The Shroud

Munshi Premchand translated from Urdu by Muhammad Umar Memon

Read time: about 2 minutes

You cannot talk about short stories without Premchand. We all have at some point in our childhood have read Premchand in our school.

It has been long since I read him last, so I decided to correct this grave mistake by picking up ‘The Shroud’ by the author. Kafan as it is known in Urdu/Hindi, is a Story of two Chamar men belonging to chamar community in an oppressed society.

Ghisu and Madhav are father and son who wait outside their house while Budhiya, Madhav’s wife in labour wails from inside the house twisting and turning in the night. They are too poor to call a doctor or a witch.

They sit and reflect on their lives as they lived. Ghisu talks about the magnificent meal that he had twenty years back when a rich man threw a wedding feast for his daughter. Puri and Kachori were demolished over and over again. He was so full that he couldn’t even drink water after that particular meal. He went home and just slept.

‘You must have eaten twenty puris, I guess?’

‘More than twenty.’

‘I would have gobbled fifty.’

‘I wouldn’t have eaten less than fifty. I was a strapping youth back then. You are not even half as strong.’

Meanwhile, the woman of the house falls silent and they discover her cold body in the morning. Flies were buzzing around her mouth and she gave the ceiling a scold stare. The child died in the womb.

The men decide to borrow money from the richest Zamindar in the village and others came dropping money that their feet for the Shroud. The men, however, decide to spend the money on good meal and alcohol believing that once was the money was spent they would ask for some more and they will get it too.

It is beautiful story that talks about the double standards of the Indian society then. Those who never gave the poor women even tattered rag to wear donated for a new white shroud after her death.

The story also focuses on the rebellious attitude of the Dalits in the shade of laziness. They understand the society very well and in their own subtle way rebel as well as take advantage of it. There is also a clear description of women’s status in household.

It is a beautiful story told in classic Premchand style.

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH