Thursday, December 12, 2013

Prem Chand Ke Phate Joote

    Here is my translation of a short satiric piece by Hindi satirist and humorist Hari Shankar Parsai (1922-95). Not   great writing but nevertheless interesting. Read this till I post translation of another story  by Prem Chand.

   


                                 A Hole in Prem Chand’s Shoe

                                                      (Prem Chand ke Phate Joote)
                                                             by Hari Shankar Parsai


One of Prem Chand’s photos is in front of me. He is seated beside his wife. He  is wearing a cap made of some thick cloth, a kurta and dhoti. The sideburns seem pasted, the cheekbones are prominent, but a thick moustache fills up his face.

He is wearing canvass shoes, with the laces tied haphazardly. If you tie the laces carelessly the aglets  come off and it becomes difficult to string the laces through the eyelets. Then tying laces becomes a  hit-and-miss affair.

The shoe on the right foot is in good shape, but there is a big hole in the left shoe through which one of the toes is peeping out.  

My eyes have latched on to this shoe. I begin to wonder: If this is his dress for posing for a photograph, what does he wear on ordinary occasions. No, this man would not have clothes for special occasions. He doesn’t have the knack to change dresses. He poses for a photograph just as he is.

I look at his face. O my literary ancestor, do you know that there is a hole in your shoe and one of the toes is peeping out? Are you aware of this? Doesn’t this embarrass you? Don’t you realize that by lowering a part of your dhoti a bit you could cover up this peeping toe? In spite of all this, you look so nonchalant and self-assured! On the photographer’s ‘ready please’ command, you must have tried to feign a smile, drawing it gradually out of the deep well of pain; and the photographer would have ‘clicked’ and said ‘thank you’.  This half-hearted smile is laced with sarcasm.

What kind of a man is this? Wearing a holed shoe himself, he has the cheek to mock at some one!
If you were going to get yourself photographed, you could have worn a decent pair of shoes. And, where was the need to get yourself photographed? You could have avoided it. May be it was your wife who urged upon you, and you said ‘all right’ and sat down for it. It is really tragic that a man should have no proper shoes for a photograph. By looking at this photograph I sense your miserable lot and almost break down, but the painful and sardonic smile on your face stops me.

You just can’t appreciate the importance of getting yourself photographed. Had it been so, you would have borrowed shoes from someone. People show off their sons for match-making in borrowed jackets. And ride in borrowed cars for marriages. People even borrow wives to get themselves photographed, and you couldn’t borrow even shoes! You really don’t know. People go to the extent of perfuming themselves so that the photograph itself becomes fragrant. The photograph of even the uncleanest man smells sweet.

One could buy a cap for just five annas, but shoes not for less than five rupees. Shoes have always been more expensive than caps. Now-a-days shoes have become still more expensive and dozens of caps can be bought for the price of one pair of shoes. You were also a victim of this gap between the price of a cap and that of a pair of shoes. This anomaly didn’t hurt me so much before as today after I have seen the hole in your shoe. You were called a great story writer, an emperor among novelists, a pioneer and what not; but your shoe has a hole in it.

My shoe is also not in good shape but it looks good from outside. The toe doesn’t peep out, but the sole under the toe is worn out and the toe often rubs against the ground and becomes bloody when it rubs against a rough surface. The sole would crack and the sole of my foot get hurt, yet the toe won’t show. Your toe shows but your foot is very safe. My toe is invisible but my foot is getting worn out. You do not know the importance of hiding behind a curtain, and we love to conceal so much.

You are wearing your holed shoe with great elan. I can’t do this. And I would never get myself photographed in this manner, even if I have to remain unphotographed for life.

Your mocking smile unsettles me altogether. What does it convey? What kind of a smile is this?

Did Hori succeed in donating a cow?

Did  the pigs eat up Halku’s crop on that bitterly cold night?

Did Sujan Bhagat’s son die, because the doctor sitting in the club refused to attend on him?

No. It seems Madho  drank away the charity  money given for his dead wife’s coffin. You seem to be smiling at this.

I look at your shoe once again. How did this hole come about, my people’s writer?

Did you keep wandering?

Did you walk many a mile to avoid the demands from your bania creditor?

The shoe wears out if you keep walking, but it does not get a hole. Kumbh Das’s shoe was also worn out because of his many trips to Fatehpur Sikri. He was filled with remorse:
My shoe wore out through coming and going, and I forgot to remember God.

And for such generous givers he said: One is forced to salute those whose very look causes pain.

The shoe only wears out from walking, it does not get a hole. How did your shoe get a hole?

It seems you have been hitting against something very hard. Something that has accumulated centuries of crust, and you have torn your shoe hitting against it. You tried your shoe against a mound that had blocked your way.

You could have ignored it and bypassed it. One can strike a compromise with obstacles. All the rivers don’t break through the mountains. They change their course and go round.

 You could not make such compromises. Did you also have the same kind of weakness that ruined Hori  – a call of Dharma. Hori was chained to this call. But the way you are smiling it looks Dharma was not a chain for you but liberation.

This toe peeping out of your foot seems to point out at something. You seem to be pointing out with your toe, not your finger, towards something that you hate.

 Are you pointing out towards that something against which you have been kicking with your foot and have torn your shoe?

 I understand. I know the direction in which your toe is pointing and also the sarcastic smile on your face.
You are laughing at me and all those who are concealing their toe  and walking with their worn out shoes, those who are skirting round that mound. You are saying: ‘I have torn my shoe hitting against that mound, that my toe is out but my foot is safe and I have kept on walking. But you in your anxiety to conceal your toe have been ruining your feet. How shall you continue walking?’

I know. I understand the story of your torn shoe. I understand what your toe is pointing at. I Know what that sarcastic smile is about.     
                                                                         ---

  Translated by me  from: Hari Shankar Parsai (1922-1995): Prem Chand ke Phate Joote (Satiric Essays) edited by Gyanranjan, Bhartiya Gyanpeeth 2012 (eighth edition)         

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The State: a short story

For a change from Prem Chand  read my short story: The State     



                                                THE STATE

The sculptor looked glum and lost.
‘Why’re you so quiet today?’ His wife asked.
‘Just like that.’ The sculptor’s whimper was hardly audible.
‘There must be something.’
‘No, nothing.’
‘There must be.’
‘I shouldn’t have made that statue of the leader.’
‘Why?’
‘He’s a devil.’
‘What’s he done?’
‘Now, he’s got his opponents shot.’
‘Who told you?’
‘The painter. Ten were executed last week.’
‘Do you believe the news?’
‘Yes.’
‘Then?’
‘I shouldn’t have made that statue.’ He whined again.
‘But he’s done so much for the people. Ten men is not too big a price.’
‘It’s not ten. God knows how many have been murdered.’
‘These are only rumours.’
           
‘No. That’s what we have been believing, forcing ourselves to believe. We were told that some counter-revolutionaries had been arrested and kept in quarantine camps, to ensure they created no problems. I myself visited one of those camps. They were all well looked after.’

‘Then?’
‘That was only a ruse. In other camps they were treated like animals. God knows what’s happened to them. There must be thousands.’

‘Are you sure?’
‘Sure! I’ve known it all these years, but had never confessed it to myself. I was carried away by     slogans.’
‘But you yourself said that some people had to be suppressed.’
‘Yes, kept under check. Not murdered or tortured.’
‘What can you do now?’
“I want, at least, to undo the part I played.’
‘What did you do?’
‘I glorified the revolution, and the man who brought it about.’
‘There was nothing wrong with the revolution.’
‘But the man?’
‘There would have been no revolution without him.’
‘The revolution was necessary.’

The sculptor’s mind was in turmoil. A revolution had been a dire necessity. But revolutions had always been led by men filled with demonic energy; had always brought bloodshed and suffering with the promise, or on the pretext of ending greater bloodshed and suffering; had always got out of hand and followed their own reckless course. That was the dilemma of all revolutions. If the leaders had paused to weigh the pros and cons, there would have been no revolutions. Revolutions had never been created by men with soft consciences. But why did revolutionaries turn into dictators, fail to create that balance between anarchy and absolutism? This revolution had, however, given him the hope that it would not degenerate into an orgy of senseless violence. It hadn’t, in the beginning; had kept its sanity; but later things began to change. They heard rumours of arrests, interrogations, tortures, exterminations. Many people, whom he had known, disappeared mysteriously. But he had continued to believe in the fundamental humanity of the leader, in his commitment to freedom and human values. He had convinced himself that most of the stories of atrocities were false or inflated. Where he had been unable to convince himself, he had rationalized that some repression was necessary to stabilize the revolution. Naturally a few innocent people also suffered, which could not always be helped. Gradually, however, the face of the Revolution had become hard, and grim, and blind. Many members of the Revolutionary Council were dropped, then denounced, then arrested. And now ten leaders, who had participated in the Revolution, had been murdered in cold blood! Including the man who, he personally knew, could never have been disloyal to the ideals of the Revolution. He must assassinate the leader ― that was the only way now to wipe out his own sense of guilt. He would seek an appointment, carry a pistol, a knife, a bomb and kill him. But that was very difficult. They would search him thoroughly before allowing him to see the leader, if at all. He had to find a way out...

            The sculptor left his wife alone and walked away towards his studio.
               
At midnight he came to the square where the leader’s statue had been erected. The place was deserted. He looked towards the road more than a hundred yards away. An automobile was coming along. He sat down on the steps leading to the pedestal on which the statue stood. The vehicle came closer and sped along and soon disappeared from his sight. He looked all around for the policeman on his beat but there seemed to be none. He got on to his feet and climbed the stairs and stood face to face with the dictator.  How he had struggled to bring out that expression on his face, of resolute determination! It had been a labour of admiration, almost of love. Now the face looked inhuman. He felt sick at his own doing. But this was not the time to think of all that. He must get over with the job quickly.
                           
He looked around once again to assure himself that no one was watching him, then he took a hammer out of his bag. He poised himself at a suitable distance, held the hammer with both his hands and swung it with all his might at the granite head of the leader. The sound of the hammer striking the stone seemed to reverberate from all sides, but the head stood intact. Only a few chips of rock from the crushed ear of the leader flew into the air. The sculptor received a terrible jolt on his shoulder joints. Angry, he swung the hammer thrice in quick succession, but the head remained where it was. He realized that it would be impossible to bring down the statue like this. He should have brought dynamite. If he could see the statue disintegrate in an explosion it would lessen the weight on his conscience. As it was, even if he hammered the statue the whole night he would do no great damage to it.

            Then, he saw the raised hand of the leader. He had thought for days and days to decide how the hand should be raised. He had studied dozens of photographs of the leader to discover the most characteristic manner in which he lifted his arm, and had finally chosen this posture, that, as he had imagined then, showed the leader beckoning the people to the Promised Land. He felt, now, that this raised arm was the most vulnerable to his hammer strokes. Lifting the hammer again he struck a blow on this uplifted arm. This time he had success; the hammer carried away the palm of the leader. Encouraged, he struck some more blows on the arm but without success. His whole body had begun to ache, quite exhausted by the effort…

            He heard the sound of an automobile speeding along the road and quickly walked down the stairs to shelter himself behind the pedestal and watch the automobile go its way. He looked around and sighted two policemen walking along the road. They were not coming towards him but it was no longer safe to stay on. He picked up his hammer and put in into his bag and walked home.

            Two days later he read in the newspaper; ‘Criminal attempt to deface and destroy the leader’s statue. Vigorous search on for the culprits.’

            Then after a few days he read that four persons had been arrested and they had confessed having attempted to demolish the leader’s statue. The authorities saw the hand of counter-revolutionary forces, and the police suspected a plot to assassinate the leader.

‘This is too much. They’re innocent.’ The sculptor told his wife.
‘How do you know?’
He had kept his escapade secret from his wife.
‘I know.’
‘But how.’
He narrated the whole incident.
‘Why did you do it?’
‘I wanted to undo what I had done.’
‘How could you?’

‘I enjoyed hammering at the statue.’ He remembered the painful jerks he had received. His joints still ached.

            ‘What use was it?’

‘It wasn’t. Had I succeeded I would have been happy. But perhaps there is no expiation for sins. I’ve only brought trouble on some more people. I must confess that I tried to demolish the statue, otherwise they will hang innocent people.’
           
