4

Meanwhile, a few gentlemen from the village arrived there and made themselves comfortable on the pretext of having a smoke. Many women in the village were exhilarated when they heard that Shrikanth had raised the banner of revolt against his father for his wife's sake. They burned with curiosity and craved to hear the words exchanged between father and son. There were some crafty people in the village who were jealous of the Thakur household. They would go about telling all kinds of things: Shrikanth is controlled by his father, he is submissive; Shrikanth is merely a book-worm; Benimadhav seeks Shrikanth's advice on all matters, how silly!

The "good wishes" of these gentlemen seemed ready to be fulfilled today! They arrived - some of them on the pretext of having a smoke, and some wanting to show tax receipts. The old-timer that he was, Benimadhav Singh immediately recognized their true intentions. He was determined, come what may, not to provide any opportunity for these spiteful people to exult.

Benimadhav at once assumed a gentler tone and said, "Son, I am your father and not an outsider. Now that the boy has committed a wrong, you may do whatever you consider is right."

The inexperienced and angry Allahabad-educated graduate could not understand the meaning behind his father's sudden change in behavior; he was accustomed to the codes of the debating clubs where one has to stick to one's own point of view come what may! Completely unaware as to why his father had softened, he stuck to his stand, "I can no longer live in the same house with Lalbihari."

Benimadhav: Son, wise people don't take offence at the outbursts of fools. He is silly. As an elder brother, you must forgive him for his mistakes.

Shrikanth: I can never forgive him for what he has done! Either he lives in this house or I; both of us cannot live in the same house. If you are more fond of him, then I will go; I can bear my own burden. But if you want me to stay, then he has to go - he may go wherever he wishes to go. That's my final decision.

All this while Lalbihari stood by the door and silently listened to the tirades of his elder brother. He respected his elder brother; he could never smoke in front of Shrikanth, or remain seated in the latter's presence. In fact, he respected Shrikanth more than his father. Shrikanth was also very fond of his younger brother; he had, in his right senses, never scolded Lalbihari. Whenever Shrikanth returned home from Allahabad, he would bring along some gift for his brother. The pair of clubs with which Lalbihari exercised was a gift from Shrikanth. Last year when Lalbihari defeated an opponent twice his size in a wrestling competition during the Nagpanchami festival, Shrikanth was so thrilled that he rushed into the ring and embraced his younger brother there itself; he had blown away five rupees to celebrate the victory!

It was sheer agony for Lalbihari to listen today to heart-rending words spoken by such a loving brother. He began to sob uncontrollably; it was evident he was overcome with remorse. A day before Shrikanth was to return home, Lalbihari had been struck with fear: What will brother say? How can I face brother? How can I now ever look him straight in the face? How can I dare to talk to him now?

Lalbihari had hoped that Shrikanth would summon him and admonish him for his wrong-doing; there the matter would end. But his hopes were dashed when he saw Shrikanth unwilling to relent. Lalbihari was dimwitted; but he thought that brother was doing him an injustice. He would not have felt bad had Shrikanth called him and reprimanded him behind closed doors; it would have been alright even if Shrikanth had slapped him. But Shrikanth's avowal that he did not even wish to see his face, was too much for Lalbihari to endure. He went to his room, changed into outdoor clothes, and wiped away his tears so that no one should know he had been crying. Then he went to Anandi's room and said, "Bhabhi, brother has resolved not to stay in the same house with me. He doesn't want to see my face ever; so, I am leaving. I will never again show him my face. Forgive me for whatever wrong I have done."

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