The current brouhaha over Ganesh Kumar of Bihar understating his age by 18 years brings to mind my Nepali domestic help, Khadag Singh.
Khadag Singh, doubled as a night watchman in the Survey of India, Lucknow. He had been working for the Survey of India for several years but was not on their payroll and could be terminated at will without the benefits a permanent employee would enjoy.
Like most Nepalese, Khadag Singh was short statured with a muscular body, a rugged face and a small moustache. Nepalese in those days were still honest to a fault and fiercely loyal. Khadag Singh not only had the run of my bachelor’s flat, he had a duplicate key too. He would come and do cleaning and other household chores at any time of the day which suited him. He behaved more like my guardian than a hireling. My long association with him had made me totally dependent on him. So much so that he had started taking liberties with me and would often chastise me for some real but, more often than not, imagined misdemeanours on my part. I recall the time when he tore into me for going to office leaving the house unlocked. Luckily, no mishap had occurred.
Every so often Khadag Singh asked for small little things like pencils and erasers for his school going son and I happily obliged him.
‘Saab, so many old newspapers have collected and gathering dust. Can I take them?’ Khadag Singh would ask me every other month or so. I always said ‘Yes’. Gradually, instead of asking me, he started informing me, ‘Saab, these newspapers are gathering dust. I am taking them’.
‘Saab, you have not put on these shoes for so many months. Shall I take them?’ What do you think I replied?
For fear of Khadag Singh, I started keeping most of my clothes and other items I cherished out of sight. It was not safe not to use them for extended periods. I had not put on a particularly decent shirt which I was saving for the wedding of a special friend. A couple of days before the ceremony, Khadag Singh started with his characteristic, ‘Saab, you have not put on this shirt for such a long time…..’ I had no choice but to cut short his request with a bold ‘NO’.
Some left over medicines gave me an idea. My friends had a good laugh when I fibbed that Khadag Singh asked me, ‘Saab, you have not consumed these medicines for such a long time. Shall I take them?’
Once day in office, I found my gold ring was no longer on my finger. I racked my brain and remembered that I had taken the ring off while bathing in the morning and forgotten to put it back on. Confident of Khadag Singh’s integrity, I was shocked to see that the ring was not in the bathroom. Fearing worst, I hurried to his hut not far from where I lived. I found him sitting on a charpoy under a tree. Our eyes met and he greeted me with a broad grin. Raising his finger, he said, ‘This is what you have come for, haven’t you, Saab? How careless can you be? Not good, Saab.’
Not long after the above incident, Khadag Singh happily asked me to write on his behalf an application for the position of a permanent night watchman in the Survey of India. He told me to write he was 21 years old.
‘Twenty-one years!’ I was shocked.
‘How old is your son, Khadag?’ I asked him.
‘Twelve years, Saab’.
‘Then how can you be only twenty-one?’
‘Please, write twenty-one, Saab ji, or I will not get the job’.