‘It won’t help. They’ll hang you as well.’
           
This was quite true; he knew his attempt had only given the leader an excuse to liquidate a few more of his opponents. Nothing was simpler than to accuse them of a plot against the Revolution, hold a mock trial and murder them. His confession would not make any difference. But it would be cowardly to let innocent people die. He must try to save them.
           
For a moment he imagined himself rushing into the marketplace with a public address system, denouncing the leader, instigating people to revolt. He saw himself arrested within minutes and taken before a firing squad.
           
How easy it was to snuff out individual revolt! How inadequate he was… a mere artist! A mere sculptor carving out images. All his labour, his skill at chiseling stone into human form, seemed such a mockery in a world where human beings had turned into stone. This was not the time to chisel… was an artist really helpless against men of reckless action? That could not be. No one could ignore the voice of the artist. He would meet the leader and tell him why he had admired him once, why he was disillusioned with him now. He would tell him that in a land where even the artists were so stricken with fear, he could imagine the lot of the common people. He would put before him all the arguments in favour of the new freedom, and the need to carry forward the revolution with firmness but with compassion. The dictator would have to listen to him…
           
He built a labyrinth of eloquent arguments to be put before the leader.
            ‘I’ll see the leader,’ he announced his resolution to his wife.
            ‘Don’t be foolish,’ his wife warned him.
            ‘But the sculptor wrote to the leader confessing his guilt and seeking an appointment with him.
           
After a fortnight two plain-clothes men came to see him.
            ‘Sir, we are from the Department of Cultural Affairs,’ one of them said. ‘I’m sure you’ve read the news about the attempt to demolish the leader’s statue carved by you.’
            ‘Yes,’ replied the sculptor.
            ‘You also know that the culprits have been arrested and they have owned up this heinous crime.’
            ‘That’s a lie.’
            The man hesitated a little, but then went on as if the sculptor had not spoken.
            ‘The state views this crime,’ he continued, ‘with great seriousness. It is not merely an insult to the great leader and the Revolution, but also an act of vandalism no lover of art can approve of. And the state…’
            ‘Please listen to me,’ the sculptor protested.
            ‘And the state, being the patron of all arts, must act resolutely to put down all such acts of defilement, and award the strictest punishment to the criminals. The state…’
            ‘Listen to me…’
            ‘The state will, no doubt, do its duty. But at the same time, it expects people, particularly the artists who have always been staunch supporters of the revolution, to come forward to denounce this dastardly attack, so that the state…’
            ‘Listen…’
            ‘…so that the state is able to mobilize public opinion against enemies of the people. We have been sent here to request you, as also many other leading artists, to sign a statement condemning the attempt to smash the leader’s statue. We’re quite sure…’
            ‘Listen.’
            ‘…we are quite sure that you, being a great supporter and friend of the leader and the revolution, will not hesitate…’
            ‘I won’t sign any statement. Why don’t you listen to me?’ The sculptor was shouting.
            ‘Sir, we’ve orders to …’
            ‘I’ve told you I won’t sign any statement because I am the man who tried to smash the statue.’
            ‘Sir, we’re only obeying orders.’
            The sculptor gave up. It was no use talking to these people, who were no more than mechanical toys operated by remote control.
            ‘You can do your duty.’
            ‘Sir, we’ve orders to persuade you until you sign the statement.’
            ‘I won’t sign it,’ he shouted angrily.
            ‘Then, sir…’
            ‘I know. I’m under arrest.’
           
            ‘Sir, we’re only obeying orders. You’re not to move out of this house until…’
           
Two days later, the sculptor read in the newspaper that the four arrested men had been executed. He also read that the artist who had carved the leader’s statue had gone mad, shocked by the news of this attempt to destroy it. He was being well looked after and all attempts were being made to restore his wits.
            ‘I had asked you not to write that letter.’ The sculptor’s wife said.
            ‘I couldn’t let innocent people die.’
            ‘Were you able to save them?’
            ‘But at least I tried.’
            ‘What use was it?’
            ‘It eased my conscience.’
            ‘Did it, really?’
            He kept quite.
            ‘And now?’
            ‘Now!’ he said with a bitter laugh, ‘Now I’ll grow old and die in this house, or in a concentration camp. A mad man in the eyes of people, a sinner in my own eyes. Why did I ever support him?’
            ‘Let’s escape.’
            ‘There is no escape now. They won’t let us. They won’t kill us, won’t even let us commit suicide. They know they have thrown me into a living hell where I die a death of shame every day, every hour, every minute…’
...


