Shabir Ahmed Mir
“I am only taking these from you so that you don’t think you haven’t tried everything.” Parable of Law (The Trial, Franz Kafka.)
When the Law changed Karim Nanwoar was relieved that he remained on the right side of it that is, until, he was told about his twenty-three apple trees. Immediately, all Karim Nanwoar wanted to do was to rush into his house, shut the door and windows tight and curl himself up into a blob of senseless flesh and bone. But his legs took over. They started to run and dragged Karim Nanwoar, first, all the way to his apple trees and then, as soon as he was there, dragged him into the town, through the street that twisted and turned itself into a labyrinth till Karim Nanwoar stood in front of a heap of cold concrete and red bricks with misplaced windows (which were the only things that gave this heap an impression of a building). Karim walked into it.
Inside, Karim found himself in a dimly lit room. Once his eyes adjusted to the dim ambiance he saw a Caterpillar-like man in a chair poring over an open file on the table in front of him as if he were feeding on its leaves. The files on the table were the only fresh ones, the files in the rest of the room, stacked as they were everywhere, had been sucked dry into a mulch of pulp and disdain. Their stink filled the whole room.
Karim walked up to the table. The Caterpillar-man, his glasses resting precariously on the tip of his long, arched nose, looked up from his file without raising his neck. Karim clasped his hands and unclasped them. The Caterpillar –man waited for about a minute for Karim to speak but Karim said nothing. He just clasped and unclasped his hands, again and again. The Caterpillar-man returned to his file. Five minutes later when the Caterpillar-man looked at Karim again, Karim’s hands had clenched into fists and his jaws were millstones grinding against each other. Irritated, the Caterpillar-man raised his eyebrows in a silent query.
“Why!” Karim blurted out, “There are apples on those trees, for God’s sake!”
“Hmmm” The Caterpillar-man mumbled as he shifted his weight in his chair, “File a Plea for Compensation and we will see what we can do.”
“It is not about the apples. You don’t understand… I mean… It is about apples… They are green now and will turn red soon… For the first time, you see, the first time in years, such a harvest! My God! You should see those apples. Without a blemish and so perfect. Such shape! Just a couple of weeks more and the colour they will put on! For the first time, you understand?”
“Ok.” The Caterpillar-man cut Karim short with a curt nod. “File a Plea for Exemptory Delay then. A week should be enough for you to pick those apples. I think we do have a provision for that”
“You bastard! Why don’t you understand me?” Karim exploded as he banged his fists onto the table and lunged across the table, grabbing the Caterpillar-man by his collar who in turn planted his hands firmly on the table and tried to push back while crying out for the security guard at the door all along. But there was no one, the guard was gone, probably, for a quick cup of tea at the stall outside the building.
Just then Karim saw himself with his own eyes, his one hand on the throat of the Caterpillar-man and the other pulling at his collar with stacks and stacks of files all around and a guard somewhere outside rushing in with a gun. He felt lost. His ears buzzed as if a thousand angry drones were trapped in his head. And he had nowhere to go.
Karim let go of the Caterpillar-man and stepped back in absolute repugnance.
“You son of a bitch!” The high-pitched voice of the Caterpillar-man came piercing through Karim’s buzzing ears. “Manhandling me! In my office! During my office hours! You will see. I swear you will see. If I don’t push those apples up your arse I am not the son of ‘own’ my father. You just wait and see.”
By then Karim had collapsed onto his haunches, his head in his hands as if it were severed from his body.
“Get out!” The Caterpillar man cried at the top of his lungs. “Get out this instant or I will get you locked up; I swear.”
Words no longer meant anything for Karim, or so it seemed, as he continued to remain stuck on his haunches. The Caterpillar-man returned to his chair. “Son of a Bitch” he spat out every now and then as he rearranged the files on his table. It took some time but with Karim on his haunches and the files back at their proper position, the tedium of calmness and routine returned for the Caterpillar-man.
