Most housewives have a general grievance against their husbands that while they
are overworked, the bread-winning husband lives a life of ease and comfort.
That, at any rate, was the feeling of the housewife who played the leading
role in this tale. It is difficult to say how far her lot was heavier than
that of other women of her class living in the town, but there is no doubt
that her husband had much less to exert than other men. He was a man without
a vocation. When other men went every morning to their offices, shops or
places of business to earn their daily bread, this man would be found lolling
on a worn-out carpet reading a romantic tale, reclining against his soiled
pillow with the pipe of his smoking apparatus in his mouth, or playing
dice with men of his like. The housewife, on the other hand, had a ceaseless
routine of physical labour, brooming floors, scrubbing utensils, cooking
meals, washing clothes, husking paddy, looking after children and what
not. She hardly ever got respite from these tasks. Little wonder, therefore,
that she complained to her husband of her hard lot and called him a drone.
As a matter
of fact that epithet nearly suited his calling. He was an absentee landlord.
One of his energetic and ambitious ancestors had somehow been able to acquire
a good deal of farm land which had brought to the family wealth, social
status and a name. The present head of the family inherited neither the
energy nor the ambition of his great ancestor, but a portion of the ancestral
land did come to him inevitably, and the tenants of his lands delivered
into his hands every year
to keep his body and soul together. He was convinced that God had created
the ancestor to free him from the crushing necessity of working for his
living. He blessed his soul and thanked the tenants for sparing him any
pains or efforts in looking after the lands.
Not that he
was good for nothing. Being the scion of a land-owning family he neither
had the inclination nor the necessity to go in for the profession of an
artisan, a petty wage-earner. It would compromise the social status and
reputation of his family and his relations. Shopkeeping, the profession
of a petty retail-seller went against his grain as one's success depended
upon using a false balance or weights. He had once succeeded in seeking
state employment as a petty clerk but it involved his being posted at a
distant place against which, even if he were prepared, his wife protested.
He had, therefore, to forego the appointment. Eventually he came to be
a gentleman at large. Even so, he had provided everything to his family.
All their needs were satisfied and he was considered a well-to-do man independent
of the vagaries of the weather and commerce which dogged most wage-earners
who were either artisans or shopkeepers.
What his wife
grumbled of was something quite different. In the first instance she was
rather jealous of her husband's life which implied absence of toil and
his independence. While every other bread-winner had to look up to his
boss or employer or even clients, her husband was perhaps the only person
not bossed-over ordinarily. She would have been happy indeed if she could
share part of this independence, but that was, of course, impossible. On
the other hand, she had more than her share of domestic toil. Some of her
neighbours were not so well off but they enjoyed other amenities. One of
them who was working under the public administration in a humble capacity
was frequently approached by people for favours and they offered him presents
in kind like woollen blankets, quantities of oil and clarified butter,
cases of fruit or finer qualities of rice. A gift for which no monetary
or material price has to be paid is craved by most people and this housewife
always heaved a sigh wistfully whenever her neighbour sent her a pound
of pulses, by way of sharing the presents, with the usual: "You might fancy
a dish of pulses. Somebody presented it to my husband." "Nobody makes a
present of anything to my drone," she would say to herself and involuntarily
nurse a grudge against her husband for her frustration and inferiority
neighbours of her's enjoyed other privileges at the expense of the public
administration and they boasted of it. This housewife could never boast
of anything of this sort which could add an ell to her social prestige.
No doubt, they enjoyed a unique status in that her husband had not to acknowledge
anyone as his boss, but in a society where everybody was bossed-over nobody
regarded it as an advantage. So the housewife felt frustrated and depressed
and gave frequently a demonstration of it to her husband.
did she call him a drone in a voice audible to him and gave expression
to her frustration on this account, comparing her "hard" lot with that
of her privileged neighbours. Often he took no notice of these darts of
her tongue which were sharp and piercing, but sometimes his patience was
exhausted and he protested. But that only added fuel to the fire and gave
spurs to the barbed tongue of the housewife. The house was then turned
into a camp of belligerents. Charges and counter-charges were hurled not
only on those alive but on the ancestors to several generations on each
side and, of course, several skeletons in each cupboard were exposed. Sometimes
it led to blows, but when that was not so, the housewife rattled doors
and windows violently and severely beat up her children. That was the last
straw and beyond that he showed the white feather. He felt crushed and
this put a sharper edge on the tongue of the housewife which never showed
signs of weariness or flagging. But by that time a neighbour or two arrived
on the scene, hostilities were formally ended for the time being and an
armed truce patched up.
The days following
such outbursts showed the parties at the lowest point of morale. They appeared
to be physically exhausted. They did not relinquish their respective duties,
but each appeared to dread the very shadow of the other. The housewife
frequently heaved a deep sigh and referred to her good-for-nothing husband.
"Look," she would say, "how the others flourish. They work hard and provide
comfort to their wives. My man squats all the time. I am on my legs nearly
the whole day and yet he has the heart to abuse me. But for the children
I would have given him up long back and I would have been rather living
as a maid-servant in my brother's house than as a housewife in this wretched
On his own
part the husband was not to be caught napping. He ventilated his mind thus,
"Oh ! the evil day when I was yoked to this witch ! She has eaten my very
life out of me." And cautiously he would ask the second person to close
the window lest his wife got wind of what he said. "Do you think I am afraid
of her tantrums? Not the least. I am more than a match for her, only I
do not like to come down to her level. And think of it ! She threatens
to desert me ! Would that she conferred that good fortune on me ! It would
be a jolly good riddance. But it is an empty boast; I know it is...."
