03 October, 2014

Archimedes’ Discovery and Thereafter











Niramay was anxious for a job. If he could find a job he would immediately marry Deepa.

But here, in this world, nothing could be had so easily. Regret, sadness, despair and vexation accumulated in Niramay’s chest. He wished he had the power to uproot the Monument and throw it into the Ganga, or that he could scream out from the roof of Telephone Bhavan in Dalhousie Square, Please have mercy on me and give me a job. I am unable to get married without a job. But he didn’t do any such thing. As he stood on the ornamental bridge on the Dhakuria Lake, gazing at the big fish splashing around, he became perturbed. Throwing the cigarette into the water with a snap of his fingers, he imagined he was flinging the very Monument. Deepa, who was standing next to him tried to console him, she said, What’s wrong with you Niramay, it’s not easy to find a job nowadays, so where’s the need to get so het up about it? Besides, you’ll find a good job very soon. I’m telling you, you’ll get it.

Niramay was dragging his feet along the tarred black surface of the smooth road, as if he was crushing and destroying something beneath his feet. Deepa said, Why don’t you say something. What shall I say? All around them were the brightly lit streets, full of well-dressed men and women, the tittering of laughter, and amid all of this it was only Niramay who was unable to smile. He was not a participant in all this. The beggar at the bus stop stood near him with his outstretched hand. Was the beggar making fun of him? He wished he could land a tight slap on the man’s face. Hey brother, I too am a beggar like you. Only the Shalimar tin was missing in Niramay Sanyal’s hand. And he begged only from one person. Deepa, I’m hungry, can we eat something, Deepa … I haven’t been to the cinema in ages, please buy two tickets, Deepa … I feel like smoking a nice cigarette, will you buy it, Deepa … Why don’t we go for an outing to Diamond Harbour on Sunday, we haven’t gone anywhere in a month … Deepa, do you remember the line by Chandidas, ‘For sure I haven’t forsaken everything and become a slave in heart and soul …’ How much longer will you go around carrying my burden, Deepa! Both laughter and weeping, together, were pushing their way out of Niramay’s throat. How would it be if he could chew the cud like a cow!

After some time, when Deepa’s bus arrived and carried her away, Rashbihari crossing took on a desolate appearance. The streets, the people, the shops and bright lights were all there – and yet Rashbihari crossing seemed desolate! He wished he could sing out loud the verse by Chandidas. Niramay badly wanted to sing. Someone pushed him and ran and hopped on to and hung on from a moving bus. Brave lad. A crowd of people were returning, their faces animated as they talked. There had been a public meeting today of all these laboring folk, at the base of the Monument. He too had intended to go, but finally, because of Deepa … He heaved a heavy sigh. Rashbihari crossing seemed to Niramay to be devoid of humanity now, it was pointless for him to remain there. After having sat for so long with Deepa, he felt a heaviness in his bladder. And yet here, at Rashbihari crossing, in such a large, throbbing place in the city of Calcutta, there wasn’t even a single decent toilet. There was an ancient one on a kerb of the four-point crossing, some people had shat and filled up its interior, there was water flowing everywhere. People pissed here and there so as not to enter the stinking place, creating veritable Gangas in the process. Niramay stood watching. His bladder was swollen and jutting out like a drum. He turned around and almost standing on the road, he stood with his trouser fly open. The pungent stench of urine lent the place another kind of atmosphere. The earth was wet over a large area, as if it had just rained. Niramay felt greatly relieved as his bladder emptied. And at exactly that moment the idea suddenly sprang into his head. He was startled inwardly. Wetting his trouser and without even buttoning up properly, he began to run homewards. Niramay was uttering some Eureka-like Bengali word. His lane was about ten or twelve minutes away from Rashbihari crossing. Entering his room, he threw himself heavily on the bed and began panting. What a terrifying matter, and what a fantastic idea! He drank a glass of water from the pitcher. After that he squatted on the bed and began to think. It will happen, it will definitely happen, there was no doubt, this would be something tremendous. Niramay was restless, he was still panting. He couldn’t sit still on the cot. He lit a cigarette and took deep puffs. He seemed to have lost the sense of taste, it was as if his mind had been taken over by the taste of something else. What was the date today ­– Niramay made a red mark against the date on the calendar. A memorable day indeed. After that he paced around in his room for a long time.

Niramay didn’t sleep well that night. Dreams, reality and imagination – Rashbihari crossing and the toilet kept appearing and reappearing in everything. In the morning, his eyes were bloodshot, the idea kept banging his head like an iron rod. He thought he ought to pay a quick visit to Rashbihari crossing. Lighting a cigarette, Niramay walked hastily in that direction. The paperwork had to be completed quickly, without letting anyone know. Where was the need to do a job, once it started there would never be any more worry about money. How easy it would then be to marry Deepa. Here was the Rashbihari crossing in early morning light, just a few busy folk, the newspaper vendors, and a tram making a clanging noise as it turned towards Ballygunge. All he had to do was to get a place. And then get it ready quickly. Niramay’s heart was beating fast. What a tremendous thing it would be ­– it was almost terrifying! Going to buy a cigarette, he saw his reflection in the shop mirror. His eyes bloodshot, there was an excited look on his face. He had to look like that, Niramay thought, should too.

Niramay had very few possessions to speak of. Among his assets were the old watch given to him by his father, a few books and a pile of letters written by Deepa.  And he had something else. That would be visible once the broken box was opened. Two pairs of gold bangles, with inlay work. Left behind by his mother. Niramay took out everything and cast his eyes on them. He would start the work in exchange for all this. He separated and put aside Deepa’s letters.

