About the Story

“That Pagli” provides a peep into the village life and its ways more particularly the status of the domestic cow that became a centre of attraction and concern for everyone. Pagli was the tamed but naughty cow in the narrator’s family. It liked to graze liberally in open fields and was particularly fond of trespassing into the fields of the neighbouring farmers and spoiling their carefully tended crops. It caused worry and trouble. In the evenings, she was beyond control and defied all hurdles to enjoy her free grazing particularly in the fields of the Subedar. She became a panic not only for the Subedar but also for the cowherd and the family of the narrator. The Subedar took recourse to brutality to protect his crops from Pagli and spiked her one night. After that incident, there was a very surprising change in Pagli’s behaviour. She became obedient and quiet.

The Subedar, however, became a victim of some unknown disease and died.

In this way, the writer creates in the reader’s mind active interest in making a comparison between two ways of life, the methodical, rational, worldly-wise and self-centred attitude of the Subedar who has imbibed the values of hard work, discipline, concern for status and wealth on the one hand the easy-going, carefree habits of the peasantry of Punjab where you remain close to the earth and there are no sharp differences of status, wealth and property.

Summary of the story

It was customary in the village of the boy-narrator that the people of his village would rush to console the person who had lost a relative. People would leave their work and perform different duties they were expert in. This happened when Subedar Shamsher Bahadur passed away. Everybody suspended his work to mourn at the death of the “lion” of the village. His death was not an ordinary matter as someone remarked, “Imagine, even the lion is dead.” People said that the entire village had been orphaned because of the sudden demise of the Subedar Sahib.

When the boy-narrator gave the news of the Subedar’s death to his mother, she called it both sad and good. She said that it was sad for his family but good for Pagli. Pagli was the boy-narrator’s mischievous cow who was very difficult to control in the evenings. The cowherd refused to bear any responsibility for Pagli’s behaviour after he has brought her back to the place of her shelter in the narrator’s house. The boy-narrator had been listening the unbelievable stories of Pagli’s cleverness, skill and disobedience since his early childhood. The cow would not care for anybody after the sunset. She would graze in the fields of the neighbours and spoil their crops, particularly that of the Subedar. She would have a gala night and return to her shelter before dawn. The boy-narrator’s mother used to advise Pagli to put an end to her wild habits. Pagli, however, would ignore all this. On her return from the grazing grounds, as soon as she reached the bridge, she would throw all caution to the winds and would be ready to do as she pleased and go astray as and when she wanted to.

The boy-narrator loved Pagli although he knew about her wild habits. He would fondle and polish her short and sharp horns every Sunday morning. Pagli was also fond of him and stood for him whenever he arrived to see her. Even his pets would growl at her in a friendly way. Once or twice he tried to stop her waywardness, but she disliked this interference on his part in her chosen way of life. Pagli liked him when he came to her unarmed but she would run away as soon as he tried to meddle with her ways and tried to stop her from going to the fields. The boy-narrator realized the futility of his attempts to keep Pagli under control and stopped meddling with her. Sometimes he tried to milk Pagli but did not succeed in this difficult art of milking the cow. He would watch the continuous stream of milk when his mother milked the cow and also enjoyed the milky shower in his open mouth. His teacher would praise the boy-narrator for his prompt responses saying, “Surely, Deva, you must be drinking your cow’s milk.”

Pagli’s liberal plunders had made her quite healthy. After his retirement from army, the Subedar started taking care of his fields and learnt about the unrestrained movements of the cow in his fields. He asked the boy-narrator’s headman brother to check the cow. When he learnt that the cow was headstrong, he put his finger on the trigger of his double-barreled gun and said, “Then I can try.” The boy-narrator’s brother disapproved of cow-killing but the Subedar was determined to teach the cow a lesson she would not easily forget and went away with a warning.

The Subedar possessed a gun and ten steel boxes full of bullets. He was also proud to have two ferocious Alsatians and a white mare to keep vigil of his fields. He would fire whenever he found Pagli devastating his crops. In order to restrict Pagli, the Subedar ordered the ironsmith to prepare a special juvelin. In a few days, the Subedar’s reputation spread in and around the village. He would ride with a gun and his Alsatians would lead him sniffing the way. He would impress the naïve villagers with a few words of English which he had learnt in the army. Somebody spread the news that the Subedar entertains his guests with English wine. Constable Bhajan who began to go to the Subedar restarted visiting the narrator’s house when the Subedar began offering local liquor. He would describe the Subedar’s pension, his rise and retirement from army, his schemes to restrain Pagli, his resentment against the headman, and his involvement with different women.

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When the villagers learnt the Subedar’s evil designs to restrict Pagli they either called it barbaric or prayed so that it did not happen. The boy-narrator would feel particularly worried about what may happen to their Pagli because of the Subedar plans. The cow, however, kept on with her wild pranks. The Subedar would order his Alsatians to attack Pagli whenever he found her grazing the crops in his fields. Pagli would run to save herself while kicking back the chasers. However, after a few chases, the dogs would only bark and move around Pagli without having courage to attack her. The failure in his efforts turned the Subedar more stern, brutal and revengeful. While the Subedar was around, Pagli would eat sundry leaves. But she would come out of her secure place and enjoy grazing the crops as soon as the Subedar went away. She would return to her house at the usual time though she looked tired.

One morning the boy-narrator was told that the Subedar had decided to use his javalin to spike Pagli. He also learnt that the Subedar was going to feed his Alsatians wasps coated with chilies to sharpen their fangs and hunger. He became worried and cut his school to see Pagli and ask her to be careful. In the evening, he even tried to stop her but she bypassed him to relish her free grazing. That night Pagli was surrounded by the wild Alsatians and repeatedly spiked by the Subedar. She returned seriously wounded and badly bleeding. Pagli was disinfected and to look after her properly, she was not sent to the cowherd. She was given a special meal for fast recovery. The narrator personally waved off the flies with a hand fan.

In the evening, the boy-narrator saw the Subedar and started cursing him for showing cruelty to Pagli. Pagli recovered after a few weeks but she was utterly transformed now. She became the leader of the heard. The cowherd praised her and said that she was sincere and obedient and followed his instructions just like a child. Pagli was also complimented for her improvement by the boy-narrator’s family. She would spend most of her time licking and caressing her calf. However, she could not give as much milk as she used to give before this change in her habits.

Within a year, the Subedar’s health started deteriorating. His liver and lungs got diseased and stopped working properly. Someone said that the Subedar had ghoulish visions and often shouted for help. At last, the “lion” died of a prolonged illness. Everybody mourned at the death of the Subedar. The boy-narrator, however, stayed back to wait for Pagli and deliver her the news. He thought that the news would remove her terror and she would go back to earlier habits and become her original self once again.

Short-Answer Questions

Question.1.  How did the boy-narrator’s mother react to the news of the Subedar’s death?

Answer.  The Subedar died of some unknown disease that attacked his liver and lungs. When the boy-narrator’s mother came to know about the death of the Subedar, she expressed mixed feelings of pleasure and sadness. She was sad for the sons of the Subedar but was glad for her cow i.e. Pagli. She was unhappy over the treatment the Subedar had given to Pagli. She would not forget that the cow was spiked mercilessly by the Subedar.

Question.2.  What was the Subedar’s earlier strategy to control Pagli? Did it succeed?
Answer.  The Subedar was quite sure that he would stop Pagli from her trespassing into his fields and spoiling his crops. For this, he depended on his two faithful Alsatians. When he found Pagli eating his crops he would command his ferocious Alsatians to attack her. His hunting monsters would spring and howl at Pagli but at the same time, they would also receive blows of Pagli’s kicks and sharp horns. After that, they would only bark and move around Pagli but dared not touch her. Thus his plan to control Pagli failed.

Question.3.  Was Pagli mad, as her name suggests?

Answer.  No, Pagli was not literally mad. This name was given to her for her waywardness. She was loving and caring but she would go wild in the evenings. She would defy everybody and go astray to enjoy free grazing. She would relish the fresh crops. The unrestrained and undisciplined movements of the cow have been very carefully described by the word ‘Pagli’ which quite matched her wild activities.

Question.4. What change did the boy-narrator expect to see in his cow after the Subedar’s death?

Answer.  Pagli used to go wild to relish the crops particularly in the fields of the Subedar. She would fill the pail of the boy-narrator’s mother with milk which would flow torrentially from her teats. But after being spiked brutally, she got transformed and turned disciplined. The boy-narrator wished his cow to become wild again, plunder the crops and fill the pail of his mother with milk.

Question.5.  Describe the ‘sheer animal beauty’ of Pagli.

Answer.  As far as the physical beauty of Pagli is concerned she excelled all the other cows in the village. She had short and sharp horns which the boy-narrator would affectionately fondle and polish on Sundays. She had smooth yellowish-brown complexion and a long and bushy tail. Her ears had silky flaps and she also had a soft flesh-line under her neck. Her rumps were nice and the boy-narrator used to rub them. He was also attracted by the twinkle in her eyes.
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Question.6.  When the narrator answer all of Musnhiji riddle, what remark does Munshiji make?

Answer.  To receive the milky shower straight in his open mouth, the boynarrator used to take a crouching position beside his mother who milked the cow. Pagli’s milk provided him physical and mental strength. He would successfully answer all the riddles put before him by Munshiji. This would impel Munshiji to say, “Surely, Dava, you must be drinking your cow’s milk.” The underlying meaning here was that the boy-narrator became clever and intelligent because of the cow’s milk he drank everyday.

Question.7.  Give an account of ‘nocturnal plunder’ made by Pagli.

Answer.  Pagli was well-known for her waywardness and wild escapades. She would invariably overcome all traps and strategies to keep her safely tied down to the tether during the night and run away to the fields. She loved to nibble the crops particularly in the fields of the Subedar. She would have a wonderful time in leisurely grazing the green fields and eating the extremely enjoyable mouthfuls of fresh crops. Before it was dawn, however, Pagli would return to her hitching post at the manger.

Question.8.  Why couldn’t the Subedar’s Alsatians tear Pagli’s flesh?

Answer.  The Subedar returned from Lahore with two ferocious Alsatians. These dangerous hounds attacked Pagli when the Subedar commanded them to tear her flesh. The “hunting monsters” would spring and howl at Pagli who, realizing the danger, would run swiftly while kicking back the chasing hounds. She would cleverly use her sharp horns and strong legs to get rid of them. After a few confrontations, the dogs only barked and moved around her having no courage to bite her.

Question.9.  What first-aid was given to the wounded cow?

Answer.  Pagli was spiked pitilessly by the Subedar with his javelin. She was seriously wounded and returned home bleeding profusely. First of all, the wounds were disinfected with kerosene oil. Then she was given a specially prepared meal that consisted of soggy chaff, wheat flour and split gram. The boy-narrator fanned her so that she may not be pestered by the flying insects. Pagli was also not sent to the cowherd lest she should get infected.

Question.10.  How did Pagli’s ‘character improvement’ harm the narrator’s family?

Answer.  Pagli’s escapades during the nights in the fields of the Subedar and other neighbours made her healthy. She used to fill the pail of the boy-narrator’s mother with milk that would make the family happy. But after her ‘character improvement’ Pagli would wait for her fodder at her manger. Earlier, the family did not have to spend anything on Pagli’s fodder because she would eat crops in the fields. Now, she would not give as much milk as she did earlier. In this way, the narrator’s family was put to a loss and was harmed by Pagli’s ‘character improvement.’

Question.11.  Could there be any connection between Pagli’s wounding and the Subedar’s death?

Answer.  No, there could be no logical and convincing connection between the incident of Pagli’s being wounded by spiking and the tragic end of the Subedar. He suffered from an unknown disease and his liver and lungs stopped working properly. This was possibly because of excessive drinking and over-eating. After a prolonged illness, the “lion” of the village passed away. However, some people maintained that the ghoulish visions which the Subedar had at nights were the evil result of his barbaric spiking of the cow who was looked upon as a sacred animal who should not be cruelly treated.

Long-Answer Questions

Question.1.  Describe the bond between the boy-narrator and the cow.

Answer.  There was an affectionate relationship between the boy-narrator and his cow Pagli. He used to fondle and polish her short and sharp horns. He was fond of rubbing her rump, and delicate flaps of her ears and the soft fleshline under her neck. Even his pets were deeply attached to her. They would move their tails whenever they were commanded to howl and bring Pagli out of the thicket. Pagli would stand up amidst the cattle to welcome the boy-narrator whenever he paid visits to her at the cowherd.

Once the boy-narrator received her unarmed to stop her going astray. They started walking like friends but then Pagli jumped like a Kangaroo and disappeared for her wild adventure during the night. The boy-narrator loved to have showers of Pagli’s milk directly in his mouth when his mother was in the process of milking her. When Pagli was spiked brutally by the Subedar, the boy-narrator felt hurt and took special care of her. He would fan her to save her from flying insects. After the death of the Subedar, the boy-narrator ardently desired to see Pagli throwing all caution to the winds and going out to the fields as and when she felt like doing so. He loved her so much that he wanted her to be her old natural self, even if it meant trespassing into the neighbours’ fields.

Question.2.  Describe Pagli’s behaviour before and after her being wounded by the Subedar.

