Jaggu was a part time labourer and also a part time jack of all trade and which may not be strictly true, as he never learnt a trade in a professional manner but drifted from job to job and from place to place, to earn as he called the ‘crust’ for his hungry stomach.

Schooling was hard for him and he was usually at the bottom of his class but he never detected any harm in it and thought that when divinity brought a human being in this world, he was already equipped to deal with life in all its aspects and did not need the promptings of schooling as to come under goading of some school mastering of any willy nilly personnel. The only important thing was finding a shelter and sufficient food for ones belly as not to get starved or emaciated like hermits and thus to take an early exit from life. That was all. When one was born then one he had to survive somehow and there was no point in committing suicide. It was all right to do a little hard work here and there to make a living, providing one is not wholly preoccupied with it and thus becomes a slave of others.He was hardly capable of passing any examination at school but somehow managed to progress from elementary level to grade eight and that was the limits of his educational ambitions and it did not extend beyond that circumference. He could just read and add simple sums, to make his way into the greater world. He considered himself as well equipped intellectually as anybody else and pitied those who became slaves of their own intellect by enrolling into universities and higher educational institutes, and that was a shear waste of one’s life.He had not much time for any morality or ethical behavior either. If a man or a woman is loaded with money and some poor bastard like him comes to such person as to ask for help, the moneyed person should have the guts to give away some of the extra cash that was being left wastefully in a bank. With that pragmatic approach, he did not want anymore intellectual analysis about the ethical side or of moral transactions. Only fools did that- who had not realized the meaning of life.

He decided to settle in a small town where there were sufficient means of making a living, by hiring himself out as a labourer for the day jobs. In the morning he had to go to a place in the market and align himself with others waiting there- sit on the pavement and wait for the prospective hirer to come and pick the suitable person. Normally he was hired to do various jobs- as a farm labourer, a plumber’s mate and assistant to a stonemason or as an unskilled labourer on a building site. After certain period of time, he began to find all that physical work monotonous and tiring. He wanted to find an alternative work but did not know how to go about it. To give him some ideas, he ventured out to the center of the town where the big market place was bustling with people. He visited various shops and arcades.

The green grocer and fruit seller stalls were most attractive. There were so many varieties of fruits, vegetables and other sweets things such as sugar canes tied into bundles and being displayed against the walls. The children were the most enthusiastic about buying the canes, pressurizing their parents to buy them the whole lengths of five feet of the cane sticks and which they directed the seller to cut into lengths of one foot each and thus making the five pieces of cane sufficient for each member of the family. When at home in winter sunshine, they sat in a circle with a lengths of sugar cane in their hands and their teeth ready to do the honour of biting and slicing the outer skin by peeling out and leaving the inner juicy core ready for sucking. They bit into the soft fluffy core tearing out a small piece and extracting its juice. It was a heavenly tasting juice; the sweet cool liquid was pouring through, to transform their palette and brain into a symphony of bliss.Looking at those tastefully decorated stall of fruits and vegetables with their yellow, green, red, mauve and white colours and different textures; he was prompted to ask for any available job and was not surprised to find its unavailability.He next observed a bulky shopkeeper sitting on a comfortable divan, in the front parlour of his grocery shop. He had propped himself against cushions to rest his back and also on left and right to support his bulky mass and telling his customers that due to shortage of staff, he was unable to serve them promptly. Here was an opportunity for Jaggu to land such a cushy job and as the opportunity came he presented himself to the shopkeeper.

‘ Ram Ram. Sethji. I gather you are in need of some new shop hand. I was wondering if I may be suitable for it.’

Sethji looked at him and examined him from head to foot with his fat face and mean eyes.

‘ I do not employ any willy nilly.’ Trying to exert his position and his ownership

‘ But I am not anyone, I have done such work before.’ Jaggu lied.

‘Can you read?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘And add and subtract.’

‘Yes sir.’

‘Are you honest?’

‘ Very.’ Jaggu lied again.

He was hired.


Sethji was sitting on his comfortable divan dealing with the customers who were sitting on a long bench, waiting their turn to order the required groceries. He was popular with people and had a sweet manner of speaking and putting people at their ease. He had loyal and regular customers at his command.

The popular items being dals or pulses- mungi, mash, moth, lentils etc and before the people decided to buy, they were shown samples in small quantities and this was the task assigned to Jaggu.

‘Oye! Jaggu, show the reverend lady some mung dal.’

And Jaggu brought a handful of mung grain scooped from a sack of mung into a sort of metallic scooper and which the customer examined.

‘ Is it from last year’s crop?’

‘ Would I do such a thing to a dear lady? No it is from this year’s crop and I sell only the best.’ Sethji laid out his strategy for charming his customer.

Further the ‘dear lady’ bought weights of rice, flour, cooking oil, spices etc.

Sethji was writing each item on a piece of paper and at the end of the transaction made an invoice by adding the cost of each item. The whole bill amounted to twelve rupees.

‘ I have got only ten rupees on me.’ Shanti, the customer lady announced.

