Skip to content
Permalink
master
Switch branches/tags

Name already in use

A tag already exists with the provided branch name. Many Git commands accept both tag and branch names, so creating this branch may cause unexpected behavior. Are you sure you want to create this branch?
Go to file
 
 
Cannot retrieve contributors at this time
TALES OF BENGAL
by
S. B. Banerjea
Edited by
Francis Henry Skrine.
Contents.
I. The Pride of Kadampur
II. The Rival Markets
III. A Foul Conspiracy
IV. The Biter Bitten
V. All's Well That Ends Well
VI. An Outrageous Swindle
VII. The Virtue of Economy
VIII. A Peacemaker
IX. A Brahman's Curse
X. A Roland for His Oliver
XI. Rámdá
XII. A Rift in the Lute
XIII. Debenbra Babu in Trouble
XIV. True to His Salt
XV. A Tame Rabbit
XVI. Gobardhan's Triumph
XVII. Patience is a Virtue
Introduction.
That "east is east, and west is west, and never the twain shall meet,"
is an axiom with most Englishmen to whom the oriental character seems
an insoluble enigma. This form of agnosticism is unworthy of a nation
which is responsible for the happiness of 300,000,000 Asiatics. It is
not justified by history, which teaches us that civilisation is the
result of the mutual action of Europe and Asia; and that the advanced
races of India are our own kinsfolk.
The scene of Mr. Banerjea's tales has been won from the sea by
alluvial action. Its soil, enriched by yearly deposits of silt, yields
abundantly without the aid of manure. A hothouse climate and regular
rainfall made Bengal the predestined breeding-ground of mankind; the
seat of an ancient and complex civilisation. But subsistence is too
easily secured in those fertile plains. Malaria, due to the absence
of subsoil drainage, is ubiquitous, and the standard of vitality
extremely low. Bengal has always been at the mercy of invaders. The
earliest inroad was prompted by economic necessity. About 2000 B.C. a
congeries of races which are now styled "Aryan" were driven by the
shrinkage of water from their pasture-grounds in Central Asia. They
penetrated Europe in successive hordes, who were ancestors of our
Celts, Hellenes, Slavs, Teutons and Scandinavians. Sanskrit was the
Aryans' mother-tongue, and it forms the basis of nearly every European
language. A later swarm turned the western flank of the Himalayas,
and descended on Upper India. Their rigid discipline, resulting from
vigorous group-selection, gave the invaders an easy victory over the
negroid hunters and fishermen who peopled India. All races of Aryan
descent exhibit the same characteristics. They split into endogamous
castes, each of which pursues its own interests at the expense of
other castes. From the dawn of history we find kings, nobles and
priests riding roughshod over a mass of herdsmen, cultivators and
artisans. These ruling castes are imbued with pride of colour. The
Aryans' fair complexions differentiated them from the coal-black
aborigines; varna in Sanskrit means "caste" and "colour". Their
aesthetic instinct finds expression in a passionate love of poetry,
and a tangible object in the tribal chiefs. Loyalty is a religion
which is almost proof against its idol's selfishness and incompetence.
Caste is a symptom of arrested social development; and no community
which tolerates it is free from the scourge of civil strife. Class
war is the most salient fact in history. Warriors, termed Kshatriyas
in Sanskrit, were the earliest caste. Under the law of specialisation
defence fell to the lot of adventurous spirits, whose warlike prowess
gave them unlimited prestige with the peaceful masses. They became
the governing element, and were able to transmit their privileges by
male filiation. But they had to reckon with the priests, descended
from bards who attached themselves to the court of a Kshatriya
prince and laid him under the spell of poetry. Lust of dominion is a
manifestation of the Wish to Live; the priests used their tremendous
power for selfish ends. They imitated the warriors in forming a
caste, which claimed descent from Brahma, the Creator's head, while
Kshatriyas represented his arms, and the productive classes his less
noble members.
In the eleventh century B.C. the warrior clans rose in revolt against
priestly arrogance: and Hindustan witnessed a conflict between the
religious and secular arms. Brahminism had the terrors of hell fire
on its side; feminine influence was its secret ally; the world is
governed by brains, not muscles; and spiritual authority can defy the
mailed fist. After a prolonged struggle the Kshatriyas were fain to
acknowledge their inferiority.
When a hierocracy has been firmly established its evolution
always follows similar lines. Ritual becomes increasingly
elaborate: metaphysical dogma grows too subtle for a layman's
comprehension. Commercialism spreads from the market to the sanctuary,
whose guardians exploit the all-pervading fear of the unknown to
serve their lust of luxury and rule.
Brahminism has never sought to win proselytes; the annals of ancient
India record none of those atrocious persecutions which stained
mediaeval Christianity. It competed with rival creeds by offering
superior advantages: and the barbarous princes of India were kept
under the priestly heel by an appeal to their animal instincts. A
fungoid literature of abominations grew up in the Tantras, which are
filthy dialogues between Siva, the destroying influence in nature,
and his consorts. One of these, Káli by name, is the impersonation
of slaughter. Her shrine, near Calcutta, is knee-deep in blood,
and the Dhyán or formula for contemplating her glories, is a tissue
of unspeakable obscenity. Most Hindus are Saktas, or worshippers of
the female generative principle: happily for civilisation they are
morally in advance of their creed. But it is a significant fact that
Káli is the tutelary goddess of extremist politicians, whose minds
are prepared for the acceptance of anarchism by the ever-present
ideal of destruction.
It was Bengal's misfortune that its people received Brahminism in
a corrupt and degenerate form. According to legend, King Adisur,
who reigned there in the ninth century of our era, imported five
priests from Kanauj to perform indispensable sacrifices. From this
stock the majority of Bengali Brahmins claim descent. The immigrants
were attended by five servants, who are the reputed ancestors of
the Kayasth caste. In Sanskrit this word means "Standing on the
Body," whence Kayasths claim to be Kshatriyas. But the tradition
of a servile origin persisted, and they were forbidden to study the
sacred writings. An inherited bent for literature has stood them in
good stead: they became adepts in Persian, and English is almost their
second mother-tongue to-day. Kayasths figure largely in Mr. Banerjea's
tales: their history proves that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Economic necessity was the cause of the first invasion of India: the
second was inspired by religion. The evolution of organised creeds is
not from simple to complex, but vice versa. From the bed-rock of magic
they rise through nature-worship and man-worship to monotheism. The
god of a conquering tribe is imposed on subdued enemies, and becomes
Lord of Heaven and Earth. Monotheism of this type took root among
the Hebrews, from whom Mohammed borrowed the conception. His gospel
was essentially militant and proselytising. Nothing can resist a
blend of the aesthetic and combative instincts; within a century of
the founder's death his successors had conquered Central Asia, and
gained a permanent footing in Europe. In the tenth century a horde
of Afghan Moslems penetrated Upper India.
The Kshatriya princes fought with dauntless courage, but unity of
action was impossible; for the Brahmins fomented mutual jealousies and
checked the growth of national spirit. They were subdued piecemeal;
and in 1176 A.D. an Afghan Emperor governed Upper India from Delhi. The
Aryan element in Bengal had lost its martial qualities; and offered
no resistance to Afghan conquest, which was consummated in 1203. The
invaders imposed their religion by fire and sword. The Mohammadans
of Eastern Bengal, numbering 58 per cent., of the population,
represent compulsory conversions effected between the thirteenth
and seventeenth centuries. Eight hundred years of close contact have
abated religious hatred; and occasional outbursts are due to priestly
instigation. Hindus borrowed the Zenana system from their conquerors,
who imitated them in discouraging widow-remarriages. Caste digs a
gulf between followers of the rival creeds, but Mr. Banerjea's tales
prove that a good understanding is possible. It is now imperilled by
the curse of political agitation.
In 1526 the Afghan dynasty was subverted by a Mongol chieftain lineally
descended from Tamerlane. His grandson Akbar's reign (1560-1605) was
India's golden age. Akbar the Great was a ruler of the best modern
type, who gave his subjects all the essentials of civilisation. But
he knew that material prosperity is only the means to an end. Man,
said Ruskin, is an engine whose motive power is the soul; and its
fuel is love. Akbar called all the best elements in society to his
side and linked them in the bonds of sympathy.
Religion in its highest phase is coloured by mysticism which
seeks emblems of the hidden source of harmony in every form of
life. Anthropomorphic conceptions are laid aside; ritual is abandoned
as savouring of magic; hierocracy as part of an obsolete caste system;
metaphysical dogma because the Infinite cannot be weighed in the
balances of human reason. The truce to fanaticism called by Akbar
the Great encouraged a poet and reformer named Tulsi Dása (1532-1623)
to point a surer way to salvation. He adored Krishna, the preserving
influence incarnate as Ráma, and rehandled Valmiki's great epic, the
Rámáyana, in the faint rays of Christian light which penetrated India
during that age of transition. Buddha had proclaimed the brotherhood of
man; Tulsi Dása deduced it from the fatherhood of God. The Preserver,
having sojourned among men, can understand their infirmities, and
is ever ready to save his sinful creatures who call upon him. The
duty of leading others to the fold is imposed on believers, for we
are all children of the same Father. Tulsi Dása's Rámáyana is better
known in Bihar and the United Provinces than is the Bible in rural
England. The people of Hindustan are not swayed by relentless fate,
nor by the goddess of destruction. Their prayers are addressed to a
God who loves his meanest adorer; they accept this world's buffetings
with resignation: while Ráma reigns all is well.
If the hereditary principle were sound, the Empire cemented together by
Akbar's statecraft might have defied aggression. His successors were
debauchees or fanatics. They neglected the army; a recrudescence of
the nomad instinct sent them wandering over India with a locust-like
horde of followers; Hindus were persecuted, and their temples were
destroyed. So the military castes whose religion was threatened, rose
in revolt; Viceroys threw off allegiance, and carved out kingdoms
for themselves. Within a century of Akbar's death his Empire was a
prey to anarchy.
India had hitherto enjoyed long spells of immunity from foreign
interference. Her people, defended by the Himalayan wall and the
ocean, were free to develop their own scheme of national life;
and world-forces which pierce the thickest crust of custom, reached
them in attenuated volume. Their isolation ended when the sea was no
longer a barrier; and for maritime nations it is but an extension of
their territory. A third invasion began in the sixteenth century,
and has continued till our own day. The underlying motive was not
economic necessity, nor religious enthusiasm, but sheer lust of gain.
In 1498 Vasco da Gama discovered an all-sea route to India, thus
opening the fabulous riches of Asia to hungry Europe. Portuguese,
Dutch, French and English adventurers embarked in a struggle for
Indian commerce, in which our ancestors were victorious because they
obtained the command of the sea, and had the whole resources of the
mother-country at their back.
Westerners are so imbued with the profit-making instinct that they
mentally open, a ledger account in order to prove that India gains
more than she loses by dependence on the people of these islands. It
cannot be denied that the fabric of English administration is a
noble monument of the civil skill and military prowess developed by
our race. We have given the peninsula railways and canals, postal
and telegraph systems, a code of laws which is far in advance of our
own. Profound peace broods over the empire, famine and pestilence are
fought with the weapons of science. It would be easy to pile up items
on the debit side of our imaginary cash-book. Free trade has destroyed
indigenous crafts wholesale, and quartered the castes who pursued
them on an over-taxed soil. Incalculable is the waste of human life
and inherited skill caused by the shifting of productive energy from
India to Great Britain, Germany and America. It cannot be said that
the oversea commerce, which amounted in 1907-8 to £241,000,000, is an
unmixed benefit. The empire exports food and raw materials, robbing
the soil of priceless constituents, and buys manufactured goods which
ought to be produced at home. Foreign commerce is stimulated by the
home charges, which average £18,000,000, and it received an indirect
bounty by the closure of the mints in 1893. The textile industry of
Lancashire was built upon a prohibition of Indian muslins: it now
exports yarn and piece goods to the tune of £32,000,000, and this
trade was unjustly favoured at the expense of local mills under the
Customs Tariff of 1895. But there are forces in play for good or evil
which cannot be appraised in money. From a material point of view
our Government is the best and most honest in existence. If it fails
to satisfy the psychical cravings of India there are shortcomings on
both sides; and some of them are revealed by Mr. Banerjea's tales.
Caste.--As a Kulin, or pedigreed Brahmin, he is naturally prone to
magnify the prestige of his order. It has been sapped by incidents
of foreign rule and the spread of mysticism. Pandits find their
stupendous lore of less account than the literary baggage of a
university graduate. Brahmin pride is outraged by the advancement of
men belonging to inferior castes. The priesthood's dream is to regain
the ascendancy usurped by a race of Mlecchas (barbarians); and it keeps
orthodox Hindus in a state of suppressed revolt. One centre of the
insidious agitation is the fell goddess Káli's shrine near Calcutta;
another is Puna, which has for centuries been a stronghold of the
clannish Máráthá Brahmans. Railways have given a mighty impetus to
religion by facilitating access to places of pilgrimage; the post
office keeps disaffected elements in touch; and English has become
a lingua franca.
While Brahminism, if it dared, could proclaim a religious war,
it has powerful enemies within the hierarchy. A desire for social
recognition is universal. It was the Patricians' refusal to intermarry
with Plebeians that caused the great constitutional struggles of
Ancient Rome. Many of the lowest castes are rebelling against Brahmin
arrogance. They have waxed rich by growing lucrative staples, and a
strong minority are highly educated. Mystical sects have already thrown
off the priestly yoke. But caste is by no means confined to races of
Indian blood. What is the snobbery which degrades our English character
but the Indo-German Sudra's reverence for his Brahmin? The Europeans
constitute a caste which possesses some solidarity against "natives,"
and they have spontaneously adopted these anti-social distinctions. At
the apex stand covenanted civilians; whose service is now practically
a close preserve for white men. It is split into the Secretariat,
who enjoy a superb climate plus Indian pay and furlough, and the
"rank and file" doomed to swelter in the plains. Esprit de corps,
which is the life-blood of caste, has vanished. Officers of the
Educational Service, recruited from the same social strata, rank as
"uncovenanted"; and a sense of humiliation reacts on their teaching.
The Land.--In 1765 Clive secured for the East India Company the
right of levying land-tax in Bengal. It was then collected by
zemindars, a few of whom were semi-independent nobles, and the
rest mere farmers of revenue, who bid against one another at the
periodical settlements. Tenant right apart, the conception of private
property in the soil was inconceivable to the Indian mind. Every one
knows that it was borrowed by English lawyers from the Roman codes,
when commercialism destroyed the old feudal nexus. Lord Cornwallis's
permanent Settlement of 1793 was a revolution as drastic in its degree
as that which Prance was undergoing. Zemindars were presented with
the land for which they had been mere rakers-in of revenue. It was
parcelled out into "estates," which might be bought and sold like
moveable property. A tax levied at customary rates became "rent"
arrived at by a process of bargaining between the landlord and ignorant
rustics. The Government demand was fixed for ever, but no attempt was
made to safeguard the ryot's interests. Cornwallis and his henchmen
fondly supposed that they were manufacturing magnates of the English
type, who had made our agriculture a model for the world. They were
grievously mistaken. Under the cast-iron law of sale most of the
original zemindars lost their estates, which passed into the hands
of parvenus saturated with commercialism. Bengal is not indebted to
its zemindars for any of the new staples which have created so vast
a volume of wealth. They are content to be annuitants on the land,
and sub-infeudation has gone to incredible lengths. Most of them
are absentees whose one thought is to secure a maximum of unearned
increment from tillers of the soil. In 1765 the land revenue amounted
to £3,400,000, of which £258,000 was allotted to zemindars. A century
afterwards their net profits were estimated at £12,000,000, and
they are now probably half as much again. The horrible oppression
described by Mr. Banerjea is impossible in our era of law-courts,
railways and newspapers. But it is always dangerous to bring the sense
of brotherhood, on which civilisation depends, into conflict with
crude animal instincts. In days of American slavery the planter's
interest prompted him to treat his human cattle with consideration,
yet Simon Legrees were not unknown. It is a fact that certain zemindars
are in the habit of remeasuring their ryots' holdings periodically,
and always finding more land than was set forth in the lease.
The Police.--A pale copy of Sir Robert Peel's famous system was
introduced in 1861, when hosts of inspectors, sub-inspectors and
head constables were let loose on Bengal. The new force was highly
unpopular, and failed to attract the educated classes. Subaltern
officers, therefore, used power for private ends, while the masses
were so inured to oppression that they offered no resistance. There
has been a marked improvement in the personnel of late years;
and Mr. Banerjea's lurid pictures of corruption and petty tyranny
apply to a past generation of policemen. The Lieutenant-Governor
of Eastern Bengal does justice to a much-abused service in his
Administrative Report for 1907-8. His Honour "believes the force to be
a hard-working body of Government servants, the difficulties, trials,
and even dangers of whose duties it is impossible for the public at
large really to appreciate". He acknowledges that "India is passing
through a period of transition. Old pre-possessions and unscientific
methods must be cast aside, and the value of the confession must be
held at a discount." Bengal policemen fail as egregiously as their
British colleagues in coping with professional crime. Burglary is
a positive scourge, and the habit of organising gang-robberies has
spread to youths of the middle class.
Education.--Though Mr. Banerjea has no experience of the inner working
of our Government offices, he speaks on education with an expert's
authority. Lord Macaulay, who went to India in 1834 as legal member of
Council, was responsible for the introduction of English as the vehicle
of instruction. He had gained admission to the caste of Whigs, whose
battle-cry was "Knowledge for the People," and his brilliant rhetoric
overpowered the arguments of champions of oriental learning. Every one
with a smattering of Sanskrit, Arabic or Persian, regrets the fact that
those glorious languages have not been adequately cultivated in modern
India. Bengali is a true daughter of the Sanskrit; it has Italian
sweetness and German capacity for expressing abstract ideas. No degree
of proficiency in an alien tongue can compensate for the neglect of the
vernacular. Moreover, the curriculum introduced in the "thirties" was
purely academic. It came to India directly from English universities,
which had stuck fast in the ruts of the Renaissance. Undue weight
was given to literary training, while science and technical skill
were despised. Our colleges and schools do not attempt to build
character on a foundation of useful habits and tastes that sweeten
life; to ennoble ideals, or inspire self-knowledge, self-reliance,
and self-control. Technical education is still in its infancy; and
the aesthetic instinct which lies dormant in every Aryan's brain is
unawakened. A race which invented the loom now invents nothing but
grievances. In 1901 Bengal possessed 69,000 schools and colleges,
attended by 1,700,000 pupils, yet only one adult male in 10 and
one female in 144 can read and write! The Calcutta University is an
examining body on the London model. It does not attempt to enforce
discipline in a city which flaunts every vice known to great seaports
and commercial centres, unmitigated by the social instinct. Nor is the
training of covenanted civilians more satisfactory. In 1909 only 1 out
of 50 selected candidates presented himself for examination in Sanskrit
or Arabic! Men go out to India at twenty-four, knowing little of the
ethnology, languages or history, of the races they are about to govern.
Agriculture.--Seventy-two per cent. of the Bengalis live by cultivating
the soil. The vast majority are in the clutches of some local Shylock,
who sweeps their produce into his garners, doling out inadequate
supplies of food and seed grain. Our courts of law are used by these
harpies as engines of oppression; toil as he may the ryot is never
free from debt. The current rates of interest leave no profit from
agriculture or trade. Twelve to 18 per cent. is charged for loans on
ample landed security; and ordinary cultivators are mulcted in 40 to
60. A haunting fear of civil discord, and purblind conservatism in the
commercial castes, are responsible for the dearth of capital. India
imports bullion amounting to £25,000,000 a year, to the great
detriment of European credit, and nine-tenths of it is hoarded in the
shape of ornaments or invested in land, which is a badge of social
rank. Yet the Aryan nature is peculiarly adapted to co-operation. If
facilities for borrowing at remunerative rates existed in towns,
agricultural banks on the Schulze-Delitzsch and Raiffeisen systems
would soon overspread the land. Credit and co-operative groupings for
the purchase of seed, fertilisers and implements, are the twin pillars
of rural industry. Indian ryots are quite as receptive of new ideas as
English farmers. They bought many thousands of little iron sugar mills,
placed on the market a generation back by some English speculators,
and will adopt any improvements of practical value if the price is
brought within their slender means.
The revolution which began a decade ago in America has not spread to
Bengal, where the average yield of grain per acre is only 10 bushels
as compared with 30 in Europe. Yet it has been calculated that
another bushel would defray the whole cost of Government! Bengalis
obey the injunction "increase and multiply" without regard for
consequences. Their habitat has a population of 552 per square mile,
and in some districts the ratio exceeds 900. Clearly there is a
pressing need of scientific agriculture, to replace or supplement
the rule-of-thumb methods in which the ryot is a past master.
The Bengali Character.--Mr. Banerjea has lifted a corner of the veil
that guards the Indian's home from prying eyes. He shows that Bengalis
are men of like passions with us. The picture is perhaps overcharged
with shade. Sycophants, hustlers and cheats abound in every community;
happily for the future of civilisation there is also a leaven of true
nobility: "The flesh striveth against the spirit," nor does it always
gain mastery. Having mixed with all classes for twenty eventful years,
and speaking the vernacular fluently, I am perhaps entitled to hold
an opinion on this much-vexed question. The most salient feature in
the Indian nature is its boundless charity. There are no poor laws,
and the struggle for life is very severe; yet the aged and infirm,
the widow and the orphan have their allotted share in the earnings of
every household. It is a symptom of approaching famine that beggars
are perforce refused their daily dole. Cruelty to children is quite
unknown. Parents will deny themselves food in order to defray a son's
schooling-fees or marry a daughter with suitable provision. Bengalis
are remarkably clannish: they will toil and plot to advance the
interests of anyone remotely connected with them by ties of blood.
Their faults are the outcome of superstition, slavery to custom,
and an unhealthy climate. Among them is a lack of moral courage,
a tendency to lean on stronger natures, and to flatter a superior by
feigning to agree with him. The standard of truth and honesty is that
of all races which have been ground under heel for ages: deceit is the
weapon of weaklings and slaves. Perjury has become a fine art, because
our legal system fosters the chicane which is innate in quick-witted
peoples. The same man who lies unblushingly in an English court, will
tell the truth to an assembly of caste-fellows, or to the Panohayat (a
committee of five which arbitrates in private disputes). Let British
Pharisees study the working of their own Divorce and County Courts:
they will not find much evidence of superior virtue! As for honesty,
the essence of commercialism is "taking advantage of other people's
needs," and no legal code has yet succeeded in drawing a line between
fair and unfair trade. In India and Japan merchants are an inferior
class; and loss of self-respect reacts unfavourably on the moral
sense. Ingratitude is a vice attributed to Bengalis by people who
have done little or nothing to elicit the corresponding virtue. As a
matter of fact their memory is extremely retentive of favours. They
will overlook any shortcomings in a ruler who has the divine gift
of sympathy, and serve him with devotion. Macaulay has branded them
with cowardice. If the charge were true, it was surely illogical and
unmanly to reproach a community numbering 50,000,000 for inherited
defects. Difference of environment and social customs will account
for the superior virility of Europeans as compared with their distant
kinsmen whose lot is cast in the sweltering tropics. But no one who
has observed Bengali schoolboys standing up bare-legged to fast bowling
will question their bravery. In fact, the instinct of combativeness is
universal, and among protected communities it finds vent in litigation.
Englishmen who seek to do their duty by India have potential allies
in the educated classes, who have grafted Western learning on a
civilisation much more ancient than their own. Bengal has given many
illustrious sons to the empire. Among the dead I may mention Pandits
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Kissari Mohan Ganguli, whose vast
learning was eclipsed by their zeal for social service; Dr. Sambhu
Chandra Mukharji, whose biography I wrote in 1895; and Mr. Umesh
Chandra Banarji, a lawyer who held his own with the flower of our
English bar. A Bengali Brahmin is still with us who directs one of
the greatest contracting firms in the empire. How much brighter would
India's outlook be if this highly-gifted race were linked in bonds
of sympathy with our own!
The women of the Gangetic delta deserve a better fate than is
assigned to them by Hindu and Mohammadan custom. They are kept in
leading-strings from the cradle to the grave; their intellect is
rarely cultivated, their affections suffer atrophy from constant
repression. Yet Mr. Banerjea draws more than one picture of wifely
devotion, and the instinctive good sense which is one of the secrets
of feminine influence. Women seldom fail to rise to the occasion
when opportunity is vouchsafed them. The late Maharani Surnomoyi
of Cossimbazar managed her enormous estates with acumen; and her
charities were as lavish as Lady Burdett-Coutts's. Toru Dutt, who
died in girlhood, wrote French and English verses full of haunting
sweetness. It is a little premature for extremists to prate of autonomy
while their women are prisoners or drudges.
Superstition.--Modes of thought surviving from past ages of
intellectual growth are the chief obstacles in the path of
progress. Mr. Banerjea's tales contain many references to magic--a
pseudo-science which clings to the world's religions and social
polity. It is doubtful whether the most civilised of us has quite
shaken off the notion that mysterious virtues may be transmitted
without the impetus of will-power. Latin races are haunted by
dread of the Evil Eye; advertisements of palmists, astrologers and
crystal-gazers fill columns of our newspapers. Rational education
alone enables us to trace the sequence of cause and effect which
is visible in every form of energy. Until this truth is generally
recognised no community can eradicate the vices of superstition.
The "unrest" of which we hear so much finds no echo in Mr. Banerjea's
pages. It is, indeed, confined to a minute percentage of the
population, even including the callow schoolboys who have been
tempted to waste precious years on politics. The masses are too
ignorant and too absorbed by the struggle for existence to care
one jot for reforms. They may, however, be stirred to blind fury by
appealing to their prejudices. Therein lies a real danger. Divergence
of religious ideals, to which I have already alluded, accounts for
the tranquillity that prevails throughout Bihar as compared with the
spirit of revolution in Bengal proper. The microbe of anarchy finds
an excellent culture-ground in minds which grovel before the goddess
Káli. But the unrest cannot be isolated from other manifestations of
cosmic energy, which flash from mind to mind and keep the world in
turmoil. Every force of nature tends to be periodic. The heart's
systole and diastole; alternations of day and night, of season
and tide, are reflected in the history of our race. Progress
is secured by the swing of a giant pendulum from East to West,
the end of each beat ushering in drastic changes in religion,
economics and social polity. It is probable that one of these
cataclysmic epochs opened with the victories wrested from Russia by
Japan. The democratic upheaval which began five hundred years ago is
assuming Protean forces; and amongst them is the malady aptly styled
"constitutionalitis" by Dr. Dillon. The situation in India demands
prescience and statecraft. Though world-forces cannot be withstood,
they are susceptible of control by enlightened will-power. Will peace
be restored by the gift of constitutional government at a crisis when
the august Mother of Parliaments is herself a prey to faction? It
is worthy of note that the self-same spirit has always been rife in
Bengal, where every village has its Dals--local Montagues and Capulets,
whose bickerings are a fertile source of litigation.
Mr. Banerjea's tales were written for his own countrymen, and needed
extensive revision in order to render them intelligible to Western
readers. I have preserved the author's spirit and phraseology; and
venture to hope that this little book will shed some light on the
problem of Indian administration.
Francis H. Skrine.
CHAPTER I
The Pride of Kadampur.
Kadampur is a country village which is destitute of natural
or artificial attractions and quite unknown to fame. Its census
population is barely 1,500, four-fifths of whom are low-caste Hindus,
engaged in cultivation and river-fishing; the rest Mohammadans, who
follow the same avocations but dwell in a Párá (quarter) of their
own. The Bhadralok, or Upper Crust, consists of two Brahman and ten
Kayastha (writer-caste) families. Among the latter group Kumodini
Kanta Basu's took an unquestioned lead. He had amassed a modest
competence as sub-contractor in the Commissariat during the second
Afghan War, and retired to enjoy it in his ancestral village. His
first care was to rebuild the family residence, a congenial task
which occupied five years and made a large hole in his savings. It
slowly grew into a masonry structure divided into two distinct Maháls
(wings)--the first inhabited by men-folk; the second sacred to the
ladies and their attendants. Behind it stood the kitchen; and the
Pujardálán (family temple) occupied a conspicuous place in front,
facing south. The usual range of brick cattle-sheds and servants'
quarters made up quite an imposing group of buildings.
Villagers classed amongst the gentry are wont to gather daily
at some Chandimandap (a rustic temple dedicated to the goddess
Durga, attached to most better-class houses). Kumodini Babu's was a
favourite rendezvous, and much time was killed there in conversation,
card-playing, and chess. Among the group assembled, one crisp afternoon
in February, was an old gentleman, called Shámsundar Ghosh, and known
to hosts of friends as "Shám Babu". He was head clerk in a Calcutta
merchant's office, drawing Rs. 60 a month (£48 a year at par),
which sufficed for the support of his wife and a son and daughter,
respectively named Susil and Shaibalini. After a vain attempt to
make two ends meet in expensive Calcutta, he had settled down at
the outskirts of Kadampur, which has a railway station within half
an hour's run of the Metropolis. Shám Babu's position and character
were generally respected by neighbours, who flocked to his house for
Calcutta gossip.
On this particular occasion talk ran on Kadampur requirements, and
somebody opined that another tank for bathing and drinking purposes
ought to be excavated at once; he did not say by whom.
"True," observed Sham Babu, "but a market is still more necessary. We
have to trudge four miles for our vegetables and fish, which are
obtainable in a more or less stale condition only twice a week. If
one were started here, it would be a great boon to ten villages
at least." Kumodini Babu assented, without further remark, and the
subject dropped.
It came up again on the following Sunday, when Kumodini Babu said to
his friend:--
"I have been thinking about your idea of a market in this village,
and should like, if possible, to establish one myself. How much would
it cost me? As an old commissariat contractor, I am well up in the
price of grain, fodder and ghi (clarified butter used in cooking),
but I really know very little about other things."
The confession elicited a general laugh, and Shám Babu replied,
"It will be a matter of Rs. 200".
"Two hundred rupees! Surely that is far too much for a range of huts."
"True enough. Your own bamboo clumps, straw-stacks and stores of
cordage would provide raw material; and as for labour, all you have
to do is to order some of your ryots (tenants) who are behindhand
with their rent to work for you gratis."
"That would be contrary to my principles. How are these poor people
to live while engaged in begár (forced labour) on my behalf? They
must be paid."
"Very well, then, let us set apart Rs. 20 to meet the cost of market
buildings. But, for the first few weeks, you will have to buy up
the unsold stock of perishable goods brought by Farias (hucksters);
you must patronise the shopkeepers who open stalls for selling grain,
cloth, confectionery, tobacco and trinkets. Once these people find
that they are making fair profits they will gladly pay you rent for
space allotted, besides tolls on the usual scale. At least Rs. 180
must be set apart for these preliminary expenses."
Kumodini Babu never did anything in haste. A fortnight elapsed ere
he announced to the neighbours gathered in his Chandimandap that
he intended starting a bi-weekly market on a vacant plot measuring
one Bigha (one-third of an acre), known as the Kamárbári (Anglice,
"Abode of Blacksmiths"). On an auspicious day towards the end of April,
he inaugurated the new enterprise with some ceremony. His own ryots
were enjoined to attend; shopkeepers, hucksters, and fishermen who
had hitherto gone much further afield, came in considerable numbers;
and business was amazingly brisk. Zemindars (landed proprietors)
generally have to wait for months and spend money like water
before they gain a pice (a bronze coin worth a farthing) from a new
market. Kumodini Babu, however, began to reap where he had sown in
less than a fortnight. Not an inch of space in the Karmárbári remained
unoccupied; his Hát-Gomastha, or bailiff, levied rent and tolls for
vendors, at whose request the market was proclaimed a tri-weekly
one. His fame as a man of energy and public spirit spread over ten
villages, whose people felt that he was one who would give them good
counsel in times of difficulty.
There is some truth in the notion that fortune's gifts seldom come
singly. Kumodini Babu's success in a business venture was immediately
followed by one in his domestic affairs. It fell out in this wise. Shám
Babu's daughter, Shaibalini, was still unmarried, though nearly
thirteen and beautiful enough to be the pride of Kadampur. Money was,
indeed, the only qualification she lacked, and Sham Babu's comparative
poverty kept eligible suitors at a distance. For three years he had
sought far and wide for a son-in-law and was beginning to fear that
he might, after all, be unable to fulfil the chief duty of a Hindu
parent. One evening his wife unexpectedly entered the parlour where
he was resting after a heavy day at office.
"Why has the moon risen so early?" he asked.
"Because the moon can't do otherwise," she answered, with a faint
smile. "But, joking apart, I want to consult you about Saili. Our
neighbour Kanto Babu's wife called on me just before you returned
from Calcutta, and, after beating about the bush, suggested Kumodini
Babu's younger son, Nalini, as a suitable match for her."
Shám Babu's face wore a worried look.
"Surely that would be flying too high for such as us," he
rejoined. "The Basus are comparatively rich, and very proud of their
family which settled here during the Mughal days (i.e., before British
rule, which in Bengal date from 1765). Young Nalini is reading for
his B.A. examination and wants to be a pleader (advocate). Kumodini
Babu would hardly allow his son to marry the daughter of a poor clerk."
"Still, there is no harm in trying," remarked the wife. "If you don't
feel equal to approaching him, there's Kanto Babu who would do so. It
was his wife who broached the subject to me, which makes me think
that they have been discussing it together."
"An excellent idea," exclaimed Shám Babu. "I'll go to him at once." And
taking his stick, he set out for Kanto Babu's house, which was barely
fifty yards off. In half an hour he returned to gladden his wife with
the news that their neighbour had consented to act as a go-between.
Kanto Babu was as good as his word. That very evening he called
on Kumodini Babu, whom he found reading the Mahábhárata (an epic
poem). After dwelling now on this matter, now on that, he asked
casually:--
"Have you never thought of getting Nalini married? He is over twenty,
I believe."
"My wife has been urging me to look out for a wife for him, but in
my opinion he is too young for such responsibilities. Better wait
till he has passed the B.A. examination."
"Your wife's idea is sounder than yours, if I may be permitted to say
so. Just think of the awful temptations to which unmarried students
are exposed in that sink of profligacy, Calcutta! How many promising
lads have succumbed to them, wrecking their own lives and causing
bitter grief to their parents!"
Kumodini Babu started. "You surprise me! I had no idea that Calcutta
was as bad as you paint it. We must certainly get Nalini married at
once. I wonder whether you know of a likely match for him. I don't
care about money, but--"
"That I do," interrupted Kanto Babu, "There's Shám Babu's
daughter, Shaibalini. What a pretty creature she is; modest,
loving and kind-hearted! You won't find her equal in this eláqa
(lit. jurisdiction). If you approve, I will gladly be your spokesman
with her family."
Kumodini Babu mused awhile before answering. "I know Shaibalini
well by reputation, and she is all you describe her. Shám Babu,
too, comes of excellent lineage, though he is not a Zemindar, and
depends on service. I should not object to marrying Nalini with his
daughter. But wait a bit: what gotra (clan) does he belong to?"
"I believe he is a Dakhin Rárhi," answered Kanto Babu.
"But I am an Uttar Rárhi," remarked Kumodini Babu. "Is not that a
fatal objection?"
For the benefit of non-Hindu readers I may explain that Kayasthas are
split into clans--probably a survival of the tribal organisation which
preceded the family almost everywhere. According to tradition, a King
of Bengal named Ádisur imported five Brahmans, and as many Kayastha
servants from Kanauj in Upper India. From the latter are descended
the Ghosh, Basu, Mitra, Guha, and Datta families. The first four are
generally recognised as Kúlin (Angl., "aristocratic") Kayasthas, while
the Dattas and seven other families are known as Sindhu Maulik--"coming
of a good stock". Ádisur and his companions found 700 Brahmans and
the same number of Kayasthas already established in Bengal. These are
the supposed ancestors of a large number of Kayastha families still
termed Saptasati, "the Seven Hundred". The ancient Greeks reckoned
their neighbours beyond the Hellenic pale as "barbarians". So Brahmans
and Kayasthas of Central Bengal styled their congeners north of the
Ganges Rárh, or "uncivilised". The epithet survives in Uttar (north)
and Dakhin (south) Rárhi, but has lost its offensive meaning. Bárendra
is another phrase for the inhabitants of a tract north of the Ganges,
which answers to the modern districts of Rajshahi, Pabna, and Bogra.
Kanto Babu was evidently perplexed; but after reflecting for a short
time he asked, "Now why should such a trifling matter cause any
trouble whatever? The time has long since passed away when arbitrary
difference of clan was considered a bar to marriage among Kayasthas."
"You are quite right," was Kumodini Babu's reply, "and personally I
am above these old-fashioned prejudices. My daughter-in-law may be
Dakhin Rárhi, Banga-ja, or Bárendri for all I care, provided she be
comely, well-mannered and come of good stock. But will Shám Babu
be equally tolerant?"
"That I can't say until I have consulted him," answered Kanto
Babu. "One thing more I must know. What is your idea of Dená Páona
(a word answering to our 'settlements')?"
"Rám, Rám!" exclaimed Kumodini Babu. "Am I the man to sell my son for
filthy lucre? I hear that Calcutta folks occasionally do so, but I
am quite opposed to the custom. Should Shám Babu agree to this match,
I will make no stipulations whatever as to a money payment. He is in
very moderate circumstances, and may give whatever he chooses. Please
see him at once and let me have his decision."
Kanto Babu promised to do so and withdrew, inwardly chuckling over
his diplomacy.
Shám Babu called on him the same evening to learn its issue. He was
delighted to find that Kumodini Babu was not averse to the match,
but his face fell on hearing of the difference of clan. Observing his
agitation, Kanto Babu observed gently, "I don't see why a matter, which
is not even mentioned in our Shástras (holy books), should cause one
moment's hesitation. Pluck up your courage, man, and all will go well."
