Bishweshar Prasad Koirala
Trans: Mahesh Paudyal
IF THE PHRASE ‘apple of the eye’ held good for anyone, it was certainly for Krishna Ray. Forty-five year old Ray was by far the gentlest guy in the entire village. In the past ten to twenty years, he had not set a foot outside his village. This was enough to manifest his complacent nature. He considered it against his conviction to lend money to anyone. He was of the opinion that money lent to others brought home some misunderstanding when it came back. But during difficulties, he always stayed ready to help others, like what they say, ‘Closest is someone who stands with you in the worst of times.’
When Janak Kumari lost her only son, the onlookers were moved to emotions more by the consolations of Krishna Ray than by the grieving of Janak Kumari. Whenever a dispute erupted among the villagers, he would be the one to mediate. No one appeared unhappy with his ruling. He seldom went out of home and whenever he did, one could speculate that there was a case of death in a family or there was some conflict in the neighborhood. People greeted him with all earnestness when they saw him on the street.
Krishna Ray had all kinds of comfort with him: of property, fame or honor. He did not have children but had compensated the absence by adopting a boy, who was nephew to him by a distant relation.
One evening, after he was through his dinner, Krishna Ray went to bed intending to sleep. Soon he started having all sorts of thoughts in his mind. No one could rate his life unsuccessful. He had accumulated a fair amount of wealth. While earning money, he did not bother his subordinates like others did. He had no enemy and that was the biggest reason for his complacence. In the forty-five years of life he had lived, he never made anyone his enemy. When he considered this, the length of his comfortable sleep prolonged.
In the meantime, he was suddenly hit by a club someone had flung on him. Incidentally, the main part of the club did not hit him. He found it difficult to tell if the assailant had struck him or the wall in reality.
Krishna Ray got up, grumbling. By then, the assailant had taken to his heels. He started wondering who could have attacked him. ‘I didn’t make anyone an enemy all my life. I didn’t quarrel with anyone either,’ he thought.
In the beginning, Krishna Ray did not believe that anyone had attacked him in the first place. Everything occurred like an illusion in a state of sleepiness. But then, the fragment of the club that had broken on hitting the wall could not be illusionary. He bent from his bed and took the fragment into his hand. Then he asked himself, ‘Who could be my enemy?’
After he had contemplated for a long time, he seemed to have unearthed a clue about the mystery. That morning, he had reprimanded one of his servants, Ramé by name, for making a slight error in a task. His servant was the most unpredictable of the people there, he could have embarked on attacking his master. While charging on him, he had seen the servant’s countenance grow crimson. How would he know it was anger that had driven him red! But then, his anger did not appear intense. It was strange for such an old servant to make life attempts on his master for receiving such a slight reprimand. Ramé had withstood worse chidings than this; in that case, he should not have lost his patience with today’s reprimand. But then, who can make predictions about human behavior? Who else could be his enemy if it was not Ramé?
At one point in time, Krishna Ray thought it was Balabhadra and not Ramé who had done the prank. The reason was that, Krishna had recently caught him red-handed while he was trying to misappropriate some accounts to hoodwink his master, and for that, Krishna had humiliated him. After all, Balabhadra was one who enjoyed great honor in the society and the villagers had high respect for him. Perhaps he was unable to tolerate the way Krishna Ray had dishonored him, and had therefore plotted to avenge for the act that night.
Krishna Ray was thinking hard. Suddenly, the thought of a man who had come to seek a job two days ago occurred to his mind. The poor man had approached him because of utter hardship. Instead of recruiting him to any job, Krishna Ray had given him some good advices. As they got into talking, Krishna Ray even used some uncouth words for him. It was certain that the young man did not like the words. The youth appeared a man of high self-respect – someone who found harsh words getting deep on his nerves and one who minded such things for a long time.
One of Krishna Ray’s habits was very bad. He considered himself devoid of any defect or vice. Yet he was reminded of one of his greatest weaknesses. At times, he gave unsolicited commands and advices to others. Though he was not authorized to do so, Krishna Ray often did it. He embraced this habit closely, mistaking it for rare strength.
Krishna Ray had posed as a mediator in many conflicts. This was a matter of pride. The villagers confided in him and asked him to mediate whenever there was a conflict. This was one of the reasons why he enjoyed much honor in the village. But then it’s possible that this job certainly made him unpopular among many.
The incident of a particular day started unfolding before him as an example. The misunderstanding between Pundit Govinda and Jamadar Goré had been lingering for quite some time. But they had never assaulted each other physically as they did on that fateful day. Like always, Krishna Ray came forward to mediate and started explaining the negative fallout of the wrangling, as it was a habit on his part.
“Listen to me, Pundit Govinda! Listen, Jamadar Goré! What use is quarrelling like this? Make peace among yourselves. Eat, drink and pray to God,” Krishna Ray said.
If they were the ones who stopped quarreling at mere advices like these, they would not quarrel in the first place. But they refused to make a truce. So the mediator, under certain obligations, ruled in favor of Jamadar Goré. Thus, he probably made Pundit Govinda an enemy by volunteering to become a mediator in this case.
There was yet another issue between a schoolteacher and a businessman in which, as a mediator, Krishna Ray had ruled in favor of the businessman. At this, the businessman had roared, “Look, Krishna Ray! I respect the verdict, no doubt. But a businessman is always a businessman, you know. He shall be of no use to you.”
In a conflict, the most guiltless job is that of a mediator. But no mediator on earth can be the supporter of both the parties. He has to risk the enmity of one party. Krishna Ray surmised this wisdom like suddenly waking up from sleep.
Even as he was thinking deep, Krishna Ray recalled a quarrel that had taken place inside a railway coach. He also remembered a man whom he had incidentally pushed down in a marketplace. He remembered the servants he had terminated and remembered his poor but avaricious brothers, who could not stand his progress. The man did not trust even his adopted son, let alone the strangers. He could do anything to grab his property as soon as possible. That would be no wonder when even one’s own biological sons could…
Krishna Ray threw himself on the mattress, trying to call up some sleep so that he would forget the incident. What a wide connection even a mere thing like enmity has! No one on earth is a friend; everyone is an enemy, an adversary. Who says no one becomes an enemy without reasons? Granted that enemies do not come out of the blue, but we find grounds for conflicts so easily! Krishna Ray did not befriend many, but to the few people he befriended, he gave one reason or another to bear some grudge against him. What a strange thing it is: we find tools of enmity hidden even inside apparently guiltless things!
When the case was investigated the next day, the police inspector asked Krishna Ray, “Whom do you suspect?”
With a gesture of seriousness, Krishna Ray said, “Ramé, Kedar, the youth, Govinda, Kanhaiya, the teacher, Budhé, Leela, Pushpa Raj, Ramchandra Parajuli…”