The Test -- Prem Chand

The Test -- Prem Chand

When Sardar Sujan Singh, Diwan of the State of Devgarh, reached the evening of his life he remembered God. He went to the Maharaja and said, ‘O, friend of the oppressed, I have served you for forty years. Now  I’m old and have no energy left to handle the administration of the state. I don’t want to sully my name by some unintended mistake and ruin my reputation earned through a life-long service.’  


Raja Sahib had great respect for his very experienced and statesman-like Diwan. He tried to persuade him to continue but when Diwan Sahib did not budge, he acceded to his request but on the condition that he himself will have to appoint the new Diwan.

The next day the important newspapers of the country carried this advertisement for appointment to the office of Diwan for the state: Anyone who considers himself suitable for appointment to this office should present himself  before the present Diwan, Sardar Sujan Singh. He need not be a graduate, but should be strongly built and not suffer from any disease. All the aspirants would be treated as guests and looked after for a month and kept under observation. More than education, commitment to duty would be rewarded. One who came up to these expectations would be appointed to this high office.  
 
The advertisement created a furor in the country. Such a high office, and no qualifications! It all seemed a matter of chance. Hundreds set out to try their luck and Devgarh became the destination for all kinds of people. From every train a whole bunch of visitors deboarded. Some came from Madras, others from Punjab. Some displaying the latest fashions, others showing off their simplicity. Pandits and maulvis also saw an opportunity. Poor fellows had always rued the lack of degrees, but here there was no need for them. Colourful cloaks, and chogas, and all varieties of fancy headdresses  were now on display in Devgarh. However, the largest number were degree holders, for even if it was not  required  a degree did act as a fig leaf.  

Sardar Sujan Singh had made very good arrangements to accommodate and entertain the guests. Lodged in their rooms, the candidates counted each day like a Muslim does during Ramazan. Every visitor tried to showcase his life in the best manner possible.  Mr A, who used to get up at nine, was seen strolling in the park before sunrise. Mr B, who was addicted to the hookah, now smoked cigars behind closed doors. Some others, who at home treated their servants like slaves, talked to the servants here with unusual courtesy and politeness. They who were atheists, followers of Huxley,  had become so religious that even the temple priests might have felt threatened. Yet another, who hated books,  was these days lost in browsing  through them. Whosoever you  talked to, seemed a model of gentleness and good conduct. Sharmaji spent his time reciting mantras from the Vedas  and maulvi sahib had nothing else to do except saying the namaaz and  reciting the Quran. Each thought it was all a matter of just one month, and once he had succeeded who would care. 

But that old connoisseur of diamonds was observing everyone, trying to spot the swan among the cranes. 
 
One day the fashionable group proposed playing a hockey match. This proposal was made by some seasoned players of the game. After all this too was an art, why not show it off? Who knows this might help. So the decision was taken, the ground readied and the match began. The ball began to be pushed and thrashed like some office equipment.

The match was turning out to be a spirited contest. The attacking side rushed forward like a wave but the defending side stood like a  wall of steel to check its advance.


It went on till the evening. The players were drenched in sweat, their faces red with heat. They were gasping for breath, and the match ended in a draw.  


It was dark now. There was a nala close to the playground. There was no bridge over the nala and the wayfarers had to wade through it to go across. The play had just ended and the players were resting to get their breath back. Just then a farmer came to the nala with a cart-full of grain. Partly because the track was muddy and partly because the climb was steep, he  was unable to drive the cart up through the nala. He urged the bullocks and tried to push the wheels up, but, the cart being overloaded, the bullocks were unable to pull it out of the nala. The farmer tried to push the cart up again and again, whipped the bullocks out of frustration but the cart refused to go up the slope. The poor fellow looked here and there but found no help. He could not leave the cart unattended and go somewhere to seek help. He was in great trouble. At that very moment the players happened to pass by carrying their sticks. The farmer looked at them with pleading eyes but didn’t have the courage to ask for help. The players also looked at him but showed no sympathy for him and moved on.
 
But among the players there was one person who had both sympathy and courage. Today he had hurt his foot during the match and was slowly limping along. Suddenly his eyes fell on the cart and he stopped. The moment he looked at the farmer he understood the situation. He kept his stick on one side, removed his coat and said to the farmer, ‘Should I help you push up your cart?’

The farmer saw in front of him a tall well-built man. ‘Hazoor, I dare not ask you.’  The young man said. ‘It seems you have been stranded here for a long time. Now go and sit on the cart and drive the bullocks while I push the wheels up.’

The farmer went and sat in the cart. The young man was ready to push the wheel. The whole place was muddy and he dug himself into the mud up to his knees. He pushed the wheel hard and the farmer shouted at his bullocks. The bullocks got support, regained their  courage and with a last effort they pulled the cart out of the nala.


The farmer stood before the youth with folded hands and said, ‘Maharaj, you have done a great favour to me. Otherwise I would have had to spend the whole night here.’

The young man said jokingly, ‘Now, would you give me some reward?’

The farmer said, ‘God willing, you will be the Diwan.’

The young man looked at the farmer. He wondered whether the farmer was not Sujan Singh himself. He had the same voice and a similar face. The farmer too looked at the youth with a sharp eye. Perhaps he too sensed what the young man was thinking. He smiled and said, ‘One finds pearls only by diving into deep waters.’
 
The period of one month was over. The day of selection arrived. All the candidates were anxious to know what destiny had in store for them. The wait looked like crossing a mountain. Hope and dejection crossed their faces like shadows. No one knew who was to be the lucky one, the goddess Lakshmi’s favourite.

In the evening the Raja held his court. The city’s rich and famous, the officers of the state, the courtiers, and the candidates for the office of the Diwan – all were assembled in the court. The candidates’ hearts were beating fast.

Sujan Singh got up and said, ‘I thank you all for the trouble you have taken to come here. For this office we needed a person who was full of compassion and generosity; someone who had great determination to face any difficulty. Fortunately the state has discovered such a person. People who possess such qualities are few in this world and are already holding high offices, so we cannot approach them. I welcome pandit Jankinath  as the new Diwan of the state.

The officers and the wealthy of the state looked at Jankinath with appreciation, the candidates with envy. 

Sardar Sahib spoke again, ‘I believe you will not hesitate to accept that a person who, in spite of being injured, should help a poor farmer to drag his cart out of mud must be compassionate and strong-willed. Such a person would never oppress the poor. His determination will keep his heart steady. He may be deceived but would not budge from the path of duty.’
 
Premchand  (31 July 1880 – 8 October 1936), better known as Munshi Premchand, is one of the most celebrated writers of the Indian subcontinent, and is regarded as one of the foremost Hindustani writers of the early twentieth century. Born Dhanpat Rai Srivastav, he began writing under the pen name "Nawab Rai", but subsequently switched to "Premchand". A novel writer, story writer and dramatist, he has been referred to as the "Upanyas Samrat" ("Emperor among Novelists") by some Hindi writers. His works include more than a dozen novels, around 250 short stories, several essays and translations of a number of foreign literary works into Hindi. 
 
Trilok Chand Ghai - Born in 1937, he is a graduate from Punjab University (1956), postgraduate in English from Punjab University (1970) and M.Litt in Comparative Indian Literature from Delhi University (1978). He served with the Government of India from 1956 to 1970  and after resigning in 1970, took up teaching English language and literature at Deshbandhu Evening College (University of Delhi) New Delhi from where he retired as Reader in 2002. He has published fiction, poetry, translated Punjabi poetry into English, and produced English language teaching course books for schools. To date, he has translated 18 short stories of Prem Chand, all of which are available on his blog, Interactions 
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