When My Pride had a Fall

B D Sharma

My encounters with brilliance didn’t stop at the accounts already narrated such as the prediction of my rise in life by a Sadhu, earning limelight after pointing out the comparative loss of kerosene oil and the matchstick, expertise in reciting the story of Bawa Jitto etc. I had another brush with talent when as a teenager I pointed out that some households had been left out by the Panches while distributing Batashe/ Pataashe to the villagers in one pre-marriage Shagun ceremony. Invitation used to be extended to all the villagers through the village barber for attending the Shagun ceremony. At least one individual of each Mohalla would respond to the invitation and 4/5 Pataashas were sent to each household through him to celebrate the occasion.


One respectable person of the village usually our Baba Lambad, a distant cousin of my grandfather used to conduct this distribution in such a systematic manner that no household was left uncovered. In one function while distribution was going on, I noticed that two or three households had been left out. I pointed out this lapse to Baba Lambad who realized his lapse and rectified it. But he was appreciative of my keen sense of observation and when he told about it to my grandfather, the latter’s views regarding the brilliance of his illustrious grandson got further confirmation. Afterwards I used to be encouraged to sit along the elders engaged in distribution of Pataashas to watch and point out omission, if any. I had got some insight in the details of the households in our village when I had assisted the village Patwari in preparing a copy of the list of the households for the purpose of issuing ration cards. Otherwise also we, the children were familiar with every nook and corner of the village as we were often roaming around the village, sometimes while playing “Attar Pattar”(procuring leaves of a specific tree for the rival group) and at other times for stealing unripen fruit from trees growing in the periphery. But I had to pay sometimes a heavy price for this aimless wandering in terms of beatings from my mother and at other times showers of expletives such as “Loor Loor” moving around like stray dog. But it didn’t deter me to measure on foot every corner of the village so often and in the process getting acquainted with the details of the residents and their houses. This general awareness had helped me to earn the appreciation on the occasions such as the one of distribution of Patashaas. During our childhood days, when the bridegrooms visited their in-laws house after marriage, the Saalis (sister-in-laws) would insist upon them to recite a type of verses called Chhands (a quatrain used in the poetic tradition, entrenched in a type of Nok-jhok between Jija-Saali) with half of the words “Chhand Praage Aaiye Jaaiye, Chhande Aggay……” finding a repeated mention in every quatrain. Once during a marriage function, we were basking the smouldering charcoal in the “Daan”, a long narrow trench temporarily excavated for cooking rice and daal over it in big cooking pots, called Saglas for the community feast called “Yag”. One elder was tutoring the prospective groom to learn some Chhands there. But the thick skinned boy repeatedly failed to grasp them. A good crammer as I was, I picked them up all, readily and started poking my nose in correcting the boy. The elderly person got impressed by my prompt learning of the Chhands. Though I had memorized only 5/6 Chhands only yet I used to be asked to coach the would be grooms to learn the Chhands. I used to get some sweetmeats, a great feast indeed, in the bargain. Unfortunately my new found glory didn’t last for long as this practice of reciting Chhands by grooms did not remain much in vogue. I, however, remained obsessed with the accomplishments of learning them fast and even used to brag about it. It may be pointed out that the village assemblies were not always seats of idle sittings. Sometimes exchange of news, recitation of Chhands, asking Bujhartan, quoting verses of Bhulle Shah or poems of Dinu Bhai Pant with lot of humour such as “Shehar Pehlun Pehal Gaye” would enliven these assemblages. They enriched the cultural life and infused some literary tastes in the rural folk. At occasions solution of some mathematical quizzes, puzzles and conundrums requiring quick responses were also asked from the children. Once the Patwari in our village after finishing his work started asking the youngsters gathered there as to what was the difference between the two numbers, quarter to one thousand and quarter to ten hundred. All the boys replied in unison that there was no difference between the two. And when I happened to pass that way, he posed the same question to me also and when I told that the two figures had a difference of 225, he appreciated my mathematical skillfulness. The children in the family of my Naaniji didn’t fair well in the studies so in order to induce interest of studies in them, she devised an unusual strategy. When I visited their place she would fill my Thaali with lot of food much beyond what I could devour and the leftover meal from my Thaali was distributed to all my cousins hoping that by eating the leftover meal of their intelligent cousin, they would also acquire the same proficiency in studies as he had. They might not have got any benefit out of this exercise but it certainly made my head to swing a bit. It didn’t take long for all my ‘Phurti’ and dash to be shattered to the ground. When the frog in me came out of the well of my village and I took admission in High School Smailpur and later in GGM Science College Jammu, it became clear to me that many students far excelled me in studies and other fields. I stood no match to them. All the same I passed my graduation smoothly and then I applied for the post of Inspector in the Income Tax Deptt. A boy from our neighborhood already working as a clerk in that Deptt came to know about it. He assured my parents that their son was going to get a prestigious job in a magnificent department and the days of their poverty were certainly at their last legs. So on the day of the test my mother went to the temple early in the morning praying for my success and then bade me good bye by offering a bowl of curd, a guarantee, my mother thought, for success. In the paper there was a question of 15 marks, out of 100 marks, to tell after how many minutes a basket would become half full with eggs if it took one hour for the basket to be