Two brothers

(This is a feeble translation of "Do bhai", a story by Munshi Premchand. The objective is merely to acquaint readers with Premchand's stories, and exhort them to read the original or better translations. The story is about two brothers who as children are the best of friends. The brothers get married, and this leads to a change in the circumstances. The changed circumstances, in turn, foments jealousy and hatred between the brothers. The two bothers, who as children could not live without each other, now find it difficult to not only live in the same house but even in the same village! The younger brother, Madhav, has eight children, four of them girls. Owing to the large family, his financial condition is bad. The expenses incurred during the marriage of the first two girls leaves him in dire straits. Whatever little he is left with is expended during the marriage of the third girl. The girl has not yet left her paternal home when Madhav receives a notice requiring him to pay up tax arrears. Madhav mortgages the girl's jewellery to raise money in order to pay up the arrears. Of course, he has no right over the jewellery since the girl is now married. The elder brother's wife, out of spite, clandestinely informs the family of the girl's husband about the mortgage. As per the prevailing custom, the family appoints intermediaries to recover the jewellery. Madhav's honour is at stake; if he fails to restore the jewellery he will be despised in the village. As a last resort, Madhav approaches his elder brother, Keshav, to help him. Keshav has the means to help Madhav, but he is unwilling to do so. Keshav and his wife hatch up a plan to acquire Madhav's share in the property. They assure him that they will help him obtain a loan from a money-lender against a mortgage of his share of the house. On the day when the agreement is drawn up, it becomes clear that there is no money-lender involved; it is Keshav himself who would be offering the loan after obtaining the right over his own brother's share of the property as security! Just one small remark: the story makes liberal mention of sums of money like 125 rupees, which might seem insignificant today; but they must have been significant amounts during Munshi Premchand's times)

Every morning, in the pleasant sunshine, Kalavati would take both her sons on her lap and feed them with milk and bread. Kedar was the elder and Madhav the younger. Both would take the food into their mouth, leap out of their mother's lap, jump about with glee, and return back to the comfortable haven. They, then, lispingly chanted a short prayer, written by some warm-hearted poet which spoke about a child's yearning for warmth on a cold winter day: "Oh God, please give me warmth; your child is feeling cold!"

Their mother fed them lovingly; her heart was filled with love for the sons, and her eyes sparkled with pride. Both the brothers grew up. They played together with their arms around each other's shoulders. Kedar had a sharp mind; Madhav had a strong body. There was much affection between the two; they went to school together, had their meals together, and were always to be found together.

The brothers married. Kedar's wife, Champa, was exuberant and chatty. Madhav's wife, Shyama, was of dusky complexion and very beautiful; she was soft-spoken, calm, and serene.

Kedar loved Champa, and Madhav doted on Shyama. But Kalavati was indifferent to both the daughters-in-law; she was neither happy nor unhappy with them. Most of Kalavati's efforts were unsuccessfully directed at trying to make Champa trade a part of her efficiency for some portion of Shyama's serenity.

Both the brothers became fathers. However while one tree was lush with fruits, only a single fruit was visible in the other tree and that too a wilted one. Both the brothers were unhappy; Keshav desired children; Madhav wished for wealth. Fate's cruel strategy caused hatred in the house, which was of course a natural outcome. The children demanded Shyama's attention all the time and she had little time for anything else; poor Champa was left to manage all the household tasks on her own. Harsh words occasionally escaped Champa's lips to give vent to the anger against the unjust situation. Shyama would hear them, resent the insults, but say nothing. However Shyama's forbearance only stoked Champa's anger even further rather than quieting her. Events took such a worse turn that the deer, finding all its escape routes cut off, sprang at the hunter. There came a day when Shyama and Champa stopped speaking with each other, two stoves were lit in the same house but the brothers went hungry, and Kalavati wept copiously.

Many years passed. The two brothers who once upon a time sat together and shared food from the same plate had now become so estranged that it was difficult for them to not only live in the same house but even in the same village. But if only to maintain the family honour, they continued to live together trying in vain to suppress the fires of jealousy and hatred, which raged within them, beneath the ashes. There was however no brotherly affection; they were brothers only in name. Their mother was still alive but her days were now spent in grieving over the hatred between the brothers; her heart still brimmed with love and her eyes still shone with pride but the lustre had dimmed.

As children, one brother would weep if he saw the other crying; they were naive and simple then. But, now, when one brother wept the other laughed and clapped his hands in glee; they had become sensible and wise now! As children when they did not have the wisdom to distinguish between friends and foes, one brother would roll on the ground in distress and grab hold of the man's shirt who, if only to tease them, threatened to carry away the other. But, today, not a drop of tear would have rolled down their eyes if the other was threatened by death even. They had acquired the wisdom to distinguish between friends and foes!


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