Answer.  Pagli was a notorious cow well-known for her waywardness and headstrong behaviour. Her movements were unrestrained. She would defy all and go wild in the evening to plunder the crops of the Subedar and other neighbours. She became a headache for the Subedar because of the loss she caused to the crops in his fields. She would cleverly dodge the Subedar by remaining quiet while he was around. She could effectively use her sharp horns and strong legs to keep the howling Alsatians of the Subedar away and not allow them to hurt her with their sharp teeth.

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However, there was an unprecedented change in her behaviour after she was spiked brutally by the Subedar. She altogether stopped being wayward and capricious. This metamorphosis made her the lead-cattle in a herd of five hundred cows and buffaloes. She became obedient and sincere and rose in the estimation of everybody. She would patiently wait for her fodder at her manger and spend her time licking and fondling her calf. She could, however, no more fill the pail of the boy-narrator’s mother with milk.

Question.3.  Analyse the character of the Subedar.

Answer.  In the story, the Subedar has been presented as a person who had physical courage and determination to carry out his decisions at all costs. He returned to the village after his retirement from army on pension. The army life had changed him from a simple villager to a haughty and self-centred person who lived to assert his authority. He was careful about his crops and went to the boy-narrator’s headman brother to register protest against the damage caused by Pagli. He was daring and engineered a brutal strategy to prevent Pagli’s devastation. When his faithful “hunting monsters” failed before Pagli, he decided to spike her with a javelin to teach her a lesson. He loved his property and did not like anyone to trespass into his fields. He loved to display his wealth and status. He disliked unruly behaviour and could go to the extent of giving any cruel punishment for putting an end to such behaviour. He was a cautious, vigilant, daring and determined fellow who cared a great deal for making a powerful impression on the minds of those living around him.

He prepared his Alsatians for the final combat with Pagli. When they proved ineffective the Subedar spiked her repeatedly with his javelin. This shows the extent of brutality to which he could go. He could fill the naïve villagers with awe and win respect from them by the show of his strength and the weapons he carried with him. He also tried to show off his richness and served English liquor to the villagers who came to meet him. He was jealous of the boy-narrator’s headman brother and tried to humiliate him on some occasions. He would boast of his military activities and also his orgies with different women. He was called the ‘lion’ of the village. But his drinking habits and his orgies proved harmful to him and he died of failure of liver and lungs. The superstitious people attributed his illness to the ill-treatment he had meted out to Pagli.

Question.4.  What metamorphosis did Pagli undergo after the assault on her?

Answer.  Pagli was a mischievous cow that used to rebel against all the restrictions imposed on her. She would go wild in the evening and would go out to feed on the crops grown by farmers in their fields. She wouldn’t be stopped by any persuasive gestures made by her well-wishers. There was a very surprising change in her after she was spiked repeatedly by the Subedar with his javelin when she persisted in eating and spoiling the crops in his fields.

She gave up all her mischief and waywardness and became quiet and obedient. She left her nocturnal plunder and spent most of her time licking her calf and stroking it lovingly with her horn. She would patiently wait for her fodder at the manger. She became the leader of all the five hundred cows and buffaloes in the herd. When this change came upon her, she was especially admired by the cowherd whose instructions she would follow like a child. He called her the “guiding light among dumb beasts.” Thus, her behaviour surprised everyone and she rose in the estimation of all. However, Pagli could not now fill the pail of milk used by the narrator’s mother for milking her.

Question.5.  Bring out the humorous instances in the story.

Answer.  “That Pagli” is an interesting story written by D.R. Sharma. It tells us about a mischievous cow whose wild pranks became a matter of concern to all. The story brings out the attempts of the Subedar to halt Pagli from her nocturnal plunders and save the crops in his fields from devastation. There are, however, a few instances which are humorous and make the readers smile at the oddities of the behaviour of different characters pointed out by the author.

The reaction of the cow when the boy-narrator’s mother advised Pagli to stop her waywardness is humorously presented. We are told about the cow shaking her head as if she really understood what the narrator’s mother was saying to her and she was saying no to her instructions. We smile at the reaction of the boy-narrator’s dogs who would when commanded to howl and bring Pagli out of the thicket, only wag their tails and never moved towards her, afraid of the kick they might receive from the angry cow. The encounter between the Subedar’s Alsatians and the cow also tickles us. When they were defeated by the cow’s kicks and sharp horns they did not go near her to dig their fangs in her body, but only moved round her in a circle barking loudly but not going closer to her. Their timid attack on Pagli after a few encounters makes us smile at them. The Munshiji’s remarks about the source of the boy-narrator’s intelligence is also humorous. He tells the boy-narrator, “Surely, Deva, you must be drinking your cow’s milk”.

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