“Gotya, wake up, you bum.”
Gotya was shaken up from his sleep. He shuddered, then forced his face to point to where the sound was coming from. He let in as much of his father’s looming figure as his hazy vision allowed.
Gotya’s father was tired of Gotya’s utter lack of competence at any work there possibly was to do. Gotya, on the other hand, was fed up with the extreme truculent manner in which his father constantly chided him. Neither of them attempted to right anything. Gotya continued to laze away the days and the nights. His father continued to bark at him for doing so.
“What are you going to do now?”
“Just what you told me Baba,” was all he managed to mutter. He was still livid with his father for waking him up early. Just as he was every day. He was still spread across his Charpai — spread even more than the bedsheet beneath him did.
“And what is that?”
“Not to do anything stupid,” he hissed now — his father just won’t give up.
“That is what you are not going to do, Gotya. I asked what are you going to do now?”
Gotya sighed. “Haven’t we just gone through this?” he pondered. And finally, annoyed, he shot back, “Anyway, what am I going to do?”
“We just went through this, you idiot. Stop being stupid.”
“See.” It was Gotya who barked now. “That’s why I keep saying you are getting old now. Isn’t that exactly what I said I am going to do – not doing anything stupid?”
Gotya sat straight now, his father contrarily bent a little. He then stretched somewhat and then bent a lot more, sighing. Herding this fool is no less difficult than the thoughtless goats, goats are easier withal, he mumbled.
This is another short-story from the series of adventures from this crazy village Tikwadi. I have also published the other humor stories as part of this series — The Lone Conductor, Day when a loan shark was tamed and He who wasn’t welcomed.
Rains were lashing the village of Tikwadi. No being, living, dead or inanimate, had had any respite from the persistent downfall of loaded raindrops. Pathways full of potholes were transformed into rivulets with uneven bed. Not that there was a dire need for use of any of these pathways.
Tikwadi was known for the distinct hebetude amongst the dwellers of this rugged land. There were different kinds of people – of varied nature, varied colour, varied beliefs and varied professions. What connected them all was their utter lack of liveliness in the face of any hardship. A hint of annoyance, and the whole village would go dead-still. Extreme summers made them spread themselves on the bed. Stormy monsoons had them locked in their houses. Chilly winters had them cloaked and hooded in the layers of Shawls. The village, and the villagers, ran when the nature was kind.
Of course, the incessant rains of last week had got the village long deserted. There was no seeable movement nor any discernible sound, except that of the pounding rain. A whoosh of wind that shook the whole surrounding was, hence, definitely bizarre for its suddenness. It was as if it had no trigger to originate, nor did it have a gradual route to non-existence; it just disappeared. It did leave behind something though, equally odd and a lot more ghastly.
Tikwadi wasn’t ready for Him yet.
Raghu and Ganya were huddled together under the porch to keep themselves dry, and warm. They saw a body, befogged by the rain around, walk towards them.
“Has it stopped raining?” Ganya quipped.
Raghu rolled his eyes, then on second thought kneaded his eyes a bit and looked around. But then rolled his eyes again and looked pitifully at Ganya.
“Don’t look at me like that.” Ganya responded, a bit flustered. “If it hasn’t stopped raining, who is that walking around?”
“He cannot be someone from here.” Raghu finally spoke.
“Then where is he from?” Ganya looked at the rolling eyes of Raghu and complained, “Whoever taught you that did not tell you when to do that.”
He had reached next to them by now. He spoke something that, to Raghu and Ganya, were just noises. They looked at each other, weighing the option of enquiring further. But their lethargic self won. So they just rolled their eyes, went inside and slammed the door in His face.
Thursday dawned on Tikwadi. For an outsider, no dawn in Tikwadi was any different. Villagers idled around just the way they always did. Men meandered, dilly-dallying with some unknown angst. Women hustled helter-skelter, pretending to be busy with some unknown chore. And kids spurted kooky from all directions, engulfed with some unknown euphoria. But for a resident of Tikwadi, every day dawned with a new crazy chapter.
Even today, a group of men squat around a smallish bonfire. They had Neem stems sticking out of their mouths; and hands, searching for heat, sticking out of their bodies. The chilly month of December always made them do such concoctions — they were never sure which body part they wanted to heat by the bonfire and which one to keep warm in the cloak. Raghu and Ganya were doing nothing different.
“I heard Paka saw a ghost yesterday?” queried Raghu.
“Where?” Ganya raised his brows.
“In his farm, it seems. He was returning from his evening choir. Got late. Heard he saw lights dancing in front of him.”
“That idiot must have just seen some fireflies. Anyway, who did you hear it from?”
“Who else did you hear it from?”
“No one else. Why the fuck does that matter?” Raghu bit on his Neem a bit too hard.
“Why would you say “you heard” if the only person you heard it from was the one whom it happened to?”
Raghu spat a chunk of chewed Neem extracts — the stem wasn’t the only thing that was leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.
“Fuck, is that Lala?” he howled. “Why the hell is he out of his den?”
Lala was horror personified. A moneylender by profession, and unlike the tradition of Tikwadi, he did not suck at lending money. After all, there are only so many ways someone can lend money. He did not lend money, he sentenced people to lending money from him. He would devise a ploy so intriguing that people just took money from him irrespective of their needs.
Paka, the lone conductor of Tikwadi, had fallen for a similar ploy. He once sat at the window of his bus with Lala next to him. He knew he should just keep his mouth shut and eyes focused on anything but the evil. There was a word around the town that Lala can taint one’s brain with any opening he finds on your body. Paka did not want his brain to get spoilt; he pulled his beanie tighter over his ears.
“So where’s the bus going?” Lala began his session.
Why the fuck does that matter? Where are you going, you devil? Paka cursed in his mind. But he stayed inert, as if lifeless.
“You people controlling this bus are genius; it looks so old. It must be holding a world record for being the oldest bus plying on the road. Why do you still work, as in do a job?” Paka looked at Lala with quizzing eyes. Strike one.
“Why are you looking at me like that? For this alone, The Guinness Book of Records must have paid you a fortune, no?” Paka, still mostly unmoved, had few frowning lines on his forehead. Strike two.
Lala continued, “Now don’t tell me you did not even apply for the Guinness records?” Paka heard him. Strike three. Game over.
Of course, Lala did not suck at taking the money back from people. He was a ruthless maniac at that. So much so that there was a belief around the town that he had hollowed his cardiac chambers too — and used that space as safes for hiding people’s documents.
Both Raghu and Ganya owed him money. And neither could pay him back. So they stood up and started a brisk walk away from Lala. Lala, with his husky loud voice first, caught up to them in spite of an ancillary tummy dangling from his torso.
“Stop. I am not here to ask money from you, you fools.”
Both Raghu and Ganya stopped.
“Have you seen Paka around?”
“Must be at his home.” Raghu shot back.
“You think I did not try that? I went to his home and he is not there,” Lala lambasted.
“No idea, in that case, about where he is. I did hear that he saw a ghost yesterday. So maybe he has run away from Tikwadi.” Raghu informed.
Ganya raised his eyebrows and howled, “Paka did not see any ghost, and this idiot did not hear it from anyone. He only heard it from Paka, or so he says.”
“Then why the fuck does he say that he heard?” Lala shrieked. Ganya shrugged. “Anyway, I think he has a ghost living in his house itself,” Lala theorised.
Neither Raghu nor Ganya spoke a word. They just stared at Lala in an expectation that he might clarify this theory further.
“That lady living with him? She is no lesser that a witch.”
“Of course.” They spurted out exactly at the same time. “Indeed she is. What did she do now by the way?”
“Well, I went there to ask my money back. That witch managed to pull another ₹100 from me. And also a monthly business, I am afraid”
Both Raghu and Ganya instantly flattened their hands to smash them together, all in full respect for this godly lady. Realising they have made Lala aware, they stopped. And gave him a puzzled look.
“Don’t ask. But hear me out anyway.”
I reached Paka’s house pretty early in the morning, I knew he always left his home early. But he had already left. He loves his bus more than his lady, I tell you.
Anyway, I reach there and catch his wife squatting in her front-yard, milking her goats. “Howdy Bindu,” I greet her and ask, “Where is Paka?”
She was startled as if no human had ever greeted her. So much so that she sprayed some milk on me. I felt even the goat looked at me and chuckled with a shake of her head.
“He is not here — has left for work.” I saw a fly strolling over the craggy surface of her face.
“So early? Must be to his second wife, no?” I attempted to crack a joke. She was not impressed. I attempted a cover-up, “I mean his bus.” Even the fly on her face need not change the course as it continued its trek.
She howled, “What do you want?” This time the fly did fly away.
“My money that Paka owes me.”
“He has not left any money at home.”
“Well, it has been very long since I have lent him the money. I won’t go home empty-handed today,” I looked around and pointed to the top subconsciously. “I am taking your tin shelter.”
“Our house does not have any, you took away the last one last month. It is all grass and mud now. Take that if you want.”
“Bah. What will I do with that?”
“How will I know? I do not do the business of selling mud and grass.”
“Duh. Is there any idiot who does that?”
“Well, you sold us the mud and grass when you took our tins last time.” The goat shook her head again. I was not liking it one bit.
“Whatever. I have come out of my house, I need to take something. Anything. Your goat. Aha. Yes, I will take your goat.” The goat yawned and looked away. I am still not sure if it did that in fright or disgust.
“Ok, pay me ₹100 and take the goat away?”
“Tchah. Why the hell should I pay you anything?”
“Well, it’s your goat now. And I have just milked her,” she said pointing at the bucket full of milk. “You will anyway take the milk too with you and sell it, making more moolah. So you owe me a ₹100 for my service.”
The goat bleated, mocking me.
“Ok. I will deduct the amount from what you already owe me.”
“Nah. I do not do business on credit. You have to pay me right now, and take the goat away.”
“Ok. here’s your ₹100,” I opened my briefcase, prepared a document and handed it to her, “Now I own this goat, sign here.”
Bindu wiggled and wiped her wet hands, took the papers and put her initials.
“There you go,” I sounded triumphed. Sigh. Little did I know what the hell I was getting into.
I failed miserably to manoeuvre the goat, it just wouldn’t budge. It kept lazily munching on the grass, idly looking at me every now and then. Its chomps were dull, eyes were dull. Its whole body was still as death, the only thing moving was its frothy mouth.
“Well, it won’t move,” I complained
“Well, it’s yours,” Bindu quipped.
That witch, she must have done some sorcery. Realising what a big mess I had gotten myself into, I said, “I can’t take your goat. You keep it.”
“Well, how can I keep it. I have already signed the document stating it is your goat.”
“Never mind. Keep it.”
“How can I? That would mean I am servicing you again, I am taking care of your goat. That will cost you extra.”
That witch. And her goat.
Lala sputtered, “So, next time you meet Paka, tell him I am never lending him any money again.”
In their minds, Raghu and Ganya were already in search of a place where they would one day hoist the statue of Bindu. That would be Tikwadi’s own Statue of Liberty.
Today’s was a typical summer morning in Tikwadi. It was a calm & pleasant dawn that the midnight breeze & the sun-beaten land had hatched together. And like every typical morning — summer, winter or of the rainy season — Paka sat expressionless at the window seat of his bus. His bus it was, as he was the lone conductor available in the village.
It would not have been the case in reality though, if not for Paka. He was just smart enough to convince those who appointed a conductor that no person there was suitable for the job. He also convinced those who wanted to get appointed as one that no job there was suitable for the person.
“What to do? It is a selfish world out there.” He used to say as he accepted the job — making him evidently look selfless.
And keeping his job as a conductor intact was the only job he ever worked on. As long as he did that well, all he had to do was report to the bus depot every morning, sit at his window seat through the day and get dropped at his home at night.
Paka had also mastered the skill of acting dumb — something he, of course, was not, given the fact that he had managed to keep the whole village away from his job for 5 years now. Every time someone reminded him of the work he has to do as a conductor, he would work hard to screw up hardest. He considered screwing intermittently as the part-time job, holding onto it being the primary one.
“Why don’t you ever count the money collected?” An officer had once asked him. “Tomorrow, you bring it as counted.”
He reported to the officer next day with no money with him.
“Did no one travel on the bus today?”
“They did. But you told me to count. I counted. I put every rupee note I received next to me in a separate pile based on their value — as I was taught counting in school. It seems the notes blow away if not held.”
“But then why didn’t you hold them?”
“Well, I can either hold the money or count it, right? I only have two hands.”
The officer had received ₹700 less in his next salary.
And no one dared to question Paka — he used to yell “Well, find someone else suitable for this job”. Of course, he would then be asked to simply do nothing.
In that sense, he was paid to not work. Lesser he moved from his seat, more he not worked — more he not worked, more he was paid.
Not that everyone in Tikwadi was stupid, though. It was just that every individual was a master at being a fool at their work.
Farmers sucked at farming. Carpenters sucked at carpentry. Potters sucked at pottery. Barbers sucked at barbery. The only people that did not suck at their jobs were operators of the water pumps. They never sucked, anything.
Paka met all these people during the rides on his bus. And he dreaded every interaction he had with these fools out in the village.
Today, Paka saw Gotya coming towards his bus. He sighed. He dreaded meeting Gotya the most. Gotya was a herder. Of course, he sucked at herding his goats. But that was not why Paka dreaded him. Gotya was one of the most foolish ones out there & he made Paka work like no one ever did.
He knew it was going to be a hectic day for him.
Gotya hopped onto the bus. And so did his five goats after him.
“Goats are not allowed on the bus.”
“Where is it written?”
“Here — right above me.”
“You know I can’t read, right? Read it for me.”
“Goats are not allowed on the bus.”
“Don’t tell me. Read for me from where is it written.”
“I just read for you from where it is written.”
“Then why is there a picture of a cigarette on the board & not of a goat?”
“It says goats are allowed if they are smoking.”
“You did not read so when I asked you to read from where it was written.”
“Goats are not allowed on the bus unless they are smoking.”
“What if I am smoking?”
“Smoking is not allowed on the bus.”
“But then how can goats travel while smoking?”
“Well, don’t ask me. I don’t make these rules.”
“Lucky bastards. By the way, where is that written?”
“What? That I do not make the rules?”
“No. Smoking is not allowed on the bus.”
“So, where is that written?”
“Right there — above the next seat.”
“There is a picture of a woman there and not of a cigarette.”
“It says it is ok to smoke sitting next to a woman.”
“Ok. I will sit next to her and smoke. That way I can bring my goats on the bus.”
“Sitting next to a woman is not allowed on the bus.”
“You know what, I am just going to sit next to that woman there, smoke a cigarette & keep my goats near your legs. Stop me if you can. Do some work.”
“No.” Roared the bus.
The journey began.
The story was originally published at Medium featured at the amazing publication Crossing (G)enres.