[Issue 16 / Feb 16]

ON his way to the epicentre of political violence where men, women, and children were being mauled and ripped apart as a matter of routine – the Governor stopped his convoy, stepped down from the car, and joined the children from relief camps in a game of cricket.

The ruling party spokesman said, ‘He should try theatre. If he’s so concerned about the dispossessed, why not put his money where his mouth is? Let him donate seventy-five percent of his salary to support the evictees.’

The Governor took a seventy-five percent pay cut. He asked to have the amount put away to start a relief fund.

The ruling party spokesman said, ‘Ha! As if the pay cut’s going to hurt him. If he really cared for those who did not have enough to eat, in these times of inflation he should be able to make do with one meal a day.’

The Governor decided to skip dinner, drop the fish and dessert from his lunch.

The ruling party spokesman said, ‘What a snob! Let him give up his car and start walking to work if he can, now that oil costs 140 dollars a barrel.’

The Governor stopped using his car. The beacon atop its roof was taken off. The chauffer returned his pressed white uniform, put on a grey shirt, grimy around the insides of the collar and used the Governor’s car as part of a feeder service between the last Metro station and the rail-less small towns.

The ruling party spokesman said, ‘Just two people living in such a huge Victorian-era mansion is disgraceful. Does he even know how many on his staff is engaged in tending to the hollyhocks in his garden? If he were genuinely sorry about the homeless, he should start sharing his quarters with the less fortunate.’

The Governor invited members of the families dislodged by the very same cadres who some years back had encouraged them to occupy the very same plots the party in power now wanted to reclaim and sell to the highest bidder. Many among the evicted now living in relief camps were still traumatized by the memory of losing both land and dignity. As the Governor listened to their stories, he could sense a growing restlessness. It was only a matter of time until the splinters of rage, still smouldering inside the grieving hearts, would explode into a full-blown rebellion.

Be my guest, said the Governor to the homeless people, meaning it quite literally. The huge dining table in the banquet hall was removed to make way for a row of beds for the maimed women and the kids suckling at their breasts. The slightly older children scampered around on the pebble-covered driveway. They played hide and seek, disappearing behind the Corinthian pillars and swung from the velvet curtains on either side of the teak-panelled bay windows.

The mercury rose like a dog on heat. The air felt as heavy as a rapist’s knee pressed tight against the victim’s chest. Not a leaf stirred. The electric lights dimmed and crackled because of erratic power supply. The taps ran bone dry.

The Governor decided he would switch off the power connection to his house. It seemed cruel to consume two megawatts of power an hour when people back home after a hard day’s work sat like zombies in the dark, wrapping a wet towel around their sweating torsos for relief. The Governor wanted to give up the privilege of uninterrupted power supply and live like most people in his city did.

The ruling party spokesman said, ‘That’s cheap gimmick. He might as well come clean and say he’s going to contest the next elections as an opposition candidate.’

Even after power was returned that day, the Governor’s house continued to look like an island of darkness. Passers-by stopped to have a look at the familiar colonial structure, lit only intermittently by the headlights from passing vehicles. Television channels with their unwieldy OB vans lined up in front of the gates, desperate for a byte but nobody could find the way to the Governor’s door in the darkness.

Finally, one of them managed to connect with the Governor on the phone. ‘So what’s next Mr Governor?’ The newswoman asked, ‘When your term ends next year, are you going to a) join the opposition, b) try to negotiate a deal with the ruling party or c) give up politics altogether and go back to writing that novel you had always wanted to?’

‘Hang on a sec,’ said the Governor. ‘Think I’d like to phone a friend to help me find the correct answer.’

But then he remembered he had given up the facility for making outgoing calls. Throwing his head back in exasperation, he nearly swore but at that precise moment before he could let the cuss words slip out his mouth, the Governor’s eyes had met those of a hairless man in annular glasses inside a framed photograph, lit up by the delicate glow of a lone candle in the hallway.

Feeling inexplicably light although his rational self kept sounding alarm bells, telling him that this was hardly the moment when he could afford to drop his guard or get distracted, the Governor looked up at the man in the photograph and asked pleasantly, ‘What about you, Bapu? Do you suppose you might have the correct answer?’

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi smiled back at his progeny.