January Night - Poos ki Raat

January Night – Poos ki Raat

Halku came in and said to his wife, “The Landlord’s come! Get the rupees you set aside, I’ll give him the money. Munni had been sweeping. She turned around and said, 'But there's only three rupees. If you give them…

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Halku came in and said to his wife, “The Landlord’s come! Get the rupees
you set aside, I’ll give him the money. Munni had been sweeping. She
turned around and said, ‘But there’s only three rupees. If you give them to
him where’s the blanket going to come from? How are you going to get
through these January nights in the fields! Tell him we’ll pay him after the
harvest, not right now.

For a moment Halku stood hesitating. January was on top of them.
Without a blanket he couldn’t possibly sleep in the fields at night. But the
landlord wouldn’t be put off, he’d threaten and insult him. Trying to coax her
Halku said, ‘Come on, give it to me. I’ll figure out some other plan.’

Munni was angry. She said, ”You’ve already tried. Some other plan”. You
just tell me what other plan can be found. Is somebody going to give you a
blanket! What I say is, give up this tenant farming! The work’s killing you,
whatever you harvest goes to pay up the arrears. Were we born just to keep
paying off debts! Earn some money for your own belly, give up that kind of
farming. I won’t give you the money, I won’t!,

Sadly Halku said, ‘Then I’ll have to put up with his abuse.’ Losing her
temper, Munni said, ‘Why should he abuse you–is this his kingdom?’ But as
she said it her brews relaxed from the frown. The bitter truth in Halku’s
words came charging at her like a wild beast. She went to the niche in the
wall, took out the rupees and handed them over to Halku.

Halku took the money and went outside looking as though he were tearing
his heart out and giving it away. He’d saved the rupees from his work, pice
by pice, for his blanket. Today he was going to throw it away. With every
step his head sank lower under the burden of his poverty.

A dark January night. In the sky even the stars seemed to be shivering. At
the edge of his field, underneath a shelter of cane leaves, Halku lay on a
bamboo cot wrapped up in his old burlap shawl, shivering. Underneath the
cot his friend, Jabra the dog, was whimpering with his muzzle pressed into
his belly. Neither one of them was able to sleep.

Halku curled up drawing his knees close against his chin and said, ‘Cold,
Jabra! Didn’t I tell you, in the house you could lie in the paddy straw! So
why did you come out here!, Now you’ll have to bear the cold, there’s
nothing I can do. You thought I was coming out here to eat puris and sweets
and you came running on ahead of me. Now you can moan all you want.’

Jabra wagged his tail without getting up.

Halku reached out his hand and patted Jabra’s cold back.

He got up, took some embers hem the pit and filled his pipe. Jabra got up

Smoking, Halku said, ‘If you smoke the cold’s just as bad, but at least you
feel a little betters’

Jabra looked at him with eyes overgrowing with love.

‘You have to put up with just one more cold night. Tomorrow I’ll spread
some straw. When you bed down in that you won’t feel the cold.’

Jabra put his paws on Halku’s knees and brought his muzzle close. Halku
felt his warm breath.

After he finished smoking Halku lay down and made up his mind that
however things were he would sleep now. But in only one minute his he
began to pound. He turned from side to side, but like some kind of witch the
cold weather continued to torment him.

When he could no longer bear it he gently picked Jabra up and, patting his
he; got him to fall asleep in his lap. The dog’s body gave off some kind of
stink but Halku, hugging him tight, experienced a happiness he hadn’t felt
for months. Jabra probably thought he was in heaven, and in Halku’s
innocent heart there no resentment of his smell. He embraced him with the
very same affection he would have felt for a brother or a friend.

Suddenly Jabra picked up the noise of some animal. This special intimacy
had produced a new alertness in him that disdained the onslaught of the
wind. Springing up, he ran out of the shelter and began to bark. Halku
whistled and called him several times. But Jabra would not come back to
him. He went on barking while he ran around through the furrows of the
field. He would come back for a moment, then dash off again at once.

