The DNA Test by Sashikanta Mishra
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The court case presented a grave dilemma for Ratnakar. His opponent had demanded a DNA test. Ratnakar’s confidence, fueled hitherto by his lawyer's brilliance in the courtroom, now seemed to have vanished like camphor set to fire. Kshetramohan Biswal had assured Ratnakar of a walk-over and up until then, Ratnakar had had no doubts whatsoever as to the truth in his lawyer’s words. But for the first time in the six months that the case was filed, Ratnakar felt unsure of his own motives.

 

It was an election dispute brought against Ratnakar by his nearest rival, Sibanarayan Jena in the Panchayat elections. Ratnakar had defeated Sibanarayan to the post of Sarpanch by a slender margin that caused a furore in the latter's camp and prompted a chorus of protests against malpractice, rigging, and a call for an immediate recount. But all efforts to upset the final result failed and then someone whispered in Sibanarayan's ears – to move the court against the result on the one ground he could be sure of winning – the law prohibited a person to contest or hold office as a Sarpanch or ward member if he had more than two children living after the cut-off date.

 

Everyone in the Panchayat including his rival camp knew that Ratnakar had two children – two boys. But it was also common knowledge that Ratnakar had adopted an abandoned newborn child just a month before the elections. This is what his rivals latched on to sidetrack the electoral verdict.

 

Advocate Kshetramohan had found enough judicial pronouncements by the superior courts to show that the prohibition applied only to natural-born children and not to the one whom his client, out of pure compassion and humanity, had brought home to rear. But the hornet’s nest had been stirred!

 

The rival camp produced witnesses who swore they had never heard of Ratnakar taking an abandoned child under his foster care and that there were three children in his house. All those who rode the witness-box to testify in favour of Ratnakar were grilled by his rival's lawyer into admitting that Ratnakar indeed had three children, the last one being not his natural-born but fostered by him. But when pressed further as to the exact date, time and place where the child was supposedly discovered and if any ceremony of adoption had been performed by Ratnakar, all the witnesses answered but vaguely. It was on this set of evidence that the rival camp questioned the veracity of Ratnakar's claim during final arguments of the case.

 

‘Your honour! It appears a convenient plea to avoid the rigours of law,’ thundered Bikash Mohapatra, the counsel engaged by Sibanarayan who was no less than Kshetramohan in skill or earnings. ‘Now, every candidate who has been rather generous in fathering children will disown his progeny just for the sake of electoral victory. I'm myself surprised as a human being at the extent to which a man can travel for his own selfish gains. In my thirty years of practice I've seen many deceitful human beings but not one who comes forward to disown his own child and relegate it to the status of a bastard.’ Bikash Mohapatra knew he had played his last but most important card.

 

‘So, what do you suggest, Mr. Mohapatra?’ the judge posed.

 

‘Since the entire case now hinges around parentage of the third child, let it be proved through proper and cogent evidence. I'm filing a petition for a direction to conduct a DNA test, your honour and I pray that in interests of justice, it may be allowed. I'm sure the result will set at rest all controversy.’

 

Kshetramohan was anticipating something like this from his counterpart but it hardly worried him, for despite the bravado of his opponent he knew the test itself would prove his client's case. ‘I have no objection whatsoever, your honour!’

 

Ratnakar sat at the rear of the courtroom hearing the arguments with rapt attention, his initial enthusiasm melting away to a point of nothingness by the time the case was adjourned.

 

Ratnakar was known as a good and noble soul, loved in the entire panchayat. Born into the family of a farmer, Ratnakar had seen hardship from birth, as his father struggled to make ends meet in the large family. His philanthropic side surfaced when he came of age. People soon saw in him a genuine and devoted person who relished working for the general welfare of the community. But the panchayat was not inhabited by good souls only. There were enough adherents of the kind of politics played by his opponent Sibanarayan Biswal – the incumbent Sarpanch – for whom winning the elections was a direct ticket to plunder and loot.

 

Ratnakar's business and popularity in the panchayat grew almost as a natural corollary. They saw in him a natural leader who could deliver the goods if voted to power. Ratnakar himself was not so enthusiastic though and pleaded to be spared but the villagers would have none of it. He was the automatic choice. After a few days of indecision Ratnakar was finally convinced that being the Sarpanch was the most effective means to work for the welfare of his people. Since then, it became almost a mission for him and he went on planning and dreaming of transforming the area.

 

Sibanarayan did not miss the swing in Ratnakar's favour. He and his cronies, took it upon themselves to upset the villagers' plan. So, while Ratnakar went around the panchayat requesting support by placing before them his simple manifesto of development, Sibanarayan's cronies waded through the large numbers of less-intellectually disposed voters, doling out freebies that included an unending flow of alcohol and hard cash. Ratnakar held steady, moving from one village to another on his old and rusty bicycle. It was a fierce battle, with Sibanarayan and his supporters using every trick in the book to wrest victory from a rapidly ascending Ratnakar.

 

 

It was a chilly winter morning that day when Ratnakar set out to the neighbouring village to campaign. As he rode his cycle through the dense bamboo grove abutting the village humming his favourite Jagannath bhajan, he heard the cries of an infant. He stopped to look around. The crying seemed to increase in intensity. When Ratnakar, after a furious search, finally located the source deep inside the grove he was almost stupefied to see a new-born baby – blood and mucous still sticking to its body – lying under a shrub. The crying had turned its tiny body red; it seemed on the verge of choking. Ratnakar's search for the mother proved futile as he ran hither and thither like a madman holding the child close to his bosom.

 

Doubtless, a mother, unwed certainly, had disowned nature's return for her indiscretion – momentary perhaps! It could be anyone from the nearby ten villages. Events like these are not easily kept under wraps for long in villages, Ratnakar knew but then the big question was, where to look?

 

After some agonising moments, he decided to take the child home. It was a girl, which he and his wife had always wanted. With the search for its parents proving futile, the couple decided to keep the girl. ‘My mother has come in this form to make good the affections she couldn't give me for dying so early,’ Ratnakar was heard remarking with a choked voice.

 

The child fitted into the family as easily as milk to water and news of her spread not only in the village, but also across the entire panchayat. When a month later, despite Sibanarayan's antics, Ratnakar was declared winner in the election, he not only attributed his success to the villagers but also to the two-month-old Laxmi little knowing that she would turn out to be the reason for his rival to attack him.

 

It was a dejected Ratnakar that advocate Kshetramohan met in the court's corridor after the conclusion of proceedings that day. ‘It is good that the other side wants a DNA test. Since the girl is not your natural-born child, the test will prove our point conclusively,’ Kshetramohan was beaming with the scent of victory. ‘The judge will fix a date for taking blood samples from you and your wife and of course, the girl. They will be sent to a laboratory in Bhubaneswar for examination and the result will be out within a week. So, go home and stay content. I'll inform you in due course.’

 

Ratnakar dragged his weary feet home and immediately looked for the eight-month-old Laxmi. He clapped his hands and she came crawling to him. As Ratnakar knelt on the floor facing her, his heart overflowed with joy.

 

What if he had not found her that day? Surely the dogs and the jackals of the forest would have. What would have passed through the mind of the mother before enduring the pain of labour only to spurn the fruit? And why not any other person, why did it have to be him? Surely, there was more to God's plan than what met the eye.

 

Ratnakar met Kshetramohan two days later and told him of his decision to not submit to the DNA test. ‘You must be mad,’ Kshetramohan looked horrified, ‘If you don't, the judge will presume that you have something to hide. The verdict will go against you and Sibanarayan will be declared elected.’ ‘I don't care, nor do I mind losing this petty battle,’ Ratnakar answered confidently as he paid the balance fees to the lawyer before leaving his office.

 

A week later the judge drew an adverse inference against Ratnakar and delivered the verdict in favour of Sibanarayan. Sibanarayan's lawyer winked at his client triumphantly for having pulled off the win with the wild hunch that Ratnakar's innate goodness wouldn't permit him to agree to a DNA test!

 

Unknown to him, Ratnakar felt as elated as if he had won!

 

*


Sashikanta Mishra was born in 1967 in Bhubaneswar. He practised as a lawyer in the Orissa High Court for thirteen years before being directly recruited as a District Judge. Having held various poitions in the state judiciary, he is now posted as Chairman of the Odisha Sales Tax Tribunal at Cuttack.

He writes in both English and Odia. His first book The Great Masters of Kriyayoga published in 2003, is a collection of biographies. He has authored two Odia short story anthologies, Bula Kukura, 2015 and Mati Mahaka, 2017. His English short stories have appeared in the literary magazines, Out of Print and Muse India and his collection titled Deerskin was published by Authorspress in 2018. He has contributed columns and articles to the Indian Express and is also a blogger.

Sashikanta Mishra lives with his family in Cuttack.