"Perhaps so," murmured Shám Babu. "But I do stand in awe of the Samáj"
(a caste-assembly which pronounces excommunication for breaches
of custom).
"That's all nonsense! Look at our friend Kunjalál Babu who has just
married his son to a Bárendri girl. Is he an outcast? Certainly not. It
is true that the ultra-orthodox kicked a bit at first; but they all
came round, and joined in the ceremony with zest. I can quote scores
of similar instances to prove that this prejudice against marrying
into a different clan is quite out of date."
Shám Babu had nothing to urge in opposition to these weighty
arguments. He promised to let Kanto Babu have a definite reply on
the morrow and kept his word. Having endured a curtain lecture from
his wife, who proved to him that an alliance with the Basu family
offered advantages far outweighing the slight risk there was of
excommunication, he authorised Kanto Babu to assure Kumodini Babu that
the proposed match had his hearty approval. Once preliminaries were
satisfactorily settled, all other arrangements proceeded apace. The
Páká Dekhá is a solemn visit paid by males of the future bridegroom's
family to that of his betrothed, during which they are feasted and
decide all details regarding the marriage ceremonies. It passed
off without a hitch, and the purohit (family priest) fixed Sravan
17th as an auspicious day for consummating the union. Thenceforward
preparations were made for celebrating it in a manner worthy of the
esteem in which both families were held.
Kumodini Babu issued invitations to all his relatives. Chief amongst
these was a younger brother, Ghaneshyám Basu by name, who practised
as a pleader (advocate) at Ghoria, where he had built a house after
disposing of his interest in the family estate to Kumodini Babu. This
important person was asked to supervise the ceremonies, inasmuch as
Kumodini Babu's increasing age and infirmities rendered him unfit to
do so efficiently, while his eldest son, yclept Jadu Babu, had barely
reached man's estate. The letter of invitation referred incidentally
to the difference of clan as a matter of no importance. Kumodini Babu's
disappointment may be conceived when he got an answer from his younger
brother, expressing strong disapproval of the match and ending with a
threat to sever all connection with the family if it were persisted
in! The recipient at first thought of running up to Ghoria, in view
of softening Ghaneshyám Babu's heart by a personal appeal, but the
anger caused by his want of brotherly feeling prevailed. Kumodini
Babu and his wife agreed that matters had gone too far to admit of
the marriage being broken off. If Ghaneshyám did not choose to take
part in it, so much the worse for him!
Soon after dusk on Sraván 17th, Nalini entered his palanquin, arrayed
in a beautiful costume of Benares silk. The wedding procession set
out forthwith, amid a mighty blowing of conch-shells and beating
of drums. At 8 P.M. it reached the bride's abode, where her family,
with Shám Babu at the head, were ready to receive them. An hour later
Nalini was conducted to the inner apartments, where the marriage
ceremony began. It lasted until nearly eleven o'clock, when the young
couple were taken to the Básárghar, or nuptial apartment. During these
rites the men-folk were perhaps more pleasantly engaged in doing ample
justice to a repast provided for them in the outer rooms. Then they
chewed betels in blissful rumination, before separating with emphatic
acknowledgments of the hospitality they had enjoyed.
On the following afternoon both bridegroom and bride were taken in
palanquins to Kumodini Babu's house, where she instantaneously won
every heart by her grace and beauty. Two days later the Bau-Bhát
ceremony was held. This is a feast in the course of which the bride
(bau) distributes cooked rice (bhát) with her own hands to bidden
guests, in token of her reception into her husband's family and
clan. Kumodini Babu had requisitioned an immense supply of dainties
from local goálas (dairymen) and moiras (confectioners) with a view
to eclipsing all previous festivals of the kind.
Early in the morning of the Bau-Bhát day a palanquin was carried into
Kumodini Babu's courtyard; and who should emerge from it but Ghaneshyám
Babu! He ran up to his brother, who was sitting with some neighbours
in the parlour, and, clasping his feet, implored forgiveness. Kumodini
Babu's heart leaped for joy. Tenderly did he embrace the penitent, who
admitted that his peace of mind had fled from the moment he penned
that cruel letter. He now saw the absurdity of his prejudices,
and begged Kumodini Babu to forget his unbrotherly conduct. It
is needless to add that the prayer was cordially granted and that
Ghaneshyám Babu received a blessing from his elder brother. Thanks
to his supervision the Bau-Bhát feast passed off at night without
the slightest contretemps. Ten years later people still dwelt on the
magnificent hospitality they had received, and held Kumodini Babu up
as a model to fathers-in-law. In order that all classes might rejoice
with him, he remitted a year's rent to every ryot, besides lavishing
considerable sums on Brahmans and poor folk. The more enlightened
section of Kayasthas were unanimous in pronouncing him to be a true
Hindu, on whose descendants the gods on high would pour down their
choicest blessings. There were others, however, whose malignity found
material to work on in his disregard of caste prejudices.
CHAPTER II
The Rival Markets.
The immediate success of Kumodini Babu's market caused infinite
annoyance to Ramani Babu, who owned one long established in the
neighbourhood. Hucksters and country-folk found the tolls levied
there so much lighter, that the attendance at Ramani's fell off
grievously. It is well known that when a new market is started,
proprietors already in the field endeavour to break it up with the
aid of paid láthiáls (clubmen). If, as often happens, the daring
speculator be a man of substance, he employs similar means in his
defence. Free fights occur on market-days, ending in many a broken
head--sometimes in slaughter. The battle is directed by Gomasthas
(bailiffs) on either side, with the full knowledge of their masters,
who keep discreetly aloof from the fray.
Ramani Babu did not foresee that his property would be injured by the
new venture, and allowed it to be firmly established without striking a
single blow. Finding a lamentable decrease in his receipts, he ordered
the bailiff to "go ahead," and took an early train for Calcutta in
order to set up an alibi in case of legal proceedings. A day or two
later his bailiff, attended by six or seven men armed with iron-shod
bamboo staves, assembled at the outskirts of Kumodini Babu's market,
on a spot where four roads met.
Ere long a cart was descried approaching from eastwards, whose driver
bawled snatches of song and puffed his hookah between whiles. When
it reached the crossing, the bailiff shouted:--
"Stop! whither so early, friend?"
"To market," the man replied carelessly.
"Whose market?"
"The new one, started by Kumodini Babu."
"What have you got in those baskets of yours?"
"Oh, sweet potatoes, brinjáls (egg-plants), and a lot of other
vegetables."
"Why don't you attend Ramani Babu's market?"
"Because it does not pay me to go there."
"So you used to take your vegetables to Ramani Babu's market?"
"Yes; but there are hardly any customers left. Now please let me go;
the sun is high up."
"So you won't obey me!"
"No!" roared the carter, prodding his oxen viciously.
"Stop a minute, I tell you! Whose ryot (tenant) are you?"
"Ramani Babu's."
"What, you are his ryot and yet are acting against his interests? If
he hears of your perfidy he will certainly turn you out of his estate!"
"Why should he?" asked the fellow, now thoroughly frightened. "I am
a very poor man, and Ramani Babu is my father and mother. He cannot
object to my selling a few vegetables wherever I please."
"But he does object," rejoined the bailiff sternly. "What's your name
and residence?"
"Sádhu Sheikh, of Simulgachi."
"Now, do you know who I am?"
"No-o," replied Sádhu, hesitatingly.
"I am Ramani Babu's new bailiff, sent with these men to see that his
market is well attended."
Sádhu's tone completely changed. "Sálam, Babu," he whined. "I did
not know who you were. Please let me pass or I shall be too late."
"Not so fast, friend," shouted the bailiff. "Once for all, are you
going to obey me or not?"
Sádhu prodded his bullocks into a lumbering canter; but the bailiff
gave a signal to his clubmen, who ran after him, dragged him out of
the cart, and thrashed him soundly. Then two of them escorted him, with
his wares, to their master's market, which was being held about three
miles away. The bailiff waited at the crossing for new arrivals. They
were not long in coming. A fishwoman, heavily laden, passed by. He
hailed her, and on learning whither she was bound, ordered his men
to drag her to their master's market, which they did, despite the
volume of abuse which she hurled at their heads. In this manner some
half a dozen deserters were captured and escorted to the old market.
The story of his tyranny spread like wildfire through neighbouring
villages, with many amplifications, of course. Kumodini Babu heard
that his rival had arrested a hundred frequenters of his market and
was about to destroy the shelters he had erected for salesmen. This
information filled him with anxiety and, after consulting friends,
he lodged a complaint at the police station. In the remote interior of
Bengal policemen are all-powerful. They usurp authority to which they
are not entitled by law, and use it for private ends. All classes go
in perpetual fear of them; for, by a stroke of the pen, they can ruin
reputations and defeat justice. No one has recourse to their dreaded
agency who can avoid doing so or has the means of gratifying their
greed. By giving a handsome douceur to the Sub-Inspector, Kumodini Babu
obtained a promise of support, which he was simple enough to rely upon.
Meantime Ramani Babu's market bailiff was not idle. Knowing that
he had acted illegally, he resolved to "square" the executive. So,
one evening, he persuaded his master to accompany him to the police
station, provided with a bundle of ten-rupee currency notes. After
discussing commonplaces with the Sub-Inspector, they adjourned to
an inner room, where they induced him to take their side--for very
weighty reasons.
Matters now began to look ugly for Kumodini Babu. Every vendor who
approached his market was intercepted. He implored the help of the
Sub-Inspector, who, however, observed a strict neutrality, hinting
that the complainant was at liberty to defend himself with the aid
of clubmen. But Kumodini Babu was a man of peace, and finding the
policeman something less than lukewarm, he resigned himself to the
inevitable.
His evil star continued to prevail, for, soon after these untoward
events, it brought him into collision with the police. In consequence
of an understanding with Ramani Babu, the Sub-Inspector took to buying
provisions from the few shopkeepers who still attended Kumodini Babu's
market and referring them to him for payment. His constables, too,
helped themselves freely to rice and vegetables without even asking
the price, and had their shoes blacked gratis by Kumodini Babu's
muchis (leather-dressers). His bailiff put up with their vagaries,
until the shopkeepers came in a body to say that unless they were
stopped, the market would be entirely deserted. The luckless Zemindar
was staggered by the tale of oppression. He paid for every article
extorted by the police, but strictly forbade the vendors to give any
further credit. The Sub-Inspector was deeply incensed in finding this
source of illicit profit cut off, and his vengeance was perpetrated
under the pretence of law.
One evening, while Kumodini Babu was conning the Mahábhárata (an
ancient epic) in his parlour, the Sub-Inspector came in, armed with
a search warrant issued by the Deputy Magistrate of Ghoria, which
he showed the astonished master of the house. A charge of receiving
stolen property brought against him was indeed a bolt from the blue;
but when Kumodini Babu regained his scattered wits, he told the
Sub-Inspector scornfully that he might search every hole and corner of
his house. For half an hour the police were occupied in turning his
furniture and boxes topsy-turvy; and at last the Sub-Inspector went
alone into a lumber-room, while his head constable kept Kumodini's
attention fixed on the contents of an almeira (ward-robe) which he
was searching. Shouting, "I have found the property!" he emerged
from the room with a box containing various articles of gold and
silver, which he said were hidden under some straw. On comparing
them with a list in his possession he declared that they exactly
tallied with property reported as part of the spoils of a burglary
in the neighbouring village. In vain Kumodini Babu protested his
entire innocence and asked whether he, a respectable Zemindar, was
likely to be a receiver of stolen goods. He was handcuffed and taken
to the police station on foot, while the Sub-Inspector followed in
a palanquin. Kumodini Babu's women-folk filled the house with their
lamentations; and his eldest son, Jadu Náth, was the first to recover
from the prostration caused by sudden misfortune. He had a pony saddled
and galloped to the railway station, whence he telegraphed to his
uncle, Ghaneshyám Babu, the pleader, "Father arrested: charge receiving
stolen goods". Ghaneshyám arrived by the next train, and after hearing
the facts returned to Ghoria, where he applied to the Deputy Magistrate
for bail. There was a strong disinclination to grant it, owing to the
gravity of the charge; but finally an order was issued, releasing the
prisoner on personal recognisance of Rs. 10,000 and two sureties of
Rs. 5,000. The necessary security was immediately forthcoming, and
Kumodini Babu found himself temporarily a free man, after enduring
nearly forty-eight hours of unspeakable misery in the station lock-up.
In due course his case came on for hearing before the Deputy
Magistrate. Ghaneshyám Babu secured the services of a fighting member
of the Calcutta bar and was indefatigable in his efforts to unearth
the nefarious plot against his brother. Proceedings lasted for four
days in a court packed with spectators. The Sub-Inspector and his
accomplices told their story speciously enough. A burglary had really
been committed and the jewellery found in Kumodini Babu's outhouse
was proved to have been part of the stolen goods. The issue was--who
placed them there? On this point the Sub-Inspector's evidence was
not by any means satisfactory. He finally broke down under rigorous
cross-examination, and was forced to admit that it was quite possible
that some one acting on his behalf had hidden the property in Kumodini
Babu's lumber-room. The battle of the markets was related in all its
dramatic details. Shopkeepers and ryots alike, seeing that justice
was likely to prevail, came forward to depose to acts of tyranny by
Ramani Babu's servants and their allies, the police. Evidence of the
prisoner's high character was forthcoming, while his age and dignified
bearing spoke strongly in his favour. The Magistrate saw that he had
been the victim of an abominable conspiracy and released him amid
the suppressed plaudits of the audience. His reasons for discharge
contained severe strictures on the local police, and even suggested
their prosecution. Thus, after weeks of agonising suspense and an
expenditure on legal fees running into thousands of rupees, Kumodini
Babu was declared innocent. He took the humiliation so much to heart,
that he meditated retiring to that refuge for storm-tossed souls,
Benares. But Ghaneshyám Babu strongly dissuaded him from abandoning the
struggle, at least until he had turned the tables on his enemies. So
Kumodini Babu moved the District Magistrate to issue process against
Ramani Babu and the Sub-Inspector. He met with a refusal, however,
probably because the higher authorities thought fit to hush up a
glaring scandal which might "get into the papers," and discredit
the administration. Ramani Babu, therefore, was not molested, but his
accomplice was departmentally censured, and transferred to an unhealthy
district. Kumodini Babu also thought of discontinuing the market
which had been the fount and origin of his misfortunes. Here again
his brother objected that such a course would be taken to indicate
weakness and encourage further attacks. His advice was followed. The
new market throve amazingly, while Ramani Babu's was quite deserted.
CHAPTER III
A Foul Conspiracy.
On a certain morning in February Ramani Babu sprung a mine on
his tenants by circulating a notice among them to the effect that
they would have to pay up every pice of rent on or before the 10th
prox. Some hastened to discharge their liabilities, while others ran
about asking for loans or sat with downcast eyes, unable to decide
what course to take. The English reader is perhaps unaware that every
Bengal landowner is required to pay revenue to Government four times
a year, vis., on the 28th January, March, June and September. Any one
failing to do so before sunset on these dates becomes a defaulter,
and his estate is put up to auction in order to satisfy the demand,
however small it may be. Property worth many thousands of rupees
has often been sold for arrears of eight annas (a shilling) or even
less. The near approach of these kist (rent) days is of course a
period of great anxiety to landlords; some of whom are forced to
borrow the necessary amount on the security of their wives' ornaments.
On March 28th, 18--, Ramani Babu had to pay about Rs. 10,000 as land
revenue; but his ryots' crops had failed, owing to want of rain, and
by the end of February he had been able to realise only Rs. 1,000,
the greater portion by threats of force. The Indian peasant's lot is
not a happy one. He depends solely on the produce of the soil, which
yields little or nothing if the annual rains should fail, or there be
an excess of moisture. Millions of cultivators never know what it is to
have a good, solid meal. In order to meet the landlord's demands they
have recourse to a Mahájan (moneylender) whose exactions leave them a
slender margin for subsistence. But religion and ages of slavery render
them submissive creatures. They murmur only when very hard pressed.
Sádhu Sheikh, of Simulgachi, lived by raising vegetables for sale
in Kumodini Babu's market, until he was forbidden to do so by Ramani
Babu's clubmen. Failing this resource, he abandoned the little trade;
and thus got deeper into the books of his moneylender. At this crisis
he received a written notice ordering him to attend Ramani Babu's
kucheri (office) on 17th March without fail. A visit to the local
moneylender was fruitless and only led to a hint that old scores must
be cleared off. So Sádhu returned home crestfallen and determined
to abide by his fate. On obeying the summons, he found Ramani Babu,
sitting in his office to receive rent, which was brought him by a crowd
of dejected-looking ryots. A great hubbub was going on; one Bemani
insisting that he had paid up to date while Ramani Babu's gomastha
(bailiff) stoutly denied the assertion and called n the objector to
produce his receipt. This was not forthcoming for the simple reason
that Ramani had mislaid it. He asked the bailiff to show him the
ledger account, and after spelling through the items laboriously
be found that not a pice stood to his credit, although he had paid
nearly sixty rupees since the last hist (rent) day. There are few who
understand the value of the dákhilas (rent receipts) which landlords
are compelled by law to give them. The little slips of paper are lost
or destroyed, with the result that many ryots have had to pay twice
over. Bemani vainly invoked Allah to witness that he had discharged
his dues; the bailiff ordered him to pay within twenty-four hours on
pain of severe punishment. Goaded to fury by this palpable injustice
the poor man declined to do anything of the kind. At this stage Ramani
Babu intervened:--
"You son of a pig, are you going to obey my orders or not?"
"No, I have paid once, and I won't pay again," yelled Bemani,
thoroughly roused.
Ramani Babu beckoned to a stalwart doorkeeper from the Upper Provinces,
who was standing near.
"Sarbeshwar, give this rascal a taste of your Shámchand (cane)!"
He was zealously obeyed and poor Bemani was thrashed until he lay
writhing in agony on the ground. After taking his punishment he rose,
and looking defiantly at Ramani Babu said:--
"You have treated me cruelly; but you will find that there is a God
who watches all our actions. He will certainly deal out retribution
to you!" He then turned to go.
"I see you are not yet cured," exclaimed Ramani Babu. "Let him have
another dose of Shámchand."
"Yes, go on!" roared Bemani, "beat me as much as you please; you'll
have reason to repent sooner or later!" With this remark he stood
erect, looking fearlessly at his tormentors. Sarbeshwar administered
another welting, which drew blood at every stroke but was borne
without sound or movement. When the doorkeeper stopped for want of
breath, Bemani cast a look of scorn at Ramani Babu and strode out of
the house in silence, full of rage.
Presently another disturbance was heard. One of the ryots had paid
his rent in full but declined to add the usual commission exacted by
the bailiffs, who fell on him in a body and pummelled him severely.
