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Invitation

(This is a feeble translation of "Nimantran", a story by Munshi Premchand. The objective is merely to exhort readers to read the original story, or a better translation. This is a hilarious story about two friends who are always on the lookout for free meals. Their vocation is such that they do get invited to feasts quite often. Whenever one friend gets invited, he takes the other along. One day, one of the friends gets invited to a feast hosted by a prominent family. He decides to take his family along with him instead of the friend. That is when all the fun, rather the tragedy, starts.)

Pandit Moteram Shashtri entered his house running a hand fondly over his enormous belly and sang out this verse at the top of his voice: "The python is nobody's serf; the birds don't work for anyone; it is the Lord who provides for all."

"Do you have some good news?" Sona asked excitedly.

"I have done it!" Shashtriji said. "I have accomplished a marvelous feat today! I have been invited to a feast! The invitation is for the entire family! I will eat so much that others will marvel at my appetite. My tummy is already grumbling with impatience!"

Sona: "Are you sure you have been invited? You might land up in an embarrassing situation like the last time."

Moteram twirled his moustache and said, "Don't utter blasphemous words; this auspicious day has come after much praying. Go and make whatever preparation you need to make."

Sona: "I will do that. Don't I know all about it; I haven't spent an idle life. But are you certain the entire family has been invited?"

Moteram: "Now, what can I say to convince you? Yes, the invitation is for the whole family; if you don't understand that, you may ask me again. Everyone cannot understand the words which come out of the mouth of the wise. But, then, if everyone did understand the words of the wise, then what would be the worth of their wisdom? Tell me, could you grasp that? I have explained the thing in very simple terms, but you could not understand. The rani-sahiba of Muradapur wishes to feed seven brahmins and she has left it to me to decide who should be invited. Now, when we have Alguram Shashtri, Beniram Shashtri, Chhediram Shashtri, Bhavaniram Shashtri, Fekuram Shashtri, and Moteram Shashtri already in the house why should I go searching for brahmins outside?"

Sona: "And who is the seventh?"

Moteram: "Use your brains!"

Sona: "Bring home a platter of food for me."

Moteram: "Bah! That would be disgraceful! You can enjoy the real taste of food only when you eat it as an honoured guest. Listen, the seventh brahmin is Pandit Sonaram Shashtri."

Sona: "Don't tease me. How can I go?"

Moteram: "It is in difficult situations like this that one has to use their intelligence. The wise people turn situations into their slaves while the foolish weep at their fate. Do you know what distinguishes Sonadevi from Sonaram Shashtri? It is just the dress. Drape your sari like my dhoti, put on my coat, and wrap a shawl over your shoulders. I will tie a turban around your head. Who, then, can recognize you?"

Sona laughed at the ludicrous suggestion. "I will feel very shy."

Moteram: "You have nothing to do there; it is I who will be doing all the talking."

The vision of sumptuous food floated in Sona's mind, and she said, "It will be fun."

Moteram: "Hurry up then; get ready."

Suddenly a thought occurred to Sonadevi. She asked, "What do I do about these toe rings?"

Moteram scowled at her and said, "Remove them, what else!"

But Sonadevi was reluctant. "Oh no, I won't remove them," she said.

Moteram pondered for a while and said, "Alright, keep wearing them. But wrap a cloth around your feet to make them appear swollen; I will say that this pandit suffers from filaria. How is that?"

Sonadevi looked at her husband in admiration.

In the evening, Panditji called his five sons and gave them proper instructions. "You must carefully consider all eventualities before undertaking a task," he told them. "Suppose the rani-sahiba starts asking you about yourselves, what will you tell her? It will be foolish if you tell her that I am your father; just imagine how embarrassing it will be for me; a learned man like me resorting to subterfuge for a free meal! So, for a while, forget that you are my children; no one must utter my name. There is no dearth of names; choose any which you like and tell it to the rani-sahiba if she asks. It isn't a crime to change the father's name."

Algu: "Do suggest the names yourself."

Moteram: "Alright. Yes, that's right; it is I who must decide on such an important matter. Listen, Algu's father is Pandit Keshav Pande. Now, remember that; don’t forget. Beniram's father is Pandit Mangru Ozha; keep that in mind. Chhediram's father is Pandit Damri Tiwari; don’t forget. Bhavani, you must say your father is Gangu Pande; learn the name by heart. Now for Fekuram; son, you identify your father as Seturam Pathak. So, there, everyone has a new name now. Okay, I will take a test. Be on the alert. Algu what is your father's name?"

Algu: "Pandit Keshav Pande."

"Beniram, what is your father's name?"

Beniram: "Damri Tiwari."

Chediram: "Hey, that's my father's name!"

Beni: "Oh, I forgot!"

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