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A Difficult Puzzle— Atin Bandyopadhyay

Oct 22, 2022 | Fiction | 0 comments

Translated from the Bengali by Ankita Bose 

 

Since morning, he has been playing the game o’death. It’s not like this every day. And he never really plays alone. If he had to call others, he definitely would. On days when a dislike permeates everything, he takes them along, twists and turns through congested streets, or sometimes even empty streets. He listens keenly to the honking buses and occasionally to the abuses of the drivers. But at times when the game engulfs him in its intoxication, he thoroughly enjoys raising both his hands, signaling the double-decker buses on the city’s major roads and corners. Stubborn desires travel through his bloodstream as if he is completely inebriated.

However, he is alone today. He has been alone since the morning. Since morning, he has been standing under a tree, just beside the main road. A bus is headed in his direction at high speed, he cannot tell how high, only that it feels like a lot; as if it is soaring like a rocket from the ground. He would calculate the timing in his head, and cross to the other side just in time, chafing against the body of the bus in a fraction of a moment—as if this was the game—crossing the road in front of a rushing bus like all of it was but a sport! 

And as always, as soon as he crosses the road, a stream of invectives like ‘fucking bastard’ and other slangs without which the blood of the drivers of public transport is incomplete would come hurtling at him—he would listen to those half-domestic abuses. But he is not the one to let go in silence either! Standing at a safe distance, he yells in a voice, perfectly clear, “Bastards, you call my father names? Bastard, here, I give it back…” These days, he is quick and frequent with such abuses.

This is because the things that he likes in this city are all out of his reach. He likes sitting by the river with Anju. She does not want to sit by the river anymore. He sits by the river all alone, and Anju never shows up. Likewise, he also wants a beautiful home for himself. A home surrounded by flowering plants of myriad colors, some cacti, and all kinds of climbers and creepers. He and Anju, under the shadow of a vine-wrapped wall, books of verses and love letters in a blue envelope on a tray. He and Anju, together, side by side, they’ll… and this particular blow-up image has a few scenes—golden-hued alcohol in front of them, jolly laughter interrupting their conversations. Afterward, when the white moonshine pours, he would turn off the lights. They would stroll around the house, watching the flowers bloom through the night.

Then he bellowed, “Hey!”

From within the car, Anju put her face outside and said, “Oh Maa, look it is Sajal da!”

Anju had stretched her last word—Sa-jal-da-aa!

— “Oh, Sajal, is that you?”

— “Yes, Mashima, It is me indeed.”

— “Should you be crossing the road like this?”

— “I was just checking if it was even possible.”

— “How is your Baba doing?”

— “He is not well. He might pass away any day… maybe tomorrow or the day after.”

— “What about your Didi, does she still have her job?”

— “Maybe she does.”

— “What about you? What are you up to these days?”

He wants to say that he is busy as a hibernating bee. But Anju is inside the car. This forthright insult might not be appreciated by her. He said, “I am making a fresco at Park Circus . If I am able to finish the job, I will be compensated handsomely.” He stretched the phrase ‘handsomely’ like the elongated branches of a Hijal tree.

— “Weren’t you writing something?”

Nobody stops their car to converse with him for so long. He thought about why he couldn’t get another car to play the game o’death! Of all cars, he had to choose this one! Right now, he will be relieved if they let him go. But then again, she is the wife of his father’s old friend, she might have had a good relationship with Baba during the old days and hence, he wanted to be truthful, “I got ten rupees for writing a full-length novel, Mashima.”

— “Ten rupees!”

— “Ten ru…pees.” He gave a long stretch to the word as if he is running about endlessly after entering a Hijal forest.    

— “What can you even do with ten rupees!” It seemed like Mashima said this with a lot of disdain. Her face and eyes reflect a sense of agony. 

— “You can do nothing, Mashima. But if you so wish, you can buy a few candlesticks with ten rupees.”

After listening to his incoherent babble, Mashima said, “Alright—I will go and visit your father someday.”

Like an obedient boy, he tilted his neck and said, “Okay, Mashima.”

