Pandey ji had become old enough to lose sleep over small things as well as very small things. As a younger man he knew how to make his students lose sleep. He was a teacher, a very strict one. Woe to any student who did not submit Pandey ji’s assignments on time. You could manage all other teachers somehow: an apology or a sprinkle of flattery or a “token of affection” – this last was a gift like a pen or something. “Ma’am, when I saw this in the shop I remembered you.” And ma’am forgives your lapse with the assignment. But Pandey ji was above all such temptations.
Students trembled at the very sight of Pandey ji. It is said that some students even passed urine in their trousers out of sheer fright if Pandey ji caught them for some error or mischief or negligence. If Pandey ji was the invigilator, no examinee would ever dream of indulging in any malpractice. Pandey ji kept an eagle eye on every student in the room. It was said that he had an X-ray vision that could see into the pockets of the students and detect any bit of wisdom that lay hidden there illegally in order to emerge stealthily with the intention of making its appearance on the answer sheet.
Once Pandey ji’s X-ray vision caught sight of the equations of motion on the thigh of a girl student who lifted the hemline of her skirt a little during the exam. Pandey ji rushed to the girl to catch her red handed, lifted her skirt, and stood stunned for a moment by the marmoreal exquisiteness of the fair and lovely thigh. In that one stunned moment of Pandey ji, the girl rubbed out the equations of motion from her thigh using a moist handkerchief. And then she insisted on filing a complaint against Pandey ji for molesting her.
Principal Sharma ji averted a catastrophe by shifting the blame to the hemline of the girl’s skirt which did not follow the length prescribed clearly in the student’s handbook. It is not that Sharma ji didn’t try a better strategy that would be more academic.
“Tell me the equations of motion,” Sharma ji asked the student.
“v = u + at; s = ut + 1/2 at2; v2 = u2 + 2as.” The girl rattled out effortlessly looking into Sharma ji’s eyes boldly and throwing a mocking glance at Pandey ji in between. Both Sharma ji and Pandey ji understood the situation in its real context.
The catastrophe was not averted altogether, however. The story of Pandey ji lifting the skirt of the most beautiful girl in the school under the pretext of checking an exam malpractice acquired lurid colours and the colours flew like live claws on the campus, claws that dug into Pandey ji’s upright heart. Pandey ji’s whole reputation for moral uprightness and righteousness that he had so carefully built up over three decades fell like a house of cards. Girl students started pulling down their skirts on seeing Pandey ji. Boys started putting their palms over their loins.
Pandey ji’s X-ray vision suffered an instant death. It did not even wait to experience a stroke. Pandey ji was no more a terror to his students. Equations of motion also ceased to be a terror to the students.
Pandey ji became terrified of girls after that. He did not dare to look into the eyes of girls anymore. Gradually he lost interest in morality and righteousness.
That is why Pandey ji did not want to interfere when he saw a Kamasutra dotted condom fall from his son’s pocket as he pulled out his handkerchief on his return from a business trip to Singapore. He merely made sure that his daughter-in-law did not see the condom. Explaining the presence of a condom in one’s trouser packet to a wife early in the morning wouldn’t have been too easy.
The son’s business trips increased eventually and the godman who lived in the nearby ashram became a frequent visitor to the daughter-in-law. The godman seemed to possess a divine vision which told him exactly when the husband would be away from home and for how many days. Nights, rather. The godman visited Shyamala only in the nights. Shymala was Pandey ji’s daughter-in-law who recently started taking a keener interest in beauty parlours.
Sleep was deserting Pandey ji these days. That is, nights. Pandey ji never had the foul habit of sleeping during days. He was too moral and righteous for that. As he lay awake in bed contemplating on the illusory nature of earthly pleasures, the marmoreal thighs of a young and beautiful girl would haunt him like a monstrous nightmare. It was in one of those nights he saw the godman walk out of the backdoor into the darkness of the Peelu trees that stood between the godman’s ashram and Pandey ji’s property.
Tonight is particularly ominous, thinks Pandey ji looking out the window before going to bed. The clouds look vexed. There is occasional lightning too.
The thunder rumbled restlessly as Godman put on his saffron robe. Just as he came out of the side door of the ashram, an intensely lustrous flash of lightning chose to fall on him. He got scared. Bad omen, he decided. He returned to his room and went to bed. Shyamala’s distant sighs lulled him to sleep.
Paplu was sure that Godman won’t venture out anymore. Paplu was Godman’s righthand man. His real name was Balgangadhar Deshpandey. Nobody called him that. Even he had forgotten that name. He was the cute Paplu to everyone including Godman. Paplu was good, honest, kind, gentle, and handsome too. He knew how to deal with the devotees. He handled the accounts of the ashram. He ran errands and bigger things for Godman. He knew everyone from the cook in the ashram to the Chief Secretary of the Prime Minister. Yet he was humble. Simple. Polite. Genteel.
Godman lay in his bed imagining Shyamala’s lovesick sighs.
Paplu picked up one of the many saffron robes that belonged to Godman and put it on.
The lightning refused to relent. The thunder rumbled on.
Pandey ji turns in his bed. He is unusually disturbed. There is a different sound from his daughter-in-law’s room today, he thinks. He listens. The spectres of marmoreal thighs metamorphose into sharp claws and threaten to dig into him. He gets up and goes to the window. The backdoor opens. A figure in saffron robe walks out into the backyard leading to the Peelu trees. The figure doesn’t look like Godman’s though it is wearing the saffron robe. Just then a flash of lightning falls with brilliance. Pandey ji may be an old man with wrinkled dugs, but his vision is still clear.
“Paplu, have you too become a godman?” Pandey ji mutters as he returns to bed.