Daughter of a great house

(This is a poor translation of "Bade ghar ki beti", a story by Munshi Premchand. The objective is merely to exhort readers to read the original or better translations. We have included a summary of the story on the last page.)

Benimadhav Singh was zemindar, an aristocratic land owner, in village Gauripur. His grandfather had been a very wealthy person once upon a time. The pucca (high-quality) pond and the temple, whose repairs were now impossible to be undertaken, were the grandfather's gifts to the village. Old-timers say that an elephant used to stand guard at the gate of the mansion. An old buffalo - a mere bag of bones - has now replaced the elephant. But it seems the buffalo produced a lot of milk; someone or the other was always by the buffalo's side with a vessel!

Benimadhav had gifted away a major portion of his property to lawyers; his present annual income was no more than 1000 rupees. The Thakur saheb had two sons. The elder son was called Shrikanth Singh; he had after many years of toil secured a B.A. degree, and was now employed in an office. The younger son, Lalbihari Singh, was a strong and a stylish lad. The first thing that the broad-chested young man did every morning after waking up was to drink two litres of fresh buffalo milk. Shrikanth Singh's state was just the opposite; he had cared nothing for eye-pleasing physique and had, instead, exerted all his energies in appending two letters of the alphabet - B and A - to his name. All the efforts expended in earning a B.A. degree had left him physically weak and pale-looking. He had immense faith in the ayurvedic system of medicine and spent considerable time in its study. The melodious sound of the pestle pounding against the mortar was always to be heard emanating from his room; he regularly corresponded with well-known vaidyas (ayurvedic practitioners) based in Lahore and Kolkata.

Despite receiving an English education, Shrikanth Singh was not an admirer of English culture and traditions; he, in fact, never lost an opportunity to vehemently criticise the English culture. For this reason, he was much respected in the village. He participated in the dussehra festival celebrations enthusiastically, and of his own volition enacted the role of some character or the other from the "Ramayana" on such occasions. Ramlila, the dramatic folk re-enactment on the life of Lord Rama, at Gauripur village was started by him. Shrikanth Singh was an ardent advocate of the ancient Hindu culture. He favoured a joint family system, and felt that the disinclination among women to live in joint families would lead both the community and the country to disaster. Of course, the women in the village disliked his views, and they disparaged him; few of them even regarded him as their enemy! His own wife was opposed to his views! It is not that Shrikanth Singh's wife was hostile towards her in-laws; but she believed that if, in spite of making the best efforts, it was not possible to live cordially in a joint family it would be wise to live separately.

Anandi belonged to a well-established house. Her father, Bhoop Singh, was a talukdar, a land holder who collected taxes from a small estate. Bhoop Singh enjoyed all the perks which were bestowed upon a talukdar - a huge mansion, chandeliers, an elephant, three dogs, an honorary magistracy, and unquestioned credit. He had a kind heart and was talented. Unfortunately, he had no sons; Bhoop Singh had seven daughters. He celebrated the marriage of his first three daughters with great pomp but, in the process, incurred a heavy debt of 15,000 to 20,000 rupees. That jolted him into reality and he stopped being extravagant. Anandi was the fourth daughter; she was brighter and more beautiful than her sisters. For this reason, Thakur Bhoop Singh was very fond of her; beautiful children are often doted upon by their parents. Thakur saheb was in great dilemma when he started planning for Anandi's marriage: he did not want to incur more debt but, then, he also did not wish that his favourite daughter should consider herself as unfortunate. One day, Shrikanth came to Bhoop Singh's house soliciting some kind of donation; perhaps, it was a donation pertaining to the promotion and propagation of Hindi. Bhoop Singh was impressed by the young man's disposition and took an immediate liking to him; Shrikanth Singh and Anandi were soon married.

When Anandi arrived at her new home, she was aghast at what she saw! From childhood she had been raised in luxury, but there was no trace of opulence here. Let alone elephants and horses, there wasn't even a good decorated bullock cart! Anandi had brought along her silk slippers to stroll in the garden; but there was no garden! The rooms had no windows, the floors had no tiles, and there were no wall paintings! This was the home of an ordinary villager! But within a short period, Anandi adjusted herself to the new situation so admirably that an outsider would have found it difficult to believe she had ever enjoyed the luxuries of life.


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