A Wife’s Complaint

  • 17 Aug - 23 Aug, 2019
  • Premchand
  • Fiction

Sometimes he plays the part of a youngster and sits down to play cards with the boys. How can a father like that inspire any awe in his children? Not like my dad. My brother wouldn’t have dared to look him in the eye. We’d tremble at the sound of his voice. It was enough for him to set foot in the house for all of us to stop talking. The boys felt they were taking their lives in their hands when they faced him. And the result of this upbringing is that all of them now have good jobs. True, none of them has good health; but then daddy’s health was not all that good either. Poor man, he was always falling ill. So how could his son’s health be good? Anyway, be that as it may, education and correction was something he never spared any of them.

One day I saw his honour teaching our elder son how to fly a kite – ‘Turn it like this, dip it like this, pull it like this, let it out like this.’ He was putting all he had into his teaching, as if he were a guru teaching mantras. That day I gave him a telling off he’s not likely to forget. I told him straight. ‘Who do you think you are, ruining my children? If you’ve got on interest in our home, alright. But don’t ruin my children: don’t encourage them in idle pursuits. If you can’t improve them, at any rate don’t ruin them.’ He tried to make excuses. My dad would never take any of his boys to any fair or to see any show. No matter how much fuss the boy created he would never relent. But this good man not only takes them but asks every one of them if they’d like to go. ‘Come on! It’ll be great there! There’ll be fireworks, and balloons, and English big wheels. You’ll enjoy going on them!’ as though that were not enough he lets them play hockey. These English games frighten me. Cricket, football, hockey, each more fatal than the last. If the ball hits you it can practically kill you. But he thinks these games are great. When one of the boys comes home and tells him his side has won he’s as happy as if they’d taken a fort. He’s not in the least afraid – never thinks of what might happen if one of them gets hurt. If they break an arm or a leg, what sort of life will they have, poor boys?

Last year we got our daughter married. He was determined he wouldn’t spend so much as a penny on a dowry, not even if the girl had to stay unmarried all her life. He sees every day how mean people are, but nothing gives him eyes to see. So long as our social system lasts and people point the finger at any girl who is left unmarried long after puberty, this convention won’t disappear. You’ll be lucky to find three or four people enlightened enough to forego a dowry. But the impact they make is very small, and the bad old ways continue as usual. It’s only when the time comes when girls, like boys, can still be unmarried at twenty or twenty-five without getting a bad name, that this custom will disappear of its own accord. Wherever I tried to get a match for her the question of a dowry came up; and every time he dug his heels in. After this had gone on for a whole year, and the girl was nearly seventeen, I found someone who was willing. His honour too consented to it, because the people concerned hadn’t made any formal agreement about it, although they felt sure in their own minds that they’d get a sizeable amount, and I too had made up my mind to do my very best to see to it that nothing was lacking. I felt sure that the wedding would go off without a hitch. But his holiness opposed me in everything. ‘This custom is absurd, that custom is meaningless. Why need we spend money on that? Why do we need singers?’ he got on my nerves. ‘Why this? Why that? That’s exactly the same as giving dowry. You’ve disgraced me. You’ve ruined my good name.’ Just think of it, the bridegroom’s party is waiting at the door and we’re arguing over every little thing. The appointed time for the marriage was twelve o’clock at night. That day the girl’s parents fast. I did, but he would have none of it. ‘We don’t need to fast. When the groom’s parents don’t fast why should the bride’s parents fast? Not only, I, but the whole family tried to stop him, but no, he had his breakfast and his other meals as usual. Well, night came, and it was time for the kanyadan. He’s always objected to this ceremony. ‘A girl isn’t something that you give away. Money you give away; animals you can give away, but “giving away” a girl is a lot of nonsense.’ I did my utmost to persuade him. ‘It’s an ancient custom. The shastras clearly prescribe it.’ His relatives and friends tried to persuade him, but he was absolutely unmoved. I said to him, ‘What will people say? They’ll think we’ve abandoned our religion.’ But he just wouldn’t listen. I fell at his feet and pleaded with him – went so far as to say, ‘All right, don’t you do anything. All there is to do I’ll do myself. But just come and sit in the pavilion next to the girl and give her your blessing.’ But this man of God simply turned a deaf ear. In the end I burst out crying. I couldn’t stomach the idea that when the girl’s father was there his brother or my brother should give her away. So I did it all on my own.

But it’s a strange thing that in spite of all these things I can’t bear to be parted from him for a single day. With all his faults, I love him. What there is about him that makes me crazy about him I don’t know myself. But there’s certainly something that makes me a slave to him. If ever he’s a bit later than usual in coming home I get anxious. If he gets so much as a headache I go frantic. If fate today were to offer me in exchange for him a man who was the very embodiment of learning and intelligence and rich and handsome, I wouldn’t so much as look at him. And it’s not just that I’m doing my duty. Not at all. And it’s not conventional loyalty either. It’s just that something has happened to both of us, something that’s given us an ability to adjust to, and harmonise with each other like the moving parts of a machine which long use has adapted to working together so perfectly that no new part, however well-formed and beautiful, could ever take their place. We walk along a familiar road, without fear, without looking, because our eyes have taken in all its ups and downs and twists and turns. Think how difficult it would be to walk along some strange road, afraid at every step of losing our way, afraid all the time of thieves and robbers. In fact, I think today that I wouldn’t even want to exchange his faults for virtues.