Saturday, 7 January 2017

My Wanderings - 48. Short Story No. 30. The Man who Fooled Post officials

     It was melancholic February of Nineteen Ninety at   Srinagar.  Terrorists were ruling the roost and anarchy was rampant everywhere  in Kashmir.  Militancy had  pierced  deep even in the cadres  of administration  .  Any body could kill anyone on the street in broad day light  and escape unharmed. Kashmiri Pandits were the main targets of militants for ethnic  cleansing of the community from the province . The killings were going on account  of punishing the informers who were sabotaging their movement.  Actually innocents and particularly Kashmiri Pandits were being  killed in the name of jihad. I was living in a Lane around Habbakadal Srinagar. Atmosphere  was shivering  cold and gloomy matching the environment and circumstances prevelent at that time.
Once I left home for office at quarter to nine and could  notice  some people running backwards with guns  in the Lane, opening towards main Street leading to Habba kadal Bridge. I ventured to move ahead and noticed a body of middle aged man lying in a pool of blood on the main Street. All the people were running heltor skeltor and  shutter of shops  were being lowered by the shopkeepers in haste.  I could notice  vermilion pasted on the forehead of dead body and yes, I recognised the body . Oh! it was Shamboo nath. A cold shrill passed through whole of  my spine and I could not help stopping the wild shriek  coming out of  my throat by holding my mouth shut . In the meantime police arrived and I returned towards my residence. After reaching  home, I heaved a sigh of relief and disclosed  the reason of my return to my wife, who was already tense due to noise she heard coming from our lane after I left.
This gruesome incident, which I had just witnessed started working upon my nerves and I felt most uncomfortable in the most cosy atmosphere of my bed room. The smiling face of Shamboo Nath was constantly haunting me and I was not able to tear off my attention from the  most familiar disposition of the person, whom I had seen lying in the pool of blood recently. He always greeted me with a classical broad smile whenever he encountered me. His smile was really worth million  dollars. The nature has created  all individuals with distinctive features  but  some with unique characteristics  which can not be ignored so easily.
First time I saw Shamboo Nath when my father brought him home  to have lunch with us. He was a middle aged person of average stature clad in ' firan '
and wearing a dark coloured Gandhi  cap as headgear.
He appeared to me a very simple person rather a simpleton with a charismatic  smile which rarely escaped his radiant  face. From that day onwards he started visiting  our house once in a weak or fortnight to have lunch or breakfast with us. He always narrated to us amazing  incidents of his life which justified his innocence and made us laugh for hours together . He became a source of entertainment for us. Later on it transpired that he was  a bachelor and had worked  as a domestic help to some family for decades and left them in his old age. Now he was living in a small room of a nearby temple provided to  him by some  acquaintance .  In marriage season he had no problem regarding his daily food. He could manage to visit any marriage function, whether invited or uninvited and have his daily lunch and dinner   there. Otherwise he visited the people living in neighbourhood for the purpose. But he visited every household with a smile and always prayed for their welfare and entertained them with his classical ancedots and made them laugh to the hilt. He was so innocent and harmless that everyone welcomed him for his positive attitude and interesting ancedots which he narrated with a dramatic appeal.
Once he noticed me taking a simple meal before proceeding to office. He suggested  me to accompany him for a hearty meal at Warikoo's house , who were celebrating  marriage ceremony of their son. I most politely declined his invitation offer  with the excuse that  my presence at office was required urgently.
He was a very good conversationalist . His conversation was always full of humour and satire. Whenever simple food was served to him. He would usually say. Oh! You are very formal with me. Why do you prepare such delicacies for me. I am one among you. You should treat me like that. We always acknowledged his  comic utterances with delightful gestures and never considered him burden on us.
Once Shamboo Nath's  earlier landlord narrated me an incident of him  . He told me,  I gave him  Five rupees along with few letters  one day and advised him  to purchase stamps from the Post office and post the letters after affixing stamps on them.
After some time he reached back  with a jubilant look and while returning the money back addressed to me enthusiastically.
Sir I have fooled the Post officials today . I did not purchase stamps. I looked everywhere  and after confirming  that no body was noticing me, I dropped the letters in the Post Box with out affixing stamps on them.  To day I outsmarted them and saved your money. The landlord felt aghast and clean bowled by his smartness.
While brooding over the incident, I fell asleep and was awoken by a harsh knock at the door. I got  startled as a slight knock at the door could frighten one easily  those days. I  looked at the wall clock. It was already half past six. Some body was calling me. It was a familiar voice. I rushed to the front gate and opened it with a jerk. I was astonished .Lo and behold ! it was Shamboo Nath in flesh and blood and very much   alive before my eyes. I could not beleive my eyes. I controlled my curiosity and   let him in with out disclosing any thing to him. However, He informed me that another Hindu was killed today on the main Street  heading towards Habbakadal by the terrorists . The victim was Janki Nath resident  of Fateh kadel , a retired School teacher who had come through our lane to reach Habba kadal Bridge.
Later on it transpired that it was a case of mistaken  identity. The terrorists  had actually to kill Shamboo Nath , whom they considered temple priest and informer as he visited from door to door in the area. They were given full identity of Shamboo Nath who used to leave temple usually  at quarter to nine. But on  the fateful day Shamboo Nath was late by half an hour and an unknown person Janki Nath of Fateh kadal was crossing the lane who resembled Shamboo Nath in every respect , the same stature, same firan, same cap and  most conspicous  same vermilion pasted on his forehead , was shown to killers who were living near chota bazar  and had reached the spot  crossing through by lanes with Gun in their hands. They killed the victim at point zero range to ensure  his instant death. I could understand that  whether Shamboo Nath had really fooled the post officials that day or not  but he had outsmarted his killers today.
Next day arrangements were made to send Shamboo Nath to Jammu as his life was in  great risk. We also joined him at Jammu after some time.

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