Sádhu witnessed these horrors from a corner of the room and inwardly
besought Allah to save him from the clutches of those demons. But
Srikrishna, who was the bailiff of his circle, happened to see him and
asked whether he had brought his rent. Sádhu got up, salámed humbly,
and replied, "Babuji, you know my present circumstances well". "Answer
yes or no," thundered Srikrishna, "I have no time to listen to your
excuses."
"Your servant is a very poor man," continued Sádhu, shaking from head
to foot.
"Who is this person?" inquired Ramani Babu.
"This is Sádhu Sheikh, of Simulgachi," was the bailiff's reply,
"the very same rascal who gave evidence against your honour in that
faujdári (criminal) case."
"Is that so?" roared Ramani Babu. "And the son of a pig owes me rent?"
"Now, please, do not abuse me, Babuji," protested Sádhu, "only listen
to my tale for one minute!"
"What, you dare to bandy words with me, haramzúdú (bastard)?" shouted
Ramani Babu, rising from his seat. "Doorkeeper, let him have fifty
cuts, laid on hard!"
Swish, swish, swish, sounded the nimble cane, and made a grey pattern
on Sádhu's naked flesh. His screams and prayers for mercy were mocked
by the obsequious crowd, and at length he fell senseless on the floor.
"Look, he is shamming," observed Ramani Babu; "drag him outside and
souse him with water until he comes to." The command was obeyed,
and when Sádhu was able to sit up he was brought back to the dreaded
presence. Again his arrears of rent were demanded, and once more he
feebly protested that he could not discharge them. Thereon Ramani
Babu ordered him to be hung up. Forthwith, a dozen eager hands were
laid on him, a rope was passed under his armpits, and the free end
thrown over a rafter of the office. By this means he was hauled from
the ground and swung suspended, a butt of sarcasm and abuse for Ramani
Babu's myrmidons. After enduring this humiliation for an hour or so,
he was let down and a final demand made on him for the arrears of
rent. On his again asserting inability Ramani Babu ordered his hut
to be levelled with the ground and pulse to be sown on its site,
as a punishment for his disobedience. He was then allowed to leave
the scene of his misery.
On reaching home he found Bemani seated in the porch, in expectation of
his arrival. His fellow-victim said that he had lodged an information
against Ramani Babu and his servants at the police station and intended
going to Ghoria, next day, to complain to the Deputy Magistrate. Would
Sádhu help him by giving evidence? he asked. "That I will," was the
reply, "but I must first consult Jadunath Babu, who, I am sure, will
help me." After Bemani's departure Sádhu went to his protector and
told the story of his sufferings in full. Jadunath Babu bade him be
of good cheer; for he would do all in his power to bring Ramani Babu
to justice. Sádhu was comforted by this promise. He returned home
and soon forgot all his sorrows in sleep.
About midnight he was aroused by voices in his yard, and, sallying
forth, discovered a gang of clubmen employed by Ramani Babu, in the
act of tearing the roof from his hut. Remonstrance was met by jeering
and threats of violence; so the luckless man stood helplessly under
a neighbouring tamarind tree, while his house was reduced to a heap
of bamboos and thatch. The material was taken away in carts, the
site dug up, and pulse sown thereon. Thus not a trace of Sádhu's
home was left. He passed the remaining hours of the night under
the tree; and early next morning he called on Jadu Babu, to whom he
unfolded the story of this latest outrage. His patron boiled over
with indignation. He sent Sádhu to the police station, in order to
lay an information against his persecutors, promising to give him a
house and land to compensate his losses. In less than a fortnight,
the injured man was installed in a new hut and in possession of enough
land to support him comfortably. Then he settled down, with heartfelt
prayers for Jadu Babu's long life and prosperity. He even sent for
his wife and a young sister-in-law, who had been staying with her
brother near Calcutta.
Meantime Bemani had taken out a summons for causing grievous hurt
against Ramani Babu and his servants. When the case came on for
hearing before a Deputy Magistrate at Ghoria, all the accused pleaded
"not guilty." They could not deny the fact that he had been beaten
within an inch of his life, but alleged provocation on his part,
inasmuch as he had fomented a rebellion among the ryots. Jadu Babu was
not idle. He provided the complainant with first-rate legal advice
and paid all the expenses of adducing witnesses. Emboldened by his
support, at least a dozen of Ramani Babu's ryots who were present
while he was being thrashed, came forward to give evidence of the
brutal treatment he had received and to deny the counter charge
brought by the defendants. Thus the case ended in the conviction of
Ramani Babu and three of his servants, who were sentenced to fines
aggregating Rs. 200. Then the charges preferred by Sádhu were taken
up by the Deputy Magistrate. As they were of a far graver character,
the barrister brought from Calcutta by Ramani Babu obtained a week's
adjournment in order to procure rebutting evidence.
At this time the Muharram festival was in full swing. Sádhu was too
busy in getting up his case to take part in it; but he sent his wife
to some relatives at Ghoria, while his young sister-in-law, who was
suffering from fever, remained at home. He was aroused one night by
loud screams coming from the hut occupied by this girl. On running
out to see what was the matter, he fell into the arms of a stranger
who was crossing his yard in a desperate hurry. A struggle ensued,
but the intruder managed to escape, not before Sádhu had recognised
him as a ryot of Ramani Babu, named Karim. On asking his sister-in-law
what had happened, the poor girl told him with many sobs that a man
had broken into the hut, and awakened her by seizing her throat,
but had been scared away by her screams. As soon as day dawned,
Sádhu ran to the house of Karim's uncle, in the hope of finding him
there. The uncle, however, declared that Karim had been absent since
the previous evening, and on learning the grave charge preferred by
Sádhu, he begged with folded hands that the scandal might be stifled,
at any cost, for the sake of both families. Sádhu would promise
nothing, but for obvious reasons he laid no information against Karim.
Two days later he was engaged on his evening meal, when a Sub-Inspector
appeared. After asking whether his name was Sádhu, the policeman
slipped a pair of handcuffs on his wrists and turned a deaf ear to his
bewildered request for information as to the charge preferred against
him. Thus he was ignominiously taken to the station lock-up, followed
by a crowd, whom he begged to inform Jadu Babu of his trouble. The
latter was speedily fetched by a compassionate neighbour, and, after
conversing with the police officer, he told Sádhu that he was actually
charged with murder! Karim's uncle had informed the police that,
his nephew having disappeared since the day of the alleged trespass,
he suspected Sádhu of foul play. An inquiry followed which led to
Sádhu's transfer to the district jail.
Jadu Babu was certain that his enemy had instigated the charge, and
knew that he was quite capable of suppressing Karim in order to get
Sádhu into trouble. He was advised by friends whom he consulted not
to poke his nose into so ugly an affair: but his sense of justice
prevailed. He went to Ghaneshyám Babu, whom he told the whole story
related by Sádhu. On learning that Ramani Babu was implicated, the
pleader saw an opportunity of wreaking vengeance on the persecutor
of his brother. Gladly did he undertake the prisoner's defence.
In due course the charge preferred by Sádhu against Ramani Babu
was heard by a Deputy Magistrate. With Ghaneshyám Babu's aid,
the complainant proved it up to the hilt, and all concerned were
heavily fined. Soon afterwards Sádhu himself appeared before the
Deputy Magistrate to answer a charge of murder. The circumstantial
evidence against him was so strong that he was committed to the
Sessions Court. When brought up for trial there, he astounded his
backers by pleading guilty and offering to point out the spot where
he had buried Karim's corpse. The case was forthwith adjourned for
a local inquiry; and the European District Superintendent of Police
took Sádhu to the place indicated, where he had the soil turned up in
all directions without result. Sádhu admitted that he was mistaken
and piloted the police to another spot, where they again failed to
discover any trace of the missing man. On these facts being reported
to the judge, he fixed the morrow for final hearing.
At 11 A.M. he took his seat on the bench in a Court packed with eager
spectators, and was reading a charge to the jury, strongly adverse
to the prisoner, when an uproar was heard outside. Proceedings were
suspended while the judge sent an usher to ascertain the cause;
but ere he returned, half a dozen men burst into the courtroom
crying Dohai! (justice!). Jadu Babu, who was one of the intruders,
signalled the others to be silent, and thus addressed the judge with
folded hands:--
"Your Honour, the dead has come to life! Here is Karim, who was
supposed to have been murdered!"
There was a tremendous sensation in Court. When it subsided the judge
thrust aside his papers and asked for evidence as to Karim's identity,
which was soon forthcoming on oath. Then he ordered him to be sworn,
and recorded the following deposition:--
"Incarnation of Justice! I will make a full confession, whatever may
happen to me. I was sent for about a month ago by my landlord Ramani
Babu, who ordered me to insult some woman of Sádhu's household, in
order that he might be excommunicated. In fear of my life I consented
to do so, and that very night I broke into the hut where Sádhu's
sister-in-law lay asleep. Her cries attracted Sádhu, who grappled with
me in his yard. However, I managed to escape, and on reporting my
failure to Ramani Babu, he sent me in charge of a Barkamdúz (guard)
to Paliti, which is ten coss (20 miles) away. There I was confined
in a Kacheri (office building) until yesterday, when I got away
after nightfall. I had to pass through Ghoria Bazar, on my way home
this morning, and there I ran up against Jadu Babu, who stopped and
questioned me closely about my movements. There was nothing for me
but to make a clean breast of everything. He took me to a babu's house
where he was staying, and thence brought me to your honour's presence."
Karim's confession took every one by surprise, and it was corroborated
by Jadu Babu in the witness-box. The judge then asked Sadhu why he
pleaded guilty.
"Incarnation of Justice," was the reply, "it was the Daroga
Babu (Sub-Inspector of Police) who frightened me into making a
confession. He told me again and again that he had quite enough
evidence to hang me, and advised me to escape death by admitting
the charge of murdering Karim. While I was shut up alone in jail,
I had no one to consult or rely on. Through fear, my wits entirely
left me and I resolved to obtain mercy by making a false confession."
These circumstances, strange as they may appear to the Western reader,
were no novelty to the Sessions Judge. In charging the jury, he
commented severely on the conduct of the station police and directed
them to return a verdict of not guilty, which they promptly did.
Ghaneshyám Babu did not let the matter drop. He moved the District
Magistrate to prosecute Ramani Babu and his bailiff, Srikrishna, for
conspiring to charge an innocent man with murder. Both were brought
to trial and, despite the advocacy of a Calcutta barrister, they each
received a sentence of six months' rigorous imprisonment. Justice,
lame-footed as she is, at length overtook a pair of notorious
evil-doers.
CHAPTER IV
The Biter Bitten.
Babu Chandra Mohan Bai, or Chandra Babu, as he was usually called,
was a rich banker with many obsequious customers. He was a short
choleric man, very fond of his hookah, without which he was rarely
seen in public. He had no family, except a wife who served him
uncomplainingly, and never received a letter or was known to write
one except in the course of business. His birthplace, nay his caste,
were mysteries. But wealth conceals every defect, and no one troubled
to inquire into Chandra Babu's antecedents. This much was known--that
he had come to Kadampur fifteen years before my tale opens with a brass
drinking-pot and blanket, and obtained a humbly-paid office as a clerk
under a local Zemindar. In this capacity he made such good use of the
means it offered of extorting money that he was able to set up as a
moneylender at Simulgachi, close to Kadampur. When people learnt that
a new Shylock was at their service, they flocked to him in times of
stress. His usual rate of interest being only 5 per cent, per mensem,
he cut into the business of other moneylenders, and in four or five
years had no serious competitor within a radius of four miles from
Kadampur itself. Once master of the situation he drew in his horns,
lending money only to people who could give ample security in land,
government papers, or jewellery. He also started a tejárati business
(loans of rice, for seed and maintenance during the "slack" months,
repaid in kind, with heavy interest, after the harvest). Although few
Khátaks (customers) were able to extricate their property from his
clutches or clear off their debit balances, Chandra Babu continued to
be in great request. He was heard to boast that every family in or near
Kadampur, except the Basus, were on his books. The rapid growth of his
dealings compelled him to engage a gomastha (manager) in the person
of Santi Priya Dás, who had been a village schoolmaster notorious for
cruelty. The duties of his new office were entirely to Santi Priya's
liking, and he performed them to Chandra Babu's unqualified approval.
On a certain morning in late August, Chandra Babu sat in his office to
receive applications for money or grain. One of his customers named
Karim Sheikh came in and squatted close to the door, after salaming
profoundly. On seeing him Chandra Babu at once remembered that
his bond had run out on 15th July, and that he owed nearly Rs. 100,
principal and interest. He therefore addressed the newcomer in accents
of wrath. "What do you want here, you son of a pig?"
"Babuji," pleaded Karim, "my stars are unlucky. You know how wretched
the rice harvest has been."
"Yes, we know all that," replied Santi, who sat near his master. "It's
the old story, when people who can pay won't pay. Have you brought
the money, eh?"
Karim was obliged to confess he had not.
"Then why have you come here?" roared Chandra Babu. "To show your
face, I suppose. We see hundreds of better-looking fellows than you
daily. You have got to pay up at once, you badmásh (rascal)."
Karim's wrath was stirred by this expression. He replied, "Now, Babu,
don't be abusive; I won't stand it".
"What, do you want to teach me manners, Maulvie Saheb (doctor learned
in Mohammadan law)?" asked Chandra Babu sarcastically.
An exchange of compliments followed which were not altogether to
Shylock's advantage, and at length he roared, "Get out of this office,
you rascal, and look out for squalls! I'll sell you up!" Karim left
in high dudgeon, inviting Chandra Babu to do his worst, and the latter
forthwith concocted a scheme of vengeance with his manager.
Next day Santi obtained a summons against Karim from the Munsiff
(civil judge of first instance) of Ghoria and, by bribing the court
process-server, induced him to make a false return of service. In
due course the suit came on for hearing, and as the defendant was of
course absent, it was decreed against him ex parte. Execution being
also granted, Santi accompanied the court bailiff to Karim's house,
where they seized all his movable property and carried it off to the
Court, leaving him in bewilderment and tears. He was unable to tear
himself away from his gutted home but sat for hours under a tree hard
by, pondering on his ill-fortune. Not until the sun had set and village
cattle began to file in from pasture, did he cast one lingering look
on the scene of his childhood and walk away with a sigh, whither no
one cared to inquire.
A week later, however, Karim strode into Chandra Babu's office
attended by two friends, and counted out ten ten-rupee notes, which
he handed to the moneylender, with a peremptory request to release
his chattels at once. Chandra Babu was greatly surprised by the turn
matters had taken, but he was not the man to let property slip from
his clutches. So he asked Santi whether the debtor did not owe a bill
of costs. The manager referred to his books and declared that Rs. 33
8. 0. were still due. Karim planked down the money without further
ado and asked for a receipt, which Santi reluctantly gave him. Then
he again demanded the immediate release of his property. On receiving
an evasive answer, he remarked that Chandra Babu would hear from him
shortly and left the office.
About a month later, Chandra Babu was aroused from sleep in the
dead of night by shouts coming from his inner courtyard. He jumped
up and popped his head out of the window, but withdrew it hastily
on seeing twenty or thirty men running about his premises, with
lighted torches, and shouting--"Loot! loot!" Paralysed by fear, he
crawled under the bed and lay in breathless expectation of further
developments. Presently the door was forced open, and a crowd poured
into the room. Chandra Babu's hiding place was soon discovered by
the dacoits (gang robbers), who dragged him out by the legs and
demanded his keys on pain of instant death. Seeing a rusty talwár
(sword) flourished within an inch of his throat, the unhappy man at
once produced them, whereon the dacoits opened his safe and took out
several bags of rupees. Then at a signal from their sardar (leader),
they bound Chandra Babu hand and foot and squatted round him in a
circle. The sardar thus addressed him:--
"Babuji, do you know us?"
"How can I know you?" groaned their victim. "Your faces are blackened
and concealed by your turbans. Gentlemen, I implore you to spare my
life! I never injured any of you."
"Indeed!" replied the sardar sarcastically; "you have been the ruin
of us all. Look you, Chandra Babu, we are all Khátaks (customers)
of yours whom you have fleeced by levying exorbitant interest on
loans and falsifying our accounts. It's no use going to law for our
rights; you are hand in glove with the civil court amla (clerks) and
peons (menials) and can get them to do whatever you wish. So we have
determined to take the law into our own hands. We have made up our
accounts and find that you have extorted from us Rs. 5,000, over and
above advances of rice and cash with reasonable interest. Now we're
going to help ourselves to that sum, besides damages at four annas
in the rupee (twenty-five per cent.). This makes just Rs. 6,250 you
owe us."
Thereon the dacoits counted out cash to that amount and no more,
which was placed in bags containing Rs. 1,000 each, ready for
removal. Chandra Babu heaved a sigh of relief, thinking that he had
got off rather cheaply, but his troubles were not at an end. The
sardar came close to him and asked:--
"Look at me carefully: do you know me?"
"No bábá, but you are my son. Pray, spare my life! See, I am half
dead already and ruined as well!"
"I am Karim Sheikh," said the sardar impressively.
"So you are," replied Chandra Babu, after recovering from his intense
surprise; "but why have you turned dacoit?"
"It was owing to your oppression, which drove me from my house, and
deprived me of the means of livelihood. All my companions here have
been beggared by you, and scores of other families too. The whole
of Kadampur and Simulgachi are clamouring for your blood, and Allah
has appointed me to be the minister of his vengeance. Time was when
I had to cringe to you, just as you are doing to me, but never did I
receive mercy from you. Now the tables are turned. I might kill you,
and who would dare to inform the police folk?" (Here Karim made a
vicious prod with his talwár, which passed within half an inch of
the terror-stricken victim's throat.) "I might put you out of caste
by slaying one of your cows and forcing you to eat its flesh. You
deserve all this and more--but we will be merciful. Swear by your
goddesses Kali and Durga that you will never in future demand more
than four annas in the rupee yearly for loans of money or rice. Swear
that you will never again bribe the amla or peons of the Courts;
swear that you will never again falsify the accounts of your Khátaks."
Chandra Babu took the oaths demanded with an appearance of unction
and then implored his captors to release him.
"Wait a minute," was Karim's reply, "we must collect our belongings."
So saying he ordered the dacoits to extinguish their torches and
follow him with the bags of money. He led them to a ravine on the
river bank, about a coss (two miles) distant, where the spoil was
equitably divided according to a list of names and amounts due
in Karim's possession. Then after arranging for alibis in case of
criminal proceedings, the band dispersed, well satisfied with their
night's work.
Chandra Babu's neighbours made no sign until the dacoits were well
out of hearing, when they flocked in to unloose his bonds and offer
hypocritical condolences. The village Chaukidar (watchman) was sent
off to the police station, and next day arrived the Sub-Inspector with
a posse of constables to investigate the dacoity. After recording
the complainant's statement, they endeavoured to secure additional
evidence, but Chandra Babu was so cordially disliked, and the dacoits'
vengeance so dreaded, that not a soul came forward to corroborate
his story. Karim was arrested, with half a dozen accomplices named
by Chandra Babu. They had no difficulty in proving that they were
attending a wedding ceremony five miles away on the night of the
alleged dacoity. So the case was reported to headquarters as false;
and Chandra Babu escaped prosecution for deceiving the police, by
giving a heavy bribe to the Sub-Inspector.
