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The Miracle of Prajapur (Selected Short Stories of K.A. Abbas)

Thanks to the ever-loquacious Lado, the midwife, within a few hours the news had been broadcast to the whole village of Prajapur!

 

It was a holiday, being August 15, the day of freedom. In chattering, groups of threes and fours, the village folk turned out, all headed for Ramoo’s house, a tumble-down thatched shack, a little distance away from the cluster of huts which was the main village. Youthful tongues wagged and wise old grey heads were shaken skeptically as they debated the probability of the miracle described by Lado.

 

“Can such a thing ever be?”

 

“The life is the eternal sport of Bhagwan, brother, nothing is impossible for him.”

 

“Must say Ramoo’s wife is truly lucky. Not one, not two but…”

 

“Hi-Hi-Hi! Ha-Ha-Ha!”

 

“Why do you display your dirty teeth? What is the laughing matter in this?”

 

“Nothing, uncle, nothing. I was only thinking that his Ramoo looks so thin and sickly, but he has turned out to be a real husband.”

 

“I hear he is feeling proud like a peacock. Since morning he has been celebrating with bhang. By now he must be dead drunk.”

 

“Why should he not feel cocky and proud? After all he has done something – he has proved that he is a Man. Not like you that even after seven years…”

 

“Aray, but it was not Ramoo’s wonderful feat. If any credit is to be given, it is to his wife.”

 

“Say, Panditji, has such a thing ever happened in Vilayat – in the lands of the white folk?”

 

“Aray, what do you talk? They can never compete with us in this matter. These white folk! Bah! In Vilayat, I tell you men are not men and women are not women.”

 

“Then Ramoo’s wife will become famous throughout the world.”

 

“Of course, and, along with her, our village, too!”

 

That day when the mail runner from Bhimnagar Post-office came to distribute letters to the village of Prajapur, he heard the news. On his return he told the story to the Postmaster who, in turn, passed it on to his neighbor, Dr. Kundanlal of the Municipal Civil Hospital. That same afternoon, when LalaBansidhar, President of the City Congress Committee, who was a chronic case of diabetes, came to get his regular insulin injection, Dr. Kundanlal told him about the miracle of Prajapur.

 

From the hospital LalaBansidhar was going straight to preside over the public meeting in connection with the Independence Day when, on the way, he met MunshiBrijNarain who combined teaching in the Municipal school with free-lance journalism as local correspondent of the Delhi Mail. He asked the City Congress President for an advance copy of his speech so that it could be wired in time for the Dak edition. LalaBansidhar had kept a well-prepared synopsis of the speech he was going to deliver ready in his pocket, and he promptly handed it to the obliging correspondent. Also, while taking of this and that of local politics, he casually mentioned the ‘miracle of Prajapur’ about which he had just heard from the Doctor.

 

MunshiBrijNarain’s ‘nose for news’ quivered with excitement when he heard about the ‘miracle.’

 

“Is that the truth, Lalaji? Is such a thing possible?”

 

“Must be. After all I have heard it from no less a reliable person than Doctor Saheb himself.”

 

“Then it must be true. A special case like this must have been undertaken by Doctor Saheb himself.”

 

“Naturally, naturally,” assented LalaBansidhar, readjusting the angle of his well-starched Gandhi cap, as they reached the already crowded Gandhi Garden and the “leader” was greeted with shouts of “InqilabZindabab” and “LalaBansidhar Ki Jai.”

 

Next day, however, the report of LalaBansidhar’s eloquent Independence Day speech did not appear in the Delhi Mail, but another news-item sent by MunshiBrijNarain was prominently featured on the front page:

 

MIRACLE OF PRAJAPUR

Peasant Woman gives Birth to Five Children:

Independence Day offering to Mother India.

(From Our Own Correspondent)

Bhimnagar, August 15.

 

The strange case of a peasant woman who gave birth to quintuplets in the early hours of this morning is reported from the village of Prajapur ten miles from here. Of the five, three are boys and two girls. Dr. Kundanlal, Incharge of Bhimnagar Civil Hopsital who personally attended this amazing delivery case, told your correspondent that the mother and all her five new-born children are doing well.

