Monday, July 9, 2018

Premchand's Moteramji Shastri Tetraolgy in English translation

Premchand’s Moteramji Shastri Tetralogy

Premchand wrote four stories in which a character named Moteramji Shastri appears in different roles: as a quack Ayurvedic doctor dispensing aphrodisiacs, as a dubious, gluttonous school teacher, as a fake and hypocritical journalist, as a greedy, lascivious, duplicitous and gormandizing brahmin. Premchand uses satire and caricature to ridicule these and some other professions, human failings, social practices, rituals and superstitions.

Here are the titles of the four stories:

1 मोटेरामजी शास्त्री: Moteramji Shastri (Madhuri, January, 1928)

2. मोटेरामजी शास्त्री का नैराश्य: Moteramji Shastri’s Heartbreak (Smalochak, March-April, 1928)

3. संपादक मोटेरामजी शास्त्री: Editor Moteramji Shastri (Madhuri, August-September,1928)

4. पंडित मोटेराम की डायरी: Pandit Moteram’s Diary (Jagran, July,1934)

(The dates of publication and names of magazines in which these stories were published for the first time have been obtained from 'Premchand: Kahani Rachnawali', collected and edited by Dr. Kamal Kishor Goyanka and published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.2012) 

Here is the first of these stories.

                                                     Moteramji Shastri
Who doesn’t know Pandit Moteramji Shastri?  He always goes along with the wishes of the government officials. When the Swadeshi movement was on he vehemently opposed it. During the Swarajya movement too he received from the officials a certificate of loyalty to the state. But when after such play-acting his fortune did not wake up from slumber and he could not rid himself of the drudgery of teaching he thought of another stratagem. He went home and spoke to his wife: ‘My head is becoming blank teaching these old parrots. What have I gained dispensing knowledge for so long that I should hope to get anything now?’

The wife, getting worried, said, ‘Do we not need some way to feed us?’

Moteram said, ‘You’re always worried about your stomach. Hardly a day passes when I don’t get an invitation; and even if people criticize me I never come home without a thali-ful of food for you. Will all our yajmans die in one day? But what if we have done nothing in life except filling up our stomachs? We should also enjoy the good things of life. I have decided to become a vaid.’ 
His wife asked in surprise, ‘How can you become a vaid? Have you studied vaidic?’

Moteram said, ‘One learns nothing by studying vaidic. In life knowledge is not as important as intelligence. There are a few formulae, that’s all. Today itself I shall prefix the title Bhishagacharya before my name. Who’s going to question whether or not I’m a Bhishagacharya? Why should anyone worry about testing my knowledge? I shall have a big signboard made with these words written on it: “Men and women suffering from unmentionable diseases are specially treated here.”  I shall stock some powdered hud-vaheda-amla. That would be sufficient for the purpose. And, of course, I shall give advertisements in newspapers and circulate notices. The notices will contain names of people living in far-off places like Lanka, Madras, Rangoon, Karachi. These would provide evidence of my skills in medicine. Why should people worry about finding out whether or not these people really do live in these places? Then you’ll see how my vaidic flourishes.’

‘But will it work if you dispense a medicine without knowing about it?’

‘May not work, who cares! A vaid’s duty is to prescribe medicine. He is not contracted to defeat death; and then, everyone who falls ill does not die. And it is my belief that even those who don’t take any medicine recover once the disease has run its course. Vaids earn praise unasked. So even if one among five patients treated by me recovers I shall be applauded. And the four who die won’t come back to denounce me. I have thought deeply about it: nothing can be better than this line. I know how to write articles, and am also good at composing verses. I shall write a few articles on the importance of Ayurveda, inserting here and there a few passages of verse; all using spicy language. Then you will see how so many are fooled. Don’t be under the impression that I have wasted myself teaching old parrots: I have been carefully observing the tactics of successful vaids, and after so many years I have understood the key to their success. God willing, one day you will be loaded with gold from head to foot.’

Suppressing her delight, the wife said, ‘At my age now I have no desire to wear ornaments. But tell me, how you would prepare the medicines, the concoctions, when you have no knowledge of them?’

‘My dear, you’re a simpleton. Vaids need none of these. For a vaid a pinch of ash is the liquid, the powder and the chemical composition; all one needs is some show-off. A big room, a dari, and some vials and bottles on shelves. Nothing more than this is needed; one’s intelligence does all the rest. You will see how effective my writings laced with literary embellishments will be.  You know how well versed I am in alankaras. Today I can think of none who on this earth can match me in my knowledge of alankaras. After all I haven’t been digging grass all these years. Five-to-ten people would always be visiting me to converse on poetry. They would be my agents. Patients would come to me through them. You would see, I shall practise vaidic medicine not on the strength any Ayurvedic knowledge but on that of the heroines of erotic literature.’

His wife spoke in disbelief, ‘I fear even these students would slip through your hands and you would be neither here nor there. You are destined only to tutor students. And after getting kicks from all sides, you would return to tutor these parrots.’

‘Why don’t you have faith in my competence?’

‘Because, in this case too, you would behave deceitfully. I hate your deceitfulness. Why do you want to become what you are not, what you cannot be? You could not become a leader, and gave up in disgust. It is your crookedness that always becomes evident, and I don’t like it. I want you to live like an honest man. But you never listen to me.’

‘After all, when shall I be able to make use of my knowledge of erotic literature?’  

‘Why don’t you become a rich man’s courtier? Recite a few verses before him and he would give you something. Why do you want to become an impostor?’

‘I know such tricks of this trade that were not known even to the forefathers of today’s vaids. All these vaids run here and there just for two-two rupees. I shall fix my fees at five rupees, and the cost of transport over and above. People would think of me as a great vaid. Why else should he charge such a fees, they would say?’

Now the wife felt a little at ease. She said, ‘Only now you have said something sensible. But remember you won’t be able to establish yourself here. You’ll have to go to another city.’

Moteram laughed and said, ‘Do you think I don’t know even this. I shall set up my practice in Lucknow. In just one year I shall establish myself so well that all the vaids there would bite the dust. I know many other tricks. I won’t start treating a person without having examined him a number of times. I would say that I won’t treat a patient until I have fully understood his nature. What do you think?’

The wife was exhilarated. She said, ‘Now I am convinced. I have no doubt your vaidic would flourish. But don’t play these tricks with the poor or you would be in trouble.’ 
A year went by.

Bhishagacharya Pandit Moteram ji Shastri became famous all over Lucknow. He had good knowledge of alankaras; was a little trained in music too. And on top of it, he was a specialist in the unmentionable diseases! The city’s aesthetes were delighted.  Panditji recited verses for them, entertained them and prescribed potency medicines for them; and they in turn praised panditji sky high among the wealthy who always long for potency-enhancing medicines. He was the only physician who treated unmentionable diseases. He treated his patients in strict privacy. He began to be worshipped among licentious widowed queens and short-sighted pleasure-loving rich. And he became arrogant.

His wife tried to persuade him not to get involved with queens, or, she said, he would regret one day.
But what must happen, will happen, in spite of all admonitions. One of panditji’s admirers was the queen of Bidhal. Raja Sahib was dead and Rani Sahiba was suffering from some unknown ailment. Panditji used to visit her five times a day and Rani Sahiba would not let him go even for a moment. And she would become restless if panditji was late in coming. A motor always stood at his doors. Panditji had undergone great transformation. He wore a tanzeb achkan, donned a Banarasi turban and wore pump shoes. His friends too enjoyed motor-rides with him. How could Rani Sahiba show disregard to her Messiah?

But cruel Time was spinning another conspiracy.

One day, while panditji was feeling Rani Sahiba’s pulse by holding her white wrist in one of his hands and examining her heart with his other hand, some people carrying sticks entered the room and attacked him. The Rani ran away and shut herself into the adjoining room. Sticks rained down on panditji. Although panditji was a man of sturdy built and always carried a sword sheathed in a hollow stick he was helpless against this sudden assault by a gang of people. He caught now this man’s feet, now that man’s. The words ‘hai, hai’ flowed nonstop from his mouth but those cruel men showed no mercy. One of the men kicked panditji and said, ‘Let’s cut his nose.’

Another said, ‘Smear his face with soot and lime and let him go.’

The third said, ‘Speak out vaidji maharaj, what would you prefer? A severed nose, or a face painted black.’

Panditji cried, ‘Hai hai, I’m dying. Do what you like, but don’t cut my nose.’

One said, ‘Would you ever come here again?’

‘No, never, sarkar. Oh, I’m dying.’

Another said, ‘Get out of this city today itself, or something worse would happen.’

Panditji said, ‘Sarkar, I shall go today itself. I swear by my sacred thread. You won’t see my face again.’

The third said, ‘All right. Let each one of us give him five kicks, and then let him go.’ 

Panditji pleaded, ‘Oh, sarkar, I’ll die. Have pity on me.’

The fourth said, ‘Impostors like you are best dead. Oh yes, begin.’

The fivesome kicks began to rain. Sound of kicking could be heard. It seemed as if a drum was being pounded. Each burst of kicks was followed by the cry ‘hai’, as if it was an echo.

After fivesome thrashing the attackers dragged Moteram ji out and put him into the motor and sent him home. And he was warned that he should quit the town next morning or he would be given another treatment.

 Limping, groaning, walking on his stick Moteram ji reached home and collapsed on his cot. His wife asked, ‘How’re you? Arre, what is this? Hai-hai, what’s wrong with your face?’

Moteram replied, ‘Oh God. I’m dying.’

His wife said, ‘Where is the pain? That’s why I told you not to eat too much rabdi. Shall I bring lawan-bhaskar?’

Moteram cried, ‘Hai, the scoundrels nearly killed me. That chandalini is responsible for this miserable state. Thy have beaten me into pulp.’

‘Why don’t you say you have been thrashed. Yes, so it looks. They did it right. You are a god who deserves only thrashing. I used to warn you against going to that Rani. But you never listened.’

‘Hai-hai, you slut! You have chosen this occasion to berate me. I’m in such a wretched state and you are reviling me. Tell someone to bring a cart. We have to get out of Lucknow during the night. Otherwise they would kill me.’

The wife went on, ‘No, you still haven’t had your fill. Spend some more days here. You were tutoring boys without a care, and you thought of becoming a vaid! It served you right. You won’t forget it whole of your life. Where was the Rani? Why didn’t she come to your rescue when you were being thrashed?’

Panditji replied ‘Hai-hai, the chudel ran away. It was all because of her. Had I known this I won’t have treated her.’

‘You are really unfortunate. Your vaidic was going well but your misdeeds ruined you. You have to go back to tutoring. You’re indeed unfortunate.’

Early in the morning a cart stood at Moteram ji’s door and it was being loaded. Not one among his friends could be seen there. Panditji was groaning and his wife was having their effects loaded.