His evil star continued in the ascendant. About a week afterwards,
he discovered a heavy deficit in his cash book, kept by Santi Priya,
which that rascal failed to explain, and next day the trusty manager
did not attend office. Indeed he has never been heard of since. This
new calamity was Chandra Babu's "last straw". He hastened to realise
outstanding debts and left the village, bag and baggage, to the intense
relief of its inhabitants, who celebrated his exit by offering pujá
or namáz (Mohammadan prayers) according to the religion they severally
professed.
CHAPTER V
All's Well That End's Well.
Every good Hindu feels bound to get his daughter or sister, as the
case may be, married before she attains puberty. Rich people find
little difficulty in securing suitable matches for their girls; but
Babu Jadunath Basu, widely known as "Jadu Babu," was not blessed with
a large share of this world's goods; and his sister Basumati was close
on her teens. The marriage-broker had certainly suggested more than
one aspirant for her hand, but they were not to Jadu Babu's liking. As
years rolled by, his anxiety deepened into despair. A match was at
length offered which was passably good, although it did not answer
Jadu Babu's expectations. He learnt from private inquiry that the boy
proposed bore a good character, never mixed with doubtful associates,
and had no constitutional defect. Hindu parents are very careful to
ascertain the health of a suitor, and should they suspect any inherited
disease, such as consumption, they reject him remorselessly. It must
not be supposed that such lads are always doomed to celibacy, for
their unsoundness may be hidden or counterbalanced by a substantial
money payment.
Jadu Babu found out that the boy had matriculated at Calcutta and
was attending the second year class at a Metropolitan College; more
important still, his father, Amarendra Babu, had money invested in
Government paper, besides a substantial brick house--qualifications
which augured well for his sister's wedded happiness. The next step
was to invite his own father, Kumodini Babu, to come from Benares and
help him to clinch matters. The old man pleaded that he had done with
the world and all its vanities; so Jadu Babu had to make a pilgrimage
to the Holy City, where he induced Kumodini Babu to return home with
him. Three days later the pair went to Calcutta with two friends,
in order to make the suitor's acquaintance. They were welcomed by
Amarendra Babu, who at once sent for his son. The boy came in with
eyes fixed on the ground and shyly took a seat near Kumodini Babu. He
underwent a severe scrutiny, and at last the old man broke silence
by asking the lad his name. Being informed that it was Samarendra
Nath, he inquired the names of his father and grandfather, which were
promptly given.
"Good boy," observed Kumodini Babu, "the times are so completely
out of joint that youths are ashamed to, utter their father's name,
let alone their grandfather's. Where are you studying?"
"At the Metropolitan Institution," was the reply.
"An excellent college," said Kumodini Babu; then after a whispered
consultation with Jadu Babu, he said, "I am delighted with Samarendra's
modesty and good manners, and have no objection whatever to giving
my daughter to him in marriage--provided Prajapati (the Lord of
All) causes no hitch". Samarendra thought that his ordeal was over,
but he was mistaken. One of Kumodini Babu's friends, who happened
to be a Calcutta B.A., would not lose the opportunity of airing his
superior learning.
"What are your English text-books?" he asked.
"Blackie's Self-culture, Helps' Essays, Milton's Paradise Lost,
and Tennyson's Enoch Arden," gabbled Samarendra in one breath.
"Very good, now please fetch your Paradise Lost."
The boy disappeared, returning shortly with a well-thumbed volume,
which the B.A. opened and selected Satan's famous apostrophe to the Sun
for explanation. Samarendra was speechless. After waiting for a minute,
the B.A. asked what text-book he studied in physics and was told that
it was Ganot's Natural Philosophy. He asked Samarendra to describe
an electrophone, whereon the lad began to tremble violently. Kumodini
Babu had pity on his confusion and told him to run away. Needless to
say he was promptly obeyed.
It has become a Calcutta custom for possible fathers-in-law to
cross-examine suitors on their text-books; but few boys are able to
satisfy the test, however brilliant their acquirements may be. Poor
Samarendra was too overwhelmed with the strangeness of his position
to do himself justice.
When the elder folks were quite alone they plunged into
business. Kumodini Babu sounded his host as to dena paona (settlements)
on either side; but the latter courteously left them entirely to his
discretion. It was settled that Basumati's pákká dekhá (betrothal)
should be celebrated on 12th November at Kumodini Babu's, and that
of Samarendra's at his father's, two days later.
Basumati being an only daughter, Kumodini Babu determined to conduct
her marriage on a magnificent scale. In anticipation of the betrothal
feast, he brought three Brahman cooks from Calcutta to prepare
curries, pillaos and sweetmeats under the supervision of the ladies
of his household.
At length the auspicious day came round. At 5 P.M. Amarendra Babu,
with half a dozen friends, arrived at Kumodini Babu's house from
Calcutta. They were received with great courtesy and conducted to
seats, where a plentiful supply of tobacco and betel awaited them. At
half-past seven, Jadu Babu presented the bride-elect to her future
family. She looked charming in a Parsi shawl and Victoria jacket,
decked out with glittering jewels, and sat down near Amarendra Babu,
after saluting him respectfully. He took up some dhán, durba and
chandan (paddy, bent grass and sandal-wood paste) and blessed her,
presenting her at the same time with a gold chur (bracelet). After
again saluting him, the timid girl was led back to the inner
apartments. Then the guests were taken to a large hall where supper
was ready for their delectation. Full justice was done to the repast;
and after it was over, they washed their hands in the yard and smoked
or chewed betel in perfect bliss until half-past ten. Then Amarendra
Babu asked leave to return by the last train, declining hospitality
for the night on the plea of previous engagements. While saying
"good-bye" he called Jadu Babu aside and thrust Rs. 30 into his
hands, to be distributed among the guru (spiritual guide), purohit
(family priest), and servants. Two days afterwards, Kumodini Babu
and his son went to Calcutta for the boy's betrothal. He blessed
Samarendra, presenting him with a gold mohur (an obsolete coin worth
sixteen rupees) besides Rs. 50 for the priest and servants of his
household. A feast followed on the same scale as the previous one.
Kumodini Babu's family priest decided that Ásár 28th would be a lucky
day for the wedding, which was to be held at the bride's great-uncle's
house in Calcutta. Early on the 26th, the Gaihálud (turmeric smearing)
ceremony took place. Amarendra Babu rubbed his son's body with a
mixture of turmeric and oil and despatched a supply to Kumodini
Babu by his own barber, with injunctions to have it applied to his
daughter's person before 9 A.M., because subsequent hours would be
inauspicious. On the barber's arrival, the ladies of Kumodini Babu's
household anointed Basumati with turmeric and oil and clad her in a
gorgeous wrapper. Then they conducted her to another room where a jánti
(instrument for cracking betel-nuts) was given her and certain nitkits
(minor ceremonies) were performed.
At 11 A.M. the presents given on the occasion of the turmeric-smearing
(gaihálud) were brought by twenty servants who were regaled with a
feast made ready in anticipation of their arrival. After partaking
of it they were dismissed with a largesse of one rupee each. During
the next two days presents continued to pour in from relatives of
both families.
At length the fateful 28th Ásár dawned, bringing a mighty commotion
in the respective houses. Shouts and laughter echoed from every
side. Amarendra Babu had resolved to marry his son in a style which,
sooth to say, was far above his means, hoping to recoup himself from
the large cash payment which he expected from Kumodini Babu. On his
side the latter had consulted relatives as to the proper dowry. All
agreed that Rs. 2,000 worth of ornaments; Rs. 1,001 in cash; Rs. 500
for Barabharan (gifts to a bridegroom); and Rs. 500 for Phúlsajya
(lit. a bed of flowers) would be sufficient. Thus Kumodini Babu
provided Rs. 4,001 and imagined that he was acting generously.
At 7.30 P.M. the bridegroom's procession was formed. A Sub-Inspector
of Police and three constables led the way, followed by a band of
music. Next came a carriage and four conveying Samarendra, his younger
brother, and the family priest. Carriages belonging to Amarendra Babu's
friends, and some hired ones full of invited guests, brought up the
rear. When a start was made, the little police force hustled vehicles
out of the way and even stopped tram-cars when necessary; while the
band tortured selections from Handel and Beethoven to the intense
delight of passers-by, many of whom paused to criticise shortcomings
in the procession among themselves. In about an hour it reached its
destination, where Kumodini Babu's uncle received the guests. The
family barber carried Samarendra in his arms to a chair which had
been provided for him. There he sat with eyes fixed steadily on the
ground, while his friends squatted round and cracked jokes at his
expense. He smiled, but modestly implored them not to put him out of
countenance. The Lagna (auspicious time) was determined to be 9.30;
meanwhile the guests sat on carpets or chairs, beguiling the delay
with hookahs.
While mirth was at its height, strange things were happening in a
private room adjoining. Soon after arriving, Amarendra Babu asked
Kumodini Babu and Jadunath to display the presents destined for the
young couple. They took him into a room where all were set forth to the
best advantage. After examining them in silence awhile, Amarendra Babu
kicked the nearest contemptuously aside, remarking that they were "mere
rubbish". In point of fact he fully expected Kumodini Babu to give
Rs. 4,000 in cash, Rs. 2,000 in respect of Barabharan and Phulsajya
and Rs. 4,000 worth of jewellery--Rs. 10,000 in all. To judge by the
ornaments shown him, the total dowry would be barely half as much and
he could not help expressing disappointment. On asking Kumodini Babu
what he intended paying down in cash, and learning that Rs. 1,001 was
all he could afford, Amarendra Babu's indignation knew no bounds. He
demanded Rs. 5,000, declaring that if it were not paid on the nail,
he would take his son away! The wretched father implored twelve hours'
delay, but was told in as many words that his promise could not be
relied on. The deadlock soon got wind, and Amarendra Babu's action was
severely commented on by the guests, but he remained obdurate. Kumodini
Babu's uncle ran to a wealthy acquaintance for a loan of Rs. 4,000,
but was told that so large a sum was not available at short notice. On
his return, Amarendra Babu delivered his ultimatum--Rs. 4,000 cash to
be paid forthwith; and finding that it was hopeless to expect so much,
he hailed a cab, hurried Samarendra into it, and drove home in high
dudgeon, followed by all his relatives and friends. This unexpected
calamity brought mourning into a house of mirth; people spoke in
whispers; and anguish left its mark on every face.
Shám Babu was supervising the Hálûikars (confectioners) when the
awful news reached his ears. For a few minutes he stood transfixed
to the spot; but ere long a happy thought struck him. He clapped his
hands in silent glee, and ran to an inner room, where Kumodini Babu
lay groaning on the bare floor, guarded by his son who feared that
he would do something rash.
"Mahásay," he said soothingly. "Do not take on like this! God's
ways are inscrutable; perchance He has broken the match off for your
daughter's good."
"Yes, God's will be done," replied Kumodini Babu in sepulchral
tones. "We are but His instruments." Then after a pause he added,
"What I dread most is loss of caste".
"Who will dare to excommunicate you for such a trifle?" asked Shám
Babu indignantly.
"Alas, you know too well that my family's position in society is
terribly compromised. A marriage postponed is a marriage lost!" groaned
Kumodini Babu.
"But why should it be postponed?" was Sham Babu's eager question. "I
have a proposal to make, if you will only give it a moment's thought."
Kumodini Babu looked up, and a ray of hope dried his tears; he waited
anxiously for further particulars.
"You know my son Susil, I suppose? He is just sixteen and has passed
the Entrance Examination."
"Yes, yes," answered Kumodini Babu. "He is a fine lad, obedient and
well-mannered. But what has he got to do with our present fix?"
"Will you give your daughter to him in marriage? I will not ask a
single pice as dowry."
Kumodini Babu sprang to his feet and embraced Shám Babu with fervour,
saying, "You have saved my life. Personally, I should be delighted
to have Susil as a son-in-law, but you must let me consult my son
and wife." He ran to the inner apartments, and communicated Shám
Babu's offer to his near relatives. This unexpected solution of the
dilemma filled them with surprise; and a loud clamour of voices echoed
through the house. Finally all, without exception, agreed that the
match would be an excellent one. Kumodini Babu brought news of its
acceptance to Shám Babu, and it spread among the wedding guests,
who were loud in their praises of his true Hindu spirit.
Shám Babu went into the courtyard where Susil sat talking with some
other boys about the astounding piece of good fortune which awaited
him. That he, the son of a humble clerk, should espouse the daughter
of a Zemindar was more than his wildest dreams had anticipated. He
joyfully accompanied Shám Babu to a room, where he was clad in silken
attire, and thence to the hall, where he was solemnly inducted into
the empty bridegroom's chair amid the acclamations of the assembled
guests. As the Lagna (auspicious time) had not run out the actual
marriage ceremony began forthwith. Basumati was given away by her
father; while the ladies performed Satpák (lit. going round seven
times--a ceremony without which a Hindu marriage is not binding) and
other minor ceremonies with zest. After all had been well and duly
gone through, the bride and bridegroom were conducted to an inner
apartment. Susil underwent the customary "chaff" from the ladies,
which he bore with great good humour and was at last left alone with
his young companion for life; while some of the fair guests sang
wedding songs to the intense delight of their friends. Nor were the
men-folk idle. They sat down to a sumptuous feast prepared for the
recreant bridegroom's family, nor did they separate till daybreak.
At 3 P.M. on the morrow Shám Babu took Sasil and Basumati to his own
home, where the Bau-Bhát ceremony was performed in grand style. It
was attended by all their caste-fellows, who were loud in extolling
his magnanimity. Shám Babu accepted their praises meekly, remarking
that he had done nothing more than his duty, by neglecting which he
would have rendered himself accountable to God.
CHAPTER VI
An Outrageous Swindle
Amarendra Babu had expected Kumodini Babu to run after him,
with entreaties to return and the promise of a note of hand for
Rs. 4,000. Disappointment became downright wrath when he heard that
his son's prospective bride had been forthwith married to another
boy. After pondering awhile on this grievance, he sent an anonymous
letter to Shám Babu's employers, to the effect that their clerk was
robbing them right and left and running a business of his own with
their money, under a fictitious name. They had implicit confidence
in his honesty, and the only action they took was to hand the scrawl
to him with a remark that they hoped he would discover and prosecute
the writer.
Meanwhile Amarendra Babu cast about him for a suitable match for his
son. Hearing of a likely girl from the marriage-broker, he visited her
parents, who accepted his overtures with alacrity. The young lady's
father, Jogesh by name, was a commission agent, whose regular earnings
did not exceed thirty rupees a month; but he lived in such style that
his neighbours believed him to be comfortably off. Amarendra Babu, too,
was deceived by appearances, while the girl, who was exhibited to him,
seemed intelligent and pretty. On his side, Jogesh knew his visitor
to be a house-owner of some means; and learning from him that his son
was a second-year student, he gladly consented to the match. The pair
next broached a delicate question, that of dowry. Amarendra Babu had
learnt by bitter experience of the folly of pitching expectations too
high. He told Jogesh that he should be quite satisfied with Rs. 4,001,
viz., ornaments 2,000, barabharan and phulsajya Rs. 500 each, and cash
Rs. 1,001. On Jogesh's expressing willingness to provide that amount,
the purohit (family priest) was sent for who, after referring to a
panjika (almanac), announced that Srában 20th would be an auspicious
day for the marriage. They then separated with many protestations of
mutual good-will.
Meantime Jogesh made minute inquiries as to Amarendra Babu's position
and the health of his son. Their result was satisfactory enough;
not so the fiasco related in my last chapter, which reached him with
amplification, and made him resolve that Amarendra Babu should not
play such tricks on him. He ordered no ornaments for his daughter,
because he had little cash or credit, but simply borrowed Rs. 300 to
meet absolutely necessary expenses. On the afternoon of Srában 20th he
called in half a dozen city roughs, armed them with thick sticks, and
plied them with spirits, telling them on no account to appear in the
public apartments of his house until they received a signal agreed on.
At seven o'clock Amarendra Babu, with his son and an uncle named
Rashbehari, arrived at Jogesh's house in a second-class cab. No
procession attended them, partly because the last had cost so much
money, partly owing to the fear that another hitch might cover them
with ridicule. After exchanging hearty salutations with Jogesh, they
asked him to exhibit the ornaments prepared for the bride-elect. He
took them to a side room and left them there a while, presently
introducing a well-dressed man as his family goldsmith. The latter
unlocked a tin box which he was carrying and took out a number of
glittering gold trinkets, one by one. After examining them carefully,
Amarendra Babu asked him to weigh them, which he did, proving that
their weight exceeded 120 bháris (forty-eight ounces), and their
total value, at Rs. 20 per bhári, no less than Rs. 2,400. This was
far more than he had bargained for, and Amarendra Babu was highly
delighted; but his uncle insisted on sending for his own goldsmith
to weigh the ornaments. Jogesh at once fell in with the suggestion,
and this tradesman, on arrival, valued them at Rs. 2,700.
Rashbehari Babu's scepticism vanished, and he assented to his
nephew's whispered hint that they need not ask Jogesh to produce
the barabharan. He, however, insisted on satisfying them as to its
worth and placed in their hands a heavy gold watch by McCabe, with
an albert chain, equally ponderous; and assured them that he had
paid Rs. 800 for the two. Amarendra's joy was perhaps excessive,
and when the lagna (auspicious time) came round, he permitted the
marriage to be celebrated. Every ceremony went off without a hitch,
and the evening closed in feasting and mirth.
On the following afternoon Amarendra Babu took the bridegroom and
bride with the box of ornaments to his own home, while Rashbehari
Babu remained behind at Jogesh's to receive the cash. On mentioning
this little formality he was assured that the sum of Rs. 1,001 had
been duly counted out to his nephew; so he took his leave. When he
reached home, he discovered the dirty trick that had been played by
Jogesh. Amarendra stoutly denied having received any cash; and the
tin box was proved to contain only fragments of brick neatly wrapped
in paper, and covered with pink cotton wool.
The pair of dupes hurried to Jogesh's house for an explanation. He
sat in the parlour, in evident expectation of their arrival, and
asked with an air of unconcern what was the matter.
"You son of a pig!" roared Amarendra Babu, shaking his clenched fist
close to Jogesh's nose. "Tell me where are the ornaments--where is
the cash?"
