(This is only a feeble translation of "Vidhwans", a story by Munshi Premchand. The objective is only to urge readers to read the original story or better translations. We have included a summary of the story with comments on the last page.)

There is a village called Bira in the Benares district. In that village lived an old childless widow belonging to the Gond tribe; her name was Bhoongi. She did not own even an inch of land, and she had no house to live in. But she had a clay oven, which was her only source of livelihood. Villagers usually subsist on roasted grains or sattu (grain parched and ground) for at least one meal during the day. So, the people always flocked to Bhoongi's oven to get their grains roasted. They gave her a portion of their grains as payment, and Bhoongi lived by eating that. She slept in one corner of the same shed where the oven was installed.

Bhoongi woke up early every morning and went about gathering dry leaves to fuel her oven. She always kept a huge pile of dry leaves by the side of the oven, which she lit up in the afternoons. But on Ekadashi (eleventh lunar day) and full moon days, she did not light the oven in keeping with the traditions. On these days and on the days when she had to roast grains for the zamindar, Pandit Udaybhan Pandey, she went hungry. Bhoongi not only had to roast grains for free for the zamindar, but she also had to fetch water for his household; for this reason, also, she could not light up her oven on some days.

Bhoongi lived in Panditji's village, so he had the right to make her work for him without paying her. It was not injustice on his part. The only injustice he did was that he did not provide even food to Bhoongi; the zamindar believed that if he gave food, it would be as good as paying Bhoongi; what use, then, was his right to obtain free work from her? Panditji believed that a farmer has the right to make his bullocks work for him throughout the day and then tether them up hungry in the evenings. If the farmer does not do such a thing, it is not because he is kind but because he is worried that if the bullocks were to die of hunger, from where was he to obtain replacements for them? Panditji had no such worries. Bhoongi was unlikely to fall dead if she went hungry for one or two days. By some miracle, if she did die, then he could easily find another Gond woman to take her place. As it is, Panditji had done Bhoongi a great favour by allowing her to settle in his village!

It was the month of Chaitra and the auspicious day of Sankranti. On this day, sattu made from fresh grains are eaten and given away in charity. Fires are not lighted in homes. Bhoongi's oven was in great demand; there was a big crowd by its side as though the villagers had gathered for a fair. Bhoongi was very busy and had no time to even pause for breath; she, sometimes, got annoyed at impatient customers who wanted her to roast their grains first. Just then, the zamindar's servants came with two big baskets full of grains and demanded she roast the grains at once. Bhoongi looked at the baskets and felt dismayed. It would be impossible to roast such a large amount of grains before sunset. If only she could have roasted the grains of the villagers for a few more hours, she would have earned enough grains to last her for a week. But it seemed God did not wish good for her and had sent these ambassadors of Death. She will now have to work till late in the evening for free. She took the baskets, feeling very depressed.

"Don't take too long, else you will hear from us," one of the servants said arrogantly.

Bhoongi said, "Stay here and take the grains when they are roasted; cut off my arms if I as much as touch someone else's grains."

The servant said, "We don't have the day off that we can remain here; get the grains roasted by evening."

The servants went away, and Bhoongi started roasting the grains. But it is no laughing matter to roast 40kg of grains. Besides, she could not roast continuously; she had to stop often to blow at the fire to keep it burning. The sun went down, and not even half the grains were roasted. Bhoongi felt afraid that the zamindar's men would come anytime. If they found the work was not done, they would start shouting at her and beat her. She started roasting the grains frantically while keeping an eye outside for the servants. In her haste, she made mistakes and poured more sand into the sand-roasting cauldron than necessary, and the grains got spoiled. Bhoongi did not know what to do; she could neither focus on her work nor leave off roasting.


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