A winter's night


(This is a feeble translation of a story by Munshi Premchand. The objective is merely to exhort readers to read the original or better translations. This story depicts the poverty of farmers. The farmers work hard, yet they receive hardly any income from their produce. Halku is a tenant farmer - he grows crops on the land belonging to a landlord. The landlord comes to collect his dues. Halku has only three rupees which is in the custody of his wife. Munni, his wife, refuses to hand over the money because she wants Halku to buy a blanket with that money; Munni knows about the hardships that her husband has to suffer during the cold winter nights while guarding the crops against intruders and animals. Munni wants Halku to give up farming because it scarcely helped in making ends meet; instead, she wants Halku to work as a labourer so that he could be assured of regular wages. It is a cold winter's night, and Halku is out in the field with just an old shawl to protect himself against the biting cold. Apart from depicting the poverty of the farmer, the story also depicts the friendship between man and dog. Jabra is unclean and his body stinks, yet Halku finds the dog to be the most endearing companion. Disregarding the stench, Halku picks up the dog and presses it to his own body; the warmth provided by the dog's body is very comforting! Halku enters a mango orchard near his field. He gathers up the dry leaves and lights a bonfire. The master and dog warm themselves by the fire. The faithful and dutiful dog, however, becomes aware of grazing animals destroying their crops. He leaves the warmth, and darts out into the cold to chase away the animals. But it is so chilly that Halku is unwilling to leave the warmth of the bonfire. He pretends that he is only imagining things, and that Jabra is barking his head off for nothing. But, finally, Halku cannot deceive himself any longer; he knows for certain that grazing animals are destroying his crops. He must get up and chase them away. Halku does make an effort to leave the warmth but the chill forces him to return back to the bonfire, and he soon falls asleep. He is woken up in the morning by his wife. Munni is sad because the crops have been destroyed. But Halku is happy! The reason: he won't have to spend the cold nights in the field anymore because there were now no crops to guard!)

Halku came and told his wife, "Sahana has come to collect the dues; give me the money you have set aside. I will pay him up; I can breathe easy after that."

Munni was sweeping the floor. She turned and said, "There are only three rupees. If you give that away how can you buy a blanket? How will you spend the winter months in the fields? tell him you will pay him after the harvest, not now."

For a moment Halku stood in a state of uncertainty thinking over the matter. The coldest winter days were almost knocking at the door; it was impossible to sleep in the field without a blanket on such chilly nights. But Sahana was not likely to give in; he would insult and hurl abuses. Better pay him up and get rid of the trouble.

Halku was a heavyset man, and not the lightweight person as his misleading name suggested. He came closer to his wife and pleaded, "Give the money; let me get rid of this trouble. I will think up something else for the blanket."

Munni moved away and rolling her eyes said scornfully, "Yes, you will think up something else! Let's hear what you will do. Is someone going to present you with a free blanket? Don't know how much we owe; no matter how much we pay, our debts don't ever seem to become any less! Why don't you give up tenant farming? You work yourself to death, and yet if there is a good harvest it only goes into paying off debts! It seems as though we were born merely to keep paying our debts all through our lives. Take up employment as a labourer; it will be better than such useless farming? I will not give the money .... I won't."

Halku was depressed. "So, what do I do? Listen to his abuses?"

Munni said angrily, "Why should he abuse you? Does he rule here?"

But she lowered her raised eyebrows immediately. There was in Halku's statement a harsh truth, which was like a deadly germ.

She fetched the money and gave it to Halku. Then she said, "You give up tenant farming. We can at least enjoy our bread peacefully from the money earned through labour. No one will be able to browbeat us then."

Halku took the money and with heavy steps made for the door. He felt very miserable, as though he were about to tear his heart and give it away. He had very carefully saved the three rupees for a blanket; today, he had to give the money away. His head felt heavier with every step he took under the weight of his poverty.


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