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Inspection Report

When the price to get a job or to be promoted is listed like rice, dal, salt and oil, it could be because I didn’t spend a rupee, that even after I saw the promotion order I was still doubtful. There are reasons why I didn’t grease palms. All my friends have forged ahead. They only included me this time because they couldn’t throw me aside. And yet, a man came one day to offer bait.

‘Ojha’ Tomba, they’re going to promote some teachers as assistant inspectors, why don’t Ojha too do the done thing?’

When only tomorrow’s left for me to retire, I wasn’t covetous of promotions or other things. Besides, I don’t have the money to do their ‘˜done’ thing. So I replied, ‘Even if I’m promoted or not, please don’t bother about me.’

The man left disappointed. And didn’t come back again. Very soon I got the news; I’ve been included in the promotion list. I escaped the bait by inches. Now, there’s no employee who wouldn’t be happy when he’s been promoted. The same goes for me. At least the victim of repeated humiliations by a mere clerk, that universal scapegoat called a ‘˜schoolteacher‘ I will no longer be; the thought afforded me a little pleasure. What’s more, the shirking contractor-teacher, the favor-currying teacher, the absentee teacher – that I now have some right to keep an eye on a handful of these gave me more pleasure. The jibes, the digs at dutiful, honest teachers, still ring in my ears. ‘It goes without saying that this year’s national award for teachers is Ojha Tomba’s.’

That there’s a possibility now of paying them back when I get the chance prompted me to accept the promotion. It’s an entirely different dish to enter an office after being a schoolteacher for so long. As soon as I handled this job I was able to visit all the schools within my jurisdiction in a week. The first visit was, of course, to get acquainted with faces. I met a lot of teachers cutting school. But! simply told them, ‘1 won’t leave it if we meet again.’-­

I didn’t want to be one of those who submit a tentative tour diary and sit at home, the AI who gleans information along the way. My ignorance and ineptness notwithstanding, even while I was a teacher at least I was involved. So I was soon getting ready for my second inspection.

During the previous visit, among the schools in a bad state of affairs the Middle District Primary School was one. So I went there first. I came out quite early from home. When I reached there it was past 7. But I was still early for that school. I didn’t see a single teacher in the school. There were children playing on the ground. Some were playing hopscotch on the verandah. Some were skipping. A few more were enjoying ‘˜Catch me if you Can’ by running through holes in the walls of the school. I asked a child, ‘Where are your teachers?’

‘At the tea-shop.’

Two teachers came in at that moment.

Namaste, Ojha.’

The Head Pundit chased the children into a room.

‘What time do you start school, Ojha?’

‘At 6.30. We’re a little late today.’

A child shouted from the next room – ‘Holiday, they’re running away, Ojha.

‘The Head Pundit rushed outside. He entered after a while saying, ‘They’re running away because they think Ojha has come to give them injections.’

I resumed the interrogation ‘And how many teachers are here?’

‘Five,’ answered the Head Pundit.

‘Where are the other three?’

‘In fact, I can see one of them on her way.’

At a distance I saw a woman with a child on her back. The Head Pundit identified her ‘That’s Ojha Tharo, our Pradhan‘s daughter-in-law.’

The Head Pundit introduced me, ‘This is Ojha Tomba, and he’s our circle’s AI.’

The lady teacher was apparently nervous. She did a Namaste. I responded and enquired, ‘Does Ojha come late every day?’

At least this teacher is honest. She answered, ‘I get up when it’s still dark and try, but always end up getting late.’

She didn’t sign in the attendance register for eight days. I went on, ‘Didn’t you come these eight days?’

She replied in alarm, ‘O truth, truth is my witness. I come even if I’m late. It’s just that I didn’t sign.’ With her open nature she didn’t seem to be lying.

‘Please sign now. And try to be a little early in future.’

It was 8 am already. The two teachers went inside their respective classrooms. But two of them haven’t shown up even at that hour. They didn’t sign in the attendance register for thirty-five days.

‘What shall we do about him, Ojha?’

‘I don’t want to talk about him. Please do what Ojha thinks fit,’ the Head Pundit answered.

‘Didn’t he come at all for an entire month?’

‘I wouldn’t say that, for he would suddenly turn up one day. He would then sneak in a bunch of signatures, mutter ‘˜Just here’ and vanish.’

‘What about his classes?’

‘We stand in sometimes, other times they go unattended.’ ‘You mentioned five teachers, where’s the other one?’

‘Oh he’s from Imphal. He only appeared one day and never came back. We heard he’s been used in an Imphal school. They didn’t send a substitute either. But he comes to collect his pay at the office regularly.’

At that moment a child came running inside. ‘Ojha, Chaoba has pinched Pishak’s cheek.’

The Head Pundit blew his top. He shouted, ‘Isn’t your teacher there?’

‘No.’

He went taking a stick with him. I heard the swish of the stick in the next room. He entered again saying, ‘Until they taste the stick these offspring of monkeys cannot be controlled.’

The Head Pundit then called out the teacher inside the class and asked him, ‘Where’s Tharo?’

‘She went out saying she’ll get tea for Ojha,’ the teacher replied. I felt like having a look at the class and entered the room. It’s quite a big school of four rooms. But without the walls it looked like one huge room. As we entered, the children stood up immediately. The room was soon clouded with dust. The litter of paper, pebbles, pockmarks, ‘˜a stable will be slightly better, I thought.’