 

The news has created a sensation not only in Prajapurbut in all the neighbouring villages, and hundreds are flocking to see the quintuplets and their mother. Considerable interest has also been roused in the city of Bhimnagar and a deputation of prominent citizens headed by LalaBansidhar, President the City Congress Committee, is expected to visit Prajapur.

 

Some religious circles, are attaching particular significance to this event and hold that the birth of these quintuplets can only be a miracle, for the edification of the unbelievers of the world and to bring them back to the path of faith. Nationalist circles, however, look on this “Miracle” in a strictly political light. Addressing an Independence Day meeting in the evening, LalaBansidhar said:

“On this auspicious day of August 15, the wife of a common peasant of Prajapur has given birth to five babies and placed this unique Independence Day offering at the feet of Bharat Mata.” (Cheers).

 

Picked from the Delhi Mail by other agencies, this news appeared in no less than 750 Indian newspapers and journals in thirteen languages. The foreign correspondents flashed the news abroad and within a day the names of Ramoo and Lajo had appeared in the newspaper of every country in the world. As many as 125 Indian and 55 foreign papers wrote editorials about the ‘miracle of Prajapur.’

 

The well-known nationalist daily, Congress times, wrote in a stirring editorial:

 

“By giving birth to quintuplets on August 15, a patriotic peasant woman has not only added five to the progeny of Mother India but also proved that the rural masses of India are not behind anyone in their love for their country, for their country’s freedom, and for their National Government. We want to congratulate our peasant brother Ramoo and his devoted wife Lajo and wish to place their noble and shining example before those carping critics of the Government, who indulge in much tall talk but, in the field of action, cannot produce even a mouse.”

 

The weekly DeshSainik wrote:

 

“The brave young woman of Prajapur, Lajo, has brought infinite glory to the name of Bharat. No longer need we feel inferior to Canada with her Dionne Quintuplets.”

 

Reuter reported from Montreal that the Dionne girls had sent a telegram of fraternal greetings reading:

 

“WELCOME TO THIS WORLD-FROM CANADA’S FIVE TO INDIA’S FIVE.”

 

Which provoked an editorial comment from the daily Bharat Bhisham:

 

“Let not the Canadians think that they can claim equality with us of Bharat. It may be that they, too, have quintuplets, but let them not forget that while all five of the Dionne children are girls, our sister Lajo has given birth to no less than three boys among her quintuplets.”

 

RashtraSevak came out with a concrete suggestion to the Government:

 

“If we the people of Bharat decide to follow in the footsteps of Ramoo and Lajo, in a few years our population can be doubled and thus we can dominate the world by sheer force of numbers. We suggest that the Government should appoint a committee of medical experts who should carry on a scientific investigation of this case of the birth of quintuplets and, on that basis, suggest ways and means of increasing the fertility of Indian womanhood. Let every Indian husband be a Ramoo and every Indian wife a Lajo- and tomorrow we rule the world!”

 

This suggestion was strongly criticized by the Socialist weekly, Janata Gazette, which wrote:

 

“Our country is already dangerously overpopulated. There is not enough food for the present population. By encouraging the birth of quintuplets, do we want to accentuate the problems of hunger and unemployment? By such stunts the Government cannot side-track the people’s attention from their basic demands for food and houses which are summed up in the Socialist Party’s slogan: Kam do makan do, naheen to gadichhor do.”

 

Commenting on the editorial of Janata Gazette, the Communist Red Front wrote:

 

“The Marxist scientists, under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin, have long ago completely disproved the reactionary and fascistic Malthusian theory of population. If there is no food in the country for the people to eat, it is not due to overpopulation but to the reactionary anti-people policies of the Government which protects hoarders and profiteers while the common people starve. With clenched fists we give the Red Salute in honour of Comrade Ramoo and Comrade Lajo and assure them that the peace-loving people of the whole world, all the way from Telegana to Tashkent, are today congratulating them for having contributed five brave little Red Soldiers to the Army of the Proletariat.”

