Captain Sir

(This is a feeble translation of "Kaptaan saab", a story by Munshi Premchand. The objective is to urge readers to read the original story or better translations. Jagatsingh hates school. He likes to play pranks and annoy people. His parents and siblings cannot tolerate his presence, and he has almost become an outcast. Jagatsingh falls prey to bad habits; he requires money to satisfy these habits. He steals money from home, and when he cannot lay hands on money he carries away utensils and clothes, which he sells to scrap dealers or dealers in second-hand goods.

Jagatsingh's father is employed in a post-office. Once he brings home a registered envelope belonging to a customer because it would have been unsafe to leave it in the post-office. Jagatsingh tears open the envelope and finds money inside. He regrets his act but conflicting thoughts overcrowd his mind and he, finally, takes all the money and runs away from home.

Bhaktsingh, Jagatsingh's father, is held guilty of stealing the post-office customer's money and sentenced to five years imprisonment. Jagatsingh, meanwhile, enlists in the army and is required to serve in the then British-administered territory of Aden. Jagatsingh has committed many acts of bravery and is admired; he is a changed person! Jagatsingh looks back upon his life, and feels remorseful for causing so much grief to his father.

Bhaktsingh has completed his term and is set to be released. But he isn't keen on going home; his home is ruined. Memories of his estranged son came gushing to him: "What has become of the boy? He may be bad, but he is my son after all. He will at least shed a few tears when I die." Bhaktsingh walks out of the prison rather unwillingly - it had become a home for him all these years. Once outside the prison gates, he would be a destitute! But Bhaktsingh's fears are unfounded; Jagatsingh has come to take him home!

A simple story but with an important takeaway. A child is shaped and moulded according to the environment. Loving and caring parents, and lots of love - that's what a child craves for. A child nurtured in an environment of love and affection will grow up into a loving and affectionate adult; if the child grows up in a vicious environment, the result could be quite different.)

Jagatsingh hated school; going to school, to him, was worse than taking a dose of quinine or cod liver oil. He loved to roam around, or go out on excursions. He could often be found in somebody else's guava orchard relishing both the fruit as also the gardener's abuses; sometimes he hopped onto the boats of the ferrymen, and went over to explore the villages on the other side of the river. Nothing delighted him more than to hear the angry oaths of the victims of his escapades; he never missed any opportunity which promised to invite the wrath of those at the receiving end of his mischiefs.

Nothing gave him more pleasure than to run after tongas clapping his hands in glee, to tug at rickshaws from behind, or to mimick the gait of the elderly. The lazy do no work, but fall prey to bad habits; these bad habits cannot be satisfied without money. So it was with Jagatsingh too; he stole money from home. When he could not lay his hands on money he did not hesitate to carry off utensils and clothes. There were innumerable flasks and bottles in his house which gradually found their way to the scrap dealers. There were quite a few antique articles, but none remained owing to his onslaught. He was so adept in this art of carrying away things that one could only marvel at his skill. Once, he surreptitiously scaled up the columns of his two-floor house to reach the terrace from where he picked up a bronze plate, and climbed down as quitely as before; No one in the house heard even the faintest sound!

His father, Thakur Bhaktsingh, was a clerk in the post office. Bhaktsingh had been able to obtain a transfer to a city post office after much pleading with his superiors; but the reasons for which Bhaktsingh had sought the transfer remained unfulfilled. It was, in fact, a bad bargain. He could obtain vegetables and fuel for free in the villages; but, here, those freebies were unavailable. Under such circumstances, Jagatsingh's thievery compounded his woes. The distressed father had mercilessly thrashed his son on several occasions. Jagatsingh was a big and strong lad, but he silently suffered the whipping; if he wanted he could have grabbed his father's hands, and Bhaktsingh would not have been able to free them from the vice-like grip. But Jagatsingh was not direspectful; yes, the thrashings and scoldings had no effect on him whatsoever.

Jagatsingh's presence in the house was resented by one and all. His mother would come running to shoo him away and his sisters start cursing the moment he entered the house as if some bull had forced its way into the home. Poor Jagatsingh had to slink away on such occasions; he would remain away from home for two-three days, eat whatever he could obtain or stay hungry, and sleep wherever he could lie down. The family hated the sight of him. Jagatsingh had become immune to such humiliating behavior.

The family members, after becoming acquainted with his ways, were always on alert. Once, for a whole month, Jagatsingh could not lift anything from the house. The dope peddlers, who supplied him with cannabis and marijuana, began demanding their money, and the sweet-meat shop owner would let out a stream of oaths whenever he came in sight. It had become impossible for Jagatsingh to step out of the house. He was always on the lookout for some opportunity but he could not lay his hands on anything.

Finally, an opportunity presented itself one day. Bhaktsingh returned from the post office in the afternoon carrying an insured registered envelope in his pocket - the envelope had not been delivered to the receiver yet, and it would have been unsafe to keep it lying in the post office. However, upon returning home Bhaktsingh forgot to remove the envelope from the shirt pocket.

Jagatsingh was lying in wait. As soon as his father removed the shirt and withdrew, Jagatsingh pounced upon it, rummaged through the pockets in the hope of finding some coins, and discovered the envelope. There were a number of stamps on the envelope which were not yet post-marked. Jagatsingh had, in the past, removed stamps from envelopes and sold them at half their price. If he had he known that there were currency notes in the envelope he would not have touched it. But he did not know. When he tore open the envelope and discovered the currency notes, Jagatsingh realized he was in deep trouble. It appeared as though the torn envelope was cursing him for his misdeeds. Jagatsingh found himself in a situation similar to that of a bird hunter who trains his guns on a bird but hits an onlooker by mistake. Jagatsingh was overcome by a potpourri of emotions: he regretted his act, he felt ashamed of himself, and he felt sad; but he lacked the courage to face punishment for his crime. He replaced the notes in the envelope and withdrew.

It was a warm afternoon; everybody in the house was taking a siesta. But there was no sleep in Jagatsingh's eyes. It was certain he would be severely reprimanded for his misdeed; it would be unwise to remain home under such circumstances. The solution that presented to him was to go away for a few days and return after anger against him had calmed. He had to go somewhere far away where he would not be recognized. But he needed money for that. Why not remove a single note from the envelope? As it is, upon finding the envelope torn open his father would at once realize it was his doing and punish him; so why not face the punishment after removing a single note? Father had money, and he would have to replace the missing note anyway. Jagatsingh removed a ten-rupee note from the envelope. However, a new thought now played mischief in his mind. It would be fun if he took away all the money and established a shop with the money in a different city! If he had a shop of his own, he wouldn't have to steal from anybody! He would return home after making a lot of money within a few days; everyone would be surprised.

There were 200 rupees in the envelope; with 200 rupees he could open a shop to sell milk. Look at the sweetmeat shop owner - he had only a few brass utensils and nothing more, but lived in style. He smoked several rupees worth of cannabis and staked ten rupees while gambling. Could he have lived in such style had he not been earning profits? The thoughts had done their mischief and Jagatsingh was incapable of taming his mind. It was as though he had tripped while walking along the beach and the waves had swept him away. The same evening he quietly walked out of home, and boarded a train for Mumbai. The next day a case was filed against post office clerk Bhaktsingh for embezzlement.


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