"Why, did you not take away a box full of trinkets? and you must
admit that the Rs. 1,001 were handed you in a cotton bag,"
This impudence was too much. Both uncle and nephew fell upon Jogesh
and belaboured him sorely with their shoes. He did not retaliate,
but consoled himself with the thought that he had done his duty,
to God and society, by marrying his daughter, whatever fate might
await him. After vowing to bring a suit against the swindler,
Amarendra Babu and his uncle left the premises and did what they
would have done much earlier had they not been in such a desperate
hurry to marry the lad. They made inquiries as to Jogesh's position
and soon discovered that he was a man of straw, quite unworthy of
powder and shot. They learned, too, that he had hired Rs. 3,000 worth
of trinkets for one night from a goldsmith, who never let them out of
his possession. From a wealthy neighbour he had borrowed a McCabe's
watch and chain, also for one night only. His arrangements made with a
gang of city roughs, in order to prevent the marriage being broken off,
also came to light. Amarendra Babu saw that he had been dealing with a
cunning and desperate man and prudently determined to give him a wide
berth in future. But his daughter was in Amarendra Babu's clutches,
and she was forced to expiate the sins of her father. The luckless
girl was kept on very short commons and locked into a dark room when
she was not engaged in rough household work. Contrary to custom,
she was not sent to her father's house three days after the marriage;
nor was the Bau-Bhát ceremony performed. But Jogesh was on the alert;
he managed to communicate with her by bribing a maid-servant, and one
morning Amarendra Babu's household discovered that the half-starved
bird had flown.
A year passed away without news of the truants; but, one evening,
Amarendra Babu was sitting in his parlour, spelling out a spicy
leader in the Indian Mirror, when, to his unqualified amazement,
Jogesh stepped in and unbidden took a seat. Amarendra Babu's first
impulse was to shout for help and eject the intruder with every
species of ignominy, but second thoughts are proverbially peaceful.
"This Jogesh," he reflected, "must be a very smart fellow, or he would
never have taken us all in as he did. It is better to be on the side of
the sacrificial knife than the goat that awaits its stroke. Why should
I not hear what he has to say? He would not have come here without
some excellent reason--perhaps he wants to pay up part of his debt
to me, or maybe he has some scheme with money in it to unfold. He'll
certainly try to overreach me again; but then once bitten twice
shy. I'll be on my guard." Then with an attempt at irony he asked:--
"What brings you of all people to my house? Have you got another
daughter to marry?"
Had Amarendra Babu observed the gleam which shot from Jogesh's shifty
eyes, he would have kicked him out at once, but he waited for a reply,
which came in honeyed accents:--
"Now, Babuji, please don't rake up old stories; what is done cannot
be undone. You, as a father, ought to excuse little subterfuges,
contrived in order to get a daughter off one's hands. I was so anxious
to ally myself with your distinguished family that I did sail rather
near the wind. But I have come to offer you some amends by putting
you on a really good thing."
Amarendra Babu's cupidity was excited by these words. He asked with
apparent indifference: "Well, let me hear more of your famous plans,
and meantime I'll call for a hookah".
Jogesh was overjoyed by the success of his manoeuvres. He answered,
punctuating his sentences by inhaling fragrant Bhilsi, "You have
heard of Campbell & Co., the big cooly recruiters of Azimganj? Well,
they have an agency in Calcutta for supplying emigrants to Mauritius,
Trinidad, and other outlandish places; and it is run by one Ganesh
Sen who is a close friend of mine. He tells me that a number of
sub-contracts will be given out to-morrow, and I have made up my mind
to apply for one. Ganesh Babu is sure to come to terms with me; and I
know a very smart sardár (ganger) who will supply me with any number of
coolies I want. But I shall take care to keep a large margin between
the rate per head, at which they will be delivered to Campbell & Co.,
and that which my sardár will receive. All this will be clear profit."
"It seems a good speculation," said Amarendra Babu musingly, "but
I should like to have further particulars. What do you expect to
make per head delivered; and what capital will be required?" Jogesh
pulled out a paper covered with calculations, and proved to his host's
satisfaction that as much as Rs. 5 might be expected on each cooly. As
for capital, a few hundreds would be needed in the first instance as
an advance to the sardár, and other sums later, to provide outfits
for the coolies according to law. Campbell & Co. settled the accounts
of sub-contractors monthly, so that Amarendra would not have to wait
long for his money. Jogesh concluded by urging his baibáhik (father
of a son-in-law) to call with him on Messrs. Campbell & Co.'s Calcutta
manager, who would corroborate his statements. Amarendra Babu thought
that there would be no harm in going into matters further. He fixed 4
P.M. on the following day for a visit to 809 Strand, where Campbell &
Co.'s branch offices were said to be located.
On arriving there punctually, he was met by Jogesh, who took him
through a courtyard where twenty or thirty coolies were squatting,
shepherded by a stalwart Mohammadan, wearing a blue turban, who was
introduced as Salim Sardár, his ganger. Pushing through the little
crowd, they entered a well-furnished office, where several clerks
sat writing busily. One of them looked up when Jogesh said: "Ganesh
Babu, I have brought you my baibáhik, who is thinking of joining me
in a sub-contract".
The manager, for such he was, received Amarendra Babu politely and
said that he would gladly come to terms with them. He then produced
a written contract in duplicate on stamped paper, by which the
partners agreed to furnish at least 1,000 coolies monthly, during
the emigration season, at rates which left a net profit of Rs. 5
per head, to be shared equally between them. After reading both
documents over twice, Amarendra Babu executed them, as did Jogesh;
and the former took possession of his copy. On returning home with
his new partner, he entered on a discussion as to ways and means. It
was agreed that he should advance Rs. 5,000 for preliminaries, which
he did a week later, raising the amount on a mortgage of his Calcutta
house property. Everything went swimmingly at first; Jogesh calling
daily to report progress; and a month later he burst into Amarendra
Babu's parlour, with a cash-book and bundle of currency notes. The
latter learnt to his intense delight that his share of the profits
amounted to Rs. 1268 12.4. which was promptly paid him. Two or three
days afterwards Jogesh again called to tell him that an opportunity
of making Rs. 10,000 net had occurred owing to the pressing demand
for cooly freight from a ship which was lying half-empty, and costing
large sums for demurrage. Rs. 10,000 must be forthcoming at once for
advances and perhaps special railway trucks, but Amarendra Babu might
calculate on receiving 100 per cent. in three weeks at the latest. Such
a chance of money-making was not to be lost. Amarendra Babu rushed off
to his broker and sold nearly all his Government paper for Rs. 10,000
in cash, which he handed to Jogesh, against a formal acknowledgment.
Seeing nothing of his partner for several days, Amarendra called
to inquire how the new contract fared and was thunderstruck to find
Jogesh's house locked up. Hastening to Campbell & Co.'s Strand offices,
he saw a notice "to let" exhibited there. This spectacle confirmed
his worst fears--he had been twice swindled outrageously. His only
hope lay in the scoundrel's arrest; so he laid an information at the
police station, and a clever detective was told off to investigate
the charge. Strange was the story which came to light. No such firm
as "Campbell & Co." existed; Ganesh Babu and Salim Sardár were both
accomplices of Jogesh, who had rented an office on the Strand for
one month at Rs. 300 which was never paid. He had also engaged twenty
or thirty loafers at 4 annas (4d.) a head to personate coolies for a
couple of hours. This part of the inquiry was satisfactory enough--for
the police; not so the efforts they made to trace Jogesh and his
accomplices. From that day to this nothing has been heard of them.
Amarendra Babu never recovered from this crushing blow. The loss of
nearly Rs. 14,000 is a very serious matter for any one of moderate
means; to him it was doubly grievous, for he worshipped money and
valued nothing but success. By constantly brooding on his misfortunes
and folly he developed symptoms of madness and was at times so violent
that his relatives were obliged to confine him in a dark room. One
afternoon he eluded their vigilance and hurried to the office of
"Campbell & Co." on the Strand. After gazing for several minutes at
the empty building, he heaved a deep sigh, ran across the road, and
sprang into the River Hughli. The undercurrent sucked his body in,
and it was never recovered. Perhaps Mother Ganges was loath to keep
a carcase so tainted in her bosom, and so whirled it southwards to
the ocean.
CHAPTER VII
The Virtue of Economy.
Shám Babu was a clerk of nearly thirty years' standing, and the
approach of old age made him anxious to escape from the daily grind of
business. He asked permission to resign, which was reluctantly granted;
his employers signifying their appreciation of his faithful service
by granting him a pension of Rs. 30 a month and offering to provide
for any of his relatives who might be fit for clerical work. Shám
Babu thanked them warmly and retired to his native village, with the
intention of passing the evening of life in peace. He had always lived
well within his means. People who were thrice as rich could not imagine
how he contrived to bring up a family on the salary which he was known
to enjoy. Some folks insinuated that he had made money by giving his
son in marriage to Kumodini Babu's daughter, never remembering that a
dowry is reserved for the bride's benefit, while the cash payment made
to a father-in-law barely suffices to meet the expenses of elaborate
nuptial ceremonies. Others hinted that he had waxed rich on illicit
commissions--another charge which was quite without foundation. Shám
Babu was strictly honest, and besides, the opportunities within the
reach of clerks employed by a private firm are not worth mentioning.
After settling down at Kadampur he cudgelled his brains for some
means of increasing his slender resources. Friends advised him to try
farming, or start a business in lending grain to cultivators. Neither
trade was to his liking. Clerks are of little use outside their own
sphere; and Shám Babu was too soft-hearted to succeed as a village
Shylock. A matter of pressing importance was to establish his son
Susil, who had passed the First Arts examination and was hanging about
the Government offices at Ghoria, in the hope of securing a post. Shám
Babu took advantage of his late employer's offer and sent the young
man off to Calcutta armed with a sheaf of certificates. To his great
delight, Susil was appointed clerk on Rs. 25--a magnificent start,
which relieved his father's most pressing anxiety.
Shám Babu had begun life with a small patrimony which was slowly
increased by savings from his monthly pay. He was worth nearly
Rs. 10,000, the whole of which was lent by him to a trader named
Gopál Datta, certified by Shám Babu's brother-in-law Hari to be
thoroughly trustworthy. This Gopál dealt in jute; and being a man of
great daring, he speculated so successfully with Shám Babu's money
that, within three or four years, he amassed a fortune of two lakhs
(£13,333). He paid 12 per cent. interest on the loan regularly,
which made a comfortable addition to Shám Babu's pension.
It was the latter's habit to visit his Calcutta relatives at least
once a month. So, one day in June, 18--, he went to Hari Babu's house
with the intention of passing the night there. His brother-in-law
was absent and not expected till the morrow; but Shám Babu was
welcomed by the ladies of the family, who made all arrangements
for his comfort. In the evening he sat in the Baitakhana (parlour)
reading the Bhagavat Gita (a mystical poem). A carriage drove up
to the door whence alighted Rámanáth Babu, who was Gopál's younger
brother. After the usual compliments had been exchanged, Shám Babu
asked what business his visitor was engaged in.
"I have started as a broker in jute and oil-seeds," was the reply.
"I hope you will do as well as Gopál," said Shám Babu, "but I suppose
you have joined him?"
"Certainly not," replied Rámanáth impulsively; then he checked himself,
as though he had said too much.
Shám Babu was astonished by the tone adopted by his visitor. He asked,
"Why, what's the matter with Gopál, nothing wrong I hope and trust?"
"No, not exactly; but I'm in a hurry to-day, you must excuse my
taking leave."
Shám Babu, however, would not be put off with vague insinuations. He
said, "I must ask you, Rámanáth, to be more precise. You know your
brother has borrowed Rs. 10,000 from me on a mere note of hand,
and I am naturally very anxious to learn the truth."
Rámanáth Babu paused for a few seconds before replying. "It is a
fact that my brother's speculations have been unfortunate of late. He
certainly made a good deal of money at one time, but sunk the bulk of
it in bricks and mortar, which you know are not easily turned into
liquid capital. You, as a large creditor, ought to be told how the
land lies."
"This is the first I have heard of Gopál's difficulties," groaned
Shám Babu.
"Yes, because no one troubled himself to tell you the truth; but I
can assure you that Gopál's liabilities are something awful, and it
is quite possible that he may have to take insolvency proceedings."
"You don't say so! What shall I do? If Gopál becomes bankrupt,
I shall be utterly ruined."
"Well, I cannot advise you fully," replied Rámanáth Babu, "but
forewarned is forearmed. If I were in your shoes I would certainly
call in my loan." Thereon he took leave.
Shám Babu passed a restless night, dreaming of the debtor's jail and
a starving family. On Hari Babu's return, next morning, he related the
purport of his conversation with Rámanáth. His host said: "You should
not attach too much importance to such tittle-tattle. Rámanáth has
had a quarrel with his brother about family matters, and he is not
at all averse to doing him a bad turn." Shám Babu was not satisfied
with this explanation. He answered:--
"I can hardly believe Rámanáth capable of telling deliberate lies,
which must inevitably be detected."
"Perhaps not. It is quite possible that Gopál may be in temporary
straits. But can you point to a single merchant among your
acquaintances whose career has been uniformly prosperous? There are
ups and downs in commerce, which no one can avoid. Mark my words,
Gopál will soon pull himself together again!"
Shám Babu was by no means convinced by his brother-in-law's
optimism. He remarked, "In any case I ought not to allow my loan to
stand without some tangible security. Gopál has house property in
Calcutta, I believe?"
"To be sure he has. There is his new house at Entally, which must have
cost Rs. 20,000; and another in Barabazar, letting at Rs. 3,000. Just
calculate what this property must be worth. If I doubted Gopál's
solvency, do you suppose I would have lent him Rs. 20,000 on his note
of hand?"
Shám Babu was quite reassured. He came to the conclusion that Rámanáth
had attempted to injure his own brother, and returned home with a
firm resolve to disregard such scandalous talk in future.
About three months afterwards he met Rámanáth Babu quite casually in
Harrison Road and, in the course of conversation, the latter asked
whether he had called in his loan to Gopál.
"I have done nothing of the kind," was the curt reply. "My
brother-in-law tells me that he is quite solvent."
"It was just like him to say so--the selfish fellow! I am sorry to
say that my brother has lost heavily by speculating in jute and is,
in fact, a ruined man. If you don't believe me, ask Hari Babu again
and you will see what tune he sings. Perhaps you don't know that he
has called in his loan of Rs. 20,000?"
"That is certainly strange," replied Shám Babu with tears in his
voice. "He never breathed a word of any such intention to me."
"Hari Babu is your brother-in-law," continued Rámanáth, "but Gopál
is my own brother. Is it likely that I would injure his reputation
gratuitously? No; you are an old friend whom I cannot allow to be
ruined without a word of warning. If you do not choose to act upon it,
so much the worse for you."
Shám Babu was now convinced that no time was to be lost in demanding
proper security for the loan. He went straight to his brother-in-law,
to whom he repeated the information which he had received.
Hari Babu shook his head sadly. "Yes," he said, "I am afraid there is
some truth in it. Gopál is in temporary difficulties; but you need not
be anxious. I will get him to give you a mortgage on landed property
worth much more than his debt to you."
Shám Babu felt somewhat reassured, but there was a point to be
cleared up.
"One word more," he said, "have you called in your loan of Rs. 20,000?"
Hari Babu looked at him suspiciously. "Who told you so?"
"I heard it from a reliable source."
"It must have been Rámanáth, who is always seeking to make
mischief. Well, yes, I did ask Gopál to repay me, not that I distrusted
him but because I wanted to invest the money in land."
Shám Babu felt indignant at the man's gross selfishness, but he
concealed his feelings and merely remarked that he would not leave
Calcutta till the mortgage was settled. Next morning he insisted on
Hari Babu accompanying him to Gopál's house at Entally. They found the
debtor apparently in high spirits, although he admitted that certain
speculations had turned out badly. When pressed by Shám Babu to repay
the loan, he asked for time, pleading that his whole capital was locked
up. Shám Babu, however, was obdurate, and with his brother-in-law's
help he brought such pressure to bear on Gopál that the latter sulkily
agreed to give him a mortgage on an ancestral estate in the Mufassil
(interior of Bengal). Shám Babu stuck closely to him until the bargain
had been fulfilled, and managed matters so expeditiously that the
mortgage deed was drawn up, executed, and registered in a week. Though
he had now something tangible to rely on in case of accidents still
he was not happy, for Gopál discontinued paying interest on the loan
and he did not dare to press him, lest he should precipitate a crash.
Misfortunes never come singly. Soon after settling this unpleasant
affair, Shám Babu was laid low by fever; and doctor's bills trenched
sadly on his slender resources. Susil, too, the hope of the family,
caught a mysterious disease and was absent from office so long that his
employers were obliged to replace him. For the first time in his life,
the poor old father felt the pinch of want, but he bore up bravely
hoping for better times. When he was able to crawl about again, he
applied to his old employers for work of any kind, but learnt to his
sorrow that they intended winding up the business and were not able
to increase their establishment. Shám Babu scanned the advertisement
columns of the daily paper and answered many offers of employment,
learning, on each occasion, that he was far too old to fill the
coveted post.
One evening he sat in his parlour brooding over the many misfortunes
which encompassed him. A distant connection named Srish Babu came in
and, hearing that his host sorely needed work, said:--
"I am going to start a business in country produce and shall want
several experienced clerks. I must provide for relatives first and
strangers afterwards. Now, would you be inclined to come to me as
manager, on Rs. 75 a month to begin with?"
Shám Babu jumped at the offer, which would restore him to comparative
affluence, and it was agreed that he should enter on his new duties
in three weeks. A month passed by without news from his relative,
and meantime Shám Babu received a tempting offer of employment. Before
deciding what to do he wrote to Srish Babu, informing him of the fact
and asking whether he could rely on him. A reply came to the effect
that he might do as he pleased, but that the business in country
produce, which he was to manage, would positively be started in a
fortnight. After another month of suspense, Shám Babu learnt that
Srish's bubble had been pricked, and that he had levanted, no one
knew whither, to escape a swarm of creditors.
The poor old man was now on his beam-ends. The only course open
to him was to sue Gopál for arrears of interest and foreclose his
mortgage. After a year and a half's attendance in divers civil
courts and spending his last rupee on lawyers' fees, he obtained a
decree. When, however, he tried to execute it, it turned out that
the estate on which he had a lien was a joint family possession,
with the shares so inextricably mixed up that he could neither trace
the property mortgaged to him nor discover who was liable for the
proportion of profit derived from it. As well poke one's fingers into
a hornet's nest as into a joint family estate! Shám Babu was glad to
accept an offer of Rs. 5,000 from Gopál's co-sharers, in return for
a surrender of his claims. Despite his heavy loss, enough remained
to preserve him from penury; and he was even able to start Susil in
a small way of business. Great is the virtue of economy!
CHAPTER VIII
A Peacemaker.
Young Samarendra Dass of Calcutta hoped to enter Government service
as a Sub-Deputy Magistrate; but this ambition was thwarted by the
sudden decease of his father, who left a widow and two sons entirely
unprovided for. After dutifully performing the srádh (funeral rites),
he waited on the dead man's uncle, Rashbehári Babu by name, with a
request that he would support the little family until the sons were in
a position to do so. No good Hindu in comfortable circumstances ever
turns a deaf ear to such appeals. Rashbehári Babu at once invited the
trio to take up their abode with him. Having no nearer relatives,
he had resolved to leave his whole fortune to Samarendra and his
brother Nagendra; and long before his nephew's death he had executed
a will to that effect, which for obvious reasons was kept a profound
secret. The young men were, therefore, ignorant of the brilliant
prospects in store for them, and worked hard to prepare themselves
for earning a livelihood. Samarendra was soon provided with a post
as clerk, which yielded enough to provide the cost of his father's
funeral ceremony and also enabled him to pay Nagendra's school fees.