Another hour passed. The night fanned up the cold with the wind. Halku
sat up and bringing both knees tight against his chest hid his face between
them, but the cold was just as biting. It seemed is though all his blood had
frozen, that ice rather than blood filled his veins. He leaned back to look at
the skies. How much of the night was still left! Only a stone’s throw from
Halku’s field there was a mango grove. Halku thought, ‘If I go and get a pile
of leaves I can make a tire of them and keep warm. If anybody sees me
gathering the leaves in the dead of night they’ll think it’s a ghost. Of course
there’s a chance some animal’s hidden in my field waiting, but I can’t stand
sitting here any longer.’ He ripped up some stalks from a nearby field, made
a broom out of them and picking up a lighted cow dung cake went toward
the grove. Jabra watched him coming and ran to him wagging his tail. Halku
said, ‘I couldn’t stand it any more, Jabra. Come along, let’s go into the
orchard and gather leaves to warm up with. When we’re toasted we’ll come
back and sleep. The night’s still far from over.’ Jabra barked his agreement
and trotted on toward the orchard.

Suddenly a gust carried the scene of henna blossoms to him. ‘Where’s that
sweet smell coming from, Jabra?’

Jabra had found a bone lying somewhere and he was chewing on it. Halku
set his fire down on the ground and began to gather the leaves. In a little
while he had a great heap. His hands were frozen, his bare feet numb.

In a little while the fire was burning merrily. The dames leapt upward
licking at the overhanging branches. In the flickering light the immense
trees of the grove looked as though they were carrying the vast darkness on
their heads. In the blissful sea of darkness the firelight seemed to pitch and
toss like a boat.

Halku sat before the fire and let it warm him. After a while he took off his
shawl and tucked it behind him, then he spread out both feet as though
challenging the cold to do its worst. Victorious over the immense power of
the winter, he could not repress his pride in his triumph.

He said to Jabra, ‘Well, Jabra, you’re not cold now, are you!’ Jabra barked
as though to say, ‘How could I feel cold now!’

The leaves were all burned up. Darkness covered the orchard again. Under
the ashes a few embers smouldered.

Halku wrapped himself up in his shawl again and sat by the warm ashes
humming a tune. The fire had warmed him , through but as the cold began to
spread he felt drowsy. Jabra gave a loud bark and ran toward the field.
Halku realized chat this meant a pack of wild animals had probably broken
into the field. They might be nilgai. He distinctly heard the noise of their
moving around. Then it seemed to him they must be grazing; he began to
hear the sound of nibbling. He thought, ‘No, with Jabra around no animal
can get into the field, he’d rip it to shreds. I must have been mistaken. Now
there’s no sound at all. How could I have been mistaken!’

He shouted, ‘Jabra! Jabra!’

Jabra went on barking and did not come to him. Then again there was the
sound of munching and crunching in the field. He could not have been
mistaken this time. It really hurt to think about getting up from where he
was. It was so comfortable there that it seemed intolerable to go to the field
in this cold and chase after animals. He didn’t stir.

He shouted at the top of his lungs, ‘Hillo! Hillo! Hillo!’

Jabra started barking again. There were animals eating his held just when
the crop was ready. What a fine crop it was! And these cursed animals were
destroying it. With a firm resolve he got up and took a few steps. But
suddenly a blast of wind pierced him with a sting like a scorpion’s so that he
went back and sat again by the extinguished ~re and stirred up the ashes to
warm his chilled body. Jabra was barking his lungs out, the nilgai were
devastating his field and Halku went on sitting peacefully near the warm
ashes. His drowsiness held him motionless as though with ropes. Wrapped
in his shawl he fell asleep on the warmed ground near the ashes.

When he woke in the morning the sun was high and Munni was saying,
‘Do you think you’re going to sleep all day! You came out here and had a
fine time while the whole field was being flattened!’

Halku got up and said, ‘Then you’ve just come from the field!’ ‘Yes, it’s all
ruined. And you could sleep like that! Why did you bother to put up the
shelter anyway?’

Halku sought an excuse. ‘I nearly died and just managed to get through the
night and you worry about your crop. I had such a pain in my belly I can’t
describe it.’

Then the two of them walked to the edge of their land. He looked: the
whole field had been trampled and Jabra was stretched out underneath the
shelter as though he were dead.

They continued to stare at the ruined field. Munni’s face was shadowed
with grief but Halku was content.

Munni said, ‘Now you’ll have to hire yourself out to earn some money to
pay off the rent and taxes.’

With a contented smile Halku said, ‘But I won’t have to sleep nights out
here in the cold.’

Premchand Munshi
Dhanpat Rai Shrivastava (31 July 1880 – 8 October 1936), better known by his pen name Munshi Premchand, was an Indian writer famous for his modern Hindi-Urdu literature. He is one of the most celebrated writers of the Indian subcontinent, and is regarded as one of the foremost Hindi writers of the early twentieth century.
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