filled completely, there being one egg in the basket at the start and it took one minute in doubling the number of eggs. To me the answer appeared to be at the stage of 30 minutes. In order to confirm it I did some mathematical calculations and found that the answer is somewhere beyond the stage of thirty minutes. After working out some more options and because of time constraint I settled to record the answer as at 45 minutes. On returning to the village I happened to discuss about this riddle, the doubling of the eggs in the basket, with my friends and my answer to it. Our Baba Lambad was overhearing our conversation while enjoying his Hooqa. He instantly pointed out that the basket became half full after 59th minute and explained the logic behind it too. He taunted me that I could not solve such an easy riddle. The thought that Baba Lambad, who was almost illiterate and was carrying out his Lambardari work with his rudimentary knowledge of Dogri Landdesletters/words, could come out with the answer so quickly to a problem which I, a graduate and that too a Science graduate, could not solve even after wasting so much time and so many pages of rough work. In the heart of my heart I felt very small and the edifice of my pride built over time crumbled like a house of cards. Then some more occasions also came when all my boasts and dashes evaporated in the thin air very fast. When I qualified the Combined Competitive exam in 1977, I entered the service as a Tehsildar. Since the Tehsildars exercised the magisterial powers so they were required sometimes to grant remand for the detention of the arrested persons in the police custody beyond the limit of twenty four hours. I had only a perfunctory knowledge of criminal law, just sufficient enough to deal with cases of preventive detention. I, as such, had to consult the law book often in order to know about the provisions of different sections of Ranbir Penal Code under which the accused person presented before me for remand had been arrested. On my first posting as Tehsildar when a police officer came to get the remand of an accused, I asked the peon of my office to bring me the law book as I wanted to know the details of the crimes covered under different sections of RPC mentioned in the remand memo. I started reading out the various sections of RPC under which the accused had been booked which was audible to the peon also. The peon immediately explained to me the details of all the 3/4 crimes under different sections of RPC mentioned in the memo. He even showed his reluctance to bring the law book. The peon had served in the judicial courts for many years before being posted in the Revenue Deptt on the separation of Executive and Judiciary. During his service in the judicial courts the peon seemed to have acquired a lot of knowledge about different crimes and the details of sections in which they had been incorporated, simply by hearing the arguments of the advocates and the reflections of the judicial officers. The lack of adequate knowledge about the details of important crimes on my part and the proficiency on the part of a peon, did put me in a lot of embarrassment before my own eyes. The third awakening to me came when I had the occasion to interact with a Panditji. He met me in the office of my senior colleague Rajinder Singh Parihar Ji, who is an embodiment of humility ever ready to receive anybody with open arms. Panditji started visiting my office also and did cherish narrating his numerous experiences of life and his professional achievements to me. He had a good collection of Sanskrit manuscripts and condemned the authorities for not providing any assistance to him for keeping them safely. I broached this subject with my boss at that time, SV Bhave Saheb who got arranged some funds through one of his batch mates posted in the Ministry of Culture, GOI. As was his nature, Panditji used to scratch my roots to know about my background. He showed surprise as to how the son of a farmer from the far flung village could become a senior officer and the children of the learned pandits like he, were not in the position of even getting lower rung govt jobs. I told him that this all was possible because of the bounties of the Republican system of government and the favourable lines drawn on my palm which had aptly been read by a soothsayer in my childhood. In order to further remove doubts in his mind I told him that I had remained an intelligent student and hence was able to pass the competitive exam. I gave him some illustrations also of my having been a bright student, one of which was that even when I was studying in 3rd primary class, I had learnt by heart multiplication table up to 20, two years before it was required of me. I stood even guide to the students of higher classes in reciting the tables rhythmically. But the Pandit was not much impressed by my boastful claims. On the other hand he embarrassed me by telling me that learning tables up to the level of 20 number was not such a big achievement. I replied that the syllabus of tables was limited to those ranges only starting from 2 one’s 2 to maximizing to 20 into 20 equaling to 400. However I was astonished when he told me that by the 3rd year in his Pathshala, he had learnt the tables up to the level of 100 and he could recite the tables starting from 2 one’s 2 to 100 hundreds’ 10,000 in a jiffy. So I was astonished at the acumen of Panditji having learnt tables much beyond the level of 20. In order to set my doubts at rest, he volunteered to recite the table of any number from 2 to 100. On being asked, he started reciting the table of 78. 78 one’s 78, 78 two’s 156, 78 three’s 234…….78 thirty two’s 2496. I cut him short there after being satisfied over Pandit’s deep knowledge of the subject and couldn’t resist finding myself as an unwise fellow making misplaced and boastful pronouncements before such a “Vidhvaan” Pandit. Though I had achieved good success in life in comparison to the ordinary people like Baba Lambardar, the old peon and the aged Pandit yet they were, doubtlessly, far better than me in some aspects of the mental faculties. Persons of this category make us realize that the boundaries and limits of excellence are not confined to the domain of well placed persons only. Many times ordinary people do far excel us, the well educated and well placed persons. These ordinary persons do leave a lesson or two of humility for the vainglorious people freely inflicted with vanity, with pride , with hubris.