The Post Office/Act I

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Act I of the play

THE POST OFFICE

ACT I

[Madhav's House]

Madhav

What a state I am in! Before he came, nothing mattered; I felt so free. But now that he has come, goodness knows from where, my heart is filled with his dear self, and my home will be no home to me when he leaves. Doctor, do you think he—


Physician

If there's life in his fate, then he will live long. But what the medical scriptures say, it seems—


Madhav

Great heavens, what?

Physician

The scriptures have it: “Bile or palsey, cold or gout spring all alike.”


Madhav

Oh, get along, don't fling your scriptures at me; you only make me more anxious; tell me what I can do.


Physician [Taking snuff]

The patient needs the most scrupulous care.


Madhav

That's true; but tell me how.


Physician

I have already mentioned, on no account must he be let out of doors.


Madhav

Poor child, it is very hard to keep him indoors all day long.

Physician

What else can you do? The autumn sun and the damp are both very bad for the little fellow—for the scriptures have it:

"In wheezing, swoon or in nervous fret,
In jaundice or leaden eyes———"


Madhav

Never mind the scriptures, please. Eh, then we must shut the poor thing up. Is there no other method?


Physician

None at all: for, “In the wind and in the sun———”


Madhav

What will your “in this and in that” do for me now? Why don't you let them alone and come straight to the point? What's to be done then? Your system is very, very hard for the poor boy; and he is so quiet too with all his pain and sickness. It tears my heart to see him wince, as he takes your medicine.


Physician

The more he winces, the surer is the effect. That's why the sage Chyabana observes: "In medicine as in good advices, the least palatable ones are the truest." Ah, well! I must be trotting now. [Exit]


[Gaffer enters]


Madhav

Well, I'm jiggered, there's Gaffer now.


Gaffer

Why, why, I won't bite you.


Madhav

No, but you are a devil to send children off their heads.

Gaffer

But you aren't a child, and you've no child in the house; why worry then?

Madhav

Oh, but I have brought a child into the house.

Gaffer

Indeed, how so?

Madhav

You remember how my wife was dying to adopt a child?

Gaffer

Yes, but that's an old story; you didn't like the idea.

Madhav

You know, brother, how hard all this getting money in has been. That somebody else's child would sail in and waste all this money earned with so much trouble—Oh, I hated the idea. But this boy clings to my heart in such a queer sort of way——

Gaffer

So that's the trouble! and your money goes all for him and feels jolly lucky it does go at all.

Madhav

Formerly, earning was a sort of passion with me; I simply couldn't help working for money. Now, I make money and as I know it is all for this dear boy, earning becomes a joy to me.

Gaffer

Ah, well, and where did you pick him up?

Madhav

He is the son of a man who was a brother to my wife by village ties. He has had no mother since infancy; and now the other day he lost his father as well.

Gaffer

Poor thing: and so he needs me all the more.

Madhav

The doctor says all the organs of his little body are at loggerheads with each other, and there isn't much hope for his life. There is only one way to save him and that is to keep him out of this autumn wind and sun. But you are such a terror ! What with this game of yours at your age, too, to get children out of doors!

Gaffer

God bless my soul! So I'm already as bad as autumn wind and sun, eh! But, friend, I know something, too, of the game of keeping them indoors. When my day's work is over I am coming in to make friends with this child of yours. [Exit]

Amal enters

Amal

Uncle, I say, Uncle!

Madhav

Hullo! Is that you, Amal?

Amal

Mayn't I be out of the courtyard at all?

Madhav

No, my dear, no.

Amal

See, there where Auntie grinds lentils in the quirn, the squirrel is sitting with his tail up and with his wee hands he's picking up the broken grains of lentils and crunching them. Can't I run up there?

Madhav

No, my darling, no.

Amal

Wish I were a squirrel! it would be lovely. Uncle, why won't you let me go about?

Madhav

Doctor says it's bad for you to be out.

Amal

How can the doctor know?

Madhav

What a thing to say! The doctor can't know and he reads such huge books!

Amal

Does his book-learning tell him everything?

Madhav

Of course, don't you know!

Amal [With a sigh]

Ah, I am so stupid! I don't read books.

Madhav

Now, think of it; very, very learned people are all like you; they are never out of doors.

Amal

Aren't they really?

Madhav

No, how can they? Early and late they toil and moil at their books, and they've eyes for nothing else. Now, my little man, you are going to be learned when you grow up; and then you will stay at home and read such big books, and people will notice you and say, "he's a wonder."

Amal

No, no, Uncle; I beg of you by your dear feet I don't want to be learned, I won't.

Madhav

Dear, dear; it would have been my saving if I could have been learned.

Amal

No, I would rather go about and see everything that there is.

Madhav

Listen to that! See! What will you see, what is there so much to see?

Amal

See that far-away hill from our window I often long to go beyond those hills and right away.

Madhav

Oh, you silly! As if there's nothing more to be done but just get up to the top of that hill and away! Eh! You don't talk sense, my boy. Now listen, since that hill stands there upright as a barrier, it means you can't get beyond it. Else, what was the use in heaping up so many large stones to make such a big affair of it, eh!

Amal

Uncle, do you think it is meant to prevent your crossing over? It seems to me because the earth can't speak it raises its hands into the sky and beckons. And those who live far and sit alone by their windows can see the signal. But I suppose the learned people

Madhav

No, they don't have time for that sort of nonsense. They are not crazy like you.

Amal

Do you know, yesterday I met someone quite as crazy as I am.

Madhav

Gracious me, really, how so?

Amal

He had a bamboo staff on his shoulder with a small bundle at the top, and a brass pot in his left hand, and an old pair of shoes on; he was making for those hills straight across that meadow there. I called out to him and asked, 1 ' Where are you going ? ' ' He answered, "I don't know, anywhere!" I asked again, "Why are you going?" He said, "I'm going out to seek work." Say, Uncle, have you to seek work?

Madhav

Of course I have to. There's many about looking for jobs.

Amal

How lovely! I'll go about, like them too, finding things to do.

Madhav

Suppose you seek and don't find. Then——

Amal

Wouldn't that be jolly? Then I should go farther! I watched that man slowly walking on with his pair of worn out shoes. And when he got to where the water flows under the fig tree, he stopped and washed his feet in the stream. Then he took out from his bundle some gram-flour, moistened it with water and began to eat. Then he tied up his bundle and shouldered it again; tucked up his cloth above his knees and crossed the stream. I've asked Auntie to let me go up to the stream, and eat my gram-flour just like him.

Madhav

And what did your Auntie say to that?

Amal

Auntie said, "Get well and then I'll take you over there." Please, Uncle, when shall I get well?

Madhav

It won't be long, dear.

Amal

Really, but then I shall go right away the moment I'm well again.

Madhav

And where will you go?

Amal

Oh, I will walk on, crossing so many streams, wading through water. Everybody will be asleep with their doors shut in the heat of the day and I will tramp on and on seeking work far, very far.

Madhav

I see! I think you had better be getting well first; then

Amal

But then you won't want me to be learned, will you, Uncle?

Madhav

What would you rather be then?

Amal

I can't think of anything just now; but I'll tell you later on.

Madhav

Very well. But mind you, you aren't to call out and talk to strangers again.

Amal

But I love to talk to strangers!

Madhav

Suppose they had kidnapped you?

Amal

That would have been splendid! But no one ever takes me away. They all want me to stay in here.

Madhav

I am off to my work but, darling, you won't go out, will you?

Amal

No, I won't. But, Uncle, you'll let me be in this room by the roadside.

[Exit Madhav]

Dairyman

Curds, curds, good nice curds.

Amal

Curdseller, I say, Curdseller.

Dairyman

Why do you call me? Will you buy some curds?

Amal

How can I buy? I have no money.

Dairyman

What a boy! Why call out then? Ugh! What a waste of time.

Amal

I would go with you if I could.

Dairyman

With me?

Amal

Yes, I seem to feel homesick when I hear you call from far down the road.

Dairyman [Lowering his yoke-pole]

Whatever are you doing here, my child?

Amal

The doctor says I'm not to be out, so I sit here all day long.

Dairyman

My poor child, whatever has happened to you?

Amal

I can't tell. You see I am not learned, so I don't know what's the matter with me. Say, Dairyman, where do you come from?

Dairyman

From our village.

Amal

Your village? Is it very far?

Dairyman

Our village lies on the river Shamli at the foot of the Panch-mura hills.

