A Maithili Short Story
Keep Your Kingdom
by Ramdeo Singh
Gulba! Gulo!! and Gulai!!! He had all these three names. Gulai- the servant of Bisobabu. Names, fit according to the circumstances to call by. When something went wrong, an angry Bisobabu would shout, "Re Gulba.......... ?" To make a tired, fatigued Gulba work, "Gulo.......... !! Hurry up, it's evening already," and, if expecting an angry Gulai, he would say in a sugared tone, “Hou Gulai!!...... " Gulo was so elated at it that he would be Hanuman, ready to fetch the mountain when only the herb on it is needed.
The best people of the village envied Bisobabu because of Gulo. " Where did he find such a lucky servant, the absolute gentle Bholanath, incarnation of Ugna!'
“Look at Bisobabu's prosperity since he is with him!"
The young generation of twenties does not know even since when Gulo is with him. One would say- "Those days rice and wheat were not grown in this area of Kosi as they are these days. Only sweet-potato and 'madua' were the crops. For rice people had to go to Bengal. Towards Khagrha and Kishanganj. A caravan of twenty bullock-carts would march. Bisobabu came across Gulo in one such journey somewhere that way. And he brought Gulo with him." While another said, "Bisobabu brought Gulo along with a buffalo from an animal market."
With fair complexion and well physique, Gulo had a single demerit - he spoke very little and even that unclear. People wanted to know his caste. Bisobabu would say, " What business do you have to know his caste.?" Then he would make a mystery "You need not worry too much, it's enough to know that his water is allowed."
Bisobabu had two sons and two daughters. There was no custom in the village of letting daughters have a good education. Education up to middle standard was good enough. Or, at most up to letter-writing and tailoring. Bisobabu was heedless from one side after marrying off both the daughters within the-distance of ten or fifteen miles. Now it was the education of both the sons. He admitted both of them in the District School. Both of them were provided to settle in a lodge. With rice and wheat there was a mess charge to be paid.
No one saw Gulo taking rest. Depending on Gulo, Bisobabu bought one more buffalo. Gulo took the cattle by midnight to the meadow and brought them back at the bathan by sunrise after grazing them. He would collect -the dung, clean the bathan sweep the house and the courtyard, milk the cattle and again would march with ploughs to the fields, accompanying the oxen. Half a bigha of land was already ploughed once when Bisobabu reached the field with the madua roti , salt, pepper and a piece of dry mango pickle as his breakfast. After breakfast he ploughed the whole land thrice and returned home. Fodder to the oxen, bath for the buffaloes. Taking a bath himself, he took his lunch. Everything was good to his taste. He never complained. He put a piece of nut into his mouth and marched again to the pasture. Returned in the evening, prepared fodder for the cattle and made a smoky bonfire to drive off the mosquitoes from the bathan. Then he took his dinner. He had his bed in the bathan itself, on a machan. Early before dawn, he marched out with the buffaloes.
Time was inferred at night by the position of the stars. Sometimes it was mistaken also, and he left his bed by midnight. Then he would sleep on the back of buffalos and when they had grazed to their-fill, they returned by themselves with Gulo sleeping on
one of them. This was Gulo' s routine. Besides when crops were ready, he had to see from reaping to threshing and all.
Bisobabu's home was established now. Gulo did not have to see only to farming jobs and domestic assistance, he had also to carry the brothers' ration expenditure etc. fifteen miles away to the District School. At least two trips a month to Saharsa was a must. He returned early in the morning after grazing the buffaloes. At his breakfast if there was anything left from the night's dinner. Took his load on his head, left for Saharsa and returned by midday around lunch time. He would not take even a cup of tea in Saharsa. However, he was not habituated to it. The money given to him in the name of tea by Bisobabu also came back unspent. He chewed the eatables baled in his gamcha by Bisobabu's wife and drank water somewhere through the way. On return, he gave the meagre amount he had back to Bisobabu, adding, " Return me when I ask for". He would approach him again and ask." How much do I have by my last account?" Bisobabu would count and tell him. Sometimes to tease him, Bisobabu told him a lesser amount while smiling and Gulo would growl like a cat, " Don't think me a fool. I'm counting every bit." Though Gulo did not know any counting nor did he count. He reacted only to Bisobabu's gestures.
When Gulo had come he was a servant for his food. But afterwards, Bisobabu himself made an amount of Rs. 20 a month as his salary. Even that remained deposited always with him. Now and again some relatives would tip Gulo one or half a rupee, glad at his devoted service. This also he deposited with Bisobabu.
Gulo knew not counting, neither he knew the system of mon-paseri. When going to Saharsa with Ashok and Anil's ration, Bisobabu would tease him, "Give him half- a – mon” tohis wife. And Gulo stood enraged. Getting away from the place, he would say, "I can't carry half-a-man. Do you think I'm a loading mare?" Enjoying, Bisobabu would ask again, "Well, so say how much you can take. Surely, you can carry six paseri, can't you?" And Gulai felt delighted, “ Yes why can't I carry this much?"
To Gulai, paseri was always lighter than man, in spite of the heavier account of the former. Bisobabu fretted for him in himself. If there were other villagers present at this time, they informed him, " You fool! Don't you see that six paseri is heavier than half -a- man. But Gulai never believed them, " Mind your own business” and addressing Bisobabu, he said, "Go on treating the enemies to tea. They are all but to loot you."
People laughed at Gulai's talk. No one minded Gulai's speech. Indeed, they envied Bisobabu's luck, "Oh! How lucky you are! Where did you get this Kirant!! Villagers would begin to tell tales of people whose luck when awoke.. . "You won't believe that Kirant came and dug him a pond."
In course of time the relationship between Bisobabau and Gulo did not remain stuck to that of master and servant. Bisobabu's wellwisher was Gulo's wellwisher. Those who envied Bisobabu were Gulo's enemy. If Bisobabu ever brought such people to tea in the courtyard, Gulai, would begin to whimper. He would move restlessly from courtyard to house, thumping his feet, and growl like a mongoose,
"..... Hark! ... Keep your kingdom. I won't stay here... Treat them chai of fatty milk. Go on ... You'll see from tomorrow when you'll have to go on the back of buffalo... Then, you'll see." Gulai never spoke to Bisobabu looking into his eyes. He looked at something else while speaking to him. Mostly, Bisobabu approved of him. He thought if Gulo went away he would be a lame, without limbs and hands. Strange creature was Gulai. The buffaloes he served so much he never ever tasted its milk.
Some more of Gulai's 'foolishness' spread in the world. For example when Bisobabu's sons returned home from the hostel, Gulai would ask Bisobabu for some money from his salary, go to the weekly Chakmaka market and buy home meat or fish. Bisobabu would taunt Gulai, "Are! Why did you go to buy fish leaving so many works?" And Gulai would presently start his own, derogating Bisobabu, "Hunh! As if you are ever going to treat them. For you it's all money, nothing the man". Bisobabu teased somewhat more, " What Great Men are they for whom..." Grinding his teeth, Gulo would burst out, standing, "Do they plough like me and you that they would do just with the rice dol and vegetables? Mind is spent in studying. If they won't eat meat and fish how would the mind work?" Gulai would go home and warn, "Don't offer milk to anyone else till the lads are here, and listen, if you do this I'll break the cups and plates." Bisobabu's wife would scold Gulai before others, "What business do you have to meddle with the works in the home? Mind your work outside." But it was believed that she was only glad at this behaviour of Gulo as it rescued her from the bother of borrowing. Moreover, when Ashok and Anil came home in the festivals of Dussehra and Diwali, he brought them sweets also from the fair.
After some years of Gulo's arrival, Bisobabu's economic status had been improving. Land properties had doubled or even tripled. The dwelling had also become tidier. Instead of thatched hut, there stood the walled house with tin-sheets as its roof. One more servant was appointed besides Gulai. Gulai was furious thinking that it was a conspiracy to sack him out. Bisobabu tried hard to explain that the workload had increased, that he could not do it all alone. But he was not to be persuaded, "What wrong did I do that you don't have faith in me? Did I shrink from any work?" Bisobabu said, with some seriousness about him, "Gulai, now you are promoted, aren't you? Now you have to make them and other labourers and ploughmen to work. You are manager now." Gulai complied, but only halfheartedly.
At first he was jealous of the other servant. He grumbled looking at his work. One day Gulai disappeared early in the morning. Where did he go? Why? The whole village talked that he fled. Those who envied Bisobabu's prosperity and believed that Gulba had come to him as his luck were glad in their hearts. But they came to show that they regretted it and went. People spread around, but he could be found nowhere. Bisobabu's wife was also sorry along with him. No one ate in house. It was evening but there was no trace of Gulai. Bisobabu was sitting in the lobby, villagers surrounding him.
