These 10 stories are amazing or their variety.In ‘Thanedar of Lakhanpur’ a murder is committed and the police officer, a Thanedar, is caught in a dilemma of his own making. By the time he decides what to do, it is too late…… Something has happened.
Was Trilochan Singh accidentally shot? What did David do with his fortune? The answers to these are to be found in the spellbinding thrillers-‘Talking Together’, and the ‘Man who changed His mind’.
‘Albert Gonsalves stops Preaching’ is a rip-roaring satire on a man who is obsessed with all things British – their customs, their dresses and their living. Then an act of his son changes everything – and Mr Gonsalves loses his power of speech.’The Young Writer’ is a tale of a boy who has lost his father but has to keep him alive through his letters. He does. And then one day…
But this is not all ‘A woman of Love’ and ‘My Heritage’ take us to the wonderful world of growing up, love and nostalgia. ‘The Awakening’ gives a message – when people unite , nothing can bend them. ‘Painting of Ways’ is a story of love and fashion set amidst the fiery Naxalite movement of West Bengal.
These are stories covering various facets of human life. Indeed, some of them are so powerful that they have an indelible mark on the reader.
While working as as Assistant Collector in the tribal district of Surguja ( Madhya Pradesh now Chattisgarh)in 1963 I was on a tour to a small town, Lakhanpur. In the morning I was woken by a group of tribals amidst whom was a wailing woman. I was informed that the night before she had been raped by a school teacher and the local police officer, the Thanedar. was refusing to register her complaint. I asked the villagers if I was not in the town , what would the girl they have done.? The girl said she would have accepted the rape as a part of her destiny. I called the Thanedar and got the case registered but this incident left me wondering about the poor tribal women of this district and how they are exploited. This incident was the backdrop of the story Thanedar of Lakhanpur where I have highlighted the tragedy of a child of a deserted woman. - Author
A murder was a uncommon event in Lakhanpur , a very small town (population 600) in the tribal district of Surguja located in north-east Mahakoshal , now Madhya Pradesh. So when it became known in Lakhanpur early one Thursday morning in 1953 that old Captain Verma , a world war veteran who had fought for the Japanese in Burma , had been murdered in the night , there was intense excitement in the town. It transpired from evidence at the police station -Thana- that in the early morning after the murder was committed a young tribal man was seen leaving Lakhanpur in a suspicious manner. Other circumstances seemed to connect the stranger with the crime. The Thanedar organized a search for him and by Friday afternoon, the suspected man was caught and lodged in the police station.
The murder became almost the sole topic of conversation for the people. A growing feeling of anger against the murderer soon developed. It was also felt that ordinary justice was too protracted and too uncertain and the people should do something themselves to avenge this foul murder. There was a growing sentiment of anger among these men towards the murderer who had killed their noble and distinguished friend.
Towards noon on Saturday, there was an informal gathering of citizens in Bhakri’s house, a forest contractor.
“I hear the accused would be sent to the district courts on Monday. But the judge is sick and on leave .One does not know when the preliminary hearings will be held ,” said one of the prominent citizens of the town.
“It is the dirtiest murder ever committed,” said another with emphasis.
“I suppose the tribal wanted to rob the Captain “, observed the third speaker.
“The Captain” said another , with an all knowing attitude , “had perhaps saved our rupee one lakh. Some of it must have been in the house”.
This statement gave rise to a discussion on the amount of money which a Captain of the Army could make.
“A slow, uncertain trial is no good”, said one. “The culprit should be hanged quickly”.
“They won’t even hang him”, said a short, fat man. “The law is so lax these days. They probably will give him only life imprisonment. And even this is uncertain. If there is no complete proof , they may acquit him”.
“This is scandalous”, said Bhakri.
“Well”, said a tall bulky trader, “what are you people going to do about it. If you all nothing to prevent a tribal from killing a respected old man, many of us decent men would have to think of moving out of this town and the district”.
This statement set the tone of the rest of the discussions. They all agreed that something should be done and done fast. They felt that as the law was uncertain they should themselves hang the tribal. This was the least they could do to avenge the death of their murdered friend. They had some vague notions of the right to respect the law but in the passion o the moment these sunk into oblivion; a man of their class had been killed a tribal and this needed quick action by them.
By agreement the crowd was to assemble at Madan Gopal’s medcal shop at three O’ clock in the afternoon and proceed thence to the Thana. When the preliminaries of the march to the Thana had been arranged, he crowd dispersed, some to their houses and some t o secure recruits for the march.
It was two thirty in the afternoon when an excited young man, panting and perspiring, rushed to the house of the Thanedar which was a short distance from the Thana. A tribal maid servant opened the door in response to the knocking.
“Is the Thanedar Sahib in ?”
“Yes”, replied the woman. “He is having his afternoon sleep after lunch.”
“Please wake him up immediately. There is something urgent I have to tell him”, said the young man.
The woman went inside the house and a few moments later the Thanedar came to the door. He was a tall muscular man with thick black hair. The day was hot and the Thanedar was in his vest and pyjamas.
“What is it?” he enquired of the young man.
“Thanedar Sahib”, said the Youngman with a sudden flush “they are planning to hang the tribal prisoner whom you caught yesterday. They would be coming to this way very shortly. I was standing on the road when I heard Madan Gopalji talk about it. I immediately rang to you”.
The Thanedar listened calmly but his face grew firmer and a determined gleam lit up his eyes. His frame grew more erect and he unconsciously assumed the attitude of an important man on whom had been cast a great duty.
“Thank you”, he answered. “I’ll protect the prisoner. Who’s coming?”
“I don’t know” replied the young man. “There were many young men outside Madan Gopalji’s shop. Maybe ten to twenty.” The young man glanced nervously down the road to see if he was being watched. He stood uncertainly for a few moments and then left abruptly.
The Thanedar re-entered the house and put on his clothes. He then took his revolver and after loading ii with bullets slipped it into the holster of his belt which he put on.
His young daughter in a light blue salwar kameez watched these proceedings with anxious surprise.
“Where are you going father?” she asked. She had not heard the conversation with the young man.
“I am going to the Thana”, responded the Thanedar . “There’s a mob coming this way to hang the tribal who is locked in the Thana. But they won’t succeed”, he added with emphasis.
“Oh father don’t go!” she pleaded, clinging to his arm, “they’ll kill you too if you don’t give him up”.
“Don’t you worry Reema”, said her father reassuringly, as he gently unclasped her hands from his arms. “I can take care of myself and the prisoner. There is no man in this town who dare kill me. You should remain in the house,” he concluded.
The young girl shuddered at the mention of shooting and killing but made no further efforts to prevent her father’s departure.
The Thanedar was a man far above the average in his service. He came from a family of reasonable wealth and social position. He had in him a high sense of responsibility. He had sworn to do his duty faithfully and he knew what his duty was at this moment_____ to ensure that the mob did not take the law into its own hands. Unfortunately for him, he was alone this day. He had six constables with him __ two were on leave. Out of the remaining four, three had been sent on various investigative errands and the one who should have been in the Thana at the moment , had taken ill in the four noon and had gone to his home. Time was short and he couldn’t be commandeered at such short notice.
The Thanedar was just entering the Thana when he spotted the mob. He stood outside and waited.
“Well what is it?” asked the Thanedar as soon as the reached the Thana.
“We want to talk to you Thanedar sahib. About the tribal prisoner,” somebody in the crowd shouted.
“What about him? He is safe and well protected.” The Thanedar didn’t think it necessary to recognize anybody inparticular although he knew most of them; the question of identity could come up in legal proceedings later.
“We want the tribal who killed Captain Verma”, came a voice.
“That is impossible. I can’t give him to you. It is against the law. Besides, I will have him sent to the district court on Monday. I ‘m sure justice will be done”.
“Justice huh!” said somebody from the mob. “We know what justice is. It will take years. And who knows what will happen after that the court may acquit him.”
“Well friends,” said the Thanedar, “I can’t give him to you. Moreover, what do you want him for?”
"We want to hang him ourselves,” said Bhakri who was slowly assuming the role of a leader. “We don’t trust the law.”
“Now Bhakri,” replied the Thanedar, “You know very well that you cannot hang him. It’s not permissible. So I will urge all of you to go away.”
“We have not come to go away,” said many voices form the crowd. At the same time the crowd started surging forward.
“Stop,” shouted the Thanedar. “Or I will shoot.” The Thanedar whipped out his revolver and pointed it towards the crowd.
The crowd was taken aback and retreated a few steps. They had not anticipated this determined resistance. Of course, they had looked for some former protest from the Thanedar and his new constables and his few constables, if they were present , so that they are not hauled up by their superior officers for dereliction of duty but not his determination and willingness to shoot. The crowd retreated some distance and the leader conferred amongst themselves with a good deal of animated gesticulation which was visible though not audible in the Thana.
The Thanedar entered the Thana after sometime. He eneterd the cell where the prisoner was crouched in a corner, his dark and pale face blanched with terror , looking ghastly in the semi-darkness of the room. A cold perspiration had gathered on his forehead.
“For God’s sake Thanedar sahib,” he murmured , “Don’t let them hang me; I didn’t kill the old man.”
The Thanedar glanced at the cowering wretch with a look of mingled content and loathing.
“Get up,” he said sharply. “You will probably be hung sooner or later but it will not be today if I can help it . I’ll unlock your fetters and handcuff and if they attack, you will have to make the best fight you can.”
There were iron fetters on the prisoner’s ankle’s and handcuff on his wrist these were unlocked by the Thanedar and they fell clanking on the floor.
Meanwhile the leaders of the crowd were confabulating amongst themselves. At length one of them went to the main body if hangers and shouted in a manner so that his voice could be heard in the Thana.
“Well,” said the man, “We will have to let it go for the present. The Thanedar says we will shoot and we don’t want to pick up a quarrel with him. He’s a good man. But,” he added as if to reassure the crowd which began showing signs of disappointment, “the tribal won’t get away. He doesn’t have much chance to live long.”
There were protest from the crowd and several voices insisted that they should forcibly enter the Thana and bring out the prisoner for public hanging. But pacific counsel’s finally prevailed and the mob sullenly withdrew.
After unshackling the prisoner the Thanedar went to his desk, took out the revolver from the holster and placed it on the table. He picked a baton lying on the table and walked up to the front entry door of the Thana and watched the crowd’s discussions. He didn’t relax his watchfulness. There withdraw could have been a mere feint, to be followed by another attempt. So closely was his attention drawn to them that he neither saw nor heard the prisoner creep stealthily across the floor, reach out his hand and secure the revolver which lay on the desk behind the Thanedar , and creep as noiselessly that to his place in the corner of the room.
A moment after the last of the hanging party was disappearing; a shot was fired from the tree across the road. Quick as thought , Thanedar’s hand went to his holster to take out the revolver . Not finding it there he remembered he had kept it on the table. He entered the Thana to pick it up. It was not there. As the Thanedar realized this fact, he turned his head and found himself looking into the muzzle of the revolver.
“Stay where you are, Thanedar sahib,” said the prisoner, his eyes glistening, his face red with excitement.
The Thanedar stood dumbfounded. He had not expected anything of this kind. He had relied on the tribal’s cowardice and subordination in the presence of an armed mob as a matter of course. The two men stood there looking at each other for sometime.
“Well, what do you, mean?”asked the Thanedar after sometime with apparent agitation.
“To run away of course ”said the prisoner in a tone which caused the Thanedar to look at him more closely and with a feeling of apprehension.The man, thought the Thanedar , was mad . He felt he must tackle the situation very gently as the prisoner in his excited state could do anything ___ even shoot him.
At length the Thanedar spoke: “Is this you gratitude to me for saving your life at the risk of my own? If I had not done so , you would have been hanging from some tree by now.”
“True ,” said the prisoner , “you saved my life but for how long,” when you took me in you said you will send me to the court’s in a day or two. When the crowd left they said I had not longed to live . For me it is only a choice of two ropes”.
“While there is life there is hope”, replied the Thanedar. “If you are innocent, you can prove it.”
“I didn’t kill the old man”,he replied, “but I shall never be able to prove my innocence. I went to his house to steal. I stole his purse from his coat pocket and left. He was not at home . The next day I was caught with his purse and money.Who would believe him? I am bound to be convicted unless the real murderer is discovered beforehand.”
The Thanedar knew this only too well.While he stood contemplating, the prisoner continued:
“And it I doubtful whether the real murderer would be found. Alll evedience points towards me.”
“I think you are mad”,said the Thanedar. “You cannot go very far and not be apprehended.How long can you escape the law?”
“I don’t know”, he said somewhat reflectively, “and if in order to escape I haveto kill you, I will do so.”
“Good God!” exclaimed the Thanedar, “you would not kill the man to whom you owe your life”.
“You speak more truly than you know”,replied the tribal. “I indeed owe my life to you”.
The Thanedar started. “Who are you?” he asked in amazement.
“Itwari’s son”, said the tribal. “Don’t you remember the young tribal women , itwari-the woman you deserted with the child, your child.”
The Thanedra did remember. It was the old story of passion in youth and in indiscretion. The tribal women were available for a song to satisfy the lust of good young men like him.
“I do remember”, said the Thanedar after he had recovered from the shock. “But surely you would not kill your own father”.
“My father?” replied the tribal. “It is in poor grace that you ask anything on the basis of this relation. What father’s duty you have ever performed for me? Did you ever give me your name or ever your protection? Other men who ogave birth to children like me atleast gave them some support. They sent money to their mothers and tried to help their unfortunate children. You did nothing.”
“I atleast gave you the life you cling to”, murmered the THanedar.
“Life?” said the prisoner, with a sarcastic laughter “what kind of life? you gave me your own blood. That is for sure but what else?You gave me illegitimacy and a deserted mother. Poor woman ; she died many years ago in poverty.”
The Thanedar looked crushed . He saw in the tribal what he himself might have become had he not got the respectability which his parents gave him.
“There are schools”, said the Thanedar after sometime. “I could finance your education and help you in other ways.”
“Its too late” said the tribal.”To the society I am illegitimate. And now I am a murderer. What life does a poor tribal have with these credentials?”
So absorbed wree the two men in their colloquy and their own tumultuous thoughts that neither of them heard somebody quietly enter the Thana from the back door – the door which led to the toilets.
The Thanedar stood quietly not knowing what to say or do. It may seem strange that a man who so decisively deserted the tribal woman and abandoned his son should now stand so helplessly before his own child. Remorse was writ large onhis face.
“Stop”, cried the tribal . “I don’t need any help from you I’m going to kill you.”Saying this the tribal raised his arm to fire, when there was a flash – a loud report from the back door behind him. His arm fell heavily his side and the revolver dropped at his feet.
The Thanedar recovered from surprise and then seizing the prisoner looked up at the person who had caused the report.
“Oh father, I was just in time!” his daughter cried hysterically, and sobbing wildly, threw herself inti her father’s arms.
“I watched until they all went away ,” she said. “I heard the shot that was fired. Then when you did not come home I feared something had happened, that perhaps you had been wounded. I got your pistol and rushed here. Oh! It was a narrow escape”!
After calming her, the Thanedar took the prisoner to the cell.he tribal’s arm was bleeding from a fresh wound. His bravado had given place to a stone apathy. The Thanedar washed and cleaned the injury , applied some ointment which was available in Thana, took a piece of cloth from the cupboard and bound up the prisoner’s wound with a rude skill acquired as a policeman.
“Its too late,” he said.”I’ll have a doctor come and dress thw wound in the morning. It is a minor injury and will do very well till the morning. If the doctor asks you how the wound was caused, you can say it was caused by the bullet fired by the mob. It would do you no good to have it know that you were shot while attempting to escape.”
The tribal sat in sullen silence. When the wounded arm had been bandaged, the Thanedar locked the cell and he along with Reema left for their house.
The Thanedar was in an unusually pensive mood that night. Too many of Reema’s questions he gave evasive answers.When he went to bed he lay away for several hours.
In the silent hours of the night when he was alone with God, there came into his mind a flood of unaccustomed thoughts. He recalled his own life. He had inherited an honoured name; he had a future to make. Hehad means to get on in life. The poor tribal now stretched on the floor, in the cell of the Thana , had none of these- no father, no means, and no future. Who was to blame? He himself.
It occurred to him that he might let the prisoner escape. But then how eould he explain the escape to his bosses. The people of the town would ask for his blood.
Could he adopt the tribal and keep him in the house? He couls give some reasonable explanation to his wife who was presently away to her parents house. No , that was impossible. The tribal , knowing his nature , would reveal the truth sooner or later and that would create too many problems.
But then, thought the Thanedar, what of the immediate future. The tribal was most likely to be convicted. How could he help in acquittal. He could, he surmrised, investigate more fully the circumstanmces of the murder and find the real criminal, for he now no longer doubted the innocence of the prisoner. Acquittal once secured , could lead to a new plan of action to the advantage of the tribal – a plan that might in some degree atone for his crime against his son and in some way redeem the guilt which he felt towards the woman who gave birth to this boy.
When the Thanedar had reached this conclusion he fell into a deep slumber from which he awoke the next morning.
He went over to the Thana before breakfast and found the prisoner lying on the ground, his face towards the wall.
“How are you?”asked the Thanedar in a tone meant to wake the prisoner.
There was no response. The Thanedar looked more keenly at the reclinging figure; there was an unnatural rigidity about the man.
Hehastily unlocked the door and entering the cell, went over the prostrate form.There was no sound of breathing ; he turned the body over – it was cold and stiff. The prisoner had torn the bandage from his wound and bleed to death in the night.He had been dead several hours.
Albert Gonsalves Stops Preaching
No human sound was heard in the furniture workshop of Albert Gonsalves, a resident of Santa Cruz , Bombay , as he was not given much too speech. His workers knowing this carried out their conversations in whispers. At home too, he was a silent member of his own household. But this was from necessity. His wife, given to much speech making could out talk him.
“It’s no use to argue with a woman,” he would say frequently to his friends. “Just as it is no use to teach her to make furniture. She can never hit the nail on the head.”
This is not to say that Albert Gonsalves did not know how to use his tongue. It was incessantly wagging to and fro in his mouth at every blow of the hammer in his workshop and it wagged even more when one of his workers made a mistake. Then his vocal chords took over and reached there full crescendo as a torrent of abuse and curses emanated from them.
However, whatever self- control he exercised in this respects at home and works was completely sent to the wind in his official capacity as the local preacher at the Chapel. For Albert Gonsalves was one of the pillars of the church, being equally at home in conducting a prayer meeting or occupying the pulpit.
His voice was remarkable for its wonderful graduations of pitch. He would insist on starting most of the tunes himself: consequently they nearly always ended in a solo. As for his prayers, he roared and thundered to such an extent that the congregation was usually reduced to a state of collapse and started to whisper from sheer fright.
His favorite themes were Jonah and Noah and he was forever pointing out the great similarity between the two, generally finishing his discourse after the manner: ‘You see my beloved brethren; the two men were very much alike. They lived in a simple and adulterous generation. One got in- inside an arc; the other got inside a whale. They both sought refuge from the swelling waves.
‘And so it is my beloved brethren. No matter if we get inside a whale or inside an arc, as long as we can get inside some place of safety- as long as we can find some refuge , some hiding place from the wiles of the devil.’
But his congregation was by no means impressed.
When attending church, Mr. Gonsalves always wore a black suit. He was one of those gentlemen who considered everything British to be correct and proper. It never struck him that for Bombay’s climate, lighter colors would be more appropriate. No! It must be black.
He even went so far as to give his flat a British look. In the hot and humid climate of Bombay he had his flat carpeted in the manner of an Englishman. No wonder his wife had to talk. The flat was hopelessly uncomfortable and stuffy.
There was one object, however, on which Mr Gonsalves talked even at home: his son, Thomas. Mr. Gonsalves had great expectations of his son. Indeed, in the back of his mind he had hopes of seeing him reach the high water mark of his company’s hierarchy, for Thomas was in a foreign company. Not very high up, but still he was in it. It was an honor that impressed his father deeply. But Thomas, unfortunately, did not seem to think quite so much of it. His main grouse was that the company did not give him much leave.
In vain his sister Jane, expostulated and pointed out the advantages connected with his job- the honor, the status and the awful nemesis upon the head of anyone incurring the head of the family’s ire. But Thomas was not impressed.
One day on the persistence of his sister again asking him, “why do you want to leave them?” Thomas decided to call it a day and replied irritably:
“Because I have never got a proper holiday. I have been in the company for four and a half years and have never got a whole week off. And, he went on vehemently, “these white chaps come and go . They stay for a year and a half at the most and go away for three months leave, drawing big fat pay all the time not to mention passage fares, whereas a poor Indian like me has to work year after year with hardly a decent break. But now,'"he added angrily, “I have decided enough is enough. So Jane dear, I shall behave so badly in office that they’ll throw me out and my old man can’t say very much.”
Accordingly, when Thomas puffing a cigarette, sauntered into the office at ten instead of nine in the morning for the fourth time in a week, Mr. Levinson who had hither to maintain a discrete silence and kept his eyes shut, opened them wide and administered a sharp rebuke. Thomas’s conscience was profoundly stirred. Mr. Levinson was one of the few white men for whom he had a deep respect. It was fear of offending him that he had remained so long in the post.
“Thomas!” Mr. Levinson said sternly. “Walk into my private office please.” Thomas knew that this was the beginning of the end.
“I suppose you know that the office hours are from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. daily,” commenced Mr. Levinson in a freezing tone.
“Yes,er -er Sir! stammered Thomas with his heart in his mouth.
“And I suppose you also know that smoking is strictly prohibited in the office?”
“Yes, er-er Sir” stammered the young man.
“Now hitherto,” the even tones went on, “I have always looked upon you as an exemplary clerk, strictly obliging, punctual, accurate and honest, but for the last two or three weeks I have nothing but complaints about you. And from what I myself have seen, I am afraid they are not altogether unmerited.”
Mr. Levinson rose as he spoke and drew out a sheaf of papers from the shelf behind him. “This is your work, is it not?”
“Yes, er-er- Sir! he stuttered, looking shamefacedly at the dirty, blotched sheets of closely typewritten matter.
“Then what in heaven’s name is the matter with you to produce such work?”
Thomas remained silent for a moment or two. He summoned up the courage to look boldly at the stern countenance of his chief. And as he looked, the sterness seemed to melt away and he could see genuine concern there.
“Please , er Sir!” he stammered . “May I er __ just tell you everything?”
Half an hour later, a very quiet , subdued, penitent Thomas Gonsalves walked out of the office. Mr Levinson followed later, taking with him an increased respect for the powers of undurance exercised by the young Indian.
Two weeks later Thomas bounced into his father’sworkshop with a cherry countenance, upsetting the voiceless workers hard at work.
“Well Thomas,” ejaculated his father. “ You are very late. Why have you not gone to the office this morning ?”
“Because I’ve got a whole two months of holiday! Just think of it- two whole months-with nothing to do except myself!”
“Thomas , “ his father said solemnly , peering at him over his glasses. “You must now learn how to make good furniture. You have got a fine chance now.”
“No thank you Dad. I am going to learn how to make love, after which I am going to learn how to live like an Indian.”
“And who is this girl you want to marry?” thundered his shocked father, ignoring the latter part of the sentence altogether.
A broad smile illuminated Thomas’s face. “She’s a very nice girl Dad ; a very nice girl. Very quiet and gentle and sweet . She doesn’t talk too much.”
“I see. Is that all?”
“Oh, no . She can sew and clean and make a nice little home. She will make a very good mother.”
“Yes. She has studies at college and is very well read. Oh__ she writes such lovely letters ,” said Thomas, patting his breast pocket affectionately.
“I suppose she can cook good food?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so but it doesn’t really matter.”
“What!” roared the old man. "You mean to tell me you want to marry a woman who doesn’t know proper cooking?”
“I want to marry her because I love her.”
‘That’s alright but in our house the heart and the stomach always go together.That is the very first condition. Look at your mother. She is such a good cook.”
‘That’s the reason why she has been nothing but your miserable drudge all these years’, thought the young man.His face was very grave as he spoke : “Dad , I don’t like to see a wife slaving away in the kitchen all the time to make good food for her husband and children. No thank you! And besides , Dad, you are always telling me that you want me to look like an Englishman. The English wives have interest other than the kitchen.”
“Yes, that’s alright. I do want you to look like an Englishman. But that does not mean you have to copy all their different ways.”
“Well Dad, if I try till I die I can never look like an Engliahman , and I don’t know that I want to . But there are some British customs that I like very much. I like the way they treat their wives. I like their home life ; I like to see the mother and the father and the family all sitting down eating their meals together.”
“I see,” retorted his father sarcastically . “And who would cook your meals? You think with your meager salary you could hire a cook?”
“Oh, I didn’t say that . I am sure if Mary does not know how to cook now, she will learn sooner or later…, but what I want you to understand is just this : that whether she is able to cook or not, I am marrying her.”
“Very well then,” shouted his father.”If you have to marry her, then marry her. I hope atleast she wears British frocks and skirts as her daily dress. I don’t want a daughter-in-law wearing native dresses like saree. Most improper for a person of your background to have a wife in a saree.”
“Mary loves sarees. Infact, she look very pretty in a saree,” replied Thomas calmly.
Mr Gonsalves remained quiet for a long time. He realized that there was no way in which he could make a son change his mind.
His dreams of a British son with a British looking wife and British clothes were coming to an end. As days passed his dejection grew deeper.
However, he did not give up all hope. He still felt that Thomas would see reason and not only ensure that his bride learn cooking before marriage but would also get her out of the habit of wearing a saree; and get her into a skirt. On quite a few occasions he spoke to Thomas about this.He was always met with a indifferent silence.
A few weeks later on Sunday, Mr. Albert Gonsalves’s dream of a British son with a British looking wife with British dresses came to a final end. He saw his son walk up to the aisle of the church in orange coloured pantaloons escorting a pretty young girl in a saree. This so unnerved Mr. Gonsalves that his mind became a complete blank and he lost his power of speech. While on the evanhelical pulpit he coughed and stammered but words refused to come out of his mouth . He could not even remember the story of Jonah and the whale. The service had to be turned into prayer meeting. Mr. Gonsalves ceased to be a preacher thereafter. He now only made furniture.
The Young Writer
In 1953, my father died with his ancient mother still alive. The old lady was eighty-five and hadn’t even known he was ill. Thanking the shock might kill her, my aunt Sushila told her that he had moved to Bangalore for his business. Since my father had never made much money, this was the aspect of news my grand-mother dwelled on, that he had finally had some success. And so it came about that as we mourned him at home, my grandmother was bragging to her cronies about her son’s new successful life in Bangalore.
My aunt had decided on her course of action without consulting us. It meant neither my mother nor my brother nor I could visit Grandma because we were supposed to have moved south too. My brother Harish and I didn’t mind---it was always a nightmare at the old people’s home, where we were required to make conversation with Grandma. She looked terrible, had numerous ailments, and her mind wandered. Not seeing her was no disappointment for my mother too who had never got along with the old woman. My mother felt Bishan’s family had never accepted her. She had battled them for twenty-five years as an outsider.
A few weeks after the end of our ritual mourning my aunt Sushila phoned us from her home in Allahabad. She had called to say that Grandma was asking why she hadn’t heard from Bishan. I had answered the phone. “Your handwriting is so similar to your father,” my aunt said. “You are also good in writing. Would you mind making up something? I’ll read and show her the letter. She won’t know anything and feel happy to see Bishan’s handwriting.”
That evening at the dining table, I pushed my homework aside and composed a letter. I tried to imagine my father’s response to his new life. He had never been south. He had never traveled anywhere. In his generation the great journey was from your home to a relative’s home, a few hundred miles away. But he loved Lucknow where he had been born and lived his life. Heespecially loved the old parts of the city where he would find shops that wholesaled in brasswares. He owned a brassware shop. He liked to bring home rare items that were sold very rarely. He brought home a special image of Lord Ganesh made in brass, another time a wide assortment of wooden handicrafts made in Saharanpur, and another time a wooden case with a brass handle.
Dear mother, I wrote, Namaskar. Bangalore is a beautiful city and the climate very cool. I go for my morning walks to the central gardens. They are so full of trees and very green. It is wonderful seeing them and hearing the chirping of birds.
My business has started doing well. The decision to shift here has worked very well. My new shop is selling more and more brassware. I hope to add wooden furniture too as an item of sale. This is a very good item for Bangalore. Please take care for your health.
My aunt called some days later and told me it was when she showed and read this letter about to the old lady that the full effect of Bishan’s death came over her. She had to excuse herself and go out to cry. “I wept so,” she said. “I felt such terrible longing for him. You’re so right. He so much loved his morning walks, loved everything.”
* * *
We began trying to organize our lives. My father had borrowed money and there was very little left. My mother applied for a job in the local hospital where my father’s terminal illness had been diagnosed, and where he had spent sometime until they had sent him home to die. She knew a lot of doctors and staff and she had learned from bitter experience, as she told them, about hospital routine. She was hired.
I hated the hospital. It was dark and grim and full of tortured people. I thought it was foolish of my mother to seek out a job there, but did not tell her so.
We lived in a small house near the canal colony. It was jammed with furniture because when my father had required a hospital bed during the last weeks of his illness we had moved some of the living-room pieces into the bedroom and made over the living room for him. We had to navigate beds, tables, cabinets, two radios and my brother’s musical instruments like harmonium. My mother continued to sleep in the living room. But most of these fixtures went unused because my mother did not care for them. They were in part responsible for the awful clutter of our lives and now she wanted to get rid of them. “We’re being buried,” She said one day. “Who needs them?”
So we agreed to throw out or sell anything inessential. While I found boxes for the various small items and my brother tied the boxes with twine, my mother opened my father’s box and took out his clothes. He had several suits because my father liked British dresses and whenever possible, he put on his suit and tie. This was specially so in the winter months. My mother wanted us to try on his suits to see which of them could be altered and used. I tried on one coat which was too large for me. The living inside the sleeves chilled my arms and the vaguest scent of my father’s being came to me.
“This is too big,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” my mother said. ”I had it cleared. Would I let you wear it if it was not cleaned?”
It wan an evening, the end of winter. The ceiling bulb glared on a pile of my father’s suits on hangers flung across the bed in the shape of a dead man. We refused to try on anything more, and my mother began to cry.
“What are you crying for?” my brother said. “You wanted to get rid of things. Didn’t you?”
* * *
A few weeks later my aunt phoned again and said she thought it would be necessary to have another letter from Bishan. Grandma had fallen out of her chair and bruised herself and was very depressed.
“How long does this go on?” my mother asked.
“It’s not so terrible,” my aunt said. “For the little time left to make things easier for her.”
My mother slammed down the phone. “Your father couldn’t even die when he had to!” she cried. “Even death comes second to you aunt! What is she afraid of? The shock will kill you Grandma? Nothing an kill her. She’s indestructible! I’ll die before her.”
When I sat down on the table to write the writer the letter I found it more difficult than the first one. “Don’t watch me,” I said to my brother. “It’s hard enough.”
“You don’t have to do something just because someone wants you to,” Harish said. He was two years older than me and had just begun his college.
Dear mother, I wrote. Namuskar. I hope you’re feeling well. We’re all fine. Life is here good and the people are very friendly and warm hearted. I have made many new friends. I also put on my winter clothes more often as the Bangalore climate is very cool. You know how I love my suits.
My business is doing better. You remember Gopal’s shop—the one that sold groceries. Well Gopal too his shifted to Bangalore. He has opened a shop and calls it Gopal electric. He sells electric gadgets. As my business is giving me good money, we have bought a refrigerator, a pressure cooker and some other electric gadgets.
I sent that letter off to my aunt Sushila, and as we all expected soon thereafter. My brother held his hand over the mouthpiece. “It’s aunt Sushila with her latest review,” he said.
“Mahesh? You’re a very talented young man. I just wanted to tell you what a blessing your letter was,. Her whole face lif up when I read that part about Bishan dong better in business. This would be an excellent way to continue.”
“Well, I hope I don’t have to do this anymore. It’s not very honest.”
Her tone changed. “Is your mother there? Let me talk to her.”
“She’s not here,” I said.
“Tell her not to worry,” my aunt said. “A poor old lady who has never wished anything but the best for her will soon die.”
I did not repeat this to my mother for whom it would have been one more in the family anthology of unforgivable remarks. But then I had to suffer it myself for the possible truth it might embody. Each side defended its position with rhetoric, but I, who wanted peace, rationalized the snubs and rebuffs, each inflicted on the other, took no stands like my father himself.
Years ago his life had fallen into a pattern of business failures and missed opportunities. The great debate between his family on the one side, and my mother on the other, was this; “who was responsible for the fact that he had not lived up to anyone’s expectations?”
As to the prophesies, when spring came my mother’s prevailed. Grandma was still alive.
* * *
Once when my mother wasn’t home my brother pointed out that letters from father weren’t really necessary. “What is this ritual?” he said, holding his palms up. “Grandma is almost totally blind. She’s half deaf and crippled. Does the situation really call for fake letter?”
“Then why did aunt Sushila ask me?”
“That’s exactly the point,” my brother said. “The idea is service. Father used to go out of the way to do things for them. He was always on the hook for something. Aunt Sushila never thought his time was important. Any problem? Call Bishan.”
“It was a matter of pride for him to be able to do things for Grandma and her family,” I said.
“Yesh, I wonder why,” my brother said. He looked out of the window.
Then it suddenly dawned on me that I was being implicated.
“You should use your head more,” my brother said.
* * *
Yet, I had agreed once again to write a letter from Bangalore and so I did I mailed it off to aunt Sushila. A few days later when I came home from school, I saw her sitting in our house.
“Hello, Mahesh,” she said. “I came from Allahabad just to see you. I want to talk to you about something.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Mahesh,” she said. “This is your letter on the sofa seat. Needless to say I didn’t read it to your Grandama. I’m giving it back to you and I won’t ever say a word to anyone. This is just between us. I never expected cruelty from you. I never thought you were capable of doing something so deliberately cruel and perverse.”
I said nothing.
“Your mother has very bitter feelings and now I see she has poisoned you with them. She has always resented the family. She is a very strong-willed, selfish person.”
“No she isn’t,” I said. “
I wouldn’t expect you to agree. She drove poor Bishan crazy with her demands. She always had thc highest aspirations and he could never fulfill them to her satisfaction. When he started his shop, he had to keep your mother’s brother, who drank on his income. When he began to make some money he had to buy your mother expensive sarees just because she was so desperate to have them. He had debts to pay but she wanted sarees. He was a very special person, my brother. He should have accomplished something special but he loved your mother and devoted his life to her. And all she ever thought about was keeping up with the others.”
I watched the traffic going up and down outside our house. A group of children were waiting at the bus stop at the corner. They had put their books on the ground and were playing.
“I’m sorry I have to descend to this,” aunt Sushila went on. I don’t like talking about people this way. If I have nothing good to say about someone, I’d rather not say anything. How is Harish?”
“Did he help you write this marvelous letter?"
After a moment she said more softly. “How are you all getting along?”
“I would invite you to our house if I thought your mother would accept.”
I didn’t answer.
“I’ll say good-bye now, Mahesh,” she said while getting up. “Take your letter. I hope you give some time to thinking about what you’ve done.”
* * *
That night while lying in bed I opened the envelope and unfolded the letter. It read:
This will be my final letter to you since I have been told by the doctors, that I am dying.
I have sold my shop at a very fine profit and am sending Sushila a cheque for rupees fifty thousand to be deposited in your account. My final present to you, my dearest mother. Let Sushila show you the passbook.
As for the nature of my ailment, the doctors haven’t told me what it is, but I know that I am simply dying of the wrong life. I should never have come to Bangalore. It wasn’t the place for me.
I have asked my sons to have my body cremated and the ashes scattered in the ocean near Mangalore.
Yours loving son,
A Woman of Love
The town of Ambikapur was a whole day’s journey away from the villages of the northern part of Surguja district in Madhya Pradesh. They had left the village of Ramanujganj at about nine than morning and all day long the police truck droned as it sped southwards on the narrow bituminized road towards the central jail at Ambikapur.
At last in the evening, the white gloss of the city lights could be seen. The truck entered the city of Ambikapur and finally droned to a halt outside the prison gates. Torchlight struck the side of the prisoner’s face like an agonizing blow. Thinking she was asleep, the policeman called out briskly.
“You must awaken now. We have arrived”.
He struggled with the lock in the dark and a pulled open the grating. She crawled painfully forward in silence.
Together they walked up a short flight of stairs and waited a while as the man tapped lightly, several times on the heavy iron prison door. The night-duty attendant opened the door a crack, peered out and then opened the door a little wider for them to enter. He quietly and casually led the way to a small office, looked at his colleague and asked: “What do we have here?”
“It’s the husband’s murder case from Ramanujganj village,” the policeman replied, handing over a file.
The attendant took the file and sat down at a table on which lay open a large record book. In a big bold scrawl he recorded the details: Sumari Digga. Charge: husband’s murder. Sentence: life. A night-duty wardress appeared and let the prisoner away to a side cubicle where she was asked to undress.
“Have you any money on you?” The wardress queried, handing her a plain, white cotton dress which was the prison uniform. The prisoner silently shook her head.
“So you have killed your husband have you?” the wardress remarked with a flicker of hum our. “You’ll be in good company. We have four other women here for the same crime. It’s becoming a fashion these days. Come with me,” and she led the way along a corridor, turned left and stopped at an iron gate which she opened with a key, waited for the prisoner to walk in ahead of her and then locked it with the key again. They entered a small, immensely high-walled courtyard. On one side were toilets and a cupboard. On the other, an empty concrete quadrangle. The wardress walked to the cupboard, unlocked it and took out a thick roll of clean-smelling of the walled courtyard was a heavy iron door which led to the cell. The wardress walked up to this door, banged on it loudly and called out: “I say, will you women in there light your candle.”
A voice within called out: “All right,” and they could hear the scratch-scratch of a match. The wardress again inserted a key, opened the door and watched for a while as the prisoner spread out her blankets on the floor. The four women prisoners already confined in the cell sat up briefly and stared silently at their new companion. As the door was locked, they all greeted her quietly and one of the women asked: “Where do you come from?”
“Ramanujangj,” the newcomer replied and seemingly satisfied with that, the candle was blown out and the women lay down to continue their interrupted sleep. And as though she had reached the end of her destination, the new prisoner too fell into a deep sleep as soon as she had pulled her blankets about her.
The breakfast gong sounded at five the next morning. The women stirred themselves for their daily routine. They stood up., shook out their blankets and rolled them up into neat bundles. The day-duty wardress rattled the key in the lock and let them out into the small concrete courtyard so that they could perform their morning toilet. Then, with a loud clatter of mugs and plates, two male prisoners appeared at the gate with breakfast. The men handed each women milk, bread and a mug of black tea and the women settled them-selves on the concrete floor to eat. They turned and looked at their new companion and one of the women, a spokesman for the group said kindly:
“You should take care. The tea has no sugar in it. What we usually do is drink the milk and tea alternatively.”
The woman, Sumari Digga looked up and smiled. She had experienced such terror during the trial period that she looked more like a skeleton than a human being. Her skin creaked tautly over her cheeks. The other woman smiled but after her own fashion. She had a full, plump figure. She introduced herself and her companions: “My name is Sonabai. Then that’s Mangiri, Sundaribai and Itwari. What may your name be?”
“It is a good name. Who named you Sumari?” Sonabai asked.
“My father passed away at my birth and it is my mother who named me Sumari,” she said. “She herself passed away six years later and I was brought up by my uncle.”
Sonabai shook her head sympathetically, slowly raising the bread to her mouth. That swallowed, she asked:
“And what is your crime?”
“I have killed my husband.”
“We are all here for the same crime,” Sonabai said. Then with her cynical smile asked: “Do you feel any sorrow about the crime?”
“Not really,” the new woman replied.
“How did you kill him?”
“I cut off all his special parts with a knife,” Sumari said
“I did it with a razor,” Sonabai said. She sighed and added: “I have had a troubled life.”
A little silence followed while they all busied themselves with their food; then Sonabai continued musingly:
“Our men do not think that we need tenderness and care. You know, my husband used to kick me between the legs when he wanted that. I once aborted with a child due to this treatment. I could see that there was no way to appeal to him if I fell ill, so I once said to him that if he liked he could keep some other woman as well because I couldn’t manage to satisfy all his need. Every year he made different women pregnant. Ultimately, I felt I had had enough. And so I killed him.”
They sat in silence and completed their meal. Then they took their plates and mugs to rinse them in the washroom. The wardress produced some buckets and a broom. Their sleeping quarters had to be flushed out with water as that was a prison routine. All that was left was now an inspection by the jailor. Here again Sonabai turned to the new-comer and warned:
“You must be careful when the chief comes to inspect. He is mad—about one thing-attention! Stand up straight! Hands at you sides! If this is not done you should see how he stands here and curses. He does not mind anything but that. He is mad—about that.”
Inspection over, the women were taken through a number of gates to an open, sunny yard, fenced in by a high barbed-wire where they did their daily work. The prison was a rehabilitation centre where the prisoners produced goods which were sold in the prison store; the men did carpentry and shoe-making; the women knitted and made garments.
Sumari had a number of sills—she could knit, new, and weave baskets. All the women at present were busy knitting woolen garments; some were learners and did their work slowly and painstakingly. They looked at Sumari with interest as she took a ball of wool and a pair of knitting needles and rapidly cast on stitches. By mid-morning, she had completed the front part of a jersey and they all stopped to admire the pattern she had invented in her own head.
“You are a gifted person,” Sonabai remarked, admiringly.
“All my friends say so,” Sumari replied smiling. “You know, I am the woman whose thatch never leaked. Whenever my friends wanted to thatch their huts, I was there. They would never do it without me. I was always busy and employed because it was with these hands that I fed and marriage but I managed well enough to feed those mouths.
“It’s not so bad here,” Sonabai said. “We get a little money saved for us out of the sale of our work and if you work like that, you can still produce money for your children. How many children do you have?”
“I have three sons.”
“Are they in good care?“
“I like lunch,” Sonabai said, oddly turning the conversation. “It is the bet meal of the day. We get rice and vegetables.”
So the day passed pleasantly enough with chatter and work and at sunset the women were taken back to their cell. They unrolled their blankets and prepared their beds and continued to talk a while longer. Just as they were about to retire for the night, Sumari nodded to her new-found friend, Sonabia.
“Thank you for all your kindness to me,” she said, softly.
“We must help each other,” Sonabai replied with her amused, cynical smile. “This is a terrible world. There is only misery here.”
And so for Sumari Digga began phase three of a life that had been ashen in its loneliness and unhappiness. Yet she had always found gold amidst the ash; and deep loves that had joined her heart to the hearts of others. She smiled tenderly at Sonabai because she knew that she had already found another such love.
* * *
There were really only two kinds of men in the society. The one kind created such misery and chaos that they could be broadly damned as evil. This kind of man lived near the animal level and behaved just the same. Like the dogs and bulls and donkeys, he also accepted no responsibility for the young he procreated and like the dogs and bulls and donkeys, he also made females abort.
One such man was Budharu Digga, the husband of Sumari. He was a clerk in a government office and earned rupees five hundred a month. He had a enormous taste for womanizing. He was seldom at home and lived and slept around the villages, from woman to woman. He left his wife and three sons aged six, three and one to their own resources.
There was another kind of man in the society with the power to create. He turned all his resources, both emotional and material, towards his family life and went on and on with his own quiet rhythm, like a river. He was the kind who kept faith in man and society alive.
One such man was Maleshwar Sai. He and his wife Rajwaro, and their two children came to live in the village of Ramanujganj. Maleshwar Sai was the principal of the higher secondary school in the village.
Neighbors are the centre of the universe to each other. They help each other at all times and mutually loan each other goods. Sumari Digga was one such neighbor. Maleshwar Sai impressed her immediately when she went around to introduce herself and find out a little about the new comers. He was a slim, slow moving, mild mannered, tall man. He exuded goodness and charm.
He turned and smiled at her in a friendly way when she introduced herself and he explained that he and his wife had come on transfer from the village, Samri. He was in hurry to settle down as the school term would start in a month’s time. His wife would be coming around in a few days with the children.
“I would like to offer any help,” Sumari said.
The man smilingly replied that he would tell this to his wife; then he added charmingly that he thought she would like his wife when they met. His wife was a friendly person, everyone liked her.
Sumari walked back to her own house with a high heart. She had few callers. None of her relatives called for fear that since her husband had left her she would become dependent on them. The people who called did business with her; they wanted her to make dresses for their children or knit jerseys for the winter time and at times when she had no orders at all, she made baskets which she sold. In these ways she supported herself and the three children but she was lonely for true friends.
It turned out as Maleshwar Sai had said—he had a lovely wife. She was thin and had a bright, vivacious manner. The Sai family moved into their new house and Sumari moved into one of the most satisfying and happy periods of her life. Her life took a big, wide, upward curve. Her relationship with the Sai family became more than the usual friendly exchange of neighbors. It became rich and creative.
It was not long before the two women had got going one of those deep, affectionate, sharing-everything kind of friendships that only women know how to have. It seemed that Rajwaro wanted endless amounts of dresses made for herself and her two little girls. Since Sumari would not accept cash for the services, Maleshwar Sai arranged that she be repaid in household goods like grain for these services. The two women did everything together—they were forever together at weddings, funerals, and parties in the village. In their leisure hours they freely discussed all their intimate affairs with each other, so that each knew thoroughly the details of the other’s life.
“You are a lucky person,” Sumari remarked one day, wistfully. “Not everyone has the gift of a husband like Maleshwar Sai.”
“Oh yes,” Rajwaro said happily. “He is a good man.” She knew a little of Sumari’s list of woes and queried: “But why did you marry a man like Budharu? He is nothing but a butterfly.”
“I think I mostly wanted to get out of my uncle’s house,” Sumari replied. “I never liked my uncle. He was a hard man and very selfish. I was only a servant there and pushed about. I went there when I was six years old when my mother died, and it was not a happy life. All his children despised me because I was their servant. He was keen to get rid of me as soon as possible. Budharu was a friend of my uncle and he began taking an interest in me. They discussed it between themselves and then my uncle said: ‘You’d better marry Budharu because you’re just hanging around here like a chain on my neck’. I agreed just to get away from that terrible man. I did not even protest when Budharu started running about with other women because I would be the loser. He would have walked away from me and I had three children. Who would have looked after them?”
“I am amazed at how life imparts its gifts,” her friend said, shaking her head in deep sympathy. “Some people get too much. Others get nothing at all. I have always been lucky in life. Maleshwar takes care of everything; so I never have a day of worry”.
The man Maleshwar Sai, attracted as wide a range of friends as his wife. They had guests every evening; illiterate men who wanted him to fill in forms or write letters for them or friends who wanted to debate the political matters. Sometimes the two women sat on the edge of these debates and listened with fascinated ears but they never participated.
And so a completely new world opened up for Sumari Digga. It was so impossibly rich and happy that as the days went by, she immersed herself more deeply in it and quite overlooked the barrenness of her own life. But it hung there like a nagging ache in the mind of her friend, Rajwaro.
“You ought to find another man,” She urged one day, when they had one of their personal discussions. “It’s not good for a woman to live alone.”
“And who would that be?” Sumari asked, disillusioned. “I’d only be bringing trouble into my life whereas now it is all in order. I have my eldest son at school and have saved some money for his college education. The other two boys are still young and doing well in school. That’s all I really care about.”
“I mean,” said Rajwaro, “we are also here to make love and enjoy it.”
“Oh, I never really cared for it,” the other replied.” When you experience the worst of it, it just puts you off altogether.”
“What do you mean by that?” Rajwaro asked, wide-eyed.”
“I means it was just jump on and jump off and I used to wonder what it was all about. I developed a dislike for it.”
“You mean Budharu was like that!” Rajwaro said, flabbergasted. ”Why, that’s just like a cock hopping from hen to hen. I wonder what he is doing with all those women….” She paused and then added earnestly: “That’s really all the more reason you should find another man. Oh, if you knew what it was really like, you would long for it, I can tell you! I sometimes think I enjoy that side of life far too much. Maleshwar knows a lot about all that. And he always has some new trick with which to surprise me. He has a certain way of smiling when he has thought up something new and I shiver a little and say to myself: “Ha! What is Maleshwar going to do tonight!”
Rajwaro paused and smiled at her friend, styly.
“I can ask Maleshwar to find someone for you if you like,” she said; then raised one hand to block the protest on her friend’s face: “I would do it because I have never had a friend like you in my life whom I trust so much. Maleshwar had other girls you know, before he married me, so may be….. ay be I can ask him to help his friend too… I am six months into my pregnancy and so he can’t do much to me these days.”
Sumari stared at the ground for a long moment. Then she looked up at her friend with tears in her eyes.
“I cannot accept such a gift from you,” she said deeply moved.” But when you are ill, I will wash, cook and do all your other house work for you.”
Shortly after this, Rajwaro had a miscarriage and had to be admitted to a hospital for a minor operation. Sumari kept her promise to wash, cook and do all other housework’ for her friend. She ran Rajwaro’s home, fed the children and kept everything in order. It was for Sumari a joy to look after her friends home for she was a woman of love.
* * *
Ten years passed for Sumari in a quiet rhythm of work and friendship with Rajwaro and Maleshwar Sai. The crisis came with her eldest son Chaitu passing well in his school examination and now wishing to join college.
Sumari had opened a savings account at the post office to save money for her son’s education. But in spite of all her savings show was short of rupees three hundred as admission fees and rupees thirty per month to cover the fees and other expenses of Chaitu’s college education. She decided to meet Budharu and request him for this money. After all he was the father of her sons. She had not seen him in ten years except as a passer-by in the village. Sometimes he waved but he had never talked to her or inquired about her life. Then she turned up at his office one day, just as he was about to leave for lunch. She had heard from village gossip that he had eventually settled down with a married woman who had a brood of children of her own. He had ousted her husband in a typical village quarrel of brawls, curses, and abuse. The attraction of this particular woman for Budharu, so the village gossip went, was that she went in for heady forms of love-making like biting and scratching.
Badharu Digga walked out of his office and looked irritably at the ghost from his past, his wife. She obviously wanted to talk to him and he walked towards her, looking at his watch all the while. He indicated with his eyes that they should move around to the back of the office where they could talk in privacy.
“You must hurry with whatever you want to say,” he said impatiently. “The lunch-hour is very short and I have to be back at the office by two.”
Not to him could she talk of the pride she felt in Chaitu’s achievement in passing with such good marks in school. So she said simply and quietly: “Budharu, I beg you to help me pay Chaitu’s fees for college. He has passed with very good marks in school and as you know, the college fees must be paid on the first day of college or else he will be turned away. He has also to buy text books. I have struggled to save money all my life but I am short by rupees three hundred as admission fees and rupees thirty per month.”
She handed him her post office savings book which he took, glanced at it and handed it back to he took, glanced at it and handed it back to her. Then he smiled, a smirk know-all smile, and thought he was delivering her a blow in the face.
“Why don’t you ask Maleshwar Sai for the money?” he said. Everyone knows he’s keeping two homes and that you are his spare. Everyone knows that he sends you grain to feed you, so why can’t he pay the college fees as well?”
She neither denied this nor confirmed it. The blow glanced off her face which she raised slightly in pride. Then she walked away.
As was their habit, the two women got together that evening and Sumari reported this conversation with her husband to Rajwaro who toosed back her head in anger and said fiercely: “The filthy dog himself! He thinks every man is like him, does he? I shall report this matter to Maleshwar and he’ll do something.”
And indeed Maleshwar did do something. He went to see Badharu Digga the very next day. Budharu smiled genially and expansively when a madly angry Maleshwar Sai came to the door of his house where he lived with his concubine. Budharu had been through a lot of these dramas and he knew by experience the dialogue that would follow.
“You bastard!” Maleshwar Sai spat out. “Your wife isn’t my concubine, do you hear?”
“Then why are you sending her food and looking after her?” Budharu drawled. “Men only do that for women with whom they sleep! They never do it for nothing.”
Maleshwar Sai rested one hand against the wall, half dizzy with anger, and he said tensely: “You defile life Budharu Digga. There’s nothing else in your world but defilement. Sumari Digga makes clothes for my wife and children and she will never accept money from me, so how else must I pay her?
“It only proves the story both ways,” the other replied, vilely. “Women do that for men who fuck them.” Unable to control himself, Maleshar Sair shot out the other hand, punched him soundly in one grinning eye and walked away.
Obviously Budharu Digga could not hide this livid, swollen eye for long? So to every surprised inquiry he replied with an injured air: “It was done by my wife’s lover, Maleshwar Sai.”
It certainly brought the attention of the whole village upon him. People half liked the smear on Maleshwar Sai as he was too good to be true. They delighted in making him a part of the general dirt of the village as that suited them. They turned on Budharu and scolded: “Your wife might be getting things from Maleshwar Sai but it’s beyond the purse of any man to pay for school education of his own children as well as the college education of another man’s child. Chaitu wouldn’t be there had yhou not procreated him. So Budharu, it is your duty to care for him. Besides, it’s your fault if your wife takes another man. You left her alone all these years.”
This story was talked and lived with for two weeks, mostly because people wanted to think that Maleshwar Sai was a part of life too. They could not accept a man of superior morals than them because it showed their own weaknesses.
As for Budharu, his obscene thought processes made him really believe that no man would send food to a woman without having sex with her. He also felt that as Sumari was his wife he should reestablish his own claim to her to teach Maleshwar Sai a lesson. And so after two weeks, once the swelling in his eye had died down, he located Chaitu and asked him to take a note to his mother. The note read: ‘Dear Mother. I am coming home again so that we may settle our differences. Will you prepare a meal for me and some hot water so that I might take a bath? Budharu.’
Sumari took the note, read it an shook with rage. All its overtones were clear to her. He was coming home for some sex. They had no differences. They had not even talked to each other.
“Chaitu,” she said, “Will you play nearby? I want to think a bit. Then I will send you to your father with a reply.”
Her thought processes were not very clear to her. There was something she could not immediately touch upon. Her life had become holy to her during all the years she had struggled to maintain herself and the children. She turned her thoughts this way and that and could find no way except to face him. A thoughtful brooding look came over her face. At last, at peace with herself, she called Chaitu and told him to go to his father and tell him ‘mother says you should come to her this evening. She will prepare everything as you have wished.’
It was about midday when Chaitu sped back to meet his father. All afternoon Sumari busied herself making preparations for the appearance of her husband. At one point Rajwaro approached the house and looked around in amazement at the massive preparations, the large iron water pot full of water fire. When Sumari said: “ am making preparations for Budharu. He is coming home tonight,” Rajwaro beat a hasty retreat to her own home terrified. They knew they were involved because when she mentioned this to her husband he was distracted and uneasy for the rest of the day. So deep was their sense of disturbance that towards evening they no their house. Then, at about nine o’clock, they heard those wild and agonized bellows: They both rushed out together to the house of Sumari Digga.
* * *
He came home at sunset and found everything ready for him as he had requested. He settled himself down to enjoy a man’s life. He had brought along a bottle of country liquor and he sat outdoors slowly savoring it while every now and then his eyes swept over the neighborhood. He found no persons moving around. Budharu smiled to himself—pleased that he could crow as loud as he liked while enjoying Sumari Digga that night.
A basin of warm water was placed before him to wash his hands and then Sumari served him his meal. At a separate distance she also served the children and them instructed them to wash and prepare for bed. She noted that Budharu displayed no interest in the children whatsoever. He was entirely wrapped up in himself and thought only of himself and his own comfort. Any tenderness he offered the children might have broken her and swerved her mind away from the deed she had carefully planned all that afternoon. She was beneath his regard and notice too, for when she eventually brought her own plate of food and sat near him, he never once glanced at her face. He drank his liquor and sat indifferently during the entire meal.
“Budharu, do you think you could help me with Chaitu’s college education?” Sjmari asked at one point.
“Oh, I’ll think about it,” he replied casually.
She stood up and carried two buckets of water into the hut so that he might bather himself. Then while he took his bath she busied herself tidying up and completing the last of the household chores. That done, she entered the children’s room in their hut. They had played hard during the day and had already fallen asleep with exhaustion. She knelt down near their sleeping mats and stared at them for a long while with an extremely tender expression. Then she lowered the wick of the lantern, blew out the flame and walked to her own hut.
Budharu lay sprawled across the bed in such a manner that indicated he only thought of himself and did not intend sharing the bed with anyone else. Satiated with food and drink, he had fallen into a deep, heavy sleep the moment his head touched the pillow. His concubine had perhaps taught him that the correct way for a man to go to bed was naked. So he lay, unguarded and defenseless, sprawled across the bed on his back.
The empty buckets made a loud clatter as Sumari removed them from the room but still he slept on, lost to the world. She re-entered the hut and closed the door. Then she bent down and reached for the knife under the bed which she had hardworking hands, she caught hold of his genitals and cut them off with one storke. In doing so, she slit the main artery which ran on the inside of the groin. A massive spurt of blood arched its way across the bed as Budharu bellowed. He bellowed his anguish loudly till all was silent. She stood and watched his death anguish with an intent and brooding look, missing not one detail. A knock on the door stirred her out of her reverie. It was Chaitu. She opened the door and stared at him, speechless. He was trembling violently.
“Mother,” he said, in a terrified whisper. “Didn’t I hear father cry?”
“I have killed him,” she said, waving her hand in the air with a gesture that said-well, that’s that. Then she added sharply “Chaitu, go and call the police.”
He turned and fled into the night. A second pair of footsteps followed hard on his heels. It was Rajwaro running back to her own house, half out of her mind with fear. Out of the dark Maleshwar Sai stepped towards the hut and entered it. He took in every detail and then he turned and looked at Sumari with such a tortured expression that for a long time words failed him. At last he said: “You don’t have to worry about the children, Sumari. I’ll take them as my own and give them all a proper education.”
My father was a communist, an atheist, and a great intellectual. When other boys my age were being given two rupee notres for seeing a movie cinema and having milk shake and French fries, I was going house to house to collecting money for the people’s movement. My mother and older sister were also communists, atheist, and intellectuals. I was a communist for while, an atheist for while, but never, I repeat never, an intellectual.
More then anything. I liked playing cricket and none of the boys who were members of my Y.C.C., young communist club, knew and cared about cricket. They all looked alike very intense, very skinny, with only black hair and double thick myopic glasses that looked like wrong way binoculars perched on their noses. I always had a feeling that if I ever threw them a cricket ball they would put their hands up and the ball would snack them in the face. My comrades looked upon me with suspicion. My dedication towards the movement was not what it should have been. I was told, if it didn’t been for my father, I would have been kicked out of the club. We met once a week and made plkans for India when the revolution would come. Sometimes we were pointed by our sister Y.C.C. Young communist girls looked a million times better then young communist boys. Everybody, including me, smoked like a fiend in those days. Smoking was a fashion which also symbolized our superior thinking.
I played cricket with a group of local boys in a park in Calcutta, where I grew up I never discussed the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republic) with any of them. I’m sure if they had know what I was doing oonce a week, they would have kicked me off the team.
More than anything, my father wanted me to read. “Not to read,” he would say, pausing deep in thought, “is not to have eyesight.” I never answered him. What could I possibly say to that? Almost every day my father handed me books. “Here,” he would say, “read it and we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
I tried, I really did. I would have liked to please my father, but with the exception of story books, I found them boring.
What My Father Did for a Living
Work interfered with my father’s life, so he worked only five hours a day, selling newspapers and magazines. Besides his income from his newspaper and magazine stall, my father made a modest amount of money translating books into Bengali. My father was fluent in Russian, French, #English and of course Bengali.
Besides selling newspapers and magazines, and besides his work as a translator, my father wrote Bengali poetry. As far as I know, he never receied any money for his poetry. On the contrary, in a sense he paid for their publication. There were three Bengali newspapers published in Calcutta in the late foretiesand early fifties. ‘Sandesh’ which my father and many of his friends considered a right-wing newspaper, ‘Aajkal’ a middle of the mad newspaper, and ‘Jagriti’, a left winge, which many thought was a communist paper.
My father had two arrangements, one with ‘Aajkal’ and one with ‘Jagriti.’ With ‘Aajkal’ for every ten poems they published, he would arrange for three life-time subscriptions. With ‘Jagriti’, it was a one-on-one basis; for every poem---a lifetime subscription. He published most of his poetry in ‘Jagriti’.
Culture seeped through my house. It came at you from everywhere. The walls were infused with it. The floors exhaled it; the ceilings exhaled it. Every room looked like a library. Books everywhere: floor to ceiling, wall to wall, sitting on shelves, and, where there were no shelves, vertically stacked from the floor up. We had a large dining table. I do not recall a single meal served there because the dining table always had books stacked on it. That was my father’s desk: where he worked, read. Translated, and wrote his poetry. My mother never had to worry about cleaning the walls, because there were no walls. If they weren’t covered by books and bookcases, there were paintings. Using a double-edged razor with a black tape on one side, my father would carefully slit his favourite paintings out of the art books, put them in a simple frame, and exchange them for a painting already hanging. A Van Gogh went up, a Rembrandt came down. One week Chagall would replace Matisse. Only to be replaced the following week by Mandarin. It was process without end. Besides the books, besides the art, there was classical musk on from the moment he came home until he went to sleep. Mostly it was sitar or Bengali folk songs.
With the exception of my sister’s friends, the only people who came into my house were friends of my father, intellectuals, poets, writers, would be poets and would be writers, and communists. They mostly spoke simultaneously. There were thus loud arguments and much fist thumping. Was Hemingway a liberal? Was Gandhi a socialist? What direction should the movement take? Whenever these discussions were taking place, I walked away from my house with a cricket bat and ball.
My Older Sister
My sister was twelve years older. Her name was Chitra. I don’t know why my parents waited so long to have a second child or may be I was an accident. I am very grateful to my sister for many reasons but more than anything else for the change of my name from Ivan Roth Bose, the great Russian general after whom I was named. When I was four, Chitra began lobbying my parents to change my name. Her arguments were simple and sound; nobody would understand it and it would be embarrassing for me to have this name when I grew up. This argument did not convince my father.
The good old central committee of the U.S.S.R. saved me from a life of Ivan Rogh Bose when it had a shift of policy and decided that Ivan Rogh wasn’t a hero after all but a neo-Trotskyite, and he was purged. My father, with the weight of this new evidence, relented and a search for a new name began. My father came up with new revolutionary names. My sister came up with names like Deb, Pratip and Subroto. My mother came up with Ashok, after her grandfather. My parents finally came up with Jyoti. Don’t ask me how Jyoti came up. A new birth certificate was officially issued and at the age of four, I became Jyoti Kumar Bose.
My sister Chitra was my go-between. Whenever I had a problem, I went to her, and she went to my father. When I wanted a bike, a radio, a cricket bat, it was Chitra who asked my father. Every request was a storm.
“A bike?” A radio? A cricket bat??? For what? What is he going to do? Become a hooligan? Tell him when he reads Chekhow I will consider a small radio. A bike is out of the question, and he’ll get a cricket bat when Tolstory sneezes,”
Somehow, Chitra arranged for me to get everything I needed.
My sister always had a lot of friends. She was tall and attractive and bright and knew how to dress smartly. She was certainly the best-looking communist in our locality which confused my father. I think it is safe to say that my father never liked nor trusted any of my sister’s male friends. He ……… that their interest in her extended beyond the revolutionary movement.
“What they want from her,” he frequently said, “has nothing to do with the people’s revolution.
I Become a Capitalist
When I was eighteen, my father realized that I was no good for college. Studies did not interest me. He put me into business for myself. He opened another news and magazine stall and put me in charge of it. My father provided me the money to get me started. I bought my newspaper and magazines from a man my father introduced me to , whose name was Ali. Ali got paid every three days and carried a pistol. I know, because he showed it to me the first time I paid him. Ali took an immediate liking to me and would spend considerable time by my stall; sometimes helping me out. He even came to a couple of my cricket matches. He had a lot of stories about gangsters, and was always hinting at some close connection of his who could get him, or any friend of his, any thing.
My business flourished. People took kindly to me; many of them going out of their way to buy their magazines and morning papers at my stand. It began to develop regular customers whose names I learnt. I had a couple of regulars who gave me a note and waved off the change. Many of my customers learned my name and when picking up their papers would ask how I was doing in cricket. After I had been open for four months, I was taking home one hundred rupees a month after all expenses. None of my friends made that kind of money.
My father was proud of my success. He didn’t tell me so directly but he boasted to his friends how well his son, the entrepreneur, was doing. I began to know him in a different way. He would wake me every morning at five, and we would have tea together. Over a cup of tea we would discuss many things, my future, my interests, my likes and dislikes.
I was doing so well in my stall that I began looking around for other spots to open more. There were two places near my stall where I thought a stall like mine would succeed. I spoke to my father about it, showed him the location after work, and told him how easy it would be for me to get school friends to run them. “More and more people want something to read on trams, buses or in office, “I said. “And they are keen to buy newspapers and magazines. Look how well I’m doing after being open only a few months.”
My father was impressed. He told me to speak to Ali before I did anything. That night I could hardly sleep as twenty rupee notes danced in front of my eyes.
The next day I presented my plan to Ali. “It could be a gold mine,” I said excitedly. I’ve got two boys lined up and if these places work as well as mine, I can start a printing press.”
When Ali didn’t like something he had a way of looking at you as though you were a fool and that’s the way he was looking at me.
“What’s wrong?” I said.
“Let me give it to you straight. Forget it.”
“Because I said so. You are what we call, very naive.”
“But you said so. You are what we call, very naïve.” “But you said you could do anything for me. Anything. Just ask Ali. “I mimicked him angrily.
“I meant girls. Girls.” He winked at me.
“I don’t want girls; I want those two stalls in the neighborhood.”
Ali stared at me. “All right,” he said. “I’ll help you.”
My Father Has a Crisis and I come to his Aid
One day my father stopped writing poetry because he ran out of friends. Everybody he knew, every single person he could think of , was now receiving a lifetime subscription of ‘Aajkal’ or ‘Jagriti.’ He became despondent and depressed. His depression was further accentuated by the fact that the much expected revolution in India had not materialised and its hope of coming were becoming dimmer.
“Couldn’t you continue to write poerty?” I asked him one morning.
“And do what with it?”
“Give the ‘Jagriti’ whatever you normally give them and let them do whatever they want with the money. Make a contribution. What difference dose it make?”
He slammed his fist on the table. “ you mean I should pay to have my poetry published?” he shouted. “Is that what you are telling me? Is that my son’s great advice? I should pay to have my poetry published. Where is your sensitivity? How can you tell me about my poetry? My poetry is everything to me. Do you think this is my pleasure? Or even you think your ability to hit a cricket ball is my pleasure? Or even better, perhaps you think that one day I will come to your cricket matches to cheer, and afterwards you imagine the two of us playing cricket together?”
My father never hit me but each word he said to me that morning was like a slap in the face. I fought back the tears. I wanted to tell him that just because I didn’t read poetry didn’t mean I couldn’t understand his pain. I would very much have liked to play cricked with him. Would that be so terrible? To bowl to your father? But my father dominated me and sentences like that did not from in my mouth.
My father’s depression got worse. He stopped reading; he stopped translating and he stopped talking to me except for an occasional monosyllable.
“Look,” I said one morning. “I have a way that you san start writing your poetry again.”
“I’m not interested. Let it rest. When the day comes that I need advice from my son who can’t read past the sports pages, I’m in trouble.”
“I think I can help you,” I persisted.
“You cannot help me. Now stop talking. That would help me.”
“Will you do me a favour?”
“Will you come to the library with me after work”?
“The library?” My father showed some emotion. “I didn’t know you where it was.”
“Why? What are we going to do there?”
“I’m not going to tell you.” I knew if I told him my ides he wouldn’t go. “Will you do it?”
“All right. My son wants to take me to the library? In Calcutta, wonders never cease.”
That afternoon, after work, we went to the central library. “Sit here,” I told my father. “I’ll be right back.” I returned in a moment with my arms loaded with ten to twelve telephone directories of various towns of Bengal.
“What are those?”
“They are telephone books.”
My father closed his eyes. “We are in a library,” he said taking a deep breath. “I am in a library with my son, a library where the shelves are filled with Prem Chand and Tagore and Shakespeare and Milton and my son brings me telephone books.”
Paying on attention to him I opened the telephone book of a town at random. “Look at this.”
“What am I looking at?”
"In this town there are telephone numbers of various people. Here”. I pointed out a name in the middle of a page and wrote it down on a paid. “Prateep Kumar Chatterjee. His address is also written.” I skipped a few pages to another name. “Ajoy Mitra. His address is also written.”
“What are you doing?” My father said. “Why did you bring me here? Is This funny? Am I to laugh?”
“These are names, father. Names of people you can send lifetime subscriptions of ‘Jagriti’.”
“Are you mad?”
“Why? What’s wrong with it? Why not?”
There was a half a minute of silence. My father nodded.
“Let me help you pick the names,” he said.
My father started writing poetry again.
Much has happened. The world has changed. My days as a young man are shadows. When I tell my wife and son that once I was a member of the Communist Party, they look at me with amusement.
My father died a few years ago. He was seventy-six. Although I was angry at him for many years, my anger has dissipated since his death, and now I remember most of all this tough little man who wanted more than anything in the world for his son to read a book.
I have been trying in vain to find some of his poetry with the idea of publishing his collection. It is inconceivable but he never kept copies of his work. I suppose my father thought ‘Aajkal’ and especially ‘Jagriti’ were immortal. ‘Aajkal’ has long since stopped publishing, and ‘Jagriti’ publishes a tabloid once a fortnight that bears little resemblance to the paper I knew. Almost everybody from that world is gone, and I have not been able to uncover a single poem that my father wrote.
When my father died his entire estate considered of books; hundreds and hundreds of them. On a rainy Sunday afternoon, my sister and I divided them up. Half of them sit in my house, and my son, who is sixteen. Reads them. My son has never held a cricket but in his hand, but he reads books with a passion and voracity that is astonishing. “I want,” he told me, “to read every book ever written.”
Besides the books, my father had bound many literary magazines that were being published in the forties and fifties. When my son first discovered them in a dusty carton, he acted like a young man in love. A few days later, he came to me with a copy of a 1945 issue of ‘Bhavishya’. “Look what I found,” he said. In the middle of the magazine was a yellow piece of paper folded over twice. It was an eight-line poem of my father.
“What is it?” my son asked.
“It’s your heritage,” I answered.