Responsibility

 

 

-He is Jack, he works as gardener in Board Office and lives in your servant quarter. My  Office Assistant introduced Jack as he came and stood with a most obsequious body language.

He is a middle aged sickly man appeared almost running as we entered through the gate of the Bungalow. He was putting
on a soiled trouser folded up to his knees and a torn vest. His body was sweat soaked with soil blobbed all over his body. He rubbed sweat out of his face with a piece of cloth hanging around his
neck. I really felt embarrassed and confused seeing his servile gait.

-What were you doing? I asked him.
-I was taking care of your kitchen garden, Sir.

It’s a few days that I have joined my new station on transfer. I haven’t brought my family as yet.
Since I am alone, instead of occupying my allotted big bungalow, I am staying in a guest house.
It’s around post mid-way of academic year. My wife and children would come once their
examination is over in a few months’ time. I have brought all heavy household goods and dumped
in our bungalow and my Office Assistant has kept the house under lock and key.
I went to see my bungalow along with my Assistant on a weekend being goaded by my wife.

It is a walled complex. We entered as he opened the gate.
There lies a spacious lawn in front, well maintained with nicely trimmed green grass. It made me
happy.
-Perhaps Jack was working somewhere close-by and came hearing the sound as we opened the
gate. I thought.
I have not yet occupied the house and he is taking care of my kitchen garden! I got a bit curious.
I gesticulated and followed him to the back yard garden.

-Another big patch of ground at the backyard! Strange, it remains totally out of sight from the front side.
He spaded the whole area and made a number of small plots. Red amaranth are sprouting in one,
carrot plants are seen in another and bottle gourds plant in another plot.
He showed me all the plots with vivid description very enthusiastically.
I was indeed happy seeing the kitchen garden. It was obvious that Jack has been working hard for
quite some time to bring it to this pass.

There is a pocket gate at the corner of backside boundary wall. A ramshackle hut stood just across
the pocket gate by the side of a overhead water tank. Water was overflowing from the reservoir all
the time.
-What is this? I asked pointing at the hut.
-It’s your servant quarter and I live there. Jack answered.
I went out through the small gate to have a good look.

It’s a hilly area, a small stream is flowing just below the servant quarter and green hills are sliding
up from the other side.
Area around the hut has become muddy and slippery due to regular overflow of water from the
tank. Tall grass hedges have enshrouded the hut.

Some small vegetable growing patches are also found there. Creepers of beans and bottle gourds
are creeping on bamboo made frame. There are plots of red amaranth and carrot also. But those
are not as maintained as those in bungalow precinct.
Suddenly a woman came out of the hedges carrying a baby and slipped into the hut trying to veil herself by drawing her scarf. She was sitting with her baby so close but avoided out sight because
of the tall grass hedges.

-She is my wife with my little boy. Jack said grinning.
He has four children. His eldest son would sit for Secondary School final exam in a month time.
His two daughters goes to Board School. Jack said as we looked towards his departing wife.

It is evident that there used to be a roof on the four wall room but now only walls are standing and
Jack has placed some corrugated tin on it.
From the far side wall has put some corrugated tin sheet on bamboo frame to make a
kitchen and a so called bathroom is seen close by.

Jack lives here for more than twenty years meaning that all his children are born here. Every nook
and corner of the hut and the little premise is full of their memories.
-All Officers have allowed us to live here so long. Jack grinned showing his brown pair of teeth
soiled by chewing beetle leaves.

-Jack and his family lived here in this hut for twenty years banking on the mercy of the bungalow
holder Officers. I thought.
It became clear as to why Jack behaved so servile with me.

-Vegetable gardens in the Bungalow precinct are more cared than yours, why?
Jack failed to find any answer of my query as he was bubbling with complaisance.
-You and your family will definitely contact disease in this muddy and dank surrounding.
-That’s not a problem Sir. As the place remains wet it keeps the area cool in summer and good for
vegetable gardening. Jack tried to make himself easy.
-Since the departure of earlier officer, my son, Jim goads me almost every day whether I have
obtained consent from you. Because he wants to dispel the uncertainty about our stay here.
Sir, I have been trying to meet you since your arrival.
I was raptly listening to him keeping my eyes fixed on his anxious face.

-Jim has his exam in one month time and he is in continuous worry.
-Oh God! What a travesty of accommodation they have been living that
could break down on them any time but did not happen so far, any Bungalow occupying officer
could oust them like swatting a fly, but none did. They have been living their life depending on the
vagary of nature and men. I heaved a sigh.
I left assuring them fully about their stay.

After few days, I went again to the Bungalow for taking some items out of suitcases.
Jack almost came running to me as I entered. He looked very dismal. His wife also followed him
carrying her baby. She was fully covered other day and I really could not see her face. But today
she has not covered herself. She looked very skinny and malnourished. In no standard she is
healthy. She also looked very gloomy.
The sight broke my heart, lest there is something very wrong happened to them. I apprehended.

