Harshabardhan avoids the war
(This is a feeble translation of a short story by Bengali humorist Shibram Chakraborty.)
The Government has sent notices 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 enroll 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 lost in strength? If I have to lift a rifle now, I will 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 out what is written in the notice," he demanded.
Gobardhan informed that the notice had mentioned an address and the brothers were directed to reach the place two days later and present themselves before the recruiting officer. After an interview, the brothers would be subjected to medical examination and, if found fit, would be enrolled.
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.
"The police will issue our descriptions and will be after us anyway."
Harshabardhan was alarmed. "Then, we will have to 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.
"Paundrabardhan. Shall I tell you my mother's name?"
"That won't be required. Your address?"
Harshabardhan told him.
"Supplier of timber."
"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 and others," the officer explained. "Which branch would you prefer?"
"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 enrolled," 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 any examination in my life and it is unlikely that I will pass the medical examination."
The doctor stroked Harshabardhan's paunch and shook his head in disapproval. "This will not do," the doctor said and rejected Harshabardhan.
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 appears to be poor," the doctor said and drew a large aluminium tray before Gobardhan.
"Tell me what do you see," the doctor said.
"A coin perhaps," Gobardhan replied.
Gobardhan was also rejected owing to poor eyesight.
Both the brothers heaved enormous sighs of relief when they walked out off the recruiting office.
"Brother, let us celebrate. We will have a nice feast in the restaurant across the road and later watch a movie," Gobardhan suggested.
The two brothers had a sumptuous meal and, then, entered the cinema hall. The usher guided them to their seats in the dark hall.
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 a 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? 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."