(First published in  Hindi, Madhuri, January 1928)

Achkan                      men’s clothing that reaches to the knees with buttons down the
Alankara                   figures of speech used as embellishments in poetry

Chandalini                low caste woman, a wicked woman

Chudel                      an evil spirit, a wicked woman

Dari                          a thick cotton carpet

Hud-vaheda-amla   dried fruits of three trees that have great medicinal value,
in Ayurvedic medicine

Lawan-bhaskar          Ayurvedic powder, good for indigestion

Rabdi                        thick cream that is obtained by heating milk on low heat for a long
Tanzeb                     muslin, a kind of embroidery on muslin

Thali                         a brass plate in which food is served

Vaidic                       Ayurvedic system of medicine

Yajman                   Hindu upper caste person for whom a brahmin performs certain 
religious rituals for a payment in kind or cash

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lal Singh Dil: Selected Poems - Punjabi poetry in translation

Friends viewing my blog would be interested to know that my book of translations of  Punjabi revolutionary poet Lal Singh Dil  has been published. Find below  the front  and back cover of the book and an inside note on what the poems are about. A few poems of this poet have already appeared on this blog. Five of these poems were published in the translation Magazine MPT (Modern Poetry in Translation) issue: series 3 Number 18 - Transitions, published from Oxford UK in 2012, and two of them were reproduced in MPT's golden jubilee anniversary publication 'Centres of Cataclysm', Bloodaxe Books, in 2016.


see links:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Pash: Three poems

Here are three poems of the Punjabi revolutionary poet Pash (1950-88). First one  is a love poem; the second symbolizes people's resistance against state repression; and the third is a premonition of his own death. Pash was shot dead by Khalistani militants on 23 March 1988. The poems have been extracted from my translation of Pash's poetry: Pash: A Poet of Impossible Dreams.(2010)

I Take Leave Now  

I take leave of you now,
my friend, I take leave of you now.
I had wished to write a poem
that you could read on for a lifetime.

In that poem
I would have talked of the fragrance of coriander leaves
of the sugar cane fields rustling in the wind
of the blazing splendour of the mustard in bloom.
In that poem
I would have talked of mists melting on trees,
of the white foam singing on milk
fresh from the buffalo’s teats.
And everything else I saw in your body
would have been there too!

In that poem
my horny palms would have smiled,
my thigh muscles rippled like fish in water
and flames of warmth risen
from the soft hair on my chest.
That poem, my friend, would have held many things
for you
for me
for all the relationships in life, my friend.
But it is so unpleasant
to deal with life’s perplexities!
And even if I had been able to write
that auspicious poem
it would have died its own death
leaving both of us in tears.
Poetry, my friend, has become powerless
while the weapons of warfare have grown
very long claws, and before writing any poem
we must wage a war against them.
In war
Everything can be very simple
like writing one’s own name, or the enemy’s
and in this state,
to compare my lips, rounded for kissing,
with the shape of the earth
or to compare the movement of your waist
with the heaving of the sea
would have been a poor joke.
So I did nothing of the kind.
It was not possible for me to put together
your wish to play with our children in my courtyard
and the exigency of war.
So I take leave of you.

My friend, we shall remember
how the village sand dunes,
burning during the day like the blacksmith’s furnace,
became, at night, fragrant like flowers.
And to lie down on a haystack suffused with moonlight
and revile Heaven was truly musical.
Yes, we shall have to remember all this
because when the heart’s pockets are empty
reliving the past is very heart-warming.

In this hour of farewell
I wish to thank all the lovely things
that stood above us like a canopy
and those nondescript places
that became beautiful because we met there.
I thank the wind, soft and musical like your voice,
that stood by me and brightened the moments I spent
waiting for you.
I thank the silky soft grass,
growing along the water channels,
that unrolled itself under your feet as you walked
and the cotton puffs that came out
of their bolls and willingly spread themselves
to become a bed for us to lie on,
and the piddas that sat on the sugarcane stalks
to keep a watchful eye on passers-by
and the full-grown wheat stalks
that hid us while we lay down.
I thank the tiny mustard flowers
that gave me the chance to brush off
the yellow pollen from your hair.
I am a human being
have become one by assembling things bit by bit
and thank all the things
that saved me from disintegrating.
I have a lot to thank them for.

To love is very simple
like readying oneself for a fight
in the face of tyranny
or like imagining for a moment, while in hiding,
the day on which the bullet wound would heal.
To love
and to be able to fight
that’s how you honour life, my friend!

To fill the earth like sunshine 
then to take someone in your embrace
to explode like dynamite
and resound in all directions -
that is the way to live!
Those who have become traders
can never know how to live and love.

To understand how bodies relate –
to draw no line between happiness and hatred
to overwhelm with love the vastness of life 
to meet after piercing the line of fear
and then to say goodbye
is an act of great heroism, my friend.
So I take leave of you now.

You should forget
how I nurtured your youth
carrying you within my eyelids
how my eyes did everything
to chisel your features into this shape
how my kisses made your face so beautiful
and how my embraces cast into this mould
your waxen body.

You should forget all this, my friend,
that I had an infinite longing to live
that I wished to drown myself in life up to the neck.
My friend, live all that I missed.
Live all that I missed.

[from:In Our Times (Saade Samian Vich)]

I’m grass
I shall green-wash all your misdeeds.
You may bomb the university
reduce every hostel to a heap of rubble
raze all our jhuggis to the ground …
How will you deal with me?
I’m grass, and I shall cover everything,
rise from every heap.
You may flatten Banga,
decimate Sangrur,
pulverize Ludhiana into a heap of dust,  
my greenness will do its act.
And two or ten years hence
passengers will ask the bus conductor:
‘Where are we?
Drop us at Barnala,
where green grass grows thick like a jungle.’
I’m grass, I’ll do my act:
Green-wash all your misdeeds.

[from: Scattered Scripts(Khilre Howe Virke)]

When  Revolt Rages  

When in the pitch dark nights
moments recoil
and stand in terror of each other
the light in the attics
jumps from the windows
and commits suicide

When revolt rages
in the womb of such peaceful nights
I can be done to death any time
in the broad daylight
in the thick of the night

[from: When Revolt Rages (Loh Katha)]


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Lottery, a short story by Premchand

Please find here my translation of Premchand's short story 'Lottery' (लौटरी). 



Who isn’t hungry to get rich quickly? Those days when the lottery tickets became prevalent, my friend Vikram’s father, uncle, mother and brother purchased a ticket each. Who knows whose luck would shine! Whosoever won, the prize money would remain within the family.

But Vikram was not happy. The money would come in someone else’s name. No one would care for him. At most he would get five-ten thousand. This amount was too small for him who had envisioned grand plans for himself. First of all, he intended to travel the whole world, its each and every corner. Peru, Brazil, Timbuktu and Honolulu – all these were in his itinerary. He was not one who would rush through the world like a whirlwind in one or two months. He would stay at each place for days, study its manners, its traditions, for he wanted to write an encyclopedic account of his world travels. And then, he had to build a huge library in which he would stack the world’s best books. He was ready to spend up to two lakh rupees; compared to which a bungalow and car and furniture would be commonplace acquisitions.  If the money came to his father or uncle he would get at most five-ten thousand, twenty if it came to his mother, but not a half paisa, if it came to his brother. He was a self-respecting person. He thought it demeaning to accept any gift or benefit even from any member of his family. He used to say, ‘It’s better to drown oneself in a pond than to beg from anyone. If one cannot make a place for oneself in this world then it is better to quit the world.’

He was very restless. Who in the family would give him money for a lottery ticket? And why should he ask? After much reflection he said to me, ‘Why shouldn’t we jointly buy a ticket?’

I liked the proposal. Those days I was a school teacher, with a salary of twenty rupees. It was hard to make both ends meet. Buying a ten-rupee ticket was for me like buying a white elephant. Yes, it might be possible to save five rupees by cutting down on milk, ghee and sundry expenses. Even then I was not sure. It would be much better if I could get this amount from some other source.

Vikram said, ‘I don’t mind selling my ring. I’ll tell them that it slipped off my finger.’

The ring was certainly worth ten rupees. A ticket could be bought for both of us in this way. So where was the harm if I could become a fifty-fifty partner without spending anything?

But Vikram said, ‘Brother, you’ll have to pay in cash. I won’t make you a partner without your paying five rupees.’

Now I realized the impropriety of the proposal. I said, ‘No, bhai, this is wrong. If your lie is caught, we’ll both be shamed. And I too would be taken to task.’

Finally, it was decided that we’ll sell our old books to a second-hand book-dealer and buy the ticket with the money we get. We had nothing else that was less unwanted than the books. We two had passed the matriculation examination in the same year, and seeing that those who had obtained degrees by ruining their eyes and wasting money were now wearing out their shoes, we decided to put the full stop.  I became a school teacher and Vikram an idler. Our old books were now only food for white ants. We had licked off whatever we could, had extracted their essence, and now we didn’t care whether rats or white ants ate them up. We took them out of the garbage heap, dusted them and tied them in a bundle. Being a school teacher I felt ill at ease going to a book-seller to sell books. All of them knew me; so this task was given to Vikram, who returned with a ten-rupee note in half an hour. I had never seen him so full of joy. The books were worth no less than forty rupees but we felt as if we had picked the ten-rupee note from the ground. Now the ticket would be shared half-half. The prize would be worth ten lakhs. Out of which both of us would get five lakhs each.

I expressed my satisfaction, ‘Five lakhs is no small amount.’

But Vikram wasn’t as contented. He said, ‘Brother, not to speak of five lakhs, at the moment even five hundred are more than enough. But I am forced to change my plans. I can’t postpone my travel plans, but the library will have to go.’

I objected, ‘After all, you won’t need more than two lakhs for your travels.’

‘No sir. That’s budgeted for three and a half lakhs. It’s a seven-year project. So it works out to only fifty thousand a year.’ 

‘That is four thousand rupees per month. I think you can live comfortably with two thousand a month.’

Vikram retorted, ‘I want to live in style, not like a beggar.’

‘You can live in style even in two thousand.’

‘Unless you let me have two lakhs out of your share, I won’t be able to set up a library.’

‘There’s no reason why your library should be the best in the city.’

‘But I shall build only the best.’

‘That’s for you to decide, but I won’t give you anything out of my share. Your family has a lot of property. There’s no burden on you. But I have a big family responsibility. Two sisters to be married, two brothers to be educated. And I have to build a new house. I have decided to put all the money in the bank and live on the interest. And I shall ensure that no one after me touches that money.’

Vikram responded sympathetically, ‘Yes, in that case it would be wrong to ask you for help. Never mind, I shall face the problem all by myself. But the interest rates at the banks have fallen quite a lot.’

We checked the interest rates at many banks, both for fixed deposits and savings accounts. Yes indeed the interest rates had fallen. It would be a waste of money to invest it at two or two and a half percent. Why not start the money-lending business? Vikram would not go on his world tour immediately. Both of them would run the business jointly and he would go on his tour when they have earned some money. They would be able to earn a good interest by lending money and in this way they would become quite influential too. They would not lend money on a bond unless a person was trustworthy. But why should they lend money on a bond? They would do it only on a property mortgage. In that case there would be no risk.

This issue was settled. Now we had to decide in whose name to buy the ticket. Vikram insisted on having his name on the ticket, saying he won’t buy the ticket unless his name was on the ticket. Finding no way out, I accepted, without any written agreement; as a result I was put to a lot of trouble later on.  


We waited eagerly for each day to pass. Every morning the moment we woke up our eyes went for the calendar. My house was adjacent to Vikram’s. Before and after my school hours we would sit together and chalk out our plans in such quietness that no one could hear us. We wanted to keep the purchase of our ticket secret from all. Everyone would be wonder-struck when this secret plan of ours would become real. We didn’t want to miss the joy of that dramatic moment.