Everyone had his own view.
"Fled even after so many comforts."
"What'll you do. Don't you know, for his kind fair is foul."
"I would rather suggest you looked if he took away something."
Someone disapproved ofthis view, "No, it can't ever be. I can't see anyone to match him in honesty."
"I wonder if someone perverted him away."
Bisobabu listened to all, without any comment. The new servant worked only for day. In the evening he went to his home. It was part of Gulai's duty to serve water to the cattle in the evening. Therefore he went, forgetting it and now the cattle here began to cry for water. But neither Bisobabu nor anyone else noticed it. When the cry of the cattle went louder, someone from the chaff-barn began to mutter. Bisobabu's ear arrested it, 'It's Gulba's sound!' Till he reached the barn, Gulba came out muttering, "You go on talking and talking. The cattle are crying for water." Now instead of being angry with him, Bisobabu had to keep quiet. Gulai began to bring pails of water to the animals, meanwhile jabbering, "Not one, recruit four, they'll all spoil. Will you find another like Gulba who would not be unfaithful to you?" Afraid, Bisobabu said, "Where did you hide, Gulai? We have been restless the whole day." And Gulai became angry again, "Keep quite, I don't talk to you."
Bisobabu was angry indeed, but the intimacy with which he had showed his displeasure subdued him. So honest, so hardworking, without any greed, all these virtues entitle one to some prerogatives also. However, according to the mundane rules, Gulba was but a fool. But Bisobabu had become sentimental in his regards.
Gulo asked himself for his dinner that night. And everything went normal since the morning.
Bisobabu prospered more. Gulai's salary also went up from time to time. Symbolically. Meanwhile, Bisobabu's sons went out from Saharsa to live in Patna for the higher studies. Now, when they came home, Gulai made it a point to put some money from his salary into their hands. In spite of these, many times Gulai showed his displeasure only to be persuaded each time again. Once Bisobabu did not try to persuade him. So he asked his master to clear his account finally, put his clothes in a string bag, made his away to the courtyard, came again and so he did twice or thrice. No one tried to appease him, so he fastened his bag to the tip of his staff and began to blubber before making the headway, "Don't think that I'll be persuaded this time again. Keep your kingdom, I'm going. You both man and wife have the fatty milk and enjoy..."
Bisobabu's wife melted, but Bisobabu stopped her, "Let him go, where'll he go? He'll return by the evening." And really he did return by the evening. Coming, he went straight to the courtyard. Bisobabu was sitting in the front but he did not even look at him. He unfastened his bag from the staff, took out the money from the knot of his dhoti and gave them to his mistress, "You keep my money in your box. I won't give it to the master, he'll cheat me." The mistress laughed, "He never cheated you for so long and now he'll cheat you?"
"Yes, he has become dishonest now. When I got angry and was going, did he ever stop me?" he hiccupped from the bitter sob occurring in his throat. The mistress did not know what to do, so she changed the subject and said, "Go, wash yourself. You must be hungry." Gulai was normal simply by this much and made for the front, "I'm coming. Let me first make the bonfire, the cattle must be facing the mosquitoes."
It was not that Gulai was not displeased any more, but he did not try to leave home. At most he skipped one of his meals or two.
The world of Bisobabu had changed greatly. Both his sons were working in the government and both were married with good dowry. Gulo had got yellow dhoti and kurta in the marriage. Gulai also had given money from his salary to the bride in the face-watching ceremony. The occurrence of people at Bisobabu's had increased.
But Gulo did not blubber like before. Now, when he saw people sitting in the lobby, he came home and asked to prepare tea and refreshments. He said this was the honour of the House.
Bisobabu's house of walls and tin-sheets had once again broken away. A pucca House consisting of twelve rooms had taken in place with a large lobby. Both the brothers had built their houses in Patna. When sometimes the brothers came to the village in any festival, they would say to Gulai shallowly, "Come, Gulai. You'll also stay in Patna." But Gulai refused clearly, "You can make good buildings outside, but what's that for? Make it at your home, in your village, you'll be respected in the locality. Your father will also be respected that his son has built it. Where can we go now leaving the village?" In Gulai's 'we', Bisobabu also included. When the sons went away, Bisobabu praised him, "Wah re Gulai! Wherefrom did you get these things in you head?" Gulai looked for the first time into his master's eyes, "If built, it's you who'll rule."
Only after this, the brothers built the House in the village. From foundation to casting to plastering of this building, Gulai worked as if his youth had returned. He had forgotten his hunger and thirst.
After it was built and with the Entrance ceremony, Gulai caught an unknown disease and stuck to bed. At first the doctors in the village were tried. Then the doctor at the Government hospital was consulted. There were many tests, medicines were prescribed. But there was no improvement. The doctor suggested to take him to Patna, adding that Bisobabu should not have any problem there.
But Bisobabu dared not ask this to his sons. They did not have any sentiment with the respect to Gulai. The elder one had once mentioned something like this, "Father, you see, Gulai is of no use now. Who will look after him when he falls ill. You have also grown old. Gulai should go his own home now. Or else he will become a great 'liability' to you at your age." Bisobabu was mute to hear his son. The son went on. "Though he has no family, he must have some relatives from his brother or nephews. Give him all his salary. Wherever he has his home, he must own his share of the property as well. Anyone will serve him whom he chooses to give it."
Bisobabu did not argue with his son. The sons have their own life. And their own ways of living. He did not think it proper to interfere. The son had also suggested him to leave fanning and lease the land and that there was no benefit in farming. That he should have a personal attendant to look after him.
And, now that Guali had gone ill indeed, he lay worried. How his sons became so devoid of sentiments? Bisobabu's own physical strength will also exhaust. If anything happened, he will have to depend upon his sons. Thus thinking, he decided it was good to send Gulai to his own village. He wondered if his elder brother was alive. Never did anyone come to see him. He knew Gulai's address. The buffalo he had bought in the animal market of Supaul was of poor man. He had sent Gulai also with the buffalo requesting Bisobabu to take him also with it, adding that Gulai was somewhat foolish but he would never shrink from any heavier work.
With an excuse to consult a good doctor, Bisobabu came to Saharsa with Gulai. However, the main aim was to take Gulai to his village. If his brother was living he would leave him there. He had taken five thousand rupees extra. Through the way, he mustered his curage and began to explain to him, "Gulai, now you are also aged. You can also see what we are, we have no child near us. Now you should also take rest in your village. You must have your own share of land. Your kinsmen will take them also. For the same reason they will also look after you. Whenever you need money, you send me message..... And till I'm living and the hands and limbs are working, I'll always come."
This was Bisobabu's one sided conversation which went on. Gulai did not speak. His face stood paralysed. He never looked towards his master. Gulai's dumbness distressed Bisobabu. The innumerable events involving Gulai, went on moving before him like a cinema reel. Gulai' s feet were lucky on his yards. In Saharsa, after consulting the doctor, Bisobabu stayed at his son-in-Iaw's. The next day he took the train to Supaul and from there he reached his village by the bus. Even after so many years, Gulai's brother recognised him. He looked at Gulai and again at Bisobabu, "Look, master! He has forgotten us all." Bisobabu reproached, "You also never came to see him." Gulai' s brother went dumb, then nodding, said, "That's also right." There was a glow in his eyes, wet, but no tears came. Gulai's nephew, amazed, now looked at Bisobabu and now at Gulai. From the corner, a woman was peering out. Gulai's brother said to his son,"Your uncle... stayed with him... Go, bring refreshments..." Bisobabu stopped him, "No leave it. I have to return also." Then, forming the background, he spoke of Gulai's sacrifice and faithfulness, his illness and now his own helplessness. He went on, "If old age is spent with one's own people, it's so good. Gulai also has hopes from your sons, hasn't he?
Till there is life...... Serve him.... " As he said this he took out the five thousand rupees
from his bag and put into Gulai' s hands, "Keep this, when you need any more, inform me." Gulai held the money mechanically, not a word came out of him. He lifted his head to look into Bisobabu's eyes. It seemed to Bisobabu that Gulai asked innumerable questions simultaneously. Bisobabu could not look towards Gulai and stood up suddenly. He put his hand on the shoulders of Gulai's nephew and said,"Now my body is also frail son, now the onus is on you all............. " Bisobabu did not want to fall into sentiments by standing there for long. Gathering courage, he looked towards Gulai once. There lay Gulai, speechless. But Bisobabu felt to hear him say, "Go.......................... Go............... ..Keep your kingdom!" Bisobabu looked aside and gradually stepped ahead.
Bisobabu felt somewhat lighter indeed but he walked with a heavier gait.
Translated by NARAYAN KUMAR CHOUDHARY