Bureaucrats and the Jamun Tree - II

Raza Naeem offers a translation of Krishan Chander’s story about bureaucracy, which Indian students will no longer be taught

Bureaucrats and the Jamun Tree - II
Translator’s note: An issue pertaining to political opportunism is the inefficiency and insensitivity of bureaucracies in the Indian Subcontinent. Both India and Pakistan developed gigantic bureaucracies after independence, which became enormously influential in controlling the state affairs, more so in Pakistan. Krishan Chander’s famous novel ‘Aik Gadhay ki Atm Katha’ (Autobiography of a Donkey) is devoted to this theme, especially the Chinese-inspired model of bureaucracy introduced by Nehru in India. In the short form, one of his powerful denunciations of bureaucracy, which in my opinion could proudly be mentioned in the same league as Gogol’s ‘The Nose’, is his Jamun ka Ped (The Jamun Tree), which does not require Gogol’s magic realism to depict the ruthless power and the wanton misuse it brings in its wake. This story, and Krishan Chander’s work by extension, attained a new lease of afterlife in the wake of the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education’s decision to remove this story from the Hindi Class X syllabus on the 4th of November this year. So it became imperative to translate it into English for a new generation of South Asian readers.


The next day the gardener told the peon; the peon told the clerk. In a short duration the rumour spread throughout the Secretariat that the crushed man [under the tree] was a poet; and lo and behold people began arriving to see the poet in mobs.

News of him also spread in the city and by evening poets from every quarter began to assemble. The Secretariat lawn filled with poets of every variety. And a mushaira (poetic gathering) was established around the crushed man. Many clerks and even the Undersecretaries of the Secretariat who had a taste for literature and verse stayed. A few poets began to recite their ghazals and poems to the crushed man.

When it was known that the crushed man was a poet, the sub-committee of the Secretariat decided that since the crushed man was a poet, therefore this file is neither related to the Agriculture Department nor the Horticulture Department, but only the Culture Department. The Culture Department was requested to decide this matter as soon as possible so that the unfortunate poet could be delivered from this shady tree.

Krishan Chander

The file, moving from various sections of the Culture Department reached the Secretary of the Literary Academy. The poor Secretary at once reached the Secretariat on his car and began to interview the crushed man.

‘You are a poet?’ He asked.

‘Oh yes!’ the crushed man replied.

‘What pen-name do you use?’


‘Oas.’ The Secretary screamed forcefully. ‘Are you the same Oas whose poetry collection Oas ke Phool (Flowers of Dew) has been published recently?’

The crushed man nodded in assent.

‘Are you a member of our Academy?’ the Secretary asked.



The Secretary screamed forcefully, ‘Such a great poet, author of Flowers of Dew and not a member of our Academy. Uff, uff! What a mistake we have committed, such a great poet and how he is crushed within a corner of obscurity.’

‘Not within obscurity! Crushed under a tree. Please take me out from under this tree.’

‘I will make arrangements presently!’ the Secretary said. And reported to his Department immediately.

The next day, the Secretary came running to the poet and said, ‘Congratulations! Sweets are due upon you now. Our official academy has chosen you as the member of its central committee. Here, take your order of selection.’

‘But first take me out from under this tree.’ The crushed man said with a groan.

He was breathing with great difficulty and from his eyes it appeared that he was in extreme convulsion and anguish.

‘This we cannot do!’ the Secretary said, ‘and what we could do, we have done that. In fact we can do so to the extent that if you die, we can give your wife a stipend. If you submit a request, indeed we can do that too.’

‘I am still alive’, the poet spoke haltingly, ‘keep me alive.’

‘The problem is this’, the Secretary of the official Literary Academy said, rubbing his hands, ‘that our Department is only related to culture. The matter of cutting trees is not related to pen and inkpot but the saw and axe, therefore we have written to the Forest Department and done so urgently.’

On the second day when the Forest Department men arrived with saws and axes, they were barred from cutting the tree. They found out that the Foreign Affairs Department had prohibited the cutting of the tree. The reason was that the tree had been planted in the Secretariat lawn a decade ago by the Prime Minister of Petunia. If the tree was cut now, there was a great risk that our relations with the government of Petunia would be damaged forever. ‘But this is a question of a man’s life’, shouted the clerk with anger. ‘On the other side, a question of relations between two countries’, the Second Clerk admonished the First Clerk, ‘and do try to understand too how much aid the Petunian government gives to our government.

Can’t we sacrifice even one man’s life for their friendship?’

‘The poet should die.’


The Undersecretary told the Superintendent, ‘The Prime Minister has returned from the foreign visit in the morning today. The Foreign Affairs Department will present this tree’s file before him at 4 pm today, and whatever he decides will be accepted by all.’

At 5 pm the superintendent himself brought the poet’s file to the latter, ‘Do you hear?’ As soon as he arrived, he shouted, waving the file, ‘The Prime Minister has ordered to cut this tree and has taken full international responsibility for this incident upon himself. Tomorrow this tree will be cut and you’ll be rid of this trouble. ’

‘Do you hear? Today your file is complete’, the superintendent said, moving the poet’s arm.

But the poet’s arm was cold. His eyelids were lifeless and a long line of ants was going into his mouth.

The file of his life had also been completed.

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached via email: razanaeem@hotmail.com and on Twitter: @raza_naeem1979