… The brothers appeared at the recruiting office as directed, standing next to each other. Harshabardhan was the first to be examined.
‘Poundrobardhan. Mother’s name…’
‘No need. Address?’
‘Do you consider joining the Indian Army an act of great value, of glory?’
‘Of course, of course.’
‘Which division of the armed forces would you like to enlist in?’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Harshabardhan did not understand the question.
‘There are several divisions, you see. Infantry division, armoured division, airborne division…’
‘I want to be a general straightaway,’ Harshabardhan informed him.
‘Are you mad?’ The recruiting officer couldn’t help asking.
‘Is that a precondition?’ Harshabardhan enquired. ‘Must I be mad before I can be a general?’
Without answering, the officer turned to Gobardhan.
‘Thirty-five. Ditto ditto ditto for the rest.’
‘Meaning – the address, father’s name, and profession are all the same as above,’ Gobra explained. ‘We’re brothers, you see.’
‘I see. Very well, go into the next room for your medical check-up,’ said the officer. ‘Only if you pass your medical exams will you be enlisted.’
‘We’re safe now, dada,’ Gobardhan whispered on the way. ‘When we’ve never passed a single exam in our lives, how are we supposed to pass the medical exam now? We’re bound to fail. We’ve been saved.’
‘Don’t be sure of their felling us.’ Harshabardhan wasn’t convinced. ‘Nothing is to be felled in wartime, nobody’s a useless fellow.’
The doctor took one look at Harshabardhan’s enormous paunch and rejected him. ‘No, impossible.’ Harshabardhan was about to protest that he had seen many generals with paunches like punching bags, although only in photographs. But the doctor dismissed his protests with a couple of strokes on his belly.
It was Gobardhan’s turn next. Having passed all the exams, he had to have his eyes tested.
‘You can read the letters on the chart, can’t you? The chart on the wall.’
‘What! You mean there’s a wall there?’
‘Your eyesight doesn’t seem very good.’ Holding up a huge aluminium tray two feet from his eyes, the doctor said, ‘What am I holding here?’
‘An eight-anna coin, isn’t it? Or is it a four-anna-paise coin?’
Gobardhan was also rejected on grounds of poor eyesight.
Coming out of the recruiting office on Gokhale Street, the brothers heaved a sigh of relief. ‘Come dada, let’s give give ourselves a treat,’ suggested Gobardhan. ‘It’s almost two-thirty. Let’s have lunch at a restaurant and watch a matinee film at three.’
It was past three by the time they had eaten their way through several items. They entered the theatre in the darkness, taking the seats assigned to them.
When the lights came on at the intermission, Harshabardhan jumped out of his skin. The doctor who had checked Gobardhan’s eyes was sitting next to him. Here he was, comfortably watching a film despite his poor vision. Gobra was bound to be caught now.
Harshabardhan nudged his brother with his elbow to point the doctor out.
Gobra wasn’t daunted, however. Instead, he turned to the doctor and said, ‘Excuse me, madam, this IS bus No. 33, isn’t it?’
‘What!’ The doctor was startled by this unexpected interrogation.
‘I mean, pardon me, madam. This bus IS going to Chetla, right? It’s all very well to have pushed through the crowd to get in, but am I even on the right bus? Will I get to Chetla?’