Niramay was terribly busy that day. He even forgot to eat. Neither did he remember Deepa. Running around here and there under the hot sun, bathed in sweat, he made all the arrangements. A place was found on a friend’s recommendation. He was also able to collect quite a sum of money. Now it could be built. Only one thing pricked his mind when he lay down at night. Nothing tangible remained bearing his parents’ memory. In the silence of night a dog moaned away endlessly somewhere. Niramay was still awake. He tossed and turned in excitement. What was to be gained by holding on to all these old memories? What had to happen was happening. In the wee hours of the morning, he dreamt of pouring rain. Rain gushed down in all directions. The sound of pouring rain. For a long time Niramay rubbed the rainwater over his body, thus cooling his mind and body. He also sang a song tunefully.  There was a cool feeling to everything. The dream lasted for a long time. When he woke up, he realized it was late morning. Getting up at once, he hurried to Rashbihari crossing without even washing his face. He wanted to hold on to the excitement. He was unwilling to see his wishes vanish.

Everything was arranged in a few days. One day, pedestrians saw to their astonishment that a private toilet had sprung up at the Rashbihari crossing. People gathered there, passengers craned their necks out of moving buses and trams to look, the wayward ruffians of the neighbourhood, vagrant street kids, the beggar at the bus stop – everyone gaped at the shiny new signboard –

                   Toilet
                For Gents and Ladies
        Admission Fee: Two paise only
            Prop. Shri Niramay Sanyal

A long room. Partitioned in the middle. Ladies on one side, gents on the other. Niramay had placed a boy at the entrance. He sold tickets at a price of two paise. People would buy a ticket and enter. Niramay was standing in front of the door at the entrance. A crowd! What a crowd! It was as if the whole of Calcutta had come down to look at the toilet. At first, no one entered. Everyone just crowded around to watch the fun. Soon one or two people began to enter. Niramay saw the money being collected in the box. His body tingled with joy. He would not have to suffer the ignominy of unemployment any more, he would also get married to Deepa very soon. It occurred to him that in the last few days he hadn’t really remembered Deepa. Astounding! He was about to think more elaborately about Deepa when a wayward boy’s voice floated by – You’ve made a fine urinal, dada! – he forgot about everything, smiled unctuously, showing his teeth, just like a businessman from Barrabazar, and said in an endearing tone: Only for your convenience … He himself was taken aback by the sound of his words. Niramay realized that the genius of an expert businessman was blossoming within him. He was going to advance in life very soon. Now the tickets were selling well. The boy was unable to manage on his own. Observing this, Niramay was exhilerated. All his deprivations would soon be a thing of the past. He lit a cigarette and blew out a lungful of smoke. As he stood there, he saw two girls buying tickets and entering. Something crossed his mind, he puffed deeply on the cigarette once and emitted a cloud of smoke into the air. And then he pushed open the small door on the right side and went in. There were a few steps going up. The toilet structure comprised of two floors. The toilet was on the ground floor – ladies on the left, gents on the right – and the upper floor was for his personal use. He climbed up the few steps of the wooden stairs, as if he was floating on air. There was no furniture upstairs. Only a wooden box. He opened the box and took out a pair of binoculars. He carried it to a corner on the left side. There was a small hole in the wall there. As he fixed his eyes on the binoculars and bent down at the hole, his body thrilled at the sight. Niramay was overcome with expectation when he saw the ticket sales that day. Lying in bed at night, he was unable to sleep. The bed was buried under notes and coins. Till late at night he ran his hands through the money. He felt the money with his hands, feet and chest. All this money was his, his own, it belonged to him alone. He had earned it. It pleased Niramay to think that he was no longer unemployed now. He would not have to beg Deepa for money any more. Remembering Deepa, he was taken aback. He never thought about her nowadays. Ever since the idea of the toilet entered his head, thoughts about Deepa had taken leave of him. But this sadness did not linger in his mind for very long. He wanted to be buried under the money. He would amass money like this everyday, each and every day. Money … money – a mountain of money would grow in his room. He counted the day’s collection again and again. He separated the notes and coins. But where would he keep this money – it could get stolen! His throat turned dry in fear. What if it really got stolen!

For a long time he sat with the light turned on. Ding-Dong! The clock rang at two o’ clock. As if in a stupor, Niramay then removed the pile of Deepa’s letters from his box, one by one, and began to put the notes inside it.

There was a good turnout of people the next day. It was even better the day after that. Niramay was almost breathless in joy. There was a queue of people at his toilet. The boy was scarcely able to manage by himself. From six in the morning to twelve at night, money poured in. The box became full, then it turned into notes, one rupee, two rupee, five rupee, ten rupee and hundred rupee notes! Niramay’s chest was pounding. As if his heart was about to spring out right there. Every now and then, when well-dressed women entered, Niramay went in through the small door and climbed the stairs to go up. Pressing the binoculars to his eyes, he eagerly bent down over the hole.

Days went by. As Niramay kept track of the money, he lost all track of time. His entire room was full of money. He could now fling heaps of money on the floor of the room. It made a metallic sound and Niramay loved to hear that. He did not realize that he had never heard this sweet sound. Niramay could now pile up the money and make a house with it, a house with several storeys, he could buy a car, an expensive, air-conditioned car, he could pick and choose a woman from the market to keep in his harem, a wife – slender and beautiful. Niramay could even press his chest tight against the money and savour its cool feeling all night. Every now and then, Niramay’s heart would begin to thump. As if he was about to lose something! He climbed the stairs and went to the upper floor. Holding the binoculars to his eyes, he looked through the hole for long. In the beginning, his mind and body became excited as he gazed, now this didn’t happen anymore. It had become mere habit. Niramay thought something terrible was about to happen. It was as if all the attractions of the world were steadily becoming dull for him. He felt himself slumping inwardly. Why didn’t he like this? Why? For just a fleeting touch of Deepa’s body, and her love, how much he had schemed on some occasions. And when, every now and then, Deepa offered him a little bit, he used to be overwhelmed. But why did he feel like this now? He feared he was turning wooden inside. His body was benumbed. It was as if a one-eyed ogre of some perverted thirst was awakening inside him. He pressed heaps of money to his chest. No, this did not bring him peace. Niramay pushed away all the notes and coins with his feet. The money lay scattered on the floor of the room. In helpless rage against himself, he kept kicking out at all the money. He was losing everything he had. What would he gain with all this money? Standing up in the desolate room, Niramay beat his own chest, like an enraged gorilla. In a fit of indignant rage, he began tearing out the hair on his chest. Taking off all his clothes, he stared for long at his own naked body and heaved a heavy sigh. Perhaps he could be saved if he threw away everything, all of this, and thus became liberated.

After that came the frightful day. Niramay lay with his limbs splayed out over the huge amount of money in the room, and looked down through the binoculars. He was not doing so for any particular reason, it was merely habit. By now Niramay had realized that he had steadily lost the capacity of becoming excited. It pained Niramay to think so, which was why whenever such thoughts crossed his mind he pressed the heaps of money he had tightly to his chest. There were marks on his chest made by the money, but he didn’t feel any discomfort. Clutching the money with all his might, Niramay somehow sought to transform himself, because it was a terrifying thing to be exposed before oneself. He did not want to ever be exposed before himself.

That day, as he peeped, as a matter of habit, through the binoculars, he was suddenly startled. Deepa had come to his toilet, wearing the green sari and white blouse he knew so well. He leapt up, he began to perspire profusely. Astonishing, his Deepa, with her exposed slender thighs and shapely legs – the world began to tremble violently for him. Even after seeing Deepa in that condition he was unable to get excited. The world of his thoughts began to explode into smithereens, he saw only darkness in front of him. Here was Deepa – but her body too did not, could not, excite him. He saw Deepa leave. Astonishing! Deepa was going away, and in acute agony he began pulling out the hair on his head. All his faith had run out. All his beliefs had been extirpated. Throwing away the binoculars, he lay motionless. He should commit suicide! But suicide was a very frightening matter. Niramay lay on the piles and piles of money scattered on the motionless wooden floor. His head reeled, or perhaps it did not, he had wanted this, or perhaps he hadn’t wanted it, he had everything, and yet he had nothing. He just lay there. Time passed. The night advanced. Niramay did not get up, he did not think – he couldn’t get up, couldn’t think either. It was approaching midnight, the crowd in the toilet had gone, it had been closed for the night, the boy had closed up and gone home. Niramay looked, everything lay in darkness, he could only see the walls in the cruel, all-enveloping darkness. Niramay tried to stand up but then he thought it was pointless to stand up, and so he somersaulted down the stairs and descended. The toilet lay in silence. His heart thumping, he pushed aside the curtain and slowly went inside. The stench of urine was everywhere. He somersaulted in exactly the same fashion and made his way to where Deepa had pissed. The pungent stench of urine assailed his nostrils. Forcing himself to breathe, he looked at the spot carefully. Yes, this was where Deepa had squatted. He remained still for a little while, and then, kneeling and resting on his arms, Niramay pressed his face down on the specific spot. The world spun in the darkness, a salty taste filled his mouth. Something was happening inside his head because of the pungent, fierce stench, yet he forced himself to press his head down on the spot: serves you right, Niramay Sanyal, serves you right, this is where you belong.

Niramay’s head steadily grew numb because of the pungent stench of ammonia. His sense of reality was slipping away. He was finding it difficult to remain there, even by resting on his arms and knees. When his arms, legs and body were finally completely benumbed he slipped and fell in that slippery place. His whole body was drenched in urine. The urine flowed along the gutter and went through the grate into the drain below. When he unable to stop slipping away despite trying with all his might, Niramay thought, This was just as well, let’s see how far one can go floating in this sea of piss and flowing through the drain. There was no sadness in his mind, no weariness. He remembered a childhood memory. He had once climbed to the top of the Monument, holding his father’s hand. When he was coming down after that, descending one stair at a time, he had felt, This was really fun. Now too, as he was carried along by the stream of urine towards the drain, Niramay began to feel that same flavor of fun.

THE END

[1968]

This is a translation of the original story in Bengali, "Archimedes-er Abishkar O Tarpor" by Subimal Misra.

Translated by V. Ramaswamy

08 April, 2014

Love Story













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 …


Love

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.

Asha

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.

[1992]


This is a translation of the original Bengali story, "Premer Golpo", by Subimal Misra.

Translated by V. Ramaswamy. 

21 February, 2014

The Mosquito





















A long-standing desire, for a ceiling fan, in the bedroom. But every month, there's never any money left. Finally, I couldn't take it any more, I bought one a fortnight ago. In today's newspaper, the same fan company has advertised that a 15% discount is being offered on their fans. That means the fan bought for 360 rupees is now cheaper by more than 50 rupees. After seeing that, I felt terribly annoyed. I don't like the boring drone of literature. Instead let me now tell the story of a mosquito. This is the mosquito that at some time, unknown to me, sat on my left lung and punctured it, and finally took my all –

This mosquito now flies over Victoria Memorial. It's shadow falls on Victoria's head. The colour of the fairy changes, the shadow keeps spreading in the direction of the Maidan, leaving behind the vast human settlement in the south, it began to encircle the Maidan. The last of the day's sunlight was there now, sticking to the leaves on trees. Moloy Bhattacharjee lies with his head on Chandana Sen's lap. This is the Moloy Bhattacharjee who stuffs Number Ten cigarettes in a Wills Navy Cut packet, lighting it carefully in front of his lover, to show that it's Wills. And the whole evening, the rubbing of face and neck with a half-wet gamcha. To get a reddish tinge. On the cheeks.

