The four wheeler turned left, fastening the spinning of its round legs as if it were in haste to reach the destination. The dry sand could be seen beneath the side-less bridge. Within a few minutes, the brakes were pressed hard by the right leg of Tek.
Beside the fancy and cosmetic shops, there was a building with the sign of Red Cross where on one side of road was a room in the settings of an office. That was the place I was intending to visit since my arrival in this district. There was a plastic bar to separate the office staff and the service takers. This was the proper glimpse of old Rastriya Banijya Bank of a decade ago.
Across the bar, a woman of around 55 years of age, was busy registering letters and asking for service charge. She rarely had black hair; however she had managed to cover it with dye, except the root of it. I entered the staff area greeting her. She was astounded to see me there and was behaved uneasily because that was the first time I visited the area. I greeted her and introduced myself. She stood up from the chair and greeted me as well and signalled me to sit on the chair where she was sitting because, maybe, that was the only chair in a good appearance to let the higher officials sit. I pleasantly requested her to sit and continue the service.
On the other side of the office was an old man. I asked him to sit on the bench beside him. I thought he was a customer. He joined his hands to greet me ‘Namaste’. I replied duly.
“Are you here to post a letter, Buwa?” I asked.
The female staff abruptly replied. “Sorry Sir! He is our staff. I am a postal representative and he is a distributor.”
He suddenly stood up. He had an old Nepali cap on his head. The shirt with vertical lines seemed as if it had not seen soap and water for weeks. The right sleeve of the pants had been folded up to the knee and the left was slackened down. There was a hole at the knee and the colour of the pants was muddy. Cracks on his heels and other parts of foot were like they had not met good care for years. The lurking pants were tightened by a rope that could be found easily anywhere on the way.
“Where is residence, Buwa?” I asked.
“It is 5 kilometres way.”
“Who are in the family?”
“There are two sons and their families.”
“Because I have no family and live on my own.”
“What about Ama?”
“She was snatched away from me many years ago.”
I did not have guts to move further. My eyes got removed from him. But the glimpse of the ditch on his cheek and the flow of the spring of sweats made my heart ache. Curiosity was vividly reflected on his countenance about the new budget and the policies and programmes just announced. He could not hold himself; he just mumbled, “What will happen of u, Sir?”
I spoke as if I knew nothing.
“What you mean?” he asked. “What will happen of our job”?
Now I did not have any pretext to avoid the conversation.
“No formal information has been circulated about it but I must say the provision mentioned in the budget and policy and program is not so good. It says the surplus additional postal offices will be shut and the staffs will be provided the end-service benefits.”
“We will have the doom of life.”
“Though it is nominal, it counts more for me.”
“It has provided me a house, food and bed.”
Now a rain of tears began rolling down his cheeks. He undid the cap, wiped his cheeks and sobbed. I could not hold myself. But I was there not to accompany him but to console and make him feel comfortable. I signalled with my eyes to Tek. He started the Bolero. “Don’t worry, Buwa. Everything will be OK,” I said. With the promise to cascade more information to him if I had any, I left the office.
On the way to my office, I requested Som to tell me more about the old staff because his wailing did not let me remain quiet. Som narrated his story spontaneously: “He has got two sons and a daughter. All of his children have been married now. His daughter has been married an engineer from Butwal. His sons have their own families and have settled in the village near his office. Once there was a huge quarrel between him and his sons about the partition of their atavistic property. He did not want to add ghee on the fire; so he settled the quarrel dividing property between two sons without keeping any piece of land for himself. He believed his sons to be his walking sticks in his old age. They would not escape from the responsibility to care for him.
“But things did not turn as he expected. Both the sons denied to care for him and keep him in their homes. The old man eventually became homeless. Presently, he lives in the homes of his distant relatives one after another. The salary he gets means a lot to him. He is living by himself. I cannot imagine what he will do in the coming days if the proclamations get implemented.”
His voice turned low and he whistled and breathed, and looked out of the Bolero window.
Before meeting the old staff, I was convinced that the restructuring might of the budgetary plans would have a few adverse effects but it would have insurmountable advantages for the country in the long run. But now my beliefs and values got shattered and I began to disbelieve the saying that the state is formed for the welfare of people. Innumerable questions came out of my mind. Mutually contradictory thoughts emerged as a noose for me. I was sheer suffocated. I took a long breath.
By this time, I was at the gate of the district post office. I heard people clamouring upstairs in the chamber of our chief. As I entered, three staff members from Siddi Additional Post Office stood up and greeted me with ‘Namaste’. I replied them with a similar gesture and signalled them to take seats. Madhu was already there. He winked, suggesting that they had come to know about the recent proclamations made by the government. I pretended to be familiar with them: “I have been willing to see all of you at your office and your place because I am interested in studying the literature and culture of Chepang. Because of my office work, I could make that happen in the past. But it is great pleasure to have you here. What would you like to have?”
“Nothing, Sir! We just had our meals before coming here.”
“How long does it take to arrive here?”
“About 2 hours.”
“So your meal is digested. You cannot deny black tea.”
They shook their heads in acceptance. I requested Smita to bring black tea for all those present in the chamber of our chief. One of the staff members questioned in his own tone: “What is the new information, sir?”
“There is no update yet.”
“I think this is the first time I have met you.”
“So you do not know me, I think.”
“The budget, the policy and the program have stated the restructuring of the postal service. It is the demand of a federal structure. The new provision will establish one post office in one local level and will put an end to the additional post offices. The process will begin from the very first day of the new fiscal year.”
“How will we, the working staff, be managed then?”
“As mentioned, end of service with attractive benefits”. One of the staffs recollected his past: “It was a time when I was in quandary whether to remain in job or quit it during the Maoist rebellion. The Maoists used to come to us and threaten to carry rice to the farthest edge of Dhading District. If we denied, they would threaten us to send us to Rolpa or Rukum. Due to the fear of that we used to carry rice. With time, this news travelled from one ear to another and finally reached the army. I was taken into control by the army and beaten brutally. I was hospitalized for six days after the assault. I feel it like yesterday when I used to provide service keeping my life on my palms. I loved my job much more than I loved my life. I thought job was the thing I needed the most then. Life was in death and death in life. Now, when I need a job, it has been snatched away. Can a state be so insensitive?”
I did not have any answer to their emotional questions. I only had mugged up answers which I was tired of telling. Such answers were valueless in front of the human feelings and experiences. I submerged in a profound contemplation if the benefits could compensate the deep wound thereof.