He could not finish novels and stories that he had started writing, but passed on his imagination and love of literature to Sarat Chandra. After the death of Bhuvanmohini in , the family was supported by various other family members during hard times. One of his brothers, Swami Vedananda, later became a disciple at Belur Math. Sarat Chandra was a daring, adventure-loving boy. First Arts examination or attend college due to lack of funds. After finishing his formal studies, he spent much of his time interacting with friends, acting in plays, and in playing sports and games.
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An insignificant village, with an even more insignificant zamindar, but such was his authority that you could not hear a peep out of his subjects. Having performed the holy rituals, Tarkaratna the priest was on his way home in the afternoon.
The month of Boishakh was drawing to a close, but there was not even a trace of clouds anywhere, the searing sky seemingly pouring fire on everything below. The field stretching to the horizon before him was parched and cracked, with the blood in the veins of the earth escaping constantly through the crevices in the form of vapour. Gazing at it coiling upwards like flames made the head reel with drunkenness.
Gafoor Jolha lived on the edge of this field. The earthen wall of his house had collapsed, merging his yard with the road. The privacy of the inner chambers had all but surrendered itself to the mercy of the passer-by.
Call the swine! Godless creature! An ancient acacia stood next to the broken wall, with a bull tethered to it. Have you forgotten this is a Hindu village with a Brahmin zamindar? Karta will bury you alive if you kill a bull. I collapse every time I try to take him to graze. Give it a bowl of starch and water. What did you do with the hay? Did you sell your entire share without keeping anything for your beast?
You butcher! What a loving name, Mahesh. He allowed me some rice to feed us for two months, but all my hay was confiscated and the poor thing got nothing at all. Do you expect the zamindar to feed you? But how do I pay my taxes? Look at Mahesh, Thakur moshai, you can count his ribs. But give me some hay. What a comedian! Get out of my way. Of course. Both master and bull are well-matched. Get it out of my way. Those horns, someone will be killed on them. Gafoor turned towards Mahesh, gazing at him in silence for a few moments.
Never mind. How will I save your life in this year of starvation? You have no strength left, people tell me to sell you off. But how long could they go on? Gafoor stood in silence. His ten-year-old daughter knew that when the times were bad even this could not be wasted.
He washed his hands and went in. His daughter served him rice and vegetables on a brass plate, taking some for herself on an earthen plate. Gafoor pretended to think before solving the problem. Besides the two actors, only someone up there observed this little charade between father and daughter. II Five or six days later, Gafoor was seated outside his front door with an anxious expression on his face. Mahesh had not been home since yesterday morning.
He himself was too weak to move, so his daughter Amina had searched high and low for the bull. He had imagined all manner of mishaps that might have befallen Mahesh, but had not anticipated this. He was as harmless as he was poor, which was why he had no apprehensions of being punished so severely by any of his neighbours—Manik Ghosh in particular, for his respect for cows was legendary.
Amina did not know what exactly a cattle market was, but she had repeatedly noticed her father becoming agitated whenever it was mentioned with reference to Mahesh. But today she left without another word. Bansi was familiar with the exact weight and other details of this object. He had been pawned it some five times in the past two years, for a rupee each time.
So, he did not object this time either. Mahesh was seen in his usual place the next day. Beneath the same tree, tethered to the same stake with the same rope, the same empty bowl with no food in front of him, the same questioning look in the moist, hungry, black eyes. Gafoor mian sat nearby, his knees drawn up to his chin. Go on, give his daughter two rupees more. Only the skin is worth selling. He realized that word had reached the landowner.
There were people both refined and unrefined in court. Do you know where you live? They had always considered him an obstinate and bad-tempered man.
They were certain that only the grace of the zamindar and the fear of punishment had prevented the abject sinner from committing worse trangressions. Gafoor did not respond to any of this, humbly accepting all the humiliation and vilification and returning home cheerfully.
III The month of Joishtho was drawing to a close. The sun was still harsh and severe in the sky. There was no trace of mercy anywhere. People were afraid to even hope for change, that the skies could again be moist and pleasurable with the weight of rain-bearing clouds. It seemed that there would be no cessation to the flames burning constantly across the entire, fiery earth—that they would not die down till they had consumed everything. Gafoor returned home on such an afternoon. He was as weak as he was exhausted.
Still he had gone out in search of work, but all he had got was the unforgiving heat and sun overhead. He could barely see for hunger and thirst. Why not? How can anyone remember if you tell them at night?
Whether the sick father gets any or not, the grown-up daughter will eat five times a day. Now tell me we have no water either. When Gafoor realized after waiting a few moments that there was not even any water to drink at home, he could control himself no longer.
But Gafoor felt heartbroken as soon as she went out of his sight. Ever since they had run out of the paltry amount of rice from the fields that he had received, they had not had two meals a day. On some days, just one—or not even that. That Amina could eat five times a day was as impossible as it was untrue. Nor was he unaware of the reasons for the lack of water to drink.
The two or three tanks in the village were all dry. The water that could be collected by digging a hole or two in the middle of the tanks was fought over by a crowd of people. Being a Muslim, the young girl was not even allowed near that water. She had to wait for hours, requesting for some water, and only if someone took pity on her and poured her a little could she bring it home. He knew all this. Perhaps there had been no water that day, or no one had had the time to take pity on his daughter during the battle.
Realizing that something like this must have taken place, Gafoor found his own eyes filling with tears. Come along. Fortunately, such an insignificant voice would not reach the ears of the important man it was meant for—or else he would have lost both his home and his livelihood.
The primary cause of such severe punishment was Mahesh. This was not the first time it had happened, but Gafoor had been pardoned earlier on grounds of being poor. He had not protested in the slightest against the thrashing and the humiliation, bearing it all in silence.
Back home, too, he sat coiled up in silence. He had no awareness of hunger or thirst, but his heart was burning just like the noonday sky outside. Gafoor lost his mind in an instant. Mahesh tried to lift his head just once, but his starving, withered body slumped to the ground.
A few teardrops rolled out of his eyes, along with a few drops of blood from his ears. His entire body trembled once or twice, after which, stretching his front and hind legs out, Mahesh died.
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
Mahesh by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay - Bangla Short Novel PDF Books