 

(A few days after this editorial appeared, an official spokesman of the Communist Party denounced Red Front as the organ of Trots-kyite-Titoist-Left-Sectarianism).

 

Shankar’s Weekly published a cartoon showing a peasant woman demanding rations for her children to the consternation of the Food Minister, Shri K.M. Munshi, whose Gandhi cap was depicted as flying in the air.

 

In “Gup-Shup” the humorous gossip column on Our Times, the following paragraph appeared:

 

According to the unreliable report, the Government is thinking of abandoning the “Grow More Food” and “Plant More Trees” campaigns and starting a “Produce More Babies” movement.

 

The All India Women’s Conference announced a “Lajo Day” on which the TajMahal Hotel held a “Ramoo-Lajo Fancy Dress Ball” in which the first prize was awarded to a group of three boys and two girls who came dressed in baby napkins as the “Quintuplets of Prajapur.”

 

The President of the Republic sent a telegram of congratulations to Ramoo and Lajo and the Prime Minister autographed five copies of Discovery of India to be presented to the children when they grew up.

 

A Lahore newspaper invited the attention of the people and the Government of Pakistan to the potential menace of an overpopulated India swarming with quintuplets, and added that the achievement of Ramoo and Lajo constituted a challenge to the manhood and womanhood of Pakistan who must answer it by producing two Pakistani quintuplets to India’s one.

 

A famous doctor addressed a meeting of the Bombay Rotary Club on “Some Medical Aspects of the Miracle of Prajapur”.

 

A message from New York stated that a medical mission composed of eminent American doctors and gynecologists was on its way to India to study the case of Ramoo and Lajo. And a Moscow paper, commenting on this report, warned the Government and the people of India against the danger of infiltration of agents of American imperialism in the guise of medical experts.

 

In Bombay, Nagpur and Lucknow, three maternity homes were named “Lajo Maternity Home.”

 

Returning from a pilgrimage to holy AmarnathMahayogiAtmananda declared that after 21 days Samadhi in an ice-bound cave he had a divine revelation that a certain peasant woman would give birth to quintuplets and that one of them would be an avatar of Vishnu who would be recognized by a round birth-mark on his left foot. This news brought to Ramoo’s hut a number of yogis who all proceeded to examine the feet of the three boys among the quintuplets. Later, one of the yogis stated that every child had a similar birth-mark, another held that none of them had it, while among the rest every one pointed to a different child as possessing the mark of divine distinction. While the yogis wrangled over this issue, it was revealed that the alleged Mahayogi was a fraud when he was arrested for cheating a woman whose silver ornaments he had promised to turn into gold!

 

From Tibet it was reported that a shepherd’s wife living on the outskirts of Lhasa had given birth to sextuplets, but the news was later found to be exaggerated – the real number being only three. Then Tass reported from Vladivostok that a Siberian woman had given birth to no less than seven babies at one time, but the American news agencies promptly contradicted it describing it as a “Soviet stunt” in the Cold War.

 

For a week all the papers were full of reports about Ramoo, Lajo and their babies, and a journalist calculated that all the newspaper columns published in the world press about the ‘miracle of Prajapur’, if put to end, would go round the equator, and that the quintuplets had received free publicity worth more than ten million rupees – at normal advertising rates!

 

Meanwhile, an organization known as “Friends of Ramoo and Lajo” was formed under the presidentship of Lady NilkantSupariwala, who was childless after 20 years of married life and was lavishing her affection on a brood of dogs instead of babies. The FRL (as Friends of Ramoo and Lajo popularity came to be known) decided to send a citizens’deputation to Prajapur and for this purpose an appeal was issued for a lakh of rupees of which Rs. 40,000/- was collected within a few days. Out of this amount Rs. 10,000/- was donated by a well-known millionaire industrialist who had seven wives but no issue from any of them. Eight members were elected to form the deputation – a doctor, a lawyer, a professor, three industrialists and two society ladies. An enterprising reporter, announcing their names, mentioned the interesting fact that the total number of children of the eight members of the deputation was also five, thus collectively equating them with Ramoo and Lajo.

