Ten-day Fast (Short Story)

By Harishankar Parsai

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

(Courtesy: http://bahatidhara.blogspot.com )

January 10

Today I told Bannu, “Look Bannu, the times are such that Parliament, laws, the constitution, judiciary—all have become useless. Big demands are getting met by threats of fasting and self-immolation. The democracy of twenty years has become so sick that the fates of fifty crore people are decided by the threat of one man going hungry or dying. I say the time is ripe for you too to sit on a fast for that woman.”

Bannu became thoughtful. For years, he has been after Radhika babu’s wife, Savitri. He even received thrashing once for trying to persuade her to elope. He can’t get her to divorce her husband because Savitri hates Bannu.

After some pondering he said, “But can one go on a fast for this?”

I said, “Right now, one can fast for anything. Just recently Baba Sankidas got a law enacted by fasting that makes it mandatory for every man to keep his hair knotted without ever washing it. All heads are reeking of stench. Yours is a small demand—just a woman.”

Surendra was there as well. He said, “Yaar, what are you saying! Fasting to snatch someone else’s wife? We should have some shame. People will laugh.”

I said, “Arre yaar, big-time fasting saints didn’t feel any shame. We are, after all, ordinary folks. As far as laughing is concerned, people all over the world have laughed so hard over the cow-saving movement that their stomachs are hurting now. No one is in a position to laugh for another ten years. Anyone who does will die of stomach ache.”

Bannu said, “Shall I find success?”

I said, “That depends on how you make the issue. If it’s made well, you will get the woman. Come, let’s go to the ‘expert’ to seek guidance. Baba Sankidas is a specialist. His practice is running well. These days, four people are fasting under his guidance.”

We went to Baba Sankidas. After listening to us he said, “All right. I can take up this issue. You just have to follow what I say. Can you threaten to immolate yourself?”

Bannu trembled. Said, “I am scared.”

“You don’t have to burn, dear. Just threaten to.”

“Even the idea scares me.”

Baba said, “Okay, then you go on a fast. We will make the ‘issue’.”

Bannu shook again. “I won’t die, would I?”

Baba said, “Smart players don’t die. They keep one eye on the medical report and the other on the mediator. You don’t worry. We will save you and also get you that woman.”

January 11

Today Bannu sat on a fast unto death. Incense and lamps are burning inside the tent. One party is singing a bhajan—‘May the lord grant good sense to all.’ The atmosphere has turned pious from the very first day. Baba Sankidas is an expert in this art. The statement he has got published and distributed on Bannu’s behalf is rather strong. In it, Bannu says, “My soul has awakened and proclaimed that it is incomplete. My other half lies in Savitri. Either conjoin both the soul parts and make them one or give me freedom from this body. I am fasting unto death for conjoining the two soul parts. My demand is that Savitri be made mine. If I don’t get her, I will free this soul part from my mortal body by fasting. I am fearless because I am on the side of truth. Victory to truth!”

Savitri came, full of rage. She asked Baba Sankidas, “This scoundrel is fasting for me, isn’t he?”

Baba said, “Dear lady, don’t use abusive language. He is on a sacred fast. He might have been a scoundrel earlier. Not anymore. He is fasting.”

Savitri said, “But he should have at least asked me. I spit on him.”

Baba calmly said, “Lady, you are only the ‘issue’. How can one ask the ‘issue’? The people who took part in the Cow-saving movement never asked the cow whether to have a movement or not to save it. Lady, you may go now. My advice is for you or your husband not to come here. In a day or two, public opinion will be formed, and the public won’t tolerate any insults from you.”

She went away, mumbling.

Bannu became sad. Baba assured him, “Don’t worry. Victory will be yours. Truth always wins in the end.”

Jaunary 13

Bannu easily gives in to hunger. Today, on just the third day of the fast, he began groaning. Bannu asked, “Has Jayaprakash Narayan come yet?”

I said, “He usually comes on the fifth or sixth day. That’s his norm. He has been informed.”

He asks, “What did Vinoba say on this issue?”

“Baba said, “He has resolved the issue of means and ends, but his words can be twisted a bit to use them in our favour.”

Bannu closed his eyes. Said, “Bhaiya, please get Jayaprakash babu quickly.”

Journalists also came today. They were wracking their brains.

They began asking, “What is the purpose of the fast? Is it in the public’s favour?”

Baba said, “Purpose isn’t the matter now. Right now, it is critical to save his life. Sitting on a fast is such a huge self-sacrifice that the purpose automatically becomes sacred.”

I said, “This will only serve the public. So many people want to grab the wives of other people, but don’t know how to. If this fast is successful, it will guide the public.”

January 14 

Bannu has become weaker. He is threatening to break the his fast. This will publicly humiliate us. Baba Sankidas reasoned with him.

Today, Baba executed another miracle. He has managed to get the views of a certain Swami Rasanand published  in newspapers. Swamiji claimed that observing religious austerities has granted him the power to look into anyone’s past and future. He has come to know that in his past life, Bannu was a saint called Vanmanus, and Savitri was his wife. He has assumed a human form after three thousand years. His relation with Savitri goes back to many eons. The fact that an ordinary man such as Radhika Prasad is keeping a saint’s wife in his house, amounts to blasphemy. He appealed to all god-fearing people to oppose this profanity.

This opinion has had a good effect. Some people were seen chanting slogans of “Victory to truth!” One crowd was sloganeering in front of Radhika babu’s house…

“Radhika Prasad is a sinner! Woe to the sinner! Victory to truth.”

Swamiji has organized prayers for saving Bannu’s life across temples.

January 15 

At night stones were pelted at Radhika babu’s house.

Public opinion has been formed.

Our agents have heard men and women and saying this…

“Poor thing has been hungry for five days.”

“Hats off to such devotion.”

“But it didn’t melt the heart of that hard woman.”

“Her husband is so shameless too.”

“I believe he was a saint in his past life.”

“Didn’t you read Swami Rasanand’s opinion?”

“It’s a sin to keep a saint’s wife in one’s home.”

Today, eleven married women carried out Bannu’s aarti.

Bannu was delighted. His heart leaps at the sight of married women.

The newspapers are filled with the news of the fast.

Today a crowd went to the Prime Minister’s house to demand his intervention and save Bannu’s life. The prime minister refused to meet the people.

We will see how long he refuses to meet.

Jayaprakash Narayan came in the evening. He was unhappy. Said, “How many lives must I save? Is this my job? Every day someone or the other sits on a fast and screams for their life to be saved. If he wants to save his life, why doesn’t he eat? Why do we need a mediator to save lives? The sacred weapon of fasting is being used to snatch someone else’s wife.”

We reasoned with him, “This issue is of a different nature. It was his soul’s cry.”

He calmed down. Said, “If it is the soul’s cry, I will take it up.”

I said, “Moreover, the feelings of scores of truth-loving people are associated with this.”

Jayaprakash babu agreed to mediate. He will first meet Savitri and her husband, then the prime minister.

Bannu kept looking at Jayaprakash babu pathetically.

Later we told him, “You, idiot, don’t look so worn down. If they sense your weakness, any leader will pour sweet lime juice down your throat. Don’t you see how many politicians are moving about with sweet limes in their shoulder bags?”

January 16

Jayaprakash babu’s mission has failed. Nobody is willing to listen. Prime Minister said, “Our sympathies are with Bannu, but we can’t do anything. Let him break his fast, then we can find a solution by engaging in peaceful talks.”

We were frustrated. But Baba Sankidas wasn’t. He said, “At first, everyone rejects the demands. This is the norm. Let’s make the movement stronger. We have to convey through newspapers that a lot of “acetone” is showing up in Bannu’s urine. That his condition is serious. We must publish views that ask for saving his life at all costs. Is the government just going to sit and watch? It must urgently take steps to save Bannu’s precious life.

Baba is an amazing man. He has so many tricks up his sleeve. He says, “The time has come to include the issue of caste in this movement. Bannu is a brahmin and Radhika Prasad a kayasth. Provoke brahmins and kayasths alike. A Brahmin Association minister is going to contest the next elections.

“Tell him this is his opportunity to get the collective votes of brahmins.”

Today a proposal came from Radhika Babu for Bannu to have a rakhi tied by Savitri.

We turned it down.

January 17 

Today’s newspaper headlines–

“Save Bannu’s Life!”

“Bannu’s Condition Serious!”

“Life-saving Prayers in Temples!”

In one of the newspapers we paid advertisement rates to publish this–

“Prayer of crores of truth-loving people—Save Bannu’s Life! Bannu’s death will have dire consequences!”

The view of the minister from Brahmin Association was also published. He has made this a matter of brahmin pride and has threatened direct action.

We have hired four goons for throwing stones at kayasth houses.

After dealing with that, the same people will throw stones at brahmin houses.

Bannu has paid them the advance.

Baba feels that by tomorrow or day after curfew should be imposed. At least imposing Article 144 is definitely in order. This will strengthen our “case.”

January 18 

Last night, stones were thrown at brahmin and kayasth residences.

This morning, a serious clash ensued between two separate brahmin and kayasth groups.

Article 144 has been clamped in the city.

The air is tense.

Our representative group met the prime minister. He said, “This will have legal hurdles. We would need to modify the marriage act.”

We said, “So please modify it.  Issue an ordinance. If Bannu dies, fire will erupt in the whole country.”

He said, “First you make him break the fast.”

We said, “The government must agree with his demand in principle and set up a committee that will show Bannu the way to acquire that woman.”

The government is monitoring the situation. Bannu must endure more pain.

The situation hasn’t changed. There’s a “deadlock” in the talks.

Minor conflicts are erupting.

Last night we got stones pelted at the local police station. This had a good impact.

Today, the “Save life” demand became more vociferous.

January 19 

Bannu has become very weak. He is scared he may not make it.

He has been muttering that we trapped him into this. If perchance he publicly airs his opinion, we will be “exposed.”

Something must urgently be done.  We have told him that if he now gives up his fast, the public will kill him.

The representative group will go for another meeting.

January 20 

“Deadlock.”

Only one bus could be burnt.

Bannu is still being difficult.

We are continuing to say on his behalf, “He will die, but not bend!”

The government looks worried.

The Ascetics Association has given its support to the demand today.

The Brahmin Society has given an ultimatum: Ten Brahmins will immolate themselves.

Savitri tried to commit suicide, but was saved.

There are long queues for Bannu’s darshan.

A senior UN official has been notified via telegram today.

Prayer meetings took place in different locations.

Dr. Lohia has said that as long as this government is in power, lawful demands will not be fulfilled. Bannu should abduct this government instead of Savitri.

January 21 

The government has accepted Bannu’s demand in principle.

A committee has been formed to resolve practical problems.

Amid bhajan and prayers, Baba Sankidas fed fruit juice to Bannu. The leaders’ sweet limes dried up in their shoulder bags. Baba said public sentiment must be respected in a democracy. The emotions of scores of people were linked to this issue. It is a good thing that the issue was peacefully resolved. Otherwise, a violent revolution would have flared up.

The brahmin legislative candidate has struck a deal to have Bannu participate in his campaign. He has paid a fat amount. Bannu’s price has gone up.

To the men and women touching his feet Bannu said, “All happened by God’s grace. I am only His medium.”

Slogans rent the air—Victory to Truth!

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