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"Fair Play" is a story authored by Munshi Premchand. It was originally written and published in Hindi as "Panch Parameshwar" ("The Holy Panchayat") in the year $$1916$$.

Two friends lived in a village. They were Jumman Shaikh and Algu Chowdhry. Although they belonged to two different religions, they were very close, and their bond was powerful. They also took care of each other's family when either of them was away from the village. Jumman and Algu were also greatly respected in the village.

Algu and Jumman were best friends

Jumman had an aunt who was quite old. Jumman was her nearest and closest family. She also had some property in her name. Jumman made an arrangement with the aunt. He offered to take care of her while she transferred her property to him. She then gave away all her wealth to his nephew. They lived well for over two years. But then the situation changed.

Jumman's aunt

Jumman and his family started ill-treating the poor old aunt. His wife always fought with the aunt. They were also stingy when it came to serving the aunt food. They forgot all about the arrangement and simply thought of the aunt as some kind of nuisance. The old aunt tolerated the insults and the ill-treatment for a few months. But it became too much for her to bear.

The aunt knew that she was not wanted in the house anymore. She decided to talk to Jumman regarding the topic. She asked Jumman to give her a monthly allowance. Since she wasn't getting enough food, she said that she would set up a separate kitchen. This, she believed, would help her to take care of herself.

Jumman asked for a monthly allowance to set up a separate kitchen

However, Jumman was quite shameless when he responded. Not only was he unsympathetic towards the aunt's situation, he was quite sure that he and his wife were right in mistreating the aunt. He told her that his wife was responsible for the house and knew how to deal with the matters.

Jumman's aunt became very upset and angry at Jumman's response. She then decided to take the issue to the village panchayat. She spoke with the village people seeking their support. But none of them were willing to help her out because Jumman was an important person in the village.

Aunt sought the support of the villagers in vain

Finally, the aunt asked Algu Chowdhry to help her out. Although Algu sympathised with her, he was hesitant to help her because of his friendship with Jumman. Since Jumman was his best friend, Algu didn't want to do anything that would upset him.

However, the aunt pleaded and reasoned. She said that it was wrong to remain silent when something bad was going on. Although Jumman was Algu's best friend, Algu should speak up the truth. She left after requesting Algu to speak the truth at the panchayat.

Although Algu didn't agree to the aunt's request, he kept thinking about her words. He knew she was right and that her situation was sad. But he was also worried about ruining his friendship with Jumman.

Later in the evening, after the aunt met with Algu, villagers gathered under an old banyan tree to proceed with the panchayat.

Village panchayat under a banyan tree

Typically, during a panchayat meeting, it was custom for the people involved in the dispute to stand up and elect the head Panch (judge). The head Panch will have to be unbiased. The Panch knows neither friend nor enemy. He would then have to listen to what people from both the sides have to say. Later, he would discuss with the other villagers and will pronounce the verdict. Once the verdict is passed, the people involved in the dispute will have to respect and follow it.

As the panchayat was happening to solve the problem between Jumman and his aunt, Jumman stood up and offered that his aunt should choose the judge.

The aunt stood up to state her choice. Without much deliberation she pronounced the name of Algu Chowdhry. Jumman became happy hearing this. He considered himself lucky at the fact that Algu was chosen as the Panch. He believed that Algu would be on his side because of their friendship.

But Algu was surprised. He reminded the aunt about his friendship with Jumman. But the aunt believed in the honesty and the integrity of Algu. She said that Algu would not give away his moral sense of right and wrong for the sake of friendship. Although Jumman was his friend, Algu had the duty to stand by the truth. In this case, the aunt was wronged by Jumman, and only Algu can give her justice. Moreover, a Panch is equal to the God, and his words should be uttered with care. Hence, Algu had a greater responsibility to uphold justice and truth. Later, she explained her situation to the Panch and the villagers.

Jumman's turn had come to explain his point of view on the case. Algu asked him to present his defence. But Algu also warned him by saying that Jumman and his aunt are equal in his eyes since he was a Panch.

Jumman started explaining his point of view. He began by saying how his aunt transferred her property to him about three years ago. He had then promised to support her as long as she lived. And of course, he did what he could do to help her; he fed her and gave her a place to sleep. But then, his wife and his aunt started having some troubles between them. They had small fights and clashes which he couldn't stop. Then, his aunt became upset with the whole issue and asked him for a monthly allowance. He couldn't agree to that as he felt that it would be a loss to him.

After Jumman's speech, he was interrogated by Algu and the other villagers. Then, Algu discussed the case with the rest of the village.

After careful examination, the Head Panch and the rest of the people decided that the aunt should have her justice. In the words of Algu, "Jumman must pay his aunt a monthly allowance", or he should return the property to her.

As the Head Panch and an honest human being, Algu brought justice to Jumman's aunt. However, Jumman wasn't expecting that to happen. Jumman felt that Algu had betrayed him because he believed  that his friend would be on his side, no matter what the circumstances were.

Jumman and Algu’s relationship soon turned sour. Not only that they stopped being friends, Jumman even started treating Algu as his enemy. They stopped seeing each other as Jumman couldn't stand the sight of Algu. Jumman hated Algu so much that he had all the intentions to get his revenge.

Days went by, and Jumman and Algu remained as enemies. Their relationship was still bad.

To make matters worse, Algu had to face an unfortunate situation. He had owned two bullocks. They were of great quality. However, one of them died. Since Algu needed money, he decided to sell the other one.

A man named Samjhu Sahu bought the bullock from Algu. He was a bullock-cart driver. However, he didn't pay the amount as Algu had given him a month.

Unfortunately, the bullock died within a month, and Sahu failed to pay the amount. Algu waited several months before he broached the subject to Sahu. Sahu became angry and annoyed, and he refused to pay Algu back because the bullock had died. Sahu called the dead bullock a wretched beast- meaning a useless and terrible animal- because the animal failed to fetch him any profit. Sahu said he would let Algu use his bullock for a month but would never pay anything for the dead bullock.

Algu found it impossible to get the money from Sahu. Since Sahu was adamant and had refused to pay him, Algu decided to take the case to the panchayat. Both Sahu and Algu met the village people seeking their support.

The day of panchayat came, and the villagers gathered under the old banyan tree where the Panchayat meetings were usually conducted. Algu's case was the second case in a few months, the first one being Jumman's case. As it is customary for the people to nominate the Head Panch for cases, Algu let Sahu make the decision.

Sahu, being cunning, appointed Jumman as the Panch. He knew about the friction existing between Jumman and Algu, and he believed that Jumman would pass a judgement in favour of Sahu. After all, Jumman had wanted his revenge, and this would indeed be a great chance.

Algu realised that he could lose his case any moment now. His heart sank and his skin turned pale. He had lost all his hopes in getting his money back and was very worried. He believed that Jumman would pass the verdict against him as he had done to Jumman.

Jumman, on the other hand, had conflicting emotions on his mind. Of course, he was presented with a chance of a lifetime in getting his revenge. He could humiliate Algu before the village people, and make him pay for the hurt he had caused. But he also understood the responsibilities that came with the position of the Head Panch. It is the responsibility to deliver justice. A judge should never be partial to anyone, and he/she knows neither friend nor enemy.

Jumman and the villagers listened to what both Algu and Sahu had to say. They were questioned in great detail. After the interrogation, Jumman and the villagers discussed and looked at the case from various perspective. After a while, Jumman stood up to pass the judgement.

The verdict was in favour of Algu. Jumman said that Sahu should pay the price of the bullock to Algu. The bullock was healthy when Sahu bought it from Algu. Its death was sad and coincidental, but Algu was in no way responsible for that. Hence, it is only fair that Algu get paid for the bullock he had sold to Sahu.

Algu became very happy hearing the verdict. He wasn't expecting Jumman to be fair, given their enmity. He was so happy that he stood up and said loudly, "Victory to the panchayat. This is justice. God lives in the voice of the Panch." Since he had lost all his hope prior to the verdict, he became quite uncontrollable; he wasn't able to contain his happiness, and he kept expressing his gratitude towards the Panchayat and the Head Panch.

Being a Head Panch had also made Jumman realise the mistake he had done. He also understood why Algu had passed a judgement against him during their first case, as the Head Panch should always deliver justice, and knows neither enemy nor friend. Jumman came towards Algu and hugged him. Between the two panchayats, a lot had happened in the lives of the two best friends. The previous panchayat turned the best friends into arch-enemies, and the current one turned them back to the best of the friends. But more than that, the experiences helped them change their perspectives and personalities into better versions, and their friendship grew stronger.

Algu and Jumman embraced

The moral of the story is that one should choose justice and truth over anything in this world. In the words of Jumman, no one should ignore justice or truth in the name of friendship or enmity. Both these friends demonstrated this moral effectively. Algu stood with truth and passed the judgement against Jumman despite the latter being his best friend. Likewise, Jumman's hatred towards Algu didn't prevent him from delivering justice. Through the story, it becomes evident that truth always triumphs, and that it will never harm us in any way, and instead, will help us to win. Therefore, honesty is always the best policy.

Truth always truimphs