Stories of Bengalee Life/The Wiles of a Pleader/Chapter 2


It was a winter morning. Sitting in his office room, Subodh Babu was drinking a cup of tea, sweetened with goor, as sugar was rather expensive. Thanks to Swadeshi, he need not feel ashamed at it now. Lately he has frequently been heard saying to his friends with evident pride—"Don't you trust the shopkeepers, gentlemen. What they sell as country sugar is really imported from Java. Many people think that yellow sugar is always country produce and it is only the crystal white variety that comes from foreign lands. But that is a great mistake. Thousands of tons of yellow sugar are imported every year from Java and elsewhere. I would prefer goor any day gentlemen, to be absolutely on the safe side."

Finishing his tea, Subodh shouted for the house-maid to take the cup and saucer away but nobody came. He then carried the cup to the inner apartments himself and there his wife told him that a little while ago the house-maid had raised a storm for the arrears of her wages, and had finally left, threatening a law-suit.

Poor Subodh heaved a deep sigh and preparing a chelum of tobacco, came back to his office. When at College, he never smoked a hooka, because it was not the fashion to do so. When he joined the bar he found that all the senior pleaders indulged in tobacco and in certain "other things" also. It was only the junior bar who neither smoked nor drank. So Subodh lost no time in providing himself with a hooka. A seer of tobacco of the eight-anna quality lasted him a fortnight. He made enquiries about the "other things" but discovered that a decent bottle could not be had for less than three rupees. So he stopped at tobacco. When at the end of the year he found that briefs were just as rare as at the beginning, although he had been faithfully smoking hooka all the time, he thought of giving it up out of sheer desperation. He did not smoke for a day or two and then found that he had caught a Tartar. However anxious he might be to give up his hooka, the hooka would not give him up. So he took to it again but this time it was only with the four-annas a seer quality of tobacco.

The clock struck ten. It being a Sunday, there was no bother about going to Court. Subodh smoked on and gradually fell into a brown study. The little patrimony that he had brought with him was gone long ago. Then he began to sell his wife's jewellery—one article at a time—but that stock was fast coming to an end also. How much longer could he go on in this way? What would become of him afterwards? Latterly he had been diligently studying the "Wanted" columns of different newspapers and had sent off shoals of applications, but so far without success. Expenses were increasing every day but the income was next to nothing. He made a little money now and then by executing commissions but that was not enough. Subodh Babu went on worrying himself in this manner, taking an occasional pull at his hooka. The hawkers of mohonbhog, the gowalas selling ghee, were passing along the street at intervals, plaintively shouting for customers. Sitting in his lonely office room, poor Subodh finished a whole chelum of tobacco of the four-annas a seer quality.

Some one's footsteps became audible in the compound outside. Subodh started up, muttering to himslf—"Who is that? A client, perhaps?" He had an old battered brief relating to a case long ago decided, which he used to keep handy for show. He quickly snatched it up from the side table and in a moment became deeply immersed in its dirty pages.

The footsteps climbed up the verandah and the next moment Jagat Prasanna Babu made this appearance with a newspaper in his hand. Subodh pushed the old brief aside and hailed his friend with delight, saying—"Glad to see you, old chap. It is an unexpected pleasure, so early in the day."

"Oh, I was so tired sitting all by myself."—Jagat responded—"So I thought I would just look in and have a chat."

"I am glad. I also was longing for company. What's the paper—today's Bengalee? Let me have a look."

Subodh Babu took the paper and opened the page where the situations vacant advertisements usually appeared. Jagat interrupted him saying—"Have you heard the news? Mr. Fuller is arriving here at 7 a.m., the day after to-morrow."

Subodh said—"Is he? I wish His Honour joy. He does't intend calling on me, does he?"

"Suppose he does. You would be at home to him, wouldn't you?"

"No Jagat"—went on Subodh in his bantering way—"That won't suit me at all. Mine is a Swadeshi household and besides, my servant has just run away. How am I to entertain His Honour?"

Jagat said, in the same spirit—"Do you know Subodh, it may be to your advantage to entertain him. Poor man, wherever he goes, nobody gives him a welcome. No Municipality has so far voted him an address. In many towns, the District Boards in their meetings have proposed addresses of welcome but have been outvoted by the non-official members."

Subodh, by way of joke, said—"If you think that my reward may take the shape of a comfortable berth under the Government, I am willing to present Mr. Fuller with an address of welcome myself."

"Haven't you heard that a pleader in East Bengal composed some verses in praise of Mr. Fuller and he has since been appointed a Government Pleader?"

This was a critical point in Subodh's life. What he had said in joke, he began to consider in an earnest manner. After thinking for a few moments he said—"You are right. A Government Pleadership would be the salvation of me, Jagat. But how am I to proceed in this matter?"

Jagat Babu took it merely as a joke and said—"Can you compose a poem in English?"

"No, I haven't rhymed two words together in my life."

"Try. Compose a poem and get it printed in gold. Distribute it to all and sundry, including the officials, the day Mr. Fuller arrives—and forward a copy to His Honour also. The Government Pleader of Faridsing, as Chairman of the Municipality there, did not care to present an address of welcome to Mr. Fuller. I hear that there is trouble over the matter and I shouldn't be at all surprised if you stepped into his shoes in the near future."

Subodh sat silently, engaged in deep meditation.

Jagat Babu in his waggish style went on—"Take your pen and a sheet of paper. I will help you. I used to write verses at one time. How should we begin? 'Hail Fuller—Lord of East Bengal'—what next? How should we rhyme it?"

Subodh sat silently thinking as before. Jagat went on—"Let's rather have 'Hail Bamfylde Fuller—Lord of half Bengal'—it sounds majestic. What would the next line be? We can rhyme 'Bengal' with 'all,' 'call,' 'fall,'—there are plenty more. Yes, yes, let's have

Hail Bamfylde Fuller—Lord of half Bengal,
How glad are Dinajshahi people all

How should it run? Won't you make a single suggestion? What, I compose the whole of the poem and you become the Government Pleader? Very comfortable for you!"

Subodh broke silence, saying—"No Jagat, don't go on in that way. I am thinking of something serious."

"I have got it"—Jagat continued—"yes.—

To welcome thee to their most ancient town—
The worthy representative of the Crown.

No. I think 'glorious' would be a better word than 'worthy'. Just listen to the whole of it—and take it down—

Hail Bamfylde Fuller—Lord of half Bengal,
How glad are Dinajshahi people all
To welcome thee to their most ancient town—
The glorious representative of the Crown.

Take it down Subodh, quick. Such a jewel of a poem should not be lost to the world and posterity."

Subodh said—"Look here Jagat, can you lend me fifty rupees?"

Jagat, feigning annoyance, said—"I say, Subodh, this is very aggravating. Just fancy your introducing such a prosaic subject in the midst of such an ideal occupation. Go to—I won't help you to write the poem."

No smiles played on the lips of Subodh. His eyebrows were puckered. He said—"No Jagat, it is no longer a joke with me. Lend me fifty rupees, like a good chap. I have an idea."

"Really? what may it be?”

"It is an excellent opportunity and I thank you for suggesting the idea to me, though you did not mean it seriously. I want to bamboozle the Government and get something decent out of it. I am determined to try."

Jagat was not prepared for this. "What do you mean to do?"—he asked.

"I will accord a welcome to Mr. Fuller."

"What nonsense! Who are you, pray? Not a Rajah, not a Zemindar, not even a Rai Bahadur. Do you think that you would have an opportunity? Do you expect the Collector to ask you to be present on the railway platform when His Honour arrives? You surely don't imagine that you are going to be invited to the durbar or get a card for private interview?"

"It doesn't matter, Jagat. I am going to do something which will certainly have the effect of bringing me to the prominent notice of Mr. Fuller. That will go a long way towards the attainment of my desire."

Jagat Babu looked very grave. After a moment's reflection he said—"Don't be a lunatic. The whole country has determined not a welcome him; will you alone do it? Like a traitor to your country, will you act against the wishes of our political leaders, from motives of self-interest?"

Subodh replied—"Jagat, you are talking like a school-boy. Here I am, rotting away for four years at Dinajshahi, selling my wife's jewels to buy my bread; have the 'political leaders' ever enquired of me, whether there was anything in my house for to-morrow's dinner? Do you know, I cannot afford to buy a sufficient supply of milk for my little ones—only the youngest born has a seer of milk every day and my wife feeds the others with a kind of porridge made of boiled sooji mixed with sugar. No house-maid stays long, for they are never paid their wages regularly. My wife's hands are getting tough and bony by doing constant house-work. If I get an opportunity of doing something for myself, why shouldn't I? If I can obtain a Government Pleadership by humouring this new Assam Government a little, where is the harm? One gets tired of going about in torn clothes and tattered shoes and being insulted at every turn of the road by one's creditors."

Jagat Babu maintained silence for a little while. Then he said—"What do you intend doing?"

"I will decorate my house nicely."

"Will that serve your purpose?"

"Oh no, that's only a prelude—only the sowing of the seed. After that, things will take shape themselves. Affairs will take such a turn that I am bound to attract Mr. Fuller's favourable notice;—and my desire will be accomplished."

"Are you sure of the final result? You might reap nothing but thorns of abuse and calumny you know."

"I am quite sure. But I will require your good offices."

"What should I do?"

"That I will tell you from time to time as the affair developes. Just at present you need only go about vilifying me to people as a traitor to my country."

Jagat said smiling—"Oh yes, I can do that easy enough."

"But you must be very careful, my boy. Don't let anybody suspect that there is this understanding between you and myself."

"I shall take care."

"That's good. But I want the money to-day."

"All right. I will send it through my clerk as soon as I get home."—Jagat rose to go.

Subodh walked to the gate with him. Before leaving, Jagat said—"Conspiracy is intoxicating. Not a bad game, this. I feel as though I am getting drunk with it. But I am not sanguine of your plan succeeding at all, Subodh, I tell you."

Subodh said with mock reverence—"God grant that the new Assam Government continue in its present mood a little while longer,—and I will succeed."

Shaking hands, the friends parted.