors and bolstered up my encirclement still more. He said to them, “We cannot enter the class under rules. As he leaves the class after the bell is rung, we will start taking action. It is likely that Hon’ble Minister will also arrive by then”. Looking to his watch, he said, “There are still fifteen minutes for the bell to go”.
I on my part also looked at my watch. It was ten-eighteen. The bell goes at ten forty and there were still twenty-two minutes. The boss lies outright that there are only fifteen minutes. He is deliberately bereaving me of those seven minutes. I thought I was fully convinced that they were being hostile to me intentionally. I decided with myself that I would never let go those precious seven minutes, come what may. “I would not give up my right. They may for aught I care, strike the bell after fifteen minutes but I shall leave the class after twenty two minutes exact.” I was astonished why not a single one among the so many professors did not say to the boss that his watch did not keep correct time, that there were still twenty minutes. Why no one among them felt sympathetic to me? Well, if not so minded what prevented them from speaking from the truth. Nobody would take them to task for that. I saw with these very eyes of mine that, as the boss said that it was fifteen minutes to ten, four or five professors set their watches by moving the hands seven minutes more.
“Let them keep their sympathy, let them withhold the truth. What harm can they do to me? My strength rests with my students. If they are pleased with me, I will escape unscathed. I teach them well, put in hard work for them. I will ingratiate myself still more with them today. They will understand that I alone have sympathy and goodwill for them. I will also tell them point-blank what happens to their dear money in the college; how their games fund is embezzled; in fact lay bare everything. Boys are the slumbering lions and I will wake them up. On walking, whosoever’s blood they take in a draught is not my bother. If nobody bothered on my account, why should I do so? A smile crept over my lips and I got up. I cleared my throat after a cough and said, “Boys, the fee that you pay is in part taken by the government, but a lion’s share of it remains in the college. This money is called the college fund and you know, this money should rightfully be spent for the welfare of the college and the students. But how deplorable it is that this does not happen. Do you at all know, what happened to the money?
Yes, we do know, one of the students yelled.
“Bravo!” I made the boy stand up, “I thought you were asleep but you are more awake than I. I am pleased with you. Now tell me what happens to the college fund?”
“I get five rupees and a quarter every day,” (quarter here refers to liquor) he replied and took his seat.
“You may well be getting, but everybody here doesn’t get it.” I said losing my temper.
“I get a cup of tea and two eggs every day,” another student got up and said.
“I get ten rupees and a cinema ticket at every week-end,” said a third boy.
“We get money for cigarettes,” said the rest of boys standing up. I felt humbled, I had thought out many things in my mind. I had a suspicion that the money was grabbed by the boss. Little I knew that the students’ money was spent for them only. I heaved a sigh and getting worsted, turned to the class.
“Then it means that everybody comes by something?” All the boys yelled together.
“Do you also get something?” I asked the sole girl student.
“No,” she shook her head and I again took heart.
“Why do you not get it? Do you not pay for your fees? Why are you dealt with so unjustly, you struggle for your right and I am with you?”
“Can she resort to arson?” one of the students got up and asked me.
“No,” I replied.
“Can she strike the crackers?” Another student asked me.
“No,” I said again.
“Why talk then?” he laughed boisterously and sat down.
I stopped talking and shrank into my chair. I looked at my watch; it was still twenty-three minutes past ten. According to my calculations, there were still seventeen minutes, but only ten according to the boss’s watch. He would make them strike the bell after ten minutes. If I chose to remain in the class, the boys would not agree. They would run away as soon as the bell went. Soon after they left, some professors would enter through the door, and still others through the windows, and catch hold of me. They might bind me with the chair. I continued thinking and thereafter, the boss would enter and an action would be started against me. It is possible that the Hon’ble Minister will have arrived then. “In short, I will not be spared.” I said to myself.
I looked at the watch again, only nine minutes had remained. “Thereafter, it will be only eight minutes, then only seven, and then six…” I thought and shivered with fear. “But no, maybe I shall not have to wait till the bell goes. I might give my ghost even before that. My life might slip out of me, right here…on this very chair…before the bell goes.”
- This is one of the stories from a book, Kashmiri Short Stories published by PEN productions, Srinagar.