Amal

Panch-mura hills! Shamli river! I wonder. I may have seen your village. I can't think when though!

Dairyman

Have you seen it? Been to the foot of those hills?

Amal

Never. But I seem to remember having seen it. Your village is under some very old big trees, just by the side of the red road isn't that so?

Dairyman

That's right, child.

Amal

And on the slope of the hill cattle grazing.

Dairyman

How wonderful ! Aren't there cattle grazing in our village! Indeed, there are!

Amal

And your women with red sarees fill their pitchers from the river and carry them on their heads.

Dairyman

Good, that's right. Women from our dairy village do come and draw their water from the river; but then it isn't everyone who has a red saree to put on. But, my dear child, surely you must have been there for a walk some time.

Amal

Really, Dairyman, never been there at all. But the first day doctor lets me go out, you are going to take me to your village.

Dairyman

I will, my child, with pleasure.

Amal

And you'll teach me to cry curds and shoulder the yoke like you and walk the long, long road?

Dairyman

Dear, dear, did you ever? Why should you sell curds? No, you will read big books and be learned.

Amal

No, I never want to be learned I'll be like you and take my curds from the village by the red road near the old banyan tree, and I will hawk it from cottage to cottage. Oh, how do you cry "Curd, curd, good nice curd!" Teach me the tune, will you?

Dairyman

Dear, dear, teach you the tune; what an idea!

Amal

Please do. I love to hear it. I can't tell you how queer I feel when I hear you cry out from the bend of that road, through the line of those trees! Do you know I feel like that when I hear the shrill cry of kites from almost the end of the sky?

Dairyman

Dear child, will you have some curds? Yes, do.

Amal

But I have no money.

Dairyman

No, no, no, don't talk of money! You'll make me so happy if you have a little curds from me.

Amal

Say, have I kept you too long?

Dairyman

Not a bit; it has been no loss to me at all; you have taught me how to be happy selling curds. [Exit]

Amal [Intoning]

Curds, curds, good nice curds from the dairy village from the country of he Panch-mura hills by the Shamli bank. Curds, good curds; in the early morning the women make the cows stand in a row under the trees and milk them, and in the evening they turn the milk into curds. Curds, good curds. Hello, there's the watchman on his rounds. Watchman, I say, come and have a word with me.

Watchman

What's all this row you are making? Aren't you afraid of the likes of me?

Amal

No, why should I be?

Watchman

Suppose I march you off then?

Amal

Where will you take me to? Is it very far, right beyond the hills?

Watchman

Suppose I march you straight to the King?

Amal

To the King! Do, will you? But the doctor won't let me go out. No one can ever take me away. I've got to stay here all day long.

Watchman

Doctor won't let you, poor fellow! So I see! Your face is pale and there are dark rings round your eyes. Your veins stick out from your poor thin hands.

Amal

Won't you sound the gong, Watchman?

Watchman

Time has not yet come.

Amal

How curious! Some say time has not yet come, and some say time has gone by! But surely your time will come the moment you strike the gong!

Watchman

That's not possible; I strike up the gong only when it is time.

Amal

Yes, I love to hear your gong. When it is midday and our meal is over, Uncle goes off to his work and Auntie falls asleep reading her Ramayana, and in the courtyard under the shadow of the wall our doggie sleeps with his nose in his curled up tail; then your gong strikes out, "Dong, dong, dong!" Tell me why does your gong sound?

Watchman

My gong sounds to tell the people, Time waits for none, but goes on forever.

{{c}Amal}} Where, to what land?

Watchman

That none knows.

Amal

Then I suppose no one has ever been there! Oh, I do wish to fly with the time to that land of which no one knows anything.

Watchman

All of us have to get there one day, my child.

Amal

Have I too?

Watchman

Yes, you too!

Amal

But doctor won't let me out.

Watchman

One day the doctor himself may take you there by the hand.

Amal

He won't; you don't know him. He only keeps me in.

Watchman

One greater than he comes and lets us free.

Amal

When will this great doctor come for me? I can't stick in here any more.

Watchman

Shouldn't talk like that, my child.

Amal

No. I am here where they have left me I never move a bit. But when your gong goes off, dong, dong, dong, it goes to my heart. Say, Watchman?

