Honesty's Reward

(This is a poor translation of "Sachchai ka Uphaar" by Munshi Premchand. The objective is to spur readers to read the original story or better translations. There is a summary of the story on the last page. )

Munshi Bhavanisahay, the headmaster of the tehsil school in Baraon, practiced gardening as a hobby. He had planted various types of flowering plants and allowed flowering creepers to climb up the doors. As a result, the school looked attractive.

Munshi Bhavanisahay took the help of the middle-grade students to water and care for the plants. Most students went about this task with enthusiasm; they enjoyed it. But four-five students belonged to wealthy families; the enjoyable work was like forced labour to them. They had lived lazy lives since childhood. Their hearts were full of false pride about their wealth. They felt working with their own hands was below their dignity. These boys found the garden very disgusting. When it was their turn to work in the garden, they made some excuse or the other to avoid working. They did not stop at this but even provoked the other boys by saying, "Heavens! Are we studying Persian so that we may sell oil to earn a living? If we have to spend our lives working with hoes and spades, why should we break our heads studying for nothing? We come here to study, not to work."

Sometimes, Munshiji punished them for their disobedience; it only fuelled their hatred all the more. Things came to such a head that these boys decided among themselves to destroy the garden.

The school opened at 10 a.m. every day, but the boys reached the school at 8 a.m. on the appointed day and began their destructive work in the garden. They pulled out the plants, trampled on the flower beds, and destroyed the water channels. They felt scared to death that someone might see them, but how long does it take to tear down a small garden? Within ten minutes, the boys decimated the small verdant garden.

The boys hurried to make a getaway. But when they came near the gate, they saw one of their classmates. His name was Bajbahadur; he was frail and came from a poor family. Bajbahadur was an intelligent, thoughtful, and quiet boy. The unruly boys were jealous of him.

The unruly boys felt their blood run cold; they felt sure Bajbahadur had seen them and would report to Munshiji.

"We are in deep trouble. What is the fiend doing here at this time?" the boys whispered and made signs to one another. They decided to try to win Bajbahadur over to their side.

Jagat Singh was the leader of the boys. He came forward and said, "Bajbahadur! How come you are here so early? Today, we have removed the noose from around your necks. Munshiji used to trouble all of you by making you do this or do that. But don't tell Munshiji about this, else we will have to pay for it."

Jairam said, "Why would he spill the beans? He is one of us. Whatever we have done is not only for our own sakes but for everybody's sake. Come Bajbahadur, let's go to the market and have some sweets."

Bajbahadur said, "No, I did not find time to study at home today. I want to sit here and study."

Jagat Singh: "You won't tell Munshiji, will you?"

Bajbahadur: "I won't say anything on my own, but what if he asks me?"

Jagat Singh: "Tell him you don't know."

Bajbahadur: "I can't tell a lie."

Jairam: "If you spill the beans and we get punished, we will beat you."

Bajbahadur: "I told you, I will not tell on my own, but I will not lie if Munshiji asks me."

Jairam: "Then, we will break your bones."

Bajbahadur: "You may do as you wish."


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