A short story by Nandigam Krishna Rao
Washerman Ramulu fell on bad times. He was not sure where to get his next meal from. His condition had become wretched; so wretched, that if his family starved for four days a week, his donkey had to starve for a whole week. Consequently, the donkey had become weak, emaciated, and seemed it might die any moment.
Ramulu could not bear the thought of his inability to feed her being the reason for its death. So he wanted to set her free from his bondage and let her live on her own. The moment the idea flashed in his mind, he did not waste a moment to unbridle it form the tether and drive it out into the street.
The donkey did not expect that and looked at its master rather appealingly. Ramulu could not bear even her pitiful looks, and shutting the door on its face he said, “Go! Go! Take care of yourself from now on.”
Nonplussed, the donkey stood still on the road for a while. She could not make out her next move. Survival had become her immediate challenge. Green pastures of the countryside on the outskirts of the city flashed in her memory. In the town, she thought, she had to skim through the traffic to take a bite at the wall posters and other forage. Besides, water is a scares commodity in the town. So it settled for reaching out to the outskirts of the city and live off happily grazing grass and drinking water aplenty from the canal abutting the fields.
So, it dragged its feet with some effort to the outskirts of the city entertaining great hopes. Poor animal! Forget about the pastures, she could not find even a blade of green grass to her bitter disappointment. She scoured for green grass on the canal bund to no avail. How could the poor animal know that there were two political parties-TDP and the Congress Party (CP)- in that city, and with no love lost between them, nothing green survived between them?
Left with no alternative, she dragged its feet back to the city after taking stomachful of water from the canal in a hurry, lest some prowling forward-caste eye should find her out.
After reaching the city centre, she desperately roamed around the streets searching for wall posters. To her bewilderment she did not find a shred of paper on the road. It did not strike her immediately that there was already a great scarcity of paper in the country for long, and that the government had imposed control over paper; and in consequence, people and the press were very prudent about the use of paper which was the reason for her not finding a shred on the road or at the garbage bins. Another idea that she could look for cinema posters as the last alternative flashed in her mind, and she went out in search of them immediately.
The cinema people were even more clever. Once there was a scarcity for paper and green grass, they guessed it right that the attention of stray animals, like donkeys, cattle and buffaloes, would fall on the wall posters and they started pasting on the tops of walls, beyond their reach. She was bitten by disappointment even here, too. For the first time, she regretted that she had been born a donkey and not a giraffe. With nothing else to do, she roamed around the city with asinine patience. Suddenly, to her great relief, she found within her reach a poster pasted by the CP on a wall. Wasting no time, she pounced on that and started devouring it. From afar, some CP workers saw this and believed that it was a dastardly act of TDP. They caught hold of the party worker passing by and accosted him why they were doing that, throwing his attention towards the poster-eating donkey.
The TTD worker could not make sense of what they were accusing him of in the first instance. But after watching the donkey eating at the CP’s posters sank in, he laughed bitterly, as bitterly as a teacher would laugh at a student asking a stupid question.
Like Duryodhana boiling with anger for the insulting laughter of Draupadi, the CP worker started railing at the TDP worker saying, “You son of a donkey! Do you want to watch the tamasha driving the donkey to eat our poster?”
TDP worker did not lag behind in his vocab. Folding his sleeves up, he hit back at the CP worker saying, “What did you bray? It is you who is son of a donkey.” As people flocked around them, they started fighting. The mob watching had also divided itself into sympathizers for each party and they started railing at each other. Some people remained neutral, though, but watched the engagement with interest. Of course, when we say people it won’t mean just the law abiding citizens alone; there will be beggars, rowdies, pickpockets, murderers, CIDs, policemen in uniform and mufti among them. One CID among these people gave a complaint at the police station nearby and returned.
The moment he received the information, the Sub-Inspector (SI) hurried to the trouble-spot with his entourage. No sooner the people had noticed the arrival of police van from afar, than they stopped their animated fighting and barrage of abuses and curses. They became as quiet as mice smelling the arrival of a cat. Getting down from the van the SI called out two rival workers and asked, “What is the matter?”
Like the stray-street dogs, the two party-workers started fighting with each other once again to present their case first, continuing their railing from where they had left off before his arrival. The CP worker complained, “This fellow had deliberately driven this donkey to eat away our party poster, Sir!” The TDP worker countered: “No Sir! It was only he who drove the donkey to eat their poster to create an alibi to discredit our party.”
“You fellow! What did you bray?” pounced the CP worker on TDP worker.
Shaking his head in readiness to fight, the TDP worker shouted in retaliation, “Am I a donkey like you to bray?”
The SI sensed that the situation would get out of control unless he asserted his authority. He expressed his displeasure saying, “Why do you fight in my presence?”
The two workers parted. The SI quickly assessed the situation. Lest people should think of him as incompetent and unfit for the department, he immediately ordered his constables, “Arrest the donkey.”
Constables were befuddled. Having got accustomed to the metaphorical use of the word ‘donkey,’ they could not make out which ‘donkey’ the SI was actually referring to. So they dilly-dallied.
The SI got angry with their ineptitude and pointing his fingers towards the animal he vented is anger at them shouting, “Arrest that donkey. Did you understand?”
Then it struck them that the SI meant the real donkey and immediately arrested it. By then, she had completed eating the poster and was standing there helplessly as it could not get out of the encircling mob.
The SI deliberated within the pros and cons of making further arrests. CP was in power at the Centre, and the TDP was in power in the State. He was aware that any error in his judgment would boomerang on him. So he wisely decided not to make any further arrests. Looking at the two fighting workers before getting into his van, he ordered, “Come to the police station in the evening and record your statements.” The party workers thought that the SI had acted fairly enough and parted their way.
Constables followed the van. They drove the donkey up to the police station and kept her under lockup.
Easing in his chair and ordering for a cup of coffee, the SI pulled out a cigarette and lighted it. Watching the wafting curls of smoke, he lost in thoughts about how to file the case. Suddenly, the phone rang. Lifting the receiver from the cradle he casually said, “Hello!” But when he heard the voice of the Municipal Chairman from the other end, the cigarette dropped off his lips, and (lifting his hand in salute involuntarily) he greeted saying, “Namaste Sir!”
Without reciprocating his courtesy, the chairman roared from the other end saying, “What is the progress of your investigation about the recent fighting between the two parties?”
“What’s wrong sir? I have already arrested the culprit donkey and put it under lockup. The moment the case sheet is finalized, she will be presented before the court. I will see to it that the donkey is presented at the court tomorrow, Sir!” replied the SI
“Whom do you accuse in this case?”
“Who else sir! The donkey!”
“That is okay. But which donkey? I mean, you want to file a case against the CP donkey or the TDP donkey?
“That I have not yet identified, Sir! I will consult the donkey and decide which party it belongs to.”
“Do it quickly. But first inform me before you proceed further, understand?” ordered the Municipal Chairman and put the phone down.
The SI called out the sentry and instructed him to present the donkey before him.
The sentry brought the donkey from lockup and presented it before him.
Looking at the donkey in anger, the SI signaled the sentry to leave.
The hungry donkey saw the heap of files in front on the table and was delighted that she was going to have a hearty meal. She thankfully looked at the SI as her new master.
Taking no notice of her gestures, the SI pulled out a white paper and asked her, “What’s your name?”
Donkey did not get him and kept mum.
The SI was irritated and said, “Did you hear me? Tell me your name.”
The donkey remained as quiet as before.
The SI got infuriated and shouted at her, “I am asking you. What is your name?”
Donkey bowed its head looking at the files eagerly and kept silent. Unable to tolerate her silent disobedience, the SI thrashed the donkey with his baton, and said to her ,”Now, speak up. What is your name?”