Anju’s mother is hurrying Anju—but Anju’s words are not stopping. It can be understood that her mother is getting furious.

Anju said, “Sajal da, where are you off to in such early morning hours?”

— “I am thinking of going to College Street .”

— “Come, get inside! We will drop you!”

Hence, without a second glance, he straightaway opened the car door and slipped at the back. It is very harrowing to walk such a long stretch every day. On days when he doesn’t feel like walking, he crosses the roads playing the game o’death. And at some point in time, right in front of the shop of old books below the light post, he keeps gliding through like a series of movie slides. He feels ecstatic sitting inside the car and blurts, “Mashima, have you ever bought candlesticks?”

Anju’s mother, puzzled by such a question, doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Yes, I have bought so many of those! During Kali Puja !”

— “What nonsense! Do we really light candlesticks these days!”  

She feels like a fool after saying this. Does it even make sense to light candlesticks when one owns a mansion, a lavish car, and a garden with a plethora of plants that bear fruits and flowers! A chandelier would hang and sway, and it shall light up Anju’s face. Under the chandelier, there will be Anju, Anjubala—in the olden days, all female names used to end with bala. Sajal sees Anjubala who is driving the car pretty well. Very smartly. She has a ring on her fingers, seems like a diamond ring. How do people get rich so easily, almost overnight! 

Mashima continued, “This was a long time ago, Sajal. You all weren’t born at that time. Your Meshomoshai used to commute in the second-class compartments of trams. We had to buy candlesticks for Diwali during that time.”  

— “Maa, why do you go back to those days again? No more ruminating poverty!” Anju’s disapproval gets obvious.

— “Don’t say such things, Mashima. Nowadays, Anju gets very agitated.”

— “Are you making fun of me, Sajal da!”

— “No, no, I am not joking at all. Candlesticks worth a full ten rupees, worth a full-length novel. Three-dimensional. How much can it cost, tell me? I have heard that if you write one such novel in the Western countries, you can buy a private island in the sea and live there for the rest of your life.”

Anju started laughing— “What do you mean by three-dimensional, Sajal da?”

— “What! You don’t know what three-dimensional means? We keep getting older but still, you do not know God and all the ways in which He is useful to us.” He paused for a bit and then said, “It is un…think…able.” The word stretched like the feeling of running about in a Hijal forest.

Until now, the car was filled with a sweet fragrance. But Sajal’s clothes had been washed in his house, that too almost four to five days ago. The dust and soot of the city had been collecting on his body, face, and clothes for four to five days. After he had been inside the car for a while, the fragrance had died and his sweat-induced filthy smell had seized the inside of the car. Quickly enough, Mashima let down the glass windows of the car. Anju still has a whim for him. Within her heart, she was very displeased with having Sajal inside the car. This son of Ratan babu is half-crazy. Other than that, what other adjectives should she use?   

By now, Sajal began being chatty—“Three-dimensional means crime, sex, and love. Thriller publications and magazines wouldn’t sell without three-dimensional plots,” he said, spitting through the car window. As if all the talking had made the spit collect in his mouth. He continued, “I have a very good rapport with the editor. The editor said, ‘All this talk will not do.’ Thus, I started writing, and then I finished it. I stayed up all night to proofread it.” He stopped for a few moments and then in a distracted gesture, he said, “Un…think…able.” This time, it seemed as if he is kneeling down somewhere in the Hijal forest. He is unable to walk any longer.

— “Mashima, the editor said that it is not possible to pay for a novel. If he was Dhankuber (the  god of wealth), then he probably might have been able to pay.” Without turning his eyes toward Anju, he said, “Anju, what is the definition of Dhankuber?”

— “I don’t know.”

— “I have come up with a definition.”

— “Like?”

— “If you can buy a private island, you are Dhankuber.

— “Is it? Then buy one.”

— “If I get the money, I shall do exactly that. I don’t like cities. If I can buy candlesticks worth ten rupees, then given the money, I can buy a private island too.”

Anju said, “Of course, you can.” At the turn of the road, a policeman gestures for a stop, and Anju presses the brake firmly.

— “The editor had given me ten rupees for enjoying a cutlet, I guess.”

“But you wouldn’t eat the cutlet alone,” Anju comments as she starts the engines again.

— “But I used all of the ten rupees to buy candlesticks.”

— “Ten…ru…pees!” As if she is a young girl whose hair has grown, and she harbors the desire to braid it. Braiding her hair, Anju is surprised.

— “Yes, worth ten rupees. I just wanted to light one of the candlesticks and burn the note in his face.”

— “Why didn’t you do that?”

— “I did not have the courage! What if he never asks for my writing in the future! Anju, therefore—candlesticks worth ten rupees, neatly pleated dhoti , and then you have already seen my room, Anju. All around my room, candlesticks were burning as the night advanced. In the middle of this, I, Sajal, the son of Ratan Ghosh, Sajal Ghosh, his dear son—what must one say about being a son, Putra kriyate varja (You marry only to bear a son)—our fathers used to mention such pithy statements while bringing our mothers home.”  

Mashima cannot think of what she should do. She is sitting, almost quite stiffly. Anju is driving the car as fast as she can in order to reach College Street. Why did she have to pick him up! Now, she couldn’t even say, “Get down from the car, Sajal da.”  

“Anju, I lit the candlesticks and sat in meditation for the whole night.” Immediately afterward, like swiftly sprinting to sit up, he said, “Mashima, have you ever sat down to meditate!” There is no reply. “Have you, Anju?” Nobody responds. The car runs on, cutting through wooden houses, tin sheds, intermittent jute godowns, and the chilly winds from the Ganga river on either side. The cold gradually descends on them. When he notices that they weren’t speaking, he gets irked. “Anju, will you kindly stop the car! I am ve…ry!” He wants to utter the word ‘very’ in a broken manner like the letters are bending their knees.

Mashima and Anju are sitting at the front. Who knew that he would wish to get down at the mouth of a bridge. There is a railway wagon on the left side. Under the bridge, the cars ran by—tong ling, tong ling. And the smoke leaping from the engines. Such a scene unfolds and Anju and Mashima are sitting beside each other in the front, Anju’s soft and fluffy hair is falling on her shoulders, and further down, Anju’s saree and petticoat are hiding many riches beneath them. Now unless he gets down from the car, their status is being challenged. When he alighted from the car, Mashima said, “Visit us someday.”

Anju said, “I am leaving for Patna tomorrow.”

Anju’s eldest brother lives in Patna. Remembering this, Sajal’s face turns pale. They would have left with the car without stretching the conversation. But due to her kind-heartedness, Mashima could not hold back, “Anju’s wedding is going to take place in Patna. It would have been better if it happened here. All of you could have shared the duties. Romu is against it completely.” Romu does not wish for it. Nor does Anju. The girl who once shared his circle for days and months, the one who used to be an occasional partner in the game o’death, cherishes no interest in such things anymore. Now, she is into the game of life instead. She has treasures stashed and is eager to open her casket and show them off. Sajal jumped over a drain with the thought. The car whooshed away. He has definitely saved fifteen paise. If fifteen paise are spent from one rupee, eighty-five paise are left. He could have never afforded to buy one ounce of gold with eighty-five paise. His heart is very pleased with Anju.  

Anju is in the car, and he is on the footpath… There is little space for playing the game o’death. He will walk the rest of the way. He can go via Baghbazaar , or he can just go straight. Whenever he comes to the place beside the large jetty on the bank of Ganga, he recollects—he and Anju—Ganga in front of them, Baba had a job that paid him well—he was growing up back then. He and Anju were inside the jetty. The Ganga during the monsoon, and sometimes the noise from the steamers left him bemused. He used to say, “Anju, when I grow up, I will make a movie. Would you want to watch my movie? The movie will have you in it and visuals of the Ganga. The camera will pan. It will move around to capture all the stills. The Howrah bridge , the white landscape of the sky, and coiling smoke from the crematorium, or maybe I could show an empty crematorium with only a few leaves flying around. A crow sitting on a dead branch overhead. Next, a slow-moving sky… Then a jungle of kashphul , your eyes amid that jungle, your face with your long braid, and the image of the lovely world hidden inside your frock, the world with which you were growing up—that will be all.” Cut. 

