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