Even then the donkey did not utter a word. So he answered on her behalf himself and wrote down ‘Donkey’ against ‘Name’ in the form.
The he asked, “Where do you come from?”
Donkey continued its silent mien. She lost herself in thoughts why the SI has beaten her on the last occasion. The SI grew angry once more. He reached out to her saying, “Huh! You don’t care to answer me? How dare you? He beat her black and blue. True to her volition, she put up with the beating with asinine patience. All her attention was riveted to the files on the table.
Having been exhausted in beating up the donkey, the SI sank into his chair gasping for breath and wrote the name of the city against ‘Native Place.’ He wanted to decide to which party it belonged to for presenting his case. From the evidence available at his hand he thought the donkey clearly belonged to the TDP. Based on the fact that it devoured the CP’s poster, and the eyewitness account given by CP worker, he could make out the case that it belonged to TDP. But the TDP people would object to it. As he was drawn between the conflicting interests, the phone rang once more.
The TDP president greeted him with a “Hello!” from the other end. He immediately identified the voice and reciprocated the greeting with “Namaste sir!”
The president asked, “So, with reference to the latest clash between the two parties, which party do you think the donkey belonged to?”
“As per the eye witness accounts available, it is clear that the donkey belongs to TDP, sir!” he answered.
The president said, “As far as I know, it does not belong to our party. You have to file the case treating the donkey belongs to CP.”
“I shall try,” said the SI.
“No question of ‘trying.’ File the case as I said.” And after taking a brief interlude as if he was recollecting something, the president continued, rather casually, “By the way, I am leaving for Hyderabad tomorrow. You said something about your chances of promotion the other day. Didn’t you? Let me try if I can help you this time,” and disconnected.
After putting down the phone, the SI was now worried and lost in thoughts about how to show the donkey as a CP donkey.
Having stood patiently for long, the donkey grew wearisome. The butterflies in her stomach and the aching legs drove her to take a desperate step. It caught the uppermost file within her reach and started eating without any second thought. SI could not control his anger when he watched the donkey eating the file. He beat her this time all over till blood oozed out of the wounds. He came to his senses when he realized that any further beating would kill her. He also remembered that they were not in ‘Emergency’ days. So he called up a constable and ordered him to put the beast back in her cell.
A wonderful idea flashed in his mind to argue that the donkey belonged to the CP. The party in the power in the State is the TDP. Since the donkey took a bite at the files of party in power, he could argue that it belonged to the opposition party. Since the CP was in opposition, he could assert that the donkey belonged to CP. He prepared the case on these lines and as an additional precaution, had arranged some witnesses from both parties.
The following morning he ordered his constables to present the donkey before the court.
The CP and the TDP took winning the case was as important and prestigious as running the government itself. They presented their case strongly with one-upmanship in presenting a slew of false witnesses. The magistrate who heard the witnesses from both sides could not come to any conclusion. He was in a dilemma whether the donkey belonged to the CP or the TDP. Finally, he decided to examine the donkey itself to get at the truth.
So, he ordered the court clerk to take the oath from the donkey.
The court clerk brought “Bhagawad Gita” and asked the donkey to take oath “In the name of God…”
The moment she saw Bhagavad Gita, the fire in her belly doubled up and immediately it caught the book under her rostrum and started munching it. The whole court burst into peals of laughter. The magistrate was taken aback. He tried to restore order shouting, “Order! Order!!”
Silence was restored in the court. The donkey looked thankfully towards the magistrate and the court clerk after making a hearty meal of the Bhagavad Gita.
The magistrate seriously pondered for a while, and declared,
The donkey belongs neither to the CP nor to TDP. From the direct evidence I have before me, I assert that it is a Communist donkey, because it is only the Communists who do not respect the divine text, the Bhagavad Gita (if not God himself directly) and ate it in the open court, I have no hesitation to pronounce that it is a Communist donkey.”
(Telugu original: Communist Donkey)
Translated from Telugu by N.S. Murthy