The Old Aunt

(This is only a poor translation of "Boodhi Kaki", a story by Munshi Premchand. The objective is merely to exhort readers to read the original story or a better translation. You may find a summary of the story on the last page.)

Old age is often the reappearance of childhood. Except for the sense of taste, the aged aunt had lost the use of all her other senses. Her eyesight and limbs had called it a day. She had no means other than to weep to attract attention to her sufferings. If the family members did something against her wishes, or if it was past mealtime and she did not get food, or if she was not given her share of something nice brought from the market, the old aunt expressed her sorrow by weeping. And her weeping was no ordinary weeping; she wailed at the top of her voice!

Her husband had departed this world long ago. Her son also had passed away. Now she had nobody other than a nephew. She had bequeathed all her property to him. The nephew had made tall promises when she willed the property in his name, but those promises were like the empty promises made by brokers at the porters' depot. Although the annual returns from the property yielded a sufficient amount, the old aunt hardly ever enjoyed a full meal. It cannot be decisively stated as to who was more responsible for the aunt's neglect — the nephew, Pandit Buddhiram, or his wife, Rupa. Buddhiram, by nature, was a gentleman, but only so long as his finances were not threatened. Rupa, it is true, had a sharp tongue, but she was a god-fearing woman; the old aunt could bear Rupa's sharp tongue more than she could bear Buddhiram's gentleness.

Buddhiram, occasionally, repented his behavior toward the aunt. It is for the property that I am acting a gentleman, he admitted to himself. He would have had no objections if Kaki's life could have been improved through mere assurances and dry sympathies. But the worries of extra expenses incurred on her kept his good intentions in check. He would get angry if the aunt chose to wail just when there were guests in the house; he would scold her severely then. Boys have a natural dislike for the old. When they observed how their parents behaved towards the aunt, they did not feel it wrong to harass the Kaki by sometimes pinching her and sometimes sprinkling water over her; the aunt protested by wailing. But it had come to be assumed that she only howled when hungry, so no one took notice of her. If the aunt in her rage dared to reprimand the boys with harsh words, Rupa would instantly arrive to defend her children. The aunt, scared of Rupa's rebukes, therefore rarely employed her tongue as a weapon.

The aunt was fond of only one person in the family — Buddhiram's little daughter, Ladli. The girl, scared of her two brothers, preferred to eat her share of sweets in the aunt's room — this was the perfect hideout for her. However, the protection would prove somewhat costly because of the old woman's fondness for food and sweets. Ladli had to give her a share of the sweets. But, then, this was the only place that offered Ladli safety from her brothers. This symbiotic relationship had ripened into an affectionate bond between the two.

It was late in the evening. Musicians were playing "shehnai" at Buddhiram's home, and a large group of wide-eyed children from the village was enjoying the music. Guests relaxed on cots while barbers massaged their bodies. A village minstrel stood singing paeans in praise of the family. From time to time, some of the guests showed their appreciation for the family by uttering encouraging words like "Wah! Wah!" which made the poet feel very proud of himself as though he were the real claimant of all the admiration. There were two or three youths who had received education in English. They stood aside, feeling it below their dignity to mix with these rustics.

It was the pre-wedding ceremony of Buddhiram's eldest son, Mukhram, and the celebration was organized for that reason. Women were singing inside the house while Rupa was busy preparing a feast. There were large vessels on the stoves, in which delicious food was getting cooked for the guests; a tantalizing aroma spread in the house.

The old aunt was sitting dejectedly in her room and the aroma reaching her nostrils made her restless. She was troubled by all kinds of gloomy thoughts: "It isn't likely they will serve me food; it is so late, yet no one has come with the food; it seems everyone has finished their meals and nothing is left for me." These gloomy thoughts made the aunt miserable, and she wanted to wail. But she held back her tears for fear of desecrating such a pious event.

The aroma continued to tease her and prompted her to cry, but she remained silent, fearing a scolding from Rupa. The old woman could not reveal her sufferings to anyone; today, Ladli, too, had not come to her room. The two boys, who usually were always nearby, were nowhere to be seen today. She could have at least asked them what food Rupa was cooking.


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