In spite of
the timely precaution the wife heard the words. She felt provoked and left
the house under formal intimation to the husband. No sooner did he get
the intimation than he was in jitters. Out he rushed, offered a thousand
apologies and touched her feet. He felt completely demoralized. She pretended
not to heed his entreaties. Once again the neighbours intervened and begged
of her on his behalf and on behalf of her children not to leave her house.
Then only was she moved to retrace her steps and consented to enter her
home. He was haunted by a dread and his nerves were all tense till she
once again resumed her domestic duties.
was allayed and they settled down to a quiet life till there was another
outburst. On the sly the husband made the empty boast to his relatives
or friends, "Don't be mistaken that I am afraid of her tantrums. I am only
occurred once almost every year and the various scenes and acts of this
drama were well-known n the neighbourhood. Sometimes the neighbours even
enacted this drama privately by way of entertaining one another.
One day, an
old uncle of the husband in whom he confided gave him advice which he seemed
to fancy. He made it clear to him that he embodied all the characteristics
of what the ancients called a "hen-pecked" husband. But, he told him, "you
need not be so for ever. A man was afraid of his shadow and ran away. The
shadow only pursued him and dogged his steps. But then the man turned round
and lo ! the shadow was verily at his mercy."
to the husband to be a very sound piece of advice and he decided to act
UD to it to the last letter In fact the likelihood of his turning the tables
on his wife developed in him an arrogance which led to another domestic
crisis. The uncle was no longer at hand to advise him on all details and
he had to depend upon his own wits to tide over the crisis with flying colours. He framed his plan and chalked out his strategy: "Before she steps
out I must seize a pretext and leave the house in a pet under the pretension
of never coming back to the fold."
As the head
of the family he laboured under the delusion that the house could not exist
for five minutes without him and that he was indispensable. He expected
that the moment he threatened to leave the house his wife would supplicate
to him not to forsake her not to leave.
So when a domestic
crisis came next he gave an ultimatum that he was going to leave the family
for good. He expected immediate but favourable reaction. There was none.
"She doesn't believe that I could ever be so callous as to leave her,"
he thought. "To make my victory undisputed let me assure her that I am
quite capable of it.... Let me turn round upon the shadow." He actually
put on his shoes with the conviction that before he came to the foot of
the staircase his wife would prostrate herself before him. He descended
the steps one after another but not a whiff of air was heard, nor a mouse
stirred. He actually slowed his movement to give time to his wife to come
and throw herself at his feet. In spite of this firm belief that this strategy
of his would utterly deflate the enemy, there was no sign of the wife taking
the same line of thought. Reluctantly he stepped into the lane. "Now she
will come to her senses?" he imagined. "She will beat her breast and tear
her hair," he fancied. "Let her do so for a while," he loved to think.
The lane led
to a road, the main thoroughfare of the town with numerous shops. The husband
was even now convinced that before he would reach the road he would be
persuaded to come back and bless the family with his presence. He even
imagined the words he would hear,
my lord, that you will never forsake us...." However? his progress towards
the thoroughfare continued and nothing happened. He proceeded further and
yet nobody called him. He was highly embarrassed and did not know how to
meet the situation. At last he decided to sit on a shop-front. The shopkeeper
was known to him and he thought it a good change to spend some time in
the company of the shopman.
and formed an hour and yet nobody approached him to excuse his wife. The
hour grew into two and every minute of this period was full of tension
for him. He seemed to get an apprehension that his strategy had miscarried.
"May be," his hope revived, "she is in my search but does not know that
I am here." Soon he managed to convey the intelligence of his position
to his wife through a passerby and added, "Don't tell her I told you to
do so." This passing hope sustained his spirit for sometime. But how long
could it be? When he had been sitting on the shop-front for almost three
hours, his eyes met a sight for which he would have paid a hundred prewar
rupees. He saw his wife actually stepping out on the road. What more convincing
proof was needed of the success of his plan? Had he not succeeded in making
the "shadow" turn round and had she not come out in her anxiety to persuade
him to return?
She had looked
in his direction, had seen him and it appeared to him, had even looked
at him with a feeling of relief. Then she turned in the opposite direction.
He watched her with baited breath. "Perhaps she has not seen me seated
here," he thought, "let me allay her fears and meet her half-way in her
predicament," and involuntarily he shouted, "Are you looking for me? I
am sitting here." She did not even turn round in the direction of the voice.
She purchased milk, cream and cakes from a neighbouring shop and went back
without heeding what he said.
This was an
experience never even dreamt of by him. He felt defeated and he had exposed
his weakness to several people including the shopman. He did not know how
to face the situation. "Women are callous," he came to think. At last he
went to his house with heavy feet and a heart in trepidation. He opened
the door and tried to make peace with his wife. All that she said was,
"Being fit for nothing outside, the brazen-faced has come back," and he
quietly pocketed it.