The village about which this story is related maintained a school where education
in the traditional manner was imparted to village boys. The old white-bearded
teacher who taught at the school for thirty years had passed away, much
to the regret of the villagers. He had perhaps never taught more than three
or four pupils at a time, but his culture and good breeding won him a warm
niche in every heart. He was succeeded by another gentleman from a neighbouring
The new teacher
was a young man. He was gifted with all those qualities which make us look
wistfully on our departed youth: energy, health, ambition, hope and vanity.
Since his pedagogic duties did not tax his energy to any extent, he interested
himself in other activities and was fond of the company of young men. In
the midst of his friends nothing would distinguish him from the brotherhood
of the laity. He even disclosed a strain of gallantry in his nature. Some
elderly people recalled the fatherly attitude of his predecessor and sighed
that even those who were expected to set the standard in public behaviour
failed to maintain proper decorum.
The life lived
by a woman in the city is different from that of her sister in the village.
In a city the standard is set by the official class who for this purpose
may be said to include the business and professional class too. Till recently
their womenfolk, both Hindu and Muslim, lived in purdah and would
not leave the four walls of the house except with a veil hanging down to
their toes. There is no question at all of their talking to a stranger,
however good-natured he may be. The village woman, on the
is free from many of the taboos in the city. She moves about freely and
goody goody modesty is alien to her unsophisticated nature. Her conduct
is a true reflection of her nature and not qualified by the fear of Mrs.
Grundy. She is mostly a working woman assisting her husband in the fields
or tending cattle on the outskirts of the village. She will meet anybody
unflinchingly, be he a robber or even the devil, and not faint with fear
like some of her sophisticated sisters living in towns behind latticed
curtains. In spite of that, however, her conduct is unblemished.
referred to above had certain preconceived and illusory notions about village
women. He thought he could play the gallant and thus tickle his vanity.
Women move about freely in villages and his own movements were so timed
as to cross a number of them on the road when they proceeded to their farms.
Sometimes he contrived to enter into conversation with one either on the
roadside or at the village spring where they went daily to fetch water.
There was nothing indecent in his behaviour but it sprang from a motive
which did not appear to be "brotherly" as was the case with the village
in particular, a housewife, both pretty and prosperous whose acquaintance
and friendship he wanted to cultivate. On several occasions he tried to
enter into conversation with her. She never resented such an attempt on
his part but, so far as she was concerned, the matter ended there for her.
It never paved the way for a friendship or even what may be called an acquaintance
because the next time he had to begin once again from the lowest rung.
indication of progress in this way he changed his line of action. The young
boy of the housewife attended the school where the teacher taught. The
teacher frequently said to the boy "Remember me to your mother". The boy
carried the message as charged. The
that the teacher needed a purge for his humour and she chalked out her
line of action. She told her boy to inform the teacher that she wanted
to have a word with him at her house. It was conveyed to him that her husband
was expected to be away for the whole day.
The heart of
the teacher fluttered like a bird when he got the message. He felt highly
excited and in his best attire went too early for the appointment. The
housewife gave him a reception that seemed to lack nothing in warmth. She
seemed to have placed full confidence in his friendship and gallantry.
He could not conceal the lasciviousness in his looks and she reciprocated
by pretending to gaze at him fondly. She busied herself in making tea for
him and offered him a cupful.
While the cup
brimful with tea was steaming in the hands of the teacher, a most unwelcome
visitor arrived in the person of the owner of the house, viz., the husband.
The teacher did not seem to be taken by surprise because the presence of
the housewife had dilated his spirit and elated his vanity. The husband
called his wife in a gruff voice from the yard. The housewife began to
tremble and turned pale.
"I am undone,"
she whispered, "if he discovers you here he will kill me and not spare
"Have no fear,"
said the teacher in a voice that faltered, "he cannot be so harsh."
"I know better
how ruthless he is. Would to God I were dead rather than be surprised in
this compromising situation." She began to beat her breast. "O quick, save
my life" she whispered in a commotion which was now instilled into the
"Is there no
He sees you here and I am killed. He is such a rough bear. Nothing can
save me unless .... she began to wail in a hushed voice.
disguise yourself to escape his suspicion." "Most willingly. I'll do anything
for your sake," said the teacher out of a sense of gallantry and a trace
of relief that a way out was indicated.
In a jiffy
the housewife gave him a working woman's cloak and scarf which he donned
as quickly, casting off his own turban and cloak which she put away. To
allay all traces of suspicion in her husband she placed before him a basketful!
of maize and two portable millstones. They almost acted a pantomime. She
impressed upon him that he must look bashfully downwards, rotate the upper
millstone and turn out the yellow flour. Needless to say that the other
obeyed. Having accomplished all this she came downstairs to meet her husband
so that he did not get a chance to suspect that the teacher was in the
person of the working woman turning out flour.
greeted her husband with a face beaming with smiles. "What is that grinding
sound upstairs?" growled the husband. "It is that deaf woman turning out
maize flour", she replied aloud.
and wife stayed pretty long in the kitchen garden and in the barn. The
sound of grinding continued to come from upstairs though it was slow and
punctuated with intervals of silence. The teacher developed many blisters
on his hands. He thought of slipping away but knew nothing about where
his turban, scarf and tunic had been deposited without which he was sure
to attract the attention of the pariah dog no less than of man.
must be tired now and feeling bitter" said her husband to the housewife,
"you had better dismiss him now. The lesson must have gone home to him."
The housewife gave the captive his clothes and the teacher slipped away
without exchanging another word.
It was remarked
by many people the next day that the teacher had lost much of his liveliness.
His spirit had been clouded by a sort of an eclipse. But nobody knew why.
for neither the housewife nor her husband revealed the secret of the "deaf
woman" grinding maize. One day the housewife sent a message to the schoolmaster
desiring him to repeat the visit. The boy conveyed the message but now
the teacher felt no excitement. All that he said was, "Ask her if she has
consumed the flour ground previously."