A time often comes in the life of literary writers when their fans start writing respectful letters to them. Some praise the way they write and others are mesemerised by the their clean thoughts. Yours truly is also graced with such opportunity for past some time. Only a receiver of such letters can explain how flattering these letters are. Sitting on his torn blanket*, he is immersed in the proud floods of self esteem. He forgets (*Indian writers of early part of 20th century used to be quite poor) what a headache it is to prepare food from wet woods in the night. How bugs and mosquitoes troubled him throughout the night. He rises to new hights with the tought that – “I am someone”. Last spring I got a similar letter. It bestowed a hearty praise on my writings.
The sender was himself a poet. I had often seen his poems in the magazines. I was delighted to read the letter. I sat down to to reply immidiately. I don’t remmeber what all I wrote but what I do remember is that the letter was full of love and affection right from the word go. I have never written poem all my life; but I used sophisticated words in the letter. So much so, that I almost mistook it for a poem while reading it again.
There started a chain of letters in which I was refered to as “dear brother”, a list of my creations and addresses of my publishers were asked for. I the end, there was a mention of good news that “my wife dotes over your writings. She devours your creations, and was inquiring about your family. If possible send a photograph. This was the first time I was praised by a female, be her a married women. (* Some boring stuff deleted ).
I soon had the honour of meeting this gentlman. It was august and 3’oclock in the afternoon. I was sitting in a friends house and we were playing cards when he came asking for me. He introduced himself as Umapati and suggested that we go to my house. As I was about to leave, a friend called me aside and asked about Umapati.
me – ” A new friend of mine ”
friend – “be carefull. He looks like a rougue”
me – “No. You are wrong. You judge people by their pompous dress. But humans don’t exist in attire. He exists in the heart.”
He kept quite.
We came home and started chatting. He recited his new poems to me. His voice was melodious. I didn’t get the deeper meaning of the poems, but I showered him with praises, as if a greater appreciator of poems didn’t exist in the world. In the evening we went out to the fair. In the night he had dinner with us.
It was then that he started telling his story. He was going to Kanpur to get his wife back home. She was visiting her parents there. He wanted to publish a monthly magazine. A publisher was ready to pay him Rs 1000 for * his poems. (*In 1910, Rs 1000 was a lot of money*). But his wish was to earn a bit this way and open a publication himself. He has some land in kanpur. But he wants to lead a literary life. He hates being a landlord. His wife is a principal in a girls school. We talked till late night. I can’t remember most of it. What I do remember is that we chalked a strategy for our future. I was thanking my stars that God sent such a pure friend to my house.
Next day he had to leaveby 8’clock train. When I got up, it was seven. Umapati had washed himself and was all set to leave. He asked for my leave and promised to visit me on the way back.
“I am troubling you a bit, pardon me. When I started yesterday, it was 4’clock in the morning. I had been up since 2 o’clock, infact all night. I started naping in the train and took off my coat. When I got up at Mughalsarai, the coat was nowhere to be seen. I searched up and down but stillno signs. I realised that it had been stolen. I had been punished for sleeping. There were Rs 50 in the coat which were missing with it. If you can give me Rs 50, I would return it on my way back. Going to wife’s place involves buying some new clothes. Then there are thousands of expenses that crop up in your wife’s place.”
I had been deceived like this before. For a moment, I got suspicious of landing up in the same state again. But soon I was ashamed of this doubtful mind. Not everyone in the world is the same. This is a gentleman. He is in one time trouble. I am in an unnecessary dilemma. I went inside the house and
asked my wife-“You wouldn’t have some money, would you?”
wife-“What for ?”
me-“This friend, who came yesterday, was robbed in the train. He is going to meet his wife. He would return it on his way back.”
wife said sarcastically-” All of your friends come here to cheat you and all of them are in trouble. I don’t have the money.”
I said pleadingly, “Come on. Give it. He is ready to leave. He might miss the train.”
wife-“Tell him there’s no money in the house.”
me-“That is not easy to say. All that means is that we are not only pennyless but also freindless. He would never believe that. It is much better to say, “We don’t trust you. We can’t give you the money”. Atleast we would be in clear that way.”
She threw the trunk’s key in front of me with frustration and said, ” If you could judge people as well as you argue, you would have been a man by now. Go ahead and give it. Your status has to be maintained. But don’t call it a loan. Assume you are throwing it in water.”
I was not interested in counting tree but only in eating the mangoes growing over it. I swiftly took out the money and gave it to Umapati. He again assured me that he would return it while coming back.
He returned on the seventh day. He was accompanied by his wife and daughter. My wife greeted them with curd and sugar. I was assuming he would take out the money nad start counting my loan upon reaching here. But he didn’t mention it even till late night. At the time of going to sleep, I told my wife, “He didn’t give the money”
Wife laughed sarcastically-” So you really expected him to put the money into your hands on arrival? I told you before not to give the money with the expectation of getting it back. Assume you helped a freind. But you are a strange person.”
I was embarrased and kept quite.
Umapati stayed on for two days. My wife treated him with appropriate respect. But I wasn’t satisfied. I felt cheated. Third day he was ready to leave. I still expected him to return the money. But when he told a new story, I was zapped. He said while packing his things, ” I am sorry I can’t return your money this time. Actually I didn’t meet my father at the house. He had gone to the village for collecting revenues. I didn’t have enough leave to go to the village. There’s no railways to that place. You need an ox-cart to travel to it. So, I stayed for a day at his house and went to my wife’s place. All the money was spent there. I don’t even have money for the train ticket back. If you could lend me Rs 25, I would send it as soon as I get there.”