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Prem Chand's short story 'Bade Ghar KI Beti'


Given here is my translation of Prem Chand's short story 'Bade Ghar Ki Beti'.

 

 

 

Daughter of a Great House

(बड़े घर की बेटी)


Benimadhavasingh was a landowner, and the revenue officer in the village of Gauripur. His grandfather, once upon a time, was a man of great wealth. The village’s pucca water reservoir and the temple, which now cried out for repairs, were his proud memorials. People say that once an elephant stood at the door where now there is only an old buffalo, which is no more than a skeleton of its old self but which appears to produce a large quantity of milk, judged by the fact that someone or the other from the family keeps hovering around her with a pot. Benimadhava had gifted away more than half of his wealth to the lawyers.  His present annual income was no more than a thousand rupees. He had two sons. The elder one, Shrikanthsingh, had obtained his B.A. degree after long and great hard work, and was employed in an office. The younger son, Lalbiharisingh, was a broad-chested, strongly-built handsome youth. He would drink up two seers of milk every morning soon after waking up. Shrikanth was an exact contrast. He had sacrificed these eye-pleasing qualities to just two words: B.A. These two letters had debilitated his body and robbed his face of all its brightness. That is why he loved books on medicine. He had great faith in the Ayurvedic medicines. From morning till evening one could hear the soft grind of the pestle moving to and fro in the mortar. He was in regular postal contact with vaids in Lahore and Calcutta.

Shrikanth, in spite of holding this English degree, had no special love for English manners and customs; on the other hand, he was their strong critic and held them in contempt. Because of this the villagers held him in great respect. During the Dussehra festival he participated in the Ramlila, taking up the role of one character or the other. He was the founder of Ramlila in the village. The primary object of his religious activities was the promotion of ancient Hindu culture. He was a staunch admirer of the joint family system. For him the lack of interest in joint family seen among women today was harmful for the community and the country. For this reason the young ladies of the village were his strong critics. A few among them did not hesitate to regard him as their enemy. Even his own wife, Anandi, opposed his views on the subject. Not because she disliked her father and mother in-law, or her husband’s brother, but because she believed that if it was not possible to carry on even after many compromises, it was better to part and set up one’s own kitchen than to waste one’s life in needless everyday bickering.

Anandi was a girl from an aristocratic family. Her father was the talukdar of a small state. A huge mansion, an elephant, three dogs, hunter eagles, chandeliers, honorary magistracy, and debts – all the objects of respectability for a talukdar were present here. His name was Bhoop Singh. He was a very generous and talented man, but unfortunately he had no son. He fathered seven daughters and all of them remained alive. In the first flush of enthusiasm he married off three of his daughters, spending generously. But when he realized he had contracted a debt of about fifteen-to-twenty thousand rupees, he withdrew his hand. Anandi was his fourth daughter. She was the most beautiful and talented of his daughters. That is why thakur sahib loved her greatly. All parents have a tendency to love their beautiful off-spring. Thakur sahib faced a great dilemma: Where to find a suitable match for Anandi? He did not want to increase the burden of his debt, at the same time he did not wish to give his daughter the feeling that she had been unfortunate. One day Shrikanth came to him to ask for some donations; it was perhaps for the propagation of Hindi. Bhoopsingh was impressed by his conduct, and married off Anandi to Shrikanth with great pomp and show. 

When Anandi came to her new home she found that things were very different here. There was no trace of any of the trappings of wealth which she had been used to since her childhood. What to talk of an elephant or a horse, there was nothing like even a well-adorned bullock cart. She had brought her silken slippers but there was no garden here. There were no windows, no pucca floors, or no pictures on the walls. Here there was just an ordinary rural household. However, Anandi adapted herself to this new environment with such ease as if she had never been used to the luxuries of life. 

