He sees the washerwoman kill her son and then wash the soiled cloths.
When the work’s done she’ll bring her dead son back to life again and take him home.
All these girls keep alive when needed, and kill when necessary.
Will you be able to come?
Perhaps no … why do you ask?
Damn, if only you could understand without it being spelt out …
Then do spell it out …
As if everything can be spelt out …
Saying so, she pinches his stomach and with the smart of the pinch, Love
cooes, ooh, aah, and rolls around.
The boy sat beneath a tree. He wore a whitish trouser and a Hawaii shirt. His hair was combed quite artfully. The girl wore salwar-kameez. Her shampooed hair blew in the breeze. Her notebook was on her lap. The boy’s name was Kashinath, the girl secretly called him Love. The girl’s name was Asha. Asha says to Love: Love, you’re going to your village house during the holidays aren’t you? Oh don’t talk about that Asha – Father’s sent a couple of letters in the last few days. I just have to go. I had thought I’d spend a few days of these holidays with you. Hearing Kashinath, Asha broke out in titters of laughter. And then she said, Love, so what if you’re an engineering student, you’re still just a village bumpkin. Saying so, she put her hand on Love’s lap. The sweet sunlight of a winter’s evening. With her left hand, Asha pulled Love close and kissed him on the cheek. She laughed, hee hee. Kashinath sprang up: Hey, what the hell are you doing – there are people all around – can’t you see … Asha promptly feigned anger. Let there be people! I’m kissing my lover so what’s anyone got to do with that … Really, you’re a … you’ve remained a village bumpkin. It’s best that you go home and look after your father’s land and so on. Kashinath laughed a bit and said, you know it, I feel somewhat ashamed unless it’s in private. It was just yesterday, in the restaurant, for a long time … But that was only because I said so – Asha says, snatching the words from his mouth. And as she says it, she pinched him hard on his elbow. With the smart of the pinch, Love cooes, ooh, aah, and rolls around. It was Asha who then began; Listen, it’s best that you go to the village during the holidays. I’m not going to be around. Where are you going? Asha now says: Why, didn’t I tell you … my uncle lives in Delhi. I’ll spend a few days there. I love spending time with Parimal-da there. He’s a very smart boy. When he’s in jeans and a T-shirt and comes around on his bike – how can I tell you how handsome he looks. I’ll spend a few wonderful days there. Kashinath now turned very grim, he said: Who’s Parimal-da, Asha? Oh – I suppose I haven’t told you … Parimal-da is my cousin Kallol’s friend. He’s very interesting. He can go on talking for hours – one never get’s bored. Very open-minded. He’s good in studies too – he’s a scholar of Delhi University. Kashinath now gulped, after that he said: Oh …
I always saw only darkness in my eyes. Perfect darkness. No one anywhere – I’m falling into a huge, black pit – I used to feel that way quite often. Everyone advised me to stop drinking and concentrate on my work, but all that talk never entered my head. I used to feel that I’ve come and stood beside a mountain. A deep abyss on one side, someone gave me a gentle nudge and pushed me down. As I fall, I turn blue in fear, even in my sleep I could surmise that if I ever fell down, there’d be no trace of even my bones. I used to scream out in my sleep. And just then I’d see Mother come towards me, as if floating through the air, she stretches her two arms and takes me to her bosom, there’s a smile on her face. Asha looked exactly like Mother. And her face was so sad-looking that one spontaneously wept looking at her. Mother used to hug me to her bosom and scold me, as she used to when I was small. I’m alone – terribly alone … Why do you go the wrong way like this and sadden me! People wouldn’t believe me if I said it, but in my dream I could clearly see that drops of water rolled down Mother’s eyes and fell on my head and on my face. Mother would then hug me to her bosom and kiss me. I would see an amazing dim light all around her face, in the dream Mother looked like a Goddess, and then on the touch of a pair of fair-skinned hands I would wake up, I’d see the light in the room burning, and bending down over my face, Asha ruffles my hair and touches her lips to mine. Truly, at that time I had gone to ruin.
She pinched himself. Rubbed her eyes with both her hands. No, she was quite awake. It wasn’t a dream. There was a mild smell all over the room. The smell was a very familiar one. Her Love drank once in a while. There was Love standing in the middle of the room – he was looking at her and smiling away. And then he came running and hugged her. Bit by bit, he had lost himself. The door was shut. But then how did this man come insider her room. She wanted to say: You shouldn’t have come here. I’m married, I’m someone’s wife. With a smiling face the youth replied: No one other than you can see me. As soon as he said it, her Love became invisible. Was she dreaming? The whole room was in semi-darkness. Only a zero-watt lamp burned. Once again, bit by bit, the youth emerged from the darkness and advanced towards her. Aren’t you happy to see me? He came closer. Why are you ruining my life? What’s my fault? I have a husband, I have a family. Love puts his arms around her and hugs her. It was as if the bones and ribs of her chest were being pulverized. Could this be told to anyone? Her body was melting, just like a wax doll. She didn’t stretch her arm. Didn’t scream. Parimal was lying just beside. Curled up small, he was sleeping peacefully. Call him? So who was in the room, who? Love? How did he come?
Many girls secretly giggled about him. One day, after the college vacation, he had come out. Suddenly someone called him from behind. He turned around. Excuse me, do you have PD’s notes from yesterday? He could gather that the girl wanted to get acquainted with him on this pretext. But I didn’t come yesterday. Someone or the other told me you had come yesterday. That you were sitting beside Mahuya. No – he had turned grim. The girl promptly said: Why do you always make a bear-face like that! A bear – he was astonished. The girl laughed gently: You are indeed a bear – saying so, she walked away briskly. And just then, hearing Kashinath, Asha tittered in laughter, like a little girl. She said: Love, you’re a jackass! Saying so, giving him a gentle pinch and placing one hand on Kashinath’s hand, she began: Love, there’ll be nobody in our house tomorrow. So you can come there in the afternoon. Kashinath asked, why, where’s everyone going? Asha replied: Father’s going with Mother to an aunty’s house in Salt Lake. They’ll only return at night, after dinner. And Brother’s been away from Calcutta since the last two days. He’s gone to Digha with his college friends. The house will be completely empty. I’ll just give ten rupees to the servant and send him to the cinema … Now she went twice or thrice a week to the joint that had come up on the sixteenth floor of a twenty-two storeyed high-rise on Camac Street. Common people did not come here. But one or two newly-rich did come once in a while. The girl said: Here, you are my client. I’m your entertainer. Nothing more than that. Stubbing the cigarette in her hand in the ashtray, she bent down and poured whisky into a glass. Then, after some time, the green zero-watt lamp in the room would come on, the girl would slowly pull down the trouser zip of the inebriated man, her father’s age, keep doing so. What’s up, Uncle, how are you? Oh my, you’ve come after a long time. Why didn’t you come even once to our house? Tea appeared very soon. Coughing a bit, the gentleman said: My dear, there’s something I have to talk to you about. Tell me, Uncle. What more can I tell you, my dear, you are like my own son. My younger daughter will be taking the secondary exam. If you could help her a bit that would be really good. It was she who spoke about you. No, I don’t take no for an answer, dear boy. Asha came to him the very next day to study. Books in her hand, a smile on her face. Standing at the door, she said: … may I come in? Come in. He lifted up his head and looked. He had never looked at a girl in this way before. Because of his grim and shy manner, the girls and wives in the village avoided him. May I sit down? Putting her books down, Asha sat. She sat on a chair facing him. The desk lay in between. Are you taking the secondary exam this year? Yes, she said, with her head down. Which subject would you like me to take up? Whatever you’d like to teach me. He lifted up his face and looked her in the eye. Asha lowered her eyes. The boy brought his face close to mine and asked: If you don’t mind, may I know your name? At that very moment, forgetting all about Father’s severe scolding, I told him my name. Oh, you have a really