He walks on. He walks on with his head hanging low. Baba’s sickly face, the helpless eyes of Maa, Didi’s tirades, the meager breakfast of tea and rotieating them feels more like starving. He simply wants a meal that will fill his stomach, more food, eating every last morsel in a frenzy with his two hands. But his pocket is supposed to contain eighty-five paise. However, since Anju has bestowed some generosity on him, he has the full amount of one rupee. Just like that, his afternoon would be spent at Coffee House . He has information about a fake job somewhere near Burrabazaar . The job is to make graffiti. He has decided that he will do the job with full vigor this time. The owner of a restaurant and his young wife, together, want someone to make their portraits. If they take him for the job, he will paint the faces exactly as theirs. But then he is unable to do it. Every time he makes a portrait, he is humiliated— “Mister, is this my face!”

— “It is indeed your face, sir.”

— “Are you poking fun at me!”

— “What are you saying? Nobody can make a portrait as real as this one. They don’t know a thing about art.”

— “Do my eyes look like a gambler’s eyes?”

— “If you would have looked carefully, you would see that these are your eyes.”

Alas! Then followed slaps, punches, and beating—these have been his only possessions while he has walked his path. Why is he incapable of drawing the right faces of human beings? What is right for him is what he sees within, because he just doesn’t see their faces. He sees their appearances from within. Once he sees it, his paint brushes go astray. He paints, going round and round, and while he paints, he curls up within himself. He has no control over his work. The face ends up looking like a wolf. Why does a human face become like a wolf’s?

Several times, he has noticed that when a human face starts looking like a wolf’s, he doesn’t feel like making the painting anymore. Then he sits down to write striking rhymes for kids. When the rhymes start rolling like hot rasagollas from Baghbazaar, who shall consume them—a crowd of mice desperately rushes forward—“We will consume them”. The kids don’t get to consume them. Why can’t he write rhymes that the kids would enjoy and nobody else shall get pleasure from them? And this way, myriad thoughts clog up. He wants to live like a child, wandering all day. Standing under the shade of some tree, he can discuss poetry all through the night till morning. Yet, his face blows up in disdain—he had lit candlesticks and was awake all night yesterday. When Maa stood by the window, he shrieked. Maa did not have the courage to move any further. Didi yelled, “Bloody bastard! If he wants to be insane, he should carry on with his madness outside the house. Doesn’t have the competence to earn money, yet gets candlesticks worth ten full rupees to meditate!” And more gibberish, like this confusing puzzle of life—that he is incapable of piecing together at all times. Didi owns the heads of everyone in the family, hence, when she comes to the window, he can no longer let out a shriek. He cannot look her in the eyes like a lion. Instead, he softens down. He kneels before her, folding his hands in front of her. “If you all fight at the time of such profound concentration, the mice of the stories are unable to feast on my brain, bit by bit, inside my head. I pray you all to leave.” Cut.

From time to time, when he gets entangled in deep thinking, he uses this word to draw a conclusion to the maze—Cut—which means that there is no scope for irrelevant thoughts anymore. Now, he must go and sit at the Coffee House for a while. He must discuss the filmographies of eminent directors of world cinema. 

— “Wow! Did you notice the blow-up, Dada? Holy… shit, this is unthinkable!” Just after saying this, he must roll his eyes, contort his face, and bend his head to say, “That scene of a tennis game, the blue sky sitting on the lap of the mountains, and the images of masked human beings. Th…at particular ba…ll, which is absent, yet present; we are playing and the ball is flying upward, yet nothing flies upward but we are still looking on; all is empty yet we rest in the belief that all is whole—Don’t you remember the scene? Un…thin…ka…ble.”

— “Hey, Sajal, how long since you arrived?”

— “I left in the morning, Dada. After a long time, I again tried playing the game o’death, from the old days. Felt quite good. But Anju completely messed up everything. An abrupt meeting with a lover. Else, I might be playing the game still.” He stopped for a bit and looked at something. Now, an additional two to four people would sit beside him. They would chant his poetry by heart! Nobody could compete with him when it came to rhymes. Yet, his facial expression reflects a crude, eagle-ish aspiration, “I played a captivating game o’death with my lover in the morning today. Re…al…ly captivating, Dada! But her mother marred it all!”

— “Will you eat something, Sajal?”

— “Oh, very kind of you, Dada, how could I possibly turn down your polite offer?” He broke a little piece from an omelet and while he was putting it inside his mouth, he said, “Maa makes delicious mochar ghonto (a dish prepared with plantain flowers)! Dada, you know she cooks moonger dal with jackfruit seeds! Why don’t you all come to my home someday, Maa would be very happy. The dishes made by Maashuktoni , polta pata shombare (a dish prepared by seasoning leaves from pointed-gourd plants)—such delectable food… Grand.” He wanted to say the word ‘grand’ by stretching it long but he had a piece of the omelet in his mouth, hence, if he did so, he would have compromised the taste of it—he is relishing each bite of his food— “Maa becomes very happy when all of you visit. When shall you all come? I’ll inform Maa accordingly.” These are all ineffectual statements, yet Sajal is capable of uttering these with certitude because he thinks about such things in his mind, just like he imagines that he has a lot of work at all times. He has so much work that he does not have a moment to breathe. This is why he cannot eat his meals on time. Therefore, his health is deteriorating with each passing day.

— “How long will you be here?”

— “I cannot sit here for long. I have got a job at Dhariyal Saheb’s house in Burrabazaar. In his bedroom. I have to paint two nudes. The medium would be plaster. If I didn’t leave in the morning, I couldn’t have met you all. I don’t feel nice unless I have met you all at least once in the day.” While getting up, he said, “The job will take up the entire day. I am not sure when I’ll return. Hence, I sat here for a while.”  

And this way, he finishes his meals, finishes his conversations, and hides the story of his abject misery. He goes without eating for so many days. He nurtures a wish: a small yet beautiful house, plants bearing fruits and flowers, a smooth grassland, and a woman, like Anju, who would love him­—whose hands would feel like beeswax, whose feet would capture images of fuzzy warmth, and whose soft breasts, when touched, would evoke beautiful scenes from all around. He imagines a large field, he imagines a pond—amid the trees and shrubbery, he is running, Anju is running. He imagines it like that.

When he imagines such things, he again starts walking the streets. Relentlessly walking, he stops only briefly. Slightly lifting his neck, he tries to look at the sky, or the crowd of people. Walking through tramway tracks, flower shops, etc., he feels as if he has a job to do somewhere. He is walking to go to that job. Yet, he does not know the exact address. He keeps walking. And if he expresses the desire to make a painting for a man from Burrabazaar, the man’s facial expression becomes unrecognizable! But then he wishes to buy fine toys. In his mind, he ends up buying all the toys in the country. Someday, he will have a blue feather on his head, don a robe, and he would put on Mirzapuri sandals with intricate designs on them. He would grow a long white beard and travel to a cold country, all covered in snow, pine trees, and high and low winding paths running between them—six dogs pulling his sleigh. And all around, there would be blue wooden houses, and when the windows or doors would slightly open, one could see the faces of beautiful toddlers with blue eyes. When these golden-haired toddlers extend their palms, he would leave after giving them all the toffees and toys. Their rhymes are very familiar. All rhymes sung by these toddlers sound somewhat like religious hymns ringing in his ears. When he becomes motionless while keenly listening to them, he feels like there is snowfall all over the place. Gradually, he is getting buried in the snow, and he can faintly hear somebody calling him from very far away! As if Didi is standing on a faraway field and calling him— “Sa…ja…l”. Cut. 

