Stories of Bengalee Life/The Wiles of a Pleader/Chapter 3

CHAPTER III

It is Monday. To-morrow the Lieutenant-Governor is due to arrive; but yet, the people of the town are not making the slightest preparation to welcome the distinguished visitor. The sorrow and the insult resulting from the Partition of Bengal are rankling in the bosoms of all. The members of the Municipal Board, by an overwhelming majority, have outvoted the proposal to present His Honour with an address of welcome. The District Board have refused to pass a similar resolution though proposed from the chair by the Collector himself. The big landholders of the district who always took a prominent part in all public affairs have suddenlytaken ill and gone away to different places for a change of air. A Mahomedan Deputy Magistrate and his co-religionist the Special Sub-Registrar of the town have, after much effort, started a brand new association called the Anjumania Islamia, consisting of about twenty members all told, and this Association have got up an address. Unfortunately no non-official member knew enough English to read out the address at the Durbar. The good Nawab of Dacca, being apprised of this difficulty by a telegram, has forthwith sent one of his English-knowing relations to Dinajshahi to assist them in their pleasant function.

On Monday morning the people of the town beheld a curious spectacle. About ten or twelve men were busily engaged in decorating the outside of Subodh Babu's house. Quantities of jhow and deodar leaves were seen heaped on his verandah. A few freshly cut banana trees were also visible. Speedily an arch constructed of split bamboos rose over his gateway. In half an hour the arch was covered over with the beautiful foliage of the deodar. On either side of the gate a banana tree was implanted. At the foot of each tree stood a new ghurra full of water, freshly painted over in yellow. Wreathes of marigold encircled each window facing the street. The outside wall was decorated all over with circular patches composed of jhow leaves, with a bunch of bright flowers of different colours fixed at the centre. To keep the flowers and the foliage fresh, one man was solely employed to bathe them with sprays of water at frequent intervals.

This kept Subodh Babu engaged till one o'clock. He then quickly finished his breakfast, wrote out a petition to the District Superintendent of Police, and ran to the police office. The petition contained a prayer for permission to display some fire-works at his own compound on the next day, in honour of the Lieutenant-Governor's visit to the town. Needless to say that the petition was granted as soon as it was put up before the D. S. P.

Returning home, Subodh again busied himself in looking after the decorations. He took a long piece of wooden plank and pasted it over with white paper. Then with a pair of scissors, he cut out of a sheet of scarlet paper certain letters of the alphabet intended to form a sentence welcoming Mr. Fuller to Dinajshahi. He was carefully fixing these letters on the white board when some young men and boys of the National School paid him a visit. The foremost of them saluted him politely and said—" What is all this, Sir?"

Subodh feigning a baby-like simplicity replied—"The Lieutenant-Governor is coming to-morrow, you see. I am therefore decorating my house as a sign of welcome to him."

"But, Sir, nobody else is doing it. Why should you?"

"Why? What's the harm?"

"Every one is in mourning because of the Partition of Bengal. This is not an occasion for festivity."

"Everybody is in mourning, did you say? But why? I find everybody just as jolly as ever."

"Do you then think, Sir, that the Partition of Bengal is a matter for rejoicing?"

Subodh was flabbergasted at this remark. Only the other day, at a public meeting to protest against the Partition,—he had harangued the audience in language such as this:—"My brother Bengalees,—till we have avenged this Partition,—this cutting in twain the beloved body of our Mother Bengal with a cruel sword as it were, let us not indulge in any kind of luxury or festivity, &c., &c."

Subodh kept a stolid silence. The boys tried to persuade him to desist and allow them to strip off the decorations. At last he found his voice to say—"It would be foolish to do that after spending so much money over it."

The boys said—"Kindly tell us what you have spent and we will make good the amount to you. All the students are willing to subscribe out of their tiffin-money at school."

Subodh felt a sudden pang shoot through his bosom. But he was not the man to desist from his purpose for merely sentimental reasons. In a voice of pretended annoyance he said—"Leave me alone. You boys have begun to poke your noses into everybody's affairs. Go home and mind your studies."

The boys left with a sigh of disappointment. It suddenly struck Subodh Babu that they were just as likely as not to come at night and tear up the decorations. They were up to any kind of mischief. So he put on his cutcherry dress and went to see the Police Superintendent. Arriving at his bungalow he was told that the Superintendent had gone to see the Collector. Subodh Babu, therefore, went to the Collector's kothi and sent in his card to the D. S. P.

He was sent for immediately. He found the Superintendent and the Collector sitting together. Subodh salaamed them both and stood, waiting their pleasure.

"What can I do for you, Babu?"—said the D. S. P.

"Sir, I have decorated my house in honour of the Lieutenant Governor's arrival tomorrow. I have reason to apprehend that school-boys would come at night and tear up the decorations."

"Are you the gentleman who applied to-day for permission to display fire-works?"

"Yes, Sir."

The D. S. P. turned to the Collector and said—"It was about this gentleman that I was speaking."

The Collector looked at Subodh with a benignant smile, saying—"Are you a pleader?"

"Yes, Sir."

"That's good. I am glad to see you are so loyal. Would you like to attend His Honour's durbar tomorrow?"

"Yes, Sir—that would be a great privilege."

"All right. I will give you an invitation card. Your name, please?"

Subodh gave his name. The Collector took a blank card, filled it in himself and gave it to Subodh. The Police Superintendent said—"Never mind, Babu. Your decorations shall be safe. I will order four constables to mount guard in front of your house to-night."

Subodh saluted both the officers in a very deferential manner and took his departure.

The Lieutenant Governor arrived the next day at the appointed hour. Subodh Babu took his stand near his gate, in full dress, shamla and all. The phæton conveying the distinguished visitor drew near. The Commissioner of the Division and the Collector were also in the same carriage. As the equipage approached the gate, Subodh bent himself nearly double and salaamed His Honour. Mr. Fuller with a smiling face returned the salute. For a moment he cast his glance at the flags and festoons and the plank surmounting the archway over the gate, bearing the inscription—

Long live Fuller.
Welcome to Dinajshahi.

A faint smile played on His Honour's lips. The next moment the phæton was out of sight.

The durbar was to be held at ten o'clock. A big pandal had been set up on the maidan. After nine, Subodh hired a hackney carriage and drove to the place. He dismissed the gharry on arriving there, intending to walk back.

The durbar was very thinly attended. There were only two or three members of the zemindar class. All the gazetted officers of the Government—Deputy Magistrates, Munsiffs, had mustered in full force. Other servants of the Government,—ministerial officers and amlas were also in evidence. These latter had been especially ordered to be there so that the place might not look too empty. But this had been a sore trial to the amlas. They were poorly paid and managed to make both ends meet somehow. They possessed only one suit of cutcherry dress each,—hardly fit to be seen at a durbar in. Some of them had to borrow the suit they were wearing now. Those who had no such opportunity, have appeared in their everyday cutcherry costume—much the worse for constant wear. They could not help it, poor fellows. They ran the risk of losing their berths if they did not come. Besides Government servants, non-official gentlemen, either Hindus or Mohamedans, were very few in number. There were about fifteen Mohamedans present, representing the Anjumania Islamia.

In due time, His Honour entered the pandal. He looked venerable in his grey hairs. His face was lit up with a genial smile. All present stood up. The Collector then called upon the Anjumania Islamia to read their address of welcome. This done, the document was enclosed in a silver casket and presented to His Honour. The Mohamedans had printed Mr. Fuller's name as Sir Bamfylde Fuller, thus happily anticipating the honour conferred on him by Government some months later. Mr. Fuller stood up and delivered a speech in English and then another in Hindustani. Then came the ceremony of introductions.

The Collector presented to His Honour one by one all the important personages there. Subodh deliberately pushed his way through the crowd and mustered courage to take his stand quite close to the Collector. The latter smiled at Subodh indulgently and presented him. Mr. Fuller shook hands with him cordially and said—

"Are you the gentleman who saluted me on my way from the railway station this morning?"

"Yes, Your Honour."

"Your house was beautifully decorated. I admire your taste. Are you a pleader"

"Yes, Your Honour."

"The pleaders are generally very disloyal. I am highly annoyed with them. You, I find, have refused to dance to the piping of Surendra Nath Banerjee."

"I don't forget my duty, Your Honour, at the instance of other men."

"Very good. Come this afternoon to the Circuit House for private interview."—and Subodh was dismissed. Other people were introduced.

By and by the durbar broke up. Subodh was leaving when the Collector came up to him hurriedly and handing him a blank card for private interview said—"You are a lucky man. His Honor has especially asked for you. Come in time."

Subodh thanked the Collector profusely and left.

On his way home his thoughts were—"what is all this? The most unexpected things are happening. Only the day before yesterday Jagat said in a sarcastic manner 'You surely don't imagine that you are going to be invited to the durbar or get a card for private interview?' Yet, all this have come to pass. Will the Government Pleadership then slip through my hands? Are the days of tribulation over at last? Is my lucky star beginning to rise?"

Subodh slowly wended his way to his home. When he had arrived at a short distance from it, he stopped and viewed the decorations. He felt very flattered that the Lieutenant-Governor himself had admired his taste. He looked on for a few moments with a gaze of rapture. He was about to proceed again when a very disagreeable thing happened.

The house near which he had taken his stand belonged to another pleader. Some mischievous urchins of the house who were on the roof, emptied a pail of water thickened with mud and cow-dung, directly over his head. Subodh cast his horrified looks above. Somebody shouted in derision—"Long live Subodh Babu. Welcome to Pandemonium."

The dirty water, thoroughly besmearing his shamla, descended to his chapkan in several currents. Then soaking the chapkan through and through, it flowed down his trousers and found entrance into his shoes. In this condition, Subodh Babu hurried home as fast as his legs could carry him.