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The holidays came to an end, and it was time to return to Prayag. Quite a large number of villagers came to see us off; the enterprising person accompanied us till the railway station. I played my role to perfection and left a deep impression in everybody's mind regarding my modesty and morality. I wanted to offer presents to everyone, but my pockets were empty. We already had the return tickets; the only thing that needed to be done was to board the train when it arrived.
When the train arrived, it was bursting at the seams with passengers. People were returning after spending the Durga Puja vacations in their villages. There was not enough space in the second class coaches to accommodate even a sesame seed; the situation in the inter-class coaches was worse. This was the last train and we had to board it under any circumstances. Somehow we managed to squeeze ourselves into a third-class coach. Here too our wealth spoke and people made some space for us, but I wasn't very happy travelling in that coach. We had come in great comfort but were returning in a shriveled condition. There was not enough space to even shift position.
There were several educated people in the coach who were talking among themselves and eulogizing British governance. "You cannot see such an impartial judicial system anywhere else; the rich and the poor are all equal before the law. Even the king cannot expect a reprieve from the courts if he has committed a wrong," one gentleman said.
"Sir, you can file a suit against the emperor himself," another gentleman said endorsing the statement of the first.
One man, who had a huge bundle tied to his back, was going to Kolkata. He could not find space to put down his bundle and this was causing him much discomfort. Feeling uncomfortable, the man would make his way to the door every now and then for a whiff of fresh air. I was sitting by the door. During his struggles to the door, the man's bundle always brushed against my face; I did not like this at all. Besides, when the rustic came and stood in front of me, he blocked the breeze. I found that very stifling. I suffered this agony in silence for some time but could not take it any longer. In a sudden fit of rage, I caught hold of the man, pushed him aside, and slapped him hard.
"Why are you hitting me, babuji? We have also paid the fare," he said rolling his eyes at me.
I rose and slapped him again. There was a storm in the coach, and a hail of insults came hurling at me from every side.
"If you are so tender, why didn't you board the first-class coach?"
"If he is wealthy, he had better display his wealth in his own home. If he had he hit me, I would have shown him his place."
"What wrong did the poor fellow commit? There is no space in the coach even to breathe; the poor man only went up to the door to catch a whiff of fresh air. And, he has been slapped for that! Do people lose their humanity completely after becoming rich?"
"This is also an instance of the British governance you were singing praises of."
A villager chipped in with his characteristic rustic accent, "Daftaran ma ghoos pavat nahi, oos par itta mijaz (He isn't allowed to enter any office, yet acts high-and-mighty)"
The scene had greatly embarrassed Ishwari. He snapped out at me in English, "What an idiot you are, Bir."
I felt as though I was slowly recovering from my state of drunken stupor.
Summary of the Story
Ishwari and Bir are friends and fellow students who stay together in a hostel. Ishwari's father is a wealthy landlord and Bir's father is a poor clerk. Bir always critcizes landlords and describes them as blood-sucking leeches. Ishwari listens to the criticisms without getting offended; he has nothing to say in defence of the landlords.
Bir's hatred for the landlords and his talk of high principles is not due to any love for the poor, but rather it is because of his own poor state; he wished he were wealthy. He would have loved to live a lavish lifestyle; his high principles wouldn't have troubled him then.
During the Dussera vacations, Bir cannot return home because he has no money for the fare. Ishwari invites him to spend the vacation at his place. Ishwari introduces Bir to his family and others as belonging to an influential family. This causes the people to treat Bir with respect. The respect gets to Bir's head and he starts behaving as though he really were from a wealthy family. He is intoxicated by his new status!
However, during their return journey to the hostel in an overcrowded train, matters come to a head when co-passengers take exception to Bir's rude behaviour. That acts like cold water, and Bir finds himself waking up from his drunken stupor.
Some useful links for
- Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
- IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
- Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
- Indian Institute of Technology Madras - www.iitm.ac.in
- Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
- Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
- IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
- Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
- Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
- Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
- Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
- Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
- Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu