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Dhruba Chandra Gautam (b. 1944) Gautam is known chiefly for the live highly accomplished novels he has published since 1969, but he has also played an important role in the development of the short story in Nepali. A prolific writer with at least sixty stories to his credit, Gautam deals almost exclusively with contemporary social issues and has developed a unique narrative style. Gautam's stories are collected in Andhydro Dipma (On a Dark Island, 1978) arid Gautamka Kehi Pratinidhi Kathdharu (Some of Gautam's Representative Stories, 1987). THE FIRE (ACLAC,I) The boss of our squad had a habit that caused us great tribulation.While talking, make a decision, arriving at a conclusion, or, sometimes, laughing , he would suddenly stop to await a sneeze. To smile and sneeze at the same time is difficult, and so he would yawn and twitch his nose up and down, just like an ordinary man, and in a sense make a joke of the time it was taking. Sometimes the wait would last a whole minute or even two. We did not care whether he sneezed or not; the problem for us was that he would stop like this even while we were discussing some extremely important matter-, so that we had to pause in the middle of our advice. Then his face would become red and pitiable, and we would feel as if we were all assembled there to wait for the same thing—for his deliverance from his bond, for him to be put out of this misery so that the conversation could proceed. The squad wasmade up of the boss, me, and Ram Prasad. Ram Prasad and I were at the same grade. I did not know Ram Prasad very well. 290 DHRUBA CHANDRA GAUTAM 291 We'd had no way of getting to know one another before, but we became good friends during these few days. Ram Prasad often slandered the boss behind his back. We had to be out of earshot before he could do this, but we found plenty of opportunities. The boss himself did not seem inclined to socialize with us very much: he probably thought that it was more convenient and beneficial for him to maintain a certain distance from us. But on occasions we had to laugh at his weak old jokes when he did the worthy deed of obliging us with his company. This was why Ram Prasad detested him. Waiting for his sneezes was a custom Ram Prasad found particularly intolerable. Sometimes he would leave the boss waiting for his sneeze and go outside to smoke a cigarette, although there was in fact no need to go outside to smoke in that office. The remote village we had to visit was 10 miles away from where we set out. The boss mounted a horse, but Ram Prasad had never ridden. He told me later that he was frightened of horses. "I have a scar where a horse kicked me when I was a child," he said. "So do you believe that every horse is going to kick you?" I asked him. "Do you need to believe something in order to be afraid?" he replied, without even looking at me. There was nothing I could say to that, so I walked, too, because of Ram Prasad. The journey wasdull arid wearisome, but Ram Prasad made full use of every chance he found to mock our boss on his horse and so the trip was not without its amusements. A part of the village had been destroyed by a fire: that was why we were instructed to go there from the center. To look at our task, you might think that we were going to have to rush about like firemen, but actually our duty was to prove that the fire had happened, rather than to out. Our orders were to establish the cause of the fire, to gather evidence for it, and to give a sum of money to the most needy family. But "most needy family"—what did that mean? There was another order —from among the families affected by the fire, we were to pick out the ten poorest and give 500 to each of them. The boss had all the money allotted to us for this act of generosity, but we had our TADA,1 and our fervent wish was to save something from it. If you added them up, it turned out that our joint expenses came...


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