beautiful name. By then, I too had got back some courage. I asked him in return: But you didn’t tell me your name. The boy began to laugh. Had you at all asked me my name? I said: But I did ask now. The boy told his name: Kashinath. I said: God, what an old-fashioned name – it’s not nice. Your name just does not match how you look. I’ll call you Love – how’s that? Hearing me, Kashinath began to laugh. I too joined him in laughter. As he laughed, he said: When you laugh, you look exactly like my mother. I was astonished. What’s this you say, Love? Just then, Shankar came running and stood beside him. Looking from the corner of his eye, he said: What’s happening, boss, what’s all this I hear? What’s up Shankar, tell me. But you’re a good boy. Don’t mind me, I mean, don’t do this and that with my lover, I swear. Turning grim, he said: But I can’t understand anything, what’s all this nonsense you’re saying? … Look here, boss, don’t pretend. You know very well what I want to say. I’m telling you clearly, boss, if you mess around with Asha, I won’t tolerate that. Now he became very angry: What’s all this you’re saying – I teach her. I view her as my sister. He didn’t remain there. He began walking immediately. From behind, Shankar kept shouting: Try to keep it that way, my friend. Or else … Returning home by myself, I had observed for the last few days that at the spot where I took the bus from, everyday, there’s was a boy standing there, and he stares at me. The boy is quite handsome to look at, and he appeared to be from a decent family. His eyes were very lovely. That pair of eyes used to entrance me in a trice. I used to feel a kind of inner attraction. And so when the boy used to look at me and smile I too would smile back in response. I longed to talk to him. But the very next moment, I would remember Father’s severe scolding. As soon as he saw me, Father asked: What’s the matter Asha, why have you come back so late. I said at once: I went to the library after two. I got delayed making my notes there. Father said: Asha, you’ve grown up now. You’ve learnt about what’s good and what’s bad for you. I trust that you will not do anything that disgraces us. I listened to Father quietly, with my head down. When she comes to study, every now and then she becomes somewhat absent-minded. She had something on her mind. The day after observing this, he directly asked Asha: What do you think about from time to time? You become absent-minded while studying. Oh it’s nothing – please continue teaching. Asha tried to appear normal. He thinks she’s concealing something. He asks her again: You’re concealing something, Asha. Tell me frankly. At first she was silent. After that, she said softly: Shankar-da is always after me. He stands on the road with a group. I’m afraid of them. He turns grim. Without much thought, he blurts out: After the study session I’ll come along with you today. No, no – Asha cries out – I can go on my own. Shankar’s friends are all frightful. They don’t hesitate to do anything untoward. To you too … That’s alright, but I can manage. She tried to appear brave. After all that she had said, it was impossible for her to return. Then somewhat doubtfully, he said: Alright then. From tomorrow, you needn’t come here. I’ll go over to teach you. Then, after some time, bringing his face to her ear, he said, almost in a whisper: Come on, Asha, let’s go away somewhere together. What’s that – where shall we go? The two of us will live together somewhere. We’ll be a happy family. Do you think that can happen – where shall I go leaving my husband and family behind? Why, what’s the objection – that man suspects you. Instead just you and I shall start a new life together. After a while, she said: In that case, whom shall I live with? Why, here I am … But that’s only once in a while, secretly … If you had me fully, you’d get rid of me in two days. One doesn’t like the same old thing everyday. I do know you. As she said it, she pinched my cheek. Quite hard. My cheek was smarting. That day it rained heavily the whole day, and a stormy wind with that. I don’t sleep well when it rains. I become depressed suddenly. It was almost twelve at night then. I was lying down silently, staring at the ceiling. I remembered Mother. After dinner, before falling asleep, she used to read the Kathamrita of Sri Ramakrishna for a while. It was an old habit with her. But where was that Mother! Why, Asha has come in place of Mother – hasn’t she? The next room was shut, completely still. Didn’t meet any friends today. Who on earth would venture out on this disastrous night. The rain became fiercer as the night advanced. I was lying curled up under a thin sheet. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Not moving the door-ring, but yet making a sound. I pricked my ears. Again a sound. Who on earth could have come to call me on this disastrous night? Getting up from the bed, wrapping the sheet around me, I went, one step at a time, and stood near the door. Once again there was the same knocking sound. I asked: Who is it? From outside, a female voice whispered: It’s me, open the door! Asha – I clearly heard Asha’s voice. Asha! So late at night! Before I could think anything, again came the whisper, which was nonetheless clearly audible, hastening me : Open the door quickly – I’m getting wet. It was raining so heavily outside that it was impossible for anyone to hear her call. She rushed into the room as soon as I opened the door. Draped in a raincoat from head to toe, a mysterious smile on her face. As soon as she entered, she said: Shut the door first, I’m cold. I was vacillating. Looking me in the eye, she said: I said, shut the door first. I’m feeling very cold. I shut the door and said to her: Coming to my room so late at night – like this. She said: What terrible rain – I wasn’t being able to sleep all alone. He had night duty, so I thought I’d play Ludo with you and while away the time. You have Ludo and Snakes and Ladders don’t you? I love playing Ludo and Snakes and Ladders. After that, pausing a while, she looked me clearly in the eye and said: You don’t mind, do you? Then Shankar shouted and called out to him: Hey, my friend, where’ve you gone? He turned grim. He said: Shankar, whatever you’re doing isn’t good. Hey, don’t lecture me, boss. I know all about that. Being too friendly with Asha isn’t right, pal. But I’ll clear the way. Two or four days, that’s all. Alright, we’ll see about that. He put on a brave front and affected a boastful manner. And then he left the place speedily. About a month later, he was once again returning home from college. He was tired. Shankar came and stood in front of him. There were three others with him. Hey pal, you got angry and left that day … He was grim as usual. Yet, smiling synthetically, he said: All’s well. Suddenly, Shankar’s friend, the one who looked like a goonda, put his hand inside the open front of his shirt and scratching the hair on his chest said, Hey boss, is it still brother-sister or have you reached Laila-Majnoon? He looked once at him. A complete loafer. He was looking at him and smiling, exposing his teeth. Not getting any response from him, he muttered and said: Hey, get each of us a sister like that, I say. Now he lost his cool. He turned around and landed a tight slap on the boy’s face. As soon as he slapped him, he realized he’d made a mistake. No, he wasn’t as brave as that, whatever he might have done hot-headedly, he did not have the strength to stand up against Shankar’s gang. They were ready too. The boy had taken out a bicycle chain by then. Shankar sprang and held his arm, he turned around and spat out in abuse: You bastard, son-of-truth Yuddhisthra … You look as if you haven’t eaten all day long … would you like to eat something? No, forget it. Alright, Love, can I ask you something? What is it? Can you strangle and kill me? What the hell are you saying? Tell me first whether you trust me or not. But where are you? I don’t know. Tell me truthfully, where are you? I’m lost. What will I survive with? With whatever you survived with so long. But that’s lost. No, I don’t believe that. Don’t be sad, Love, whatever had to happen happened. But you have to survive. Darkness. Great darkness. He casts his eye and sees Asha lying down obscenely. Love picks up his sheet and covers all of Asha’s body. After that he parks the scooter and at once comes in front of Asha. Hello! Meeting you after a long time! I’m sure you’re terribly busy with husband and family. Tell me, how are you? Surprisingly, there was no more hesitation in Love’s voice. Although earlier, he used to falter when he spoke. Asha was astounded. She felt a strange sensation inside. Somehow or the other she said: I’m fine. She herself realized it wasn’t her voice. For that matter, she even forgot to ask, how are you. Love suddenly shifts to the second person intimate. You didn’t ask how I am. Tell me how are you? Can you tell me how I am – what do you think, looking at me? As he