Pan-raksha : Short Story by Rabindranath Tagore

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      Pan-raksha - Keeping a Promise : is the moving story of a poor weaver's lifelong sacrifice for his kid brother who is somewhat wayward. By the time Rashik becomes a mature man, his brother has worn himself out and died, keeping his promise or vow of getting Rashik a bicycle.


Pan-raksha - Keeping a Promise a short story by Rabindranath Tagore
Pan-raksha


Short Story :-

Banshi loved his younger brother Rashik with a love rare even in mothers. If Rashik was a little late in coming back from school, Banshi left his work and went looking for him. He could not eat without ensuring that Rashik ate first. Rashik's slightest illness had Banshi's tears flowing.

Rashik was sixteen years younger than Banshi and brought up entirely by him. The parents had died when Rashik was a toddler. So had the other siblings.

Banshi was a weaver. Weaving was their family trade. The family had once been prosperous. But the British had flooded India with mill-made textiles and ousted hand -woven textiles. Weavers were suffering from lack of demand.

But an affluent household in their locality Thanagarh kept Banshi provided with ample orders for his woven suit.

Among the weavers of that locality, the custom was that the bridegroom had to pay a certain promised amount called 'pan' to get himself a bride. Banshi could have put together the money to pay the 'pan' for a bride of his own.

But all his money went in buying fancy clothes for Rashik. He provided small luxuries for his younger brother, cutting down on his own expenses.

Because Rashik was being brought up in such style, he was quite a hero to the other kids of the village who had no such luck. Also, Rashik had a certain knack in picking up new skills, although he soon lost interest in whatever he had picked up. When craftsmen from the city of Kolkata had come to put up a show of fireworks for the babu of Thanagarh, Rashik had quickly learnt their craft. For the next two years, he had taken care of the fireworks display in his locality at the time of Kali Puja. But by the third year, his interest had shifted to picking up 'thumri' songs from Lucknow on a harmonium.

These traits of Rashik's impressed the villagers, and overwhelmed his own brother. "It is a wonder that such a child has come to be born in our family!" he used think, his eyes filling with tears at the thought. "All I want is for him to survive".

As Rashik crossed thirty, he got the idea getting him married. "It is better that Rashik carries on the family line", he thought. He began to look around the village for a girl Rashik could marry.

Well, Rashik had no dearth of girls to marry. All the village girls adored him. When he made clay dolls, the girls fought among themselves as to who should get them. Among them, there was a girl named Saurabhi who was very quiet and loved to watch Rashik as he fashioned his clay dolls. Often she helped him by reaching out clay and sticks to him. She brought paan for him, to supply whenever he asked. Once the dolls were finished, Rashik would ask: " Sairi, tell me which doll you would like." Shy Sairi would keep quiet. Banshi would then put a doll of his own choice into her hands. Once Rashik lost interest in clay modeling, it was playing the harmonium that took his fancy. All the other kids used to fall upon Rashik's harmonium, itching to play it. Rashik growled at them to keep them away. But to Saurabhi - who sat quietly watching - he would offer the chance himself. Banshi decided that he would arrange a match between Rashik and Saurabhi, But he knew that the 'pan' or promised amount for her would be high - not less than Rs 500. For, Saurabhi's father was higher-up in the social scale.

So far Banshi had never asked Rashik to help him in his task of weaving. He had been happy to see Rashik occupied with his useless amusements.

Rashik for his part had found Banshi's occupation the dullest. Because Banshi was very frugal so far as his own food and clothes were concerned, Rashik thought him to be a miser. In fact, encouraged by Banshi himseif, Rashik considered himself to be a creature superior to his own elder brother.

Meanwhile, Banshi was getting impatient to gather together the money for Rashik's wedding. He dreamt of the lights and decorations, and pressed on with his work. Yet his saving: were growing only slowly, and Banshi was getting fatigued with the back-breaking work he was putting in.

He worked on even at night. He put off the buying of a new coverlet for himself although he needed it badly. He grew ill and weak. At last he called Rashik and asked him to help him in his work. "I cannot manage all the weaving by myself", he appealed. Rashik made a wry face.

Ill-health had put Banshi in a bad mood. He began to scold Rashik. "What is going to happen to you if you forsake your family occupation and go round having a roaring good time?"

Rashik took this reproach as a very severe one. He refused to eat at home and sulked all day by himself. Later in the day, feeling hungry, he asked Saurabhi to get him some snacks. Delighted, the little girl went home and brought him lots of puffed rice.

The next day Banshi in a way forced Rashik to sit down at the loom. This, he said, was their way of life, a family duty, not a matter of likes and dislikes.

But Rashik - so deft as picking up other skills - turned out to be a dud so far as weaving was concerned. The yarn got torn every now and then and the work hardly moved forward. At the thought of his admirers seeing him settling down in this mundane family trade, Rashik felt angry and embarrassed.

Banshi informed him through a friend that he was arranging his match with Saurabhi. Barnshi had thought that this would please Rashik. But Rashik reacted in a perverse way. He stopped all his friendly interaction with the quiet little girl. Saurabhi lost her special claim on the harmonium as well as her privilege of fetching and carrying for Rashik. Her heart grew heavy. Rashik had once belonged completely to the village but now he felt himself yearning for the wider world. Banshi did not make him work for long hours. But even the few hours Rashik put in, spoilt the day for him.

Around this time, a youth from the rich Thanagarh household bought himself a bicycle. Rashik requested to be allowed to try it, and in a matter of hours mastered the art of cycling superbly. The bicycle became a pair of wings for him like some divine weapon of the epics. It gave him a tremendous sense of freedom, of elation.

Rashik felt that without a bicycle, life was futile. And it was not so expensive, was it? Only a hundred and twenty-five rupees! In fact, thought Rashik, it was quite cheap!

He had decided never to ask his brother for anything again. But the bicycle made him break that vow. Of course, he put his plea as though it was a request for a loan. "You have to lend me a hundred and twenty-five rupees", he told Banshi.

Banshi had noticed that for some time now Rashik had not asked him for any gifts of his fancy. It had hurt him more than his body aches. So at this request of Rashik's, his first instinct was to agree to it. But then he thought that it would delay Rashik's marriage. So Banshi hardened his stance and refused the loan.

Rashik told his friends that he would refuse to get married if he did not get his loan. When this news reached Banshi, he remarked that it was unheard of that the bridegroom as well as the bride would have to be paid a promised amount.

Rashik revolted openly and stopped working for Banshi. Banshi started working even harder - as if to punish himself.

The freedom movement was gathering strength and increasing the demand for hand-woven textiles. Weavers like Banshi received more orders for work. If Rashik had helped out, Banshi could have earned a lot more. But Banshi had to toil all alone, beyond the limits of his strength.

One evening, after back-breaking work the entire day, Banshi heard Rashik playing on his harmonium. He lost his temper. Rashik too shouted back. Hot and feverish, Banshi screamed out, "I have had enough of your idle ways. All you can do is ape the rich kids and play the harmonium."

With this, he tottered to his bed. But soon after, he began to regret his hot words, It seemed too cruel for him to have reproached his 'little' brother like that. How could he have done it! After a while he could not bear it any more. He got up unsteadily.

Outside, Rashik was sitting silently in the dark beside his harmonium. Going up to him, Banshi took out the purse where he kept his money, and emptied it all out before Rashik.

"Take it, my little brother", he said in a choked voice, "I was saving it all for you - for you to get your bride. But I do not have the strength to go on with my saving while you mope. The money is all yours. Buy your bicycle with it - do whatever you like."

Drawing himself up, Rashik uttered a vow in a stiff voice "Whether I have to get a bicycle or a bride, I'll do it with my own money. I will not touch yours." Without giving Banshi a chance to speak, he rushed away.

Rashik had hardly talked to Saurabhi of late. But in a few days he landed up at her place. He gave away his precious harmonium to Saurabhi's brother, and presented Saurabhi with an embroidered coverlet. Once Rashik had developed interest in embroidery and begun working on a coverlet whose pattern he had drawn out himself. It was not a run of-the mill job, but a piece of art. Saurabhi used to watch it with a mix of patience and wonder. But just when he had almost completed the work, he lost interest in it. It was kept aside, much to Saurabhi' s regret.

But in the past couple of days Rashik had completed whatever work was left. He now presented it to Saurabhi, saying:" Sairee, I have done it for you alone. Won't you take a look at it? Saurabhr's tears began to flow. Rashik went visiting round the village, looking up everybody except his brother who lay tired and ill in bed, Then he left the village in the dark of the winter night. Rashik had vowed to himself that he would communicate with his brother or return to his village only after he had earned enough money to ride back on a bicycle to pay for his bride, himself.

But he found it difficult to get a job that was paying as well as fun. He tried the circus, which he had once thought so entertaining. But once he was part of the circus team, he found it rigorous and hard work. He began to pine for home. One day the owner of the circus company insulted his family profession of weaving - and Rashik left his job, empty-handed. He was ready to do the job of a 'coolie', but by chance he got a job as a teacher of the craft of weaving. This was at a training centre started by young men involved in the Freedom Movement and promotion of Swadeshi goods. Rashik saved some money but not enough to buy either the bicycle or the bride. And soon the classes began to wind up.

Rashik began to dream often of the village he had left behind, the elder brother whose affection he had spurned, and the quiet little girl he did not have the money to make his bride. Sometimes he felt like sacrificing his pride and going back to Banshi's refuge. But he did not do so. He wanted to go back with his head high - and on his own bicycle.

As luck would have it, a rich trader named Janaki Nandi happened to spot him as a prospective bridegroom for his daughter. There was some defect in his family history and he was finding it difficult to marry her off. Janaki Nandi made some enquires about Rashik's background and found that though poor, he belonged to a family that was old and respectable and higher in position than his own. He lured Rashik with a paying job and then offered him his daughter's hand in marriage.

Rashik had not received his salary for two months. The weaving classes were not working out. In that desperatee state, he was quick to accept Nandi's offer.

He did not inform Banshi about his marriage. He wanted to burst upon him as a surprise, and impress him with what he had achieved. Let Banshi see how Rashik had gone ahead in life! How he had kept his vow!

At the wedding, the first item that Rashik demanded was a bicycle. It was winter again. In the gathering dusk Rashik rode his cycle along the road to his village. He wore a collared shirt, a shining black coat, a fine dhoti, colorful socks and glistening leather shoes of foreign make. He did not stop to greet anyone on the way. What he wanted was to first meet his elder brother.

By the time he reached home it had grown dark. But Rashik could see the hut had no lights on and there was a lock on the front door. A voiceless cry seemed to rise from the heart of the deserted and abandoned home: "No more, he is no more!"

As the village kids spotted him and gathered silently around him, Rashik sunk down by the door. "I know I know my brother is no more." A little later Saurabhi came up carrying carefully some object wrapped up in the old coverlet that Rashik had embroidered. Rashik realized it was a new bicycle.

After Rashik left home, Banshi had worked day and night unsparingly, He had saved the money for buying the bicycle as well as paying Saurabhi's father. The very day the bicycle arrived by V.P., his arms had stopped moving - his loom fell quiet.

"Wait one more year for Rashik before marrying Saurabhi off", he had pleaded with Saurabhi's father. "I am paying you the promised amount of 'pan'. And the day Rashik comes, give him this bicycle and ask him to forgive his poor brother. I could not give it to him when he had asked for it"

Rashik felt his tears choking him. He wanted to stay on in the village, working at his brother's loom and marrying the old, faithful Saurabhi. But he had already sold himself to the city and to money.

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