Books & Comics / Rural India

Rains, Cow Belt of India and a heart wrenching story ‘Kafan’ by Munshi Premchand

Rains, Cow Belt of India and a heart wrenching story ‘Kafan’ by Munshi Premchand

Its been raining incessantly today since early morning today, the Ram Leela and Durga Puja Pandals will be in a complete mess today.

Stuck in traffic jams  in the area which was once peaceful rural cow belt of India but now a part of ever increasing National Capital Region of Delhi, trying to blur out the chaos outside, of bumper to bumper traffic, everyone engaged in never ending hoking competition, I got into a conversation with Raja, who remembered a similar rain 7 years ago around the same time, when his Grandfather was dying and he had to take a long bike ride in heavy rain in an attempt to see him before he closed his yes for ever. His grandfather wanted to see everyone in the family for one last time.

Raja was at his maternal uncle’s place and when they got the news in the night  to reach the hospital in Delhi urgently, decided to wait till the morning as neither the roads were safe to travel, nor there was any public transportation available in the night. The early morning train was delayed by many hours, so they decided to travel on a bike. It started to rain as soon as they were out of the village and were totally drenched to their bones by the time they reached Aligarh. Stopping at every possible Dhaaba or Shop on the way to keep themselves warm through hot Chai (Tea prepared by boiling water, milk, sugar, some tea leafs with ginger) and Beedi (Indian cigarette filled with tobacco flake and wrapped in a leaf), they took turns to drive the bike as the heavy cold rain was lashing at their faces and making their bone crackle. It was a struggle to even walk in such a cold heavy rain, riding a bike was a even bigger challenge. By the time they reached closer to Delhi NCR region, they were were totally tired and hugry, and totally drenched in water, they were shivering uncontrollably. A Dhaaba owner looked at their plight and asked them to wait at his shop, he was frying hot snacks and at the back of the shop selling country made liquor as well. The temptation was high and to recover from cold and gain some strength to carry out the rest of the journey through the rain Raja’s uncle bought a quarter and some snacks, it did require much cajoling for Raja also to join in and soon both the Mama-Bhanja (Uncle-Nephew) were snuggled cozily in a corner and snoring away. When the shop-owner woke them up, it was already late afternoon, they jumped on the bike and raced away but by the time they reached the Hospital in Delhi in the evening, the grandfather was already gone. They had made up many stories to tell everyone why they got there so late but no one was actually bothered about it, the more pressing issue at hand was the amount of woods that would be required to cremate the grandfather in such a wet weather.

This tale reminded me of Munshi Premchand‘s Kafan, a story I read during the school days which shook me hard and left a lasting impact. Every time I am reminded of it, some sharp needle starting piercing deep inside. So I started telling Raja the same story which he had never heard before…

Kafan by Munshi Premchand

Hindi Short story Kafan By Munshi Premchand

कफन : लेखक:-प्रेम चंद

एक झोंपडे के द्वार पर बाप और बेटा दोनों एक बुझे हुए अलाव के सामने चुपचाप बैठे हुए हैं और अन्दर बेटे की जवान बीवी बुधिया प्रसव वेदना से पछाड खा रही थी। रह-रहकर उसके मुँह से ऐसी दिल हिला देने वाली आवाज निकलती थी कि दोनों कलेजा थाम लेते थे। जाडों की रात थी, प्रकृति सन्नाटे में डूबी हुई, सारा गाँव अन्धकार में लय हो गया था।

घीसू ने कहा- मालूम होता है, बचेगी नहीं। सारा दिन दौडते ही गया, जा देख तो आ।

माधव चिढकर बोला- मरना ही है तो जल्दी मर क्यों नहीं जाती? देखकर क्या करूँ?

‘तू बडा बेदर्द है बे! सालभर जिसके साथ सुख-चैन से रहा, उसी के साथ इतनी बेवफाई!

‘तो मुझसे तो उसका तडपना और हाथ-पाँव पटकना नहीं देखा जाता।

चमारों का कुनबा था और सारे गाँव में बदनाम। घीसू एक दिन काम करता तो तीन दिन आराम करता। माधव इतना कामचोर था कि आध घण्टे काम करता तो घण्टेभर चिलम पीता। इसलिए उन्हें कहीं मजदूरी नहीं मिलती थी। घर में मुट्ठीभर भी अनाज मौजूद हो तो उनके लिए काम करने की कसम थी। जब दो-चार फाके भी हो जाते तो घीसू पेड पर चढकर लकडियाँ तोड लाता और माधव उसे बाजार में बेच आता। और जब तक वह पैसे रहते, दोनों इधर-उधर मारे-मारे फिरते।

गाँव में काम की कमी न थी। किसानों का गाँव था, मेहनती आदमी के लिए पचास काम थे। मगर इन दोनों को उसी वक्त बुलाते, जब दो आदमियों से एक का काम पाकर भी सन्तोष कर लेने के सिवा और कोई चारा न होता। अगर दोनों साधु होते तो उन्हें सन्तोष और धैर्य के लिए संयम और नियम की बिलकुल जरूरत न होती। यह तो इनकी प्रकृति थी।

