Advisory Office

(The title "Nasihaton ka Daftar" had me in a fix. The translation of the title into "Advisory Office" did not strike me as quite right, but I have stuck with it nevertheless. The advisory office advises. It tells what to do and what not to do; how to behave and how not to behave; what to ... and what not to ... The list is endless.

"Nasihaton ka Daftar" is a story by Munshi Premchand. Akshay Kumar is a successful lawyer whose childhood was fraught with struggles; he achieved success late in life. He is known for his miserliness. He does not like to spend money but his wife Hemvati does. Akshay Kumar is like an advisory office, always advising and using his oratory skills to dissuade his wife from spending money.

Dr. Kitchlew is hosting a party because his son has graduated. A play will be staged and Hemvati must portray the role of "Shakuntala". It is an honour for Hemvati to be given the lead role, but Akshay Kumar does not see it that way. The first thing that occurs to him is that he will have to buy costumes for Hemvati. Unnecessary expenditure! So, Akshay Kumar tells his wife that it is immoral to act in plays.

It is a long speech and the emphasis is on morality and ethics. Hemvati knows what the real objection is. She informs that she already has the costumes. In that case, she had better accept to act in the play; it is not wise to annoy doctors. But, she should please consult him when taking such decisions in the future. Akshay Kumar can pat himself on the back for his advisory skills, but subsequent events compel him to shut down the advisory office for good.)


Babu Akshay Kumar was a lawyer in Patna. He was regarded as one of the leading lawyers; in fact, he had almost reached the stage where he was entitled to be awarded the title of "Rai Bahadur", a title of honour in recognition of his service. As it usually happens in the case of successful people, the Babusahib, too, had grown up in extreme poverty. Parents, when scolding their disobedient and naughty children, often cited the example of Babu Akshay Kumar. "Look at Akshay Babu," they told their children, "he learned his lessons under lamp-posts; there was no oil for lamps in his home, so he burnt straw and studied in that light. This is how knowledge is acquired! Today, elephants guard his gates!" There were some imaginative people who swore that Akshay Babu had studied under even the light thrown by fireflies! Of course, the listener had to use his prudence to decide whether fireflies or burning straw could provide stable light.

Whatever may be the truth, the fact is Akshay Kumar did not have an enviable childhood. His years of practice as a lawyer also did not bring a flood of good luck that he had hoped for. And talking about floods ... for years together there was only famine in his life. The hope that all his troubles would be over after donning the black gown proved wrong. The black gown could not brighten up his black fate. He had to wait for several years before better days arrived. When better days did finally arrive and when he began receiving invitations to attend garden parties, and when he started occupying the seat of the chairperson at important meetings, his youth had deserted him. His hair craved the dye; especially so because he had to entertain the beautiful and cheerful Hemvati, whose arrival in his life had fulfilled Babu Akshay Kumar's final aspiration.

Just as charity cloaks the vices of a human being, miserliness veils his good qualities. The miser has many enemies but no friends. Everyone hates the miser. The poor man causes no harm to anyone; he is, generally, a peaceful, calm, and self-respecting person who wishes to live in harmony with others. But the trait of miserliness is painted in black, and no other colour, however dark its shade may be, can show over it. Babu Akshay Kumar was infamous as a miser; but, as is usual, he had earned this title owing to jealousy. You may take this for granted that a person who is described as a miser is, actually, very fortunate and there many who are jealous of him. What harm did Babu Akshay Kumar cause to others if he chose to be tight-fisted? What harm did he cause to others if he lived in a house that was not grand or if he did not employ a team of lazy servants or if he did not go to court in a two-horse carriage? He followed one simple principle in life: keep an eye on the penny and the rupee will take care of itself. He had every right to adhere to this principle with tenacity. It is for these pennies that he had sacrificed the spring of his youth and desires of his heart. It is in the accumulation of these pennies that his health and eyesight had suffered. If he guarded these pennies he did the right thing; in fact, he should have worshipped them.

But the beautiful and cheerful Hemvati was just the opposite. Like her other sisters, she craved luxuries of life. Babu Akshay Kumar was not so dispassionate as to ignore her frivolities that longed for appreciation (no; he sometimes did make an effort to smile indulgently when he observed her decking up with cosmetics). But sometimes when Hemvati disregarded his well-intentioned advice and crossed the limits, Babusahib, on those days, had to expend a portion of his advocacy skills for her benefit.

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