Serein

Chauthi Koot by Waryam Singh Sandhu

Naureen Bhullar

- August 11, 2020

Review of a short story: Chauthi Koot [The Fourth Direction] by Waryam Singh Sandhu (2000)

(English translation available in the Anthology of short stories titled, “Tell me a long, long story: 12 memorable stories from India)- (Edited by Mini Krishnan)

(Major spoilers are in this review)

This is a short story based in the tumultuous times post-Operation Bluestar in Punjab in the 1980s when there was heightened fear, paranoia, and distrust among its major religious communities, Hindus and Sikhs. The protagonist of this story is a Hindu teacher, Rajkumar who works as a clerk in a government school close to the Indo-Pak border in Amritsar district. Rajkumar and his friend Jugal are returning home to Amritsar from Chandigarh and they want to get back to Amritsar before dark. Due to the uncertain security situation of those times, people feared venturing out after dark as there were incidents of extremists pulling people out of the bus and killing them, especially if they were Hindus. 

Rajkumar starts fretting as he realizes that they are going to miss the connecting train from Jalandhar to Amritsar as dusk descends and the bus he is travelling in, is moving at slow pace. He starts counting the number of people in the bus who could be from his religion and the others (who are Sikhs, defined by their turbans). As Rajkumar and Jugal reach the Jalandhar railway station, they realize that they have missed the train and they are terrified by the idea of spending their night outside as they cannot afford a hotel. Suddenly they realize that one of the trains is going to Amritsar, but it will not be carrying passengers. They manage to beg and cajole the guard to let them in. Once they board the train, they see two young Sikh men in turbans sitting quietly in the corner. Rajkumar is at once suspicious and keeps eyeing them furtively. The guard takes some money from them for the journey but refuses it from the two Sikh men, which heightens Rajkumar’s suspicion that they may have threatened the guard in some way earlier. As soon as they all get off the train on an isolated dark street, Rajkumar tells Jugal to move fast, as he is afraid that the two men would follow them and probably gun them down right there. As they start increasing their pace, they hear one of the Sikh men call out to them. They are petrified and stop in their tracks. One of the Sikh men requests them to walk with them. He says that his nephew (the other young Sikh man) lost his mother a few hours ago in Amritsar and that is why the guard was kind enough to let them on the train. They are afraid of moving around in the city streets after dark as they would be targeted by the CRPF or the police force may kill them in a false encounter. If these forces see clean-shaven Hindus with them, they would not be targeted. 

Rajkumar is astounded by their story and his heart melts. He decides to lead them in the fourth direction to safety. This concept of ‘fourth direction’ is alluded to earlier as Rajkumar reminisces about an old story his grandmother had told him, where a prince was told at a crossroad that he was free to take three routes but the fourth direction was full of danger and he may not survive. The prince still took the fourth direction and he did return home after battling all the dangers, and most importantly, he gained something priceless, which could be interpreted as either wisdom, courage, or material wealth. Hence Rajkumar probably gains wisdom and the insight that members of the ‘other’ community were probably feeling as scared as he was in the same scenario (after dark), even though it was from a different perspective. 

This story is a great reminder of the universality of basic emotions and the empathy that we can evoke in even dire circumstances. Throughout the story, Rajkumar expresses fear and mistrust for people around him, based on their religious affiliation. He believes that his religious compatriots would be more sympathetic to him as in his entreaty to the train guard, “we are your Hindu brothers and if you will not help us, who will”. In another scenario, he prods another Sikh man to plead to the Sikh policeman as he believes the latter will have a soft corner for the former. The fact that people tend to like people similar to them has been well-established in the research literature and in popular proverbs like “birds of feather flock together”. The same notion can also create barriers among people based on caste, class, or religion. But the fact that we have similar emotional reactions can also make us care for each other and show empathy for the ‘other’. People express sympathy for an individual who suffers from trauma like losing a parent in this story, whether it is the train guard or Rajkumar, irrespective of their other affiliations.

This story is a great demonstration of evocation of empathy in the protagonist during those tense and harrowing times in Punjab’s history. The writing is witty and depicts fear, frustration, hatred, and other emotions in a very believable manner. It is rooted in the cultural context authentically and does not strike a single false note. Waryam Singh Sandhu was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for his short story collection featuring this story. 

