was well-known in the gentry of the country. He belonged to an ancient
family of repute who claimed many cars in their lineage - kardars, chakaldars, tehsildars
and what not. Of course, he himself was a prominent
zamindar owning many khirwars of paddy land. He was naturally referred
to respectfully as "the Pandit," or "Pandit Saheb" among those associated
with him in different capacities. It was believed that wealth earned during
several generations in his family lay hidden in the underground cellars
in his house. He had immense credit throughout the country among the businessmen
as well as the populace. He maintained and even excelled the traditions
of his ancestors in the observance of all formalities and spent lavishly
on such festivals as the Shivaratri, the new year's day and the shradha ceremonies
of his parents.
did not hold any public appointment at the time to which this narrative
refers. In fact he had been waiting for several years for the chance of
securing such an appointment through the good offices of his friends. He
had been deprived of an important position by the previous governor not
because he had in any way failed to discharge his duties and obligations
properly but because one of his cousins had out of envy and malice hatched
a plot against the Pandit and he was cashiered out, much to his chagrin.
He had already covered some ground in rehabilitating himself in the good
opinion of the new governor and felt satisfied with his progress.
position was by no means enviable in spite of what his cousins said—that
he had enriched himself with the wealth of Kuvera during the tenure
of his office. Land was the only source of his income now and agricultural
produce was worth little in the market. In the absence of any settled land
policy in the State cultivators by no means felt attracted towards the
"good earth." A man took to agriculture only when he had no other source
of livelihood, and more often than not he gave up farming as he could not
spare out of his meagre earnings enough money to pay his rent. A cultivator
had to discharge other obligations towards the landlord besides paying
the usual rent.
lost the official patronage the Pandit did not reduce the lavish expenditure
of his household. He felt that it would go against the traditions of his
family established by his illustrious forefathers. He was also afraid that
such a step would prejudice his credit in the country. He maintained a
retinue of servants and maids some of whom had been in his service for
decades, and there was the usual stable: ponies with their grooms and cows
with their milkmen.
of expenditure was in no way compatible with his present means and the
Pandit was not a little worried on this account. He had been postponing
the solemnization of his daughter's wedding on the pretext that the stars
were not propitious for such an undertaking. But he was not unaware of
the whispers of a rumour set afloat by his cousins that the postponement
was due to his insolvency. This was a serious matter as far as he was concerned,
for these rumours were more piercing than shafts of steel, and he was much
upset on this account.
never come alone. In the wake of all these troubles came one day the astounding
discovery that one of his servants in whom he reposed considerable trust
had forsaken him and taken service with the person he dreaded most, i.e.
his cousin. Along with the servant went all the domestic secrets naturally,
and this was the worst of it. The domestic had broadcast that he no longer
wanted to burden a man moving about on his crutches. This was, therefore,
the reason why the wedding of his daughter could not be postponed further.
One night along with his wife he was ransacking the secret chambers holding
their valuables when she fell down with a shriek, somebody had stolen into
these chambers and made away with many valuable ornaments. The Pandit,
therefore, went over the accounts of income and expenditure for the last
several years and cursed his negligence which had suffered the servant
above referred to and possibly his accomplices too, to defraud him systematically.
His efforts to have the servant brought to book resulted in his receiving
threats from the ungrateful wretch, threats of dire consequences. As the
servant was guided by his cousin, and the latter never lost a chance in
trying to do him down, the Pandit considered it expedient not to press
the matter further for the time being.
was not satisfied with the success of his plans in bringing about the downfall
of the Pandit. Nothing would give him (the cousin) greater pleasure than
to raze him to the ground completely. He gladly accepted the suggestion
of the erstwhile servant of the Pandit that a clever burglar be egged on
to subject the house of the enemy to his depredations, and their choice
fell on Layuq, the captain of thieves. Armed with the directions about
the interior of the house, the underground cellars and the types of locks
used, Layuq set about his task with circumspection and thoroughness for
which he was known and dreaded.
of the Pandit was built in the mediaeval style on the pattern of a square.
The three-storeyed house built on all the four sides enclosed a space several
hundred yards in area. There was one main entrance which led to the interior
of this citadel, but, in addition, there were two or three inlets used
by the domestics. When the situation of law and order in the country was
not quite normal, all the entrances were well guarded; peaceful times,
however, admitted of some relaxation in these and other matters.