One day we came to discuss the issue of marriage. Vikram said, with philosophic seriousness, ‘I don’t wish to get into this trap of married life. Needless worries, and hues and cries. A lot of money would be wasted pleasing a wife.’   

I disagreed, ‘You may be right, but life isn’t enjoyable unless you have someone to share your good and bad times. I’m not so apathetic to the idea of a married life. But yes, I would like a companion who stays with me for the life time. And only a wife can provide such companionship.’

Vikram retorted with unusual sarcasm, ‘Well, we all have our own views. You’re welcome to your married life, to follow your wife like a dog, to regard children as the greatest possession and gift from God. I shall remain a free man, sojourn whenever and wherever I like and return home at will. It won’t be as if you were being watched all the time. If you were even slightly late, you would be confronted with ‘where-were-you’. The moment you stepped out you would be immediately asked ‘whereto’, and if through misfortune your wife decided to accompany you, it would be the death of you.  No brother, I won’t be able to sympathize with you. The child catches a cold and you dash to the homoeopath. You slide a bit into ripe age, and the boys wish for your quick exit so they can go on the spree. If they got a chance they would poison you and spread the news that you died of cholera. I won’t fall into this trap.’

Vikram’s younger sister, Kunti, about eleven, studying in class six and often failing to get through, talkative and mischievous, suddenly pushed the door open with such force that we both stood up startled.

Vikram shouted angrily at her, ‘You’re such a nuisance, Kunti! Who has called you here?’  

Kunti ran her gaze all around the room like a spy and said, ‘What’re you doing here with doors shut? We see you sitting here all the time. You neither go out for a walk, nor to watch a show. Are you doing some black magic?’

Vikram caught and shook her by the neck and said, ‘Yes, we are casting a spell, so that you get a husband who would give you five whiplashes one after the other everyday.’

Kunti rode on his back and said, ‘I shall marry a man who will wag his tail in front of me. I shall cast the leaf-plate before him after eating sweets and tell him to lick it clean. And if he frets and fumes I shall pull and hot up his ears. If Amma wins the lottery she will give me fifty thousand, and I shall be content. I pray to God morning and evening. She says that prayers offered by virgins never go unanswered. My heart tells me that Amma will surely get the money.’

I remembered something. I had gone to my maternal grandparents’ village during a drought. It was the month of bhadon, the rainy month, and yet not a drop of rain. The villagers raised a pool of money and gave a feast to all the virgins of the village, and lo, the rains came pouring down heavily on the third day. Undoubtedly prayers by virgins do work miracles.

I and Vikram looked at each other meaningfully. And we came to a conclusion at once without exchanging a word. Vikram said to Kunti, ‘All right, if we tell you something, would you keep it secret? I’m sure you are such a good girl, you would keep our secret. This time I shall help you in your studies and make you get through the exams. The fact is we two have also purchased a lottery ticket. You should pray for us also and if we win we shall buy a lot of jewllery for you. Right!’

Kunti didn’t believe it. We swore. She became too demanding. Only when we promised to cover her in gold from head to foot, did she agree to pray for us.

However, she who could digest tons of sweets could not digest this small thing. She ran into the house and in no time the secret was out. Now everyone began to rail at Vikram – his mother, his uncle, his father – for his recklessness, whether out of concern for Vikram or with some other motive, one cannot fathom. ‘You have spilled money like water. Why did you have to buy one when so many others had bought lottery tickets? Wouldn’t you have got a share? And you, master sahib, are an utter fool. Instead of teaching something good you are leading him to his ruin.’

Vikram was their favourite son. They couldn’t berate him too much. If he was piqued and did not eat for a day or so, there would be trouble. It was I who drew the ire of the family, and the charge of misguiding the boy.

But the well-known saying: ‘People love to preach...’ came to my mind. I remembered a childhood incident. It was the day of Holi. My mamu, maternal uncle, was on a visit with us then. A bottle of liquor had been arranged. I went quietly into the backroom and poured some liquor in a glass and drank it off. My throat was still stinging and eyes were red when I was, as if, ambushed and caught red-handed by mamu. He gave me such a dressing-down that my heart shrivelled like a desiccated date. My mother upbraided me, my father upbraided me, and I had to quench the fire of their ire with tears. And soon, after noon mamu got drunk and began to sing. Then he wept, and then cursed my mother, and when my father tried to stop him he tried to rough him up. In the end he vomited and fell down unconscious.


Vikram’s father, the elder Thakur sahib, and his uncle, the younger Thakur sahib –  both were materialists, full-blooded atheists who used to ridicule religious rituals. But these days they had become staunch believers and devotees of God. The elder Thakur sahib went for a dip in the Ganges every morning, visited all the temples and returned home in the afternoon, his body daubed with sandalwood paste. The younger Thakur sahib would bathe in warm water at home, and, even though suffering from gout, start writing and repeating, on and on, god Rama’s name. And as soon there was sunshine he would go out into the park to feed wheat flour to ants. And in the evening both the brothers would go to their temple and listen with rapt attention to the Bhagwat till midnight. Vikram’s elder brother had great faith in sadhus and mahatmas. He wandered through mathas, akharas and kutias of sadhus; and his mother had nothing else to do from morning till midnight except bathe, pray and fast. Even at this age she loved making herself up, but these days she acted like an ascetic. People are wrong when they denigrate desire. I believe that all the devotion and faith, love of religion we display is just a manifestation of our desire and lust. Our selfishness is at the root of our dharma. That greed can seep into our intellect and heart so much was something new to me. We too felt elated or sad after consulting astrologers or pandits. 

