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Avatara Mantra

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Professor Madhav taught at a recently built residential university located ten miles outside Kanpur, a large city in Uttar Pradesh. The school had 2,000 students and nearly as many malis (groundskeepers). india3.GIF (53697 bytes)Since the support staff outnumbered the professional staff by ten to one, there was something of a war waged by each side for control of the campus.

This is how there came to be such a disproportionate number of malis. Labourers and servants who have found jobs that pay cash are, above all else, interested in seeing that the job is never quite done. So it was with the school. After the classrooms were built, there were laboratories to build, then a library, then offices for the professors and a centre for the students. Then there was the problem of housing. The city was simply too far away for bicycles, auto-rikshaws, and two or three limping buses. So houses were built for professors, dormitories for students and apartments for the staff workers themselves. The completion of each building was a menace since it brought the workers closer to the inevitable day when the campus would be complete and they would be superfluous.

Surprisingly, the Director of the Institute seemed to conspire with the workers; as soon as one project was complete, he would unveil a new construction plan. Comporting himself as the politician he was, he would announce, "If this is to be a residential campus, then we must live here. If we live here we must have food shops, post office, commodities store, bank, cinema house, temple, and garage for vehicles. How else can we live as an internationally respected intellectual community? We are not monkeys in the trees."

Actually there were a number of monkeys in the trees of the campus. Occasionally a bold langur would block the entry to a classroom so that another room had to be found or the class cancelled. In the evenings the whole troop would jump up and down on the tin roof of The Pink Rose Cafe until the thunder drove the cook out to give them each a chapatti.

As the years passed, more buildings were constructed. A small hospital was built. A guest hostel went up, complete with a small swimming pool. The students, not to be left out, demanded a pool. So a swimming pool, twenty feet deep and twice the size of an Olympic pool, was built, lined with inch-square mosaic tiles, each set by hand. Frantic for something else to build, because it would put off the day when he had to deal with the army of workers, the Director built an airport for gliders, which finally prompted someone in the government to say, "Enough!" But there was one last grand enterprise for the army of workers. They took two years to build a ten-foot brick wall around the entire sprawling campus.

When "The Great Wall of India," as it came to be known, was complete, the time had finally come to dismiss the army. Naturally, in the nearly ten years of construction, the 2,000 workers had put down roots in the community. Members of their families were servants to professors and administrators. They tended gardens, minded children, returned library books, fixed flat bicycle tires, brought milk, and ran errands to the city. They had settled in and besides, they were not about to lose their regular paycheques.

A struggle ensued. The chants of workers holding gheraos, day after day, drowned out lectures. The Director was held prisoner in his office, taking meals through the window. The gates of the campus were closed as though for a siege. Classes were suspended. It looked like a stalemate until the newspapers became interested. Headlines appeared--"Faithful Workers Dispossessed," "University Moguls Crush the Peasants"--which convinced the politicians that it was cheaper to accommodate the workers with sinecure positions than to explain to reporters why a government school had built an airport and an eighteen-hole golf course.

So the construction workers became groundskeepers. But the victory made many of them rather insolent and the habit of building was evidently hard to stop all at once. They flaunted school policy by building unauthorised mud and stick sheds in front of their quarters in which to keep animals, which was also forbidden. The Director, wanting no more attention from outside the campus, turned a blind eye to these kachcha buildings, which stood about like unwanted relatives on all sides of the brick apartment buildings. With their paycheques secure, the support staff became a bit contemptuous of the professors, with their funny, unintelligible concerns, and pursued their own interests, doing their best to turn the campus into a village.

In this situation, Professor Madhav was bothered on all sides. Grading papers and listening to students complain was a bother at any school. Year after year it was always the same mistakes in English and the same tragedies of youth--"We love each other, but her family and my family . . ."--that bothered him. Administrators were a bother. His wife was a bother, much less her relatives. These were inescapable bothers in the life of a professor. But at this so called "model" school, Madhav also had to put up with the bother of the malis and other school staff who challenged every order, not outright, but by grumbling, asking questions which implied criticism, and generally moving at the speed of water buffaloes. This was too much. With all these bothers, how could one get his real work done, his research?

Professor Madhav may have had more patience to put up with such a bothersome world if his discipline had been sociology or political science or even geography. But he was an aesthete. A professor of English, his special love was the Romantic period. He thought of himself as a brother to the Bauls, a mystic poet dedicated to a higher realm, if not to God exactly, then to the realm of beauty. Of course, he was not himself a poet, but an interpreter, an appreciator of the beautiful world of poetry, as his wife and students were not.

For example, his wife lamented the miseries of life without an automobile. She talked about the gleam and colour of the neighbour's Maruti, then sighed and said she would patiently continue to stand in the dust and wait for the rickety bus with the wives of the malis, if he didn't have any more pride. Already she had lost her skin, so she said, to the sun by standing in the queue for the bus. In fact she would willingly have exchanged the professor the for neighbour's red Maruti if she could only discover a way.

For his part, the professor was long accustomed to the limited vision of women. Manu himself said, "Women do not care for beauty." The professor knew how futile it was to try to open the eyes of his students to a world of poetic beauty; he had long ago given up on his wife. He preferred to contemplate the beautiful world constructed by poetry rather than bother with the world of mud and maya. So the professor came to ignore the bickering and derision of his wife, the taunts and slights of his colleagues, the innuendoes of his relatives, and even the cheating and insolence of his servants. The more he was heckled into solitude, with the consolation of his poetry, the more he congratulated himself, thinking he was following the injunction of the Gita to maintain "constant indifference of mind" and to have "dislike for a crowd of people." He thought of the old father of one of his colleagues who wandered the streets, constantly repeating, "Ram, Ram, Ram, jai Ram, jai, jai Ram." Nothing could bother the old man as he concentrated on the next world, and Madhav came to think of himself as his academic counterpart. Cycling from his house to his office, the Professor built his castles in the air, oblivious to the hodgepodge of pakka and kachcha buildings of the campus; he would take no sides in the war between faculty and staff.

"I'll not be bothered," came to be his standard response to his wife's endless complaints about the depleting stock of sugar in the house, the choked drain pipe, the wild growth in the kitchen garden, the erring dhobi who pounded holes in the clothes or lost them altogether, the dood wallah with his watered milk who delighted in waking them up at dawn with his shouts, the maid-servant who was destroying the house, and every other problem.

"The milk's all water. You see for yourself!" his wife would shout, thrusting the milk can before his eyes. "Why don't you talk to the dood wallah? Do you want your children's bones to melt? Do you enjoy throwing money away to buy water?"

"I'll not be bothered," he would say, pushing the can away and heading for his study or the office.

For some days, Madhav's wife would give large glasses of plain water to the children, sighing and saying, "Except for the colour, this is the same as the milk we get. Do not run today, children. If you do, your calf muscles will wither and your legs will become sticks. Then you will never marry."

On those days, Madhav drank more than his share of the milk.

Greeting him at the door when he returned from school, Madhav's wife would say, "The maid-servant broke another glass today," and dramatically spread the glass pieces, like coins, on the table. "She'll eat us all up one day and we'll be beggars on the road if you don't dismiss her immediately."

"Bother, botheration. I'll not be bothered," he would say, stressing the not so that his temper rather than detachment was evident in his voice.

Returning home from his classes on the next evening, Madhav would, if he remembered, buy a half dozen glasses, just in case all the glasses in the house should get broken in the process of his wife's demonstration of how malicious the maid-servant was.

"I'll not be bothered," became a kind of mantra for Madhav, chanted to destroy all the machinations of the world of maya, which threatened to entangle him, to drag him away from the beautiful world of poetry. His mantra began at home, given to him, in a sense, by his wife. Like his dhoti, he left the mantra at home when he dressed to go out. But it was only a matter of time before the mantra went with him. He began using it on the office assistant at school who was accustomed to bring every small problem to Professor Madhav as though he were the department Chairman. Then the mantra, with good results, was tried on students who came to his office. In time, most of the students stopped coming. He grew bold and told colleagues who tried to stop him with some news or problem as he crossed the campus, "No time. Can't be bothered now." The mantra was so good that he began to say to people who would come to him, "I'll not be bothered," even before they uttered a word. All this earned Professor Madhav a nickname on campus: "Old Botheration." The Professor didn't much mind since he thought it reminiscent of Dickens and Melville's characters.

