The Price of Righteousness

(This is only a poor translation of "Sajjanta ka Dand", a short story by Munshi Premchand. The objective is merely to urge readers to read the original story in Hindi or better translations. The story is about Sardar Shiv Singh, a righteous officer. But a righteous person has to pass many acid tests and even pay a price for his good deeds.)

Like any other ordinary person, Sardar Shiv Singh, the Shahjahanpur district engineer, had his share of strong and weak points. His strong point was that he made no distinction between fairness and compassion; his fault was that he was selfless and had no greed. His subordinates had become fearless and lazy because of his strong point. All the officers in the department had become his sworn enemies because of his drawback.

It was the morning hour, and he stood all set to go to inspect a bridge. But the coachman was still asleep. The coachman was clearly instructed the previous night that he should have the carriage ready by the crack of dawn. The morning dawned, the Sun God blessed the earth with his appearance, and the cool rays of the sun gradually became warm. But the coachman continued to sleep.

Sardar-saheb, tired of standing, sat in a chair. The coachman woke up finally, but the peons were nowhere to be seen. The gentleman, who had gone to fetch the letters, was standing in some liquor shop checking the quality of the alcohol. The person, who had gone to bring the contractor, was smoking marijuana in the company of ascetics.

The day was getting warmer. Sardar-saheb went inside the house in annoyance and said to his wife, "It is very late in the day, but not a single peon is around. I am fed up with them."

The wife raised her eyes to the wall and said, "It is all because of pampering them."

"What should I do? Should I hang them?" Sardar-saheb said, irritated.

Sardar-saheb did not own even a phaeton, what to talk of cars! He was happy with his one-horse carriage, which his servants described as an udan-khatola or flying bedstead. The people in the town were not so generous; they thought it fitting to call it a two-wheeled cart.

Sardar-saheb was frugal in other matters as well. His two brothers studied in Allahabad; his widowed mother lived in Benares; a widowed sister was dependent on him. Besides, he awarded scholarships to several poor students. For these reasons, he never had enough money for himself. Even his clothes revealed his financial condition. But, despite suffering these hardships, he never allowed greed to come anywhere near him.

Those who received his affection appreciated his nobleness and revered him; his nobleness caused them no harm. But those who shared professional relations with him did not care for his righteousness because it did them more harm than good. Even his wife sometimes told him bitter things.

One day when he came home from the office, his wife told him lovingly, "What use is your righteousness when the whole world calls you bad?"

Sardar-saheb said, "The world may call me anything, but God sees everything."

Rama had already thought up a reply. She said, "I don't wish to argue with you, but ask your own heart how your righteousness is affecting the others. You earn a good salary, so even if you refuse to have your palms greased, you can still live a comfortable life. You will get dry bread at least. But what about these peons and servants who earn only five or ten rupees? They also have children and families to look after. They also have weddings, bereavements, and festivals. It is no use wearing the mask of righteousness. Tell me, how can they make ends meet? Peon Ramdeen's wife had come to me; she was crying, and her sari was wet with tears. Her daughter has reached a marriageable age, but it will be a huge expenditure for them. Tell me, who is to blame for her tears?"

All this was true; Sardar-saheb could not deny them. He had himself thought over these matters deeply; for this reason, he always treated his subordinates with kindness. Uprightness and simplicity may have great spiritual value, but they hardly have any economic value. "What you say is true," Sardar-saheb said, "but I am helpless. How can I break my rules? If it were within my powers, I would raise everybody's salaries. But I cannot loot, and I cannot allow my subordinates to loot."

"So, who is to blame for this murder?" Rama asked sarcastically.

Sardar-saheb replied sharply, "The blame will fall on those people who are fond of spending more money than they earn. Why does an orderly want to marry off his daughter to a lawyer's son? If an office boy requires a servant to assist him, it is a sin; if my coachman's wife wants to wear a silver ingot in her neck chain, it is foolishness on her part. I can't be held responsible for such false pomp."


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