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A Provincial Problem

Neville Dodds

The half-naked body crouched in a kneeling position, its brow against the warm platform of Chiniot station. The cleaner who found it had gone home, unable to complete his labours. The local doctor had arrived, pronounced death, and stalked back to his car.

           Station Manager Mumshah fretted that Faisalabad police would be uncharitable to a mere provincial. A local captain, Patel, had arrived, followed, within the hour, by the hawk-featured Colonel Aziz.

           "It has not been moved?" Aziz demanded. They stood by the window in Mumshah's office, and looked across the track to the bundle of brown and white beneath the shading canopy.

           "No, of course. A police matter." Obsequious, Mumshah wrung his hands.

           "You have inspected it, Patel?"

           A head-shake. "Yes, Colonel. Without undue disturbance."

           "Damnable nuisance." Aziz had been at a swish polo match when summoned. "So, any identification?"

           "No papers on the body, Colonel sir. It is thought he is -- was, a fisherman."

           "Fisherman?" Aziz glared.

           "The loincloth, Sir. And small tunic over one shoulder only, suggest---"

           "---In this Allah-forsaken landlocked hole?" Aziz looked incredulous. "You think he commuted to the coast from here?"

           Perplexed, Patel regretted repetition of the theory voiced by the manager, who had himself stolen it from the cleaner.

           "Nothing on the body?"

           Patel hesitated. "An orange, Sir, beside it."

           Aziz stared, disdainful. "Perhaps a fruit farmer, then, in disguise."

           Patel recognised sarcasm, and knew better than to reply.

           "Come." Aziz moved to the door and the other two hurried after.

           They crossed the baking track and mounted the dusty platform.

           "Damnable nuisance!" Aziz addressed the body.

           A squeal of brakes announced the arrival of a vehicle, and they were soon joined by two flustered men. One sported the loose clothing of a professional, the other yellow robes, his head shaven like that of the offending body.

           "Thanks be to Krishna!" said the robed one. "It is the Yogi." He moved toward the body, but was blocked by Patel, glad, at last, to outrank somebody.

           "What is this?" spat Aziz at the other man.

           "I am Bansar, Deputy Bursar, Faisalabad University. This is Devadip Khan, assistant to Yogi Prahananda, invited to speak at the University."

           "Then, I hope his speech was written down. It may yet be delivered posthumously."

           Devadip appealed to the mighty official. "Please, you misunderstand. Yogi is not dead."

           "Not dead?" Aziz's scimitar nose twitched. "By what criteria?"

           "Please?" Devadip moved to crouch beside the body.

           He murmured a mantra, and Aziz's neck prickled as the tiny shape stirred. Patel blanched and Mumshah prayed for deliverance from devils.

           Devadip helped the wrinkled figure to its feet. It bowed repeatedly, then faced the bewildered onlookers.

           "Simple error. Yogi Prahananda alighted here, while we awaited at Faisalabad. Yogi assumed delay and decided to meditate. Yogi is great soul and meditats immensely deep. Pulse slows, and is understandable to think death has occurred."

           Aziz regarded the wizened yogi, now unsupported. Damned foreigners! As if policing Pakistan wasn't headache enough, they imported heathen troublemakers like these! Aziz wondered whom to have flogged. And yet, much time saved, and his return to the city hastened.

           Palms together in mild blessing, the Yogi Prahananda shuffled along the platform, guided by the Devadip. There was just enough time for him to keep his engagement.

About the Author (click here) © 2002 John Neville Dodds, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission

Author Notes

           This story emanated from an exercise set for the creative writing group that I attend weekly. It originated with the selection of three random words (one from each of three lists, being: person, place and object). I got "fisherman," "railway station," and "orange." Not very promising, I thought, but a few day's rumination gave me the extremely other- wordly (not to say chilled-out) Yogi Prahananda, and one of my very favourite short-short stories. From little acorns.

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