By evening the Caterpillar-man had left the unsavory noon far behind. He felt as close to being sorry as he could under the circumstances. As he was about to leave, he turned to Karim-on-haunches from the exit, “Go home. I will file a plea on your behalf tomorrow. We will see what we can do.” As a rule, he never carried his office worries to home.
The next day Karim Nanwoar was there again, in the room, on his haunches. “I have filed a Plea on your behalf.” The Caterpillar man told him. “And I requested Sahab personally to take a merciful cognizance of your case. He is a good man, the Sahab is. Strict but his heart is in the right place. I am sure he will grant you delay in your case as a special favor till your apples ripen.”
“Time till the apples ripen?” Karim cried as he stood up.
“Now, now; don’t you get all excited. It is still a plea yet. Sahab will most assuredly grant you the delay, he has no reason not to. Not with a good heart like that. But there is the question of Law as well. What it permits and how much it permits and to whom. Besides, there is the question of fairness and impartiality. Not only Caesar’s wife but Caesar himself must be above suspicion… Pah! That went waste on your ignoramus ears!… The tragedy of my life… Anyways, what you need to understand is that even though your case stands in good stead with all the personal efforts that I have put in, and mind you, I stand in the good books of Sahab. He hardly overturns any of my propositions and I have a proposition for you. But Sahab is Sahab. There is always a chance he might find some fine legality that I may have overlooked in my eagerness to help you. So, in all possibility, you might get the Delay, but you cannot be sure of it.”
“But if the Delay is granted it will be for as long as the Apples ripen, no?”
“I suppose yes that is how it should be. Delay granted till the Apples ripen. That sounds neat and proper, with no arbitrariness to it. And arbitrariness as we know is the enemy of reason. Once we go into that we walk a tight line on the boundary of Law. And as far as I know Sahab, he won’t be doing that. But then, that is how I see the Law. The Sahab has a better view.”
“Time till Apples ripen” Karim mumbled to himself as he rushed out of the building and straight to his Apple trees. One by one he inspected all the apples on his trees and as soon as he found a trace of redness on any one of them he plucked such a one away, immediately and violently, and threw it away.
The next day Karim Nanwoar was again in front of the Caterpillar-man. Again, he was told that the plea was under consideration and hopefully a favorable decision will follow. Karim in all probability will have time till apples ripen. Again, Karim ran to his apple trees and plucked all those apples that had a hint of redness coming over them.
Eventually Karim might have picked up all the apples before they turned red on his trees but for a gray bureaucratic afternoon when he found himself looking at a beaming Caterpillar-man waving a piece of paper like a scepter in full patronizing solemnity. “Here”, the Caterpillar-man cried as his lips could no longer hold in his lascivious smile. “Didn’t I tell you your plea would be granted? After all, I had vouched for it myself. Why Sahab has even let me to decide the time you should be granted! I am to fill in the number of days I deem fit. You lucky rascal!”
Karim just stared. His disbelief spreading all over his face like oil on water.
With the flourish of an emperor the Caterpillar-man spread the Plea on his table and lifting his pen, he asked Karim, “So, how much time do you think will be sufficient, a week, eh?”
“A week?!” Karim whispered, more to himself than to anyone else. The caterpillar-man had expected some more emotion from him, some excitement at least. Irritated, the Caterpillar-man said in a gruff voice, “OK. Two weeks then.”
“But you told me there will be time till the apples ripen?”
“Three weeks. And that is it. Let us not push your luck here. Just because Sahab has given me this honor does not mean I will abuse his trust. Three weeks should be more than enough. Here you go. You ought to appreciate what we have done for you. I have never seen such blatant ingratitude all my life.”
As Karim took the paper from the Caterpillar-man the look of disbelief on his face condensed into something hideous. “Three weeks!” he cried like a dog with its tail on fire. “Three weeks. You son of a bitch, you give me three weeks.”
The Caterpillar-man was ready this time. Before Karim could grab his collar, he had the security guard called in. Karim was thrown out. As was the Plea Granting Exemption for three weeks.
Shabir Ahmad Mir is from Gudoora Pulwama, Kashmir. His debut novel THE PLAGUE UPON US has been published by Hachette India recently.