Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Story Telling Project 4 - A Pair of Tongs

[This is my own adaptation of Munshi Premchand's original Hindi short story - Idgaah ]

It is festival of Id today. Everyone in the village is very excited about it. They will be going to the mosque in the nearby town. There they will offer prayers and then have a gala time in the town fair.

Mahmood is a portly boy from a well-to-do family. His pocket is bulging with coins, competing with his protruding belly. He is joyfully jingling them. He has twelve pice. He will able to buy lots of toys and sweets today with this money since we are talking about 1920s not 2010 !

Hamid is a four year old, poorly dressed, thin and famished-looking boy. Just 3 pice in his pocket! His father and mother died last year. He lives with his Granny Ameena who tells him “Beta, your father has gone to earn money and will return with sack loads of silver. Your mother has gone to Allah to get lovely gifts for you”. This makes Hamid very happy and hopeful. It is great to live on hope; for a child in these circumstances there is nothing else than hope.

However Ameena is sad. Mahmood is going with his father. How can she let Hamid go to the town fair all by himself? It is three miles from the village. What if he gets lost in the crowd? If she goes with him, who will go out to arrange for money? She wants to cook a decent meal for Hamid at least today on this festive occasion. If there is no money how can this be possible? 
Hamid says, "Dadi Ma, don’t worry. I will take care of myself. ".

Hamid joins the party of the villagers going to the mosque. After offering prayers in the mosque everyone embraces each other and then rush to visit the fair.

At the entrance there is a merry-go-round strung with wooden elephants, horses and camels! “Enjoy Twenty-five rounds for just one pice !” cries out the merry-go-round man. Mahmood inspite of his huge bulk manages to rush and take a ride. Hamid watches him from a distance. All he has are three pice. He couldn't afford to part with a third of his treasure for a few miserable rounds.

Then there is a row of toy-stalls with all kinds of toys; Splendid display! How lifelike!. They are priced at 2 pice each. Mahmood buys a few toys. All Hamid has are three pice; how can he afford to buy such expensive toys?

Then come sweet shops. Mahmood buys halwa and gulabjammuns and gobbles them. And as if that is not enough he gulps down a tall glass of white, thick and creamy lassi. He then smacks his lips with relish. Hamid, the luckless boy has at least three pice; why doesn't he also buy something to eat? He looks with hungry eyes at Mahmood. Mahmood does not pay any attention.

Next to the sweet-shops there is a hardware store. There is nothing here to attract the Mahmood’s attention. He goes ahead. But Hamid stops. He sees a pile of iron tongs.
Hamid asks the shopkeeper, “How much for this pair of tongs?" "Six pice”, says the shopkeeper. Hamid's heart sinks. He steels his heart and says, "Will you give it to me for three?" and walks away lest the shopkeeper screams at him. But the shopkeeper does not scream. He calls Hamid back and says, “Ok Beta, for you only 3 pice” and gives him the pair of tongs.

Hamid rests it on his shoulder walks proudly.
Mahmood sees him and laughs, "Are you crazy? What will you do with the tongs? Is it some kind of toy? "."Why not?" retorts Hamid. "See I am carrying it like a gun; If I clang them it becomes a musical instrument”. He then flings the tongs on the ground and says, "Now throw your toys on the ground. It will be smashed to bits. If a drop of water fell on them, the paint would run. What will I do with toys like this? It’s of no use to me. Toys are a waste of money. You can have some fun with them but only for a very short time. Then they are gone. But my iron tongs are everlasting". Mahmood is speechless. He realizes that Hamid is right.

As soon Hamid returns home Ameena hugs him. She notices the tongs in his hand. "Where did you find them?" "I bought them for three pice”, says Hamid.
Ameena scolds him “You stupid child!! Couldn't you find anything better than this pair of tongs? At least you could have bought something to eat or drink.” Hamid replies in injured tones, "Dadi Ma, every time you make rotis, you burn your fingers while taking them out of the fire. So I bought this for you. If you use it to take out the rotis, your fingers will never burn again. I thought you will be happy but you are getting angry.”

The old woman's temper suddenly changes to love. She thinks “What a selfless child! What concern for others! What a big heart! How he must have suffered seeing Mahmood buying toys and gobbling sweets! How was he able to suppress his own feelings! Even at the fair he thought of his old grandmother.” 

Ameena is choked with emotions. She breaks down. Big tears fall from her eyes. She prays “O Merciful Allah! Please Bless this Child”. How can Hamid understand what is going on inside her! After all he is just a 4-year old kid!


[Date Delivered:  January  8 2011

  • To understand the techniques available to arouse emotion.
  • To become skilled in arousing emotions while telling a story.
Time: Six to Eight Minutes


When I read the guidelines for this project from the Advanced Communication Manual on Story Telling, immediately it struck me that Munshi Premchand's story "Eidgah" which had  I read many years ago in my school textbook would perfectly fit the bill.
I then hunted out from the internet an excellent translation of this story by Khushwant Singh. 
This served as a good starting point and I went about editing , adapting and adding my own literary embellishments. 
The speech was well received and I won the Speaker of the Day award. My evaluator wrote in his evaluation that it almost brought tears to his eyes.
My adaptation certainly does not do justice to the original or even its translated version. 
I had to edit out many excellent pieces in the story in order to confirm to the time limits, else the story telling session would have lasted at least for half-an-hour !
This is one of the most touching story which I have ever  come across. At the same time it  has  ample  doses of humor, satire and irony in it. Also an excellent study in child psychology.
So if you liked my adaptation, I would strongly recommend reading the original story in Hindi at
If you can't read/understand Hindi, please read Kushwanth Singh's translation at  ]

You can also listen to the complete story being read aloud (by someone else; not me !) English  in Google Videos

Trivia: The Havells Cables TV commercial is inspired by this story, though context is somewhat different. Watch it in You Tube