said it, he looked her in the eye. Asha looks down. Yes, the funny thing’s that right now, a lot has really happened. Parimal had once come on a holiday together with Ashok. Suddenly my head began to reel, I pressed her against the door and began to kiss her, and then, unseen by anyone, I lifted her up and entered the bathroom. Asha was shouting, but my body was full of an ogre’s strength right then. Fortunately, I did not latch the bathroom door from inside! After some time, the door opened, the people in the house entered and rescued Asha from my clutches. Pulling and dragging, they took me to the tap, pressed my head down over the wash-basin and opened the tap. Even after all the commotion, Parimal had dropped me to my house. I was in the rear seat, almost lying down, my eyes shut. I vaguely remembered Mother’s face. After dinner, Mother had sat down with the Kathamrita. I could hear, everyone was worrying about me. Friends were repeatedly saying that I had supposedly gone astray soon after Mother’s death. Later I had gone to Asha’s house and apologized. Seeing her looking at me with a smiling face, I was stunned – why do I keep mixing up Asha’s face with Mothers? My head was spinning, I held the door to support myself. Asha took me by the hand and made me sit. She asked: Would you like to eat something? No, my dear, not at all. I didn’t mind anything the other day. The offer had come, to go over so he could have a look. The middle-aged MD was terribly lonely. Had to give him company from time to time. A girl from the same neighbourhood had given her the lead casually. She had said: Take life easy, a lot of this is happening nowadays. I had thought it would be rather simple, but it was just the opposite in the workplace. On the specified day, dressed up and adorned, I turned up, together with the friend, at the man’s flat. A well-decorated flat in a posh locality in central Calcutta. Going into the room, and after talking directly to the MD, her dear friend brought her into the room and went out – she said: I’ll be back after a while. Her feminine awareness made her sense danger just after this. After shedding stupid tears about his loneliness, and sometimes casting a spell with his words, when the man finally offered her a drink – even then she hadn’t been worried much. After this, the distance between them, dictated by decency, kept diminishing. Despite being in an air-conditioned room, her whole body was covered in perspiration. But she had to survive. She wouldn’t ask anyone for help. For that matter, not even Love. In a theatrical voice, with that MD who was her father’s age, stroking his neck, rubbing her lips against his, bringing her face near his ears, she had whispered: Hey – please, not today – … today I have … the coming Saturday will be for you – for you alone – okay? … But the man’s desire was not quenched so easily, she had to sacrifice a bit, but nevertheless, she could more or less get away that day. Must survive, and again, decency had to be maintained. Another funny thing had taken place, in Asha’s own flat, on her birthday. Someone had removed my lighter. Going to light a cigarette, I found I didn’t have the lighter in my pocket. Asha was then cooking a special chicken preparation. In the kitchen. I thought I’d certainly find matches in the kitchen. But I didn’t find anyone in the kitchen. I looked this way and that, everything looked kind of disheveled. Suddenly, someone said from behind: May I know what’s happening here? Startled, I turned around and saw Asha with her friends beside her. Everyone was watching my antics silently. I said I came to look for matches, I’ve lost my lighter. Too look for matches – Asha said, her eyes flashing – and so you’ll enter my bedroom without asking me? Don’t you know you shouldn’t go into a woman’s bedroom without consent? Does one find matches in a bedroom? I suddenly came to my senses. I realized I had entered the bedroom mistakenly, thinking it was the kitchen. By then, many had begun to smile embarrassedly. After that, Asha took me aside and took out my lighter from her clenched fist and said to me: Here’s your lighter. When you were having a drink, I took this out of your pocket, silly goat! She pinched me gently on my cheek. I stared at her face in astonishment.
This is a translation of the original Bengali story, "Premer Golpo", by Subimal Misra.
Translated by V. Ramaswamy. The translator gratefully acknowledges the writing residency in Panjim, Goa, enabled by Robert Karjel.