 2

One day at noon time Lalbiharisingh brought fowl meat and told his sister-in-law to cook it immediately, saying he was feeling very hungry. Anandi was waiting for him ready with food. Now she had to make this new dish for him. She looked into the pot. There was not much ghee left. Being the daughter of a wealthy house she did not know how to be thrifty. She poured all the ghee into this dish of meat. When Lalbihari sat to eat he found no ghee in the dal. ‘Why haven’t you put ghee into dal?’

Anandi replied that she had put all the ghee into the meat dish. Lalbihari shouted that they had brought ghee only yesterday. How could it be used up so soon?

Anandi said, ‘Today there was only a quarter seer of it. And she had used it for the meat dish.’
A ravenously hungry man is inflamed as swiftly as a dry stick of wood catches fire. Lalbihari did not like this answer from his sister-in-law and shouted, ‘You talk as if ghee flows like a river at your parents.’

Women can accept abusive language, or even thrashing, but not the denigration of their parental home. Anandi retorted, ‘Even a dead elephant is worth a million. There nais and kahars consume this much ghee every day.’

Lalbihari became red with anger. He overturned the thali and said, ‘I feel like pulling out your tongue.’

Anandi also lost her temper. She said, ‘Had he been here he would have taught you a lesson.’

Now the illiterate and ill-mannered thakur could no longer restrain himself. His own wife was the daughter of a small-time landlordand and he could thrash her at will. He picked up his wooden slipper and threw it at his sister-in-law, saying, ‘I shall settle scores with you, and also him.’

Anandi parried the slipper with her hand to protect her head. But in the process she hurt her finger badly. She rushed angrily into her room, shaking like a leaf in the wind. A woman’s power and courage, her honour and self-respect reside in her husband and she is proud of his strength and manhood. Anandi had no alternative but to swallow this insult.


3

Shrikanth Singh used to come home every Saturday. This incident had taken place on a Thursday. For two days Anandi locked herself up in her room. She went without food and waited for her husband. He returned as usual on Saturday evening, and sat in the open talking of things in general and of some of the new court cases. This went on till ten o’clock in the evening. The worthies of the village enjoyed this gossip so much that they forgot even to eat. It was difficult for Shrikanth to get rid of them. Anandi spent these few hours in great unease. At last the people moved out and it was time to eat. Just then Lalbihari came to his brother and said, ‘Bhai sahib, just tell bhabhi to be careful with her tongue, or something terrible will happen one day.’

Benimadhavasingh supported his son. ‘Yes, it is wrong for women to talk back to men.’

Lalbihri said, ‘She may be from a great family, but we’re are not low caste kahars or kurmis.’

Shrikanth asked in a worried tone, ‘After all, what’s the matter?’

Lalbihari said, ‘Nothing at all. She got into an argument with me. In her eyes we’re nobody as against her parental family.’ 

After finishing his food Shrikanth went to his wife. She sat filled up with resentment. She said, ‘Are you happy?’

Shrikanth replied, ‘Yes, I’m happy. But what’s this storm and uproar you have raised?’

Anandi’s brow became pitted with lines. She was aflame with anger. ‘I would singe the face of the person who has instigated you.’

‘Why’re you so angry? What’s the matter?’

‘What should I tell you? It’s my fate. Otherwise a village bumpkin who is not fit to be appointed a peon wouldn’t have hurled his slipper at me and threatened me.’

‘Tell me everything plainly. I don’t know anything.’

Anandi narrated the story. ‘The day before your dear brother asked me to cook a meat dish for him. There wasn’t much ghee in the pot. I used the whole of it in the meat. When he sat down to eat he asked why there was no ghee in the dal. And he started cursing my parental home. I couldn’t control myself and said that there this much ghee was consumed by nais and kahars, and no one even notices this. At this the tyrant hurled his slipper at me. Had I not stopped it with my hand it would have hit me on the head. Ask him if what I have said is a lie.’

Shrikanth’s eyes became red. He said, ‘Has that boy dared to do this?’

Like all women Anandi began to cry. Shrikanth was a very gentle and forbearing person. He seldom lost his temper. However female tears work to add fuel to a fire. He kept tossing in his bed. His anger did not let him shut his eyes even for a moment. In the morning he went to his father and said, ‘Dada, I won’t be able to carry on here any longer.’

