God lives in the Panch
by Munshi Premchand
The story ………………
Jumman Shaikh and Algu Chowdhury were very good friends living in the same village. Even, minute discord nor rancour ever blemished their friendship. When one went out of the village, the other looked after the family of the absent friend. The villagers admired the friendship between the two, and loved them for it.
Jumman had an old lonely aunt with no one in her family. Fortunately, she was lucky to have some property in her name. For her upkeep in her dotage, she suggested to her nephew Jumman that she would bequeath her property to him in exchange of shelter and food in his household till her death. Jumman agreed, and the deal was struck. The old aunt moved to Jumman’s house, where she was accepted with warmth and welcome. She had hoped that she would see through her dotage with dignity and love in the foster home. The responsibility of looking after the old lady fell on Jammun’s wife.
As days went by, the wife’s love for the old lady began to wane. She felt the old lady to be an unnecessary burden on her means and energy. Predictably, her dislike for the Aunt reflected in her behaviour towards her. The Aunt found the cold and frosty behaviour of Jummman’s wife quite discomforting and hurtful. She protested at times, but could do little to make the young lady mend her manners. Even the frugal meals she ate were hard to come. The old lady resented such neglect and bitterly argued her case with the wife of Jumman resulting in angry exchanges. Taunts flew back and forth. The frequent tiffs led to a full-blown crisis as the Aunt couldn’t take the indignity and neglect any longer.
The Aunt spoke to Jumman about the unbearable behaviour meted out to her by his wife. Jumman could offer no remedy and remained silent. Aggrieved further by her nephew’s indifference, she asked for a small monthly dole so that she could cook her own meals. This plea, too was turned down by the husband-wife duo. The hapless old lady’s misery continued.
The Aunt decided to approach the Panch for seeking redress to the injustice she was battling in Jumman’s household. She approached the villagers to narrate her owes and seek intervention of the Panch. Some gave her a patient and sympathetic hearing, a few mocked her, while some advised her to make it up with NJjumman’s wife, her real tormentor. She drew little solace from such advice.
Finally, the Panch, the adjudicating authority of the village, was convened. On the appointed day, the villagers congregated under a tree to conduct the proceedings. Jumman, the defendant, was given the option to propose one among the villagers as the Panch (the headman for the session). He proposed the name of Algu, his dear friend. Algu occupied the august chair that called for strict neutrality, and fair-play. Algu heard out the two versions, one of the complainant, and the other of his dear friend Jumman.
Caught in a difficult situation, Algu (as the Panch) had to contend with two conflicting positions — the call of duty as the Panch, and the urge to side with his dearest friend. He chose to heed the call of his conscience. After much soul-searching, Algu gave his verdict –Either Jumman gave his old Aunt a monthly allowance or he returned her property.
Jumman was very angry at his dear friend’s stance, not realizing that Algu had only done his duty as a fair, and just Panch.
The fall-out of the Panch verdict made their relationship bitter. Their relationship was frayed beyond repair. Jumman’s heart burned with a desire to avenge Algu’s ‘indiscretion’ of siding with his Aunt. Jumman’s resentful mind blinded his inner vision.
Some days later, misfortune befell Algu. One of his bullocks died. He was forced to sell off the other bullock to a cart owner. The buyer had one month time to pay the cost of the bullock. Sadly, the bullock died before the one-month period ended. Quite understandably, he refused to pay the cost of the bullock to Algu. Much acrimonious exchange followed between the buyer and the seller. As a concession, the buyer offered to loan his bullock to Algu for a few days as a bargain. This was no consolation for Algu. Finally, he decided to take the matter to the Panch.
A meeting of the Panch was arranged at Algu’s behest. Much to the dismay of Algu, Jumman was nominated to act as the Panch on the occasion. He felt, he could not get a favourable verdict from his erstwhile friend Jumman, who had become a foe by then. With fear and nervousness he awaited the Panch’s verdict.
For Algu, it was a big call of conscience. He surely couldn’t undermine the reputation of the Panch by letting his vengeful mind cloud his sense of fair-play. The chair of the Panch was too sacrosanct to be a prey to one’s petty-mindedness.
Jumman solemnly ruled that the cart-owner (the buyer) must pay the full cost of the bullock to Algu despite the fact that animal had died before the one-month credit period. After all, the bullock was fit and healthy on the day of sale. Its subsequent death could not be a ground for non-payment of the agreed money to Algu.
The verdict came as a huge relief to Algu. He could hardly fathom the fact that his arch enemy Junmman had set his acrimony aside, and decided to give a fair and just verdict.
Overwhelmed with joy, he proceeded to hug Jammun. The duo buried their past, and became friends again. Thus, the Panch’s time-honoured reputation of dispensing fair verdict was kept. The moral question – Should friendship override call of conscience, when both are at odds with each other – was settled once and for all.
Characters of Jumman and Algu …..
Jumman .. He appears to be a man with a meek personality. His wife was petty-minded, selfish, and insensitive to the aunt who had given her land to Jumman for sustenance. Obviously his wife reneged on the solemn promise made to the aunt. She maltreated her relentlessly. Jumman turned a blind eye to the way his wife treated his hapless old aunt. Such attitude was immoral and condemnable. To add to his folly, he did not take the Panch’s decision in right spirit, and harboured a grudge against his dearest friend Algu, whom he began to see as his enemy.
However, while acting as the Panch in deciding Algu’s matter, he realized his solemn obligation to be impartial and just. By doing this, he redeemed himself to a great extent. He made up with Algu later. On the whole, Jumman emerges as a normal human being with common failings.
Algu .. While hearing the case against his dear friend Jumman, Algu, as the Panch, did not waver from the path of morality. He delivered a wise decision although it went against Jumman. By doing this, Algu upheld the noble traditions of the Panch. He must have gone through painful dilemma before giving a judgment in favour of the aggrieved aunt. But, he did what the seat of the Panch called upon to do. Friendship with Jumman did not stand on his way. Thus, Algu emerges as a sagacious person with strong moral moorings.