Watchman

Yes, my dear.

Amal

Say, what's going on there in that big house on the other side, where there is a flag flying high up and the people are always going in and out?

Watchman

Oh, there? That's our new Post Office.

Amal

Post Office? Whose?

Watchman

Whose? Why, the King's surely!

Amal

Do letters come from the King to his office here?

Watchman

Of course. One fine day there may be a letter for you in there.

Amal

A letter for me? But I am only a little boy.

Watchman

The King sends tiny notes to little boys.

Amal

Oh, how lovely! When shall I have my letter? How do you guess he'll write to me?

Watchman

Otherwise why should he set his Post Office here right in front of your open window, with the golden flag flying?

Amal

But who will fetch me my King's letter when it comes?

Watchman

The King has many postmen. Don't you see them run about with round gilt badges on their chests?

Amal

Well, where do they go?

Watchman

Oh, from door to door, all through the country.

Amal

I'll be the King's postman when I grow up.

Watchman

Ha! ha! Postman, indeed! Rain or shine, rich or poor, from house to house delivering letters that's very great work!

Amal

That's what I'd like best. What makes you smile so? Oh, yes, your work is great too. When it is silent everywhere in the heat of the noonday, your gong sounds, Dong, dong, dong, and sometimes when I wake up at night all of a sudden and find our lamp blown out, I can hear through the darkness your gong slowly sounding, Dong, dong, dong!

Watchman

There's the village headman ! I must be offo If he catches me gossiping with you there'll be a great to do.

Amal

The headman? Whereabouts is he?

Watchman

Right down the road there; see that huge palm-leaf umbrella hopping along? That's him!

Amal

I suppose the King's made him our headman here?

Watchman

Made him? Oh, no! A fussy busybody! He knows so many ways of making himself unpleasant that everybody is afraid of him. It's just a game for the likes of him, making trouble for everybody. I must be off now! Mustn't keep work waiting, you know! I'll drop in again to-morrow morning and tell you all the news of the town. [Exit]

Amal

It would be splendid to have a letter from the King every day. I'll read them at the window. But, oh! I can't read writing. Who'll read them out to me, I wonder! Auntie reads her Ramayana; she may know the King's writing. If no one will, then I must keep them carefully and read them when I'm grown up. But if the postman can't find me? Headman, Mr.

Headman, may I have a word with you?

Headman

Who is yelling after me on the highway? Oh, you wretched monkey !

Amal

You're the headman. Everybody minds you.

Headman [Looking pleased]

Yes, oh yes, they do ! They must !

Amal

Do the King's postmen listen to you?

Headman

They've got to. By Jove, I'd like to see——

Amal

Will you tell the postman it's Amal who sits by the window here?

Headman

What's the good of that?

Amal

In case there's a letter for me.

Headman

A letter for you! Whoever's going to write to you?

Amal

If the King does.

Headman

Ha! ha! What an uncommon little fellow you are! Ha! ha! the King indeed, aren't you his bosom friend, eh! You haven't met for a long while and the King is pining, I am sure. Wait till tomorrow and you'll have your letter.

Amal

Say, Headman, why do you speak to me in that tone of voice? Are you cross?

Headman

Upon my word! Cross, indeed! You write to the King! Madhav is devilish swell nowadays. He'd made a little pile; and so kings and padishahs are everyday talk with his people. Let me find him once and I'll make him dance. Oh, you snipper-snapper! I'll get the King's letter sent to your house indeed I will!

Amal

No, no, please don't trouble yourself about it.

Headman

And why not, pray! I'll tell the King about you and he won't be very long. One of his footmen will come along presently for news of you. Madhav's impudence staggers me. If the King hears of this, that'll take some of his nonsense out of him. [Exit]

Amal

Who are you walking there? How your anklets tinkle! Do stop a while, dear, won't you?

[A Girl enters]

Girl

I haven't a moment to spare; it is already late!

Amal

I see, you don't wish to stop; I don't care to stay on here either.

Girl

You make me think of some late star of the morning ! Whatever's the matter with you?

Amal

I don't know; the doctor won't let me out.

Girl

Ah me! Don't then! Should listen to the doctor. People'll be cross with you if you're naughty. I know, always looking out and watching must make you feel tired. Let me close the window a bit for you.