Occasionally, Madhav was forced to descend from the icy delights of his poetic Himalayas to deal with the muddy world of mortals. When he did so, he emulated an avatar of God himself. He was a Shiva come to destroy the petty, frivolous, and bothersome entanglements of the unenlightened. Those responsible for his descent prayed that he would soon go back to his original abode.

* * *

For some weeks, Madhav had chanted his mantra. "Bother, botheration; I'll not be bothered," in response to his wife. Apparently she had made some temporary peace with her servant only to declare war on the neighbour's servant and she wanted the Professor as an ally. But to her every effort to draft him into the war, Madhav would reply, "Oh, bother."

Then retaliation by the servant's family began. They sent chickens, goats and even cows into Madhav's garden. Their children answered the call of nature in his yard. They deposited garbage in the water tank of the Professor's desert cooler. And like the evening television news, Madhav's wife gave daily reports on the war.

"Today, they have urinated on the staircase of the house!"

"Today, there are crumbs of chapatti in the cooler tank."

"There's rice today." The professor knew she was talking about the cooler tank and not his supper.

"Today, the bones of chickens! Filthy people! Will you allow them to pollute your home, your wife, your children!"

The Professor was inured to his wife's perception of insults to his honour. He thought the incidents were petty and largely brought about by his wife's rancour. The war occupied her time. If not this, maybe something worse. As for himself, he was involved in a thesis. He hoped to prove that the bird that inspired the poet in Walt Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" was, poetically speaking, the same bird that inspired Valmiki. According to legend, the great poet Valmiki was inspired to compose the Ramayana when he heard the wailing cries of a female krauncha bird lamenting the death of her beloved, slain by a hunter's arrow. The parallel, in which the mockingbird inspired the poet, was so close that Professor Madhav felt the American poet must have known the story of Valmiki. In fact, it seemed rather obvious since everyone in India knew something of the Ramayana. Why shouldn't an American know at least that much? thought the Professor. Nonetheless the various Whitman scholars who answered the letters Professor Madhav sent them concerning this matter, uniformly agreed that there was nothing to indicate that Whitman knew anything about the Ramayana. But Madhav was not discouraged by the lack of biographical facts; he went on to tie a knot between the two birds on the basis of internal evidence in the poems.

With his thoughts occupied by the celestial Ramayana and with dashing between India and America, where the Professor had earned his Ph.D., it is no wonder that he resented interruption.

"If only Mr. I'll-Not-Be-Bothered"--she couldn't call him Mr. Botheration--"cares to clean the water tank before we are all poisoned from dead animals bones," said his wife one morning, needling him, "or drive away the cattle trampling the few vegetables we have left, or strike those rascals answering calls of nature in the yard, I would not be a widow today, with something of a husband still alive, so to speak."

Instead of listening to this speech, the Professor was involved with intricacies of the bird archetype. The male bird was slain in Valmiki's poem. But in Whitman's poem, the female bird disappears, leaving the male to mourn. Did Whitman change the sex to conceal his borrowing? Or was it due to his homosexuality? Lost in such thought, Madhav paid little attention to his wife's proclaimed widowhood. Without interrupting his own thoughts, he chanted his mantra, "I'll not be bothered."

Perhaps moved by the notion of widowhood, Madhav's wife decided to take matters into her own hands. Returning from the department one evening. Madhav saw his wife supervising the cutting of a pipal tree. What could the woman be thinking? Had she no religion at all? The Professor had descended to earth; he vowed to himself that the tree would be spared even if it meant violence. Though he hardly did anything as president of the Kanpur chapter of the Chipko movement, he would not allow a sacred tree cut under his very nose and in front of his own house. But as he jumped from his bicycle and rushed to the spot, the tree creaked and slowly fell, almost on top of the helpless Professor.

"I am asking Ramchand to put up a fence around I'll-Not-Be-Bothered's house," she said. "How else can we escape from the pollution in the yard and bones in our water? The tree had to come down for the sake of the fence."

She was surprised by Madhav's silence. If he wasn't going to blow up, she at least expected the mantra. Instead, he silently went into the house.

When Madhav was in his study, brooding over the felling of the sacred tree, his wife rushed in and said, in great nervous agitation, "Oh, that dirty Babulal! He has brought the security men." Babulal was the neighbour's servant, the enemy in his wife's current war.

"You'll be arrested now for cutting the tree. Please save yourself or your children will be orphans!"

She was in even more consternation when Madhav neither grew angry nor pronounced the mantra. Had he grown deaf? Had he totally left his senses with his crazy birds? She repeated again, more loudly this time, "The security guards! They'll arrest you now. Save yourself! Don't you hear, Mr. Ill-Not-Be-Bothered?"

Indeed, the security men were knocking on Madhav's door. The Professor rose silently and brushed aside his wife, who was now trying to stop him from opening the door unarmed.

"They may be Sikhs. Nihangs. They may even be dacoits hired by that dirty Babulal! Don't open the door! I'll be widowed if you do!" she cried.

Professor Madhav opened the door and politely made namaste to the security men, inviting them into the house, over the protests of his wife.

"Maybe you would like me to fix food so you can eat with them," she whispered to him.

The Professor seated them in his living room and had his daughter serve them bottles of Campa Cola. His wife muttered that although the children had to drink water and lose their bones, he could pour expensive drinks into the throats of the police. Then to the amazement of both the security men and his wife, Professor Madhav admitted that he had cut down the tree, saying, "I am very sorry for felling the tree. I take full responsibility. Please impose a fine on me for this misdeed and I will pay it on the spot."

"No, sir, we have not come here to charge you a fine. Since complaint has been made, we have to investigate. Otherwise, Babulal will spread slander against the security staff. We will report that it was only a small branch of a wild tree that was cut. We cannot bring a fine against a professor!" The Security Officer spoke with deep respect or irony, the Professor was not sure which.

"A tree has been cut, a pipal tree, and you cannot escape from imposing a fine," said the Professor.

He then took his chequebook from his desk. "Here is a cheque for Rs. 100," he said. With something of a flourish, Madhav wrote the cheque for the amount, waved it in the air to dry the ink, and pressed it into the slack hands of the bewildered Security Officer, saying dramatically, "No one, even for a moment, ceases to act in this world."

Madhav's wife could hardly talk. "It is jhoot (a lie). He has eaten an evil spirit! Those birds of his have pecked out his brains! He throws away the food from his family's mouth! He makes us beggars because we try to get up from lying in the filth of rakshasas (demons)! Krishna helps us!"

With a choked voice, she expanded on the indignities heaped upon the family by the miscreants next door. Then her attention turned to the security force. Standing with a Rs. 100 of their money in his hand, what protection did the campus Security Officer provide to their hapless family? Did they take the side of a beggar against an America-returned professor? Her husband talked of gandharvas or birds and would do nothing. What could she do? Jump in a well? Burn herself in the kitchen? Unable to bear throwing away a Rs. 100, which might buy a silk sari at the right shop, she broke into tears and said she hoped to never hear another bird chirp as long as she lived, which wouldn't be long.

Greatly embarrassed by her weeping, the Security Officer quietly withdrew with his men after trying in vain to return the cheque to Professor Madhav who said, "No, no. You had done your duty. Now, please take leave."

* * *

The Security Officer immediately reported the matter to the Administrative Officer, his superior, lest he be taken to task for sticking his lathi into the affairs of a professor, or worse yet, charged with extorting the money. To his surprise, the Administrative Officer was pleased to hear the story. Like others of the support staff, the Administrative Officer had a long-standing grudge against the academic caste. Accustomed to being grilled for every mishap on campus, he welcomed the opportunity to return the favour to a professor. Gloating, he instructed the Security Officer to submit a written report of the case.

Knowing that the entire matter was an affair for servants to wrangle over, and touched by the magnanimous behaviour of the Professor, the Security Officer did not want to pursue the case. Consequently, he wrote a report heavily favouring the Professor, which ended with these words: "Ramchand, servant of I'll-Not-Be-Bothered"--which was crossed out and replaced--by "Professor Madhav, felled one tree in absence of master. Professor Madhav owning responsibility and paying one fine. Advise appropriate action."

The Administrative officer had hoped for a better report. He called the Security Officer and berated him, wanting to know when he was going to learn to write a good chit. He dismissed the man and then wrote beneath the report, in a bold hand, "Strongly recommended the collection of fine to show that all are equal before the law, high as much as low." He sent the file to the Deputy Director, marking it URGENT.

The messenger who carried the file to the Deputy Director's office naturally thumbed through it and told the Security Officer what his superior had written, thus making himself a rupee. The Security Officer informed Madhav's wife of the events and she in turn informed the Professor who wrote a letter to the Security Officer, with copies sent to the Administrative Officer, the Deputy Director, and the Director, saying the fine had been already collected. He then took the opportunity to fully air the events that had led to cutting the tree, how Babulal's misconduct had necessitated felling the tree to put up a fence against Babulal's further depredations.

Naturally, the Deputy Director's sympathy was with the white collar of the academic ranks rather than the khaki collar of the security staff in an event of this kind. He wrote on the file, "The Security Officer's report makes it clear that Professor Madhav did not himself chop the tree. Precisely who cut the tree must be known before collection of the fine. In the meantime, the Administrative Officer will bring Babulal to book." The Deputy Director marked the file, TOP PRIORITY, and sent it to the Director.

The Director wrote only a single word on the file. After the Deputy Director's comments, he wrote, "Agreed," in red ink and sent the file back to the Administrative Officer, marked, IMMEDIATE TODAY.

While this file was being carried from desk to desk at school, Madhav's wife was busy in the neighbourhood, carrying the tale of her mistreatment, and especially of the fine, to everyone who would listen. To her husband she said, "Oh, what shame you have brought down on this family by admitting your guilt and paying a fine! I have to cover my face when I go out the door. Have you no honour to let a servant feed you bones and then pay a Rs. 100? Could you think of no way to prove your innocence? Do I have to go back to my father's house?"

To her continued annoyance, Madhav remained silent.

* * *

In the world of bureaucracy, the file, duly read by a number of messengers and office clerks as well as by those addressed, came back to the Administrative Officer whose heart sank at reading the notations. He saw that it was not just the usual feud of staff against academics, but a new situation in which he was cut off from both ends, from his treacherous subordinate as well as from his unworthy superiors. No official wishes to hang in Trishanku (between earth and heaven). Knowing how he reached his high office, he turned his attention on Babulal. He shot off a "Show Cause" notice to evict Babulal for malicious behaviour. The Administrative Officer copied the detailed list of offences from Professor Madhav's letter onto the notice sent to Babulal, not neglecting to say that the Professor had paid a Rs. 100 fine for which Babulal was the cause, none of which, of course, Babulal could read. Nonetheless, the order, done with four copies, was necessary to prove the Administrative Officer's zeal. Such harassing of a professor would not be tolerated!

As if this were not enough to reingratiate himself with his superiors, the Administrative Officer, through his wife, let it be known that Professor Madhav was a dharmik, a righteous man; like the Mahatma himself, he was willing to suffer, and even pay fines, for the sake of others, who were as his children.

Babulal was shocked to receive the Show Cause notice from the Security Officer, all the more so when his master explained what it meant. He wandered through the neighbourhood, limply holding the powerful document, trying to win the sympathy of other servants. In his other hand, he was careful to bring a chicken when he went to his friends, saying, "You see how Professor Madhav cuts a tree and Babulal is thrown out of his house by this chit. Where is the justice? Today I am on GT Road, tomorrow you will follow."

Babulal's friends were moved by his plight to help him in whatever way they could. Babulal, heartened by this support, said, "We should find dacoits to do away with this I'll-Not-Be-Bothered. Let his corpse float in the ditch."

Gyanesh, hardly listening to this bluster, said, "He must have bribed the Administrative Officer."

Chandubhai agreed, saying, "This clearly proves my point that all of them are corrupt vultures picking up what they can."

Birendra interrupted, "Are we going to waste our time like this or decide on some definite line of action? I suggest that we should beat the Professor at his own game. Let us see if two chickens will find justice with the Administrative Officer."

This proposal was unanimously endorsed and Babulal was sent, post haste, with two of his own chickens to the Administrative Officer's residence.

Now, for a long time, the Administrative Officer--who, like so many other officials, could not live on his miserly salary--had intimated to Babulal a need for a chicken now and then. But he never got even an egg from the stingy fellow. Under the present circumstances, to accept even a feather would be suicide. The loss of the chickens, more than his offended honesty, gave heat to the Officer's tirade against Babulal, whom he threatened to put behind bars for attempting to corrupt an official.

