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GabanGaban by Munshi Premchand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book offers a very good insight into how corruption seeps into the lives of ordinary citizens. How greed and lust drive men and women to become corrupt and succumb to temptations of easy money.
The protagonist Rama is a simple villager who wants to idle away his time by playing chess and spending time with his friends. His father is a straightforward man who has never taken bribe in his life and has struggled to make ends meet.
He is married to Jalpa who is a beauty and has an unfulfilled craving for jewels. Rama’s father has already taken a lot of credit to conduct the marriage with lots of fanfare. He is struggling to pay back the creditors. Rama slyly takes away the jewels that Jalpa has brought from her parent’s place to repay the creditors. The whole family hides this truth from here saying that the jewels were stolen. The loss of the jewels along with Rama’s exaggeration of his family’s wealth, further fuels her expectations.
Soon Rama is forced to take a job as a clerk in an octroi department. He realizes that he can make more money that his salary by taking bribes. He falls into his habit. He gets into the habit of dressing opulently. This leads the jewelers to believe that he has lot of wealth and they start giving him jewels on credit. At first he resists based on the advice from his friend, but soon he succumbs to the temptation and to the pressure from his wife. Soon he finds himself deep in debt. His ego prevents him from confessing this to his family or to his wife.
Meanwhile his wife, now that she has jewels, has started moving around in the society. She comes across a simple lady who is the wife of an old rich lawyer and lives a big bungalow. They become friendly and the lady asks Rama to buy a bracelet similar to the one with his wife. Rama finds that no jeweler is willing to entertain him now that he has not repaid his debt. He uses the money given by the lady to pay off part of his debt assuming that the jeweler will make the bracelet. Once bitten twice shy, the jeweler keeps putting off Rama and does not make the bracelet.
Now the lady starts demanding either the bracelet or the money back, putting Rama in a tight situation. One day he is in charge of the monies collected at the octroi and on the spur of the moment he decides to take the money and goes home with that cash. He tells his wife that he has managed to get back the lady’s money from the jeweler and goes for a walk. In the meantime the lady comes and the wife gives the money to her. When he comes home he realizes the disaster. He tries to get back the money from the lady, but fear and his ego do not let him ask for the money.
The next day morning her writes a letter to his wife explaining the situation and runs off and boards a train to Calcutta without any ticket.
In the train he meets an old man who pays for his ticket and also takes him to his home in Calcutta and gives him shelter. Rama behaves like a brahmin and wins the trust of the old man and his wife. He does not venture out during the day for the fear that the police would see and take him away for embezzlement.
In the meantime the wife reads the letter and she sells off the jewels to pay off the debts and the monies to the octroi office. She desperately seeks to find him and wishes to lead a reformed life, but he never gets in touch with her.
The first day he sets off from the old man’s home during the day he encounters the police and they take him as they see him trying to avoid them. He confesses to have embezzled funds from the octroi office in Allahabad. The police call up the Allahabad police to see if there is any charge against him and find none. They also call up the octroi office to find that there is no case against Rama. But they are looking to prove to have solved some cases of dacoity in the area and are looking for somebody who can implicate a few people who they have arrested. They find Rama suitable and scare into giving a false testimony.
In the meantime his wife comes to know through the octroi office that Rama is in Calcutta and comes in search of him and learns of his situation from the old man. She manages to sneak a letter to Rama saying that he has no cause to be scared and can stop giving false statements and come back to Prayag. But the police play on his fear and continue to keep plying him with goodies and keep him as their witness.
When the case concludes with death sentence for one of the accused, Jalpa goes to the man’s place and starts helping their family.
Eventually she manages to give Rama enough courage to defy the police and withdraw his false testimonies.
The book is about greed and lust for jewels. Premchand has analyzed the Indian mind well and he is right in saying that it is lust for jewels combined with fear that makes many Indians corrupt. One can see this phenomenon even today. And there is no end to the greed of man. 100 crores, 1000 crores (God knows how many zeros are there in these numbers) does not seem sufficient for people to say enough is enough.

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