Masterji: A Sansi Saga
Perhaps the ‘Bada Saheb’ also had his lunch, and after a long wait a constable appeared from the police station and commenced calling the Sansis from each village. When the Narangwal Sansis were summoned in, all men, women and children swiftly entered the police station. We bowed to ‘Bada Saheb’ and all other officials. Our village ‘Numberdar’ was present there and testified to the ‘Bada Saheb’ that the Sansis from his village did not create any serious trouble. He had a special characteristic that he may be unkind to the Sansis in the village but he would never criticise them seriously at the police station. The ‘Bada Saheb’ verified it from the Inspector if there were any serious complaints from Narangwal. The Inspector informed him that the Sansis from this village were barely caught up with any grave crimes. My uncles, aunts and my father were standing in one corner. Seeing lots of policemen around I was terribly scared and clinging to my father like the other children to their parents. Now the ‘Bada Saheb’ set his piercing gaze on the young children.
He pointed out to me and asked, “Whose child is this?”
My father cautiously replied, “Saab, he is my son.”
The ‘Bada Saheb’ retorted, “How old is he?”
“About six years.”
“Does he go to school?”
The ‘Bada Saheb’ then thundered, “Why? Send him to the school without any further delay. Don’t you know that as per the law all children of this age must be admitted to school for primary education?”
The animals and birds could cross any boundaries without any restraint but the Sansis no longer could do so. Their wings had literally been clipped by the Criminal Tribes Act. They were not even authorized to cross the boundary of their own village without prior permission from the police. The Sansis had to keep their heads down and bow, to bestow ‘Salaam’ whenever they came across any higher caste person. Poverty seemed to be their ultimate destiny. They were labelled as ‘untouchables’ too.
The village ‘Numberdar’, the headman, was the prime focal point for ‘Criminal Tribes’ to obtain any kind of permission to cross the bounds of their village. For a certain reason if any person belonging to the ‘Criminal Tribes’ had to get out of his village, he had to approach his village ‘Numberdar’ first. He would have to provide comprehensive justification where and why he had to go. Initially the 'Numberdar' would generally refuse the request on one pretext or the other. However after a good deal of pleading and persuasion, if he thought it to be a genuine case then he would furnish the permission in writing, called ‘Parcha’. This permission was valid only for a day i.e. departing and returning the same day.
Even the higher caste people were equally dependent on her and would often request her to perform the delivery of their pregnant ladies. It was ironic that when she performed the deliveries, she had to handle their high caste ladies and newborn babies, not to mention about touching their vessels, clothes and other essentials required at the time of a delivery. But the higher caste women and their babies never became polluted with this touch of an untouchable woman. The men never purified their women and babies with fire like they treated their belongings if she touched them under normal circumstances. She would attend to these ladies for a couple of weeks till they were back on their feet and were capable to tend their children personally. When her work was over, once again she would be treated like another ‘untouchable’ Sansi woman.
An interview came by post. I thought it would be sagacious to meet the head clerk a day before the interview. He was alone in his office and I requested him, “Saab, you know that tomorrow is my interview for the post of a telegraph operator. If you help me to get this job then I shall offer you something.” The head clerk frowned at me and retorted, “What do you mean by it? Do you think I accept bribes? How dared you say this to me?” I felt humiliated and speechless. At that time I was ignorant how to speak to ask for a favour. Somehow I managed to reply, “Saab, I was guided by the Overseer like this.” I had no other choice except to give the reference of the Overseer. The head clerk now had cooled down a bit and advised me, “Never mention anything like this to anyone. As you are a poor man, this time I will ignore it. As far as your job is concerned, there are two candidates for this post. You have the recommendation of the SDO of Kaind; the other candidate has the recommendation of the X-EN, the Executive Engineer, of Patiala. I don’t know what our X-EN would decide. I will try to be in your favour.” After this I hurriedly escaped from there. The next day I appeared for the interview and they asked me a few general questions. Unfortunately I never met the Overseer again but waited for the interview result. One day while I was discussing my interview with an old man in our village, he straightaway posed me a simple question, “Nathu, who was the head clerk there?” I mentioned the name of the head clerk. He was a pundit, a Brahmin. The old man bluntly declared, “Then you will not be selected. A pundit would never recommend you for this post.” What he meant to say was that since I belonged to the lowest caste, an untouchable, the head clerk, a pundit, would never turn in my favour. If selected, I would be working in his office and he would not stomach the shadow of a Sansi around him. It turned out to be true. The other candidate was selected”.
Now my father was in a perplexed state of mind whether to accept the pre-conditions or not. He was unwilling to renounce the hookah as he had become addicted to it. He had relished smoking for a long time. Secondly it was a ritual to share the hookah in the community; consequently he would be deprived of this diminutive luxury while being in his social circle. Thirdly the hookah was essential to welcome a guest at home if somebody smoked; he would not be able to offer it anymore. He had his own logic not to quit smoking and dreaded to give his consent if he thought of sending me to The Sant. For quite some time he was in a quandary to come to any decision. On the other hand he was also gravely apprehensive about my prolonged illness. My father had already lost two sons and one daughter before I was born. Being his only living son, he could not afford to miss this opportunity to bring me back to a normal condition. After a tremendous struggle, my father finally got mentally prepared to accept the stipulations of The Sant. At last with heavy heart one day he said to me, “Look Nathu, it would be extremely problematic for me to give up smoking but I can survive without occasional drinking and the eating of non-vegetarian food. On the other hand you are most precious to me; hence for your well being I have decided my priority now.”
My father, Nathu had now become Natha Singh. The Sant had unleashed a new epoch in his life. He had vanquished a psychological siege from his mind which brought him at par with the other people. His half name had always shadowed a big inferiority complex on his personality. He could have altered his name officially without any restriction but being socially elevated by The Sant, made an authentic difference in his life. It immediately reflected an impression that the person belonged to a low caste. His half name had become his identity as a low caste sans any introduction. He wasn’t ashamed of his caste but being recognized by his name as a low caste really made him cantankerous. For a stranger his half name would become a basis to hate him, when practically that stranger had nothing to do with him. In the past he felt the sting in his heart whenever his half name exposed him to be a low caste. Nobody displays a tag around his neck to declare his low caste, but being branded in a particular situation where it had no relevance at all, made it even more agonizing. He was educated and deserved to be addressed with some respect like all the other educated people. But now The Sant had religiously stamped his full name and my father had become a true Sikh. The word ‘Singh’ was included with his name which not only completed his name but added some respect also. This modification had infused a tremendous relief and began to foster a new confidence in him.
About Master Ji
Natha Singh alias Nathu is a retired primary school teacher in Narangwal, a village in Ludhiana district in the State of Punjab. He begins his day reciting from the Sikh holy books, then goes at dawn to the Gurudwara for morning prayers. Stooped and thin, he takes long, slow walks in the village fields, talks to other old men as they pass by and is greeted as “Masterji” by the younger men, many of whom were his students. Not many of them know the story of how he became “Masterji”, a respected school teacher.
Head Office: Vill. & Post Office Narangwal Kalan Distt. Ludhiana (141203)
Delhi Office: Ramkarishan Apartments B-302, Plot No. 12 , Sector-23, Dwarka, New Delhi (110077)
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