One of the short stories in the book is a story called “Mahesh” .
Mahesh in the book is not the protagonist, but the name of an ox, owned by a poor Muslim man Gafur. Poverty stricken Gafur, has barely anything to eat, and he and his daughter are on the brink of starvation, when Tarakratna, the village priest comes to their house, to castigate them on how emaciated and weak his Ox, Mahesh looked and how the Brahmin landlord of the Hindu village will skin Gafur alive if the ox dies. Tarakratna’s tirade continues, asking Gafur to feed the Ox, the water drained from cooked rice, while Gafur, his head burning with fever looks down, not being able to tell that rice had not been cooked in their house for days now.
Gafur begs for some hay from Tarakratna, who has godowns full of straw, wheat, hay, for Mahesh. Tarakratna whose heart is “bleeding” for the ox refuses even a handful of hay to feed Mahesh. When Tarakratna leaves, Gafur hugs Mahesh, says “Mahesh you are my son” embraces him and pulls straw out of the leaky thatched roof of his house to feed Mahesh, which he has been doing for quite some time, much to the consternation of his daughter who fears the hut will cave in, and already rains had lashed at them through nights, drenching them in their sleep. Gafur even feeds Mahesh the little rice, his daughter Amina, somehow manages to get him. You can imagine how the story goes
I remember reading the story with Tani and both of us had tears in our eyes by the time we reached the end. Read the whole story to know, that not much has changed, and we are on our journey back to the 1800’s when Sarat Chandra had written this story.
Monami Basu teaches Economics in a Delhi University college.