The Block Development Officer who was to hand over charge to Rama Rao took him round the various units of the Block. The officials were naturally eager to show the progress made by various units. ‘This road was laid by the shramdan of the villagers.’
‘Look, the school you now see-only a fourth of the expenditure was borne by the government. Rest of it was contributed by the people of the village.’
The survey was very impressive. To a stranger, yes. But there is always a dissenting note. Sometimes there could be an element of truth in it with a bite of sarcasm though. For instance, someone whispered that the plants looking fully-grown were right from the market. Someone else suggested that it must be due to the impending visit of minister. It was revealing enough.
At the farewell party there were again the usual eulogies and Rao, the new Block Development Officer too made a speech.
And it didn’t take him long to take stock of the situation. He called for a meeting of officials in his block. To meet and talk to them. He said: ‘we don’t work just for a wage. The work we do should give us self-satisfaction. Let us discharge our responsibilities with due diligence and determination.’
Some liked it and others resented it. They said that they took it as an initial enthusiasm and in course of time it would mellow down. It should. Someone was talking about the stern measures he had taken within the short period. They felt that he shouldn’t have pulled up, the head clerk or the Social Education Organizer for a lapse. In their considered opinion even chargesheeting wouldn’t have been so bad. But insulting them, they felt, was the limit.
But even this had to change. Peons who were habitually late had to break their habit and turn up on time. Movement of papers was much quicker. Rapid action was promised on every complaint.
‘Things are finally moving’-that was the general feeling.
This change was accomplished within a very short time. No one could have imagined that such a quick response would be there.
When he addressed the next meeting of the officials, he made it clear to them that instead of meeting them every week, he would meet them only once a month. The decisions arrived at would have to be implemented irrespective of one’s individual whim or fancy. He tried to explain to them graphically that they were all like limbs in a body, which meant that the function of every limb was essential for the proper functioning of the body. He told them that though he might reprimand them for any lapse on their part he was always ready to help them and his door was open all the time. They liked it immensely when he said that on their work and behavior depended the welfare of the people. He told them that they could bring in an awakening in the people by their work and exemplary behavior. Not only he said all that but he lived amongst them. They could see him working with them and guiding them all the time.
And soon there was a marked change in their attitude. They began reassessing and reinterpreting him. For instance, when he got a gram sevak dismissed from service for misconduct, not an eyebrow was raised. His unbiased outlook and impartiality won him a name instead.
But Rao was not satisfied with the achievement. His ambition was to change the entire pattern of living in the forty villages of his Block. There should be no want and no one should die of hunger and no one should die for lack of treatment and no one should be denied literacy.
Would the people in the villages and those who could afford come forward to give their mite? To give, so that their brethren may live. It seemed unlikely. But Rao would accept no defeat. He wanted to give his plan a fair trial.
He called a meeting. It was of a representative nature. He convinced them that collective effort yielded tremendous results. Cooperative way of life benefited the community.
To prove his own sincerity, he chose to live in a hut and asked an additional wing of the hospital to move to his bungalow.
Soon a home for the disabled was established in the village.
A minister visited the Block and the only request of the village to have a mobile hospital was sanctioned. Half of the expenditure was volunteered to be borne by the people themselves. The cooperative institutions picked up and started functioning efficiently.
Two years passed.
Rao began to take stock of the things that had happened within the two years. To look back at the innumerable hurdles he had to face and which he had overcome, was consolation indeed. It had not been an easy time. Very trying. There were some prominent people who saw motives into his good work by remarking that it was all a long-range plan. That he had planned to run for the membership of the Legislative Assembly from the same constituency in the ensuing election.
That was a passing phase.
Rao had a feeling that he had served his period and also the purpose. Let others take up the thread. That would be much better. And that coincided with the elections of the Panchayat. Candidates standing for election for the position of Presidentship sought his support. He explained to both the parties his position. He was a public official and would take no sides. Politics was not his game. The people who by then were convinced of his impartiality wanted his opinion. His choice was theirs. Rao had taken pains to explain to them that it was their democratic right and duty to exercise their franchise. They must exercise that with due diligence and understanding.
The elections were soon over and Rao wanted to hand over the charge to the B.D.O. before the new President took over. The news of his transfer, however, leaked out. There was a spate of protests. They saw some motive behind it. When Rao came to know of that, he told them that he himself sought a transfer. And when they expressed grave concern that things would again stink, he was annoyed. He remarked that if that were to be the case his achievements were like a pack of cards. He asked them whether all the determined work done was worth nothing and if there was none to take up the thread amongst them.
There was of course a reassurance from them. But they wanted that he should stay there for a week at least. They wanted to honour him as a hero. Their wish could not be denied. But he did not like the idea.
The preparations were in full swing.
But Rama Rao preferred anonymity to publicity and managed to leave the place before he could be felicitated. He felt that work should speak for itself.
Balivada Kantha Rao is a gifted short story writer and his celebrated story Dongalu (thieves) points out the failure of all legislative measures to rid society of the evil of drinking. As such it stands comparison with Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry's Aaru Saara Kathalu (6 stories on arrack). Katha Rao's short stories are collected in Kaavadi Kundalu (1951), Antaratma (1957), and other volumes. Here is the full text of a story from his collections.