As they day for the draw of the lottery was approaching, our peace of mind was evaporating. Our minds were riveted only on one thing. And for no reason I began to wonder what I would do if Vikram refused to part with my share. Make an about-turn and say I had never been a partner. There was no written agreement, nor any proof. If Vikram reneged it would be the end of me. I won’t be able to appeal to anyone, or open my mouth. If I said something now it would be no use. If his head has already turned he would straight away refuse to have any truck with me; and if he hasn’t he would be deeply hurt by my suspicious behaviour. He is not the type but it is difficult to remain honest after acquiring wealth. At the moment there is no money. So it is easy to pretend to be honest. The real test would come when he has ten lakh rupees in his hands. Then I searched my own conscience: if instead of Vikram the ticket had been in my name, would I have handed over his share of the money without dithering. Who knows? But the greater possibility was that I would have made excuses – that he had loaned me those five rupees, and offered him ten or a hundred rupees. But no, I won’t have acted so dishonestly.

The next day we were browsing through the newspaper when Vikram suddenly said, ‘If our ticket wins the prize, I would regret that I ever agreed to share it with you.’

 He smiled innocently but this gave me a peep into his innermost feelings which he was trying to camouflage under this light-heartedness.

Startled I replied, ‘Really! But I too might be regretting.’

‘But the ticket is with me.’

‘So what!’

‘All right, suppose I refuse to share the money with you.’

My blood froze and darkness invaded my eyes.

‘I don’t think you are so dishonest.’

‘But it’s possible. Five lakhs. Think of it. It boggles your mind.’ 

‘Then, as all’s well now. Let’s sign a contract and remove all doubts.’

Vikram said laughingly, ‘You’re very distrustful, friend. I was only testing you. Is it ever possible? Even if it were five crores I would never go back on what is agreed.’

But I was not convinced.

I said, ‘I know that you can never break your word. Yet what’s wrong in making a written agreement?’

‘It’s a waste.’

‘Let it be.’

‘In that case it shall have to be on a court paper. The court fees on ten lakhs would come to seven and a half thousand. Have you thought of this?’

I reflected: It was true I won’t be able to proceed against him on the basis of a plain paper agreement, yet I would get the opportunity to humiliate him and characterize him as dishonest publicly. And people would go to any length, were it not for the fear of public disgrace. The fear of ignominy was no less effective than the fear of the law. So I said, ‘Agreement on a plain paper would assure me.’

Vikram retorted, ‘Why waste time in signing an agreement that would have no legal value?’

I was convinced now that Vikram had already decided to renege on the deal. Otherwise why should he have objected to signing the agreement on a plain paper? I said angrily, ‘You already have a bad conscience.’

He retorted shamelessly, ‘Do you want to prove that in this a situation you wouldn’t have broken the deal?’

‘I don’t have such a bad conscience.’

‘Drop it. Your good conscience! I know many like you.’

‘You’ll have to commit it to writing just now. I have lost faith in you.’

‘If that is so, I won’t commit to writing.’

‘So you think you can swallow up my share of money?

‘Whose money? And what money?’

‘I warn you, Vikram. This won’t only be the end of our friendship, but something worse would happen.’

A surge of violence arose in my heart.

Suddenly my attention was diverted by a fracas from the divankhana. Both the Thakurs used to relax there. Their affection for each other was a model of brotherly love, almost like that between Ram and Lakshman. I had never heard them argue, not to speak of quarrel. The word of the elder Thakur was the law for the younger Thakur, but the elder Thakur never said anything that was not to the liking of the younger one. We were surprised and went and stood at the door of the sitting room. Both the brothers were up from their chairs, had even advanced towards each other, their eyes red, faces distorted, brows contracted. It seemed they were about to raise their hands against each other.

The younger Thakur drew back as he saw us and said, ‘Whatever is there in a joint family, wherever it may come from and in whosoever’s name, has to be shared equally by all.’

The elder Thakur, as soon as he saw Vikram, advanced and said, ‘Never. If I commit a crime I shall be liable, not the joint family. I shall be punished, not the family. It involves an individual.’

‘This will be decided in the court.’

‘You are free to go to the court. If I or my wife or my son win the lottery it will have nothing to do with you, and in the same way, if you win the prize, I, my wife and son would have nothing to do with it.’  

‘Had I known your intentions I too would have purchased tickets in the name of my wife and children.’

‘That was your mistake.’

‘That was because I trusted you as a brother.’

‘This is gambling. Winning or losing in gambling doesn’t put any onus on the family. Tomorrow if you lose five-ten thousand in racing, the family won’t be liable.’

‘But you can’t have peace of mind by appropriating your brother’s share.’

‘You’re neither Brahama, nor God, nor a mahatma.’

When Vikram’s mother came to know that the brothers were at each other’s throats she came running to bring about peace between them.

Displeased, the younger Thakur said angrily, ‘Why do you come down on me? Ask him who is holding on to four tickets. What do I have? Just one ticket! He has four times more chance than me to win the prize. If his conscience begins to fail him, it is a matter of shame and unhappiness.’

The Thakurain tried to pacify him, ‘All right. I shall give one half of my share. Are you happy now?’

The elder Thakur angrily contradicted his wife, ‘Why should he be given one half? I won’t give him a single paisa. Even if we act out of decency and kindness he won’t get more than one fifth. How can he claim one half? It is neither rational, nor dharmic, nor moral.’

The younger Thakur retorted, ‘You alone know everything of the law.’

‘Yes I do. I haven’t practiced law for thirty years for nothing.’

‘You will forget your law when I confront you with a barrister from Calcutta.’

‘To hell with your barrister, whether from Calcutta or London.’

‘I shall take half, just like my share in the family property.’

