Dak Babu had first come to Panarsa on transfer several years earlier. He had liked it so much that he stayed on. For the town he came from was noisy and crowded and he was never really happy in that hustle-bustle. In Panarsa there was perfect peace; it seemed as if the mountains which enclosed the little valley had been placed there especially to keep out the din and clamour. Moreover, Panarsa had trees whose tops touched the sky. It had lush green fields; and gardens laden with flowers and fruit. The air was pure and the Beas river’s crystal-clear water gurgled merrily along; but, above all, the people of the valley were simple and honest.
Dak Babu lost his heart to Panarsa, and settled down there happily.
One day, Dak Babu received a parcel. It didn’t have his name on it; where the address should be, there was just one line: For the Dak Babu of Panarsa in Kulu.
The parcel was from Delhi. The sender’s name and address were clearly written in a corner. Dak Babu adjusted his thick, round spectacles and peered at it. The sender appeared to be a Suresh Kumar of New Delhi, from a place called “Alakanada”.
Dak Babu examined the parcel closely, turning it this way and that, wondering who this Suresh might be. As far as he knew, he had no relatives or friends in Delhi and he didn’t know anyone by the name of Suresh. If he had known him, wouldn’t Suresh have addressed the parcel to him by name?
Dak Babu sat there trying to solve the puzzle. He took off his round black cap and scratched his head from time to time. He even picked up the parcel a few times to guess its weight. It seemed quite heavy, which surprised him. What on earth did it contain?
The post office of Panarsa was a small one, as in any mountain hamlet. Apart from Dak Babu, it had only one other postman. His name was Keshav, and at this particular moment, he was dozing in his chair. There was no one else in the post office.
There couldn’t have been a greater contrast between the two men. Keshav was as tall and fat as Dak Babu was small and thin. And, he was bone lazy too. Once he sat down, there was no moving him. Though half Dak Babu’s age, he wasn’t even half as active. He would doze off wherever he sat down.
Dak Babu, as we have seen, was already unsettled by the arrival of the parcel. When he saw Keshav dozing yet again, he lost his temper.
“Oy, Keshav!” he shouted.
The package was wrapped in cloth. When this was cut, a cardboard box was revealed. On opening this, Keshav stepped back, startled.
Dak Babu’s eyes were on Keshav. Why did he look so taken aback? “What is it?” Dak Babu asked. “Is there a snake or a scorpion inside that you should look so stunned!”
Keshav kept staring at the open box, eyes popping out of his head. He tried to say something but the words seemed to stick in his throat. Finally he managed to utter, “D…d…dak Ba-ba-ba-bu…”
Somewhat alarmed, Dak Babu got up and asked, “Why, what on earth’s the matter?” and quickly walked upto the frightened-looking Keshav. When he peered into the box himself, he too was dumfounded. The box did not contain a snake or a scorpion. What it did have, was small flat round stone.
Placing the stone on his desk, Dak Babu peered inside the box again. There was a piece of paper there – a letter. He took it in at a glance. It was signed “Suresh”. The handwriting appeared to be that of a child.
Dak Babu stared at it, perplexed. Then, pulling himself together he began to read:
Dak Babu Saheb. Namaskar.
I know that his parcel with its stone will surprise you. It might even alarm you…
At this point Dak Babu looked up and said irritably to no one in particular, “You brat. I was surprised of course. But what about Keshav the postman? Your parcel nearly gave him a heart attack.” Having got this off his chest Dak Babu turned to the letter again:
My name, too, will be unfamiliar. You’ll wonder who this Suresh is who sent a stone in a parcel. So, let me introduce myself first, then I’ll tell you what I want.
…Dak Babu was nonplussed. Whoever heard of such a request! He said to himself, “Suppose it’s a joke?” As the thought crossed his mind, Dak Babu put the letter on the table and placed the stone on it like a paperweight. “I’m sure this mad man is out to play a trick. Mischievous boy, wants to make a fool of me.”
Just then a noise outside startled him. Balram, a boy of eleven or twelve, who was a neighbour of his, was standing in the doorway.