God lives in the Panch by Munshi Premchand
THE STORY ………………
Who are the two main protagonists of the story ….
The story revolves around the enduring friendship bond between Jumman Shaikh and Alagu Chowdhary. The two were very good friends living in the same village. Neither any discord, nor any rancour ever blemished their friendship. When one went out of the village for some days, the other looked after his family. The villagers admired the friendship between the two, and loved them for it.
How Jumman and Alagu had their early education …..
The two had their basic education under the tutelage of Jumman’s father. He was a stern teacher who believed in liberal use of the stick in furthering the education of a student. No wonder, he punished the two rather harshly for minor failings. Under such strict pedagogy, Jumman grew up and became a dependable writer of deeds and agreements. The villagers treated him with regard for this.
Alagu had a very different orientation to education. His father was a rather liberal man. He felt the teacher’s blessings aided a pupil’s progress more than the stick. So, he advised Alagu to be respectful and very obedient to his teacher (Jumman’s father). Alagu kept his teacher’s hookah and Chellum ready for use at any time by the master. Sadly for Alagu, his reverence for his teacher didn’t quite get him any great benefit in his education. He lagged behind Jumman.
Alagu didn’t quite lose his clout in the village for falling behind Jumman in education. He was affluent, and that got him the prestige before the villagers.
A dependant Aunt, and a greedy, mean wife shroud Jumman’s life …
Jumman had an old lonely aunt with no one in her family. She was lucky to have some property in her name. For her upkeep in her dotage, she offered to bequeath her land to Jumman in exchange of food and shelter until her demise. Jumman agreed, and the deal was struck. The old aunt moved to Jumman’s house, where she was accepted with warmth and welcome. She hoped that she could live and die with dignity and love in the foster home. The responsibility of looking after the old lady fell on Jammun’s wife.
As days went by, the wife’s love for the old lady began to wane. she felt the old lady to be an unnecessary burden on her means and energy. Predictably, her dislike for the aunt reflected in her behaviour towards her. The aunt found the cold and frosty behaviour of Jumman’s wife quite discomforting and hurtful. At times, she remonstrated against the maltreatment, but could do little to make the young lady mend her manners. Even the frugal meals she ate were hard to come by. The old lady resented such neglect, and bitterly argued her case with the mistress of the home. It often resulteed in angry exchanges. Taunts and rants flew back and forth. Soon, the quarrels led to a full-blown crisis
The Aunt seeks redress …
Unable to take the indignity any longer, the exasperated old aunt complained to Jumman about the scornful behaviour meted out to her by his wife. Being under his wife’s sway, Jumman could offer no remedy and remained silent. As an alternative, she asked for a small monthly dole, so that she could cook her own meals. This plea, too, was turned down by the husband-wife duo. The hapless old lady’s misery continued. The old lady poured out her owes to many in the village, but receive very cold response. Only Alagu gave her a sympathetic hearing.
Aunt approaches the Panch …
The Aunt decided to approach the Panch for an end to the injustice she was suffering in Jumman’s household. She approached the villagers to narrate her owes and seek intervention of the Panch. Some gave her a patient and sympathetic hearing, a few mocked her, while some advised her to make it up with Jumman’s wife — her real tormentor. Naturally, she drew little solace from such advice. She knocked the doors of the Panch.
The Panch sits ….
Finally, the Panch, the time-honoured adjudicating authority of the village, was convened. On the appointed day, the villagers congregated under a tree to conduct the proceedings. Jumman, the defendant, was given the option to propose one among the villagers as the Panch (the headman for the session). He gave an ambiguous reply. When the suggestion was sought from the agrieved old ladyt, she proposed Alagu’s name, hoping that he would side with her. proposed the name of Alagu, his dear friend. Jumman had assumed that Alagu will never pass a verdict that could harm his interest. Alagu occupied the august chair that called for strict neutrality, and fair-play. Aalgu heard out the two versions, one of the complainant, and the other of his dear friend Jumman.
Alagu gives the verdict …..
Caught in a difficult situation, Alagu (as the Panch) had to contend with two conflicting positions — the call of duty as the Panch, and the urge to side with his dearest friend. He chose to heed the call of his conscience. He reckoned that the sanctity of the Panch far outweighed the duty to a close friend. After much soul-searching, Alagu gave his verdict –Either Jumman gave his old Aunt a monthly allowance or he returned her property.
Jumman seethes in anger ….
Jumman was very angry at his dear friend’s stance, not realizing that Alagu had only done his duty as a fair, and just Panch.
The fall-out of the Panch verdict on their relationship was bitter. Their relationship was frayed beyond repair. Jumman’s heart burned with a desire to avenge Algu’s ‘indiscretion’ of siding with his Aunt. Jumman’s resentful mind blinded his inner vision.
Misfortune for Alagu…..
Some days later, misfortune befell Alagu. One of his bullocks died. He was forced to sell off the other bullock to a cart owner, named Samjhu Sahu. Samjhu was a petty trader who carted goods to and fro between the village and the nearest town. The more trips he made, the more he earned. In his greed to make more, he made the bullock slog harder and harder. One fateful day, the over-worked, under-rested bullock died leaving Samjhu in a quandary.
Samjhu defaults, and a controversy is born…….
As per the agreement, Samjhu, the buyer, had one month time to pay the cost of the bullock. Sadly, the bullock died before the one-month period ended. Not admitting that he was behind the loss of the animal, he refused to pay the cost of the bullock to Alagu. Much acrimonious exchange followed between the buyer and the seller. As a concession, the buyer offered to loan his bullock to Alagu for a few days as a bargain. This was no consolation for Alagu. He wanted to recover his money from Samjhu, but a few villagers inimical to Alagu prodded Samjhu not to pay the outstanding amount. The feud led to a nasty fisticuff between the debtor and the creditor.
Alagu approaches the Panch….
Finally, Alagu decided to take the matter to the Panch.
A meeting of the Panch was arranged at his behest. Samjhu was invited to suggest a name for the chair of Panch. Sensing an opportunity, he suggested Jumman’s name. Alagu was clearly dismayed at the prospect of Jumman hearing his plea. He felt, he could not get a favourable verdict from his erstwhile friend Jumman, who had become a foe by then. With fear and nervousness he awaited the Panch’s verdict.
Jumman as the Panch hearing his enemy’s case …
For Jumman, it was a big call of conscience. He surely couldn’t undermine the reputation of the Panch by letting his vengeful mind cloud his sense of fair-play. The chair of the Panch was too sacrosanct to be a prey to one’s petty-mindedness.
Jumman rises to the occasion ….
Jumman made up his mind as his conscience dictated. He solemnly ruled that the cart-owner, Samjhu (the buyer) must pay the full outstanding cost of the bullock to Alagu despite the fact that animal had died before the one-month credit period. After all, the bullock was fit and healthy on the day of sale. Its subsequent death could not be a ground for non-payment of the agreed money to Alagu.
Alagu breathes a sigh of relief ….
The verdict came as a huge relief to Alagu. He could hardly fathom the fact that his arch enemy Junmman had set his acrimony aside, and decided to give a fair and just verdict.
Overwhelmed with joy, he proceeded to embrace Jammun.
Past is buried and the two friends turn a new leaf …
The duo buried their past, and became friends again. Thus, the Panch’s time-honoured reputation of dispensing fair verdict was kept. The moral question – should friendship override call of conscience, when both are at odds with each other – was settled once and for all.
Characters of Jumman and Alagu …..
Jumman .. He appears to be a man with a meek personality. His wife was petty-minded, selfish, and insensitive to the aunt who had given her land to Jumman for sustenance. Obviously his wife reneged on the solemn promise made to the aunt. She maltreated her relentlessly. Jumman turned a blind eye to the way his wife treated his hapless old aunt. Such attitude was immoral and condemnable. To add to his folly, he did not take the Panch’s decision in right spirit, and harboured a grudge against his dearest friend Alagu, whom he began to see as his enemy.
However, while acting as the Panch in deciding Alagu’s matter, he realized his solemn obligation to be impartial and just. By doing this, he redeemed himself to a great extent. He made up with Alagu later. On the whole, Jumman emerges as a normal human being with common failings.
Alagu .. While hearing the case against his dear friend Jumman, Alagu, as the Panch, did not waver from the path of morality. He delivered a wise decision although it went against Jumman. By doing this, Alagu upheld the noble traditions of the Panch. He must have gone through painful dilemma before giving a judgment in favour of the aggrieved aunt. But, he did what the seat of the Panch called upon to do. Friendship with Jumman did not stand on his way. Thus, Alagu emerges as a sagacious person with strong moral moorings.
Question 2 … What is the central message that Munshi Premchand wants to convey in God lives in the Panch?
Answer ….Munshi Premchand lived in an era when the society was mired in poverty, illiteracy, superstition, and caste conflicts. No wonder, petty quarrels, conflicts, and greed bedeviled rural life. Munshiji waged a war on all these evils not by guns, but through his pen. He was a keen watcher of the social scene. He was pained to see the evils, but was also elated to notice the practices and institutions of justice and fair play still standing in his village. Panch, the village- level adjudicating body was one such system. It was simple, free, fair, quick, democratic, and open to all.
The way Jumman, seated in the Panch’s chair, rose to the occasion and gave a fair verdict in favour of his estranged friend Alagu shows how villagers valued the system of Panch, and tried to preserve its sanctity. At the hour of reckoning, Jumman cast his enmity aside and listened to the call of conscience, so that the reputation of the Panch remained intact.
Through this story, Munshiji has a given a moral message that has more relevance today than it had during his days. Nepotism, greed, corruption, and vendetta blight us and our institutions today. The panacea for these evils lies in this eternal story, “God Lives in the Panch.”
Question 4. What moral lessons we get from God lives in the Panch?
Significance of ‘God Lives in the Panch’
Why we should read ‘God Lives the Panch’
Answer … As Gandhi said, ‘India lives in its villages’. Most of us either live in villages or have our roots there one way or the other. So, any story based in rural India has such power to touch our mind so easily.
Munshi Premchand wrote ‘God Lives in the Panch’ almost a century ago, but one sees the same goodness and evil of human character even today. Little has changed although rural India has seen such dramatic transformation in the last three or four decades.
Greed and disregard for moral principles as seen in the characters of Jumman and Samjhu are evils among villagers that we see in no small measure even today. These human failings besmirch the rural landscape.
In the same vein, the regard for ethical values, call for duty and respect for time-honoured institutions like the Panch as seen in Alagu, and later in Jumman are so very commendable. These values practiced by the main protagonists of the story impart great charm and appeal to village life. The institution of Panch dispenses justice fast and with little expense. It is fair to one and all, irrespective of the clout and wealth of the complainant and the defendant. With no lawyers, no fees, no lies, and no adjournments, this simple system has stood the test of time.
There are many lessons to be learnt and imbibe from this masterpiece of Munishiji. Honour your commitments, eschew greed, avoid impulses of expediency, and listen to the call of your conscience. These are the lofty moral lessons, this short story preaches.