The train started. It was a mail train; after commencing its journey from Prayag, it made its first halt only at Pratapgarh. A man entered our compartment. I, immediately, yelled out, "Hey, this is a second-class compartment."
The man looked at me with queer indifference. "Yes, I understand that," he said and took his seat. I felt ashamed at my behaviour.
We reached Moradabad early in the morning. There were a few people at the station to receive us - there were two gentlemen and five coolies. The coolies took charge of our luggage, and the two gentlemen walked behind. One of them was Riyasat Ali and the other Ramharakh. Both of them looked at me with inquiring eyes as though asking, "What is a crow like you doing in the company of a swan?"
"Is this gentleman your classmate?" Riyasat Ali asked Ishwari.
"Yes, we are classmates and stay together as well. It is because of him that I have been able to bear my stay in Allahabad, else I would have returned to Lucknow long ago. This time I forced him to come along with me. There were quite a few telegrams from his parents imploring him to return home for the vacations, but each time I made him send a reply stating he couldn't come. The last telegram was an urgent one which required the sender to pay 25 paise for each word!
Both the gentlemen looked at me in astonishment. "But you go about wearing very simple clothes," Riyasat Ali finally commented in a doubting voice.
Ishwari cleared his doubts. "He is Mahatma Gandhi's follower. He wears only khadi, and has burnt down all his fashionable clothes. The annual revenue from their estates is 2.5 lakh rupees; but anyone looking at his face will assume he has come from an orphanage."
"It is very rare to come across such traits in the rich," Ramharakh said.
Riyasat Ali agreed. "Had you seen King Changli you would have chewed your nails in disbelief. He used to roam around the market wearing coarse clothes and shoes. I have heard he was once mistaken for a coolie."
I was feeling uneasy. But, for some reason, I could find nothing amusing in this white lie at that time. It was as though each sentence drew me nearer to a make-believe world of riches.
I am no horse rider; yes, as a kid, I have ridden packhorses on several occasions. Here, I found two horses all ready to carry us. I nearly fainted at the sight of the animals. I did manage to mount the horse but was trembling all over. Trying to put up a brave front, I allowed my horse to slip behind Ishwari's horse. Realising my predicament, Ishwari rode at an easy pace; else I would have returned home with broken bones.
Ishwari's house was like a castle! The entrance was through an imposing gate that had a sentry walking to and fro; there were innumerable servants; there was an elephant tethered on the grounds. Ishwari introduced me to his parents and relatives in the same exaggerated manner in which he had introduced me to Riyasat Ali and Ramharakh. He told such tall tales that not just the servants but even family members started treating me with respect. Few gentlemen even started addressing me as "sir".
When I found myself alone with him I asked Ishwari why he was spreading lies about me. "This is the best strategy to be adopted with these donkeys, else they will not speak properly with you."
After a while, a barber came to massage our feet since we must be tired after our long journey. Pointing at me, Ishwari ordered the barber to massage my feet first.
I was lying on the charpoy. It was perhaps the first time in my life that anyone had massaged my feet. I, who never failed to chide Ishwari for the idiosyncrasies of the rich people, was today pretending to be one of them.
It was 10 am, and the day's light had only reached the summit of the mountains. But Ishwari's family believed in following old traditions and, so, an early lunch was announced. We went to bathe. I have always folded my own clothes; but here, imitating Ishwari's ways, I left them lying - I was feeling embarrassed to fold my own clothes myself! We went for the meals. While in the hostel, we never gave a second thought when entering the mess wearing shoes. But, here, it was binding to remove the shoes and wash the feet before sitting down for meals. A servant was waiting with a pail of water; Ishwari extended his feet and the servant washed them. I followed Ishwari's example. The servant washed my feet too - my principles seemed to have deserted me.