Babulal, who had come to think of himself as an emissary on behalf of the servants, ran back to his companions to report what had happened, contributing a few of his own inferences for the sake of solidarity. He reported that all of them were threatened with dismissal, eviction, beating and even imprisonment! They grew angry with him for needlessly dragging them and their families into this calamity. He retorted that the bribe was their idea, not his, and that he would tell the magistrate that at court. In turn, each of them asked if Babulal had reported their names to the Administrative Officer. Babulal sadly admitted he had done so, only after being beaten, and that the Officer had written down their names. Sensing that trouble was collecting like monsoon clouds, children, women, and even dogs, joined the men in moaning and wailing over their fate.

* * *

Returning home on his bicycle along the path that separated his house from Babulal's quarters, Madhav heard the wailing and assumed that someone had died. Perhaps he was still affected by the poem mourning the dead of the bird; in any event, he leaned his bicycle on the neighbour's wall and walked through the open gate into the backyard to offer his condolences.

Everyone was surprised to see the Professor in their midst. Because they were occupied with the immediate threat from the Administrative Officer and the security force, they tended to forget that the Professor was the cause of their woes. Unable to fully comprehend the chain of events that was leading to their certain dispossession, they mumbled regret about cutting the sacred tree and proposed conducting a puja of some kind. The Professor reminded them that he had paid a fine of Rs. 100, which he said would compensate for the sin of cutting the tree, and that it was he who had lost face as well as money. What had they to mourn over?

After some time, people looked at Babulal for the answer and he spoke, sobbing, "Sahib, we are to be thrown out of our quarters."

"Why?" asked Madhav, shocked at this news.

"Why not?" replied Babulal like a philosopher. Then giving vent to all the accumulated things he felt guilty for, he said, "Don't you see these chickens, goats, and cows surrounding you? Also these unauthorised constructions? You knew they are all prohibited. Don't you know that we brew liquor here?"

Indeed, Madhav's wife had told him that every other day, but he had thought it merely her invention.

"Don't you know there are those who borrow things here who also drink bhang?"

"If this is correct, then you should be evicted," said Madhav quietly.

"Sahib, you are our jajman, our patron, help us to avert this tragedy. Our sons will praise your name if you keep their fathers from starving."

After giving the matter some thought, Madhav, who was, after all, an astute literary critic, said, "Perhaps there is a way."

"We will pay fines, if we must," they all said in a chorus. "Even if it is Rs. 200." They were shocked at their own audacity at suggesting such an amount.

"But brewing liquor and stealing are serious crimes," said Madhav, "More so than cutting a tree, even a pipal. the fine may be a Rs. 1,000 and on top of that, you may have to go to jail."

At the mention of jail, all of them cried uncontrollably. They touched Madhav's feet and begged him to save their children. To Madhav's repeated assertion that he had no power over the Administrative Officer and that, indeed, he had no more power than they, the servants, squatting on the ground, responded in one voice, saying that he was their saviour. If he would do nothing, they and their families would eat the dirt of the road.

Madhav, so quickly surrounded by this imploring crowd and elevated to the status of a virtual god, was tempted to say, "Oh bother," and beat a retreat to his own house. But the tears were real and Madhav felt that he had to do something since his own letter had contributed more than a little to this situation. In any case, he might be able to stop his wife's current war.

"Who has been answering the call of nature in my yard?" he asked after a spell of samadhi.

Babulal immediately boxed the ears of his two daughters and made them stand before the jajman. "These bitches," he said.

The daughters, crying, accused Babulal in turn. "But you, son of a bitch, made us do it."

Madhav intervened. Babulal and his family swore that such would never happen again, that garbage would never be deposited in the cooler tank, and that the Professor's house and garden would be as a temple to them.

Like examining students at a tutorial, Professor Madhav went on. "Then we have these chickens, goats, cows, and buffaloes. Something must be done about them. You know they are not allowed within the walls of the campus."

"But how will our children live without milk? Our whole life savings are invested in the animals," they pleaded.

The Professor smiled, sadly, as he did whenever he caught a student in an error of logic. He responded, "If you are so upright and concerned about your children's welfare, you will not mind going to jail for the sake of justice."

"Save us from jail. No one from our families has been in jail. The police will eat us. Our wives will be widows and our children orphans if we are sent to jail. Tell us what do with the cattle. We will drive them into Ganga (the Ganges River) if we must."

