THE HOME COMING
Phatik Chakravorti was ringleader among the boys of the village. A new mischief got into his head. There was a heavy log lying on the mud-flat of the river waiting to be shaped into a mast for a boat.
He decided that they should all work together to shift the log by main force from its place and roll it away. The owner of the log would be angry and surprised, and they would all enjoy the fun. Every one seconded the proposal, and it was carried unanimously.
But just as the fun was about to begin, Makhan, Phatik’s younger brother, sauntered up, and sat down on the log in front of them all without a word. The boys were puzzled for a moment.
He was pushed, rather timidly, by one of the boys and told to get up but he remained quite unconcerned. He appeared like a young philosopher meditating on the futility of games. Phatik was furious. “Makhan,” he cried, “if you don’t get down this minute I’ll thrash you!”
Makhan only moved to a more comfortable position.
Now, if Phatik was to keep his regal dignity before the public, it was clear he ought to carry out his threat. But his courage failed him at the crisis. His fertile brain, however, rapidly seized upon a new manoeuvre which would discomfit his brother and afford his followers an added amusement.
He gave the word of command to roll the log and Makhan over together. Makhan heard the order, and made it a point of honour to stick on. But he overlooked the fact, like those who attempt earthly fame in other matters, that there was peril in it.
The boys began to heave at the log with all their might, calling out, “One, two, three, go,” At the word “go” the log went; and with it went Makhan’s philosophy, glory and all.
All the other boys shouted themselves hoarse with delight. But Phatik was a little frightened. He knew what was coming. And, sure enough, Makhan rose from Mother Earth blind as Fate and screaming like the Furies. He rushed at Phatik and scratched his face and beat him and kicked him, and then went crying home.
The first act of the drama was over.
Phatik wiped his face, and sat down on the edge of a sunken barge on the river bank, and began to chew a piece of grass. A boat came up to the landing, and a middle-aged man, with grey hair and dark moustache, stepped on shore.
He saw the boy sitting there doing nothing, and asked him where the Chakravortis lived. Phatik went on chewing the grass, and said: “Over there,” but it was quite impossible to tell where he pointed. The stranger asked him again.
He swung his legs to and fro on the side of the barge, and said; “Go and find out,” and continued to chew the grass as before.
But now a servant came down from the house, and told Phatik his mother wanted him. Phatik refused to move. But the servant was the master on this occasion.
He took Phatik up roughly, and carried him, kicking and struggling in impotent rage.
When Phatik came into the house, his mother saw him. She called out angrily: “So you have been hitting Makhan again?”
Phatik answered indignantly: “No, I haven’t; who told you that?”
His mother shouted: “Don’t tell lies! You have.”
Phatik said suddenly: “I tell you, I haven’t. You ask Makhan!” But Makhan thought it best to stick to his previous statement. He said: “Yes, mother. Phatik did hit me.”
Phatik’s patience was already exhausted. He could not hear this injustice. He rushed at Makban, and hammered him with blows: “Take that” he cried, “and that, and that, for telling lies.”
His mother took Makhan’s side in a moment, and pulled Phatik away, beating him with her hands. When Phatik pushed her aside, she shouted out: “What I you little villain! Would you hit your own mother?”
It was just at this critical juncture that the grey-haired stranger arrived. He asked what the matter was. Phatik looked sheepish and ashamed.
But when his mother stepped back and looked at the stranger, her anger was changed to surprise. For she recognised her brother, and cried: “Why, Dada! Where have you come from? “As she said these words, she bowed to the ground and touched his feet.
Her brother had gone away soon after she had married, and he had started business in Bombay. His sister had lost her husband while he was in Bombay.
Bishamber had now come back to Calcutta, and had at once made enquiries about his sister. He had then hastened to see her as soon as he found out where she was.
The next few days were full of rejoicing. The brother asked after the education of the two boys. He was told by his sister that Phatik was a perpetual nuisance.
He was lazy, disobedient, and wild. But Makhan was as good as gold, as quiet as a lamb, and very fond of reading, Bishamber kindly offered to take Phatik off his sister’s hands, and educate him with his own children in Calcutta. The widowed mother readily agreed.
When his uncle asked Phatik if he would like to go to Calcutta with him, his joy knew no bounds, and he said; “Oh, yes, uncle!” In a way that made it quite clear that he meant it
It was an immense relief to the mother to get rid of Phatik. She had a prejudice against the boy, and no love was lost between the two brothers.
She was in daily fear that he would either drown Makhan someday in the river, or break his head in a fight, or run him into some danger or other. At the same time she was somewhat distressed to see Phatik’s extreme eagerness to get away.
Phatik, as soon as all was settled, kept asking his uncle every minute when they were to start. He was on pins and needles all day long with excitement, and lay awake most of 3 the night. He bequeathed to Makhan, in perpetuity, his fishing-rod, his big kite and his marbles. Indeed, at this time of departure his generosity towards Makhan was unbounded.
When they reached Calcutta, Phatik made the acquaintance of his aunt for the first time. She was by no means pleased with this unnecessary addition to her family. She found her own three boys quite enough to manage without taking any one else.
And to bring a village lad of fourteen into their midst was terribly upsetting. Bishamber should really have thought twice before committing such an indiscretion.