Harshabardhan Avoids the War

(This is a feeble translation of a short story by Bengali humorist Shibram Chakraborty.)

The Government has sent notices to everyone, and Harshabardhan and his brother Gobardhan have also received them. The country is facing hostilities at the borders and the prospect of a war is looming large. The Government has, therefore, sent notices to all men, urging them to enlist in the military services.

"I do not want to go to war," Harshabardhan declared when he received the notice.

Gobardhan was astonished. "How can you refuse to go to war for your country?" he asked. "You had fought in the earlier war," Gobardhan reminded his elder brother.

"Yes, that is true," Harshabardhan agreed. "But I was young at that time. Haven't I become older since then? Haven't I become weaker? If I have to lift a rifle now, I shall topple. Besides, I cannot cope with the long route marches and parades at this age."

Gobardhan had to admit that route marches in the summer month of March were not enjoyable.

"Let the youths go to war now and we will read about their heroics in the newspapers," Harshabardhan said.

Harshabardhan and Gobardhan are brothers who left their home state of Assam many years ago and have established a flourishing timber trade in Kolkata.

"Don't worry brother, I will always be by your side during the war. I will not run away," Gobardhan promised. But these words failed to encourage Harshabardhan.

"Stop your prattle and read what is written in the notice," he demanded.

Gobardhan read the notice and informed his brother that they had been directed to present themselves before a recruiting officer day after tomorrow at 10 am at the address mentioned in the notice. After registering their names, they would be subjected to a medical examination and enlisted.

What will happen if we don't go?" Harshabardhan wanted to know.

"They will issue warrants and the police will come and arrest us," Gobardhan informed.

"What if we run away from here?" Harshabardhan asked.

"I think they will issue our descriptions and set the police on our trail."

Harshabardhan was alarmed. "Police! Oh my God! Then, we must go," he said resignedly.

The brothers presented themselves before the recruiting officer on the appointed day and time.

It was Harshabardhan's turn first.

"Name?" the recruiting officer asked.




"Father's name?"

"Paundrabardhan. Shall I tell you my mother's name?"

"That won't be required. Your address?"



"Timber merchant."

"Do you believe that joining the military services is a matter of pride?" the recruiting officer asked.

"Of course, of course!"

"Which arm of the Army would you like to join?" the recruiting officer asked.

Harshabardhan was perplexed.

"The Army has various branches - infantry, artillery, aviation..."

"I want to become a general," Harshabardhan told him.

"Are you mad?" the officer could not prevent himself from saying this.

"Is that a requirement?" Harshabardhan wanted to know. "Do I have to be mad to become a general?"

The officer thought it better not to reply and he turned his attention to Gobardhan.




"Thirty-two. The answers to the rest of the questions are ditto - father's name, address, and profession are the same as given by Harshabardhan. We are brothers," Gobardhan explained.

"Okay. The two of you can go to the next room for your medical examination. If you pass the medical examination, you will be enlisted," the officer said.

On the way to the next room, Gobardhan whispered to his elder brother, "There is nothing to fear now. I have not passed a single examination in my life; how can I pass a medical examination!"

The doctor stroked Harshabardhan's paunch and shook his head in disapproval. "This will not do," he said and rejected Harshabardhan. Harshabardhan was about to protest that he had seen many generals - in photographs, of course - with huge paunches, but the doctor dismissed him.

It was Gobardhan's turn now. The doctor found him absolutely fit, only his eyes remained to be examined.

"Can you read the letters on the chart hanging on the wall?" the doctor asked him.

"What! Is there a wall there?" Gobardhan wanted to know.

"Your eyesight seems to be poor," the doctor said and held a large aluminium tray about two feet from Gobardhan's eyes.

"Tell me, what do you see?" the doctor asked.

"An eight-anna coin? Or, is it a four-anna coin?" Gobardhan wanted to know.

Gobardhan was also rejected.

Both the brothers heaved enormous sighs of relief after walking out off the recruiting office.

"Brother, let us celebrate. Let's have a nice meal in the restaurant across the road and watch a movie afterwards," Gobardhan suggested.

After a good meal, the brothers entered the cinema hall just when the lights were turned off for the show to begin. They groped their way to their seats in the darkness.

When the lights came on during the interval, Harshabardhan looked around and was shocked! Sitting next to Gobardhan was the same doctor who had examined them earlier in the day. After hoodwinking the doctor into believing that he had poor eyesight, Gobardhan's lie was about to be exposed. Harshabardhan nudged Gobardhan with his elbow and drew his attention to the doctor.

Gobardhan was unfazed. He was not in the least alarmed. Turning to the doctor he said, "Please forgive this intrusion sister, could you tell me whether this is bus number 33?"

"What!" the doctor was bewildered by this unexpected question.

"I mean, sister, does this bus go to Chetla? I managed to get into this bus somehow after struggling in the mad rush of passengers but I am not sure whether I have boarded the right bus."

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  • Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
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  • Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
  • Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
  • Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
  • Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
  • Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu