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TALES FROM BENGAL

Book Blurb:

The compilation comprising nine short stories, all set in Bengal, looks to appeal to the magnanimous aspects of modern minds engrossed in the tussle for a living. The collection is meant to make readers think at least for once about those villagers who still have to wait for an elevation in their wretched living. In addition, set in the backdrop of India still unaware of urbanism and innocent of technological advancement, the stories are sure to reconjure the ideals prevalent in the rural society in the last few decades of the twentieth century.

Further, amidst the flurry of literary works based on urbanism, these stories will stand out to rekindle one’s deep thoughts on the pains and pangs of the India that still remains unexplored from the socio-economic perspective.


Sample Chapters:

It could end in only one way now. Mohan could clearly sniff the air of baneful
eventuality even before experiencing it.
The world had come to a shattering halt; nothing could soothe him anymore.
Everything about him being impoverished of lively traces appeared blurred to his dull eyes.
Friends, acquaintances, relatives and all seemed mere perfunctory elements in life
while he, having lost the zeal for mortal bonding, could no longer rationalise the purpose
behind his existence. Vitality seemed hollow and reason ever so fatuous in the face of the
depthless chasm of futility as ubiquitous vacuity had ruined any possible hope for
enlightenment.
Even the archaic sky and its gauzy canopy of stars could not hold him back, nor could
they provide him with the solace he had been hankering after for the last three days. With
murmurs resonating his anxiety and splashes resembling the countless lashing of his
conscience, the river underneath no more seemed the ever-existent stream of easeful charm.
Only, its allure sounded very much the same as it had been all along. Perhaps, it was the only
way towards exemption now left open. The incineration within could be extinguished if and
only if he could liquidate himself a thousand times and get dissolved in the vast unknown.
What did he not do to evade the tides of humiliation?
He tried intoxication by developing dipsomania, went into the blind murky alleys of
opium and poppies, emptied the cellars of liquor, and yet failing tried strangulation of himself
by consuming a substance bought from some haunt of the smugglers, but it all was futile.
He wanted to run away from everyone else in the world. All he wanted was respite.
But he could never get around the lewd words of insult of the harlot he visited for
pleasure-seeking. It was such a hammering upon his masculine conscience that he went the
wanton way once again the next day only to prove her wrong and to show that he was the one
that deserved her complete subordination. But, how on earth could he, a novice– a mere
fiddler, please one lascivious whose craving for more would never run out of steam?
The voluptuous words of revilement of the nympho still reverberated within his whole
being–
“A re, ja ja! An impotent unyielding satyr... A sterile bugger, shaalaa! Why ruin my time?”,
and
“Even a neuter would have proved far better a partner!”, and then
“Don’t dare come back... And yes, take one suggestion... Don’t spoil a virgin. Shaalaa..!”
So shaken was he that he could not but began to believe that somehow he despite
being a man of muscular vigour, was unable to sow the seed that would bear him his
successors! He was thus made to believe he was barren, a slough unworthy of the affections
of a wife and unable to hand the family traditions down for posterity. As if he knew, his
virility was all hollow; he did not deserve the graceful submission of a woman.
Yet, going against the tattered will he tried to defy his acquired knowledge and let the
instinct flow through his manly veins while embracing the lady whose forehead he had
coloured with vermilion five nights back. He was not sure whether or not it was she who
mattered the most to him that night, nor did he find anything unfitting about his approach.
Even so, her blushful grace kept her eyes lowered all the time. Actually, a shattered soul and
an excited heart are sometimes synonymous and are therefore equally blind to the deceit
meant to undo them.
Of course, so haggard a being determined on finality was bound to get further abetted
on fatality by any such analogical reference to synonymy.
Now sitting on the river Mohan had his mind resolved on the manipulation of his
destiny.
*****
Tears had long ceased rolling.
When even keeping vain hopes alive for months after months in search of Mohan
proved unavailing, Sujan, the elder brother, decided to bring an end to the chapter of
languishment and resign to the inevitable. Only, the incredulous mind was stubborn, seeking
the answers to some basic questions. It still kept measuring and weighing every plausible
angle of reality. Those days, his lamenting monologues might have run thus:
“Why on earth did he have to do this to himself? Didn’t he think what would happen to us
after him?” or,
“How could he forget that he was now a married man? What would befall the newly-wed
bride?”
It was altogether a torment for Sujan. If the home was restless, the world did not seem
much different either. Every now and then the memory-bound snapshots of Mohan would re
emerge before his eyes. If one presented the exuberant youth while relishing the moments at
work with his brother and one framed him when drawing fish out of the deepest depth of the
ever-swallowing volume, another adorned his defiance against the swelling waves of the
river, and the other one highlighted his spirit in catching the hold of an almost submerged
canoe.
Besides reliving the glorious moments, the wrecked heart also rued the days of
decadence when his brother, a boisterous braveheart, got mired in the company of some
outlawed country folks and sunk into intemperance. Tempted by those frivolous aesthetes, he
failed to resist the allure of visiting the courtesan’s kutthi and got addicted to sensuality only
to summon a wretched end to everything.
Sujan did his best to take Mohan through to convalescence. But, it wasn’t all that
easy. The more he tried, the more his dear brother got drawn into the world of paranoia. He
felt lost in the mist of this riddle. Then someone suggested why not getting Mohan married
and let him have a family of his own. It sounded quite convenient a proposal. Perhaps, that
could pull him out of the abyss of ruin.
But as of now, the thing that haunted Sujan was what he should do now to the woman
whom he had chosen to be his brother’s bride. Only he knew what hell he had brought upon
her. Where should she go now? Who should she look up to? Should she get married once
again? But who would come up to accept her? Did she know how cruel and critical the
village people were in the context of providing liberty to a widow, or was she a widow at all?
Sujan could not meet eyes with those of that still innocent countenance.
How ruthless one’s fate could be?
Seeing her suffer Sujan gathered enough courage to talk to her when one day she was
alone in the veranda. He said, “Bouma, I know what sin I have done to you. However I ask
for forgiveness, I am already destined to burn in hell. That too will not suffice. I will have to
die a thousand deaths to get vindicated. Bouma... only you can help me to get off the road to
perdition.”
“No, no Dada. Why are saying this?” out came an almost imperceptible reply from the
wrecked throat.
“No Bouma, whatever you say to console me, I am solely responsible for what you are going
through now. Why did I try to get Mohan married? Why did I send the proposal to your
father? What will I say to him now?”
“Dada, why are you holding yourself responsible for all this? After all, one has to bear with
one’s fate. It was predestined to happen to me.”
Then Sujan said, “Bouma, shall I send for one of your family members so that you can go and
spend some time with them? You can stay there as long as you wish. I will manage
somehow.” Then as if talking to himself, he replied, “Yes, yes. That will be the best possible
thing I can do for you right now.” And then waiting for no further reply from the opposite
flank, he turned round and started to move away from her while saying, “Ok ok Bouma. I will
send for someone...”
He had hardly finished, when the reply came “No Dada, I am not going anywhere.”
It was waning yet suggesting firmness, and forced him to continue further with the
conversation.
Then he heard, “You know Dada, we, the women are destined to get married once and die
once. And if you ask me whether I believe if he is dead, I tell you, his torn clothes cannot
deter me from waiting for him. I know what kind of a man he wa...is.” She reaffirmed, “I am
not going anywhere till he comes back. I will wait for him.”
Sujan could say no more. It all was settled there. Now, both of them would have to
wait for an absolution which they did not know would come at all.
*****
Meanwhile, ten years slipped away since the wait for salvation had begun.
Nobody minded the passing of time except one languid in a faraway town. He would
probably wonder sometimes if everything might have changed somewhere in the other part of
the world. He would also regret having been a despicable resource to all, to one who saw him
grow into manhood and gain resilience against the fury of the invincible, and to another who
expected a lot from him.
Had he been given another chance, had he been able to reverse the mono-dimensional
march of time and force it to renounce obstinacy, he would have run back to his disintegrated
past to expiate for his ignominious resignation and reinstate equanimity.
But that wasn’t to be! He had to sustain this ever gnawing smoulder all along for the
rest of his life.
As the thirsty heaven soaks every single drop out of a lively spring and rubs all forms
of life away, leaving it only to ask for a patch of cloud, the man too was left to die every
moment until quietude took pity on him.
He could do nothing with proficiency any longer, not the way he once used to while
sailing away into the remote possible corners of the sea to draw fish.
Ah, how accrediting it used to be to propitiate the cuisines of affluent connoisseurs!
But now, it was only about servitude without expectation and appeasement. For the
last ten years, while the Bangla industry had been boastfully claiming substantial growth in
annual gain even when one after another lockouts in the jute mills in Hoogly and Holdia were
leaving thousands unemployed, smug lawmakers conceiving forceful or spontaneous land
acquisition, social-activists turning vociferous about the underprivileged grievances resulting
from extortion inflicted by arbitrary bureaucracy that might someday spur a revolutionary
shift in legislative occupancy of the Writers’ Building, he merely kept carrying out the orders
of pompous employers who, one after another, came and went caring least about him.
He still could have managed, but for a mystifying pain which he felt while at work. It
kept growing gradually and made him restless with every passing day. Even the medicines
yielded to it. He could not sleep, or rest. Day by day, he got dragged deep into the whirl of
uncertainty and therefore, decided to quit the routine imposition in search of solace.
He travelled far, seeking redemption, dipping into the sacred water of Dokshineshwor
and revering almost all the gods he knew. He visited mosques and prayed before the man
who once came down to resurrect humanity. But the restlessness within could not be disposed
of. He listened to countless mythological and theological speeches. From medicinal
prescriptions to paranormal suggestions, all lacked efficacy. The more he craved for
alleviation, the more the disease kept wearing him down until one day, a good man urged
him, “Son, have you ever considered whether there really is any form of pain at all, or is it
merely a feeling given forth by some malice long suppressed within, requiring immediate
purgation?”
“But, but... this pain! It never lets me off the hook.”
“Son, pain gives us the strength to tolerate and the ability of resilience. Learn to accept it, and
it will enrich you. Go home and try to figure out what is ailing you.”
Rest of the day he spent seeking actually what he was suffering from.
Even the long exhaustive probe into a reasonable explanation as to the nature of the
pertinacious excruciation following the man’s suggestion failed him miserably. Actually, the
dizzy mind, after having untenably fumbled for the same improbable answer for long, was
left only to crave for efficiency in self-scrutiny.
Once again, he was left clueless as redemption still seemed a farfetched entity to him.
It could have been an endless wait for solace, but for one evening when he was
resting before an asylum for the ascetic mendicants. Absorbed in his own turmoil, he
suddenly heard a groaning call for help coming out from the dormitory. All rushed towards it,
and he too went there to lend help.
It was an old man’s cry of desperation. The shrivelled figure was vomiting blood and
making harrowing gestures as if praying for the immediate evacuation of something
devouring him from inside. No doubt, the man was in great pain. He too, for a moment, was
shaken by the pathetic sight of the ceaseless flow of the crimson stream. But while most
others got frenzied attending the veteran, he fixed his gaze upon the two half-slit blood
stained eyes. The piteous vision was probably craving for one last look of something
renounced and disavowed long back at some point in its past.
Oh, how foolish he had been!
Obnubilation having dispersed, things suddenly were clear to him. Now he realised,
actually what he had been sustaining all along. The torturous moment of one gaunt mortal
discovered the path to his remission. It proclaimed clearly the way to exoneration and the
only cure to this long maligning ailment.
So, as it had to happen, next morning he found himself on the way back to where he
had to relinquish everything crestfallen.
*****
As it always does, the journey back to inception proved a bit longer than he had
thought. Yet, he kept going until life seemed intimate.
Finally, one day the tired and yet still persistent feet got rejuvenated with the familiar
touch of the ground underneath and his eyes were replenished as all appeared recognisable.
The reinvigorated mind tried to reconjure the ease of being at home.
But, all the cheer quietened, and excitement subsided, the moment anticipation got
stung with the thorns of complete disconcertion and disinclination.
Even, the serene silence all around seemed tormenting as it– he assumed– was
impeding his transition from the gruelling inferno that he had summoned due to a cursed turn
of events and was thereby diluting all his efforts towards resurgence. Yet, it was his
unflagging faith that only this could bring him salvation.
After stumbling and tottering along the winding village path, he found himself
standing within a few yards from the enclosure he had once escaped. Every bit of it reminded
him of how dear his earthen room with its mud-coated fences was to him, how cosy it had felt
to lie on the smudged mattress of his bed and how he lay indolent on it till the late hours of
the day. He also tried to draw out the changes that might have befallen the household since
his clandestine departure.
This very grey hour might have once betrayed his discretion and self-assurance by
deluding his already benumbed senses, but now the vision resurrected to reality could
perceive clear the cowshed having lost its fences, the kitchen had been drawn northward and
an additional projection for the further increase in the number of rooms. Of course, the eyes
inadvertently got moistened along the edges. He realised life had moved on; it did not wait
for the one left behind somewhere.
How close, yet how far!
He couldn’t restrain the tears any longer. He would have broken down had it not been
for the invincible masculine doctrine society had thrust upon him. While having such a
gruelling tussle within, still standing there he happened to overhear a part of an affectionate
conversation coming out of the house starting with an innocent voice calling out:
“Boro Baba, when will we go to the fair?”
“Just now... Go,” replied a familiar male voice, “Get ready and tell your mother to get ready
as well.”
“Bouma...Get rid of the cow dung from your hands and have a wash. We are getting late,” the
same man called out.
“I am almost done, Dada,” out came a female response.
And then, he saw a woman in her late twenties, wearing a white fabric, coming out to the
well in order to wash her hands. Perhaps, things got too heavy for him to stand: such an
unforeseen culmination of the plot, so to speak, was sure to pile on the plagues that harassed
his soul further, though it already tackled them by reinvoking his ill-feelings for the injustice
unknowingly brought upon one no less a father to him, to one promised to be loved forever
and above all, to one who needed him to show the way ahead, only and only because of his
one callous inclination to self-denial.
He immediately moved away from there as his conscience pressed for a howl which
being detrimental to his disguise might jeopardise his secret presence. With his heart
pounding and tears growing irresistible with every passing minute, he ran once again– this
time only to hide, to hide even from himself.
The murmuring river, the buzzing evening worms, the same old twinkles embellishing
the same old twilight sky overhead, the embracing chill in the air sweeping through, the same
grassy knoll running wild along the serpentine river, the well-acquainted vast tracts of green
farmland stretching as far as his eyes could see, the spiralling films of smoke overhanging the
clusters of houses and the far away orchards of trees– all reminding him of unchanged
aspects of the scene and thus reassuring him of the stationary nature of time, a rare
opportunity, perhaps in the whole of humanity, to achieve redemption by means of
amendment, or even disposal if required, of whatever from the past that might now seem
incompatible or irrelevant – had him enlightened with the hope of regeneration all around.
A bright star had come up from beyond the horizon set against the blurred canvas of
eternity which, now meant very little to the mind absorbed treasuring the gleam of other
realms of life. He now stood relaxed and freed from the pangs. At long last, pain brought
soothing relief to a suffering soul.
Fresh air cleansed him of his agonising absence.

“Didn’t the organizer tell you anything?”
“Do you think it’s me who did all the talking? Have you forgotten I had my parents to
perform the prenuptial formalities? It seems you don’t know the responsibilities that marriage
brings to one. You should have asked your evening comrades, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I know I am to blame for all I am up to now...”
“No, no. That won’t do anymore. First, you tell me how long we will have to keep
shifting our address and remain confined to secrecy. Who do you fear? Who are you running
from?”
Still the same old silence in reply.
“Why don’t you send me back to my parents? Even, that I will accept but the
wearisome tranquillity of yours and your loathsome alcoholic company!”
Another brief span of excruciating silence.
“Why don’t you speak up? Can’t you see our provisions are running out? Why don’t
you go to work? All right then... If that sounds derogatory to your inflated status, let me take
up the challenge. If nothing pays off, what to do with this... corporeal grace? You, the
famished carnivores, know only one language – sucking all out of the pristine.”
“Shut up, you..! How dare you speak like this? No, no, no. I won’t tolerate anymore.
Wait there... Only this can keep you quiet. Corporeal grace, huh? Feminine charm? Now take
it...”, and there followed furious masculine thrashing and vindictive slapping accompanied by
excruciating feminine howling, crying and gnawing only to end up in blood clots, wounds
and bruises all over Seema’s ravishing youth, all, of course, much to the exasperation of
neighbours.
An inconsolable impeccant cry wrapped in fright and embarrassment would then arise
bidding good morning to Seema and all to be heard from the farthest flank of the slum.
Yet, one might suspect whether it was an awakening, if at all, to their deplorable living
as the dull drabness of the previous night still pervaded the claustrophobic alleys of the slum.
Nevertheless, the life of the impoverished quarter moved on towards appeasement.
After having clung to the silence of necropolis following the catastrophe, for a
moment, though, forgetting every other essential thing, Seema eventually got up to reality
and regained composure. She was adept in the art of hiding pale pallor behind her colourful
saree and an expert in managing to rummage everything that might thwart her struggle for a
living.
She could hear her baby crying out in fear, but that hardly failed her to perceive what
the nagging inquisitive eyes would be engaged in to get even the slightest of view of the inner
chamber through the ragged curtain flapping at the door. Enough of that hell! Having tied the
loose end of the saree around the waist, she took the baby up and went out with the broom
raised with its flowers facing upward as if on a mission to teach the injudicious incursion a
lesson.
“O sona, my precious, my darling! Who has done this to you? Let us come and see
what’s happening outside? Oh no, no! No crying anymore! See what flowers these are.” The
words of composed cajolement suddenly turned into high-pitched piffle as if conveying a
warning message to someone outside, “Yes, yes, I know what’s happening outside. They only
know how to poke at the neighbours, how to aggravate others’ pains, how to deepen others’
wounds, how to spoil others’ merriment! The shameless eavesdroppers!”
On finding the snoopers still lingering about the front door, she would further cry, “If
any of the unabashed eavesdroppers still requires entertainment, he should come inside and
ask for what I have on offer for him.”
Having thus been repelled with such a lashing welcome, the snobbish ears at last
withdrew.
Seema was again free to her will and to her moderation.
She knew she had to live. Rather, she was meant to live this angst of unattainability.
*****
The early eighties–
Siliguri was still far away from the technological and economic boom; multicultural
assimilation and cosmopolitan status were still a far-fetched dream for Siligurians. Multiplex
living used to be considered a western nightmare. A single bridge over the Mahananda was
enough to hold the moderate pace of commutation off the two shores while the blueprint of
one-way traffic was still in the incubator awaiting the orders of implementation from the
municipality. Painted handmade billboards used to adorn the attics and roofs of the buildings
along Bidhan Road. Lake Town was still the business hub of the town, and little Hong Kong
Market was in her efforts to earn a name. No one could ever imagine a bridge flying over his
house with shrill horns cleaving into the ears giving rise to cacophobia– a place still serene,
still sombre, and not yet aware of an anthropological boon.
Along with Doordarshan, the chief audio-visual source of entertainment those days,
the thrice-a-day medium wave transmissions of Akaashbaani Siliguri and other short wave
radio stations were the sole mode of ethereal recreation.
Television and tape-recorder, the recently imported fashion among the lavish
amusement seekers, being the expensive insignias of extravagance and opulence, mediocre
music lovers had to remain stuck to the traditional audio frequencies through the radio.