Just then Vikram’s elder brother, his head and hands in bandage, his clothes sullied in blood and a smile on his face came in limping and collapsed into the arms chair. The elder Thakur, upset by what he saw, asked, ‘What’s this? How did you get hurt? Did you have a fight?’

Prakash sprawled himself on the chair, let out a groan then smiled and said, ‘It’s nothing. It’s not a serious injury.’

‘What do you mean? Your head and hand are swollen. Your clothes are blood-stained. What’s the matter? Have you been hit by a motor?' 

‘It’s a very mild injury. It will heal in a few days. There’s nothing to worry.’

There was a gentle, hopeful smile on his face. Of anger, shame or revenge there was no trace.

The elder Thakur asked with greater anxiety, ‘But why don’t you tell us what happened? If you had a fight, should I lodge a complaint with the police?’

Prakash said in a very casual manner, ‘There was no fight, sir. The fact is I had gone to see the Jhakhad Baba. You very well know that he hates the very sight of people and runs after them with stones in his hands. And anyone who is frightened fails. And he who follows him even after he has been hit succeeds.  That is his way of testing a person. Today when I went to see him there were about fifty people, some carrying sweets, some carrying precious gifts and others carrying rolls of cloth. Jhakhad Baba was sitting in meditation. All of a sudden he opened his eyes and saw the crowd of people. He picked up stones and ran after them. There was a stampede as people began to run to safety. All of them disappeared. Not one stood his ground. I alone stood there firm as the clock tower. And he hurled a stone at me. As he is a good shot the stone hit me on the head. My head reeled and blood trickled down. Yet I didn’t budge. Babaji hurled another stone. That one hit me on the hand and I fell down unconscious. When I regained consciousness there was silence all around. Babaji had vanished. As you know he becomes invisible. There was no one whom I could call for help. My hand was in great pain and I was still bleeding from the head. I stood up somehow and went to the doctor. He said I had fractured a bone and he dressed my wounds. He has asked me to apply warm water fomentation. He will come again in the evening. No doubt I’m hurt but now I am sure to win the lottery. There’s no doubt at all. All who have been battered by the Baba have always had their wishes fulfilled. The first thing I shall do will be to build a cottage for the Baba.’

The elder Thakur relaxed now. A cot was at once spread and Prakash lay down on it. The Thakurain began to fan him. She too looked happy. To get ten lakh rupees in exchange for this injury was not a bad bargain.

The younger Thakur was fidgeting nervously. As soon as the elder Thakur went away to have his food and the Thakurain got up to bring food for Prakash, he said to Prakash, ‘Does he hit very hard? I don’t believe so.’

Prakash sensed his intention and said, ‘Sahib, he doesn’t hurl stones but bombs. He has the body of a god and is so powerful that he can kill a tiger with one blow. A lesser man would fall flat with just one stone. Many have lost their lives but no case has ever been filed against Jhakhar Baba. And he doesn’t stop after hurling a few stones. He keeps on pelting until you fall down and lose consciousness. But the truth is the more you are hurt the closer you are to your objective.’ 

Prakash painted such a hair-raising scenario that Thakur sahib was terrified and could not summon up the courage to face the stones.


And finally the fateful day arrived – twentieth of July, the night of assassinations. When we woke up in the morning we were drowned in the tension between hope and fear. Both the Thakurs had bathed in the Ganga and were sitting in the temple praying. Today I too awoke to the need for devotion. I went to the temple and began to silently plead with God: ‘Don’t You know the difficulty with which we have bought the ticket. You are omniscient. Who other than us is deserving of Your benevolence?’ Vikram came to the temple dressed in his best clothes and signaled to me that he was going to the post office and he flew away. Soon after, Prakash came out of the house carrying a thali full of sweets and started distributing it among the paupers who were crowding round the place. And both the Thakurs were sitting at the feet of God with their heads bowed, their eyes closed, immersed in intense adoration.

The elder Thakur raised his head and looked towards the pujari and said, ‘God really loves his devotees, isn’t it so, pujariji.’

The pujari endorsed, ‘Yes, Sarkar. God had come running from the Ksheer Sagar, the Ocean of Milk, to save Gajaraj, the elephant from the jaws of the crocodile.’

The next moment the younger Thakur sahib raised his head and said to the pujari, ‘Isn’t God omnipotent and omniscient, and knows what is passing in everyone’s mind?’

The pujari agreed, ‘Yes, Sarkar. Had he not been omniscient how would he know people’s wishes. He understood Shabri’s love and fulfilled her heart’s desire.’

The prayers ended. Aarti was said. Both the brothers said the aarti in a loud voice and the elder Thakur made an offering of two rupees. The younger Thakur put four rupees in the thali. The elder Thakur cast an angry look and turned away his face.

The elder Thakur asked the pujari, ‘What do you say, pujariji?’

Pujari said, ‘You will be victorious.’

The younger Thakur asked, ‘And what about me?’

‘You also win.’

The elder Thakur, filled with devotion, came out of the temple singing a bhajan: 

Prabhuji, I have come to your doors, O Prabhuji 

After a minute the younger Thakur too came out singing:

O compassionate one, protect my honour, your ways are mysterious

I also came out after him, wanting to help Prakash in distributing the sweets. But he disallowed me, saying, ‘Please don’t. I’ll do it myself. After all there aren’t many left.’

Shame-faced, I moved towards the post office only to find a smiling Vikram cycling down. Everyone became restive on seeing him. Both the Thakurs were there in front. They swooped on him like eagles. There were still some undistributed sweets in Prakash’s thali. He dropped the thali on the ground and ran towards Vikram. And overcome with euphoria, I lifted him up in my lap. No one questioned him, all were shouting as if victorious.