Shrikanth had denounced many of his friends for letting off such rebellious ideas, but today he himself had to do it. How easy it is to preach to others!

Benimadhavasingh was upset. He said, ‘Why?’

Shrikanth replied, ‘Because I also care for my self-respect. Your house is becoming a place of injustice and boorishness. He who should be respectful and courteous to their elders misbehaves with them. I am in service elsewhere and don’t stay at home. And in my absence slippers and shoes are hurled at women. Harsh words are fine. I won’t mind them. But I can’t keep quiet if someone hurls kicks and blows at me.’

Benimadhavasingh made no answer. Shrikanth had always been respectful towards him. The old thakur was speechless before such an outburst of temper. He only said ‘Son, you’re a sensible person and yet you talk like that. Women destroy their households like this. It’s not proper to give them so much latitude.’

Shrikanth replied, ‘With your blessings, I’m not such a fool. You yourself know that many homes in the village have been saved with my intervention, but I can’t accept such unjust and inhuman conduct towards the woman for whose honour I’m answerable to God. The truth is that I don’t want to punish Lalbihari.’

Now Benimadhavasingh got worked up. He could not hear anything anymore. He said, ‘Lalbihari is your brother. If he does something foolish you can catch him by the ear but…’

‘I no longer regard Lalbihari as my brother.’

‘For a woman?’

‘No, sir. For his cruelty and lack of sense.’  

Both of them became quiet for some time. Thakur sahib wanted to pacify his son but was not willing to admit that Lalbihari had done something wrong. In the meantime many worthy men of the village came there under the pretext of smoking the hookah. Many women were very happy when they came to know that Shrikanth was willing to break with his father for the sake of his wife. They were dying to hear the exchange of sweet words between the two sides. There were many wicked persons in the village who were secretly jealous of the orderly and peaceful tenor of life in this family. They often said that Shrikanth was very timid and afraid of his father. He was educated, so he had become a bookworm. Benimadhavasingh did not do anything without consulting his son, but this, they thought, was nothing but his foolishness. The wishes of these great people, it seemed, were about to be realized. Some among them came on the pretext of smoking the hookah, others to show the payment receipt for the land revenue. Benimadhava was an old hand and could sense their thoughts. He decided that he would not give them any chance to rejoice. Very quickly he spoke in a very gentle voice, ‘Son, I’m not against you. Do what you like. The boy has indeed committed a crime.’

The inexperienced graduate from Allahabad could not take any clue from this. From the debating club he had acquired the habit of sticking to his argument, and he could not follow the tactics employed by his father. He said, ‘I cannot live in this house with Lalbihari.’

Benimadhava said, ‘Son, the wise don’t take such follies seriously. He lacks understanding. He has made a mistake, but you, being his elder, should forgive him.’

Shrikanth replied, ‘I can never forgive him for this misconduct. If you love him so much, you let me go. I shall take care of myself. If you want me to stay then tell him to go away wherever he likes. This is my final decision.’

Lalbihari stood at the door listening to his brother. He had great respect for his brother. He had never had the courage to sit on a cot facing his brother, or smoke the hookah or chew paan in his presence. He respected his brother even more than his father. Shrikanth also had great affection for him. He did not remember having ever rebuked him. Whenever he returned from Allahabad he would always bring some gift for him. It was he who had gifted the pair of dumbbells to him. Last year when Lalbihari had floored a wrestler far stronger than him, he had gone right into the ring to embrace him and had distributed five rupees. Hearing such harsh words from his brother, Lalbihari felt ashamed of himself. Tears welled up in his eyes. Undoubtedly, he was regretting what he had done. A day before his brother was to return he was nervously debating within himself how he would react to the incident: How he would face him, how he would respond to his questioning and how he would look in his eyes. He had thought that his brother would just admonish him, but he found his brother going ruthlessly against his wishful thinking. And in his heart he believed that his brother was being unfair to him. If Shrikanth had called him aside, rebuked him or even given a few slaps he wouldn’t have been so hurt, but Lalbihari was totally shaken to hear that his brother wouldn’t even like to see his face. He went into the house crying. He went into his room, dressed up, wiped his eyes so that no one should notice that he had been crying. He came and stood at Anandi’s door and said, ‘Bhabi, bhaiya has decided that he does not wish to live with me in this house. He does not want to see my face, so I’m going away. I would never show my face to him. Forgive me for my misconduct.’