-Sir, what would happen to us and what would happen to my son? Jack broke into tears.
I remained totally flabbergasted.
Their house has been declared dilapidated and abandoned more than a decade back along with many other houses
in this station. As per instruction, the house was supposed to be destroyed years before. But the
order remained unimplemented so long. New Chief has joined few days back. He does not want to
play with the lives of human beings and that’s why he ordered to destroy all such dilapidated
houses.
Station Engineering Department has served them a notice asking to vacate their house in three days.
Notice also says that Bulldozer would demolish the house on the fourth day.
-Don’t be so upset, let me see what can be done. I would talk to the Chief tomorrow. I assured
them without any consideration.
They went back assured.
I don’t have any pre-acquaintance with the Chief. I don’t think, I can do much for them, his recent
activities have convinced me as such. I also really don’t know as to why have I assured Jack?
-May be for the issue being sheer humanitarian and the matter is only for a month. I
thought.

New Chief joined here on promotion. He is taking over his responsibilities going round the
locations, seeing things in worm eye view. He remains very busy and does not get time to sit in his
office.
He is very meritorious and hard working. He likes to run his administration keeping things in his
firm grip. He is very straightforward and it seems that the word fellow-feeling misses from his
dictionary. He goes by the book.

I tried but could not meet him for last two days. But I thought I have to meet him that day and tell
him about Jack at any cost.
Having failed through all ways, I went directly to his office on third day morning before the office
time and waited in his waiting room. I was bent on meeting him.
Chief came in office on time but usually looked very busy. He would go out having done his
important office works.
He was undone but to call me in his office. I narrated the subject in a nutshell as he instructed me
before I started. I requested in simple language to delay the demolition of Jack’s house till his
son’s exam is over.
Chief smiled and praised for my feeling towards Jack and his family. He also informed that he
himself does not have any less feeling for them.
-You are worried about the exam! He kept smiling.
-Have you thought about the fact that if he does not survive then the question of sitting for the
exam won’t even arise!
Chief paused a bit.
-The house has been declared abandoned decade ago but no one destroyed that as yet. God saved
that roof did not break on their head so long. Given choice between life and exam, what would you
choose?

– I thought of telling him that the power that saved them for over a decade he would possibly save
them for another month and once there is indeed no roof on their head then what would break
down on them?
But I thought that would be futile effort to his hidebound attitude.

New shoes always have a problem, despite the fact that you chose them after repeated trial.
Regardless, the new pair of shoes would take some time to fit properly with the new legs. More so,
the shoes remain sparkling for few days and the hard fact is that the wearer finds pleasure in
showing off the shoes to others.
He has to do a lot of activities primarily to fit his legs in the shoes and then to show off to attract
attention of others. It’s no denying a fact that the new shoes would pinch but amidst the pleasure
of showing off the pinching issue takes a back seat.
New Chief has left his old shoes and he is not yet habituated with the new one. In this juncture he
is  yet to be his own-self over the preference of new sparkling shoes. At this time he would definitely
go by the instructions printed on the shoe packet. He would work with his brain, it would take quite
some time to let his heart surface over his brain.

-It’s a very old issue, my predecessors have not carried out the order but I don’t want to delay it
anymore. He uttered as he was getting up to go out.
-I see things holistically, thus I am helpless entertaining your request for a particular case.
– At best I can delay your case for one week time not more. He went out having given his parting
shot.

-Jack must be waiting to hear from me. He would be able to manage things barely as he has got one week time
extension. I thought.
I rushed to my bungalow to inform Jack without wasting any time.

I saw his son, Jim standing in front of their house. He wished as he saw me. Not any sign of
concern was betrayed in his behavior.
He informed that they were shifting to another Gardener’s house. The gardener has a big house,
moreover, he does not have any children, he and his wife lives in their house. There are very happy
accommodating their family. They are shifting there on earnest request of their Gardener Uncle.
A push cart arrived as Jim was talking.
-Sir, as today is the last day of three days allotted, my father has shifted all the belongings in the
morning. They have already arranged all those in the meantime, I’m sure. This push cart would be
enough for the left-over.
They entered their room and started pulling and loading the left-over items.

Having started off the push cart, Jim came close to me.
He bowed to touch my feet and asked for my blessing.

-My father would meet you. Sir, we are indeed grateful to you. Sir, my father would come every
day to care for your garden.

-Sir, Gardner Uncle’s house is located inside the school boundary and the house is very big. It
would be suitable for my study and more so, the hassle of going to the exam center is no more.

He departed and I kept looking at the departing push cart followed by Jim.

-Oh Lord of Heaven and Earth! You are indeed Omniscient and Omnipotent, we, human being
always fail to fathom your depth with our temporal senses and always prove our own inadequacy.

I bowed my head to merciful Lord in quietude.
I stood in dead silence as they departed.

A cuckoo flew overhead crying coo-coo ushering the spring. It was a green sky with few white
patches of fliting cloud.
A sigh of relief bellowed out of my chest.
The Gardner has a real big house in deed. I believe.

Category: English, Short Story

Write a comment