— “Give me the job, and I shall do it diligently.”

— “Three tenders have come. They have a very low rate.”

— “Is it possible to do such a job on tender, is it possible to make a painting on tender?”

The man from Burrabazaar laughed foolishly. He said, “Bye-bye, Dhariyal Saab. I shall take your leave.”

And so, he continues walking again. He has to spend the entire day in this manner. What could he do! He could sit quietly for some time at Babughat . Once he reaches Babughat, he notices that the grasses on the adjacent field have become quite smoother and softer. He was supposed to take daily evening strolls through such a field with Anju, holding her hands. Today, he descended into the grass with the intention of walking alone. There is greenery all around, there is a pond. Beside it, the sundries of Eden Gardens , and a little farther, lies a bigger field. When he looks at a field, his heart is filled with melancholia. Anju is really leaving. He is feeling the burden of disrespect weighing on his chest after he did not get the job. And what would he be doing now­—while he keeps thinking this way, he feels like he is making a full-length movie. He is standing on the floor—the faces of the hero and the heroine are covered with masks that have images on them. They are all standing with a motley of masks on their faces—some represent desires and wishes, and some represent greed. Some are images of a malevolent face, and while looking at some images, one would feel— “Aha, what an innocent-looking, well-behaved gentleman.” He decided to give directions in Bengali. He keeps walking steadily on the grass with his eye-camera. He is checking whether the light is bright or dim. A horse is galloping at high speed. There are mountains on both sides. What a mellifluous image! Fuck, why is it not possible to bring about mellifluence in Bengali movies anymore! His movie would be like a tall camel. The camel is walking through the desert. Is…walk…ing.

— “Sa…ja…l”

As if somebody is calling him from far away.

He looked all around. No, nobody is there. All around, there are only unfamiliar faces. The sun has started setting into the west now. A group of women, wearing sarees of varied colors, have come to the field. None of them would recognize him. Their appearances indicate that none of them read poetry. If they don’t read poetry, they wouldn’t be able to recognize Sajal. Therefore, he was quite relieved to spend ten paise on chickpeas, and he was munching them. Just then he felt somebody’s hand on his shoulders. He turned around to look and said, “Were you calling me?”

— “Not at all! I was going to the Writer’s Building when I saw you standing here.”

— “Somebody had called me. Sa..ja..l.” He repeated the call exactly like he had heard, in a long stretch. 

— “Who would call me from such a long distance? Yes, now I am recalling. Maa used to call me like this. When Didi could not find me, she would call me like this. Nobody calls me this way any longer.” His face heavied with gloom.  

— “What are you doing here all alone?”

— “Just working on a job. Fresco. The job is at Park Street . My fingers have become numb from all the work since morning.” Immediately, he cracked his knuckles with a cluck-cluck, to rid himself of inertia, right in front of him. Then yawning, he said, “It’s an awfully monotonous job. I am painting two nudes. Two portraits of a young man and a young woman—they are standing along the banks of a river, just before sunset. Before sunset as in when the sky, the fields, and the trees are all splattered with bright hues of red. At that moment, if a beautiful young woman stands naked by the banks of a river, that’s what I’m painting. Some people really like keeping such paintings in their homes.”    

— “How much will you get?”

— “Not much. These days, everybody wants free labor. Still, I have insisted that I shall not do the job for anything less than seven hundred rupees. They don’t want to shell out that amount. Again, I persisted that they will never get a painting for seven hundred rupees, only the frame costs that much. But if I do not have any work, I cannot be idle. The gentleman took my words to his heart. He agreed to pay seven hundred itself.”

— “You are getting seven hundred in this market! It’s not less.” Subsequently noticing the condition of Sajal’s face, he said, “You look quite sallow and feeble too.”

— “It’s the hard work. I come to work very early in the morning. I have two assistants; they don’t understand the work very well. I have to train and instruct them. Once I get some respite from work, everything will be back to normal. I am planning to go on a vacation to Ooty with Anju then.”

— “So, you and Anju are settled now.”