One night when
the Pandit repaired as usual to his bedroom for repose his wife expressed
her anxiety on the postponement of their daughter's wedding. The Pandit
was usually a man of fortitude and forbearance and would not worry his
wife with their deteriorating financial condition. On this occasion, however,
he felt that he should reveal the real position to her and gave her an
account of the various machinations of his enemies chief among whom was
his cousin, who brought about his ruin.
"I have been
facing odds with a heart of steel," said he to her, "and have consistently
avoided every chance that might give you even a glimpse of the fearful
chasm on the brink of which we perilously stand. Who would not like to
discharge his obligations towards his children? I should have solemnized
the wedding of our daughter several years back if I had the wherewithal
for the purpose. The last blow has been the villainous act of the ungrateful
servant who, false to his salt, not only left our service but robbed us
of valuables worth a good deal and must have betrayed our secrets to the
very enemy who brought about my downfall."
his wife, "why have you been holding these secrets away from me? If I deserve
to enjoy your prosperity, am I not worthy of sharing with you the sorrows
that befall the family? We have no doubt fallen on lean days, but you could
dispose of what remains of the jewellery given to me by my father to meet
the expenses of the wedding."
is exactly what I don't propose to do. We have fallen on very bad times,
but we have still some credit in the country which I don't want to strain
further. In fact it is very painful for me to keep up the presence of living
according to the traditions of my illustrious ancestors. But the moment
it is known outside how miserable we are, there will be no end to difficulties
and troubles for us. Those who speak to us respectfully will assume insulting
attitudes, and those who sue the hand of our daughter in marriage will
spurn it if and when offered. The governor, who seems to be favourably
inclined towards me and to whom I am looking for gainful patronage will
dismiss such an idea from his mind. Above all, our cousin will make merry
to see us exposed thus. Therefore, dear lady, it is not feasible to dispose
of any of our scanty valuables to meet our expenses and thus strike at
the roots of the prestige and credit that we still enjoy.... "
gave an account of his troubles to his spouse in such a pathetic tone that
she wondered if she could have, knowing all this, been able to stand the
mental strain. On this occasion, however, she broke down and wept bitterly
and cursed her stars that by a hostile concatenation had conspired to ruin
them just on the eve of the wedding of their daughter. "The nose of our
respectability is cut, thanks to our cousins whose thirst for vengeance
upon us will not be slaked till they see us utterly ruined... hic... hic...
Her lord tried
to console her but even he realized that for a number of years his affairs
had been going from bad to worse without a single exception whereas all
the blows aimed at him by his cousin were effective. So far he had never
allowed his anxieties and woe to have the upper hand over his reserve,
fortitude and manliness. But the proximity of his wife had a softening
influence over him; his emotions ran riot inside him and considering himself
sheltered from prying eyes, he also broke down.
But they were
not alone actually. Adjacent to their bedroom was the strong room where
they kept their valuables, and the insidious Layuq was already lodged there,
egged on by the agents of the Pandit's cousin. He knew the Pandit for a
man of considerable strength of mind. He had been given exaggerated accounts
of his wealth by the agents of his cousin and in his view all was grist
that came to his mill. But he was the unobserved spectator of a scene which
none else would have the opportunity of knowing at first hand and he could
see that it was not dressed up for his sake. He regretted that he should
have undertaken the adventure on the wrong and misleading advice of malicious
persons. He waited for some time till the lord and lady of the house were
fast asleep, and slinked away as quietly and mysteriously as he had entered.
of the Pandit expected to add another feather to his glory by having his
house swept clean of valuables and other ancestral property. Though the
thing had not happened, he expected the good news to come the next morning.
What actually took place was in astounding contrast to his expectation.
The next morning he found that all his chests were rifled and that his
house was despoiled of the valuables. They could not easily compute the
extent of the loss suffered.
The same morning
the Pandit found in his bedroom a small compact bag which he had never
seen before. He examined its contents in the presence of his wife and they
were surprised to find in it valuables worth thousands. Along with it was
a sort of a cipher code which was not easily intelligible.
the message read, "Layuq is not a mere burglar. He has a heart!"