Lalbihari’s throat choked with emotions as he said these words.

As Lalbihari stood in front of Anandi with bowed head, Shrikanth came in, his eyes red with anger. When he saw his brother waiting there he turned his eyes and walked away, as if running away from even his shadow.

Anandi had complained against Lalbihari, but now she was regretting it. She was generous by nature. She had never imagined that things would go that far. She was irritated at her husband for having lost his temper. And she was afraid he might ask her to go with her to Allahabad. What would she do then? And when she heard what Lalbihari had just said, all her anger against him disappeared. She started crying. There is nothing better than tears to wash off the bitterness in one’s heart.

When Anandi saw Shrikanth she said, ‘Labihari is crying.’

Shrikanth said, ‘So what?’

‘Call him in. My tongue should singe. Why did I raise this quarrel?’

‘I won’t call him.’

‘You’ll regret. He is completely broken down. He might go away.’

Shrikanth did not get up. In the meantime Lalbihari said again, ‘Bhabhi, say my goodbye to bhaiya. Since he does not wish to see my face, I won’t show it to him.’  Saying this Lalbihari moved towards the door. Anandi walked towards him and caught him by the hand. Lalbihari turned his face towards her and said, ‘Let me go.’

‘Where would you go?’

‘Where no one would see my face.’

‘I won’t let you go.’

‘I’m not fit to live with you people.’

‘In my name, don’t take even one step.’

‘I won’t stay in this house until I’m sure bhaiya has forgiven me.’

‘I swear by God that I harbour no ill-will towards you.’

Now Shrikanth’s heart also melted. He came out and embraced his brother. Both the brothers began to cry like children. Lalbihari said, ‘Bhaiya, never say again that you won’t see my face. Except that, I shall happily accept any punishment from you.’

Shrikanth replied in a trembling voice, ‘Lallu, forget all this. Such an occasion would never arise.’

Benimadavasingh was coming in. He was overjoyed to see the brothers embracing each other.

Joyfully, he said, ‘That’s what the daughters from great houses are like. They set things right.’

Everyone in the village who heard this story began to shower praises on Anandi. ‘Daughters from great houses are indeed like that.’

(Zamaana, Urdu, December 1910. First story published under the adopted name Premchand)                                                                                           ---       





My Comments

‘Bade Ghar Ki Beti’ is among Prem Chand’ earliest stories. It was published in 1910 in ‘Zamana’ and was the first story he published under his adopted name Prem Chand. As is usual with Prem Chand, the subject of the story is a social question, the joint family in this case. It is very interesting to note that the threat to the joint family was already an issue at the beginning of the last century. But in the story, as it must have been in contemporary life then, it remains only a threat and the story’s resolution saves the family in question from disintegration. And that seems also Prem Chand’s message. The joint family is under threat but it would be a bad thing if it broke up. That’s why the title, ‘Bade Ghar Ki Beti’. But now, a century after, the issue has gone overboard and the breaking up of the joint family has gone very far, for good and bad. It still remains a violently contested issue. Although this story is among his earliest ones, the great hallmarks of the writer’s art of story-telling are clearly in evidence: his tongue-in-cheek humour, the constantly flowing under-current of irony that spares no one, his moralizing tone and idealistic endings, and his very powerful awareness of the decline of the Indian zamindari. Both the families portrayed in the story are far gone in their decline, mired in litigation and debt. The opening lines of the story symbolize this decline beautifully. But, of course, Prem Chand is yet a long way from seeing the most devastating and the blatantly unjust aspects of life in the rural and traditional India. He has yet to encounter the Bolshivek Revolution, Gandhi and the Indian National Movement. He is yet to write about men and women like Hori and Dhania, Ghisu and Madho, Dukhia and Jhuria, Jokhu and Gangi, the thakurs, the nawabs, the banias and pandits, and many others like them.        

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