Kallu is a short story written by Ismat Chughtai.
Kallu is the story of a poor young boy who is sent by his mother to stay with a well-to-do family in the hope that Kallu, with the help of this family, will be able to make something of himself and improve his position in life. But, ironically, Kallu finds himself in very unfavorable circumstances. He is made to work like a servant, exploited (he worked for only two rupees a month), ill treated by this family, especially Mumani. Kallu bears all the indignity and hardship with a smile. Kallu has no time to play. But Kallu takes a liking for Salima bi, the youngest daughter of Mumani and the feeling seems to be mutual. One day Kallu while playing with Salima bi, asks her, in all innocence, if she would marry him to which Salima bi innocently says yes. Mumani, who is within hearing distance of the conversation goes into a rage and throws a sandal at Kallu which finds Kallu’s nose and he starts bleeding. Kallu’s mother who was visiting her son then, sees a bleeding kallu and creates a furore about it. Mumani throws both mother and son out of the house immediately. Kallu, like all servants before him, is forgotten very soon.
But Kallu returns, years later, to the same town as a young and handsome Mr. Din, the Deputy Collector. Once again the relationship between Kallu, now Kalim Saheb for the family, and his earlier masters is renewed, but on altered terms. Ironically he is accepted back into the family for precisely the same reasons for which he was thrown out in the first place – for expressing his desire to marry Salima bi.
The Story illustrates the rigid class hierarchies that govern social intercourse in an Indian society. The story also hints at the complex relationship between caste and class in our social structures. Kallu, despite his lowly social position, is able to improve his position in society, perhaps due to the fact that he is a ‘Qureshi’, a higher caste among muslims. When Mumani learns of Kallu’s appointment as the Deputy Collector she reacts with incredulity. But she is immediately reminded by the narrator’s mother “Amma” that after all Kallu was a ‘Qureshi’ which was a good caste. Though the Muslims do not have a caste system, the actual ground reality was a little different. Omprakash Valmiki in his ‘Joothan’ points out that Taga’s, the Muslim equivalent of the Tyagi’s did behave in certain ways like caste hindus.
The story, as you must have noticed, has two parts. The first part of the story details the early life of Kallu in the narrator’s house. Kallu is kept busy the entire day running errands for the household. The poor boy ends up doing the work of an adult. The irony of the situation is that Kallu is sent by his mother to the family with the fond hope that Kallu will be able to improve his position in life. But Kallu ends up as a servant of the household. Though Kallu is the errand boy, he is treated differently by different members of the family. While ‘Amma’, the narrator’s mother, treats Kallu with sympathy, mumani jan is harsh on Kallu and looks down upon him. ‘Amma’ seems to be indulgent towards Kallu. Once Kallu is asked in a lighter vein, who he was going to marry. Kallu, in all innocence, expresses his desire to marry Salima bi, Mumani’s daughter. Mumani’s response to kallu’s innocent answer reflects Mumani’s attitude. She not only abuses Kallu but also boxes his ears as well. Mumani rejects the idea of Kallu getting married to Salima Bi because of Kallu’s social status.
The Second part of the story presents an entirely different situation. In the course of life the social status of Kallu as well as the narrator’s family has altered. Kallu, now, has achieved a higher social status than the narrator’s family. He is the deputy Collector. On the other hand the narrator’s family has witnessed a declining social and economic position. In this altered scenario the family’s response to Kallu’s new social status is also fractured; while ‘Amma’ is happy with Kallu’s rising fortune, Mumani jan is indignant. Mumani is unable to accept the new Kallu, who has retained his love for Salima Bi. When ‘amma’ reminds Mumani Jan of the ill-treatment she had meted out to Kallu, she is even more indignant. But this indignation is also mixed with guilt and anxiety as well. But Mumani is unable to accept the altered situation because it entails an admission of her guilt. However kallu makes it easy for Mumani jan by restoring the former hierarchy. He pleads with Mumani Jan for Salima bi hand in marriage and addresses her as Dulhan bi, the way he used to address her when he worked in their house. Once the former hierarchy is restored at least in a symbolic way, Kallu is accepted by Mumani jan and she is addressed as ‘Amma bi’ by Kallu. Thus, in a symbolic shift, Mumani jan is turned from the master ‘Dulhan bi’ to mother (Amma bi).