विचित्र जीवन था इनका! घर में मिट्टी के दो-चार बर्तनों के सिवा कोई संपत्ति नहीं। फटे चीथडों से अपनी नग्नता को ढाँके हुए जिए जाते थे। संसार की चिन्ताओं से मुक्त! कर्ज से लदे हुए। गालियाँ भी खाते, मार भी खाते, मगर कोई भी गम नहीं। दीन इतने कि वसूली की बिलकुल आशा न रहने पर भी लोग इन्हें कुछ-न-कुछ कर्ज दे देते थे। मटर, आलू की फसल में दूसरों के खेतों से मटर या आलू उखाड लाते और भून-भानकर खा लेते या दस-पाँच ऊख उखाड लाते और रात को चूसते। घीसू ने इसी आकाश-वृत्ति से साठ साल की उम्र काट दी और माधव भी सपूत बेटे की तरह बाप ही के पद चिह्नों पर चल रहा था, बल्कि उसका नाम और भी उजागर कर रहा था।

इस वक्त भी दोनों अलाव के सामने बैठकर आलू भून रहे थे, जो कि किसी खेत से खोद लाए थे। घीसू की स्त्री का तो बहुत दिन हुए देहान्त हो गया था। माधव का ब्याह पिछले साल हुआ था। जबसे यह औरत आई थी, उसने इस खानदान में व्यवस्था की नींव डाली थी और इन दोनों बे-गैरतों का दोजख भरती रहती थी। जब से वह आई, यह दोनों और भी आरामतलब हो गए थे, बल्कि कुछ अकडने लगे थे। कोई कार्य करने को बुलाता तो निर्ब्याज भाव से दोगुनी मजदूरी माँगते। वही औरत आज प्रसव वेदना से मर रही थी और यह दोनों शायद इसी इंतजार में थे कि वह मर जाए तो आराम से सोएँ।

घीसू ने आलू निकालकर छीलते हुए कहा- जाकर देख तो, क्या दशा है उसकी? चुडैल का फिसाद होगा, और क्या? यहाँ तो ओझा भी एक रुपया माँगता है!

माधव को भय था कि वह कोठरी में गया तो घीसू आलुओं का बडा भाग सफाया कर देगा। बोला- मुझे वहाँ जाते डर लगता है।

‘डर किस बात का है, मैं तो यहाँ ही।

‘तो तुम्हीं जाकर देखो न?

‘मेरी औरत जब मरी थी तो मैं तीन दिन तक उसके पास से हिला तक नहीं, और मुझसे लजाएगी कि नहीं? जिसका कभी मुँह नहीं देखा, आज उसका उघडा हुआ बदन देखूँ! उसे तन की सुध भी तो न होगी? मुझे देख लेगी तो खुलकर हाथ-पाँव भी न पटक सकेगी!

‘मैं सोचता कोई बाल-बच्चा हुआ, तो क्या होगा? सोंठ, गुड, तेल, कुछ भी तो नहीं है घर में।

‘सब कुछ आ जाएगा। भगवान दें तो! जो लोग अभी एक पैसा नहीं दे रहे हैं, वे ही कल बुलाकर रुपए देंगे। मेरे नौ लडके हुए, घर में कभी कुछ न था, मगर भगवान ने किसी-न-किसी तरह बेडा पार ही लगाया।

जिस समाज में रात-दिन मेहनत करने वालों की हालत उनकी हालत से कुछ बहुत अच्छी नहीं थी और किसानों के मुकाबले में वे लोग, जो किसानों की दुर्बलताओं से लाभ उठाना जानते थे, कहीं ज्यादा सम्पन्न थे, वहाँ इस तरह की मनोवृत्ति का पैदा हो जाना कोई अचरज की बात न थी। हम तो कहेंगे, घीसू किसानों से कहीं ज्यादा विचारवान था और किसानों के विचारशून्य समूह में शामिल होने के बदले बैठकबाजों की कुत्सित मण्डली में जा मिला था। हाँ, उसमें यह शक्ति न थी कि बैठकबाजों के नियम और नीति का पालन करता। इसलिए जहाँ उसकी मण्डली के और लोग गाँव के सरगना और मुखिया बने हुए थे, उस पर सारा गाँव उँगली उठाता था। फिर भी उसे यह तसकीन तो थी कि अगर वह फटेहाल है तो कम-से-कम उसे किसानों की सी जी-तोड मेहनत तो नहीं करनी पडती, और उसकी सरलता और निरीहता से दूसरे लोग बेजा फायदा तो नहीं उठाते।

दोनों आलू निकाल-निकालकर जलते-जलते खाने लगे। कल से कुछ नहीं खाया था। इतना सब्रन था कि उन्हें ठण्डा हो जाने दें। कई बार दोनों की जबानें जल गईं। छिल जाने पर आलू का बाहरी हिस्सा बहुत ज्यादा गर्म न मालूम होता, लेकिन दाँतों के तले पडते ही अन्दर का हिस्सा जबान, हलक और तालू को जला देता था और उस अंगारे को मुँह में रखने से ज्यादा खैरियत इसी में थी कि वह अन्दर पहुँच जाए। वहाँ उसे ठण्डा करने के लिए काफी सामान थे, इसलिए दोनों जल्द-जल्द निगल जाते। हालाँकि इस कोशिश में उनकी ऑंखों से ऑंसू निकल आते।