Naturally, appliances such as those paved the path for a whole new genre of business. While
some threw themselves into the competition of opening the shutters displaying them, some
financially inferior but technically potent hands had to be right there to cure their flaws after
getting worn out at some connoisseur’s cosy haunt. Subal’s were the two of the latter class–
the two of the very few trusted ones.
A drop-out by choice and run-away by fate, as all said, Subal always felt fascinated by
the mechanism of a transistorised transmitter. Somehow his hands learned the intricate
weaving of wires connecting various electronic parts assembled to transform the aerial waves
into coherent auditory expressions coming out of a metal box. Thus, after having acquired
enough competence he had a small workshop to his name. In due course of time, the shop
became a mark of credibility.
But, somewhere the omniscient minstrel might be singing to his ektara about the
simmering and then drowning sequels to the fruitfulness of spring. The wise man might also
know that most turned away from life by the time the chill arrived upon them.
“Ondhokarer khela dekhe korisne ko bhoy, (Fear not the game of darkness,)
Raater aandhar kete gele hobei je tor joy.” (Victory is yours once the night disperses.)
*****
“Seema’s Maa, you know very well how I am struggling to make ends meet. One
small stationary shop in this remote locality can no longer serve our purposes. Moreover, this
ever-rising competition is getting intolerable day by day. Gone are the days when trust and
faith sufficed my earning. Now, it’s about flashy promotions and advertisements, no matter
how substandard one’s materials are.”
“I understand every bit of it, Seema’s Baba. But how can you make your daughter
realise this? She is not ready to understand.”
“How on earth can I even persuade her to understand it all? Isn’t it the time to be
carefree to relish the gifts of life?”
“Yesterday, she was saying that she too wants to study further like Shila.”
“How can I manage that?” Then the voice became grudgingly obstinate. “No, no. I
cannot bear the burden of her studies anymore. The proposal we’ve received is acceptable
from every perspective. Furthermore, the boy expects nothing from us as dowry. It’s his
generosity that he’s left it all to our wish. What more should we expect from a would-be son
in-law? More importantly, the boy has a flourishing machinery shop in Siliguri, and his
earning too is an enviable one. He is more successful and a far better business man than a
struggling peddler is, at least for now. Huh! Tell her, enough with her studies.”
“But, the organizer was saying...”
“I know. I know what you are hinting at. See, it’s no curse being an orphan. Even I
had my parents deceased long before our marriage. Have you forgotten that?”
“But also his age. Isn’t he a bit older to suit our daughter?”
“No. No further words. It’s all settled. Tell it to her too.”
“What else can I do but play the cord of communication between you two?”
Next day, the benign mother once again had talks with her stubborn daughter to confer
the father’s opinion to her.
“Seema, try to understand your Baba’s situation. Does he really intend to do this? He
too is at pain to represent his helplessness. I know how he cries in recluse having not been
left any other alternative but to get you married.
“But Maa, Shila’s Baba is also a grocer. But he is insisting on her continuation of
studies. Maa, tell Baba that I won’t ask for anything expensive from now on.” After a pause,
she again implored, “Maa, I want to continue my studies. I do not want to get married now.”
“No, Seema. Your Baba told me last night that he won’t be able to help you in this
regard anymore as his business is not doing well. Can’t you see how he struggles to even
manage the minimal of our daily requirements? Have you forgotten he couldn’t get you a
new dress during the puja last year?” Out came a helpless persuasive reply suppressing utter
dejection.
“Maa, I want to study. I want to study. Study, study, study... Hm, hm, hm.” The
disobedient girl could no longer hold back her pleas.
“Then I will tell your Baba that even I am ready to die of hunger. But you should have
your dreams fulfilled, Seema. Let him come back today.” She too eventually collapsed.
With tears rolling down the cheeks and wrinkles, the two wretched souls then
embraced one another and got fused into one to share each other’s agony.
Yet, they very well knew one had to yield to reality. But, who would it be?
Months later, as expected, tears saw the just-married daughter off at the entrance.
Perhaps, the mother’s cry could eventually demoralise one obdurate ambition.
*****
The word ‘success’ has always had a multi-faceted meaning, with different desirable
ends to different people and setting a befitting goal for each one to go after. But the point is
how one adapts to the paradigm shift it sometimes produces.
Seema being a sensible girl was quick to adjust to her situation. She began to paint the
canvass afresh, but now with the colours of consolation. Taking care of what she had been
gifted with was now her only objective. Her husband, the little room with an attached kitchen
and a washroom and its enclosure formed everything of her little world. She had a caring
husband always enquiring after her needs.
Within few weeks following the reception she had already visited the Netaji Park, the
College Maidan and many other significant places of Siliguri. And, the inescapable tease of
newly released blockbusters every weekend! If one Sunday evening saw the newlywed
couple visiting Anondolok, next would be the turn of Urvashi followed by either Meghdoot,
or New Cinema, or Jhankar. In a month’s time, she knew very well where Sevoke More and
Court More were. By the time it was three months after her marriage, she already had a stroll
or two by herself down Hill Cart Road passing through the office hub encircling the United
Bank building.
How pleased she was to witness a visage that conveyed development of human
civilisation far away from her native village, still an embodiment of aridity and immobility!
She accredited it all to her loving husband.
“Would you mind should I say something?”
“No! Why should I?”
“No! First, you promise me that you won’t mind.”
“Ok. Ok baba! I promise. Now tell me.”
“You know, at first, I did not agree with my parents to get married and that too with a
man with no trace of lineage. Rather, I was against marriage in the first place at that point of
time.”
She desperately hid her blushing face with shivering hands, once looking for the
pillow and then fiddling with the end of the saree, and finally, all being proven incompetent,
resorting to the timid veil of the palms put together.
“You must be thinking I didn’t like you. Believe me. I did not know, a man so loving,
so caring would be coming my way.” Out came the shy words mixed with an inexplicable
exclamation.
“Why do you think I should take it that way? It could have happened to me as well.
It’s natural to all girls prior to marriage.”
“Yet...”
“No. Nothing is innocuous about it. Rather...”
“Rather what? I know...”
“No. No. It’s not you. Not you. It’s about...” followed a pause much to the palpitation
of one tender. “It’s about... my deferring the decision of marriage to a girl like you. Got it?”
and followed a twitch on her nose.
Naturally, such a naughty reply deserved a fond whacking.
But Seema failed to perceive that her husband, reluctant to unlock the truth, slyly
turned the story the other way round. Appeasement might have overwhelmed apprehension.
Actually, familiar elements sometimes seem obscure to the eyes moistened with tears of
laughter. Subal too, came to learn it was really hard to be tough to one so affectionate.
In short, ‘Satyam’ isn’t always ‘Sundaram’ to one seeking comfort in concealment.
*****
“Kaandbi aar koto tui bhoyer paane cheye? (How long will you lament facing the fear?)
Utth na jege notun kore sukher gaan geye.” (Arise anew chanting the song of pleasure.)
A note from an optimistic soul reinvigorated life all around, and one’s arid ego got
revitalised.
With prosperity coming one’s way who would deter from keeping the company of
adulators to ignite the wishes to have wings by means of intoxication? Same was with him.
What’s wrong in that? After all, he was a man, one righteous to seek recluse from ineluctable
reality and relish the bliss of life on his own.
As the statistics of profit got uplifted, the mortal heart asked for further stimulation
that might propel his hyperbolic sense of elegance. With every passing day, he got engrossed
in the art of tranquillisation of conscience and vessels seemed incapacious before a
dehydrated spirit craving for complete insobriety. Naturally, smelling a sweetened cellar full
of ecstasy the swarm of thirst began to fly about it. Some came to conciliate desiccation and
others to convey cordiality. It also might have interested a dispassionate yet keen eye keeping
a constant vigil on him.
But, he was now least bothered by whatever unnerved others, or whatever was
impending, or whoever was wielding an acute observation upon him. He was well aware that
he had to quit it all one day. The end was sure to strangle him at any moment. Then, why be
frugal and restrained? Why not have a taste of all possible earthly pleasures before it befell
him? Why be deprived of the delight in leaving behind his traces even long after he would be
gone forever?
No longer would he be daunted by the fear of exposure, nor would he care whether he
was liable to expulsion or disavowal.
In the meantime, Siliguri felt the urge of getting a move on towards speaking one
common language of modernity. Skyscrapers had their bases rooted to the crust. Thick black
cables replaced the aluminium antennas stationed to catch the signal of Network Programmes
of Doordarshan, and brown magnetic strips began to propagate the stereophonic charm of
music. The sober turned sonorous in the wink of an eye as industry found entrepreneurs
extending hands of investments and workforces rushed in to relish fortunes to be dispensed
soon. Only, the Mahananda looked lean and pale as excavation all around encroached upon
its banks and mortality quenched its thirst off its stream.
A perfect backdrop for another beginning, wasn’t it?
*****
Somewhere in the western province of India in the late seventies–
Four exceptionally perspicacious brains chosen from all over the country had been
