Pahom’s Curse

The Universal Post
3 min readMar 16, 2021
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

A while back, the library of my memories in the ancient land of my hidden consciousness presented to me something from my childhood: A story by Leo Tolstoy.

My synopsis of the story, ‘How much Land Does a Man Need?’ goes this way…

Pahom, the protagonist is enticed into a ‘vicious’ plan of Satan. Pahom becomes greedy for land and is one day introduced to the Bashkirs, who sell cheap land to anybody who met certain criteria. Pahom agrees to the conditions under which he had to deposit a sum of one thousand roubles and then to claim his land, he had to start walking at daybreak and finish at sunset by returning to the starting point. The stunning deal was, whatever land Pahom could cover during the day would belong to him or else, he would lose his deposit.

On a set day, Pahom started early at daybreak and walked all day. At around sunset, he realized that he was too far from his starting point. To get back and avoid losing the deposit, he started running. Eventually, he made it but he was so tired that he dropped dead. His servant then buried him in a grave, just six feet long.

Pahom’s story provides a chilling analogy to the life of migrants, more so for those who leave their countries and settle somewhere else.

If we just apply this analogy to migration from India to distant lands; doesn’t matter whether it is to Africa, America, Europe or Australia, the migration is seemingly irreversible. While there have been reports on ‘end of the American Dream’ and mass layoffs and hilarious takes by movies like PGRO (Phas Gaye re Obama i.e. I am stuck Obama); there is no stopping to this irreversible ‘brain drain’ or should I say ‘brainless in the drain’.

Without getting too much into the pros and cons of the massive scale of migration, if I just focus on why the migration is irreversible, I get a lot of different reactions to my question: ‘Would you go back to India?’

Some summarised it neatly with words like ‘India lacks Quality of Life’, ‘Issues with Infrastructure and Services’ and ‘There is so much corruption and juggad (illegal fixing)’. Some arguments were more crude but plain and direct: ‘I don’t wish to live in a 2BHK and drive a small car’, ‘I don’t wish to work mad hours’, ‘I want to go back but wife doesn’t’, ‘I have to stay here for kids’, ‘My girls will be unsafe there’ and ‘there is so much competition’.

Irrespective of the reasons given, almost all I met asked: ‘When are you going to India’, ‘when you went there last’, ‘what is your plan (are you thinking of going back?)’ and ‘will you go back and live there after retirement?’ Doesn’t matter, what people said, there was a sense of dissatisfaction (and I grant ‘nobody gets a perfect world’) and longing.

When somebody asks me — Are you planning to go back? I feel like one ‘Pahom’ asking another, running beside me and enquiring, ‘have you covered enough land?’ As usual answers to such questions are at best evasive or effusive.

Somewhere, I felt that each migrant is caught up in Pahom’s curse. It is a bit like: I migrated for myself, then stayed back for my spouse, then for kids, and then for old age or was it really: I came for money and opportunities, got wedded to a life of materialism and luxury, after a while nothing was enough, no way I could turn back, the lure was amazing…I had to keep running and capture more lands i.e. buy more cars, build more houses, get better promotions, the sun set is still too far away and I will keep running until one day like Pahom I will fall down…I shall become a victim of his curse, the greed.

Perhaps, Tolstoy could have added: After death, Pahom’s spirit cursed everybody who set out in search for more land…they were all destined to die, unable to run back to their starting points, when the sun would finally set.



The Universal Post

Arunesh is the author of 2 books — The Migrant, A Biography and The Astrologer’s Curse. He works in the energy industry and loves writing and travelling.