6. Mare Gaye Gulfam (Phanishwar Nath Renu)
Hiraman, is a bullock-cart driver operating in the northern districts of Bihar, the parts abutting Nepal. He became a widower shortly after marriage. He has remained single ever since. He ekes out a living transporting all kinds of stuff (including, once, a circus tiger). One day he gets a passenger, Hirabai, a young and pretty nautanki performer who is traveling to join her new troupe. An immediate bond gets struck between the two due to the common root of their names (“Hira”). It is a long journey which Hiraman tried to make pleasant by singing village songs to her and also telling her stories about the region. His simplicity and the concern he shows for her through the two day long journey endears him to Hirabai. Hiraman in turn is completely taken in by her beauty, her voice, wafts of perfume emanating from her. Hiraman thoughtfully buys for her the rural repast of chiwda and dahi, and she asks him to have it along with her much to his embarrassment. They arrive at their destination and now is the time for them to part. Hirabai wants him to stay for a few more days and organizes free passes for Hiraman and his friends for the nautanki she is performing in. The nautanki experience is the first time ever for Hiraman. In the initial minutes of the commencement of the nautanki, a villager in the audience makes some vulgar remarks about Hirabai. Hiraman can not bear this and he beats up the guy. The show gets suspended as the mayhem spreads and the police is called in. It is then Hiraman tells the show manager that they are here as guests of Hirabai and hold special passes. Peace is restored. Hiraman watches this show for ten nights continuously enraptured by the aura of Hirabai. He has even decided to tell Hirabai not to work in the nautanki company but find a job elsewhere to avoid people from gossiping about her. The suddenly on the tenth day, he is informed by a friend of his that Hirabai is has summoned him at the railway station. He discovers that she is quitting the town and returning to here old nautanki company. There is an emotional farewell before the train leaves. Hiraman is totally shattered by this development. The story ends with Hiraman setting off to return to his village as he finds no charm in staying back when Hirabai is not around.
This story was written sometime in the late 50’s/ early 60’s by Phanishwar Nath Renu. A warm and at-once a heart-breaking story of a platonic relationship between two unlikely protagonists, a bullock-cart wallah and a nautanki dancing star. The way Renu develops the relationship, tentative initially, and then getting warmer; the bond which develops between the two. There is a lot of respect for each other, and mutual affection. She is more demonstrative of the two, calling him Mita, Ustaad, Guruji etc. She even places her hand on his shoulder to emphasize a point. He is ever respectful, but totally captivated by her. You cannot but help feel the deep anguish of Hiraman when he has to bid the final good-bye to Hirabai at the railway platform. You can nearly feel his eyes misting with the thought that she will not be around. Another beauty of this story is the evocative use of the language of the region. Here is what goes through Hiraman’s mind when he sees Hirabai having chiwda and dahi: “laal hothon par goras ka paras. Pahadi totay (parrot) ko doodh bhaat khatey huey dekha hai?” And his description of Hirabai’s voice: “Bachchon ki boli jaisee maheen, phenugilaasi boli.” One could go on-and-on.
PS: This story was made into a movie- “Teesri Kasam”- starring Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman. While it was a failure at the box office, it won the best feature film award in 1967. It had some great songs as well: “Sajan re jhooth mat bolo”, “Chalat musafir moh liya re pinjarey waali muniya”, “Mare gaye gulfam”, “Sajanwa bairi ho gaye hamaar”, “Paan khaye saiyan hamaar”. The first two kasams referred to in the story are: One: Not to ferry contraband goods across the India-Nepal border as he got into some trouble doing this. Two: Not to ferry bamboo as he had got involved in an accident involving a horse-cart which was damaged due to the long bamboos being carried in his cart. And the third kasam he makes: Never again to take a nautanki dancer as a passenger in his bullock-cart.
7. Parda (Yashpal)
Choudhari Peerbakhsh, is the head of a large lower middle-class family. His forefathers were relatively well-to-do though the Choudhari’s immediate family has to survive with his meager salary of Rs 18 as a low-paid clerk in an oil mill. The salary has progressively risen in the past fifteen years from Rs 12 but this rise has not been enough to take care of the ever-growing family of an old mother, the couple and their five offspring. They stay in a rented house in a run-down working class locality with cobblers, washermen and laborers as neighbors. Choudhari is respected in his neighborhood thanks to his white-collared job and the fact that there is a parda (curtain) at the entrance door to his house. The parda is what protects the dignity of the Choudhari household, both literally and figuratively. Over generations the quality of the parda has degenerated, but a parda is a parda, irrespective of the material it is made of. The Choudhari is forever in penury, his salary refuses to keep pace with the growth in his family and the rising cost of living. His employer is loathe to give him advances and loans and consequently he takes recourse to the Pathan money-lender (“kabuli wallah”). The Pathan is easy with the loan but is tough on recovery. When Choudhari misses an installment, the Pathan makes a big ruckus and haunts the Choudhari day and night to recover it. The Choudhari tries to escape the visits of the Pathan till one morning he is accosted for the dues. The Choudhary pleads helplessness which the Pathan does not unbelieve. Thanks to the parda which hangs on the main door, the Pathan believes that the Choudhari is well-to-do and has assets hidden inside the house. Finally, in desperation, the Pathan tugs at the parda which falls off exposing the near naked female members of the household who have only this parda to take care of their modesty. The neighbors, who have been watching the going-on turn their heads away, the Pathan walks away in shame while the Choudhari faints in abject humiliation. When he regains consciousness he has no motivation to reinstall the parda as he now stands totally defeated and realizes that the parda, which concealed the household’s penury has no purpose left to serve anymore.
Those, dear readers, were my seven favorite Hindi stories. As I said earlier, such lists are very personal and you may have a different list of your own. Please share your selection with me. And do comment on how you found my piece. You could either post your comment here on this blog or you could mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nothing like a comment from a reader to encourage a writer!
Here is a link to a site which has 5 of the 7 I have discussed here. Unfortunately, I could not locate Parda and Eidgah on the net, I am sure some diligent Googling would unearth these too.