And this is the Chandana Sen who, even at the age of thirty one, seeing the lack of effort from home towards getting her married, willingly or unwillingly fed honey to the Moloy Bhattacharjees, regularly, when darkness descended beneath the tree, but she wasn't able to hook anyone. Now the mosquito goes and sits on Moloy Bhattacharjee's cheek. It lowers the proboscis, sucks it up, yes, that's right, blood. Then it flies off after some time. Chandana Sen looks at Moloy Bhattacharjee lying with his head on her lap, here, but despite the proximity he was not quite there, from the corner of his eye, again and again, he was looking intently at a buxom young woman walking with her blue sari blowing in the wind – the mosquito now flies northwards, further north, it then goes and sits on the elbow of a middle-aged conjurer, who was performing for a thousand people beneath Shahid Minar. This was the conjurer wearing a black achkan over a jet-black silk lungi, who speaks in a fabricated language made up of an amalgam of Bangla and Hindi, he makes a skull speak and shows simple-minded folk the way to reach Ramrajya.

The mosquito sits on the conjurer 's elbow and keeps sucking blood, as the people stood encircling him, after a while, looking at the conjurer's face, they sense something, and then each one goes his own way, they keep leaving.

The mosquito flies off, and with it goes its shadow.

It comes and sits on Burrabazar's Jagmohan's fleshy thigh. Now he, Jagmohan, with two telephones in two hands, is engaged in discussion about the share market, this is the Jagmohan who can discern at a glance gold and silver buried under ash, who buys the government's goats from the government and sells it back to the same government with a 100 per cent margin. The mosquito merrily sucks Jagmohan's blood through the proboscis, when its belly is full it flies off – the mosquito flies along, taking the large shadow along. It comes and sits on Baghbazar's Jhantu Kayal's shoulder. Jhantu Kayal has then fallen asleep in the stifling heat, in the course of trying in vain to cool himself with a hand-fan, after a whole's day's back-breaking labour. This is the Jhantu Kayal who works 12 hours in a lathe-machine workshop in Bantra, at the end of the month he receives a salary of 347 rupees, returning at night with grease-blackened hands, tears of pieces  of roti and stuffs them into his mouth, labour-fatigued, his eyes shut, the eyelids.

The mosquito goes and sits on his elbow, but there's no blood to suck there. It sits on his back, which is hard and bony, with leathery skin, it can't prick and insert the proboscis. It sits on the forehead, there's no flesh there, it's unyielding, solid, bone, and forehead, Jhantu Kayal is fortunate. The mosquito then flies off. Again. Jet propellers on its wings. Sound. Speed. In the wings. Its body becomes heavy. The shadow keeps spreading. Of the jet propeller. The mosquito's shadow spreads across the entire Maidan, the martyr's pillar is in shadow, as is Gandhi on Park Street and the stone fairy atop Victoria Memorial. A gust of wind blows, clouds gather, the symbolic size of the sun  becomes small. No one can see, or sense, when, it goes and sits, with a quiet plop, on the barrel, of the pipe-gun, held, in the hands, of the 18-year old boy.

THE END


This is a translation of an extract from the original Bengali anti-novel, "Rong Jokhon Shotorkikoron Er Chhinnho" (When Colour is a Warning Sign) (1984), by Subimal Misra.

Translated by V. Ramaswamy. 

25 October, 2013

Babumoshai, enjoy the fun










Eight-feet and sixteen-knees went to catch fish with unease, casts on land a net so fine and catches fish come rain or shine. Tell me, Babumoshai? Couldn’t get it? It’s a spider. Come, Babumoshai, sit. Babumoshai, enjoy the fun. Standing or sitting, just have fun. Coming or going, just have fun. Eating or sleeping, just have fun. Babumoshai, enjoy the fun. Couldn’t get it, Babumoshai? It’s a spider, Babumoshai.


One hundred funs, two hundred funs, a thousand funs. A contest for how far one could throw a baby snatched from its mother’s bosom – what fun! At the competition to eat ten rupees worth of rossogollas, the clean-shaven, sparkling youth circled naked around Dalhousie Square at broad noon – what a fun incident, isn’t it? Just imagine there’s a 7-month old baby in a woman’s bosom. A peace-wallah came up to her. As he grabs the girl, the baby began to cry. The peace-wallah then gave a push and threw the baby on the ground. After falling down the baby began crying even more loudly. Seeing that peace was being disturbed, the peace-wallah then pressed the baby’s head under his boot. He squashed the head. The others exclaimed, bravo! Just imagine, what fun it is. For that matter, one can make fun with you too. For instance, I will ask you: which year is this, brother? You will wonder what this is about. It’s nothing, it’s only a piece of fun. Or I could tell you, in the next few days, whenever you get the opportunity, use your two hands like feet, that is to say, you now have 2 feet + 2 hands; now, if the value of a hand is equal to the value of a foot, then how many feet do 2 hands equal, and how many feet would you have altogether? Are you getting angry? Don’t be angry, this is fun, simply fun. Do you know, for the last few days, I feel that the rear, seat region of my trousers keeps rising and expanding, that hair is rapidly spreading all over my face, my jaw is getting flattened, and two long teeth keep growing out of the two ends of my mouth – I’m wondering whether this too is a piece of fun. What – so you’re not finding it funny? Are you getting bored? Don’t conclude that all fun is like this – merely vegetarian fare; that’s not so, Babumoshai –

Gulp vegetarian fun
There’s also the non-vegetarian bang
Come, tell me on which tree
Do two seed-filled fruits hang?

Ha ha, God! That was really funny, isn’t it? Yes, you will definitely have fun, it was for just such fun that you were waiting all this while. Listen then to another piece of A-grade fun. There’s floods in North Bengal. You’ve gone from Calcutta to undertake flood relief. You’ve taken along rice, daal, clothes and so on. You’ve parked the boat on the bank and are undertaking flood relief. As you’re distributing clothes, you suddenly spot in the distance, behind the clump of shit-babla, a full-grown piece of fun, standing. A girl, concealed by the clump, she’s not in a condition to come to you and take a sari from you. And it’s not possible for her to come out in the open with whatever she’s wearing. All of you saw it, heard it, understood everything; winked at each other. Because the girl is …  Ha ha, God! … Want some more fun? You’re a daily passenger – observe the stations carefully – you’ll have loads of fun. In every station there’ll be middle-aged people, who are bent double, there’ll be two or four unclad, harried mothers with a child on the bosom, there’ll be a whole bunch of naked, hungry children. And right next to them, a meticulously dressed, smart-looking babu – whistling to himself and waiting for the train; a job in Calcutta. There’s fun in statistics too. If Ram earns 1 million rupees a month and Shyam earns 51.50 rupees a month, then calculate the average annual income of Ram and Shyam together. Do it, you’ll have fun. Keep your ears pricked when you travel by bus or tram. There’s fun there too. “Hey mister, why do you forget that the son of a petty clerk is destined to become a petty clerk even if he is an engineering graduate – and the director’s son will become a director even if he fails high school – it’s a peculiar country, mister – such fun the dialogue is, isn’t it? There’s fun like this everywhere. The silver jubilee of India’s independence. The Prime Minister’s speech on the transistor. The haat in Kakdwip. As you’re listening to the speech, you see an old hag who’s come to sell, as her final resort, her two pet ducks. She says she’ll give away the two ducks in exchange for two kilos of wheat-flour. Nobody buys it. Accompanying the silver jubilee of independence is this 2 kilos of flour in exchange for two pet ducks – isn’t it fun? Fun like this is found everywhere. In marketplace, village, town, shop or street. The red flag procession is held up when it confronts His Holiness Sri Sri Bhabataran Baba’s procession. The grandeur of the wedding of Burrabazar’s Hukumchand Nagarmal’s grandson – a car decorated like a swan with flowers – men bearing an array of ornamental lanterns on their heads, bare-bodied, black backs, weary eyes – this causes a traffic jam, half a mile long – trams and buses are all held up. Isn’t it fun? Babumoshai, enjoy the fun – go to Seadah station late at night. You’ll find fun there too. You won’t be able to walk. You’ll tread on people at every step. People come from the village. From nameless towns. Hundreds of them. Thousands. Countless. Even so many years after independence, queues of hapless people come to the station and become beggars. Rows and rows of faces of wives, children and malnourished babies. In the station precincts, in the waiting room, on the pavement – everywhere the same faces. Wives, children, babies. In the middle of the night. In the stilled station. Every now and then, a loud, sharp whistle. The sound of railway shunting. And in the middle of that, a procession of weary, starving faces. There’s fun there too. Just be a bit observant. You’ll see 2-3 policemen waking up all those weary sleeping bodies and taking collections. Do you know what the collection is for. It’s tax. The police have to be paid a tax of 10 paise per head to remain in Sealdah station. There’s fun incidents like this all around. Mohammad Abdul from Baisata, Haran Mandal from Debisabad, Kishore Maity from Baurmal, Banamala from Satguchi, all of them give pay the collection of 10 paise to the police and occupy the station premises. 25 years after independence, look at Sealdah station alone, you’ll find such incidents occur day after day. The area around the station is flooded with starving beggars. The police can’t keep them away. They clear one place and new beggars and from another place fill up the vacant space. The whole station fills up in half an hour. It’s a fun thing isn’t it? There’s fun like this all around. There’s fun to be had in hotel, shop, restaurant … in the Maidan. There’s fun in newspapers. On its left side is printed a picture of a beggar who was found dead on the railway platform. And an advertisement is placed on the right side, a bra-clad, semi-naked, female body. On one side it’s written: Starving Calcutta – 3 persons died of starvation in Sealdah; on the other side: Feminica – guaranteed to bring perfect feminine beauty to your flat chest within 3 months. People see it. They have fun. Fun happens. Fun happens throughout the newspaper. Fun happens all over the station. Fun happens throughout the nation.

Oh my! Blooming flowers in beds so round
Flowers the colour of cowrie
Wild spinach fritters hurry

Fun – fun - fun. One hundred funs, two hundred funs, a thousand funs. Babumoshai, enjoy the fun! Oh my! Blooming flowers …

THE END

[1973]

This is a translation of the original Bengali story, “Babumoshai moja koroon”, by Subimal Misra. Translated by V. Ramaswamy.

19 October, 2013

Dance, Miss Snub-nose
















At the back of the human body, there’s a particular region where no hand can reach. Neither the right nor the left, no hand can in any way reach all those spots.

1.

On Saturday, for much of the night, there was a different kind of rain in the Kalipur locality of Madaritala. The colour of the rain was green. Seeing the green rain, terror spread everywhere. Thick, slimy, sticky drops began raining down around midnight. Close to dawn, it rained again. The same green rain. There was an ancient Kali temple in the locality. The temple compound was covered with dense clumps and bushes, and no puja was ever performed there. An eyewitness said, the rain began inside the compound of the Kali temple. It then spread across the nearby areas.  When phone calls were made to the police station to ask for more information, they were told: We too have received reports about green rain. A section of people have started getting out-of-hand because of this. We have received reports about that too. But if the public becomes agitated, tell me, what can we do? After all, we can’t fire upon the unarmed masses. That would be against the Constitution.

After this, when asked about the green rain, the Alipore meteorological office responded that they did not know of any such reports. Nothing could be said until tests had been conducted. However, if a mixture of copper and chromium was present in the air, the colour of the rainwater could be green. In their view, if this incident had really occurred, then an in-depth investigation was definitely called for. Going to Kalipur, one saw all the houses turned green. The impact of green colour splashes. As if green colour had been sprayed there. The marks were so sticky that they couldn’t be washed away with water. A science teacher in the local school said: the more water is applied, the greener it becomes. Look to the west, the colour of ogres and evil spirits is also green. All the ogres in those countries are green. This calls for in-depth investigation. And if it wasn’t something supernatural, then why would the rain centre around the Kali temple? We believe in science, but there are many things which science cannot explain.

2.
Bratindranath was seated on a chair, leaning back a bit, his two hands behind his head, the two palms reversed, his head resting on them. His elder son hesitatingly called him: Baba! At once Bratindranath looked at his son. Ajoy said: everyone wants … I mean, today, all of us … Bratindranath remained in the same posture, he said: tell me clearly. I mean we want to have a party, that’s all. That’s great, but one doesn’t get good bhang nowadays … At one time, in front of Tiwari’s ship in Burrabazar … No, I mean everyone thought … I mean everyone wants to drink beer … Beer! Bratindranath seemed to be taken aback a bit. So who all are going to be there? Everyone, three sons, three daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. Grandchildren will drink beer … they’re thirteen-fourteen years old … the words burst out of his mouth! So what of that … all of them study in English-medium schools. They move around with boys and girls from good families. And in the west, no one thinks of beer as alcohol. They drink it instead of water. Notwithstanding his age, Bratindranath had his wits about him. He understood all there was to understand. So there are about fourteen of you. Where will you get so much beer now! No, no … we won’t need more than fifty bottles. I can arrange for that in a jiffy … you don’t know anything. A lot of middle-class families stock alcohol nowadays. Phone them and they send it across. They charge a higher price, but at least one can get it at any time. And as it’s Holi, why only whiskey and beer, you can get any kind of booze you want. It is Holi today, so all of us, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters want to get together and forget about everything and simply have fun. If anyone passes out, so be it, but we’ll all be at home after all. You have done so much for us, and borne so much hardship to raise us well, we won’t do anything without your knowledge, Baba, we’ll drink only after letting you know and getting your blessings. We want to have a day of fun – and relax, that’s all – so please don’t say no. You don’t have to take the trouble of coming upstairs. Bhojua will bring you the milk and bread at the appropriate time. You can eat right here and then go to bed. You could listen to the radio. There should be nice kirtans as it’s Holi.

3.
A resident in the women’s hostel on Dilkhusha Street fell ill, and centering around this, there was a public disturbance and a lot of tension. The residents complained that the matron of the hostel had locked the hostel from outside and left. She did so everyday. When the girl suddenly fell ill, it was not possible to call a doctor for her. Her condition progressively deteriorated. One person was thoughtful enough to phone the police station. But there was no clear response from the police station. The bold girl then scaled the rear wall of the hostel and went out, broke the lock on the front door and sent sick Ameena to a nursing home. When the lock was being broken, the old wall of the hostel, on the Dilkhusha Street side, began to collapse. Wooden supports had been placed there. The girl was the only one who voiced protest: they were locked in like this in the evening everyday. If any male family member came for some important purpose, he was not permitted to meet the resident. They were told to come in the morning, during visiting hours. All the other girls stood by silently, they did not utter a word. The matron, Gulshan Ara, announced that it was for the girls’ safety that they were locked in. When the student by the name of Ameena Khatoon fell ill, she had left to call the doctor, and meanwhile the watchman had gone home to eat. Hence they were not at fault at all in this regard. Gulshan Ara stated that Ameena’s illness was nothing too serious. She had not done anything wrong by locking the girls in. It was better that the girls did not go out after dusk. Otherwise their character would be spoilt.

4.
On the pretext of getting her a job, an uncle of the young woman sold her in Sonagachi two years ago. Before that they had stayed as husband and wife for a few days in a hotel in Sealdah. She was not permitted to leave her room in Sonagachi. Even if she so much as stepped out to the verandah, the madam thrashed her. She had to sleep with customers from noon till four or five the next morning. On some days the number of customers exceeded twenty. And no one could be turned away. One day, at dawn, the girl somehow managed to escape and hid in the verandah of a local youth association. Come morning, after people heard about everything, she was handed over to the Burtola police station. Later, the police presented her at the court. The court sent her to the government home for women in Liluah and issued instructions for her family’s whereabouts to be ascertained. Even after a lot of search and enquiries, the police were unable to find any trace of her family members in the address provided by the girl. Later, seeing the incessant wailing of the girl, they went a second time, and searched out and found her parents. At first, they did not want to be identified as the girl’s parents. Later, the police identified them with the help of neighbours. Both of them, the father and the mother, said in a single voice: we can’t take the girl back. Her chastity has been destroyed.

5.
Twelve policemen, including the officer-in-charge of the police station, were beaten up by the local people when the police went to demolish an illicit liquor den. The incident occurred on Saturday night, at Dihi Bhurshoot. A sub-inspector who was seriously injured when the villagers attacked the police, was taken to the S.S.K.M. Hospital in Calcutta. Because of the tension in the area, police patrols were deployed. In Dihi Bhurshoot, which is near the border of Howrah and Hooghly districts, the illicit alcohol trade flourishes. An illicit alcohol market runs openly during the day. Vendors come from far-flung areas to buy the booze. On the day in question, around evening, 22 plainclothes policemen, led by the officer in charge, carried out an operation to destroy the illicit alcohol den.

They left their police jeeps at the bus stand and entered the village. When they were taking an illicit alcohol seller with his jerry-can to the police station, some villagers attacked them. They got together and fell upon the policemen and began raining slaps, punches and blows on them. They screamed obscenities at the officer-in-charge and beat him too. In the process, they managed to seize a sub-inspector. At first he was dragged and taken into a shop, and then his hands and feet were tied and he was given a sound thrashing. After some time, a huge police contingent arrived, surrounded the village and began combing operations. They picked up and took away many young and middle-aged men. The villagers were now seething with rage. Their complaint was that the police repeatedly let off the real culprits and oppressed ordinary people. The culprits were informed about the police operation in advance, and they escaped. The police arrived and began arresting innocent youths. None of those who were taken into custody that day were present at the spot, they had got off the bus after returning from their jobs in Calcutta, and were walking home. They were arrested midway.

