The Shroud by Munshi Premchand
In The Shroud by Munshi Premchand we have the theme of selfishness, tradition, honour, independence, guilt, self-importance, gender roles and responsibility. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Premchand may be exploring the theme of selfishness. Both Ghisu and Madhav appear to be more concerned about their own well-being than they are of Budhia’s. With neither man being concerned enough to check on Budhia as she lies dying in the hut. What is also interesting about both Ghisu and Madhav is that they feel as though they deserve to be better off than they are. Yet they are not prepared to do the work that is needed to improve their lives. It is as though both men feel they are owed a certain lifestyle by the world. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Ghisu begs for money after Budhia’s death when the reality is there was nothing stopping him from preparing himself financially for Budhia’s death. The work was there for both Ghisu and Madhav but neither man was prepared to do it. Rather both men preferred to live their life as idlers.
The Shroud itself may also be symbolically important as Premchand may be introducing it into the story to highlight to the reader the sense of tradition that exists. However tradition is not followed due to the fact that Ghisu and Madhav decide to get drunk rather than buy the shroud. Not only have they been dishonourable to Budhia while she was alive but both men also dishonour her memory by not buying a shroud for the cremation. It is also possible that Premchand is placing a spotlight on the role women played at the time the story was written. Budhia appears to have done all the work while Ghisu and Madhav sat around and done nothing. It is as though Budhia was treated as no more than a slave by both men. Possibly because she may have been considered inferior to both men due to her sex. If anything it would seem that Budhia had no independence and filled a role that was expected of women. To be both unpaid workers and child-bearers. Premchand also possibly suggesting that the role of the female within a marriage or family was to be subservient to the male.
It may also be possible that Premchand is suggesting that money can bring independence. After Ghisu gets the five rupees from begging. He is able to take control of his and Madhav’s life and do as he pleases. It just happens to be a case that Ghisu and Madhav decide upon acting selfishly rather than buying the shroud for Budhia. It is also while drinking that Ghisu beings to change character somewhat believing in his own self-importance. Something that is probably driven by the fact that Ghisu is getting drunk. He makes unrealistic promises that he cannot fulfil to Madhav. Who is also getting drunk and as such believes his father. The guilt that Madhav begins to partially feel about not purchasing the shroud may also be significant as it only lasts a short time. Again Madhav has possibly numbed himself sufficiently from reality that his thoughts do not last and also they take on little significance. Which may be the point that Premchand is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that alcohol can numb and individual for a short period of time. However it cannot completely divert an individual away from the realities they face. Which may leave some readers to suggest that when sober Madhav may be full of remorse for his actions.
The end of the story is also interesting as Ghisu’s words to Madhav may be based on Ghisu’s own selfishness. Despite telling Madhav that Budhia is in a better place. The reality is that Ghisu cannot really know if this is true or not. He is more preoccupied with getting drunk than consoling Madhav in any meaningful way. Likewise Madhav is a willing listener to his father’s words and easily forgets about Budhia the more that he drinks. However the reality is very different. Madhav has a responsibility to Budhia which he has not honoured due to his and Ghisu’s selfishness. If anything Madhav prefers to get drunk with his father than prepare Budhia’s body for cremation. Just as she may have been abandoned in life by Madhav. Likewise in death she is being abandoned. With Ghisu assured that he will find the money again for the shroud and Madhav believing his father will be able to do so. However the reality may be very different. People may be tired of Ghisu and Madhav’s actions and realise that they would be foolish to give any more money to either man. Even if they did do the right thing on the second occasion.