Friday 29 March 2013

A translation of Munshi Premchand's "Eidgah"

Eidgah …A moving  story by Munshi Prem Chand

After thirty days of  Ramzan (fasting) came Eid. How balmy how pleasant was the Eid morning.

The trees were strangely green, there was a indefinable activity in the fields, the skies too had a strange reddish tinge.

Look at today’s sun it looked so endearing and calm seemed as though it was greeting the entire world on the day of Eid .

There was a flurry of activity in the village .Preparations were afoot to go for Idgah at the nearby township which was five  kms  away. Someone was rushing to the neighbour’s house to get needle and thread to sew the missing button on his shirt, somebody’s shoe had become hard , he rushed to get some oil from the general provision  store to apply in them to soften them. Hurriedly the cattle were given water etc since their return  would take  a few hours. 5 of walking distance, meeting hundreds of people, certainly it would get late.

Children are the most excited today. Fasting is for the adults yet some child has kept one fast that too till the afternoon, most have kept none. Going to Idgah is happiness a part of their reward! The definition of Id  for the children is C e l e b r a t i o n! Everyday they parrot the word Id –  today is the day! Excited they are in a hurry to leave and cannot understand the delay the adults are causing. They are not burdened with the problems of the home  and the hearth. For them it is not to worry about the milk , sugar for making the special sweet dish Saviyan,which they will relish anyway. They are oblivious of the fact as to why their father is running to Quamat Ali’s house and the lurking danger if he refuses to lend money their Eid might transform to Muharram!They are happy in the thought that their pockets are full of ‘Kuber’s’’ treasure. They count it countless times and return it to their pockets.Mehmood counts 1,2..,10..,12. He has 12 paise.Mohsin has 1,2,3,…8,9…15paise! Happiest of them all is Hamid. He is a 4-5 year old with a poverty stricken face, lean and thin, whose father died of cholera the previous  year  and his  mother died of jaundice she gradually turned yellow and withered away. Hamid is   happy to be with  his grandma  and enjoys  his heavenly sleep in Amina’s  lap.

Amina ‘s  heart is saddened .All the children were going to town with their fathers’. Thoughts of his wellbeing coursed through her mind. How should  she send him alone? What if he gets lost in the crowd?  No, she wouldn’t allow him to go…the delicate darling .How would he walk such a long distance ?Bare feet his  feet would be riddled with blisters, as he did not have a pair of shoes. She thought it was she after all who was his father so she’d pick him up after every little while .But the who’d cook the sweet dish for him. Had there been enough money, she would have bought all the ingredients on their return from the Idgah and cooked it in an instant. In the present circumstances it would take hours since asking or borrowing was the only option available to collect all the ingredients.

She had saved 8 annas for today .This she had got as a remuneration for stitching clothes for Falima.However the previous day the milkmaid insisted on being paid 6 annas . Amina bought two paisa worth of milk the least she could afford for Hamid everyday. Today she had just 2 annas .Out of which 3 paisa went as pocket money for the day and 5 paisa went into her purse. Only Allah would ferry them across the day. For penury should not come in the way of the annual festival’s festivities! She prayed for the smooth passing off the day for Hamid.

The group from the village started towards the town in a festive mood .Hamid in his excitement almost felt he had wings on his feet. Tirelessly he’d run and overtake them all. He then would wait under some shady tree waiting for the slow coaches to catch up!

Slowly the precincts of the township came into view .On either side of the road were cemented walls surrounding litchi orchards and mango groves of the rich. The trees were laden with mangoes.Mischevious boys  pick up a stone and aim at the mangoes. The teased gardener  comes out venting his spleen. The boys are  amused at fooling the gardener since they are nearly a furlong away .

Moving on, the group comes upon well decorated  sweets  making shops. Each store has

tons of sweets. The children wonder, who eats so many sweets? An   answer to that was that at night a jinn comes and buys them all. Another child knowledgeably answers that a man comes in the dead of night and buys all the unsold provisions, and buys it with real Rupees.Hamid finds it difficult to believe and wonders where would the  jinn get real Rupees.

The group moves on and they enter the populated part where the humdrum of the town can be experienced. Many a groups are moving onwards the Eidgah. They are in their Sunday best, wearing new shimmering dresses.  The waft of their perfume (iter) is permeating its sweet smell in the air. Some are on tongas, some in motor cars. Each is heart is filled with joy. They are wonderstruck and ogle at each object which they find strange, unmindful of the persistent honking of the motors. Hamid almost came under one.

Eventually the Idgah came into sight. On it was the shade of a Tamarind tree. The floor was cemented and a rug was spread on it. There were symmetrical lines of males mostly who had kept fast. There was no place in the front row. New batches of people take their positions in the last line. A picture of equality in practice. There is no distinction of status of the rich and poor, high or low. The organization and co-ordination is exemplery.Thousands of heads bow down rhythmically in perfect synchronization .It seems as lakhs of bulbs are illuminated in one go and in another is switched off! This sequence goes on and on. The sight is unimaginable, incomparable, the perfect co-ordination, of doing the actions is effortless,elaborate, endless in a harmony. The heart fills up with awe, pride and pleasure. It seems as though the thread of brotherhood is strung through all their souls and held them together. The Namaz is finally over. The people hug and greet each other. The namaz is finally over.

Time to visit the shops-toys and sweets …The fair is in full swing. There is a giant wheel one can take a ride after paying one paisa. Sometimes one feels you are reaching for the skies and sometimes the feeling of dropping to the ground. There is a merry-go-round on which wooden elephants, horses and camels are hanging from the iron poles.  One paisa and take twenty five rounds.Mehmood, Mohsin, Noorie and Sami took these rides. Hamid is standing at a distance mulling over the prospect of spending his  3 paisa. To give 1/3 of his treasure  for rides? No he cannot part with it for just a few rounds! All dismount from the merry-go-round

All of them  now move towards the line of toy shops. There are many types of toys- Soldier, King, Water Carrier, Washer woman and  Sadhu. Wow! Such beautifully crafted toys, so lifelike as if they would like to speak out their mind.

Ahmed bought a soldier dressed in khaki uniform and  red cap with a rifle on his shoulder, seems like he is just coming in from a parade looking so happy! Perhaps singing a song. Mohsin is taken in by the life like water carrier, his back bent with the weight of the leather bag , holding the mouth of the bag ready to open it for releasing water from his bag. Noorie was all for the lawyer, intellect written on his face, smartly dressed in a black with a white coat and in his pocket a watch with a golden chain which was dangling on his coat. It seemed he was just returning after a hearing in the court. All these toys were valued at two paisa.

Hamid has only three paisa, how could he spend on such expensive perishable clay toy. If it slips it will break into a thousand pieces. If a little water touches it the colour would run. What would he do with such a toy? What was the use? After all they were made of clay and would shatter if they accidently fell. Yet he eyes them with longing eyes! His innermost urge is to hold them for a while. He tries to snatch them,  but the boys are faster. The yearning for them is intense.

After the toys  the group turned to the food shops selling a variety  of sweets.Some bought ‘Rewaries’ (a sweet made with jaggery and sesame seeds), some bought ‘Gulabjamun’, and some others ‘Sohan Halwa’.

Lined after the toy shops were shops selling iron commodities,  artificial jewellry,etc. Since these held no attraction for the boys they moved on. Hamid stopped at the ironsmiths. The innumerable pair of tongs lined in the store caught his eye. Images of his grandma’s burnt fingers while baking ‘rotis’ flooded his mind. His grandma had no tongs. ‘What if he takes one along?’ ‘Won’t she be thrilled ?’

‘It would  be a useful gadget at home.’ ‘What is the use of toys?’ Uselessly he’d be wasting money on them. It just a transient happiness. Perhaps even before he reaches home the toy might break.

Deep in his thoughts he mulled over the many benefits of  owning a pair of tongs .Firstly, rotis could be picked up from the hot plate on the fire. Secondly, rotis can be baked directly on the fire. Thirdly if someone comes asking  for fire,  a burning  red hot coal can be easily lifted from the owen  and handed over.   Though Ammi burnt her hand practically everyday yet for lack of time and dearth of  money she did not go to the market.

He could see his friends drinking ‘sherbet’ at the soft drink shop. Negative thoughts surged in his heart. “  See  how greedy they all are. They bought so many sweets and no one shared even one with me. I’ll question them when they will ask me to play with them or they ask me to run errands for them. If they eat sweets, let them …their gums will be infested with germs, …boils will cover their faces…their tongue will get addicted to the sweets. They’ll steal money from their homes to satisfy their urge and  for this they will get a sound beating. The books do not lie .Why should I let my tongue get out of hand? (indiscipline)”

  After dwelling on the rotten behavior of his friends in minute details he now turned his day dreaming to his grandma. “Ammi will run and take the tongs from my hand and say my child how thoughtful.  She  will then give  me a thousand blessings. The she will show it to the neighborhood women. The whole village will appreciate the fact that Hamid bought a pair of tons, what a caring boy is  he? Who is going to bless them for their toys? It is said that the blessings of the elders reach the kingdom of Allah and is heard immediately! ‘I’ll give them a piece of my mind’.’ Let them laugh for all that I care’. ‘Let them play with toys eat sweets’.’ I don’t play with their toys hence why should I stand nonsense! ‘Even though I am poor I don’t go and beg from anyone’. One day my father will come back to me, sometime or other mother too will come then I’ll ask them ,‘How many toys  will you take?’ I’ll give them each a  basketful of toys and teach them how to behave with friends. It is not done that you buy sweets and show-off while eating each one of them.” With such vicious thoughts coursing through his mind, he enquired the price from the shopkepper.The shopkeeper looked up at him and finding no adult in attendance, replied that it was not for him. “Is it not for sale?”Hamid persisted. “Of’ course, why do you think I have displayed them all?” answered the shopkeeper. Hamid ,“then why don’t you disclose the price?” Six Paisa ,answered the shopkeeper. Hamid’s heart sank. Haggling he asked for a reasonable price. Well! Five paisa and that’s final. replied the shopkepper.Hamid gathered  his wits  and bargaining further asked him he would take three paisa and walked away without waiting to hear the shopkeeper’s expected snide remarks. The shopkeeper simply called him and handed him the pair of tongs.