‘ It does not matter, Jaggu will accompany you to your home carrying all the goods.’ Said sethji.

Jaggu accompanied her to the house. Shanti was a widow but her house looked prosperous.

They entered the house.

‘Put all the things in the kitchen and I will bring you two outstanding rupees.’

Jaggu watched her go into a room, unlocked a steel trunk, pulled out a bag of jingling silver rupees and took two rupees for sethji and some loose cash for Jaggu as baksheesh.

Jaggu watched her closely.

‘That old woman has plenty of money hidden away and how nice it would be if he could lay my hand on some of it. A young man like me needs it more than that silly old woman and who has not many years to live’ mused Jaggu with his head full of wicked thoughts.

He went back to the store and planned something ghastly and awaited the arrival of Shanti on her return trip to the shop. Usually the old woman returned to the shop beginning of each month to replenish her stock.

After some interval Shanti did return one afternoon to buy more provisions from the shop and Jaggu accompanied her again to the house and put the grocery in the kitchen and when she went to open the trunk to bring out money, he watched her and as she took out her money bag and returned to kitchen, Jaggu grabbed hold of her from behind and told her to hand it over the money but she refused and ensuing struggle followed when each one tried to get hold of the bag and in the process, Shanti slipped and fell hitting her head on the hard floor. She lay there silent with blood pouring from back of her head.Jaggu grabbed the bag and ran out of the house trying to close the front door behind him.When he went to the store the following morning, Sethji told him a dreadful news that one of his best customer had died in the hospital after slipping and hitting her head on the floor and that the door of her house was not locked and the next-door neighbour heard some banging on the adjoining wall. They took her to the hospital where she died later due to severity of her head injuries.

Police did not pursue the matter further as they thought that she died due to an accident, slipping at home and there were no suspicious circumstances.


Jaggu was worried that he might be charged with manslaughter or something like that but after hearing the good news he breathed a sigh of relief.

Did I kill her?

No she just slipped and banged her head on the floor.

You cannot put the blame on me.

She was old and had plenty of money hidden away.

Truly it was no use to her; she was soon going to die any way.

I am young and still have all my life in front of me and it is better that I make use of her

Do not blame me that old woman has died.

No I do not feel any remorse for her on account of my action.

Things just happen that way in life. It is full of unexpected accidents.

Musing thus he convinced himself as being blameless and thus became overjoyed. He had done well. Soon he would go on a splendid holiday and enjoy himself and forget all about that old woman.

  • * *

Having unburdened himself of his remorse about that dreadful happening, he was sleeping now peacefully each night and dreaming, some happy reveries occupied his dreams.

One such night during drowsiness of his sleep, he thought he heard a muffled knock at the door but did not pay any attention to it, thinking that it was only an illusion until there was a constant scratching outside the door which gave him a sudden upstart to get up in panic. Soon the door was pushed in with a creaking noise and a ghostly shadow entered the room. He rubbed his eyes to see clearly but could not make much of it against a dark background.

With thumping heart he laid in bed while the scratching sound approached nearer and nearer. Some ghostly fingers touched his neck and he jumped out of bed and stumbled to the floor. The phantom figure of Shanti was standing over him, with her bony finger pointing straight at him.

‘You stole my money. You bastard! You murderer!’ the skeleton shouted in rattled voice

Jaggu tried to run away but stumbled again, his legs turned to jelly and without any energy left to stand.

‘ You cannot run away from me now. You murdered me and I will murder you soon.’

‘Please don’t, I am too young to die.’ Pleaded Jaggu

But the ghostly skeleton approached nearer and nearer and caught him again by the throat with those cold deadly fingers, which felt like a frozen knife blade.

‘Please do not kill me, I beg of you. I will give you all the stolen money.’

‘Show me the bag.’ Said the ghostly voice.

Jaggu pulled out a metallic box from underneath his bed, opened the bag inside and showed all the shiny silvery pieces.

‘All three hundred rupees are there, I have not touched even a single pence yet, honestly.’

The bag was snatched from his hands with a jerked pull and all the silver coins scattered on the floor making a metallic musical sound.

The bonny hand picked one piece.

‘I will be back tomorrow for another piece.’ and disappeared.

He was drenched in sweat and his mouth was dry. He sipped some water and waited for the daylight to come. On the following day he could not eat much and spent the restless day again in dread for the coming night.

The same episode was repeated on the following night and night after that. He realized that he had entered a place in hell and from which no escape was possible for the following 299 nights.

As the days went by, his face began to take on a haggard and withdrawn look. His black hair began to turn gray and after three months, he became an old man with a horrible twisted figure. The customer at the grocery store did not want to be served by that dreaded figure, which instilled so much fear into their children as they screamed and ran away out of his sight. It was not difficult to speculate that he was sacked from his job and had to spend rest of three hundred nights waiting for the executions at each night.

After about a year, he completely disappeared from the scene and the town population was glad to get rid of that ‘horrible old man.’

Durlabh Singh© 2008.


Durlabh  Singh

London, United Kingdom

  • Artist


story short

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