Here is the second instalment of my attempt at translation into English of poignant Hindi short story by Munshi Prem Chand, titled , ‘Maa’.The story is set in the pre-independence India.
She heard what sounded like the pain-ridden voice of a ravaged wretch. He would stop at every step and belch out a pitiful cough, his head bent down. Karuna could not see his face, but from his gait, he appeared to be an old man. When he came nearer, she was suddenly aware to her shock, sorrow and chagrin, that he was after all her beloved husband. His face was practically unrecognisable. The youthfulness, the glow, the dynamism, the commanding presence, that characterised him, all seemed to have left him. For ever. Only a bag of bones remained. No ally, no companion, no chum, no friend.
She could not help rushing forward towards him. But she repressed her desire to hug him, she could not bear to do that. All her hopes turned to dust. An unending stream of tears washed out the joy that she hoped to feel on his return, seeing him thus.
Aditya stepped into his house and smiled at her. But the smile encapsulated a world of pain and sorrow within it. Karuna got so devastated, her heart seemed to come to an abrupt stop. With bewildered eyes she stood rooted there staring at her lord, unwilling to believe her eyes. No word, of welcome or sorrow issued out of her open mouth. The infant too clutched her mother tight, and looked at the skeleton with eyes full of fright.
Karuna pulled herself around at last, and asked him in a voice tremulous with pain and fear, ” What is this, this pitiable plight of you ? I could not recognise you at all.”
To ease her pain, Aditya made a pitiful effort to smile and said,” It’s nothing. I am a bit thinner, nothing else. Let me gorge myself on the food cooked by you for a few days, and I will be my old self again.”
“Don’t try to fool me. You look like a dried twig. Didn’t they give you any food in the jail? You assured me that the Govt. treated political sufferers with respect. And what happened to all those vaunted followers of you who used to surround you and profess to shed their blood rather than let you sweat a bit ?
Aditya replied with a deep frown, ” Karuna, It has been a galling experience! I have never even dreamt that people would look askance at me and would refuse even to talk to me, after I went to jail. I didn’t realise that this will be the treatment that people who stake their life for the sake of the country are accorded. I knew, it will not take long for people at large, to forget those who strive for their welfare, but it is a new experience to me, a bitter sort of pill to swallow, that even your associates and assistants could turn so ungrateful. But I have no regrets. Service is its own reward. It was wrong for me to have expected name and fame for the trouble I took.”
Karuna asked him, ” So you did not get proper food even, there ?”
” Don’t ask me the details, Karuna . It was a saga of pain and tears. Just be grateful that I have returned alive. It is in my destiny to see you again, else with all the privations that I had undergone, I would have left this world by now. Now let me rest for a while. I am tired, unable even to stand. Been trudging all day long.”
“Have some grub first, You can rest to your content later.” Karuna lifted the child from her hip and, said, ” Dad is here, son, your own dad. Go . Sit in his lap. He loves you.”