— “For a long time! It was me who was unable to give to the relationship. Baba has not been very well. Unless Baba gets well, it is not judicious to get married.”

Later, there is a double-decker bus on one side, and on the other side, there is a person who sells bananas for a living; he is in the middle. It’s a nice hideout. Now, it’s time to get lost in the crowd. He vanishes. He almost jumps to cross the footpath. He is looking for a place where he will not be meeting anyone. If he meets someone, he has to inevitably spin some lie. If you are unemployed, people will only show you pity and nothing else. In case he meets someone again, he chalks out what he will be saying to them. “Is that you? How have you been?”

— “There is not much happening, Dada. I was not here for some time. I had gone to Bishnupur to shoot a documentary. It’s a movie about ancient temples and historical ruins.”

Just like this, a young man, a young man of these times, one may call him Kolkata’s youth—is walking through the vast expanse of Gorer Math (Maidan ). Until sunset, he would sit silently within the premises of the field. As soon as the sun sets, he will start to walk. Stealthily and secretly, he has to navigate the congested traffic jam while walking. Afterward, when he enters Burrabazaar and somehow reaches the shop at Pramanik Lane, both his eyes widen and become big. Then he drops the lump, weighing almost an ounce, into his mouth. If he masticates it just like relishing a tasty dish, licking the last morsel, he feels that he is living a lovely life here, in Kolkata. His desires, aspirations, and dreams—­all come true in front of his eyes.

Then, just like how it happens in the initial phases, he begins to feel dizzy in the head. He feels a slight burning sensation in his eyes and ears, and then a beautiful intoxication, just like a beautiful scene, unfolds. He feels his hands and feet go numb. Everything unwinds as if he could dislodge any of his limbs and put it anywhere according to his whim, whenever and wherever he wishes. Just like this, throughout the entire journey, he cannot keep track of when and where he keeps his hands, feet, and head while he continues walking. Part of him stays on top of the Tata Tower Building , while another piece lands at the feet of the monument. Again, one may find his right hand at Nandi babu’s lumberyard near Barahanagar ’s bazaar. When it’s time to return home, he has to assemble everything all over again. Then, he cannot just walk. He has to put on a skateboard under his feet, just like a kharam (a wooden shoe). Gradually, he becomes taller. It seems like: with his long hands and feet, a tall person skis over the buses and trams, and on the roads. He goes over and comes down, wherever and whenever he pleases. Sometimes on the footpath or the roof—if there’s a traffic jam, he goes on top of trams and buses—going over and coming down, wherever and whenever, as he pleases, swiftly, like a train. Sometimes the surrounding houses, shops, restaurants, and Gorer Math seem to be spinning. They spin and disappear. His hands, feet, and head­—all of them split apart all around. Still, he exists. There is a young man named Sajal—he has a long garment on his body, a monkey cap on his head, and white gloves on his hand. He has fully transformed into a person from the land of snow. Snow everywhere, a snow-clad Kolkata. All the city’s houses and cars are under a layer of snow, except for the monument which stands erect. A white monument and a dislodged head at its feet. Once he picks up the head, he understands that he had kept it there. What can be done now? Now that he has gotten hold of an additional stray head, it won’t be harmful to keep it under his armpit. He is Sajal, he has a difficult life; a life that is a puzzle. Carrying his life under his armpit, he is skiing through the snow-clad city of Kolkata. Sajal is not aware that he is now standing, holding a light post. A dog near his feet. The trams and buses are whooshing away.

Sometimes, he is growing taller while other times, he shrinks shorter. And when he becomes taller, the sky feels close. Then he can use the sky as a whiteboard. He can paint huge pictures on it; the ones that he had decided to paint on some wall or a restaurant for a long time. But now, he can have his wish. From one wall of the sky to another; because he has become so comfortable in his snowshoes that he himself doesn’t know at what time he could just split apart and fall to bits from the vastness of outer space. And just like this, he floats about like a small raft in outer space. A dog—life, a difficult puzzle­—starts barking. He is petrified of dogs. He quickly decides to change his position. Again, another wasteful dog shows up from nowhere, maybe Anju’s mother has sent it—it is chasing him in this expanse of outer space. What should he do now—no matter the direction he floats, the dog chases. He hopes to find a church or a temple somewhere. If he stands on one foot on top of a church or a temple tower, the dog cannot reach him in any way. As soon as he thinks of a church, he skates to take two leaps and gets to the top of the tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral . But the dog shoots like a sputnik. There is no escape. Now, he spreads his legs. Like skating through snow-clad mountains, he gets on top of the Tata Tower Building and stands there. Then, just as he peeps to check whether the dog is secretly waiting below the building on the winter night, something strange happens to him.

He cannot move. He cannot bend his head. He cannot see anything; whether the dog is there or it has left. He freezes, stiff as ice. His hands and feet are as rigid as stones. He turns into a stone statue. And he realizes that the statue is none other than that Western man—The Happy Prince .

He is the Happy Prince on top of the Tata Tower Building or one can say that he is the contented rajputra (prince) of Bangladesh. A robin perched on his head. Anju will be off to Patna. All around him, rows of candlesticks burn. He dons the attire of a prince from head to toe. A scabbard with a sword on his waist. A prince’s crown on his head. Since it is the middle of the night, all the candlesticks are getting extinguished due to the frost. Over his head, only the blue sky, innumerable stars, and in the river on the other side of the court, there is a ship—on the ship, a band is playing their instruments. He feels like the sky is cold, and just like the sword, there is an icy and frozen trace all around.  

Essentially, he is standing on top of the Tata Tower Building for ages now. The robin bird is sitting on top of his head for ages. Sometimes, when he becomes the contented rajputra of Bangladesh, he asks the bird to give away the expensive gems that are fixed in the pupil of his eyes.  

— “Who shall I give it to, my prince?”

— “To the young man who hoped to make an accurate documentary of human beings.”

— “And?”

— “To the young man who hoped to paint accurate faces of human beings on a vast canvas such as the sky.”

— “And what else shall I give and to whom?”

— “To the young man who hoped to write infinite rhymes for kids.”

The bird only flies around over his head. It is very sad for if it picks up the pupils, the contented rajputra will not be able to see anything anymore.

— “No, you should still go. That one house. The wooden house, its railing laced with creepers and climbers, darkness looms inside. One man there lies ill. A fatal illness that is denied treatment due to poverty and deprivation. My dejected mother stays up at his head—go there. If you can, take my heart for my mother.” Cut.  


Also, read a book review of Damodar Mauzo ‘s collection of short stories, titled The Wait And Other Stories which won the Jnanpith Award 2022 . Originally written in Konkani, the book was translated into English by Xavier Cota . The review, written by Subhadrakalyan, was published in The Antonym:

Reading The Wait And Other Stories by Damodar Mauzo— Subhadrakalyan


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Atin Bandyopadhyay, born in 1934, in Ramadi, Hizadi, Dhaka District, in present-day Bangladesh, is a highly respected writer of modern Bengali literature. His vivid description of events and subtle analysis of situations and characters give many of his novels and short stories a documentary quality. As with much of his writing, his magnum opus Nilakantha Pakhira Khonje draws from Bandyopadhyaya’s own experiences. It is considered to be the most poignant story portraying the lives and times of the Hindus and the Muslims during the rioting and violence that followed the partition of Bengal in 1947.

Ankita Bose is a middle-class Bengali woman whose eyelids are painted with yet-to-be-fulfilled dreams. An avowed reader, she only wants to read, write, and learn in life. Her writings cut across multidisciplinary trajectories as she believes that all things are connected by phantom threads which are waiting to be discovered. She holds a B.A in Sociology from Presidency University (Kolkata), a PGDM in print journalism from Asian College of Journalism (Chennai), and an M.A in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University (Kolkata). She recently published her collection of poems Ruminations Of A Gypsy Heart (2022). You can find her on Instagram and Facebook, or you may read her blog.

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