6.
‘Marilyn Forever!’ ‘Immortal Marilyn!’ ‘Remember Marilyn!’ ‘Dying to kiss Marilyn all over!’ ‘Love you Marilyn’ – all these were the names of various fan clubs. All were devotees of Hollywood’s entrancing blonde-haired star, Marilyn Monroe. Even though it was 40 years since the mysterious death of the beloved star, all of them gathered at a particular place to commemorate 5th August. Specially-made life-size mannequins were also sold in these places, for some secret purpose. Not ordinary mannequins, mind you. The breasts were formed artfully, the butt as well, there was a hole in the vaginal region, and the pubic hair was also put in place skillfully. Nowadays nothing was secret anymore, they replied, without the slightest qualm, we badly need the mannequin in bed. Especially married men unhappy with their sex lives. This year too, a few thousand devotees arrived at Marilyn’s crypt. They had come from many faraway countries. Their contention: they wanted 5th August, the day Marilyn passed away, to be declared as ‘Love-making’ day. They appealed to all the heads of-state in the world to accept the demand. Otherwise they would launch a large-scale movement. And women supported this.

7.
The next Saturday too, there was green rain in Kalipur, at noon and at night. Experts from the Pollution Control Board went there to investigate the cause of the green rain. Green rain fell in front of their very eyes. They collected samples, but could not provide any clear scientific explanation. The colour of the rain that night was dark green. The preliminary response of the experts was: such incidents are rare. We have pored through the scientific literature. But we could not find any information. Soon after word of the green rain spread, queues of people formed in Kalipur. They dug out and carried away soil with the green splashes. They took away roof tiles from houses. Swarms of people in all directions. Queues of people – spotting an opportunity, some people mixed green colour in water and merrily sold it off as green rain. People paid fat sums of money and bought it. Ordinary people, for sure, but officials from the government also arrived for inspection. Many bought the leaves of trees which bore the stamp of green rain. For them, this was a divine substance in this Kali Yuga. Science could not explain it. Puja commenced in the ruins of the Kali temple. A minister who with his wife by car, stood afar and out of sight from everyone, paid obeisance to Mother Kali by knocking his knuckles on his forehead, and also got his driver to buy a glass bottle filled with green rain. Meanwhile, the experts investigating the phenomenon suspected that this may have been caused by some fuel substance used in the brick kilns. They went to some of the brick kilns nearby. But when they went there, they found that the wind blew in the opposite direction there. The experts were of the view that some such fuel was being burnt in the vicinity, which caused this kind of rain. Finally, they split into two or three groups and they went on providing their own explanations.

8.
From our own correspondent, Kanthi – Villagers beat up a school teacher for allegedly sexually abusing a female student, they thrashed him and smashed his testicles. The incident occurred at the Betua High School in Betua village on Saturday. A female student of Class 6 complained that on finding her alone in the school premises, the teacher sexually abused her, and destroyed her virginity. The school had half-day on Saturday and so had given over, there was nobody there. The girl went crying and informed the boys in a local youth association. The boys from the association and the villagers created a commotion and got together, entered the school, caught the teacher and blindly rained punches, slaps and blows on him. The girl’s father picked up a whole brick and smashed the teacher’s testes with it. He was admitted in the nearest hospital in a severely injured condition. When he regained consciousness after about a week, he spoke in detail about the incident.

He tutored the girl, Gitali, in English. Because she had failed in and repeated every class, he did not want to teach her anymore. On account of the girl, the other boys and girls in the tutorial home were also going astray. I asked her to stop coming. The same night, her father came and right away proposed that I marry Gitali. He said: she has loved you for a long time, but she wasn’t able to say it. When he immediately turned down the proposal to marry the student, her father was enraged: you made a mistake, teacher. Within a month, this incident occurred.

9.
Every day, at least two or three hundred drug addicts rushed to Dakshindari. Just as there were school and college students among them, there were also people who were well established in society. Some people came by car, parked the car at a distance, and then walked. This was a marketplace for smack. Daily labourers, workers, rickshaw-wallahs, rag-pickers, and even mendicants, everyone was equal here.         25 rupees for a pinch. Good stuff for a good price. People came from Diamond Harbour, Burdwan and Hooghly – for that matter, people came here evn from as far away as Assam, to buy smack. Both retain and wholesale markets operated together. Going to Dakshindari on Monday, I saw pinch-quantities of smack being sold openly, albeit somewhat out of sight. All this happens with the knowledge of the police, they regularly receive the collections. Not exactly like a market, but people came, bought and left. A crowd under an abandoned tin-roofed shed, behind a lathe machine factory. Some were sitting there and smoking the stuff. There were window-dressing raids from time to time, the stuff was removed in time. Yet, unless two or four persons were taken into custody and charged, the police couldn’t uphold their dignity. Two or three small fry, who ran away when they saw the police jeep, were caught, in possession. Bapi from Metiabruz, Mohammad Ismael and Shankar from Rajabazar, and Bhola from Dum Dum. A 16-17 year old, jeans-clad girl from a decent home was also caught at the same time. The girl pleaded fervently: please release me, my father is a minister’s PA. Why do you have all this? I can’t live without having it. Many boys and girls from my college have it, boys and girls from decent homes, like me. Hearing she was the daughter of a minister’s PA, she was scolded a bit and then released. Her boyfriend was standing not so far away. Bapi makes tea crates, age 24. Ismael said that for the last two years he was compelled to rush here, pulled by the drug. He had to get 3 pinches everyday. Bhola sold sattu. He was Ismael’s friend. And 11-year old Khasti was a rag-picker. Sometimes he begged for a living. Whenever he got any opportunity, he also stole whatever he could. He broke down in tears: I have to steal to get money for smack. I’m not a thief, Sir. When I feel the need – I just don’t know what I do … I lose my senses. I steal anything I find.

10.
The name of the arrested youth was Shankhu Mukherjee (34). Shankhu babu lived near a cinema hall in New Alipore. The youth belonged to an educated family, and he too had been a good student. He had graduated from I.I.T. Kharagpur with a first class first. After he was arrested from his home on Monday night, he was taken to court on Wednesday and released on bail. For quite some time, the officer-in-charge of the New Alipore police station had been receiving a strange kind of complaint. Women walking in front of the cinema hall or on the pavement on the opposite side, had suddenly experienced a stinging sensation, either on the back, or on the exposed waist, or even near their breasts. They looked to find the spot bleeding. Going to a doctor, it was found that an air gun pellet was lodged there. After repeatedly receiving such complaints, the police got down to investigating the matter. But they were simply unable to find the source of the air gun pellets. On the basis of information from an anonymous source, on Tuesday evening, the police raided Shankhu Mukherjee’s house. It was a close friend of his who had telephoned the police station and disclosed everything. An air gun, together with forty or forty five pellets were found in his possession. He said he had never intentionally aimed and fired at any woman. His hands did such things against his will, and continued to do so. His hands never aimed at any male, but as soon as he saw any exposed part of a female body, his hands became fidgety. He became restless. The hands fired upon the exposed backs, waists, and also on the visible, half-exposed region of the breasts. He had no control over his hands. He also admitted that in his childhood, after he had been gifted an air gun during his thread ceremony, he had become attached to the gun.

11.
Question: I am 40 years old. About a year ago, I fell in love with a young woman. I am a band musician. She used to sing in the same band. But people in my family did not like the girl at all. They were of the view that this could never be a happy marriage. That a meeting of minds between the girl and me was extremely unlikely. Anyway, we got married. Very soon, I realized that, in truth, in many parts of my life, I could not be one with Subarna. First of all, she had innumerable former lovers. She flirted with other men night and day. On some days I returned from work to find her with a male friend, behind closed doors. . Neither did she have any remorse about all this. She did everything with my full knowledge. For many days, I tried to bring her around. But I’m unable to. I don’t have as many lovers or friends. On the other hand, it’s not as if she doesn’t love me. Even after all this, she makes love to me all night. I just don’t know what I should do. Answer: After marriage, girls usually become somewhat restless. Win her over a little bit. Perhaps there’s a flaw somewhere within your personality. Because of which it’s difficult to sustain the attraction. Do something, sleep with the first girl you find. Do it right in front of your wife. When you have sex with her, make such amorous sounds that your wife can guess that you are in a state of supreme bliss with the girl, that you are enjoying the whole thing tremendously. Sleep with the girl everyday and make her pregnant. After that, call the girl over and pay her a lump-sum as compensation, take her yourself and get an abortion done. You can get such girls nowadays, who’re willing to do anything in exchange for money, who’re willing to get anything done. They have made this akin to a profession. But do everything with the full knowledge of your wife, do it without the slightest qualm. One has to learn how to keep one’s wife in control. It’s possible to get nuts-and-bolts training for that. Practical training is imparted on how to give supreme satisfaction to your partner, and on what you should do to achieve that. The advertisements for these things are published openly, perhaps with some beating around the bush, with some suggestive phrasing. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open, and stay that way.

12.
The images are lifted from the altar, carried on the bosom and then arranged on the wooden boards. One group pushes from the rear, and another group pulls and hauls up from the front. Most of the time, one found that Balaram and Subhadra were hauled up to the chariot without any difficulty, but all the hassle was with Lord Jagannath. Moving him was not at all easy. Everyone was worried stiff lest he stood up athwart. At first vedic mantras are recited with calm pronunciation. If that did not work, recitation is begun in worldly language. The assembled pandas chant the mantras with gusto. Even if that doesn’t work, the session of enticing the Lord with sweetmeats is begun. Rows and rows of huge lumps of the choicest sweetmeats are brought and arranged in front of Jagannath, so that he is lured by the khaja, goja, nadu and other assorted sweetmeats to move, and be standing straight. If that does not work either, the limits of patience are crossed. Some people, some senior pandas, let loose a stream of vulgar ditties, one has to shut one’s ears if one heard that. All that foul language does not reach the ears of the masses in the distance. If even that doesn’t work, then a senior panda, while singing out the vulgar ditties, strikes a few blows with the stick in his hand. The stick rains down, there’s a flow of invectives and vulgar ditties, and Jagannath finally begins to move and rise. The masses in the distance can’t really guess anything, they pull the ropes as if their lives depended on it. God has begun to move. The excited masses scream out: Jai Jagannatha Ki Jai! The devotees now have the ropes of the chariot in their hands. At an unseen signal, the ropes begin to be pulled. With a roaring sound, the chariot advances along the principal thoroughfare, carrying the armless, maimed Jagannath, the People’s God.

13.
After lots of inspections and tests, scientists realized that the green rain was actually shot – bee’s shit. The minister made a speech about this and forbade the people from being directed by superstitions. He said the experts had examined and tested the green rain and not found any trace of harmful chemicals in it. Only pollen from parthenium, coconuts, mangoes and ordinary flowers and grasses had been found in the green rain. There need be no apprehension about any serious damage from all that. And of course, there was no apprehension whatsoever of end of days. People were getting scared for no reason. As soon as they saw reports about green rain in the newspapers, the minister instructed experts to conduct an on-the-spot investigation and submit a report. The experts had got into a car and rushed to Kalipur. They were there when the green rain fell. The car’s windscreen was plastered with the green rain. They busied themselves collecting samples. After conducting tests, the four kinds of pollen were found in the green rain. And it was only bees that consumed such large quantities of pollen. The green rain was only the shit of airborne bees.

14.
A cut-out of clouds in the sky. On the math teacher’s blackboard, water just keeps leaking from the secret hole in the reservoir, simply keeps leaking, it fills up only a little bit.

THE END

[2002]

This is a translation of the original Bengali story “Nachbi Khendi” by Subimal Misra. Translated by V. Ramaswamy. The translator gratefully acknowledges the Ledig House writers’ residency for enabling this translation.