Pradumanka's kurta

Sanjay Prasad Singh*

I was born in 1942 at a non-descript village under Bhagalpur (now Banka) district. My father Bodhnarayan Singh was a wrestler working for a dharamsala owner at Bhagalpur.

Being the youngest among four brothers, I took the most liberty, roamed around at Ganga ghats and played parnks with anyone I wanted. My elder brother Mrityunjay and I would sing Nagin film's song, mera man dole…, though without thinking that passers-by would drop 5 and 10-paise coins at our tiny palms.

Though we did not intend to beg, we started liking people giving us coins. We took that as an encouragement for budding singers.

My wrestler father got to know about my fanciful and unwarranted begging and sent his lieutenant Batesar to catch us and present before our doughty father.

One twirl of moustache by father was enough to terrify us. No dressing down was given to us. But the message was conveyed.

We became good boys ever since. But I was not yet good at study. I still kept running behind tongas blaring cinema advertisements.

One day, a tongawala whipped me and that was the end of my pranks with tonga .

Days went by and I directly had to seek admission in class seventh at Bhagalpur Collegiate school. The formal study came out of the blue for me. I could not escape it and was serious about myself for the first time.

My elder brother Mrityunjay, who later went on to become a teacher in English at a high school in West Bengal subsequently in Bihar schools, had given me my first and perhaps best lessons in English.

I loved this impressive foreign language to boot and started speaking English sentences off-on-on to terrify others. In early 60s, people held English language in awe and dreaded those who spoke it with aplomb.

Mrityunjay bhaiya and I were soon regular speakers at wedding parties. Village elders looked for us to create a good impression of our Ramchua village. Though very few villagers would understand what we spoke, the topic and meaning were not at all important for them.

Even if we brandished our hands in air to prove a point to opposing party, the illiterate village lot would follow our body language and clap in frenzied admiration. A pair each of dhoti and kurta and Rs 101 in cash were all that we would get from the side we represented.

But before I had got to this level, life was not all that kind to me.

My parents could barely provide for us. Without electricity in villages a far-off imagination, We had either a tripod kerosene-oil dhibri (a lamp), which even a small movement of air blew off.

I preferred to stay away from my home at nights and stay at house of my well-off uncle, Pradumanka.

His wife, whom I fondly called kaki, knew I literally had to burn midnight oil for ensuing high school examinations.

Kaki conceded me some ounce of kerosene oil everyday to burn my dhibri. But she had her limitations. At times, she openly did not give me undeserved kerosene quota.

But Kaki did allow me to pilfer some oil at nights from her cane. When there was some attention-drawing sound, she would say "oh! that is cat". The other night, se would say "on cat, do not drink all my milk" suggesting that I must not exhaust all her oil soon too fast.

It went on for months till exams were over. The midnight oil bore good results. I passed my matriculations with second division.

The result was good enough to attract marriage proposals. After all, I had turned 17.

I was told to be "well-dressed" one day to be present before one bartuhar, bride-seeker or match-fixer. But I had no kurta. Shirt or T-shirt was worn only by urban influentials those days.

I promptly looked for Pradumka for his kurta. He gave me his one worn-out kurta, which otherwise was better than my present clothes.

The outlandish cramped kurta was a manna from heaven for me. Wild with excitement, I felt out of the world in the kurta, without little knowing that I made myself a joker in the over-sized borrowed dress.

The negotiation party had wanted to see me at an orchard, some one km from my village. I walked along with a village elder framing my answers to marriage FAQ.

But rather than asking about my family background and education, a gentleman directly wanted me translate some Hindi sentences into English.

I knew all the answers. But I could not take that format to get married. I could not control my anger and shot back "Am I in an examination hall? Are you an examiner?"

It was certainly not the kind of start the either party wanted. The negotiation collapsed before it could start.

But kurta episode did not seem to end for me. One day, I was in a tattered kurta with most of its left sleeve tattered.

A marriage negotiation party was on a random check in my village. Someone suggested my candidature. Unfortunately, I was caught unawares. The bartuhar saw my battered kurta. I tried to cover torn part of my sleeve with my palms. But it was too late.

The kurta had undone my party yet again. But I had not yet crossed 17.

Finally, there was good news for me. I was told in advance about arrival of marriage negotiators from a neighbouring Chatma village.

I took adequate caution in wearing a good dress. It was surely a borrowed one but not from Pradyumnka.

The negotiators had stayed at my neighbour's house. There was a 8-feet wide open nullah between my house and the house where I had to see the men from Chatma.

I was called for. Excited as I was, I took an unusual long jump and crossed the nullah in a whiff.

The jump was simply out of excitement but it caught attention of the main negotiator. He told his men "this boy has drive and energy. Let us finalise this relation".

The matter was finalized. I got married to Premlata on 25 February 1960. She was 14 and I was still 17.

But Pradyumnaka's kurta continued to dog me. Once I went to my elder sister's sasural to attend a marriage. I was again in outlandish kurta, given by Pradyumnaka.

Just as I entered the village, an elderly man took me for a member of a band-party they had been long waiting for.

"Baajawala aa gaya (band party has arrived)", he said hurling village four-letter and multi-letter mouthfuls, without giving me time to clarify.

I was embarrassed for life. So were my sister and brother-in-law who just came out of their house to see helplessness and pain write large on my face.

My brother-in-law took me to Jamui next morning and gave me a pair of nice pant and shirts.

Exit Prayumnaka's kurta.

Cut to 2006, I have retired two years ago as a high school teacher. Of my four sons, three are well-placed, two being bank managers and another a journalist with a reputed national daily. The fourth son expects a job.

Life gave me chance to wear all kinds of kurta over past years. I did not reserve my finest and costliest of kurtas for occasions. I have slept in most of them, just to get the feel of comfort, gratification and self-actualization.

Just the other day, my second son, Bucho, gave me a kurta saying "Papa, it is worth Rs 2,700". I told him "Don't bother son, I will sleep in it as well". I was right. Its crease and sheen is gone now.

I have no complain against my life. It is all because of Pradyumnka's kurta.

*(The writer is a retired high school teacher)



Very nice story chacha ji. Really the best read I have had in recent times. Reminds me of my childhood which was spent in at and post: Bhawanipur Rajdham Dist: Purnea, Bihar. The Hindi to English translation used to be the best tool to show down a child in that time. Please share more of such stories. Just reminds of Gheesa by Mahadevi Verma. Your story is set in a similar village environment which does not get space in modern stories. Take care.

Warm Regards

Ashish k. Yaduka
Indiana Office of Technology

Dear writer,

Its not an individual story. Its a story about my father, my grandfather, Jha's father, Choubeys father, Sharma's father, Sinha's father, Chaurasia's uncle, Yadav's grandfather and Verma's himself told in a simple way-- the way they lived their unpolluted life in their little world of family and friends.

I must the narrator had become a literate person before he went to school till std VII .. the rest were simply how to put all together.. life itself is a great teacher...makes you soak in the monsoon of information breaking over your head religiously ever year...

What final jump that brought not one or two but altogether four trophies in life...As for your topical Pradumnka kurta i can only say, size does matter irrespective of age, period and area !! so wear it with care, poise and grace...It makes sense and get works done latex smooth !!!

Amarnath Tewary



Dear Shri Singhji,

Your honest piece of writing is deeply appreciated. Such non-descript villages still exist in Bihar, and somebody getting married on 25 February 2007 may still go through same sequence of events in his life. Kind Regards,



TX 77005



Thanks a lot for such a friendly story, which has reminded me the real bihar culture. Regards,

Nitish Kumar