Hidden Treasure

(This is only a feeble translation of 'Guptadhan', a story by Munshi Premchand. Our objective is to urge readers to read the original story or better translations. We have included a summary of the story on the last page.)

Babu Haridas owned a brick kiln, which was close to the city. Hundreds of men, women, and boys from nearby villages came to the kiln every day. They picked up the bricks, carried them on their heads, and arranged them in neat rows outside. A man always sat near the kiln with a basket full of shells, which he gave away to the workers according to the number of bricks they had brought out of the kiln — the more bricks the workers carried, the more shells they received.

In their greed to earn more, many workers struggled to transfer more bricks than their strength permitted. It was pitiful to watch aged people and children straining under the burden of the bricks. Sometimes, Babu Haridas himself sat by the side of the distributor of shells and egged the workers to work harder. Some days, there would be an excessive demand for bricks. On these occasions, the scene was much more pitiful. The workers received double wages at such times, and they tried to carry twice the number of bricks than they possibly could; it was with great effort that they could take a step forward. The workers, bent almost double under the mountain load of bricks on their heads, would be drenched in sweat from head to toe and covered with ash from the kiln. It seemed as if the ghost of greed had thrown them to the ground and was now riding on their heads.

The condition of one little boy was most miserable. He carried double the number of bricks than the other boys of his age. He worked hard throughout the day and did not rest. He was so frail and looked so sorrowful that anyone would have felt pity for him. Among the rest of the boys, some bought jaggery from the grocer and ate it; some enjoyed watching the one-horse carriages and buggies on the road; a few others displayed their muscle power and power of words in personal combats. But this poor boy paid attention to nothing else other than his work. He showed no boyish naughtiness, did not play pranks, was not playful, and did not even smile. Babu Haridas would feel sorry for the boy. He sometimes gestured to the clerk to give the boy a few more shells than his due and, sometimes, offered the boy food.

One day, Babu Haridas asked the boy to sit by his side and asked him about himself. The boy told him he lived in the neighbouring village. Other than his old mother, there was no one else in the family. The mother was suffering from a chronic illness, so the boy had to manage the house. There was no one to even cook food for him. He cooked food after returning home in the evening and fed his mother. Once upon a time, the family had owned some land and a sugar mill and was prosperous. But rivalry and jealousy between brothers had brought such misery to the family that now there was not enough even to eat. The boy's name was Magan Singh.

Haridas asked, "Don't the villagers help you?"

Magan: "If it were within their power, they would kill me. They think there is treasure hidden in my house."

The boy belongs to an ancestral family; there must be some inherited valuables in the house, Haridas thought to himself. "Has your mother said nothing about this to you?" he asked out of curiosity.

Magan: "No, sir. We do not have a single paisa. If we had money, why would mother suffer so much?"

Babu Haridas was so pleased with Magan Singh that he promoted the boy and took him into his employment. Babu Haridas appointed the boy to distribute the shells among the workers, and he instructed the clerk to teach Magan Singh to read and write. The poor boy's fortunes seemed to smile.

Magan Singh was dutiful and intelligent. He never came late for work and never remained absent. Within a few days, the boy won the babu-saheb's trust. He was also good at his studies.

It was the rainy season. The rainwater had filled up the kiln, and all work had stopped. Magan Singh had not reported for work for three days. Haridas was worried; what could be the matter? Was the boy sick, or had he met with an accident? He made inquiries, but no one knew. Haridas went to Magan Singh's house on the fourth day after asking for directions from people. The house was in ruins but, nevertheless, reminded the visitors of its past splendour. Magan Singh came out of the house on hearing Haridas' calls.

"Why didn't you come to work all these days? How is your mother?" Haridas asked.

Magan Singh said in a choked voice, "Amma is very ill; she says she will not live long. She asked me many times to bring you here, but I did not want to trouble you. But now that you have come, please meet her; she will feel happy."

Haridas went inside. The whole house contained nothing of value; there were only heaps of bricks and stones all around. Everywhere you saw, there was only destruction. There were only two rooms that were fit for living. Haridas entered one of the rooms pointed out by Magan Singh. He saw an old woman lying on a rotting wooden plank; she was groaning in distress.

The woman opened her eyes at the sound of footsteps and immediately guessed who had come. "You are very kind to come here; I wished to see you," she said.

"You are now my son's guardian. Please, take care of him as you have done so far. My ill-fated days are over; please give me a proper farewell.

"Once upon a time, Goddess Laxmi resided in our house, but she also turned away her face when bad days befell us.

"Our forefathers, anticipating bad days, had entrusted some funds to the care of Mother Earth. They had recorded the details and whereabouts of the funds in a document and carefully preserved it. But sometime in the past, the document got lost, and we could not find it. Magan's father searched for it everywhere without success; if we had discovered it, our condition would not have been so miserable.

"Three days ago, I found the document among waste papers. I have kept it hidden. Where is Magan; is he outside?

"The document is in the box near the bed head. Everything is written in the document, including the location of the place where the valuables are buried. Please dig up the valuables whenever you get the opportunity and give them to Magan.

"I wanted to tell you about the document, so I kept asking Magan to bring you to me. I do not trust anybody other than you. Righteousness does not exist in the society any longer; whom can you trust?"

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