Like dictating an assignment, the Professor said, "First, you will have to sell the animals, all of them, immediately, for whatever price you can get, to people outside the campus.

"Secondly, there will be no trace of a still left tomorrow. No liquor and no bhang.

"Thirdly, these unauthorised constructions, sheds for cattle, must be taken down. The campus must be made to look like a university and not your father's village.

"Fourthly, all stolen goods must be restored to their owners. Tonight you will leave them in the yards of their rightful owners. If you don't remember the owners, leave them at a temple. Unless you want your children to eat the dust of the road, you must do these things before tomorrow."

Under the Professor's supervision, the servants performed tapas that night. Meanwhile, Madhav telephoned the Administrative Officer, saying that he was thinking about drafting a letter in defence of the rights of the poor against police who abused their power, acted arbitrarily, and showed no compassion for those they served. Before Madhav could elaborate the details of the letter or mention the name of the newspaper reporter whom he had met during the recent disturbance, the Administrative Officer politely asked what could be done to demonstrate the goodwill of the Security Department and forestall such an unneeded letter. The Professor responded, "This is what I would like you to do and I think it will solve all of our problems . . . ."

* * *

Garbage was picked up, lanes were swept, kachcha sheds were demolished, the brick apartment buildings were scrubbed as far up as the women could reach, frantic deals were made at the gate over animals, waking people and bringing them into the road to discover why all the commotion. But the neighbourhood now looked better than the grounds of the Director's own bungalow. In the early hours of the morning, a banana mandap (a temporary pavilion) was raised at one corner of the lane. A colour print of Lord Krishna, standing in his chariot with Arjuna reverently before him, was hung in the centre. But when Madhav, the lieutenant who had ordered all this unprecedented activity, returned to his house to get his copy of the Bhagavad Gita, his wife was there to meet him.

"What are you doing with those filthy people? Isn't it enough that they make you eat bones and pay over your salary to the police and ruin your name so that you daughter will never marry? Now you live with them and drink liquor all night. Have you no shame?'

No more Mr. Bother, the Professor said nothing as he went into his bedroom to get the book. Then as he left the house, he said to his wife, "Come and see these people tonight. Maybe they bathed and are not so dirty. Come."

There was a festive air that night. Fires were lit outside, chai was made, children poked sticks in the fire and chased each other instead of sleeping, and overall it felt like Divali. At the coming of dawn, standing before the mandap, Professor Madhav recited from the Bhagavad Gita to a large assembly of people, including his wife who was commiserating with Babulal's wife, no doubt about the manifold sins of husbands.

When the puja was underway, with the sunlight streaming through the smoke and the peaceful haze of the early morning, the Security Force arrived; the Administrative Officer in his chauffeured army Jeep, his men on foot. Many of them had followed the night's strange activities, making frequent reports to the Administrative Officer who told them to remain in the dark and allow the Professor to conduct his campaign without interference.

The servants, fearing that the security men would throw their possessions in the lane and beat them until they fled from the campus, fell down moaning, crying out to God to save them.

The security men were amazed to see how tidy the neighbourhood was in the light of day, to see how different it looked without the kachcha sheds, and were even more amazed to see the Professor and his enemies in each others' arms, as it were, and this at dawn. They approached the group without military bearing and in obvious curiosity. This gave some heart to the servants who were expecting kicks and lathi blows.

Having paused at the arrival of the Security Force, Professor Madhav resumed reading from the fourth chapter of the Gita:

"Whenever righteousness appears to decline, Arjuna; when unrighteousness rises up, then I send Myself forth into the world."

Professor Madhav paused, thinking how strange that even God is bothered and responds to our cries for help. He looked at the Security Officer who was smiling, stroking his moustache. His bemused attitude caused the Professor to begin to realise what he had started in his neighbourhood. Would other servants and malis on the campus follow this lead? Or would they laugh at Madhav's followers for getting rid of their animals and sheds? Would the Director seize on this as a precedent to clean up the campus? Whatever happened, Madhav knew he would be at the centre of controversy for a long time to come. What bother, he thought.

Then he continued to read:

"For the protection of the virtuous, for the destruction of evil-doers, and for establishing Dharma on a firm footing, I am born in age after age."

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