One evening Rashbehári Babu went to bed supperless, complaining of
indisposition. At midnight, Samarendra was awakened by his groans and
found him writhing in agony on the floor. A doctor was summoned in hot
haste; but ere his arrival the poor old man had expired in Samarendra's
arms. His case was diagnosed as one of failure of the heart's action.
Samarendra and his mother were prostrated by this sudden calamity;
but there is no time to be lost in hot weather. Calling in three
or four neighbours, they had the body carried to Nimtala Ghat for
cremation. Sufficient money was given to the Muchis (low-caste men who
serve as undertakers) for purchasing an abundant supply of fuel and ghi
(clarified butter) with which a chilla (pyre) was constructed. After
the corpse had been laid reverently thereon, Samarendra performed
Mukhagni ("putting fire in its mouth," the duty of the eldest son
or nearest relative). Fire was then applied on four sides, and when
the body had been reduced to ashes, Samarendra bathed in the Ganges
with his companions, and returned home with wet clothes, shouting
"Haribol!" (a cry used at funerals).
Next day Samarendra discovered the dead man's keys, one of which
opened a drawer where Rashbehári Babu kept his private papers. Among
them was a will, which made himself and his brother sole heirs to
the deceased's estate. He ran with the glad news to his mother, who,
in the exuberance of her joy, vowed to offer a sumptuous pujá at Kali
Ghát temple after the srádh had been duly performed.
Rashbehári Babu left landed property yielding an annual income of
Rs. 1,200, besides Rs. 10,000 deposited in a Calcutta bank, and a
substantial house. His estate was worth not less than Rs. 40,000--a
lucky windfall for the penniless brothers. It is needless to add
that the testator's srádh was celebrated with great pomp, which
over, Samarendra applied for and obtained probate of the will. A
sudden change from dependence to comparative wealth is trying to
the best-balanced character. Samarendra's head was turned by the
accession of fortune; he began to give himself airs in dealing with
acquaintances, and was not over-kind to his mother, who bore her
sufferings patiently.
A landed proprietor holds service in contempt. Samarendra at once
resigned his post and settled down at Ratnapur, where Rashbehári
Babu had owned a house and the bulk of his estate was situated. Soon
afterwards he yielded to the repeated advice of his mother by marrying
the daughter of a caste-fellow, endowed with goods on a par with her
husband's new position.
His brother Nagendra passed the Entrance Examination, but failed to
secure a First Arts certificate. This rebuff so disheartened him that
he gave up all idea of continuing the University course and returned to
Ratnapur with the intention of living in idleness on his property. In
vain did Samarendra point out the advantages of a degree. Nagendra
declared that such distinctions were beyond his reach. Sudden wealth,
in fact, was injurious to both of them.
Two uneventful years passed away. Samarendra's wife was the mother
of an idolised boy and was herself adored by her mother-in-law, who
never allowed her to do any manner of household work. The result was
that her temper changed for the worse. When the old lady fell ill,
the young one made horrible messes of her curry and rice. If her
husband ventured to remonstrate, she silenced him with abuse, and
even emphasised her remarks with a broomstick.
Samarendra, in fact, was completely under his wife's thumb. Her word
was law in the household; her mother-in-law a mere cypher, who found
both husband and wife perpetually leagued against her. Shortly after
his arrival at Ratnapur, Nagendra espoused the daughter of Kanto
Babu, a Zemindar residing in the neighbourhood. At first Samarendra's
wife received the new-comer graciously enough; but finding that she
was of a submissive disposition, she soon began to lord it over her
sister-in-law. Nagendra sympathised heartily with his young wife,
but had such a horror of family quarrels that he was very loath to
intervene on her behalf. One evening, however, he ventured on a word
of reproof, which was received with angry words and threats of his
eldest brother's vengeance.
Next day Samarendra called him into the parlour, and, after they
were seated, said: "I hear you have been rude to Barabau (the elder
wife). Is that so?"
Nagendra raised his hands in wonder. "No, brother, it was she who
showed disrespect to me, simply because I objected to her bullying
my wife."
"Do you mean to say that Barabau has lied?" thundered Samarendra. His
brother was nettled by the tone adopted. He replied hotly, "Yes,
she has lied!"
"What!" asked Samarendra beside himself with indignation. "Is my
wife a liar and are you a Judisthir?" (the elder of the five Pandav
brothers, heroes of the Mahabharata). "You are a creature without
shame!" So saying, he shook his fist at Nagendra who started from
his seat as if to attack him. Luckily a respectable neighbour came
in at the very nick of time and separated the would-be combatants.
On the morrow, Nagendra told his brother curtly that these perpetual
bickerings must be avoided at all cost, and that the only course open
to them was to separate. Samarendra raised not the slightest objection,
and from that day forward two distinct establishments were set up
in the same house. It only remained to divide the estates equally,
and as a preliminary step Nagendra asked for accounts during the last
three years. They were furnished in a few weeks, and he spent several
nights in examining them carefully, taking lists of defaulters in
order to verify them by independent inquiry.
While returning home, one evening, from supper at a friend's house,
he met a Mohammadan ryot who, according to the accounts, was heavily
in arrears of rent. He paused and, after acknowledging the man's salám,
remarked that he ought to make an effort to pay a part at least of what
was due. The ryot stood aghast with surprise, but invoked Allah to
witness that he had paid up every pice, adding that he held Dákhilas
(rent receipts) from Bara Babu (the elder brother) which would prove
his assertion. Nagendra asked him to call next day with the receipts
in question.
When the man presented himself, Nagendra, in his brother's
presence, asked for the arrears of rent shown in the jamá wásil báqi
(accounts). Again the ryot affirmed that he owned nothing and appealed
to the Bara Babu for corroboration. Samarendra was taken aback.
"Yes," he stammered, "you did pay me something about a month ago."
"Why do you say 'something,' Babu? You know quite well that I
discharged my rent in full; and what is more I have receipts." So
saying he untied a knot in his gamcha (wrapper) and extracted some
greasy papers, which he flourished in Samarendra's face, shouting,
"Will you swear by your gods that these are not in your writing?"
Nagendra took the receipts, which bore his brother's signature. The
latter looked somewhat sheepish as he answered: "My memory failed me;
I now recollect receiving our rent from you."
Nagendra turned sharply on his brother with the question: "Then why
did you not enter these receipts in your karcha (cash-book)?"
"I'm sure I don't know," was the reply; "probably I forgot to do so."
Though Nagendra said nothing at the time, his doubts of Samarendra's
probity became certainties. From that day onward he was indefatigable
in studying the copy of the siah (rent-roll) furnished him,
the cash-book, and statement of arrears. Figures set down in
these accounts were checked by private inquiries among the ryots
themselves. Then the truth dawned on Nagendra, that his brother
had misappropriated large sums, which should have been paid to him,
and concealed his fraud by falsifying the Zemindari papers. After
preparing a list of defalcations, he showed it to his brother and
asked for an explanation. None was forthcoming; nay, Samarendra made
his case worse by flying into a passion and ordering him out of the
room. He went straight to Kanto Babu for advice, and was told that
the only course open to him was to sue his brother for recovery of
the amount wrongfully appropriated. He resolved to do so forthwith.
On the self-same night his wife, after discussing household affairs
with him as usual, asked casually why he had paid her father a
visit. He told her everything that occurred without reserve. The young
lady listened with breathless attention, but heaved a deep sigh on
learning that he intended suing his elder brother. Nagendra paused
and asked what was on her mind.
"My lord," was her reply, "I am only a woman, knowing nothing of
the world except things within my sphere. Any attempt on my part to
meddle in business matters may seem extremely presumptuous. But this is
such a grave and risky matter that I cannot help speaking out. If you
file a suit against your brother, he will of course defend himself;
for to lose it would ruin him in purse and honour. It will drag on
for months. If you get a decree, the defendant will appeal to the
Sub-Judge, and eventually to the High Court. To fight your way step
by step will cost a fortune; and even should you win all along the
line, the lawyers will not leave you enough to keep body and soul
together. How can a small estate like yours bear the costs of both
sides? So in my humble opinion it would be much better to allow your
brother to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. Make up your mind, from this
day forward, to look carefully after your interests, and you may rest
assured that your brother will never try any such tricks again."
Nagendra listened with open mouth to this discourse, and when his wife
had done speaking, he embraced her fondly again and again, murmuring:--
"My dearest love, I never knew your real worth till now. The Goddess
of Wisdom has chosen you as her messenger and has convinced me that
lawsuits are luxuries which only the rich folk can enjoy--not people
in my position. I will certainly see your father to-morrow and tell
him my resolve to take no steps whatever against Samarendra."
A Hindu wife is her husband's truest friend; ever eager to share his
sorrows and to proffer sound advice in times of difficulty. Yet these
sweet, unselfish creatures are systematically libelled by men who owe
everything to them. It was soon noised abroad that Nagendra's wife had
saved him from inevitable ruin. Everyone praised her common-sense--not
excepting Samarendra and his wife, who thenceforward treated her with
more consideration. Nagendra, therefore, began to hope that peace
and unity would again rule the family.
CHAPTER IX
A Brahman's Curse.
Despite his lack of training Samarendra Babu had great capacities
for business, and seldom lost a chance of profit-making. He saw that
people around him stood in constant need of funds to defray the cost
of religious and family rites, and were ready to pay 60 per cent for
loans--at least they undertook to do so. It occurred to him that if
he lent money on unimpeachable security at something under the market
rates, he could not fail to make a large fortune. Soon after he had set
up as a banker, the neighbours flocked to him for advances, which he
granted only to such as could offer substantial security; his charges
by way of interest being 30 to 40 per cent. He also started a business
in lending ryots rice for their seed-grain and support till the harvest
should be reaped. It is needless to add that his clients paid heavily
for this accommodation. So rapidly did his dealings increase that he
sought an agent to represent him at the district headquarters; and
particularly to buy up defaulters' estates at the auctions which are
held periodically under Government auspices. His choice fell upon one
Bipinbehári Bhur, who had a widespread reputation for acuteness. It
was not belied. In less than a year Bipin had secured for his master
estates yielding a net income of nearly Rs. 1,200, which had cost a
mere song at auction. Samarendra Babu never failed to reward him for
such bargains. On one occasion he had such a slice of luck that it
is worth while to narrate it in some detail.
He had just retired to rest for the night, when a servant knocked at
the door to say that Bipin had come on very urgent business. Samarendra
Babu went downstairs to his parlour, clad in a wrapper, to find
his agent pacing up and down in evident agitation. After the usual
compliments had been exchanged, he asked why Bipin had called so late.
"I have bad news for you, Mahásay," was the reply. "You remember
buying the Shibprakásh estate at last auction? Well, that property
may slip through your fingers." He paused to watch the effect of the
announcement on his master, and then went on: "The late proprietor
has lodged an objection to its sale, on the ground that no arrears
were due, producing a receipt to substantiate his contention. The
Collector has just called on us to show cause against the cancellation
of the sale and will take the case up the day after to-morrow."
Samarendra was thunderstruck by this information, the Shibprakásh
estate being one of the best bargains he had ever got. After pondering
a while, he asked, "What would you advise me to do? I am afraid it
is hopeless to contend against a receipt in full!"
Bipin was not so easily disheartened. He replied, "Let us consult
our pleader, Asu Babu, who is sure to have some plan for upholding
the sale. He won't ask more than Rs. 100, which is not a tenth of
the annual profits for Shibprakásh." This course commended itself to
Samarendra, who sent his headman back to Ghoria, promising to follow
next day, with the necessary sinews of war. He arrived betimes at
Bipin's house there, and took him to the Bar Library, where Asu
Babu was sure to be found when not engaged in Court. A few minutes
later the limb of the law came in, and asked what business brought
Samarendra to Ghoria.
After hearing the story of Shibprakásh and its vicissitudes of
ownership, he asked:--
"How much will you pay me if I win your case?"
Glancing at Bipin, Samarendra answered hesitatingly, "Well, I might
go as far as fifty rupees".
"Nonsense," was the rejoinder. "I won't take a pice less than
Rs. 100." After several minutes wasted on haggling, it was agreed
that Asu Babu should be paid Rs. 40 on the nail and Rs. 35 more
if he won the suit. The pleader pocketed this first instalment, and
assured Samarendra that he would prove the sale to have been perfectly
valid. Then the trio separated, Samarendra returning to Bipin's house
where they passed the day in forming plans for further purchases.
At 10.30 on the morrow, both attended at the Collectorate and
found that the Shibprakásh objection stood first for hearing. It was
opened by the appellant's pleader, who rose armed with a huge account
book and bundle of receipts, in order to prove that his client owed
nothing to Government, and that the sale proceedings were a blunder
from beginning to end. Asu Babu waited till his turn came, and then
informed the Collector that he would find, on examining his books, that
the appellant was Rs. 1 11. 0. in arrears at the date of the sale. The
Collector ordered his head clerk to produce the ledger account of
payments on account of the Shibprakásh estates, and, sure enough, they
showed a short payment of the amount stated. This was a thunderbolt
for the appellant, whose pleader vainly tried to pick holes in the
accounts, but was at last obliged to confess that a mistake had been
made. The only course open to him was to sue for mercy. The Collector,
however, was inexorable, and indeed he had no power to mitigate the
Draconian law of sale. That of Shibprakásh was duly confirmed, and
its new owner adjourned to the bar library to settle matters with
his pleader. The meeting was joyful indeed. After congratulating Asu
Babu on his unexpected success, Samarendra asked how he had managed
it. The pleader at first refused to gratify his curiosity, but yielded
to entreaty. "The tiger has a jackal," he said, "and I, who cannot
stoop to dirty tricks myself, have a certain mukhtiár (the lowest
grade of advocates) who is hand-in-glove with all the amlas (clerks)
and can twist them round his finger--for a consideration. I gave him
Rs. 10 out of the advance money and promised as much more if he could
persuade the Collectorate clerks to cook the appellant's accounts,
so as to show a short payment. You see how well he has succeeded,
and now I think the least you can do is to refund the douceur to
me." Samarendra agreed and handed Asu Babu Rs. 55, prophesying that
he would have a brilliant career at the bar.
He had to stop for a fortnight or so at Ghoria, in order to get
possession of his purchase from the Collectorate názir (bailiff)
who, according to custom, planted a bamboo thereon, as a symbol
of its transfer. While waiting for this formality he attended
another sale for arrears of revenue, in the hope of picking up
some profitable bargains. He was not disappointed. The last lot was
the whole of Jayrámpur, a small village quite close to his house,
inhabited by hardworking and submissive ryots, who paid their rent
punctually. Samarendra was all agog when the názir read out the
names of its proprietors, the amount of arrears, and the boundaries,
calling on the crowd to bid. A dead silence followed, which was at
last broken by a timid offer of Rs. 1,000. Samarendra promptly bid
Rs. 6,000; which he knew was hardly three years' purchase of the
net rental, and the rise was so tremendous that it choked off all
competition. Jayrámpur was knocked down to him; but his exultation
was tempered by the discovery that he had not nearly enough to meet
the amount of earnest money which had to be paid down at once. A
mukhtiár came to his aid by whispering offers of a loan, and the
requisite amount was forthcoming in five minutes, on Samarendra's
giving his note of hand with a bonus of 10 per cent. payable next day.
His star continued to be in the eleventh heaven; for this was one of
a series of profitable purchases. In seven or eight years he owned
estates yielding an income of Rs. 8,000, while his dealings in grain
produced half as much again.
Samarendra's ambition rose with growing prosperity. Visions of a
title hovered in his brain, and being a man of resource, he hit upon
an ingenious method of converting them into realities. Close to his
house there was an extensive bil (marsh) peopled in season by swarms
of wild-duck, teal and snipe. It was visited occasionally by Europeans
from Calcutta, who are always on the alert for a day's sport, but they
were inconvenienced by the total lack of accommodation. So Samarendra
built a neat bungalow, equipped it with European furniture, and placed
an old Khánsámá (Mohammadan butler) in charge, who was versed in
all the customs of Sáheb-log (Englishmen). This menial had orders to
report the arrival of white visitors and offer them hospitality. His
courtesy was highly appreciated, and there was scarcely a Sunday
during the cold weather which did not bring a couple of sportsmen to
the bungalow. Samarendra attended personally to their comforts, thus
making many friends. Through their influence he secured carte blanche
in the matter of guns and ammunition--a boon which seldom falls to the
lot of middle-class Indians. At their request he subscribed to various
European clubs, winning the reputation of being "not half a bad sort of
fellow". All this hospitality, however, was terribly expensive, and it
soon exceeded Samarendra's income. But he went on spending money like
water, in the assurance that one day it would yield a golden return.
On a bright morning, in January, 18--, he was sitting in his bungalow,
in the hope of welcoming guests, when a European entered it, attended
by two orderlies; and seeing a well-dressed Indian, was about to
retire. Samarendra introduced himself as the local Zemindar and
offered to send a shikári (game-keeper) with the visitor in order to
show him some sport. His overtures were gratefully received, and the
European, on returning at noon with a heavy bag, was delighted to find
an appetising tiffin ready for his acceptance. Samarendra kept out of
the way until it was finished, and then asked whether his guest had
enjoyed himself. The latter was profuse in thanks and, ere leaving
for the neighbouring railway station, asked whether he could be of
any service, tendering a card inscribed, "Mr. Charles Bernardson,
Indian Civil Service". He was none other than the Chief Secretary
to Government.
Such an acquaintance was not to be lost sight of. A week later
Samarendra went to Calcutta and called on Mr. Bernardson at his
chambers in the United Service Club. He was received, so to speak, with
open arms, questioned about crops, crime, sport, and other commonplace
topics, and again assured that Mr. Bernardson would serve him in any
way within his power. The latter hint was promptly taken. On receiving
permission to quit the great man's presence he timidly suggested
that he would like to be an Honorary Magistrate. Mr. Bernardson
took note of the wish, and a few weeks later the Gazette announced
Samarendra's nomination to the Ghoria Independent Bench, with power
to try cases singly.
The next point was to attract the attention of the district
authorities. Samarendra pored over the Penal and Procedure Codes,
took lessons in law from Asu Babu, and soon mastered the routine
of a petty Court of Justice. He never missed any sitting of the
Bench and signalised himself by a rigorous interpretation of the
law. Offenders had short shrift from him; and the police moved heaven
and earth to get their cases disposed of in his Court. His percentage
of convictions was larger than that of any honorary magistrate. Such
zeal deserved a suitable reward, and it soon attracted the attention
of the authorities. On New Year's Day, 189-, the Calcutta Gazette
came out with its usual list of honours, amongst which was seen a
Rái Bahádurship for Samarendra. This dignity answers to the English
knighthood, and it is usually made an excuse for rejoicings shared
by all classes. Samarendra, however, thought it unnecessary to waste
money on junketings. He preferred subscribing to movements favoured
by the "little tin gods" of Darjiling.