A part of this story was also made into a movie called, “Chauthi Koot” (The Fourth Direction) by Gurvinder Singh and screened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. 


About Serein

Serein Inc is an end to end service partner for the implementation of Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) legal compliance. We partner with companies on case redressal and policies to proactively build safer work cultures and sexual harassment (POSH) trainings either in person or virtually. For more details on diversity, inclusion and prevention of sexual harassment (POSH training in India and the US).

Our content is designed to enhance the conversation on diversity, inclusion, unconscious bias, emotional and mental wellbeing and role of empathy in the workplace. To know more about how can you initiate a conversation on D&I and implement diversity and inclusion trainings in India, awareness programs and consultation do reach out to us at hello@serein.in

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Abhishek is a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience in finance and corporate governance. With over 15 years of expertise as a qualified Company Secretary, he has made significant contributions to the finance departments of companies within the real estate and startup sectors.
 
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Rhea holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai where she majored in advertising.

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Ishani founded Serein to provide a data and research-based approach to solving DEI challenges at the workplace. She advises company leaders, startup founders, and venture capital firms on industry best practices to increase diversity and design a DEI roadmap.

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Before founding Serein, Ishani was a scientist at GE Research working in the Aerospace Lab. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Brown University on developing mathematical models to solve Astrophysics problems. She did her Post-doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and St. Thomas Hospital in Biomathematics.

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Before Serein, she was a Gandhi Fellow working in rural Rajasthan to address educational leadership and gender equity in government schools. She graduated from Azim Premji University in Bangalore with a Master’s in Education where she specialised in gender and sexuality education.

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Head of PoSH: India, Global

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Bianca designs gamified learning modules for a unique and impactful learner experience on topics like gender inclusion, PwD inclusion, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and regional inclusion among others. 

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She works closely with Serein’s 500+ long-term partners to ensure they are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law. Aparna is a workshop facilitator on topics like the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace in languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.

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She has 150+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace. Her legal research at Serein includes policy analysis, human rights, women’s rights, and document drafting.

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Head of DEI: India, Global

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Thejaswini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Application from Field Marshal KM Cariappa College, Kodagu.

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Before Serein, Bhavini worked as an archivist at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and as an editorial assistant for IIT Bombay’s PR and Alumni Associations department.

She has a Master’s degree in Education from Azim Premji University where she worked extensively with the management on anti-sexual harassment legal implementation. Her work involved the interpretation of the law in a university as a workplace and an educational institution for adults. 

Siri Prasad

Safety and PoSH Expert

Siri Prasad is a Safety and PoSH Expert at Serein and serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients. Her work is not limited to, but includes advising in legal procedures, best practices for safe work cultures, and reviewing of PoSH policies and labor law compliance.

Siri is a Gold Medallist and holds a BBA, LLB (Hons.) from Christ University and a Masters in Science (International Employment Relations) from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she also served as the EDI Officer.

Rishab Prasad

DEI Specialist

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Kirtika N

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She has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Montfort College, Bengaluru, and has experience working as a trainee counselor.

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Safety and PoSH expert

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Nandini Abraham

Statistical Analyst

Nandini conducts extensive industry-specific research on DEI trends in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. Nandini is responsible for developing statistical models for DEI assessment on Serein’s DEI SaaS Tool. She designs measurement tools for DEI benchmarking, inclusion assessments, and employee experience surveys.

Nandini is passionate about creating engaging and impactful reports, toolkits, and playbooks for Serein’s customers.

Nandini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Mathematics & Statistics from St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

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HR and Compliance Lead

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Finance Consultant

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Sri Padmavathi C specialises in providing accounting consulting services to companies. She helps in assisting & maintaining Serein’s Books of Accounts, GST, TDS, PT filing, financial statements preparation & audit review.
 
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PoSH and DEI Workshops Facilitator

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Anisha has a background in History, especially in the history of gender and early feminism in colonial South Asia. 

Anisha has a Bachelor’s degree in History (Hons.) from Gargi College, University of Delhi. She has also studied for an MPhil in World History from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Aseem Deuskar

Inclusive Workspace Architect

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Aseem is an Inclusive Workspace Architect dedicated to reshaping workplace diversity and accessibility. He is skilled in conducting comprehensive accessibility audits and implementing inclusive design solutions.


Aseem is passionate about creating environments that foster equal opportunities

He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning.

 

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