Amal

No, don't, only this one's open! All the others are shut. But will you tell me who you are? Don't seem to know you.

Girl

I am Sudha.

Amal

What Sudha?

Sudha

Don't you know? Daughter of the flower-seller here.

Amal

What do you do?

Sudha

I gather flowers in my basket.

Amal

Oh, flower gathering! That is why your feet seem so glad and your anklets jingle so merrily as you walk. Wish I could be out too. Then I would pick some flowers for you from the very topmost branches right out of sight.

Sudha

Would you really? Do you know more about flowers than I?

Amal

Yes, I do, quite as much. I know all about Champa of the fairy tale and his seven brothers. If only they let me, I'll go right into the dense forest where you can't find your way. And where the honey-sipping humming- bird rocks himself on the end of the thinnest branch, I will flower out as a champa. Would you be my sister Parul?

Sudha

You are silly! How can I be sister Parul when I am Sudha and my mother is Sasi, the flower-seller? I have to weave so many garlands a day. It would be jolly if I could lounge here like you!

Amal

What would you do then, all the day long?

Sudha

I could have great times with my doll Benay the bride, and Meni the pussy- cat and but I say it is getting late and I mustn't stop, or I won't find a single flower.

Amal

Oh, wait a little longer; I do like it so!

Sudha

Ah, well now don't you be naughty. Be good and sit still and on my way back home with the flowers I'll come and talk with you.

Amal

And you'll let me have a flower then?

Sudha

No, how can I? It has to be paid for.

Amal

I'll pay when I grow up before I leave to look for work out on the other side of that stream there.

Sudha

Very well, then.

Amal

And you'll come back when you have your flowers?

Sudha

I will.

Amal

You will, really?

Sudha

Yes, I will.

Amal

You won't forget me? I am Amal, remember that.

Sudha

I won't forget you, you'll see. [Exit]

[A Troop of Boys enter]

Amal

Say, brothers, where are you all off to? Stop here a little.

Boys

We're off to play.

Amal

What will you play at, brothers?

Boys

We'll play at being ploughmen.

First Boy [Showing a stick]

This is our ploughshare.

Second Boy

We two are the pair of oxen.

Amal

And you're going to play the whole day?

Boys

Yes, all day long.

Amal

And you'll come back home in the evening by the road along the river bank?

Boys

Yes.

Amal

Do you pass our house on your way home?

Boys

You come out to play with us, yes do.

Amal

Doctor won't let me out.

Boys

Doctor! Suppose the likes of you mind the doctor. Let's be off; it is getting late.

Amal

Don't. Why not play on the road near this window? I could watch you then.

Third Boy

What can we play at here?

Amal

With all these toys of mine lying about. Here you are, have them. I can't play alone. They are getting dirty and are of no use to me.

Boys

How jolly! What fine toys! Look, here's a ship. There's old mother Jatai; say, chaps, ain't he a gorgeous sepoy ? And you'll let us have them all ? You don't really mind?

Amal

No, not a bit; have them by all means.

Boys

You don't want them back?

Amal

Oh, no, I shan't want them.

Boys

Say, won't you get a scolding for this?

Amal

No one will scold me. But will you play with them in front of our door for a while every morning? I'll get you new ones when these are old.

Boys

Oh, yes, we will. Say, chaps, put these sepoys into a line. We'll play at war; where can we get a musket? Oh, look here, this bit of reed will do nicely. Say, but you're off to sleep already.

Amal

I'm afraid I'm sleepy. I don't know, I feel like it at times. I have been sitting a long while and I'm tired; my back aches.

Boys

It's only early noon now. How is it you're sleepy? Listen! The gong's sounding the first watch.

Amal

Yes, dong, dong, dong, it tolls me to sleep.

Boys

We had better go then. We'll come in again tomorrow morning.

Amal

I want to ask you something before you go. You are always out do you know of the King's postmen?

Boys

Yes, quite well.

Amal

Who are they? Tell me their names.

Boys

One's Badal, another's Sarat. There's so many of them.

Amal

Do you think they will know me if there's a letter for me?

Boys

Surely, if your name's on the letter they will find you out.

Amal

When you call in to-morrow morning, will you bring one of them along so that he'll know me?

Boys

Yes, if you like.


CURTAIN