Pleasures and Pains of an Educational Tour ... Essay

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Ravikumar Chennagiri

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Jun 10, 1991, 6:43:06 PM6/10/91
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Here is another translation of a humorous essay by Dr. B.G.L. Swamy.
It appears in his collection "Pradhyapakana Peethadalli"
(From a Professor's chair). In this essay, the name
"Karataka" is used. Karataka and Damanaka are two characters
in the Indian mythology. They are (correct me if I am wrong)
the security guards of hell -- they are employed to inflict
pain on those who enter hell. Swamy calls two bureaucrats
in his college Karataka and Damanaka. Those of us who have
had any experience with clerks in India know the pain
these clerks are capable of imparting :-).

PS: I am getting ready to do a second "cultural volume" for SCI.
Some of you may remember the first one which appeared in
Decmeber 1990. The "call for articles" has gone out to several
sci.writers. The second volume is targeted for end of July.
If you are a writer and have not heard from me, please drop
me a line if you want to contribute. My e-mail address
is cpra...@aludra.usc.edu


Pleasures and Pains of an Educational Tour

Kannada Essay by Dr. B.G.L. Swamy
English Translation by C.P. Ravikumar

Our Prinicpal during those days was a bundle of pride.
He firmly believed there was no living soul more honest
than him. As a result, he thought of himself as a
superhuman. The rest of the world thought of him as
an avatar of the demon. His day was incomplete if
he did not pick on someone.

That year I had taken my students on an educational tour
to a place called Kannikatti in Tamil Nadu. Our objective
was to collect rare plant specimens. We made Kannikatti
our camping ground and walked each day into the surrounding
forest. We covered 10 to 15 miles to and fro, so each
day we walked about 20 to 30 miles. When I had to
claim the travel allowance, I looked over the rules.
If one travels less than ten miles a day, he or she
is only eligible for the dearness allowance of 6 rupees
per day. Anything more than 10 miles earned a travel
allowance of eight annas per mile per day. Since we
travelled more than 10 miles a day, I calculated my
T.A. according to the second rule.

The office manager went through my bill and
laughed. ``Professor is special. He asks for things
not granted by any law.'' I received a memorandum
from the Principal.

Memo : ``The law does not permit the mileage rate on each day
of travel. Please submit a different bill showing only
the dearness allowance.''

My plea : ``The rule says the mileage rate must be used when
one travels more than 10 miles a day. I have claimed my
T.A. using this rule in the past and have had no trouble
getting it approved.''

Memo : ``The rule applies only for vehicle transport, not
for walking.''

Plea : ``The rule uses the word transport. Walking would come
under this rule.''

Memo : ``Walking cannot be considered a form of transport.''

Plea : ``I beg your pardon, but pray tell what you
would call going from place to another.''

Memo : ``Can you justify your stand that walking is a form of
transport?''

Plea : ``I will have to write a book for that. Our forefathers
did all the travelling solely by walking when there were
no trains or busses. Some of them walked all the way to
Kashi and Rameshwara. If that is not transport, what else
is it?''

The next memo did not address my question. Instead, it
went off on a tangent. ``How many miles can one walk in a day?''

Plea : ``That would depend on who is walking. If you had
me in mind, I have already indicated the number of miles
covered each day.''

Memo : ``Your tour was conducted in a forest area. How did
you measure the mileage?''

Plea : ``There are survey stones for that purpose. In addition,
I have used maps called toposheets to calculate the mileage.''

Memo : ``It is doubtful if a man can walk that many miles a day.''

Plea : ``I was not alone when I travelled. You may consult with
other faculty members and students who travelled with me.
If necessary, you may accompany us in our next trip and
verify it for yourself.''

Why was I being stubborn about this? I was not really interested
in the 120 rupees worth of travel/dearness allowance. I
was simply curious where this chain of memos and pleas would
lead to. I was secretly beginning to enjoy this exchange!
The principal called each one of the students and faculty
members who travelled with me separately into his office
and noted down their statements. The principal's office manager,
whom I will call Karataka, passed by me soon after this
incident. He grinned at me and said, ``Your students are
your true followers, Sir! They all reported the same mileage
that you did!'' I was irritated by the tone of his voice.
I knitted my eyebrows and returned a stare. He folded
his hands and said, ``Please don't misunderstand me Sir!
... All this fuss is due to the Principal Saheb!''
``Yes, I know. He is as much involved in this as you
are! Now excuse me, I have work to do.''

I received another memo the following day. ``Why did
you have to resort to walking? You could have travelled
by bus. Please recalculate the T.A. using bus charges.''

Plea : ``We travelled in the forest area. The roads
there are bridles. Heavy vehicles cannot go through these
roads.''

Memo : ``Then why didn't you travel on horseback?''

This was an unprecedented question. The principal was
not smart enough to pose such a question. I was sure
this was the creation of Karataka. Undaunted, I sent a
plea : ``We do not own horses. There are no horses
to be found in the forest where we travelled. Furthermore,
none of us know horse riding.''

Memo : ``This exchange has gone too far. In order to
curtail it, it is requested that the Professor must
only claim the D.A. in the T.A. bill.'' Unlike the
other memos, this one was not signed by the principal.
He had let Karataka take care of the signature! I
was not willing to give up. I wrote up another petition
and sent it to Karataka. ``I am entitled to the mileage
rate in my T.A. Kindly forward this note to your
superior for consideration.''

The principal called me into his office. He cleared
his throat and said, ``I believe that you walked
so many miles a day ... but you see, the higher
management may not believe you. We should not
get a blemish on us, you and me.''

``I understand. That is why I request the matter be
handled by a higher officer.''

``Why go so far? You are going on another educational
tour soon, aren't you?''

``Yes ...''

``I will make arrangements for my office manager to travel
with you.''

``Certainly. In fact, please send a couple of other
people whom you trust.''

``You must not misunderstand me.''

``No, no. Let your office manager travel with us and report
all our activities to you. You may take the final
decision based on his report.''


Sure enough, Karataka accompanied us when we set out for
our next educational tour. He snored his way through
most of our train journey. When the train reached
the Pollachi station, we got down to get some coffee.
Someone woke him up from his sleep. He was completely
confused in his half-awaken state. ``Where is my
wife? Where are my children?'' he asked, completely
flustered. The students laughed and made fun of him,
even the girl students. After this incident, Karataka
avoided the students and followed me like a shadow.

From Pollachi we travelled by bus to Valaiyar. Karataka
could not believe we would not break for a good night's
sleep. ``We can't stop here,'' I explained to him. ``We
must reach the forest by 6 o' clock in the morning.''
``Nocturnal ghosts!'' he grumbled. The bus traveled
on plain road for about 10 miles and then began a
winding journey through the ghat section. It was pitch
dark outside, and very cold. The students spotted a
tea stall and stopped the bus. We all got down for
a cup of hot tea. We did not want Karataka to miss out
on the pleasure. Although he grumbled at being waken
up a second time, he came down and enjoyed two cups
of tea. ``This tea is heavenly! Who made it?'' he
asked. Someone told him. ``This is a Kaka hotel.
The tea was made by a Malayali muslim.'' Being an
old fashioned orthodox man, Karataka was stupefied by
this answer. He spit out the tea in his mouth and
wailed. ``Good Lord, my righteousness went to the dogs!
Is that true Sir, what the student says?'' I nodded.
``O Lord Venkataramana! This must be my Karma from my
past birth!''

We reached Valaiyar by 4.30 in the morning. ``Be ready
to leave for the forest by 6.00 o' clock sharp.'' I
reminded the students. Karataka literally hit the sack
-- he slept on the sacks which carried our groceries.
At the break of dawn, the college attenders woke him
up. ``We must unpack the groceries for making breakfast!''
Karataka was thoroughly irritated -- he had been waken
up for the third time in a row. ``I thought I will
have a nice vacation! I can't even get a wink of sleep!''
he complained. When breakfast was served, he was
annoyed that chutney was not served with uppama.
He took his complaint to the cook, only to be snubbed.

After we had walked for two furlongs, Karataka asked me.
``How far is the bus stand?'' I told him there was no
bus facility to take us to the forest. After we had
walked a mile, we came across a large pit. We had
to get into the pit to get across. Karataka stood
aside and looked at us disbelievingly as we all
climbed down. ``Do we have to come back this way too?''
``No, we return through a different route.'' After
much speculation, Karataka stepped into the pit. He
approached me and whispered. ``How far do you plan to
go today?'' ``Another 12 miles. Then we reach a small
village with five or six huts. The village has no name.
We will rest there for a while and then return.''
Karataka rolled his eyes. ``No need to fear,'' I
assured him. ``We are all going to be with you.
Besides, look at the students -- they are all younger
than you and they are not afraid.''

As we walked through the forest area, I would stop
here and there when we spotted an interesting plant
or tree. I would explain the students about the plant
before proceeding further. The students would get
busy collecting specimens. Karataka would seat
himself on a log of wood and begin enjoying a
pinch of snuff. On one such occasion, I saw a
two-feet snake crawl by my feet. I picked it up
by its tail and striked it against a piece of rock.
Then I hurled the dead snake like a boomerang.
The snake fell on the log of wood on which Karataka
was seated. Flabbergasted, he lost his balance and
fell into the wet mud. The students helped him out
of the bog. He then came to me and said, ``Sir!
The snake! The snake! It is a sin of the first order
to kill a snake. Must make a peace offering to the
snake god.''

``Yes, peace offering is a good idea. You can make one when
you return. Perhaps two -- one for you and one for the
principal!''

``It's not like that, Sir!''

``Oh come on, let's get going. You are here to observe
us, aren't you? We have only covered three miles today!''

The forest thickened as we walked ahead. The leaves of
the trees formed a canopy and prevented sunlight from
entering. As a result, the visibility was poor. To
make things worse, the ground was slippery and smelled
of moss. Someone shouted to Karataka. ``Mister manager,
walk a little faster! There are wild animals in this
forest!'' That was all Karataka could take. He
came to me and begged. ``Sir, I want to return to the
camp! Please send someone along with me!'' Before
I answered, a student replied. ``Sir, there is a
wild buffalo somewhere here. You can send the buffalo
along with him.'' Everyone laughed. Karataka was
burning with shame. He continued. ``Sir, you must
pardon me. I have made the biggest mistake of my
life. I must not have written those memos to you.
Pardon me Sir! Pardon me Lord Venkataramana!''

``Look, Mr. Manager, we have not even come half way
through our journey. We cannot return without our
goal accomplished. You must face whatever joys or
hardships we face. So please get up and get going.''

We walked for another furlong and came face to face
with a water strait. The only way to cross it was to get into
the water and wade through. Even the girl students did
not complain, but Karataka would not budge. ``There
is no way I am getting into that water!'' he said.
Two college attenders and several students had to
literally push him through the water. ``I almost
drowned, Sir!'' he complained to me.


We covered another four miles before we reached the
heart of the jungle. That was the destination point
I had in my mind. It was a heavenly place for a
botanist. We saw a profuse growth of various kinds of
algae, fungi, ferns, monocots, and dicots. It was
a most colorful sight. The students became excited
like children visiting the zoo for the first time.
They wanted to know about every plant. What more could
a teacher ask for? Their enthusiasm was infectious.
It transcended all personal disagreements, personal
differences and other physical barriers. Who was
an attender, who was a professor, who was a student,
who was a man, and who woman? We all forgot our
identities and delved into the study of nature,
like explorers set out to reach a common destination.
Such moments are rare in a teacher's life, but
when they come, they are memorable.

The ground in the area was not firm. When we walk
on it, our feet sink into the soft mud. If we
stand still, we sink knee deep. To make matters
worse, there were insects to bite us. Flies,
mosquitoes, leeches. Did I say the place was
a heaven? That was for the psyche. The place was
a hell if you considered the physical aspect.

Karataka could not understand what the excitement
was all about. He stood on top of a large stone
to avoid sinking into the bog. None of us paid
any attention to him. He borrowed a beedi from
one of the attenders and began to smoke. I
accidentally turned towards him. He did not want
me to know he was smoking. The poor fellow swallowed
the beedi! The fire burnt his mouth and he
let out a cry of pain. ``What happened, Mr. Manager?''
``Some insect bit me!'' He lied. The students found
out his secret and began to laugh. He shouted
at them. ``How can you laugh in a hell-hole
like this? You are all crazy people!''

It was 3 o' clock in the afternoon. Our specimen
collection was substantial. But we were reluctant
to leave the place. There was a lot more to see.
We decided to return to the camp and visit the same
spot the following day. We reached the small
unnamed village and decided to break for a
while. The villagers helped us in making tea.
Karataka was hungry. He barged into one of the huts
and cleaned up a dozen plantains. When it was
time to go, I reminded him. He wailed,
``Sir, my legs won't listen to me.''

``In this place, transport is only through legs!
Let's get going!''

On the way home, we did not stop anywhere to pick
up more specimens. We reached the camp by 7.00 p.m.
Karataka fell flat on the sack of utensils.
But his rest was short-lived. Someone had
spotted a snake! Karatka fell to my feet and
begged. ``Sir, you are my saviour. Please send
me back to town!''

After dinner, he slept like a log. He woke
up at two o' clock in the night and came out
to find us working. ``Gee, you are up already!''
He exclaimed. ``We have not slept yet! You
go and get some rest. We must leave early in
the morning. We are doing 22 miles tomorrow.''
Karataka was scared out of his wits. He withdrew
into the camp and went back to sleep.

The next morning, at about 6.00 a.m, we were
getting ready to leave for our field trip. A
few students came to me and said. ``I think there
is a tiger somewhere nearby. We spotted some
footprints.'' I followed them to observe the
footprints. They were indeed the footmarks of
a tigress and her two cubs. Karataka, who was
returning from his morning ablutions, overheard
our conversation. He dropped his bucket of water
then and there and ran away. We came to know
later that he hitched a ride back to town from
a truck driver. In my mood to jest, I sent
a telegram to the principal. ``Manager missing.
Inform police.''

When I returned from the trip, I found a memo
waiting on my desk. ``The government has approved
your T.A. bill in full. A cheque for the amount
is enclosed.''

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