It was 9 o'clock at night. Tired workers had fallen asleep, but a few carefree people had gathered on the thakur's premises. The topic of discussion among the stragglers was "legal feats" — no one spoke about physical courage these days because its days were over. Besides, there hardly arose any occasion to show physical courage.
The men talked about how the thakur had neatly extricated himself from a legal case after bribing the police officer, and how he obtained copies of court files of an important lawsuit. The warden and superintendent said copies couldn't be given, and the staff demanded money to make the copies. But the thakur managed to get them for free. You have to be clever and bold to get such things done!
Just then, Gangi arrived to draw water from the well. The faint light from the lamp fell on the well. Gangi hid in a dark corner and waited for an opportunity to fill her pot. All the villagers could draw water from this well; no one was prohibited. Only unfortunate people like Jokhu and Gangi could not come anywhere near the well.
Gangi's heart revolted against the age-old prohibitions and compulsions. Why are we considered low-caste, and they high-caste? Is it because they wear a thread around their necks? Everyone here is a rogue; they steal, do forgery, and file false cases. Only the other day, the thakur stole the poor shepherd's lamb, killed it, and ate it. The punditji hosts gambling games in his house all through the twelve months. The sahu sells ghee adulterated with oil. They make the workers work hard but refuse to pay them wages. In what way are they superior to us? Yes, they have better vocal cords! We don't go around yelling, "we are high-caste, we are high-caste". Whenever I come to the village, they stare at me lustily. Snakes all of them, but they proclaim they are superior people.
Gangi heard the sounds of feet approaching the well. Her heart sank. If someone found her out, she would get into trouble. She had not taken even a step into the well. She quickly removed her pot and rope, slunk away, and hid in the shadows of a tree. These people don't feel sympathy for anybody. They had beaten poor Mahangu so badly that he spat blood for a whole month; they were angry because Mahangu had refused to work for free! Bah, they call themselves high-born!
Two women had come to the well for water and were talking to each other.
"I was about to sit down for meals when my husband ordered, 'Go and bring fresh water; we don't have money to buy a pitcher.'"
"Men feel resentful if we relax for a while."
"Yes, they don't pick up the pot and fetch water themselves. All they do is shout out orders as if we are maidservants."
"You are a maidservant after all, aren't you? Don't you get food and clothes?. You do grab five-ten rupees whenever you get an opportunity. Are maidservants any different?"
"Don't shame me, Didi. I yearn for a moment's rest. If I had worked so hard in somebody else's house, I could have lived a comfortable life. The employer would also have shown some gratitude. Here, in my own house, I may die while working, but no one would utter as much as a kind word."
The women filled their pots and left.
Gangi came out of her hiding and went near the well. The idlers had also gone away. The thakur shut the door and prepared to go to sleep in the courtyard. Gangi heaved a sigh of relief; the path was clear now. Even the mythical prince who ventured to steal the ambrosia might not have shown so much alertness as Gangi did. She walked on tiptoes and mounted the platform of the well. Gangi felt victorious; she had never experienced such a great feeling of accomplishment.
She tied the rope around the pot and looked alertly to her right and left like a soldier spying on the enemy's fort at night. If she were to get caught now, she couldn't expect any forgiveness or kindness. She said a silent prayer and, steeling her heart, lowered the pot into the water.
The pot slowly and noiselessly sunk into the water. Gangi quickly pulled at the rope, and the vessel came up to the top of the well; a strong wrestler would not have been able to pull at the rope so quickly.
Just as Gangi bent to take hold of the pot and place it on the platform, the thakur's door opened. The open door was much more terrible than the open mouth of a tiger. The rope slipped from Gangi's hand, and the pot fell into the water with a loud thud. The sound of the echoes reverberated for quite some time. The thakur rushed towards the well, shouting, "Who is there; who is there?"
Gangi jumped off the platform and ran homeward.
When Gangi reached home, she saw that Jokhu had lifted the pot of smelly water to his mouth and was drinking from it.
Gangi has set out on a dangerous mission: to fetch water for her sick husband, Jokhu, from the landlord's well.
Yes, it is a dangerous mission. If Gangi gets caught while drawing water from the well, she could land in deep trouble.
The Thakur's Well, published in Youthaffairz, is a poor translation of Thakur ka Kuan, a story by Munshi Premchand. The story portrays the ills of the caste system.
Gangi and Jokhu belong to the low-caste community, which has to live on the outskirts of the village; they can't interact with high-caste people. The village has three wells. One well belongs to the landlord, a second is owned by the village merchant, and a third is for the use of Gangi and Jokhu's community. Except for the low-caste people, all the other villagers can freely draw water from the wells belonging to the landlord and the merchant.
An animal has drowned in the well belonging to Gangi's community, and the water has become contaminated. Jokhu is ill and thirsty. He lifts the pot of water that Gangi has brought from their well to his lips. The water is stinking, and Jokhu can't drink it.
Gangi offers to get him fresh water from the landlord's well. Jokhu warns Gangi that she will get beaten if caught. But Gangi embarks on her mission, nevertheless.
Gangi reaches the landlord's well and succeeds in mounting the platform of the well undetected. She feels victorious; she has achieved great success! But her joy is short-lived. Before she can lift the water-filled pot from the well, the landlord, hearing a thud, comes out to investigate.
Gangi flees undiscovered, leaving her pot behind. On reaching home, she finds that a thirsty Jokhu is drinking the contaminated water.
This short story also highlights a few other social ills that were prevalent in the past. For one, it refers to the ill of bonded labour by telling about Mahangu, who is beaten up for refusing to work for free. The story highlights the secondary status of women. Two women, who have come to fill water, talk about how the men treat them as maidservants in their own homes. Thakur ka Kuan also touches upon the moral degradation in society. The idlers who have gathered on the landlord's premises, rather than talk about acts of physical courage and valour, converse about how the landlord has wriggled out of a legal case by bribing a police officer and how he obtained copies of a lawsuit by unfair means. Instead of condemning the landlord for these acts, the idlers praise him as if he has performed some heroic deed!