Everything was silent. The speakers posted in the square were no longer blaring slogans. Groups of people chattering at the teashops dispersed. The opium addict whom all called Amali had started walking towards the mendicant’s hut and now that there was no hope of liquor or opium, he was rubbing some grass in his palms. The posters on the walls were now redundant. Flags were not waving about. For the show was now over.
Surprisingly, the people woke up the next morning to the noise of the speakers – Vote for the White Dog. Vote for the Black Dog. Down with the White Dog. Long live the Black Dog. Down with the Black Dog. Long live the White Dog. As the announcers raised their pitch, it actually seemed that dogs were barking: a pack of dogs barking in unison. People were taken aback for a moment. They were all tired of the hullabaloo of the past few days. However, some were happy. The village seemed to have come alive again.
People noted that the addict had returned to the square.
He had combed his hair and beard in a new fashion and there was a sparkle in his eyes. He walked straight into the office that had White Dog as its election symbol. Late evening people saw him standing in the square in an inebriated state, singing the qissa of Puran Bhagat with one hand on his ear and the other raised to the sky:
Graves await Puran just as
fond mothers await their sons
God lives in our eyes, not far away...
The matter was that the two big families of the village had come to loggerheads during the elections. One family lived in the old big house and the other in the new double-storey one. When bullets were fired in the air from both sides, children of the two homes too got agitated. One does not know when the sons of the nambardar (headman) and the subedar (army official) too decided to fight elections too. Since the posters and flags from the last election were still leftover in the two homes, the elders told them to use them up in their elections. Children will be children and they wanted to fight the elections properly. The children of the village made two groups.
Then came the decision that since the children were small, there should be one election symbol with variation in colour. Thus, they would be able to identify the symbols easily. The unanimous choice of a symbol was a dog. The White Dog was the election symbol of the nambardar’s son and the Black Dog was the election symbol of the subedar’s son. Of course, there were candidates with a red, blue, green or yellow dog for an election symbol but the real contest was between the White Dog and the Black Dog. Their supporters tore pages out of drawing books and made posters. The election campaign was catching momentum.
One group of boys would march shouting “Long Live the White Dog” and the other would move the other way shouting “Long live the Black Dog”. The addict was happily intoxicated all the time and was merrily singing sagas of love and longing.
If someone teased him, asking what was inspiring him to sing, his reply would be, “Can’t you see. It is election time.”
The addict had been in form in the square even in the last elections.
He would go to one party office for a couple of days and then for a couple of days to the other. Two days he would shout slogans in favour of one party and then go to the speaker of the other party and start singing praises. If someone questioned him about this fickleness, his reply was, “I am not going to commit the sin of partiality. I must be fair to both.” If someone asked him that who was he leading to victory this time, his reply would be, “Who am I? It is for the public to give the verdict.”
“But, what is your opinion Amali?”
“Let any sister seducer win, all I know is that my opium and liquor supply will end with the victory.”
This evening Amali was sitting in the office of the White Dog and he was as drunk as could be. Although this was child play, yet anyone could guess that the nambardar and the subedar were masterminding the game. The real fight was between the two elders.
The nambardar would twirl his moustaches and say, “One cannot beat these kids. How smart they are!” The subedar would also remark, “Well, it’s a free country.”
A group of boys marching past would make the nambardar angry and the subedar happy or vice versa.
Amali would put his hand on his ear and sing in a voice coming deep down from his belly:
Mothers hold their bellies and weep
Having lost their sons at play, Puran
God lives in our eyes, not far away…
Two days later Amali was sitting in the office of the Black Dog. When someone questioned him, he said, “I thought I should change the taste.”
Then he announced over the speaker, “Do not vote for these people supporting the White Dog. Just ask them if their grandmother had washed herself after shitting in the fields? Do not let them fool you!”
The voice on the speaker across the road said, “Do not vote for the Black Dog. Its colour is not fast. Do not forget the fact that these fellows have never done their schoolwork. They have poured on their selves the black ink that should have gone into their pens.”
The addict went on, “Vote for the Black Dog and make him victorious. Do not forget that the Black Dog cannot be seen at night and can thus easily catch the thieves.”
Then perhaps to change the taste of his palette or to fix one of us sister-seducers, he walked into the office of the White Dog.
The boys of the village were very charged. School and studies had come to a standstill. Even the farm labourers and other workers were neglecting their work.
Suddenly then a tractor accident occurred and the driver was lying in a ditch bleeding away.
A team of boys passing by stopped. One boy ordered, “Bhanea just hold him and you Mukhia run and fetch the doctor.”
Just then the nambardar’s son waving his flag and leading the team turned around and dragged them away saying, “What on earth are you doing? Do not waste your time. This man is at least forty. He has no vote. Let the bastard die.”
The next day a boy of the Black Dog team died of diarrhoea for he had eaten too many of the watermelons given free.
The subedar’s son was lost in deep depression. If he had died four days later then his vote would not have gone waste.
Amali sang and people gathered around him in the square and he sang some more.
Meanwhile, some blue, green, red or yellow dog symbol holder would pass campaigning for himself. Like the last elections, there was one independent candidate too. He was Bhagat Ram Sutarwala, the weaver. He was pedaling away on the rickshaw with a mike in hand and campaigning for himself: “Give your precious vote to Bhagat Ram Sutarwala. His victory will be the victory of all weavers.”
He lost his security deposit in the last elections. Drinking country brew, he wept: “These bastard weavers will never see the awakening of a new dawn.”
The real battle, however, as stated before, was between the White Dogwalas and the Black Dogwalas. The nambardar’s son bought a new pair of shoes for Green Dogwala and he withdrew from the contest. The subedar’s son coerced the Blue Dogwala to withdraw with the plea that their great-great grandmothers were first cousins.
A whole lot of people had gathered at the teashop.
The speaker posted on the roof of the shop blared propaganda for White Dog. The nambardar was hosting the tea and pakodas. Slurping the tea, someone said, “We are certainly going to vote for the White Dog.”
Amali hurled his cup of tea on the table in anger, “You swine White Dogwala, may you die soon. Go fetch the fodder on time for that’s what your worth is!”
Next day the nambardar got the shop of the old Khatri opened and bought colourful buttons for his son. They took the buttons to the poorer sections of the village and asked the boys to decorate their shirts with the buttons.
The subedar bought two kilos of candy for his son in the evening. Taking the sweets to the village-square, he said, “There is no need to be dandy. These buttons will not fill your stomach. Come and eat candy.”
Gora rang na kisse da hove/ sara jag vair pai gaya (The entire village envies a fair-faced one.) was the song playing on the speaker of the White Dogwalas. The Black Dogwalas were playing a song in favour of the colour black: Mera kala ni sardar arhiyo shah kala (My lover is all black, friends, black as coal.)
Next day the boys and girls working at the brick kiln stopped the nambardar’s trolley and said, “Sardarji could you drop us to the kiln?”
Smiling the nambardar asked them to climb up, “Of course, the trolley is all yours.” Yesterday he had seen these labourers in the subedar’s trolley. So halfway, he asked them, “Whom are you going to vote for?”
“We will vote for you if you so want.”
“But yesterday I saw you going in the subedar’s trolley!”
“Our concern is to get to the kiln which is four miles away and we cannot afford the bus fare. If we reach a little early we are able to pick a few more bricks and earn a little more.”
The trolley reached the kiln and the boys and girls jumped out. The trolley started and the dust flew onto the bodies of the labourers. Yesterday too they were covered with the dust that flew when the subedar started his trolley again after the got off here.
The drunk Amali was standing in the square late evening. “Amalia who is winning this time – the White Dog or the Black Dog?”
Scratching his matted hair escaping his dirty turban, Amali said, “Let anyone win you sister-seducer, the point is that both are dogs anyway.” God knows how but it rained heavily that night. The reds, blues, yellows and greens of all the posters bled. All the dogs were now the same colour. Some called this happening a strategy, others said it was mischief and some said it was all a matter of luck.
Chandigarh-based Gul Chauhan hails from Amritsar and while he taught Hindi, read English he chose to write in Punjabi which is closest to his heart. He has published seven collections of short stories, two novels and two collections of poetry.