Ripeness Is All

  • 04 Aug - 10 Aug, 2018
  • Aspi F Daruvala
  • Fiction

"Ah balderdash,” cried Muncherjee from his bed. Yet a broad smile flickered over his face. This was leading to the happiest moments of his life, and he enjoyed every moment of it. Earlier whenever he had recalled events of his past life, the speeches of his seniors and comrades came haltingly and he had to rack his head and brains to fill in the gaps. Sometimes he was creative in his efforts, with very flattering results. Now the smile had broadened to a very broad gape.

We sell coal to run the factories, to supply fuel for the hearth to heat your home and keep your families from freezing.

Muncherjee had allowed the speech to run so far and was patiently waiting for the climatic sentence, which did not come. He glared angrily at the window, and the echo from the distance continued:

We sell coal like Muncherjee. Now let me hand over the trophy to our star salesman. Well done Muncherjee.

Muncherjee smiled as he heard a riotous uproar of ‘Muncherjee! Muncherjee!’ filter through the window. He saw himself outside on a balcony like an oriental emperor acknowledging the homage of an adoring populace.

Muncherjee now appeared satisfied. He had arrived. He had been of some service to the world. Acknowledged. The proof lay visible in the form of a plaque on a side-table near his hospital bed.

“And does such a man die? And die before his time?” he asked aloud purportedly questioning Fate, with a plea for a longer lease of life, on merit. Now he waved his hand as a signal for the image outside to continue its harangue. But no resounding echoes came through the window any more. The image seemed exhausted. Muncherjee on a re-think felt the image had served his purpose and it had had his permission to withdraw.

Mentally fatigued, sleep overpowered Muncherjee. But he gained only a fitful sleep, as he lay tossing about dreaming. He dreamt he was in a boat swirled away in a storm. The waves came curling over the boat and he was flung into the sea, where he found himself gasping for breath, and beating wildly with his hands to keep afloat. Billows and swirling waves threw him onto land. But this brought him no relief, for here he was chased by draculan figures with swishing tails and horns. Muncherjee screamed and woke up sweating.

He sat up on his bed trying to resolve the meaning of that night’s dream. Muncherjee was never a great interpreter of dreams, yet he wished he knew what they signified. Major Asad had been a great one at things like palmistry, astrology and interpreting dreams. Would he have been able to tell him what his dreams meant? And those figures chasing him were they devils? Muncherjee wondered.

Suddenly he heard a clear voice asking him, “Can one come in?”

“Who can stop you? It’s the general ward,” Muncherjee answered, moving on the right side of his bed to see who his interlocutor was.

He was startled to see the smiling face of his friend, and he cried aloud, “Major Asad!”

“Just came in to see a friend. Couldn’t leave him dying with no one visiting him. And I find you still the same. Quarrelsome. Fighting.”

“Not killing. Not fighting wars:”

“Still against soldiers?”

“Not against soldiers but against war and against the brutal business of bombing, strafing and shooting.”

“But wars have to be fought to fight evil,”

“Yes, but you do it without bravado. Muncherjee here racked his brains for the name of the deity whose directions he was expounding. But these days, names failed him. Without reference to the authority he merely added, “the soldier must fight disinterestedly.”

Then he repeated his own thought, “War is a brutal business.”

“A man sacrifices his life for his country – is that brutal? Do you understand the meaning of martyrdom? It takes courage to continuously face death and yet go to it smiling.”

“It would take me a life-time to understand that.”

“Take what remains of your lifetime, then. Come we’re too dumb to understand the mysteries. And individual opinions – do they matter? Ripeness is all.” Major Asad came closer and Muncherjee tried to touch him, but he disappeared.

The next morning Dr Williams found Muncherjee sitting on his bed, his shirt buttons unloosened, smiling, happily disposed and acknowledging with a slight wave of his hands the cheer and applause he heard coming to him through the open window.

“Best salesman of my company – certificate there on the table to prove it,” Muncherjee said to the doctor.

Dr Williams picked up the framed certificate, as he had done several times before and read it aloud, “Certificate of Merit awarded to Mr Dorab Muncherjee, the best salesman for the month of June 1952.”

The doctor then raised his eyebrows in disbelief, as he had always done while going through this ceremony, and said, “And what are you doing here? But you look very cheerful today. I suppose you slept well least night.”

“Oh, I had a fitful first half. But then I slept well.”

“Back to business,” said the doctor feeling Muncherjee’s pulse. “Pulse beat bad?”

“Could be worse,” the doctor said.

But the doctor was too honest a man, by habit, to be able to hide the fact that he was hiding something. Yet the broadest smile flickered once again on Muncherjee’s face, as he said, “Does it matter? Does it matter at all? Ripeness is all.” •