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A short excerpt from The Second Wife

“Is there anything in the world more insubstantial than life! Is it not as transitory as a lamp which a mere puff of wind extinguishes? Consider a bubble—but even that lasts some little while. There’s not even that much substance in life! One cannot rely on so much as a single breath, but on its so perishable base what vast designs do we construct out of our desires”

This excerpt followed the murder of Udaybhanu, a lawyer who was preoccupied by the monetary stress of giving his daughter away. Each comparison of life by Premchand, compares life to increasingly volatile objects. First, he compares life to a lamp, then a bubble, then just a single breath. We’ve all had lamps by our bed side, maybe they stay on for a few hours, but eventually we turn them off. We’ve all blown bubbles, with each new bubble we blow, we hope we can admire them for a few more seconds before they eventually pop and disappear. And we all take short breaths constantly, but we almost never think of them.

We’ve all probably thought about, or been taught, how life can’t be taken for granted, how it can be taken away from us at any moment, and this is why the last sentence of the excerpt was even more striking. “but on its so perishable base what vast designs do we construct out of our desires.” Even though the volatility of life might have registered with us, I don’t think we’ve ever realized that we dream of big plans in our lives that we say shouldn’t be taken for granted. This is why this excerpt perfectly captures the death of Udaybhanu, a man who mere hours or minutes before was arguing with his wife about the expenses of the wedding, was to be murdered unexpectedly by a man who he had long forgotten about.

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