The elder Thakur looked at the sky and said, ‘Victory to Raja Ramchandra!’

The junior Thakur jumped higher, ‘Victory to Hanumanji!’

Prakash clapped and shouted, ‘By the grace of Jhakhad Maharaj!’

Vikram burst out into ringing laughter. Then he stood aside and said, ‘I’ll charge one lakh from the winner. Do you agree?’

The elder Thakur caught him by the hand and said, ‘But first let us know.’

‘No, I won’t disclose for free.’

The younger Thakur said angrily,’ Wonderful! One lakh just to reveal the name!’

Prakash also showed his resentment, ‘Don’t we know where the post office is?’

‘All right. Then get ready to hear the name of the winner.’

All stood still like soldiers at attention.

‘Don’t lose your composure.’

All gazed intently at him.

‘All right, listen with your ears open. This city is a washout. Not only this city, the whole of India is a washout. The winner is a habshi from America.’

The elder Thakur was irritated, ‘Lies-lies. absolute lies.’

The younger Thakur changed tack, ‘Impossible. Three months of devotion gone waste! Wah’

Prakash thumped his breast and said, ‘Is it a joke? I had my head smashed and hands battered.’

In the meantime, dozens of people passed by, their faces drooping in dejection. These fellows were returning from the post office cursing their fate. A habshi from America has beaten them hollow. The miserable wretch, the evil spirit, the wicked fellow!

Everyone had to accept the truth. The elder Thakur went into the temple and dismissed the pujari, ‘Have we been feeding and fattening you for this? You live off us, and enjoy!’

The younger Thakur behaved as if his back was broken. He beat his head a few times and then sat down. Prakash’s anger became uncontrollable. He picked up a thick stick and ran to thrash Jhakhad Baba.

The Thakurain said only this, ‘All have acted dishonestly. I'm sure.  What can our gods do? They can’t snatch from others’ hands.’

No one ate in the evening. I was also sitting disconsolate when Vikram came and said, ‘Let’s go to a hotel to eat. The fireplace remains unlit here.’

‘Why did you wear such a happy look when you returned from the post office?’ I asked him.

He said, ‘When I saw thousands of people crowding round the post office, I laughed at our utter folly. If there were thousands of people in our city there must be many more thousands in other cities of India and hundreds of thousands in the world. The mountain of hope that I had raised in my heart suddenly shrunk to a mustard seed and I laughed at myself. It was as if a philanthropist should get hold of a handful of grain and invite lakhs of people to a feast. And here in our household each one is ...’

I also laughed ‘Yes. This is the truth. And we two were fighting to sign a written agreement! But tell me honestly, didn’t you want to back out of the agreement?’

Vikram smiled and said, ‘Where’s the need to know now? Let it remain curtained.’ 
(Hindi, 'Hans' November 1935)
My comments
Another very interesting story, though not very popular among anthologists. Undoubtedly the plot is rather thin and trite: The hopes that people entertain on purchasing a lottery ticket and how those hopes collapse like a punctured balloon. However, Premchand uses this thin plot to enter into people’s minds to show how strong the desire for wealth can be and how that desire totally distorts human behavior and   human relationships. Family relations and friendships break up, brothers turn against each other, friends become suspicious of each other; atheists turn believers, and religious faith is shown to be nothing more than a manifestation of human greed and hypocrisy; superstitions thrive and faith in godmen’s miraculous powers blooms as the desire to get rich quickly takes centre stage in the human heart. Premchand draws a very delightful caricature of this human condition simulated in the story through the purchase of lottery tickets. In one sense, one may hazard, that the story becomes a playful meditation on how desire for wealth can distort and disrupt stable human relationships and awaken blind faith and hypocrisy. Story as meditation? Or, meditation as story? May be!

Some objections can be raised against the story. Premchand seems to have presented a very poor image of drinking and seems guilty of excessive moralizing. And his use of the word ‘habshi’ for the African-American who wins the lottery may raise some eyebrows and even bring accusations of racism. However, in Premchand’s time the word had more a descriptive connotation (like the word ‘Negro’ in America and Europe then) and less an ‘insulting’ one. The Hindi dictionary defines ‘Habshi’ as one who is from the ‘land of Habesh, and of very dark complexion’. The word itself came to India with the Muslims in its Arabic form and was used for African and Abyssinian (Abyssinia being a Latinized form of Habesha) slaves brought by them to India. The slaves were valued for their physical prowess and loyalty, and interestingly some of them rose to high offices, and many of them were merchants. Two conspicuous examples are Malik Ambar of Ahmadnagar who became an independent chief of a small state in Western India; and another, Jamal-ud-Din Yakut, an African Siddi slave turned nobleman and a close confidant of Delhi’s only female ruler, Razia Sultana (1205-40), and speculated to have been her lover.

 I wonder whether Premchand was even aware that the word might be considered offensive. But why did he bring an African slave into the story? My conjecture is that Premchand, more than wanting to insult an African-American, was mocking at his own characters who hypocritically and foolishly believed that they alone were deserving of the lottery prize. Premchand perhaps wanted to drive home the point that Nature’s or God’s bounty can fall to anyone including the most marginalized and denigrated individual, and he hits out at the pretensions of his characters who are shocked and horrified to hear that an American ‘habshi’, has won the lottery. For them it is an ill-deserved prize, but Premchand thinks otherwise. In fact he seems to delight in the discomfiture of his characters. 

Premchand’s usual banter and caricature of human behavior enliven the story from beginning to end.  

There is a similar short story called 'The Lottery Ticket' by Anton Chekhov. I wonder whether Premchand knew this story. There is another short story, 'The lottery', by an American writer, Shirley Jackson, but that is altogether a very different kind of story.