I felt like refusing but could not stop to that level. I went to my wife again and asked for money. This time she gave it without a word. I gave the money to Umapati sadly When his wife and daughter decended the stairs, they picked up the luggage and bid me good bye. I nodded without getting up. Didn’t even see them off up to the road. One week later he wrote,” I am going to Barar on work. Would send the money upon return” Fifteen days later I wrote to him asking about his health. No reply. After another fifteen days, I inquired about the money. No reply. One month later I wrote again and met the same fate. Then I sent a registered letter which reached him, no doubt. But there was no reply even for that. I realised how correct my wife was. Disheartened, I remained silent.
I never mentioned the letters to her and even she didn’t probe further about the matter.
This deceit affected me the way it should normally affect. Some higher form or sacred soul might have stuck to his ground even after this fraud. He might have argued that , “I did my duty, If the receipient didn’t pay, it is not my fault.” But I am not so generous. I slog for months, wear off the pen to get a glimpse of green notes.
This happened in the current month. My factory had a new compositer from Bihar. He was clever in his work. I employed him at a pay of Rs 15 a month. He used to study in an English medium school earlier.* He left studies due to “non-cooperation movement” (* A privilege that only the rich Indians enjoyed before freedom and even sometime after it til the definition of rich changed*). His folks refused to help him out. He was forced to take up this kind of job for a living. He must have been seventeen or eighteen. He had sober nature. He could talk well. He was down with fever the third day after reaching here. He spent a couple of days like that, but when the fever refused to leave him he panicked. He started missing his family. They may not help him in any other way but surely parents would take care of his medication. He came to me and said, ” Sir, I am ill. If you could lend me some money, I would go home. I would arange for the money and send it to you as soon as I get there.” He was really sick. I knew him well. I knew he could never regain his health by staying here. He really needed help. But I was the doubting Sam fearfull of loosing money. If an intellectual, capable and learned man can double cross, then how can it be expected of this half-educated young man to keep his promise?
I stood there deeply troubled for a minute. In the end I said, ” Brother, I am sorry for your state of affairs. But at this point in time, I am unable to help you. I have no maney at hand. Sorry”. Tears rolled down his cheeks upon hearing this blatant answer. He said, ” If you want, you can definitely arrange for something. I would return it to you as soon as I get there.”
I said to myself, ” You have a clean conscious now. But there is no guarantee that it would be that way when you reach home safely. Even with a clean heart, whether you would be able to arrange for the money, is not known. Atleast, I wouldn’t have any means of retrieving it from you.” I said aloud, ” Doubtlessly, but I am sorry, I don’t have the money. You can surely take the amount due to you from the salary.” He didn’t reply. He looked at the sky and left*. I felt pain in (* some deep Hindi words used here whose meanings I don’t knwo*) my heart. I felt sad at my selfishness. But in the end, I stuck to my decision. I consoled myself with the thought that I am myself not rich enough to keep throwing money down the drain. This is the result of the deceit that my poet friend inflicted on me. I don’t know what ill-fate this cruelty would have resulted into, but fortunately, things didn’t come to that. God wanted to save me from this bad publicity. When he left me with tearfull eyes, he met a clerk of the office named Pandit Prithvinaath. Panditjee inquired about his well being. Upon hearing the entire story, he gave him Rs 15 without asking any more questions. He borrowed this money from the accountant. When I came to knwo of this, I was relieved. Now the poor soul can go home in peace. I got this relief free of cost. I felt embarrased at my meanness. I write long essays preaching kindness, humanity and good behaviour; but when it came to practising it, I got away clean! And that clerk who worshipped my essays, turned out to be generous and kind. The teacher remained “Gur” and the student became sugar. Even this provided a sarcastic solace to me that my preachings might not have been of any use to me, but they did help others! What if there is darkness underneath the lamp, its light is still spreading. But if Panditjee doesn’t get his money back (and probably he wouldn’t, chances are dim ), he would be sufficiently troubled. I am going to taunt him then. But my desires were not fililled. The money came on the fifth day. I haven’t experienced such eye-opener pain any other time. It is better not to mention all this to my wife, for staying in the house would be very difficult for me then.
I wrote the above as an article for a magazine. I wanted to present the ill affects of deciet to the public. I hadn’t dreamt that it would be of any practical purpose. To my delight, I got a money order of Rs 75 after four days. The sender was Umapati. It just had a coupon attached with just one word on it- “Forgiveness”. I took the money to my wife and showed her the coupon. She said carefully, “take this away and keep it in your trunk. I realised today, what kind of greedy person you are. It is not decent to claw on somebody for a meagre sum. When some literate * (*hindi phrase was -panje jhar ke*) intellectual doesn’t keep his promise, it is assumed that he is under some pressure. It is not good nature to embarass a pressurised person with reminders. Somebody, who is not morally shattered, doesn’t deceive people willingly. I won’t keep this money with me till Umapati writes why he took so long.” But at that time I was not ready to listen to kindness. I was delighted to have the lost money back.