Hamid was pleased with his victory. He placed it on his shoulder like a gun and marched smartly with confidence towards his friends. Mohsin laughed and rebuked hin saying: “crazy, why have you bought this? What will you do with this?” Hamid threw the tongs on the floor and challenged him to do the same with his water carrier. “…all his entrails will come out” he said.

Mehmood sneeringly asked him “…is the tongs a toy?” Hamid counter questioned him asking him how was it not a toy? He explained that when he kept it on his shoulder it is like a rifle. When he held it in his hands it like is a native musical instrument called ‘Chimta’ . If he desired  then in one stroke he could finish all the toys. All the toys put together could not harm his tongs! My pair of tongs is  a brave lion!

Sumee had bought a tambourine .So intrigued he was by the qualities of the wonder tongs that he wanted to exchange it. He pleaded the exchange by saying “…it is for two annas, pretty expensive.” Hamid was in no mood to relent. He further maintained the superiority of his tongs by emphasizing that it could tear his instrument apart. All it had was a thin layer of leather, that took out a sound “dab, dab.” A little water would ruin it’s sound quality. “Fire, water, storm will not affect my brave pair of tongs” he declared.

His pair of tongs had become a cynosure of all interest. By now each child had exhausted his treasure , moreover they had moved out of the fair grounds. The balmy sun had turned hot and bright. If they pestered their father they might get it but it was a long way home. Hamid had been so clever. The blackguard had saved his money for the wonderful gadget.

Hamid got the reverence and adulation that a winner gets from the losers. The others had spent  three-three, four-four paisa but did not buy anything worthwhile. The truth was that Hamid’s pair of tongs was durable as compared to their perishable toys.

Rules of reconciliation were worked out.Mohsin said, “Let me have a look at your tongs while you can hold my water carrier.”Mehmood and Noora also followed suit. Hamid was happy with the arrangement. The pair of tongs was examined by each of his friends, while he held their toy, fascinated by their beautiful craftsmanship. Satisfied after holding the toys for a while, Hamid tried to pacify the losers declaring that he was just teasing them. There was absolutely no comparison between the iron pair of tongs and the delightful toys. His friends were simply not ready to buy that explanation. The leadership of the pair of tongs had been established. The stamp that had been stuck on paper could not be removed with water.

Mohsin perceived that no one would bless them for the toys. Mehmood  added that, what to talk of blessings, his mother would admonish saying,  “All what you could in the fair is this toy made out of clay?” Hamid however agreed to their point of view that nobody’s mother would be as happy as his grandmother. He had indeed made a wise purchase with only three paisa.  And now his tongs was ‘Rustam-e-Hind’( Emperor of Hindustan.) On the way to their village Mehmood was hungry. His father gave him some bananas, which he shared only with Hamid.  It was a sort of offering to the tongs!

They returned  at 11a.m. spreading  a wave of excitement  in the entire village!

Mohsin’s younger sister came running and snatched the water carrier from his hands and jumped with joy!...that was the end  of the water carrier as he fell on  the floor. The brother sister duo hit each other and cried. Their mother on hearing the ruckus scolded them and  gave  two slaps to each of them.

Noorie’s lawyer met his end in a dignified way. Two nails were driven into the wall and a plank was set on them, a paper carpet was spread, and the lawyer was ceremoniously placed on it like the King(Raja Bhoja).Noore started fanning him- whether the breeze from the fan or a knock from it sent the lawyer crashing down! His gown made out of mud merged with mud.

Mehmood tripped, his soldier lost a leg. He broke the other leg of his so that at least he could now sit at one place.

Now listen to Hamid’s story. On hearing his voice Amina ran out and lovingly took him up in her lap. She was startled to see a pair of tongs in his hand.

Amina:” Where was these pair of tongs”?

Hamid: “I bought it.”

Amina: “How much?”

Hamid:  I paid three paisa.”

Amina lost her cool .She castigated him called him a fool as to have remained hungry for so long. In the whole fair could he  get hold of nothing but an innocuous iron pair of tongs.

Hamid replied as if he had committed a crime. “I bought this because your fingers got burnt on the hot plate.”

 The old woman’s anger turned into extreme love. Words failed her to express her emotions. The child had  sacrificed so much, there was  so much of empathy in him, so thoughtful, understanding. She could fathom how he must’ve felt while the other children were being children and spending on toys and eating sweets. How much must he have longed for the toys and eatables. From where did he find so much self-control. Even  in the midst of fun and frolic of the fair, she was uppermost on  his mind . She was taken in by his concern for her. Her heart melted!

A surprising thing happened, more magical than the pair of tongs episode. The child Hamid had played the part of old Hamid.Old Amina became child Amina.She started crying. Through tears streaming on her face she invoked God to shower his choicest blessings on him. This reaction was a mystery beyond the comprehension of Hamid!




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