assigned on a mission concerning national security. The operation included complex
scientific experiments that were supposed to enlarge the frontier of indigenous defence
technology by enhancing the capacity of existing weaponry. Of course, it was bound to
unsettle one envious of advancement of Indian implements.
It all went according to plan till one of the researchers went rogue and established
clandestine communication with one eager to acquire copies of the findings. But his treachery
did not go unnoticed, as one of his elite colleagues had the sniff of his objectionable contacts.
In this context, one calamitous night, the explosive heaped inside the lab went off,
shattering months of tireless penetration into the confounding chemical bonds holding tight
the atoms of diverse elements. The catastrophe destroyed all traces of life commissioned to
this surreptitious venture and scorched every possible thing that could have been significant
in leading an enquiry into the disaster. To avoid further embarrassment, the beleaguered
Government shut down the entire programme until the perpetrators were brought to justice.
Later, the investigation agencies found that the number of burnt cadavers was one less
than the actual number of employees appointed. The conspiracy could not elude them for
long, and neither did they fail to identify the traitor. They also came to learn that at least one
of the four scientists in charge had the knowledge of his tainted colleague’s illicit affair
which might have proven detrimental to the internal security of the country. They inferred
one must, therefore, be fleeing interrogations of detainment. Sleuths ran wild after him. They
had to chase him down before he succeeded in exchanging the invaluable documents.
But, only the runaway knew how fortunate he was to escape the tragedy. He was also
in possession of a thing that needed immediate disposal. First of all, he had to run away far
from that chaos and get lost in the vast ocean of humanity. But to where?
“Wahan kaun hai tera, musafir? (Who’s there who is yours, O traveller?)
“Tu jayega kaahan?...” (Where will you go?...)
Why not to the east? Nobody knew him there.
East would be a great idea! The suburban fringes of unostentatious north Bengal
would be convenient for his purpose, especially the Siliguri Corridor.
*****
“How many days I’ve told you, Didi, police haven’t yet got any trace of your missing
husband!” The official at Bhaktinagar Police Station exclaimed.
“You mean he, a man made of flesh and blood, disappeared in such a manner that even
the all potent police department has not been able to manage to find a trace of him in these
past years!” out came a tired exclamation in reply.
“Didi, I’ve already told you what I’ve been reported.”
“But how could it be possible even in the slightest Dada? No, Dada. No... Then I am
compelled to believe that your department has been trying to evade my queries...”
“What do you mean? D... d... do you think we are not doing anything?” a reply with
tinges of disturbance followed.
“Then why haven’t the higher authorities come to talk to me even once, even after my
repeated petitions? Why haven’t they had him officially declared ‘missing’ as yet?”
“Sorry, Didi! I can’t tell you anything beyond what I already have. I must take your
leave now. I’ve another case to attend.”
“The same old note of contrivance, huh? How would you know what it takes to make
one innocent understand the mystery surrounding his father’s inexplicable absence, to keep
asking for one forged identity, to keep waiting for one unknown, and what courage it requires
to resist the allure of bringing an end to this endless waiting?” followed the hurried queries
summarising the passage of time.
As usual, the hapless lady went out unanswered and yet more resolute to get an
acceptable unravelling to the plot of the story. The police too, on the other hand, were
determined not to declassify the information jeopardising the country’s interest.
Perhaps, this conflict between relentless question and incessant suppression would
never see an end. Perhaps, this paradoxical coherence would keep tormenting her for eternity.
Perhaps, the story behind the story would never come out.
Neither would one say nor would the other ever come to know that long back the
estranged soul further disparaged by the taunts of his wife could find repose only in the little
room of his radio-activity.
A consignment had been pending since long. Finally, that was despatched that night.
Ah! At last, salvation wasn’t far.
So excited he was that his exhilarated vision could not recognise someone standing
near, nor could his ripped auditory organs hear the call from behind! Most probably, the
dazzle of the headlamps of a police jeep coming from the opposite direction had him
unnerved for a moment.
The last thing he saw was another black vehicle rushing at him.
He knew it was impending.
Resigned to the inevitable, he stood unruffled. Only once did he try to look back to the
door probably still kept ajar in expectation of his return which, though, might never happen.
“Aage bhi jaanena tu, (You know not what’ll befall,
Pichhe bhi jaanena tu...” (Nor, what lies back...)
Bibidh Bharati was still singing.
--------------


