3. Waapsi (Usha Priyamvada):
A station master at a small location keenly awaits his retirement day. He looks forward to spending time with his wife and now grow-up children who stay in a city for their education and a stable life undisturbed by the transfers the station master himself has faced in the 35 years of his railway career. Sadly for him, his reemergence unsettles the rhythm of the family. He is allotted a temporary place to sleep in, his efforts to have a say in the family matters are met with resistance. His daughter-in-law sulks as she is asked to cook to curtail expenses on domestic help, his daughter sulks as he urges her to study instead of wasting her time gossiping with friends. He feels so marginalized and out-of-place in his own family that he decides to take up a job outside his hometown and leaves.
The station master’s plight is deeply moving. His alienation within his family, his family’s non-acceptance of his status, his wife’s tacit agreement with the family’s stance and finally his reluctant reconciliation with his persona non grata status. It seems so cruel that as a father he sacrificed his happiness for the sake of his family and the family ultimately rejects his presence forcing him to return (waapasi) to a life in isolation all over again. Even his wife does not join him. The return is handled with great skill and sensitivity by the author who does not make it maudlin but just a sense of resignation. His feelings at this time is contrasted with the elation in the family who hurriedly make plans to see a movie the same day after his departure. The point is driven home searingly when his wife instructs her son to remove his cot from her room saying that it was cluttering up the place. The cot, of course, is a metaphor for the station master himself.
4. Chief ki Daawat (Bhisham Sahni):
Shamnath is a middle-level executive eager to ingratiate himself with his boss to climb the corporate ladder. He has invited his American boss and some senior colleagues for dinner at home. He and his wife are busy making preparations for the perfect evening. Shamnath is a fastidious person and wants to make the most perfect arrangement for the party. However, there is a problem. His mother. Shamnath thinks she is backward, inarticulate, clumsy and he is keen to altogether avoid any contact of his mother with the guests. He thinks it would be severe embarrassment for him and a dampener on the party if the guests, specially his American boss chance upon her. Elaborate instructions are given to her on where she could “hide” during specific times during the evening depending on where the guests would be at that time. She is forbidden to go to her room and sleep as her snores would disturb the party. As her misfortune would have it, despite all her efforts she falls asleep and hence does not adhere to the hiding script authored by her son. The chief sees her and engages her in small chat about Punjabi folk traditions, music and handicrafts. He is specially interested in Phulkari, the traditional embroidery from Punjab. Mother feels very guilty at having come in the way and she regrets spoiling the chances of Shamnath’s career with her rustic ways. Shamnath smells an opportunity here to ingratiate himself with his boss makes his mother promise a piece of Phulkari to the boss.
This story by Bhisham Sahni (also known for his novel “Tamas” ) was written in the 50’s. Even after 50 years you can still closely identify with the characters, the upwardly mobile executive and the simple (perhaps unlettered) mother. The story is simply told and entirely believable. Amar takes the mother for granted throughout even in the end when he nearly forces her to commit to the phulkari. The mother is clueless on how to handle herself but her overwhelming feeling is that she is worthless and should not come in the way of Amar’s guests, She even contemplates shifting permanently to Haridwar. The mother’s initial shock, then confusion on how to react to the chief in their chance encounter is feelingly narrated. The “how-do-you-do”, the handshake, the request for a song and then the request for a piece of phulkari, you cannot help but feel an outpouring of sympathy for the mother. Shamnath, of course, is back to his usual self when his guests depart when he bamboozles his mother yet again to ensure that the chief’s request is complied with.
5. Eidgah (Premchand)
Hamid, a 5 year old orphan, stays in a village with his grandmother who barely makes ends meet by doing odd jobs in the village. Hamid joins a group of kids going to the city with their parents for Eid prayers. The kids are relatively well-to-do and they indulge in expensive toys at the fair after the prayers are over. They also have various drinks and snacks. Hamid is tempted by the array of toys and the snacks but his grandmother has given him only three paise from the eight paise she has with her. Hamid sees a hardware stall at the fair and thinks of his grandmother making rotis. Her hand gets singed as she bakes the rotis over the flames. Hamid buys a pair of tongs (chimta, in Hindi) for her with the three paise he has. The other kids laugh at Hamid at this ridiculous purchase. Hamid argues that his is the most sensible buy as it would would survive till much after their toys get damaged or destroyed. He convinces them that the tongs is a multi-purpose tool; placed on his shoulder it becomes a gun, handled appropriately it becomes a musical instrument, wielded with skill against the enemy it can be used as a weapon of destruction as well. The kids are now very impressed by Hamid’s arguments and they desperately want to buy one for themselves. But it is too late by then as it is time to return to their village. They are jealous of Hamid’s purchase and they exchange their toys in turn with Hamid to play with his tongs. Hamid returns home and gifts his grandmother the tongs. Her initial anger at this seemingly ridiculous purchase turns to deep love and then she begins crying at the kid’s thoughtfulness.
Your heart goes out to Hamid, innocent and at once mature, who defends his purchase with his friends. Premchand’s handling of the conversation among the kids when they set out for the eidgah and then as they make their purchases is a joy to read. He seems to have total command over understanding of child psychology. I have read this story several times in the past but it never fails to move me; specially the ending where the author says that the overwhelmed grandmother becomes a kid as she cries over the gift in front of the “grown-up” and mature Hamid.
To be continued
Link to Part 1:
Link to Part 3: