The Test

(This is a feeble translation of Pareeksha, a story by Munshi Premchand. The objective is to urge readers to read the original story or better translations. There is a summary of the story on the last page.)

When Sardar Sujan Singh, the minister of the princely state of Deogarh, became old, he wanted to spend his remaining days in the service of God. He went to the potentate and requested, "Oh, Friend of the Poor! This servant has served you for 40 years. Now, I have grown weak, and I do not have enough strength to manage the state's affairs. If I make any mistake now, it will stain my old age. All the good work I have done will be reduced to dust."

The ruler admired his experienced and prudent minister. He tried to make the minister change his mind, but the dewan was firm on his decision. The raja-saheb had to accept the minister's request. But he put a condition: Sujan Singh must select the new dewan for the state.

The next day, all prominent newspapers in the country carried an advertisement. The state of Deograh needs a competent minister, the advertisement read. All those gentlemen who think they are suitable for the post may please present themselves before the present dewan, Sardar Sujan Singh. The candidates need not be graduates, but they must be physically fit. Those suffering from indigestion need not apply. The conduct and behavior of the candidates will be observed for one whole month. The applicants will be tested not for their knowledge but their dedication to duty. The gentleman who succeeds in the test will be selected for this high post.

The advertisement created great excitement in the region. Such a high post but no restrictions! Only the luck of the candidate would matter! Hundreds of aspirants set off to try their luck. New people and persons with colourful personalities began to be seen in Deogarh. All the trains arriving at Deograh would be full of aspirants. There were candidates from Punjab, and there were candidates from Madras. Some aspirants dressed fashionably, and some preferred simple dress. Even pandits and maulavis got an opportunity to try their luck. There was no need for a degree or a certificate here. All kinds of robes, coats, and beanie caps dazzled Deogarh. Although there was no need for a degree or a certificate yet most candidates were graduates. It was a useful cloak for their shortcomings.

Sardar Sujan Singh had made proper arrangements for the stay of the gentlemen. The candidates sat in their rooms and counted the number of days, waiting for the month to end. Every person wanted to show himself in the best light. Mr. A never woke up before 9 a.m. at home, but here he would be found strolling in the garden for the first sight of the rising sun. Mr. B was addicted to the hookah; here, the gentleman had to lock himself in his room and sit smoking a cigar in the dark. Misters D, S, and J had made the lives of their servants miserable at home, but here they spoke kindly and respectfully with the servants. Mr. K was an atheist and a great admirer of Huxley. But these days, he exhibited such great religiosity that priests of temples were scared of losing their jobs. Mr. L hated the sight of books. But here, he was always immersed in reading big and fat books. Whomever you talked to seemed to be the epitome of humility and virtue. Mr. Sharma began chanting the Veda mantras even before the break of dawn, and the maulavi saheb did nothing but recite the Namaz. The aspirants thought they must somehow keep up this pretence for a month. If they succeeded in getting the job, then who cares!

But the old dewan, an expert judge of men, sat behind the covers observing and waiting to discover the swan from among these pretentious cranes.


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