‘Where have the benches gone, Ojha?’ I asked. ‘Broken, some, stolen.’

‘And the chowkidar?’

‘None. There was one before. After he died last year no one came in his place.’

A child shouted from the back, ‘Ojha, I’m going out.’** Before anyone could reply the child ran out through the hole in the wall. A very small child started crying in the room. I saw a girl standing in the corner with a baby on her back.

‘And who’s that?’ I asked.

‘She’s in the fifth standard. I told her not to bring the baby, she wouldn’t listen. Says there’s none at home to baby-sit. They told her to skip school, so she brings the baby along.’

Ojha Tharo arrived at the moment bringing some snacks and what not. An elderly man also accompanied her. They said he’s the pradhan. As soon as he arrived he did a Namaste. They were all agog.

‘Get the tea and the other things for the AI Saheb.’ Thinking it opportune, I slipped in, ‘Uncle Pradhan, these broken, hollow walls, the absent teachers, it looks like we haven’t been taking care at al1?’

‘Ah! If the learned ones listen to us it would mean the end. It’s a government school, the government’s there, gentlemen like yourself.’

‘True, the government’s there. Still, Pradhan Saheb’s children, your grandchildren, are also studying at this school. I’m only re­questing you to be a little more concerned.’

The Pradhan went on with a kind of arrogance, ‘Eh! Thinking that our children will be ruined, I’ve stopped them from studying in a government school. Last year the villagers joined hands and set up an English school with the MLA Saheb as the chairman, I the vice-chairman and our Head Pundit as the secretary.’

‘Do our Head Pundit Saheb’s children too study at this new school?’Not the least perturbed the Head Pundit replied, ‘They were studying here till last year. From this year we made them attend the English schoo1.’

It was after two days that an elderly man came. He looked a bit familiar. He used to come often at the Office. The elderly man provoked me again. All concerned about me, he said,

‘AI Saheb, the times are bad. Don’t be like them. The times are sick with a disease you and I cannot cure. This society’s sick. Keep these two hundred rupees. We cannot control that man. You must have seen the house a teacher can build, the cars they ride. If we want to live without worries in such times, we have to feign a little blindness, a little deafness. We only have to ensure our salaries.’

In my angry mood, his insulting talk was like fuel to fire. I nearly swore at him. But since I was at home I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I said, ‘Don’t mind. If it’s about that fellow, please go away. As for me, I’ll stand by what I said. What follows will be taken care of by my seniors.’

The elderly man wasn’t much bothered. His face didn’t betray any shame. ‘All right, since you’ll not listen, I’m leaving,’ he said.

Today’s the appointed day for the ‘˜explanation’. The notice says ‘˜before 1 p.m.’. But the teacher didn’t show up even when late. Much offended by the words they-uttered, the insulting manner in which they dismissed me, I was beside myself. I entered the Inspector’s room. I told him the whole story. The Inspector agreed. ‘Stop his pay,’ he said.

In an instance, the circular of ‘˜intercepted pay’ was issued. I returned home in a fairly good mood.

‘I’ll see how long he can stay away.’

That teacher was really pigheaded. He never carne for a day to the Office. I only heard he got the circular.

Payday came. I was sitting at the Office waiting for my salary.

Peon Kullo carne in, ‘Ojha asked you to come to his room, please.’

I went to the Inspector’s shortly. There were two men sitting there. One of them was the Middle Primary School teacher. The other, the elderly man who carne to my house one day. When the Inspector saw me he said, ‘Please take a seat. Ojha Jadumani says he’ll treat us to fruit juice.’

I understood immediately. At that moment, the fruit juice was brought in.

Before I said anything, the teacher addressing the Inspector, said, ‘Ojha, without an order please…

Without hesitation, the Inspector wrote something and gave it to him. He then turned to me, ‘AI Saheb, let’s forgive Ojha Jadumani this time.’

I think he realized that I was about to say something, and handed a sheaf of papers to me. It contained three pages. One a D.O. from the MLA, another from the Pradhan, the remaining from the Head Pundit and other teachers stating that ‘˜our’ teacher carne to school regularly. The Inspector went on, ‘File these papers. And destroy that inspection report.’

This is the first lesson of ascending a new chair. I didn’t stay on for another moment in that room. The Inspector was shouting,

‘Tomba Saheb, there’s fruit juice.’

I said in reply, ‘Never mind, Ojha.’

Before I took four or five steps, I heard the elderly man saying,

‘It’s called the new bride’s style of mopping the floor, given time he’ll learn.’

The three of them roared with laughter. I felt like leaping inside and strangling them. At that moment, Peon Kullo came in and told me, ‘The cashier asked you to come and collect your pay please, Ojha.’

I remembered the words the elderly man said one day: ‘If we want to live peacefully these days, we have to feign a little blindness, a little deafness. We only have to ensure our salaries.’

I heaved a sigh and tried to endure it. I walked towards the cashier’s. But I couldn’t help thinking – ‘Should I go for inspection to that school again!’

*Translated from Manipuri by Robin S Ngangom.

*The essay is written by Lamabam Virmani.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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