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Salam Saheb

My late father was a Surveyor with the Indian Government and he had a transferable job. Throughout his tenure in the Survey of India, he was posted to beautiful small towns and hill stations all over India. In the mid 50’s he had the transfer orders to be in the “Land of Kings” i.e. Rajasthan. He was asked to report at the Mount Abu Office which is a beautiful small hill station in Rajasthan alternatively known as “Oasis in the desert”.

   

As a Surveyor, Dad had to do go to remote places to do the field work. In his stint at Rajasthan, he once had to go to Bikaner during summer along with his co-workers. They worked in harsh climatic conditions at the site. Rajasthan has a tropical desert climate with practically no rainfall. Sometimes Dad and the others had to share a bucket of water amongst them and go out for work. Life was not easy for them.

I would briefly describe the work of a Surveyor. A Surveyor calculates and draws how the earth surface looks like. With the help of instruments and after collecting the required information, they prepare charts and maps. Their work demands them to be in far away distant places. They had to give detailed, precise description of a place or region. They are the maker of maps.

On that particular day, Dad and his colleagues had gone for their routine work. After mid day just when people had finished their meal and got ready to work, there was a sand storm, and they were off the beaten track, isolated and lonely. They had lost their way. The terrifying wall of dust moved across the landscape, and ultimately enveloped them in a thick fog.

The team of Surveyors waited patiently for the storm to get over. When the sky was clear they got on the camels back. Meanwhile it had become dark but the sky was clear with twinkling stars. Dad was caught up looking for the constellation, (configuration of stars). He was busy looking for the brightest star, the Pole Star (Dhruv Tara). The Polaris could guide them to their way back home.

Suddenly someone from the team noticed a train of camels slowly coming closer from the opposite direction. One of the locals who was with Dad whispered in fear “Sahib Daku”

A cloud of nervous murmur filled the place. People were shaken and frozen with utmost fear, few actually too numb to speak. Finally one of them hesitantly declared, “Let us hurry and leave the place” Dad was the senior most and so the others were waiting for his orders. He was cool and firmly said “No, stay where you are and let them come” Dad knew that if they flee, they will double the danger for themselves; If they can face the danger, the danger will be reduced to half.

A few of them did not like this and gnashing their teeth in anger spoke in a hushed tone, “Well! Sir, instead of protecting us, you are putting our lives at stake?” But dad was determined, and he knew what he was doing; He would face the dacoits. After a few good minutes, the camels came closer, and the men riding on them were horrifying and scary. They had their faces covered and one could only see their bloodshot eyes. They stopped by and one of them who was leading, said, “Salam Saheb, Sarkari aadmi ho?” Dad nodded his head. They must have seen the surveying equipments which Dad and his people were carrying. The leader added “Saheb apna kaam karo, hum sarkar ke aadmi aur aurato ki izzat karte hain” and one by one without doing any harm to anyone they left.

When the dacoits left the others were relieved but now the new challenge was to find their way back. The road had disappeared and thick layers of sand carpeted the land. For a while Dad did not know what to do but he gathered courage and he did protect his people; he located the Polaris and with the help of the pole star guided everyone back to their destination.

This world is a strange place. Some people are recognized for their work and earn name and fame; some deserve more but go unnoticed. Dad fell in the latter category. When he was two months shy of 61, he left us quietly for the Heavenly abode. He was brave, dutiful, honest and straight-forward. He spoke truth, was a man of determination, had confidence and above all an extraordinary Surveyor.

Contributing Writer  Minakshi Chakraborty is a habitual writer. minakshei@yahoo.com


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