I was sitting in the office of one of my friends – let's call him Mr. Khan – who happens to be heading a major government department when a common friend of ours dropped in.
This fellow – let's call him Abdullah – also heads a government department albeit a smaller one being somewhat junior to Mr. Khan.
"What a coincidence!" Mr. Khan said as he greeted him.
"Yes isn't it," Abdullah replied but his tone implied that he did not share Mr. Khan's enthusiasm on seeing me there. This puzzled me because the three of us are quite good friends and are always looking for an opportunity to sit together. Abdullah cleared his throat and throwing a rather uncomfortable glance my way addressed Mr Khan, "Actually I came to discuss an official matter with you." As he said this he again looked in my direction. It was clear that the guy was not comfortable with my presence.
"I think I must be going now. Maybe Abdullah wants to discuss some official issue which is not meant for my ears," I said to Mr. Khan and made as if to leave.
"Be seated yaar!" Mr. Khan, courteous fellow that he is, held out his hand to stop me.
A mollified Abdullah too protested that I did not have to leave. He even apologized for giving any such impression and then went on to explain with a sheepish smile, "Actually it is a rather peculiar problem that I am up against at my office. There is this employee in my office who has been complaining about another employee's behavior towards him…"
"And you call that peculiar! Trust you to make a mountain out of a mole hill!" Mr. Khan said.
"Wait till you have heard me out! It is well…er…this employee has been complaining that this guy is using black magic against him!"
"Black magic!" I said and couldn't help my laughter.
I checked my laughter as Abdullah gave me a reproachful look but I could see that Mr. Khan was also smiling. Abdullah continued, "This fellow says that he has been discovering minutely folded pieces of paper pinned to his chair or secreted into his desk and claims that these are devious taaveez (amulets). He claims to have caught this other employee red-handed while planting the amulets."
"So what did you do?" Mr. Khan asked him.
"Initially I ignored the complaint but this employee is quite persistent. I ticked off the accused guy but he protested his innocence. Now today that fellow has come with a written complaint and has even attached a few of these 'amulets' as proof!" he said handing over the papers to Mr. Khan. Sure enough two pieces of creased paper were attached to the complaint and as Mr. Khan flipped through the papers I too stole a glance at them and saw that they were covered with rows and rows of undulating lines with an Arabic numeral thrown in here and there.
"Mmmmh…," Mr Khan said.
"So how do I deal with this situation? You see the complaining employee is insisting that I call for an explanation from the fellow who is creating this mischief and also initiate disciplinary proceedings against him!"
"So why don't you?" Mr Khan said with an arch smile.
"Come on! I don't want to make a laughing stock of myself!" Abdullah snorted and then added in a desperate voice, "But I have got to do something about it! I even looked up the CSR manuals but could find nothing to help me. That's why I came to you."
"Why don't you write to the government? You could suggest that the vigilance department should have a 'voodoo vigilance' wing or maybe that the police should come up with a 'black magic busting squad' to deal with such problems!" Mr Khan said, laughing and shaking his head, "Actually I can understand your predicament. You see I found myself in a similar situation years back you when I was heading an office in another district. There was this lady, a senior employee, who came complaining to me that everyday she entered her office chambers she could smell that somebody had been burning chili powder there. Now you know burning chili powder is one of known stratagems of black magic. I tried to reassure the lady but her distress only increased with each passing day because the chilies continued to burn. Then one day she entered my office screaming hysterically and fainted right there! On enquiring I came to know that a small fish had been kept on her desk in place of the usual pin cushion with a score of pins stuck in it!"
"So what did you do?" Abdullah asked eagerly.
"Well I was in a quandary but the situation was saved by a local acquaintance of mine who happened to be sitting in my office at the moment. After seeking my permission he brought a local Peer (faith healer) the next morning. The Peer came for three days and would spend all day muttering and burning incense and God knows what. On the third day he announced that whosoever had done the mischief would soon start vomiting blood if he did not own up to the crime! You know what the very next day an orderly fell at the lady official's feet asking for her forgiveness! Impressed with the success of this strategy I issued a verbal circular that anybody desirous of getting a personal amulet as insurance against any such future mischief should submit their names in the office. Except for a couple or so all the employees got an amulet made. I ran up quite a bill but it was worth it!"
"You had to pay out of your own pocket?!"Abdullah asked.
"Of course not! The whole thing was billed under 'sundry office expenses'!"
"Running an office is no easy matter!" I remarked.
"Whoever said it is!" both of them said in one voice.
(Truth is mostly unpalatable…but truth cannot be ignored! Here we serve the truth, seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of sauce (iness!). You can record your burps, belches and indigestion, if any, at firstname.lastname@example.org)