Interaction involves a whole gamut of relationships among people, between two or more, in fact all living things, or between living and nonliving things, and perhaps even among non-living things. The need for interaction, I believe, is universal, for the more one interacts the more alive one feels, and the less one interacts the less one lives. Through INTERACTIONS I hope to interact with anyone on any issue in my modest way, to keep the flame of life burning at least in my own self.
Here is my translation of
Prem Chand’s short story ‘Thakur ka
Thakur’s Well (Thakur Ka Kuan)
As Jokhu brought the lota to his lips to drink, the water smelled
foul. He said to Gangi, ‘What kind of water is this? It stinks. My throat’s
dry, and you’re making me drink this unclean water.’
Gangi used to store up water
in the evening. The well was far away, and it was difficult to walk the
distance again and again. The water she had brought yesterday was good. What
could have gone wrong today? she wondered. She brought the lota to her nose. Yes, it was stinking. An animal must have fallen
into the well and drowned. But where from would she get water now?
No one would let her mount
the Thakur’s well. They would drive her away from a distance. Sahuji’s well was at the other end of the
village. But who would let her draw water from there? And there was no fourth
well in the village.
Jokhu had been ill for many
days. Though thirsty he kept quiet for some time. Then he said, ‘I can’t hold
my thirst any more. Come, I’ll squeeze my nose and drink a little bit.’
Gangi didn’t let him. She
knew that drinking this unclean water would aggravate his illness, but she didn’t
know that boiling would make it safe for drinking. She said, ‘How can you drink
this water? God knows what animal it was. I’ll bring water from somewhere.’
Jokhu looked at her with
surprise. ‘Where will you bring it from?’
‘There are two wells: the Thakur’s
and the Sahu’s. Won’t they let me have even one lota-ful?’
‘You’ll get only broken arms
and legs, nothing else. Sit quietly. The brahmin will bless you with curses,
the Thakur wield his lathi, and Sahuji charge five for one. No one feels our
pain. Even when we die, no one comes to condole, least of all to lend his
shoulder to the bier. Will such people let you draw water?’
This was the bitter truth.
Gangi kept quiet, but she did not let him drink the stinking water.
It was nine o’clock in the night.
The exhausted labourers had gone to sleep but a few idlers were gathered
outside the Thakur’s door. The times and opportunities for showing valour in
the battlefield were gone; they were talking of battles won in the law courts.
How the Thakur had bribed the thanedar
and saved his skin. How cleverly he had obtained the copy of a landmark court
judgement. The nazir and other court
officials had said that the copy couldn’t be given. Some demanded fifty, others
a hundred. He obtained the copy without paying a single cowrie or paisa! One
should know the art of manipulation.
It was then that Gangi
arrived to draw water from the well.
A faint light from the
street oil-lamp was falling on the well. Gangi came and sat close to the
platform around the well, sheltering herself, and waited for an opportunity.
Everyone drank from this
well. They alone, the ill-fated, were forbidden. Gangi’s rebellious heart began
to hit out at the traditional society’s restrictions and compulsions. What
makes us low, and them high? Just because they are wearing a string round their
necks! All these people are so crooked, each one more than the other. They
steal. They cheat. They file false cases against others. Only the other day the
Thakur poached the shepherd’s sheep, then slaughtered and ate it up. And this panditji’s house is a round-the-year den
of gamblers. And this very Sahuji
adulterates ghee with oil. They make us labour for them, but don’t want to pay
for it. In what way are theyhigher
than us? In swaggering, yes. We don’t go shouting in the streets, like them,
that we are superior. Whenever I walk through the village, they look at me with
lusting eyes, and their hearts twist in envy. Yet they pride themselves on
She heard the sound of
footsteps at the well. Her heart began thumping with fright. Hell would break
loose if she was seen. She picked up the pitcher and the rope and, bending
herself low, walked away towards a tree and hid herself in its dark shadow.
They would show her no mercy. They had beaten up poor Mahngu so badly that he
had kept spitting blood for months—just because he had refused to work without
being paid! And they are higher!
Two women had come to the
well to draw water. They were talking.
‘They’ve come in to eat, and
have ordered us to bring fresh water.’
‘These men become agitated
if they find us resting for a while.’
‘They didn’t have the
decency to come here and draw water for themselves. They only know to give
orders, as if we were their bondswomen.’
‘What else are you, if not a
bondswoman? Don’t you get food and clothing? And you snatch a few rupees from
them, off and on. How are bondswomen different?’
‘Don’t insult me, sister.
I’m not able to relax even for a short while. Had I laboured like this at
another’s household, life would have been a lot easier. And he would have been
grateful too. Kill yourself with work, yet no one’s pleased.’
Both the women walked away
after drawing water. Gangi came out of the tree’s shadow and walked towards the
well. The idlers had gone away. The Thakur too had shut the door from inside
and was readying himself to sleep in the courtyard. Gangi heaved a sigh of
relief. The coast seemed clear now. Even the prince who had gone to steal amrita, would not have taken such
meticulous care. Gangi treaded the edge of the well with soft steps. Seldom had
she experienced such a sense of triumph!
She looped one end of the
rope round the pitcher’s neck. She peered to her right and left, like a soldier
readying himself to pierce the enemy’s defences. If she were caught now, there
would be no mercy at all. At last, invoking the gods, fortifying her heart, she
lowered the pitcher into the well.
The pitcher sank into the
water gently, making no sound at all. Gangi pulled the rope up quickly, and the
pitcher came up to the top. Even a powerful wrestler couldn’t have drawn up the
pitcher so swiftly.
Gangi leaned forward to
catch the pitcher and rest it on the edge of the well, when the Thakur’s door
opened suddenly. A lion’s look could not have been more frightening than this
sound. The rope slipped through her hands, and the pitcher went hurtling down
the well and hit the water with a loud thud.
The water kept making a rippling sound for a few moments.
The Thakur was advancing
towards the well, shouting, ‘Who’s there? Who’s there?’ and Gangi, jumping from
well’s platform, was running furiously.
When she reached home, she
found Jokhu drinking the dirty water from the lota.
‘Jagran’ August 1932)
In many ways the story has become dated. The rural
India has undergone tremendous changes. The caste relations have become more
horizontal and less vertical, though caste identities have sharpened with the
rising political consciousness across the castes. New horizontal caste
combinations and alliances are emerging to negotiate a space in the political
power structure. Feudalism has been on the decline. Yet the important features
of feudal India that Prem Chand portrays in this story still persist in the new
and changing India. Exclusion and discrimination on the basis of caste are still endemic, and self-assertion by the lower castes often leads to violent retribution
by the upper castes in many parts of the country, which goes unpunished by the
state still heavily biased in favour of the upper castes, though with some
exceptions. Women still remain at the receiving end because the society
continues to be strongly patriarchal. And the rural rich and powerful,
successors to the lost feudal world, are able to manipulate the state
administration through connections, bribery, chicanery, and, above all,
Today, Prem Chand would have written the story
differently, but the essential features would have been the same: Caste/class/gender inequalities, gross social injustice, and corruption and abuse of power.
Prem Chand still remains the chronicler of themes and
issues that, sadly, seem perennial and refuse to die down even in the independent
and democratic India. This is what Bhisham Sahani wrote 25 years ago: ‘Out of the evils against which Prem Chand struggled
only one has disappeared – the British Raj. All the others he wrote about continue
to haunt us in one form or the other.’ What about today?
Also see the following link for an analysis of the
power structures in this story: