Ghisu just then remembered the marriage of a landlord twenty years ago. He had attended the marriage, and it was one of his sweetest memories. It was a memorable feast, and the memory was still fresh in his mind. "I cannot forget that feast. Such sumptuous meal has never come my way since then. The bride's family had served 'poorees' to everyone in the village; everyone! All the villagers - big or small - ate the 'poorees' which were marinated in pure ghee! There were salad, curd, three kinds of roasted vegetables, one curried vegetable, sweets ..... I cannot describe in words the taste of the food! There were no restrictions; you could ask for any number of servings. People ate so much that they could not even drink water after the meal. The servers ignored all protests of fullness and kept replenishing your plate with food. Even if you shielded the plate with your hands and said you had your fill, they still continued to serve. At the end of the meal, everyone was offered betel leaf and cardamon. After the heavy meal I could not even stand erect; I immediately went and lay on the bed. Such was the generosity of the landlord!
Madhav could only conjure up visions of the meal in his mind. "No one offers us such kinds of meals nowadays," he said.
"Who will serve such meals now? Those were better days. Today, everyone thinks of saving and cutting costs ..... Don't waste money during marriages and rituals. I ask where they keep all the money that they have wrung out of the poor? They think nothing while accumulating, but when it comes to spending then they think of saving."
"You must have eaten twenty 'poorees'?"
"More than twenty."
"I could have eaten fifty."
"I must have eaten no less than fifty. I was strong then; you are not even half my size."
After finishing with the potatoes, the two drank water and lying down by the side of the fire went to sleep, resembling two coiled pythons. Inside the hut, Budhiya was still groaning in pain.
In the morning when Madhav went inside the hut he found his wife had turned cold; flies buzzed over her mouth; the eyes were stony and the whole body was covered in dust. The child inside the womb was dead.
Madhav came running to Ghisu and, then, both of them started wailing at the top of their voices and beat their chests. When the neighbours heard the wails they rushed to the hut and, as per tradition, began to console the two.
But there was not much time for wailing; they had to arrange for the shroud and wood. There was no money in the house - hoping to find even a penny in the house was like expecting to find a piece of meat in an eagle's nest.
Weeping all the while, the father and son went to the landlord's house. The landlord hated their sight. He had thrashed them with his own hands on several occasions for stealing and for disappearing and not completing his work despite having committed to do so. "What's the matter Ghisu-wa? Why are you weeping? You are not to be seen nowadays! It seems like you do not wish to live in this village anymore."
Ghisu bent low, touched his forehead to the ground, and said between sobs, "Sir, I am in deep trouble. Madhav's wife has died. She writhed in agony all through the night; we sat by her side all the time nursing her and administering medicines. But she betrayed us. Now we don't have anyone to provide us with meals. We are ruined; the house is destroyed. I am your slave; you are the only one who can arrange for a decent funeral. We have spent whatever we had on medicines. Where else can I go for help other than knock at your doors, Sir?"
The landlord was kind-hearted, but it was useless to show pity on Ghisu. He wanted to tell Ghisu to go away - as it is, he never came when required; but now that he was in need he had shown himself. Scoundrel! But this was not the occasion to express anger. The landlord unwillingly took out a two rupee note and tossed it across to Ghisu; he did not utter a single word of sympathy. He did not even look at Ghisu; it was as though he had removed a burden from his head.
After the landlord contributed two rupees, the merchants and money-lenders did not dare to hold back. Ghisu was skilled in the art of beating the drum and advertising the landlord's generosity! Some gave away two annas, and few others even gave four annas. Within an hour Ghisu had collected a big sum of five rupees. Foodgrains and wood were also given away. Father and son went to the market in the afternoon to buy a shroud, and the neighbours engaged themselves in cutting down the wood. The women came to pay their last respects to the departed soul and, after shedding a few drops of tears, went their way.
On reaching the market Ghisu remarked, "We have gathered sufficient wood, haven't we Madhav?"
"Yes, there is enough wood. What we need is a shroud."
"Let's buy a cheap shroud then."
"Yes, let's do that. It will be dark by the time the body is taken to the crematorium. No one will notice the shroud in the night."
"What a stupid custom that someone who has not had even rags to cover her body when alive should be wrapped in a new shroud when dead!"
"The shroud, after all, burns away with the body."
"True! If we had only received these five rupees earlier, we could have arranged for some medicines for her."
Each of them was trying to probe the other's mind. They roamed around in the market - sometimes going to this shop, and sometimes to that. They checked all sorts of cloth for the shroud - silk as well as cotton, but could not find anything to their liking. The afternoon gave way to evening, but still they had not been able to buy a shroud. By some quirk of fate they found themselves before a liqour shop, and, as if destined by fate, entered it. For a brief while both stood before the counter in a confused state and, then, Ghisu demanded a bottle from the barkeeper.