Towards the end of the same year, he was accosted, while leaving
Court one afternoon, by a chuprássi (orderly) attached to the
magistrate-collector's person, who salámed obsequiously and said that
the Bara Saheb wished to see him at once. Hastening to the district
chief's bungalow he was graciously received, and in the course of
conversation a remark fell from the great man's lips, which made the
blood course wildly through his veins. It seemed that a fund had been
started in Calcutta for the purpose of erecting some permanent memorial
to the late Viceroy, and a hint was thrown out that if Samarendra
subscribed liberally, he might possibly find himself gazetted a
"Rájá Bahádur". He assured the magistrate that the Memorial Fund
would receive a handsome donation from him and asked for a few days
in order to decide the amount.
On returning home, he made a rough calculation of his assets and
liabilities. The latter amounted to nearly a lakh of rupees (£6,666),
or about five times his net annual income. Common prudence suggested
that he ought not to increase the burden; but ambition prevailed,
and the only question which Samarendra set himself was, "What is
the least amount I can decently give?" After thinking over pros and
cons for a whole night, he decided that Rs. 10,000 would be enough;
raised that sum at 12 per cent, by mortgaging some landed property,
and sent it with a flowery letter to the District Magistrate, as a
humble donation to the Viceroy's Memorial Eund.
A few days later Samarendra was preparing for a visit to his favourite
rest-house, in the vague hope that Mr. Bernardson might turn up again,
when a strange Brahman entered the courtyard and thus addressed him:--
"Sir, you are an Amir, and I am a beggar. I have a request to make."
"Cut it short," replied Samarendra testily. "Come to the point--what
do you want?"
"Sir, I have a grown-up daughter who positively must be married;
but I cannot raise a sufficient dowry. Will your honour give me a
trifle towards making one up?"
"No, I won't; if you belonged to this village you would know that I
cannot afford to fling money about. My expenses are enormous!"
"Now, please, don't refuse me, Rái Bahádur; surely you can spare a
couple of rupees to a poor Brahman!"
Samarendra was exasperated by the man's importunity. He replied
sharply, "You and your kind seem to think that I am Kuver (the God of
Wealth) incarnate, who is able to satisfy every human need! I won't
give you anything!"
"Only one rupee, Rái Bahádur," pleaded the Brahman with folded hands.
"No! no! Get out of my house at once!" bellowed Samarendra; then
turning to his doorkeeper, he ordered him to "run the fellow out of
the yard by the neck".
The Brahman was deeply incensed. Drawing himself up to his full height,
he looked scornfully at Samarendra, and said:--
"Babu, you dare to order me, a Brahman, to be ejected with violence
from your house. Is there no religion left in this world? Mark
my words, a day is coming when you will be poorer even than
myself. I have spoken." Then he strode out of the courtyard in high
dudgeon. Samarendra merely laughed aloud and hurled mocking epithets
after his retreating figure, to which no reply was vouchsafed.
Next morning he received a letter from the District Magistrate which
filled him with mingled joy and terror. It contained a curt request
to call at once on a matter of great importance. He drove to the
great man's bungalow arrayed in his best, but was kept waiting for
nearly a quarter of an hour in the porch. When he was ushered into the
magistrate's study he saw intuitively that something was wrong. His
salám was returned by a mere inclination of the head and a request to
be seated. Then the Magistrate spoke in tones of chilling politeness:--
"Rái Bahádur, I've sent for you to say that a subscription of
Rs. 10,000 is wholly unworthy of your position. If you wish, I
will send it to the Secretary of the Memorial Fund; but I warn you
plainly that the most you can expect in return is an expression of
the Lieutenant-Governor's thanks in the Gazette. I could not possibly
recommend you for a title for such a paltry sum."
Poor Samarendra's heart beat more loudly than the clock on the
magistrate's mantelpiece. He stammered out: "I need only assure
your honour that I have given as much as I could afford; but if your
honour thinks the amount insufficient--er--er--er--I am quite willing
to give--twice as much". So saying he awaited a reply in trembling
apprehension. It was satisfactory.
"Now, Rái Bahádur, you are talking sense. Send me Rs. 10,000 more
for the fund and I'll undertake to submit your name to Government for
a Rájáship. It will be just in time for the New Year's Gazette. Now
you may take leave."
Samarendra bowed himself out with precipitation and, on returning
home, sent for his factotum, Bipin, to whom he related this momentous
interview, with an injunction to raise Rs. 10,000 more by hook
or by crook. Bipin shook his head ominously and feared that no
moneylender would advance any considerable sum on estates already
over-burdened. However, he promised to do his best and negotiated so
successfully that Rs. 10,000 were procured at 24 per cent. in less
than a week. This additional subscription was gracefully acknowledged
by the District Magistrate, and a fortnight later Samarendra's drooping
spirits were revived by the appearance of a notification in the Gazette
thanking him warmly for his "munificence and public spirit". There
was nothing for it but to count the days of the expiring year.
On 31st December, 189-, his impatience could brook no further
delay. Hurrying to Calcutta by train, he sent a trusty servant to the
Government printing office with orders to obtain the earliest copy of
the Gazette at any price. He slept not a wink on that fateful night
and rose betimes to intercept the messenger.
At last the bulky document was thrust into his hands. He unfolded it
with trembling fingers and glanced downwards through an interminable
list of newly-made Máhárájas, Nawáb Bahádurs, Rájá Bahádurs, and
Rájás--in the hope of finding his own name. Alas, it was conspicuous by
its absence. Oh, the pangs of hope deferred and wounded pride! Death
seemed to Samarendra preferable to a life of poverty and despair. He
returned home crestfallen and nursed his disappointment until it
landed him in a severe attack of brain fever. As soon as he felt
strong enough to leave the house, he drove to the magistrate's
house for explanation and comfort. He was courteously received,
but the Chief hinted that there might be a hitch about the title,
as he himself had enemies in the Secretariat, who would be glad of
an opportunity of placing him in a false position. He counselled
patience and expressed a conviction that the birthday Gazette would
contain the notification so ardently desired.
This was comforting, but Samarendra resolved to push his own
interests. He remembered the promises made by Mr. Bernardson and took
the next train to Calcutta in order to secure his influence. On
reaching the Secretariat he learnt, with deep annoyance, that
Mr. Bernardson had taken sick leave to England and was not likely
to return. So the only course open was to wait for 24th May. Again
he was disappointed, the list of birthday honours ignoring him
completely. Samarendra had not even the resource of consulting the
official who had lured him into extravagant expenditure. The District
Magistrate was transferred to a distant and unhealthy part of the
province, and his successor disclaimed all knowledge of the bargain.
Samarendra's long suspense and repeated disappointments told severely
on his health. He neglected business, leaving everything in the hands
of Bipin, who was more anxious to feather his own nest than extricate
his master from difficulties; so the interest in mortgages fell into
arrears. One creditor bolder than the rest sued him and foreclosed;
then others were encouraged to attack the ruined man. In less than a
year, Samarendra was stripped of every bigha (one-third of an acre)
of land he once possessed, and attachments galore were issued against
his moveable property. Too late did he see the depths of folly into
which he had fallen.
Grief and despair brought on a second attack of brain fever, which
exhausted his failing strength. After tossing for several weeks in
delirium he regained sense only to feel assured that the end of all
worldly ambition was fast approaching. Then he remembered the Brahman's
curse, and knowing that it was the cause of all his misfortunes he
endeavoured to make some reparation; but the holy man was not to be
found. One evening he fell into a deep slumber from which he never
awoke, leaving a wife and several helpless children in comparative
penury. Then a hush fell on the land, and people whispered that
Brahmateja (the power of Brahmans) was by no means extinct.
CHAPTER X
A Roland for His Oliver.
Nagendra's soul was not haunted by any such ambitions. He was content
with the surplus profits from his landed estates, which he did not
invest in trade or even Government paper, but hoarded in a safe. By
slow degrees he amassed a small fortune, and when Samarendra's
growing impecuniosity forced him to ask his brother for a loan of
Rs. 2,000, it was readily granted on a mere note of hand. In less than
six months the borrower died and, after waiting as long, Nagendra
pressed his sister-in-law for payment of the debt. She referred him
to her brother, Priyanath Guha, who, she said, was manager of what
property she had left. This man was a scoundrel of the deepest dye,
and Samarendra, who was fully aware of the fact, never allowed him
inside the house. After his death Priya made himself so useful to
the widow that she invited him to live in her house and trusted him
implicitly. When the neighbours learnt this arrangement they whispered
that the poor woman would inevitably be reduced to beggary.
Nagendra reluctantly applied to Priya for a refund of the loan,
producing Samarendra's note of hand, which was about a year
overdue. After examining it, Priya said:--
"The matter is simple enough. My sister must repay you; but you know
the muddle in which her husband's affairs were left, and I'm sure
you won't refuse to renew the bond."
Nagendra replied that he would gladly give his sister any reasonable
time to discharge her debt.
"Very well," rejoined Priya. "What do you say to my renewing this
note of hand for six months, with 12 per cent. interest?"
"I have no objection," said Nagendra, "but you must satisfy me first
that you hold a general power of attorney to act for her."
"Oh, you doubt my word," sneered Priya, "but I don't blame you;
such is the way of the world."
So saying he took a registered power of attorney out of his sister's
strong box, which Nagendra saw entitled him to transact any business
whatever relating to her estate. He handed the bond to Priya and asked
him to endorse the conditions agreed on. While doing so Priya looked
up. "Have you any objection," he asked, "to my antedating the renewal
a week or so. The fact is, Baisakh 12th has always been a lucky day
in my family and I should like to date my endorsement then."
"Just as you like," answered Nagendra indifferently; and after reading
the endorsement through very carefully he took the note of hand away
without saluting Priya.
Not hearing from him when the note matured, Nagendra called at his
sister's house and pressed Priya, whom he found there, for payment
of the Rs. 2,000 and interest.
Priya gazed at him with feigned astonishment "What loan are you
talking about?" he asked.
Nagendra attempted to jog his memory, but he stoutly denied having
renewed any note of hand which purported to have been executed by
Samarendra. When the document was shown him, he boldly declared that
the endorsement was a forgery, and further that the handwriting on
the note of hand itself was not Samarendra's. Nagendra stood aghast
for awhile and, on regaining his wits, he said, "I ought to have
known better than trust a haramzádá like you!"
"Now don't descend to personalities," rejoined Priya. "I can prove
that the endorsement could not have been executed by me; and the
whole transaction looks fishy."
This was too much for Nagendra, who lost his temper and abused the
scoundrel roundly. They separated with threats of mutual vengeance.
On the morrow, Nagendra instructed a pleader to file a suit against
his sister for recovery of the principal and interest due on the
promissory note. When it came on for hearing before the Subordinate
Judge, Nagendra Babu was dumbfoundered by hearing the defendant's
pleader aver that the endorsement could not possibly be genuine,
inasmuch as his client was fifteen hundred miles from Ratnapur at the
alleged date of execution. He then placed Priya in the box, to swear
that, on Baisakh 12th, he was at Lahore, in order to give evidence
in a civil suit. All doubt vanished in the Sub Judge's mind when the
pleader handed him a document bearing the seal of the Chief Court
of the Punjab, certifying that Priya had been in attendance on that
day. He dismissed the suit with costs against Nagendra, and remarked
that this palpable forgery cast discredit on the whole transaction.
It was a wise man who said that we hate our enemies less for the harm
they have done us than for the harm we have done them. Priya was not
content with depriving Nagendra of his dues; he resolved to injure him
more materially. About a month after his unlucky lawsuit, Nagendra
learnt quite by accident that one of his estates named Lakhimpur
had been notified for sale for arrears of land revenue amounting to
Rs. 197 odd. The Naib (manager), on being asked to account for this,
laid all the blame on the ryots, who, he said, would not be made
to pay their rent and thus deprived him of the means of satisfying
the Government demand. Nagendra rebuked him for gross negligence and
failing to report the matter, for, he added, the arrears would have
been paid from his own pocket. He at once dismissed the Naib from
his employ and hastened to Ghoria, where he instructed a pleader
named Asu Babu to petition the collector for leave to make good the
arrears on Lakhimpur. The request was perforce rejected. Lakhimpur
was put up for sale and Nagendra ascertained that the purchaser was
a man of straw representing Priya himself. He endured the loss of a
valuable property, resolving to be even some day with his enemy.
On the following night he was about to retire to bed, when the
Lakhimpur Naib burst into the parlour and clasped his master's feet
which he bedewed with tears. Nagendra shook him off roughly and asked
how he dared to intrude upon him.
"Mahásay," whined the Naib, "I want to make a clean breast of my
misdeeds. It was Priya who persuaded me to withhold the revenue due
on Lakhimpur, by promising me a reward of Rs. 2,000 if the estate
was auctioned. Now that he has got possession of it, he refuses to
carry out his bargain and actually offers me Rs. 20, saying that I
deserved no more. The black-hearted villain! Now I am come to implore
forgiveness of my sin and to make amends for it."
Nagendra was amazed by the fellow's villainy and impudence. He
reflected, however, that nothing was to be gained by kicking him out
of the house, while his offer of reparation was not to be despised. He
replied, "You have been faithless to your salt; but I will pardon you
on one condition that you help me to regain my estate, lost through
your treachery."
"That I will," protested the Naib. "Only let me have Rs. 300 in
currency notes of one hundred rupees each, previously recording
the numbers. I swear by Mother Káli, not only to pay the arrears
of revenue but to get the sale quashed." Nagendra at first thought
that to do so would be only throwing good money after bad; but the
man was terribly in earnest, and evidently hostile to their common
enemy. He opened his safe and handed the Naib the amount he asked,
after carefully taking the numbers of the notes.
At the same hour on the morrow, the Naib returned in high glee to
say that the business had been satisfactorily concluded. All Nagendra
had to do was to file a petition praying for the cancellation of the
sale, and it could not fail to be granted. On being asked how he had
contrived to evade the law, the Naib went on:--
"I will tell you the whole truth, Mahásay, only concealing names; for
the people, who helped me extracted an oath that I would keep them a
profound secret. I went straight from your house last night to that
of an office tout, who is a precious rascal, but tolerated because
he is in some way related to the Collectorate head clerk. On hearing
my story he said he thought the matter could be settled, and asked
me to meet him at 1 P.M. under a Nim tree north of the Collectorate,
when he would bring a man to me who was able to do all we wished. I was
punctual to the minute, and sure enough the tout came with one of the
Collectorate clerks. I asked him whether it would not be possible so
to manipulate the accounts of Lakhimpur, as to show that all Government
revenue had been paid prior to the alleged default. The clerk at first
refused to have hand in such a transaction, as it would be too risky;
but when I produced my currency notes he thought the job might be
attempted, and added that some of the Treasury amlas (clerks) would
have to be squared as well as himself. I thereupon handed him Rs. 300,
saying that it was enough to discharge the revenue due on Lakhimpur
and leave more than Rs. 100 to divide as bakshish (gratuity). He
said that he would do his best and made me swear never to divulge his
name. We then separated, and only two hours ago the tout came to my
house with the news that the accounts had been corrected."
Nagendra was delighted on hearing these clever tactics and straightway
ordered his pleader, Asutosh Sen, widely known as Asu Babu, to file
a petition praying for the cancellation of the sale. It came in due
course before the Collector for hearing. He called for the accounts,
which fully substantiated the petitioner's statements. After hearing
the arguments of Priya's representative the Collector said that he
was fully satisfied that a mistake had been made, and called on the
head clerk to explain the non-entry of a payment made before the due
date. That officer laid the whole blame on an unfortunate apprentice,
who was promptly dismissed. The sale was declared null and void, and
Nagendra regained his own to the intense disgust of the rascally Priya.
CHAPTER XI
Rámdá.
Nagendra Babu was now the wealthiest man in Ratnapur. Puffed up by
worldly success, he began to treat his neighbours arrogantly and,
with one exception, they did not dare to pay him back in his own
coin. Rámdás Ghosal, known far and wide as Rámdá, flattered or
feared no one. Having a little rent-free and inherited land, he was
quite independent of patronage. Rámdá was "everyone's grandfather,"
a friend of the poor, whose joys and sorrows he shared. He watched by
sick-beds, helped to carry dead bodies to the burning-ghát, in short
did everything in his power for others, refusing remuneration in any
shape. He was consequently loved and respected by all classes. Rámdá
was the consistent enemy of hypocrisy and oppression--qualities which
became conspicuous in Nagendra Babu's nature under the deteriorating
influence of wealth. He met the great man's studied insolence with a
volley of chaff, which is particularly galling to vain people because
they are incapable of understanding it.
Nagendra Babu did not forget the Brahman's presumption and determined
to teach him a lesson. So, one day, he sent him a written notice
demanding the immediate payment of arrears of rent due for a few
bighas (one-third of an acre) of land which Rámdá held on a heritable
lease. As luck would have it the crops had failed miserably, and Rámdá
was unable to discharge his debts. On receiving a more peremptory
demand seven days later, he called on Nagendra Babu, whom he thus
addressed:--
"Why, Nagen, what's the matter with you? You are plaguing me to
death with notices, yet you must be aware that I can't pay you a pice
at present."
"Thákur," replied Nagendra Babu in stern accents, "I will listen
to none of your excuses. Do you mean to tell me that you decline to
discharge your arrears?"
"I never said that," protested Rámdá; "but you must really wait till
the beginning of next year. My cold weather crops are looking well;
and--"
"No, that won't do at all. If you do not pay up in a week, I will
certainly have recourse to the civil court."
"Do so by all means if your sense of religion permits," rejoined Rámdá,
leaving the parlour in smothered wrath.
When the week of grace had expired, Nagendra Babu filed a suit in the
local Múnsiffs Court against his defaulter. As soon as the fact was
bruited abroad a universal protest was roused against Nagendra Babu's
harshness. Some of the village elders remonstrated with him, but were
told to mind their own business; whereon they laid their heads together
and subscribed the small sum due from the Brahman. A deputation of
five waited on him with entreaties to accept it, but he refused to
take the money on any other footing than a loan. So Rámdá paid his
arrears and costs into Court, to the plaintiff's intense annoyance.
Samarendra Babu had left his wife and children in comparatively poor
circumstances; for, after discharging his debts, they had barely
Rs. 300 a year to live on. The widow declined to seek Nagendra Babu's
help, even if she were reduced to beg in the streets. After her
brother's imprisonment, she had no one to manage her little property
which, as a Purdanashin (lit. "one sitting behind the veil"), she
was unable to do herself. After mature reflection she sent for Rámdá,
who had known her from infancy. He obeyed the summons with alacrity
and gave the poor woman sound advice regarding the direction of
the Zemindary. By acting on it she was able to increase her income
and live in tolerable comfort. Observing that Rámdá was a frequent
visitor, Nagendra Babu hinted to his sister-in-law that, if she cared
for her reputation, she would not be so thick with him. She flared
up instantly. "I will talk to any of my friends I p