Stories of Bengalee Life/The Wiles of a Pleader/Chapter 5

CHAPTER V

A week after the departure of the Lieutenant Governor, came the wedding day of a daughter of Kishori Mohan Babu, a leading member of the local bar. This gentleman was advanced in years and of a very kindly disposition. When everybody was denouncing poor Subodh in terms of unmitigated abuse, Kishori Babu was the only man who occasionally used to take up Subodh's part. He said one day—"Subodh was quite wrong in doing what he has done. There is no doubt of that. But we must also consider that he is very young and thoughtless. Oh no, you fellows mustn't go on persecuting the poor man like that. The amount of vilification that he has had in the newspapers is quite enough to drive one mad. That ought to be considered quite a sufficient punishment for him. Never mention it again."—Acting against the advice of some brother pleaders, Kishori Babu has invited Subodh also to partake of the marriage feast at his house.

It was evening. Subodh Babu sat in his office room, enjoying his hooka. Jagat well wrapped up in a shawl to conceal his identity, walked in.

Subodh gave him a hearty welcome. "Well, Jagat," he said—"it is so seldom that one sees you now-a-days."

"Yes, I daren't come openly to you. Everybody knows that I have cut you dead. But what about the real affair? Do you see any signs of success? I hope that abuse and denunciation are not going to be the only reward for your trouble."

"Oh no! Everything in due time. We must hold our souls in patience till the psychological moment should arrive."

"I saw in the papers to-day that the Government Pleader of Faridsing has been compelled to send in his resignation. Why not fire off an application?"

"Oh dear no! Not a Government Pleadership. The bar would be too hot for me anywhere after all that has happened."

"What do you desire then?"

"I would much rather become a Deputy Magistrate. It carries a handsome salary—a settled income, and besides, the position is considered to be a high one too."

"The starting salary of a Deputy Magistrate is only two hundred rupees. Why not apply for a Deputy Superintendentship of Police? You get two hundred and fifty to start with."

Subodh replied with vehemence—"What, become a policeman and turn a real traitor to the country? These days, during which I have only posed as a traitor, have been too much for me I tell you. By becoming a Deputy Superintendent of Police my duty in this province will frequently be to go and hurl regulation lathies at the heads of poor urchins who have shouted Bande Mataram, to hunt down boys who in their youthful zeal have thrown away half a seer of Liverpool salt. No, thank you, not the Police Service for me. I would much rather go on starving at the bar."

"To become a Deputy Magistrate, you must send in your application. The Government will not come begging at your door, will they?"

"Of course I will apply—but things are not ripe enough yet. Something more requires to be done."

"What else?"

"I will tell you. You must get me boycotted. That's the thing. Boycott me all of you and then my claims with the Assam Government will be pucca."

"I can boycott you to-morrow—but will that do? How can I persuade others to do it?"

"Kishori Babu has asked me to his daughter's wedding."

"Will you go?"

"Certainly."

"Some people at first raised a difficulty about asking you, but Kishori Babu, like the good soul he is, stood by you and they relented."

"That's unfortunate. You can do one thing. Just as we all sit down to dinner, you kick up a row and refuse to eat with me."

"But what about the others?"

"My dear fellow, you don't know human nature. You will find at least a dozen men there who would follow suit immediately. Then I will come away and send off long telegrams to the newspapers." Jagat hesitated a good deal. He said—"It would be a difficult manœuvre;—I shouldn't like to try it."

"But you must. It is all-important. The Government cannot fail to recognise my claim once I have been boycotted."

Jagat at last agreed to it after much coaxing and persuasion. He drank a cup of tea with Subodh and then left.

The next day, Jagat did as was arranged upon. About forty men sat down to dinner in a big hall and before the basket loaded with pooris made its appearance, Jagat jumped to his feet and said—"Gentlemen, you will excuse me. I am unable to dine in this company. Over there I see a man who by his conduct has forfeited his claim to be considered a member of our caste. I refuse to eat with Babu Subodh Chandra Haldar—a traitor to the country's best interests."

Several other young men also stood up and declared that they were exactly of the same opinion and would rather go away hungry than eat with Subodh Babu.

A great hubbub followed. Many persons were seen getting ready to depart. At this juncture Subodh stood up and said—"Gentlemen, pray be seated. It is not proper that so many of you should go away because of one man. I would much rather go away myself, gentlemen, and leave you to enjoy yourselves."—Having delivered this speech, Subodh shot out of the room.

Poor Kishori Babu was greatly distressed at this unexpected calamity. He ran after Subodh, caught hold of him near the gate of his house, and besought him to remain and have his dinner in a separate room, all by himself.

Subodh set himself free from the poor old man's grasp with a violent jerk, saying—"No, thank you, Sir. I did not come here to be insulted like this. It is too much—really too much."

Coming home, he drafted a long telegram giving a full description of the incidents of the evening with embellishments calculated to greatly heighten the effect, and despatched copies of it to different Calcutta dailies regardless of cost. He of course took care not to put his own name down as the sender of these telegrams. Once again the newspaperdom of Calcutta, both Indian and Anglo-Indian, was on fire. Some Indian newspapers wrote—"The noble example set by Dinajshahi in thus boycotting a traitor to the country should be followed everywhere." The Anglo-Indian papers greatly sympathised with Subodh and wanted to know why the Government could not protect its loyal subjects from outrage at the hands of seditionists.

A week elapsed. Subodh sent in his application to Shillong praying to be provided with a Deputy Collectorship. He mentioned that he had been boycotted not only in social matters but professionally also and had thus been deprived of the means of his livelihood.

A fortnight passed—no news from Shillong. Subodh began to get a little nervous about it. The Government, he thought, was not to be hoodwinked,—no Deputy Collectorship for him—and his chances at the bar gone for ever too.

Sunday came round. Subodh finished his cup of tea sweetened with goor and abandoned himself to his hooka and vain regrets. He was thinking of the worldly wisdom contained in the fable of the dog and the shadow, when suddenly Jagat made his appearance with a smile on his lips and a newspaper in his hand. Subodh was astonished to see him throw prudence to the winds and come in this open manner.

"Hallo, Jagat,—is that the Bengalee?"

"No, it is the Englishman."

"Anything fresh?"

"Yes,—something very fresh indeed."

"What's it?"

"Guess."

"I give it up. Come, let me see what it is."

Jagat showed him a paragraph which ran as follows:—"We understand on good authority that Babu Subodh Chandra Haldar, b.l., has been appointed by the E. B. and Assam Government to the post of an eighth grade Deputy Collector. This gentleman was a pleader of considerable eminence at Dinajshahi, at any rate till the recent visit of His Honour the Lieutenant Governor of the province to that town, when Babu Subodh was rash enough to decorate his house as a mark of rejoicing and pay his loyal homage to His Honour at the durbar. The story of the persecution suffered by this brave and loyal Bengalee at the hands of his fellow-townsmen is well known to our readers. We thoroughly approve of the appointment."

Subodh read the paragraph twice over and then said with a sigh—"It is too good to be true. There is nothing in the Gazette yet."

"Never mind the Gazette"—Jagat said in a tone of assurance.—"A paragraph in the Englishman is just as good as an announcement in the official gazette. You ought to know that, Subodh."

Jagat was right. The very next issue of the E. B. and Assam Gazette contained the announcement.

Subodh is now a Deputy Magistrate at Dacca. He no longer drinks his tea sweetened with goor. Pure Swadeshi crystal sugar manufactured at Cossipur now serves the purpose. He has taken to eight-annas a seer tobacco again.