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THE STORY OF MUHANNAD DIN

THE STORY OF MUHANNAD DIN

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Written by Hunter   
Wednesday, 08 October 2008 01:25

The polo-ball was an old one, scarred, chipped, and dinted. It stood on
the mantelpiece among the pipe-stems which Imam Din, khitmatgar, was
cleaning for me.

"Does the Heaven-born want this ball?" said Imam Din deferentially.

The Heaven-born set no particular store by it; but of what use was a
polo-ball to a khitmatgar?

"By Your Honour's favour, I have a little son. He has seen this ball,
and desires it to play with. I do not want it for myself."

No one would for an instant accuse portly old Imam Din of wanting to
play with polo-balls. He carried out the battered thing into the
verandah; and there followed a hurricane of joyful squeaks, a patter of
small feet, and the thud-thud-thud of the ball rolling along the ground.
Evidently the little son had been waiting outside the door to secure his
treasure. But how had he managed to see that polo-ball?

Next day, coming back from office half an hour earlier than usual, I was
aware of a small figure in the dining-room--a tiny, plump figure in a
ridiculously inadequate shirt which came, perhaps, half-way down the
tubby stomach. It wandered round the room, thumb in mouth, crooning to
itself as it took stock of the pictures. Undoubtedly this was the
"little son."

He had no business in my room, of course; but was so deeply absorbed in
his discoveries that he never noticed me in the doorway. I stepped into
the room and startled him nearly into a fit. He sat down on the ground
with a gasp. His eyes opened, and his mouth followed suit. I knew what
was coming, and fled, followed by a long, dry howl which reached the
servants' quarters far more quickly than any command of mine had ever
done. In ten seconds Imam Din was in the dining-room. Then despairing
sobs arose, and I returned to find Imam Din admonishing the small
sinner, who was using most of his shirt as a handkerchief.

"This boy," said Imam Din judicially, "is a budmash [Footnote: Budmash:
a disreputable fellow.]--a big budmash. He will, without doubt, go to
the jail-khana for his behaviour." Renewed yells from the penitent, and
an elaborate apology to myself from Imam Din.

"Tell the baby," said I, "that the Sahib [Footnote: Sahib: a respectful
title given to Europeans by the natives of India.] is not angry, and
take him away." Imam Din conveyed my forgiveness to the offender, who
had now gathered all his shirt round his neck, stringwise, and the yell
subsided into a sob. The two set off for the door. "His name," said Imam
Din, "is Muhammad Din, and he is a budmash." Freed from present danger,
Muhammad Din turned round in his father's arms, and said gravely, "it is
true that my name is Muhammad Din, Tahib, but I am not a budmash. I am a
man!"

From that day dated my acquaintance with Muhammad Din. Never again did
he come into my dining-room, but on the neutral ground of the garden, we
greeted each other with much state, though our conversation was confined
to "Talaam, Tahib" from his side, and "Salaam, Muhammad Din" from mine.
Daily on my return from office, the little white shirt and the fat
little body used to rise from the shade of the creeper-covered trellis
where they had been hid; and daily I checked my horse here, that my
salutation might not be slurred over or given unseemly.

Muhammad Din never had any companions. He used to trot about the
compound, [Footnote: Compound: an inclosure containing a house and
outbuildings.] in and out of the castor-oil bushes, on mysterious
errands of his own. One day I stumbled upon some of his handiwork far
down the grounds. He had half buried the polo-ball in the dust, and
stuck six shrivelled old marigold flowers in a circle round it. Outside
that circle again was a rude square, traced out in bits of red brick
alternating with fragments of broken china; the whole bounded by a
little bank of dust. The water-man from the well-curb put in a plea for
the small architect, saying that it was only the play of a baby and did
not much disfigure my garden.

Heaven knows that I had no intention of touching the child's work then
or later; but, that evening, a stroll through the garden brought me
unawares full on it; so that I trampled, before I knew, marigold-heads,
dust-bank, and fragments of broken soap-dish into confusion past all
hope of mending. Next morning, I came upon Muhammad Din crying softly to
himself over the ruin I had wrought. Some one had cruelly told him that
the Sahib was very angry with him for spoiling the garden, and had
scattered his rubbish, using bad language the while. Muhammad Din
laboured for an hour at effacing every trace of the dust-bank and
pottery fragments, and it was with a tearful and apologetic face that he
said, "Talaam, Tahib," when I came home from office. A hasty inquiry
resulted in Imam Din informing Muhammad Din that, by my singular favour,
he was permitted to disport himself as he pleased. Whereat the child
took heart and fell to tracing the ground-plan of an edifice which was
to eclipse the marigold-polo-ball creation.

For some months the chubby little eccentricity revolved in his humble
orbit among the castor-oil bushes and in the dust; always fashioning
magnificent palaces from stale flowers thrown away by the bearer, smooth
water-worn pebbles, bits of broken glass, and feathers pulled, I fancy,
from my fowls--always alone, and always crooning to himself.

A gaily-spotted sea-shell was dropped one day close to the last of his
little buildings; and I looked that Muhammad Din should build something
more than ordinarily splendid on the strength of it. Nor was I
disappointed. He meditated for the better part of an hour, and his
crooning rose to a jubilant song. Then he began tracing in the dust. It
would certainly be a wondrous palace, this one, for it was two yards
long and a yard broad in ground-plan. But the palace was never
completed.

Next day there was no Muhammad Din at the head of the carriage-drive,
and no "Talaam, Tahib" to welcome my return. I had grown accustomed to
the greeting, and its omission troubled me. Next day Imam Din told me
that the child was suffering slightly from fever and needed quinine. He
got the medicine, and an English Doctor.

"They have no stamina, these brats," said the Doctor, as he left Imam
Din's quarters.

A week later, though I would have given much to have avoided it, I met
on the road to the Mussulman burying-ground Imam Din, accompanied by one
friend, carrying in his arms, wrapped in a white cloth, all that was
left of little Muhammad Din.

--RUDYARD KIPLING.

[Footnote: Point out the characteristics of Muhammad Din that are common
to all childhood, and those that are more especially Oriental. Why do
you think Muhammad Din always played alone? Note the simple direct way
of telling the story. What other stories have been told in this way?
Would you have been able to recognize Muhammad Din from the author's
description? Would the destruction of the sand-house be a tragedy to
most Western children? Why was it to Muhammad Din? Notice the simple
pathos of the ending. Is it made more poignant by being unexpected?]

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 October 2008 12:30
 
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