Short Synopsis:

The compilation comprising nine short stories, all set in Bengal, looks to appeal to the magnanimous aspects of modern minds engrossed in the struggle for a living.

‘Absolution’ presents a runaway fisherman Mohan, who driven by sheer ignorance and false concept on his probable impotence inflicted by a lascivious harlot, leaves home and all his acquaintances. Later, he repents for relinquishing the life prior and struggles hard to expiate for the mistakes unknowingly done. Finally, he comes to learn that only going back to those once left back can relieve him. He goes back to the village secretly and discovers that he actually has a son.

‘Anomaly’ puts up the anomalously arranged glimpses of the life of Subal, a scientist turned radio mechanic and Seema, an aspiring young underprivileged girl– two people belonging to different classes of the society. Subal survives a terrible explosion at the lab and runs away with important files to keep them safe. Later, dissatisfied with his miserable life he marries Seema who initially does not give consent to the marriage. Later, the couple runs from place to place to avoid detainment. But, Subal gets caught, and Seema is left to wait for him forever.

‘Iron Irony’ showcases Dhiru, a village blacksmith who only means his business with all dedication. He is also sure that his fame is not going to get affected in any way. But the open market initiated by Jomidaar Babu hampers his sale. Gradually, people begin to turn away from Dhiru. Finding no other way the besieged artisan of metal goes to a village fair and sets his implements on sale. But even when that fails, he embarks on the journey towards reinstatement of supremacy with some other form of art.

‘Ratan’s Maa’ is an anecdote on the ill-feelings of the narrator, a medical practitioner and also the representative of the imperious society, who is owing to his innate prejudicial instincts deliberately forgets Ratan’s Maa, a mother-like housemaid. When the narrator’s mother dies, and the stoical house maid refrains from showing emotions, the precocious child narrator gets infuriated. Then, the narrator goes away on education and gets busy with his life. But the pain of doing injustice keeps pricking him. He comes back and does his best much to the assuagement of the lady once intentionally forgotten.


SOURISH ROY

About the Author:

Sourish Roy, an M.A. in English with distinction in Linguistics from Burdwan University and B.Ed. with specialization in Teaching Methodology from North Bengal University, has been serving as an Assistant Teacher in High Secondary school since 2005. With degrees in Classical Art from Nikhil Bharat Sangeet Parishad, he has also been a frequent practitioner in painting. Having earned professional training in Lead Guitar under the tutelage of Sri. Kaushik Bhattacharya besides being a vocalist himself, he also takes time out to musical ceremonies.

He is also a certificate holder of National Science Society. Alongside enjoying serenity in his multi-faceted life he has had experiences of trekking under the supervision of Himalayan Nature & Adventure Foundation, Siliguri.

From the very beginning, he has been a fond reader of good literary books. He took to writing at an early stage of his life with writing for the wall magazines and annual magazines in school and college. Now, as a writer, he has earned the renown of being dedicated to the daily life problems of the underprivileged class. His stories have been previously published in local English and Bangla magazines and pamphlets. His critical essays have also been provided space in some academic books.