By Pundalik N. Naik
Translated from the Konkani by Vidya Pai
(A marketplace in a village inhabited by lazy people. Some puff on beedies. Some rattle dice or play at sedentary games. Others gossip. A man approaches a group of idlers and addresses one who looks like a labourer.)
MAN: Hey you! Will you lift a load for me?
LABOURER: A load? All right. On to whose head?
MAN: Aren’t you a labourer?
LABOURER: Yes…. But I don’t lift loads. My neck aches.
MAN: Where can I find a labourer?
LABOURER: Not here.
(The others also shake their heads to say ‘No’.)
Go look somewhere else.
(The Man goes away.)
(Another group of idlers squatting on the ground. A man who looks like a farmer approaches them.)
FARMER: Will some of you work for me?
FIRST MAN: What work?
FARMER: You must dig up the land in the orchard.
SECOND MAN: Dig the ground?
THIRD MAN: If you wanted us to dig your field I’d have come.
FOURTH MAN: There are big stones and boulders in the orchard. My hands will get sore.
FARMER: You’ll get good wages. More than you’d get for working in the fields.
FIRST MAN: That’s all right. But it’s a lot of hard work, isn’t it?
(The others nod in agreement. The farmer walks away.)
(A man sits alone on one side. Another man hails him.)
SECOND MAN: You there! Will you work in my field?
FIRST MAN: Where?
SECOND MAN: There. Across the river.
FIRST MAN: My god! So far? I’d have come if it were closer.
SECOND MAN: So I’ll pick up the field and bring it closer…. For your convenience!
(Walks away angrily.)
( A man is telling a story to a group of people sitting around him.)
STORY TELLER: There were different types of people in that kingdom. Farmers worked in the fields, businessmen plied their trade, teachers taught the young ones, doctors tended the sick and there were the wise men who gave the King good counsel. Each man did something or the other, no one remained idle and the kingdom came to be known as the Land of the Industrious.
One day the King decided to explore his kingdom. Like a beautiful woman, bored with the golden chains slung about her neck, the King was disgusted.
‘Pradhanji!’ he roared, ‘What is this? Our kingdom is full of busy, hardworking people, not an idle soul anywhere to be seen. Shameful! Shameful indeed!’
The Prime Minister understood what the King was trying to say.
‘How can that be, sire, it’s such a large kingdom, there must be one lazy person, somewhere! Let the message be carried all over the land, let all those who are lazy and idle gather here at once.’
And so the messengers went far and wide, ‘All of you who are Idle! Those of you who are Lazy! Present yourself in the King’s court on such and such a day at such and such a time! If you are too lazy to move, your family must carry you there by force!’
And so, at the appointed time on the appointed day the King’s court was filled with lazy people. Most had come on their own, but some had been carried there on people’s shoulders or on their backs.
The King was delighted, his heart swelled with pride, but soon lines of worry formed on his brow.
‘Pradhanji, what proof is there that all these people are really lazy ones? Some might be pretending to be lazy to get free food and shelter here.’
‘Leave that to me, your Highness’, the Prime Minister said as he took the crowd of idlers to a big house.
Days passed. They got free food and drink. And then, one night, the Prime Minister set fire to that house. All the people scurried out like rats except for one man who continued to lie on his bed. He was awake. He knew that the others had fled. He could see that his bed was on fire and he would be roasted alive, but he was too lazy to move.
The Prime Minister picked him up and carried him to the King, ‘Maharaj, there is only one Lazy man in our kingdom, and this is the one.’
The King was delighted. He made the man sit by his side and heaped honours on him.
(With pride) And do you know where that lazy man hailed from? He belonged to our village, he was one of our ancestors.
ONE MAN: What proof is there that he was one of our ancestors and from this village?
STORY TELLER: What more do you want? Aren’t we living proof of this fact?
(They all laugh in delight. A man rushes up to them. His name is ANKUSH. His clothes are different from theirs and there is a sense of purpose and agility in his gait.)
ANKUSH: Swami Chaitanyakumar Maharaj ki jai! Glory be to Swami Chaitanyakumar!
(People gather around him.)
ANKUSH: Swami Chaitanyakumar will come to this village. He has announced this plan.
PEOPLE: Swami Chaitanyakumar?
ANKUSH: The whole world knows Swami Chaitanyakumar.
(People are confused.) There is not an ant or a fly in the whole world that doesn’t know Swami Chaitanyakumar.
(Each man is lost in thought.)
ANKUSH: Swami Chaitanyakumar!
PEOPLE: Yes, yes. We know him. We have heard his name.
ANKUSH: Swami Chaitanyakumar is coming to your village.
PEOPLE: To our village?
(People are happy. They tell each other the news. They press on each other and ANKUSH is shoved to one side. He stands at a distance and gazes at them before walking away. The commotion slowly subsides and they begin to speak.)
FIRST MAN: I’ve heard a lot about this Swami. He makes holy ash appear out of his fist. Like this …..!
PEOPLE: (Not too impressed) Oh Bibhut!
FIRST MAN: Yes bibhut at first. Then, a gold ring from thin air or a golden chain ….
(People listen, astonished.)
SECOND MAN: I’ve heard this too. But this Swami can’t make sacks of wheat or rice appear from his fist!
FIRST MAN: Quiet, worthless fellows! This Swami is not poor like you and me, so he doesn’t bother with sacks of rice and wheat. He is the Swami of the rich. He creates the things they like.
THIRD MAN: I’ve heard that he slips those things out from under his loose sleeves. (To the man beside him) How can he bring you sacks of rice and wheat, then?
FOURTH MAN: But how do these things get into his robes, in the first place?
THIRD MAN: A miracle!
FIFTH MAN: He can give you medicine for any illness, that’s a fact.
FIRST MAN: Not pills and injections. Just water and ash, or teerth and bibhut. Never mind what the problem is, swallow what he gives and a man who is flat on his back stands up erect!
THIRD MAN: So we don’t need doctors and hospitals.
FIRST MAN: Not if the Swami is around. Doctors take his advice during important operations, these days.
SIXTH MAN: Heard this story with my own ears….once, when the Swami was going somewhere with his disciples his chariot stopped suddenly. No oil in the tank. The Swami picked up an empty can and drew water from a well. He poured it into the tank. The rath started moving again and off they went.
FIFTH MAN: True, absolutely true. But they weren’t travelling on a rath. That was a car. Only Gods ride on chariots and those are drawn by horses.
SIXTH MAN: Whatever. But it’s a fact that the Swami turned water into petrol.
SEVENTH MAN: Let me tell you something that people have seen with their own eyes. I haven’t, but others have. Women who go to the Swami never return empty-handed. They are blessed with a child, whether they want one or not. Actually women who want a male child go to the Swami, and sure enough a baby boy is born. One day something extraordinary happened. A woman prayed for a male child but she gave birth to a baby girl. She took the infant and laid it at the Swami’s feet. He shut his eyes, muttered some chants and waved his hands this way and that. He gave her something that looked like a beedi stub and told her to press it into place. What an extraordinary miracle, the baby girl turned into a boy! People saw this happen right in front of their eyes, of course I didn’t see it.
PEOPLE: Boy or girl, that doesn’t affect us. Rich people worry about all that, they don’t have enough children. We do.
ONE MAN: But tell me this, is it true that the gods eat the food that is served in the Swami’s plate?
FIRST MAN: Of course. The gods taste it first. Then the Swami eats some of it and the rest is distributed amongst his followers as prasad.
ONE MAN: Does the Swami talk to the gods?
SECOND MAN: Of course. And the gods talk to him, too.
ONE MAN: In what language?
SECOND MAN: I don’t know. Only God or the Swami can tell you that.
ANOTHER MAN: Can the Swami hit out with his fists? Can he banish ghosts and spirits?
THIRD MAN: A ghadi or a bhagat can do such simple stuff, why should a Swami bother?
ONE MAN: What does a Swami look like?
ANOTHER MAN: How will we recognize him?
OLD MAN ABU: (Comes in front) I’ve been listening to you for a long time and I’m confused. Tell me, are all these stories about the same Swami or about a whole bunch of them? Different Swamis, I think. We have a thousand gods, there must be a thousand Swamis too. Some perform religious ceremonies, some lead sects. Some build maths and temples. Others just eat. Now, which one is coming to our village?
(The conversation stops. People come back to their senses.)
ONE MAN: Who said the Swami would come to our village?
(People turn to each other enquiringly)
ANOTHER MAN: He doesn’t belong to this village. I noted that.
SOMEONE ELSE: I saw that, too.
(Most of the others nod in assent.)
He’s a tall man.
No. Quite short, in fact.
Rubbish. All bones.
No, no! He was quite fair.
ONE MAN: (Confidently) Tall or short, fat or thin, dark or fair …. however he might be. I can swear with my hand on my heart, he wasn’t like any of us.
ABU: That makes things much easier. Let us look for someone who isn’t like us. He’ll tell us all about the Swami.
(They all agree.)
ONE MAN: Let’s not waste time, then. He might leave the village.
(They rush about looking for the man. Cries of “Got him!” “Here he is!” are heard from one side and everyone rushes there. They return with ANKUSH aloft in their arms as he struggles to get free. They set him down triumphantly and move aside.)
PEOPLE: He’s the one. This is the man.
He brought the news about the Swami
Tell us. Which Swami is coming to our village?
Yes, tell us.
(They fall silent expectantly, waiting for ANKUSH to speak. He looks around.)
ANKUSH: (With an angry curse) Sons of bitches! Who do you think you are?
(Everyone is flabbergasted at his rude response.)
How dare you touch me? Picked me up like a bundle of clothes, slung me over your shoulders and tossed me down! Do I owe you any money or do I work in your fields? If you have the guts come, come and tackle me one by one!
(Rolls up his sleeves as though ready to fight.)
(ANKUSH prepares to leave and the people make way for him but he turns abruptly and heads in another direction. The crowd parts to make way for him. He veers off again and tries to push through a dense segment of the throng. People whisper to each other. One man steps out and addresses him)
ONE MAN: We want to know …
ANKUSH: (Almost pouncing on him) What?
ONE MAN: Who brought the news that the Swami will come to our village?
I did. So?
Is it true?
ANKUSH: (Still angry) No, false!
(Abu steps out)
ABU: Calm down, my son. Let me apologise on their behalf. They should not have touched you. Forgive them! Forgive them!
(The old man falls at his feet. ANKUSH kicks him aside.)
The banner picture is a painting by the Hungarian-Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gil entitled 'Village Scene, 1938'. It is taken from Wikipedia Commons and used here for representational purposes.
Pundalik N. Naik is a Konkani-language short-story writer, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter from Goa. He has 40 books and two films to his credit.
Vidya Pai has translated six Konkani novels, a book of essays and a collection of short stories for leading publishing houses. She has worked with eminent Konkani writers to produce translations as faithful to the source language as possible.
The above work has been excerpted from Pundalik Naik's Konkani play Chaitanyaka Math Na.
The translated work Upheaval by Pundalik N. Naik can be purchased here.