I find an Indian Army jawan waiting for me at the station.
“Army has been called for rescue operations. District administration and Army are working hand in hand. Collector Saab has arranged for you to stay in the Cantt till the situation clears.”
“But I want to go to my tehsil.”
“Yes you can, if you can arrange for a boat.”
I keep quiet. Not quite the start that I had expected. I dislike change of plans.
Having reached my accommodation in the Cantonment, I call Sudeep and make him aware of the situation.
“You should meet the Collector tomorrow and take charge. He might need more manpower. ”
Next morning I reach the mini-secretariat and seek an appointment with the District head. Dr Yudhveer Malik is from the 1992 batch .His office resembles a Headquarter of War. He is buried in the heap of files that lay on his desk.
“Come in, Saumya. Terrible timing I must say for first posting. ” I laugh with him more out of courtesy. He calls in the peon to get us tea. I can feel the aura of power that surrounds him.
“What would be my responsibilities?” I ask him sipping from an old white cup .
“Right now, I am sending you to Dumrao. Check with the people staying in rescue camps about their grievances. Inspect the facilities being provided. I want a report by tomorrow morning. Santok Singh will take you there. You met him yesterday on the station. He is waiting outside the Collectorate .I wish you well on your first day, Ms Chauhan.”
I thank him and take his leave.
“It is a jeep. I thought I needed a boat to get there.” We hit the road.
“Madam I was just joking yesterday.”
“So am I. So how far is Dumrao?”***sense of humour comment
“Around 20kms but the roads are damaged. So it will take long.”
Santokh Singh was a chatty Sardar from Punjab. Having served in the Army for 15 years, he had a lot of experiences to talk about. “When I was posted in Kashmir…”. He is narrating another one when our tyre gets caught in slippery mud. He accelerates for a while without any effect. Suddenly it does bear fruit but the jeep goes crashing into a tree. I hit my head on the dashboard. I hear loud talks and jeeps screeching behind me. I feel being lifted out. The body odor, somehow it seems familiar. I try to remember but then give in to my injuries and drift off.
My head still hurts when I open my eyes. I am lying in my room at the Cantt. I hear a conversation going on in the balcony. Santokh Singh is explaining the incident to some Sahib of his. The Sahib isn’t saying much, replying in Okays and Hmms. Soon I hear him leave. Santokh Singh comes to the room.
“How are you now? Waheguru ki dua se no major injury Madam.”
“I am good. Santokhji you can go now.”
He leaves, asking me to rest for the day. I go into the kitchen to make some coffee but it is already prepared kept in a thermos. “How considerate of him”. I hear a knock on the front door.
And there stands he.