घीसू को उस वक्त ठाकुर की बरात याद आई, जिसमें बीस साल पहले वह गया था। उस दावत में उसे जो तृप्ति मिली थी, वह उसके जीवन में एक याद रखने लायक बात थी, और आज भी उसकी याद ताजा थी। बोला- वह भोज नहीं भूलता। तब से फिर उस तरह का खाना और भरपेट नहीं मिला। लडकी वालों ने सबको भरपेट पूडियाँ खिलाई थीं, सबको! छोटे-बडे सबने पूडियाँ खाईं और असली घी की! चटनी, रायता, तीन तरह के सूखे साग, एक रसेदार तरकारी, दही, चटनी, मिठाई, अब क्या बताऊँ कि उस भोज में क्या स्वाद मिला, कोई रोक-टोक नहीं थी, जो चीज चाहो, माँगो, जितना चाहो, खाओ। लोगों ने ऐसा खाया, ऐसा खाया, कि किसी से पानी न पिया गया। मगर परोसने वाले हैं कि पत्तल में गर्म-गर्म गोल सुवासित कचौडियाँ डाल देते हैं। मना करते हैं कि नहीं चाहिए, पत्तल पर हाथ से रोके हुए हैं, मगर वह हैं कि दिए जाते हैं। और जब सबने मुँह धो लिया, तो पान-इलायची भी मिली। मगर मुझे पान लेने की कहाँ सुध थी? खडा हुआ न जाता था। चटपट जाकर अपने कम्बल पर लेट गया। ऐसा दिल-दरियाव था वह ठाकुर!

माधव ने इन पदार्थों का मन-ही-मन मजा लेते हुए कहा- अब हमें कोई ऐसा भोज नहीं खिलाता।

‘अब कोई क्या खिलाएगा? वह जमाना दूसरा था। अब तो सबको किफायत ही सूझती है। सादी-ब्याह में मत खर्च करो, क्रिया-कर्म में मत खर्च करो। पूछो, गरीबी का माल बटोर-बटोरकर कहाँ रखोगे? बटोरने में तो कमी नहीं है। हाँ, खर्च में किफायत सूझती है।

‘तुमने बीस एक पूरियाँ खाई होंगी?

‘बीस से ज्यादा खाई थीं!

‘मैं पचास खा जाता!

‘पचास से कम मैंने न खाई होंगी। अच्छा पट्ठा था। तू तो मेरा आधा भी नहीं है।

आलू खाकर दोनों ने पानी पिया और वहीं अलाव के सामने अपनी धोतियाँ ओढकर पाँव पेट में डाले सो रहे। जैसे दो बडे-बडे अजगर गेंडुलियाँ मारे पडे हों। और बुधिया अभी तक कराह रही थी

सवेरे माधव ने कोठरी में जाकर देखा, तो उसकी स्त्री ठण्डी हो गई थी। उसके मुँह पर मक्खियाँ भिनक रही थीं। पथराई ऑंखें ऊपर टँगी हुई थीं। सारी देह धूल से लथपथ हो रही थी। उसके पेट में बच्चा मर गया था।

माधव भागा हुआ घीसू के पास आया। फिर दोनों जोर-जोर से हाय-हाय करने और छाती पीटने लगे। पडोस वालों ने यह रोना-धोना सुना, तो दौडे हुए आए और पुरानी मर्यादा के अनुसार इन अभागों को समझाने लगे।

मगर ज्यादा रोने-पीटने का अवसर न था। कफन की और लकडी की फ्रिक करनी थी। घर में तो पैसा इस तरह गायब था जैसे चील के घोंसले में माँस।

बाप-बेटे रोते हुए गाँव के जमींदार के पास गए। वह इन दोनों की सूरत से नफरत करते थे। कई बार इन्हें अपने हाथों पीट चुके थे। चोरी करने के लिए, वादे पर काम न आने के लिए। पूछा- क्या है बे घिसुआ, रोता क्यों है? अब तो तू कहीं दिखलाई भी नहीं देता! मालूम होता है इस गाँव में रहना नहीं चाहता।

घीसू ने जमीन पर सिर रखकर ऑंखों में ऑंसू भरे हुए कहा- सरकार! बडी विपत्ति में । माधव की घरवाली रात को गुजर गई। रातभर तडपती रही सरकार! हम दोनों उसके सिरहाने बैठे रहे। दवा-दारू जो कुछ हो सका, सब कुछ किया, मुदा वह हमें दगा दे गई। अब कोई एक रोटी देने वाला भी न रहा मालिक! तबाह हो गए। घर उजड गया। आपका गुलाम, अब आपके सिवा कौन उसकी मिट्टी पार लगाएगा। हमारे हाथ में तो जो कुछ था, वह सब तो दवा-दारू में उठ गया। सरकार ही की दया होगी तो उसकी मिट्टी उठेगी। आपके सिवा किसके द्वार पर जाऊँ ।

जमींदार साहब दयालु थे। मगर घीसू पर दया करना काले कम्बल पर रंग चढाना था। जी में तो आया, कह दें, चल, दूर हो यहाँ से। या तो बुलाने से भी नहीं आता, आज जब गरज पडी तो आकर खुशामद कर रहा है। हरामखोर कहीं का, बदमाश! लेकिन यह क्रोध या दण्ड का अवसर न था। जी में कुढते हुए दो रुपए निकालकर फेंक दिए। मगर सांत्वना का एक शब्द भी मुँह से न निकाला। उसकी तरफ ताका तक नहीं। जैसे सिर का बोझ उतारा हो।

जब जमींदार साहब ने दो रुपए दिए तो गाँव के बनिए-महाजनों को इनकार का साहस कैसे होता? घीसू जमींदार के नाम का ढिंढोरा भी पीटना जानता था। किसी ने दो आने दिए, किसी ने चार आने। एक घण्टे में घीसू के पास पाँच रुपए की अच्छी रकम जमा हो गई। कहीं से नाज मिल गया। कहीं से लकडी। और दोपहर को घीसू और माधव बाजार से कफन लाने चले। इधर लोग बाँस-वाँस काटने लगे। गाँव की नर्मदिल स्त्रियाँ आ-आकर लाश देखती थीं और उसकी बेकसी पर दो बूँद ऑंसू गिराकर चली जाती थीं।

बाजार में पहुँचकर घीसू बोला- लकडी तो उसे जलाने भर को मिल गई है, क्यों माधव!

माधव बोला- हाँ, लकडी तो बहुत है, अब कफन चाहिए।

‘तो चलो, कोई हलका सा- कफन ले लें।

‘हाँ, और क्या! लाश उठते-उठते रात हो जाएगी। रात को कफन कौन देखता है?

‘कैसा बुरा रिवाज है कि जिसे जीते जी, तन ढाँकने को चीथडा भी न मिले, उसे मरने पर नया कफन चाहिए।

‘कफन लाश के साथ जल ही तो जाता है।

‘और क्या रखा रहता है? यही पाँच रुपए पहले मिलते तो कुछ दवा-दारू कर लेते।

दोनों एक-दूसरे के मन की बात ताड रहे थे। बाजार में इधर-उधर घूमते रहे। कभी इस बजाज की दुकान पर गए, कभी उसकी दुकान पर। तरह-तरह के कपडे रेशमी और सूती देखे, मगर कुछ जँचा नहीं। यहाँ तक कि शाम हो गई। तब दोनों न जाने किस दैवी प्रेरणा से एक मधुशाला के सामने आ पहुँचे। और जैसे किसी पूर्व निश्चित व्यवस्था से अन्दर चले गए। वहाँ जरा देर तक दोनों असमंजस में खडे रहे। फिर घीसू ने गद्दी के सामने जाकर कहा- साहुजी, एक बोतल हमें भी देना। इसके बाद कुछ चिखौना आया, तली हुई मछली आई और दोनों बरामदे में बैठकर शान्तिपूर्वक पीने लगे।

कई कुज्जियाँ ताबडतोड पीने के बाद दोनों सरूर में आ गए।

घीसू बोला- कफन लगाने से क्या मिलता? आखिर जल ही तो जाता। कुछ ब के साथ तो न जाता।

माधव आसमान की तरफ देखकर बोला, मानो देवताओं को अपनी निष्पापता का साक्षी बना रहा हो- दुनिया का दस्तूर है, नहीं लोग बाँभनों को हजारों रुपए देते हैं? कौन देखता है, परलोक में मिलता है या नहीं!

‘बडे आदमियों के पास धन है, फूँकें। हमारे पास फूँकने को क्या है?

‘लेकिन लोगों को जवाब क्या दोगे? लोग पूछेंगे नहीं, कफन कहाँ है?

घीसू हँसा- ‘अबे, कह देंगे कि रुपए कमर से खिसक गए। बहुत ढूँढा मिले नहीं। लोगों को विश्वास न आएगा, लेकिन फिर वही रुपए देंगे।

माधव भी हँसा इस अनपेक्षित सौभाग्य पर। बोला- बडी अच्छी थी बेचारी! मरी तो खूब खिला-पिलाकर!

आधी बोतल से ज्यादा उड गई। घीसू ने दो सेर पूडियाँ मँगार्इं। चटनी, अचार, कलेजियाँ। शराबखाने के सामने ही दुकान थी। माधव लपककर दो पत्तलों में सारे सामान ले आया। पूरा डेढ रुपया खर्च हो गया। सिर्फ थोडे से पैसे बच रहे।

दोनों इस वक्त इस शान से बैठे पूडियाँ खा रहे थे जैसे जंगल में कोई शेर अपना शिकार उडा रहा हो, न जवाबदेही का खौफ था, न बदनामी की फिक्र। इन सब भावनाओं को उन्होंने बहुत पहले ही जीत लिया था।

घीसू दार्शनिक भाव से बोला- हमारी आत्मा प्रसन्न हो रही है तो क्या उसे पुन्न न होगा?

माधव ने श्रध्दा से सिर झुकाकर तसदीक की- जरूर से जरूर होगा। भगवान तुम अन्तर्यामी हो। उसे बैकुण्ठ ले जाना। हम दोनों हृदय से आशीर्वाद दे रहे हैं। आज जो भोजन मिला वह कभी उम्रभर न मिला था।

एक क्षण के बाद माधव के मन में एक शंका जागी। बोला- क्यों दादा, हम लोग भी तो एक न एक दिन वहाँ जाएँगे ही?

घीसू ने इस भोले-भाले सवाल का कुछ उत्तर न दिया। वह परलोक की बातें सोचकर इस आनन्द में बाधा न डालना चाहता था।

‘जो वहाँ हम लोगों से पूछेगी कि तुमने हमें कफन क्यों नहीं दिया तो क्या कहेंगे?

‘कहेंगे तुम्हारा सिर!

‘पूछेगी तो जरूर!

‘तू कैसे जानता है कि उसे कफन न मिलेगा? तू मूझे ऐसा गधा समझता है? साठ साल क्या दुनिया में घास खोदता रहा? उसको कफन मिलेगा और बहुत अच्छा मिलेगा!

माधव को विश्वास न आया। बोला- कौन देगा? रुपए तो तुमने चट कर दिए। वह तो मुझसे पूछेगी। उसके माँग में तो सिन्दूर मैंने डाला था।

घीसू गर्म होकर बोला- मैं कहता, उसे कफन मिलेगा, तू मानता क्यों नहीं?

‘कौन देगा, बताते क्यों नहीं?

‘वही लोग देंगे, जिन्होंने अबकी दिया। हाँ, अबकी रुपए हमारे हाथ न आएँगे।

ज्यों-ज्यों ऍंधेरा बढता था और सितारों की चमक तेज होती थी, मधुशाला की रौनक भी बढती जाती थी। कोई गाता था, कोई डींग मारता था, कोई अपने संगी के गले लिपटा जाता था। कोई अपने दोस्त के मुँह में कुल्हड लगाए देता था।

वहाँ के वातावरण में सरूर था, हवा में नशा। कितने तो यहाँ आकर एक चुल्लू में मस्त हो जाते थे। शराब से ज्यादा यहाँ की हवा उन पर नशा करती थी। जीवन की बाधाएँ यहाँ खींच लाती थीं और कुछ देर के लिए यह भूल जाते थे कि वे जीते हैं या मरते हैं। या न जीते हैं, न मरते हैं।

और यहाँ बाप-बेटे अब मजे ले-लेकर चुसकियाँ ले रहे थे। सबकी निगाहें इनकी ओर जमी हुई थीं। दोनों कितने भाग्य के बली हैं! पूरी बोतल बीच में है।

भरपेट खाकर माधव ने बची हुई पूडियों का पत्तल उठाकर एक भिखारी को दे दिया, जो खडा इनकी ओर भूखी ऑंखों से देख रहा था। और देने के गौरव, आनन्द और उल्लास का अपने जीवन में पहली बार अनुभव किया।

घीसू ने कहा- ले जा, खूब खा और आशीर्वाद दे! जिसकी कमाई है, वह तो मर गई। मगर तेरा आशीर्वाद उसे जरूर पहुँचेगा। रोएँ-रोएँ से आशीर्वाद दो, बडी गाढी कमाई के पैसे हैं!

माधव ने फिर आसमान की तरफ देखकर कहा- वह बैकुण्ठ में जाएगी दादा, बैकुण्ठ की रानी बनेगी।

घीसू खडा हो गया और जैसे उल्लास की लहरों में तैरता हुआ बोला- हाँ बेटा, बैकुण्ठ में जाएगी। किसी को सताया नहीं, किसी को दबाया नहीं। मरते-मरते हमारी जिन्दगी की सबसे बडी लालसा पूरी कर गई। बैकुण्ठ में वह न जाएगी तो क्या ये मोटे-मोटे लोग जाएँगे, जो गरीबों को दोनों हाथों से लूटते हैं और अपने पाप को धोने के लिए गंगा में नहाते हैं और मन्दिरों में जल चढाते हैं?

श्रध्दालुता का यह रंग तुरन्त ही बदल गया। अस्थिरता नशे की खासियत है। दु:ख और निराशा का दौरा हुआ।

माधव बोला- मगर दादा, बेचारी ने जिन्दगी में बडा दु:ख भोगा। कितना दु:ख झेलकर मरी!

वह ऑंखों पर हाथ रखकर रोने लगा, चीखें मार-मारकर।

घीसू ने समझाया- क्यों रोता है बेटा, खुश हो कि वह मायाजाल से मुक्त हो गई, जंजाल से छूट गई। बडी भाग्यवान थी जो इतनी जल्द माया-मोह के बन्धन तोड दिए।

और दोनों खडे होकर गाने लगे-

‘ठगिनी क्यों नैना झमकावे! ठगिनी!

पियक्कडों की ऑंखें इनकी ओर लगी हुई थीं और यह दोनों अपने दिल में मस्त गाए जाते थे। फिर दोनों नाचने लगे। उछले भी, कूदे भी। गिरे भी, मटके भी। भाव भी बताए, अभिनय भी किए, और आखिर नशे में मदमस्त होकर वहीं गिर पडे।

– x –

The Shroud (Kafan) by Premchand / Translated by Frances W. Pritchett

At the door of the hut father and son sat silently by a burnt-out fire; inside, the son’s young wife Budhiya lay in labor, writhing with pain. And from time to time such a heart-rending scream emerged from her lips that they both pressed their hands to their hearts. It was a winter night; everything was drowned in desolation. The whole village had been absorbed into the darkness.

Ghisu said, “It seems she won’t live. She’s been writhing in pain the whole day. Go on, see how she is.”

Madhav said in a pained tone, “If she’s going to die, then why doesn’t she go ahead and die? What’s the use of going to see?”

“You’re pretty hard-hearted! You’ve enjoyed life with her for a whole year, now such faithlessness to her?”

“Well, I can’t stand to see her writhing and thrashing around.”

It was a family of Chamars (one of the lowest cast), and notorious in the whole village. If Ghisu worked for one day, then he rested for three days. Madhav was such a slacker that if he worked for an hour, then he’d smoke (chilam) for an hour – thus no one every wanted to hire them. They themselves were not interested in regular work – If there was even a handful of grain in the house, both would swore off working. When they’d fasted for a couple of days, then Ghisu’d climb up the  trees, broke off branches for Madhav to sell the wood in the market; and as long as that money lasted, they both spent their time wandering idly around. There was no shortage of work in the village. It was a village of farmers; for a hard-working man there were fifty jobs. But people only sent for these two when they were forced to content themselves with getting out of two men the work of one.

If only the two had been ascetics, then they wouldn’t have needed any exercises in self-discipline to achieve contentment and patience. This was their very nature. Theirs was a strange life. Except for two or three clay pots, they had no goods at all in the house. Covering their nakedness with torn rags, free from the cares of the world, laden with debt, they suffered abuse, they suffered blows too, but had no lasting grief. They were so poor that without the smallest hope of repayment, people used to lend them something or other. When peas or potatoes were in season, they would dig up peas or potatoes from the fields and roast and eat them, or break off five or ten stalks of sugarcane and suck them at night. Ghisu had spent sixty years of his life in this pious manner, and Madhav, like a dutiful son, was following in his father’s footsteps, or rather, was making his name even more radiant.

This time too, both were seated by the fire, roasting potatoes that they had dug up from somebody’s field. Ghisu’s wife had passed away long ago. Madhav’s marriage had taken place the year before. Since this woman had come, she had laid the foundations of civilization in the family – Grinding grain, cutting grass, she arranged for a couple of pounds of flour, and kept filling the stomachs of those two shameless ones. After she came, they both grew even more lazy and indolent; indeed, they even began to swagger a bit. If someone sent for them to work, then with splendid indifference they demanded double wages. That woman was dying today in childbirth. And these two were perhaps waiting for her to die, so they could sleep in peace.

Pulling out a potato and peeling it, Ghisu said, “Go see what shape she’s in. We’ll have the fuss over a ghost-witch, what else! And here even the exorcist demands a rupee. where would we get the money to seek some kind of medicine for her?”

Madhav suspected that if he went inside the hut, Ghisu would finish off major portion of the potatoes. He said, “I’m afraid to go in.”

“What are you afraid of? I’m here, after all.”

“Then you go and see, all right?”

“When my wife died, for three days I never even left her side. And then, won’t she be ashamed in front of me (woman in rural India keep their head/ face covered and do not talk directly in front of their in-laws out of respect)? I’ve never seen her face, and today I should see her naked body? She won’t even have bodily ease: if she sees me, she won’t be able to thrash around freely.”

“I’m thinking, if a child is born, what then? There is nothing in the house for the new born baby – Dried ginger, brown sugar, oil, there’s nothing at all in the house.”

“Everything will come. If Bhagwan (God) gives a child, those people who now aren’t giving us any money, will send for us and give us money and other things. I’ve had nine sons. There was never anything in the house, but this is how we managed every time.”

A society in which those who labored night and day were not in much better shape than these two; a society in which compared to the peasants, those who knew how to exploit the peasants’ weaknesses were much better off. In such a society, the birth of this kind of mentality was no cause for surprise. We’ll say that compared to the hard-working peasants, Ghisu was more insightful; and instead of joining the mindless group of peasants, he had joined the group of clever, scheming tricksters. Though indeed, he wasn’t educated or skillful enough in following the rules and customs of the tricksters. Thus while other members of such tricksters group became Chiefs and Headmen of villages, at him the whole village wagged its finger. But still, he did have the consolation that if he was in bad shape, at least he wasn’t forced to do the back-breaking labor of the peasants, and others didn’t take improper advantage of his simplicity and voicelessness.

Pulling out the potatoes, they both began to eat them even though the potatoes were burning hot. They had not  eaten anything since last two days. They were too impatient to wait till the potatoes cooled. Both burned their tongues repeatedly. When the potatoes were peeled off the skin, the outer layer/parts didn’t seem so extremely hot. But the moment the teeth bit into them, the inner part burned their tongue and throat and roof of the mouth. Rather than keep that ember in the mouth, it was better to send it quickly down inside, where there was plenty of things for cooling it down. So they both swallowed very fast, although the attempt brought tears to their eyes.

Then Ghisu remembered a landowner’s wedding procession he had attended in his youth, in which he had taken part years ago. The feast at that wedding was the most memorable event in his life, and even today its memory was as fresh as ever. He said, “I’ll never forget that feast. Never since then have I had that kind of food, or such a full stomach. The girl’s family fed puris (deep friend Indian bread) to everyone. As much as they wanted! Great and small, everyone ate puris, ones made with real ghee (purified butter)! Chutney, Raita (yogurt), three kinds of green vegetables, a flavorful curry/stew and sweets. How can I tell you now what relish there was in that feast! There was no limit. Whatever thing you want, just ask! And however much you want, eat! People ate so much that there was no place in the stomach to drink water. And there the servers were setting hot, round, sweet-smelling kachoris (deep fried stuffed Indian breads) before you! You refuse, saying you don’t want it, you push away the tray with your hand – but still they would keep bringing them and just keep on serving it. And when everybody had wiped their mouths, then they offered pan (an after dinner delicacy/ mouth freshener popular in India – beetle nut and spices wrapped inside a special leaf) as well. But how could I be in any shape for a Pan? I couldn’t even stand up properly. I just staggered off and lay down on my blanket. He had a heart as big as the ocean, that landowner!”

Enjoying the story of the grand festivities, Madhav said, “If only somebody would give us such a feast now!”

“As if anybody would feast anybody now! That was a different time. Now everybody thinks about economy. Don’t spend money on weddings, don’t spend money on religious festivals!’. Someone should ask these people, what’s this ‘saving’ of the poor people’s wealth inside the pocket of these rich people will achieve? There’s no lack of ‘saving’ by these rich people, but when it comes to spending, they think about economy!”

“You must have eaten twenty or so puris?”

“I ate more than twenty.”

“I would have eaten up fifty.”

“I couldn’t have eaten less than fifty. I was hale and hearty. You’re not half of what I was in your age!”

After finishing off the potatoes, they both drank some water, covered themselves with their dhotis (a thin piece of cloth worn by Indian men’s to cover themselves – a crude substitute for pants), curled up, and went to sleep right there by the fire, as if two gigantic serpents lay coiled there.

And Budhiya was still moaning.

In the morning, when Madhav went inside the hut and looked, his wife had grown cold. Flies were buzzing on her face. Her stony eyes had rolled upward. Her whole body was covered with dust. In her stomach, the unborn baby had also died.

Madhav came running to Ghisu. Then they both began loudly crying, lamenting and beating their breasts. When the neighbors heard the weeping and wailing, they came running. And following the ancient custom, they began to console the bereaved.

But this wasn’t the occasion for an excessive show of grief. They had to worry about the cremation of the body – the shroud, and the wood, etc.. Money was as scarce in their house as meat in a raptor’s nest.

Father and son went weeping to the village landlord. He hated the very sight of their faces. A number of times he had beaten them with his own hands – for theft, or for not coming to work as they had promised. He asked, “What is it, Ghisua, why do you weep? Nowadays we don’t even see you around. It seems that you no longer want to live in the village.”

Ghisua fell prostrate on the ground, and said with tear-filled eyes, “Master, I’m in great trouble! Madhav’s wife passed away last night. All day she was writhing in pain, Master; we two sat by her bed till midnight. Whatever medicines we could give her, we did. But she slipped away. Now we have no one to care for us, Master, we’re devastated, our house is destroyed! I’m your slave. Now who but you will take care of her cremation and final rites? Whatever money we had at hand was used up on medicines. If the Master will show mercy, then she’ll have the proper cremation. To whose door should I come except yours?”

The Landlord was a compassionate man. But to show compassion to impress Ghisu was to try to dye a black blanket. He felt like saying, “Get out of here! (Keep the corpse in your house and let it rot!) You don’t come even when you’re called and now when you want something, you come and flatter me! You treacherous bastard! You villain!” But this was not the occasion for anger or revenge. Willingly or not, he pulled out two rupees and flung them down. But he didn’t open his lips to say a single word of consolation. He didn’t even look in Ghisu’s direction, as if he’d  just discharged a duty.

When the Landlord gave two rupees, then how could the village merchants and money-lenders have the nerve to refuse? Ghisu knew how to beat the drum of the landlord’s name. One gave two paisas, another gave four paisas. In an hour, Ghisu had collected the royal sum of five rupees in ready cash. Someone gave grain, someone else gave wood. And in the afternoon Ghisu and Madhav went to the market to get a shroud. Meanwhile, people began to cut the bamboo poles, and so on to prepare for the cremation ceremony.

The sensitive-hearted women of the village came and looked at the body. They shed a few tears at its helplessness departed soul, and went away.

When they reached the market, Ghisu said, “We’ve got enough wood to burn her, haven’t we, Madhav?”

Madhav said, “Yes, there’s plenty of wood. Now we just need a shroud.”

“So let’s buy a light kind of shroud.”

“Sure, why not! While the body is being carried along, night will come. At night, who’ll notice the shroud?”

“What a bad custom it is that someone who didn’t even get a rag to cover her body when she was alive, needs to have a new piece of cloth as shroud when she’s dead.”

“After all, the shroud burns along with the body.”

“What else is it good for? If we’d had these five rupees earlier, we would have given her some medicine.”

Each of them inwardly guessed what the other was thinking. They kept wandering here and there in the market, until eventually evening came. Sometimes they went to one cloth-seller’s shop, sometimes to another. They looked at various kinds of fabric, they looked at silk and cotton, but nothing suited them.

The two arrived, by chance or more likely deliberately, in front of a bar/ wine-house; and as if according to some prearranged decision, they quickly went inside. For a little while they both stood there in a state of uncertainty. Then Ghisu went to the counter and said, “Sir, please give us a bottle too.” Ghisu bought one bottle of liquor, and some sesame snacks. After that came some more snacks and fried fish. And they both sat down on the verandah and peacefully began to drink.

After drinking a number of pegs quickly, both became elevated.

Ghisu said, “What’s the use of wrapping her in a shroud? After all, it would only be burned. Nothing would go with her.”

Looking toward the sky as if persuading the angels of his innocence, Madhav said, “It’s the custom of the world, why do these same people give thousands of rupees to the Brahmins? Who can tell whether a reward does or doesn’t reach them in another world?”

“Rich people have wealth, let them waste it! What do we have to waste?”

“But what will you tell people? Won’t people ask where the shroud is?”

Ghisu laughed. “We’ll say the money slipped out of my waistband, we searched and searched for it, but it didn’t turn up. People won’t believe it, but they’ll still collect more money for the cremation, they wont give it to us though.”

Madhav too laughed at this unexpected good fortune, at defeating destiny in this way. He said, “She was very good, the poor thing. Even as she died, she gave us a fine meal.”

More than half the bottle had been finished. Ghisu ordered puris (deep fried Indian bread), meat stew, and spiced liver and fried fish. There was a shop right next to the bar/ wine-house. Madhav ran over and quickly brought everything back on two leaf-plates. The cost was fully one and a half rupees. Only a few paise were left.

*(3c)* Both then sat eating puris, with all the majesty of a tiger in the jungle pursuing his prey. They had no fear of being called to account, nor any concern about disgrace. They had passed through these stages of weakness long ago. Ghisu said in a philosophical manner, “If my soul is being pleased, then won’t she receive religious merit?”

Madhav bowed his head in pious confirmation. “Certainly she’ll certainly receive it. Bhagwan, you are the knower of hearts– take her to Heaven! We’re both giving her our heartfelt blessing. The feast I’ve had today– I haven’t had its equal in my whole life!”

After a moment a doubt arose in Madhav’s heart. He said, “How about it– we’ll go there too someday, won’t we?”

Ghisu gave no answer to this childish question. *He looked reproachfully at Madhav.* [He didn’t want the thought of heavenly matters to interfere with this bliss.]

“When she asks us, there, why we didn’t give her a shroud, what will you say?”

“Oh, shut up!”

“She’ll certainly ask.”

“How do you know that she won’t get a shroud? Do you consider me such a donkey? I’ve lived in this world for sixty years– and have I just been loitering around? She’ll get a shroud, and [a very good one]– *a much better than we would have given*.”

Madhav was not convinced. He said, “Who will give it? You’ve gobbled up the rupees! [It’s me she’ll ask– I’m the one who put the sindur in the parting of her hair.]”

Ghisu grew irritated. “I tell you, she’ll get a shroud. Why don’t you believe me?”

“Who will give the money– why don’t you tell me?”

“The same people will give it who gave it this time. But they won’t put the rupees into our hands.”

As the darkness deepened and and the stars glittered more sharply, the tumult in the wine-house also increased. One person sang, another babbled, another embraced his companion, another pressed a glass to his friend’s lips. Joy was in the atmosphere there. Intoxication was in the air. How many people become ‘an ass with a glass’! They came here only to taste the pleasure of self-forgetfulness. More than liquor, its the air of such a place of enjoyment that elevated their spirits. The disaster of life seized them and dragged them here. And for a while they forgot whether they were alive or dead, or just living dead.

And these two, father and son, were still sipping with relish. Everyone’s eyes had settled on them. How fortunate they were! They had a whole bottle between them.

After he had finished eating, Madhav picked up the leaf-plate of leftover puris and gave it to a beggar who was standing there looking at them with hungry eyes. And for the first time in his life he felt the pride and delight and thrill of giving.

Ghisu said, “Take it, eat your fill, and give her your blessing. She whose earnings these are has died, but your blessing will certainly reach her. Bless her with every hair on your body,- these are the payment for very hard labor.”

Madhav again looked toward the sky and said, “She’ll go to Heaven, she’ll become the Queen of Heaven!”

Ghisu stood up, and as if swimming in waves of joy he said, “Yes, son, she’ll go to Heaven! She never tormented anyone, she never oppressed anyone; even while dying, she fulfilled the greatest desire of our lives. If she doesn’t go to Heaven, then will those fat rich people go, who loot the poor with both hands, and go to the Ganges to wash away their sin, and offer holy water in temples?”

This mood of piety too changed; variability is the special quality of intoxication. It was the turn of despair and grief. Madhav said, “But the poor thing suffered a great deal in her life. Even her death was so painful!” Covering his eyes with his hands, he began to weep and sobbed loudly.

Ghisu consoled him: “Why do you weep, son? Be happy that she’s been liberated from this matrix of illusion. She’s escaped from the snare; she was very fortunate that she was able to break the bonds of worldly illusion so quickly.”

And both, standing there, began to sing, “Temptress! Why do your eyes flash, temptress?”

The whole wine-house was absorbed in the spectacle, and these two drinkers, deep in intoxication, kept on singing. Then they both began to dance– they leaped and jumped, fell down, flounced about, gesticulated, strutted around and finally, overcome by drunkenness, they collapsed.

— xxx —

https://bhuwanchand.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/eid-mubarak-remembering-%E0%A4%88%E0%A4%A6%E0%A4%97%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%B9-by-%E0%A4%AE%E0%A5%81%E0%A4%82%E0%A4%B6%E0%A5%80-%E0%A4%AA%E0%A5%8D%E0%A4%B0%E0%A5%87%E0%A4%AE%E0%A4%9A%E0%A4%A8%E0%A5%8D/

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2 thoughts on “Rains, Cow Belt of India and a heart wrenching story ‘Kafan’ by Munshi Premchand

    • Yes fortunately the rain-spell ended by 2pm and things were back to normal by the time festivities started in the evening for Durga Puja & Dussehra. The wet carpets and water puddles in the open areas around the Pandals were not enough to deter the enthusiasm of the Faithfuls 🙂

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