 

From the funds of the F.R.L Rs. 13,000/- was spent on chartering a special plane to transport the deputation, Rs. 1,200 on garlands, bouquets, flowers, etc, to be presented to Ramoo and Lajo, Rs. 9,000/- was given by way of travelling allowance to the members, Rs. 7,000/- was given by way of ‘pugree’ to acquire an office for the F.R.L. Toys worththousand rupees were bough from the factory of Seth Johri Chand Khilonawala who was a member of the Committee. This incidentally gave him not only a profit of Rs. 600/-but also thousands of rupees worth of free publicity when the news and pictures of these toys were published in the press. Clothes worth Rs. 2000/- were made for the quintuplets, part of the money going to the Karorimal Cloth Mill and the rest to Tikachand Tailoring House, both Karorimal and Tikachand being members of the F.R.L. Managing Committee! The silverware- five sets of baby tumblers and plates and tea cups and knives and spoons and forks – to be presented to the quintuplets were, of course, purchased from the shop of Seth Sonachandiwala, also a member of the Committee.

 

After thus satisfactorily disposing off the total amount of Rs. 40,000/- the deputation left by a chartered plane for Bhimnagar. From there they proceeded to Prajapur in a fleet of cars, accompanied by dozens of reporters, Press photographers and newsreel cameramen of the Government’s Film Division.

 

When the long procession of cars reached its destination, followed immediately by a band of excited, shouting urchins, with a group of curious and bewildered men and women bringing up the rear, the noise brought Ramoo out of his hut. As usual he was intoxicated on bhang. Seeing the cars and the crowd, and fixing his red-rimmed eyes on Lady NilkantSupariwala, he shouted in an unsteady voice, “Kiyon, kyahai?” (Why, what’s all this?)

 

In reply Lady Nilkant started reading the address which was printed on artificial silk (from Karorimal Cloth Mill) and framed in silver (by SonachandiwalaJewellery Mart) and which had been jointly drafted by the Professor, the Lawyer and the Doctor. In her high-pitched voice she read:

 

“On this auspicious and happy occasion we greet and congratulate you, ShriRamoo and ShrimatiLajo, on behalf of the people of India. Believe us when we say that your unique achievement has added a glorious new chapter to the history of India that is Bharat. Today in ShrimatiLajo we see the divine incarnation of Bharat Mata herself. These five babies are not only dear to your hears but to the hearts of the 35 crore inhabitants of India that is Bharat. They are precious treasure, the source of our pride and our glory envied by the whole world. From today the bringing up of these children, their welfare, their education and eventually their careers and their marriages are the responsibility of the entire nation. We beg you both, ShriRamoo and ShrimatiLajo, to accept these gifts – these clothes and these toys – that your fellow-countrymen have sent for your five little darlings.”

 

Ramoo who had been watching the crowd with half-closed, intoxicated eyes, now burst out in a rough, drunken laughter, “Toys? Clothses?” he shouted, snatching a few silken baby frocks from Lady Nilkant’s hands. “Go, go inside, memsahib, and give them to the little ones”. Then turning back to his hut he shouted, “Lajo, oh Lajo, why do you cry? Dry your tears. Look what they have brought for your babies. What does it matter that they didn’t get enough milk to feed, that they didn’t get medicine when they were sick? What does it matter that they get pneumonia when the rains came and the roof leaked? What does it all matter? Get up, Lajo, and thank these kind people for they have brought silken shrouds for your five little ones.”

 

Shocked and speechless, when the members of the deputation went inside the hut, they found Lajo, her face covered with her odhni, lying in a corner on the wet mud floor and sobbing. Wrapped in dirty rags were five little babies – DEAD!

 

(Reproduced from, The Thirteenth Victim by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas)