Bridge to Global Literature

Here, translation unlocks stories from languages afar, people unknown yet familiar in voices that stun you and resonate with you. here is your book of world stories

Turturi’s Egg— Swapnamay Chakraborty

Nov 5, 2022 | Fiction | 0 comments

Translated from the Bengali by Rituparna Mukherjee 

 

Birat Biswas, a renowned scientist returned home from his lecture in Babylon on monkeys to find his wife, Bijaya, sitting quietly with a glum face. Birat Biswas called out, “Hey, don’t you want to see what I have brought from Babylon? A tool to scratch your back made of bones, a necklace put together from date seeds, water from the Euphrates…”

Mrs. Biswas didn’t lend an ear to her husband’s words and said, “Panchu hasn’t returned even today.”

Dr. Biswas said, “What? I have returned from Babylon yet Panchu hasn’t managed to return from Bardhaman?”

Panchu and Dr. Biswas had left for their respective destinations on the same day. Panchu had said that he would be gone for two days. However, ten days had passed…

Dr. Biswas knew that unless Panchu turned up, his wife’s blood pressure would not be normal, and her heartbeat would be erratic. He said, “Don’t worry, I am sending a telegram.”

“What will a telegram achieve? There’s no certainty of when he will get it,” said Mrs. Biswas.

“That’s right, that’s right. I will go myself.”

Dr. Biswas knew that Panchu was the bone marrow of his domestic life, its liver, kidney, and heart. In Panchu’s absence, the organism that was his home would malfunction. He assured his wife that he would himself go to Panchu’s village and bring him back. Panchu had gone to his native village before, and each time he would say he would be gone for two days, and he would be back on the third. In the last ten years, he had stayed for four days in his village only once but never for ten days.

Mrs. Biswas asked, “When will you go? Today itself?”

“How will I go today? I’ll go tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? It is getting late. Alright then, go tomorrow. Now show me what you have brought.”

“Look at this pretty mirror. It was being sold underneath Babylon’s Hanging Gardens…”

“This is what you call pretty? This is available in many of the footpath stalls in Gariahat—come here babu, take it for five rupees.”

“Look I have brought the water from the Euphrates.”

“Of what use will this water be to me? Rosewater would have been more useful.”

“Look here, this is the outer bark of a walnut tree.”

“How is that useful?”

“It is a potent laxative.”

“You keep them. I don’t want these things. You get my Panchu back for me.”

Panchu did say that he lived in Bardhaman but reaching his location was very complex. First, one needed to get to the village Naseebpur via Adrahati. In order to reach Adrahati, one needed to board a bus from Bardhaman. Dr. Biswas thought he hadn’t seen the villages of Bengal in a long time. His movements spanned from one air-conditioned room to another. He had neither walked on grass nor seen the Kaash phool in the longest time. It had been a while since his tongue, habituated to sandwiches, hot dogs, pastries, and hamburgers, had savored the taste of muri-beguni. He hadn’t relished mihidana-sitabhog for quite some time. He hadn’t seen bales of paddy either, hadn’t heard the call of the frogs. Despite giving a lecture on monkeys, he had not looked at the unique gymnastics of the Bengal monkeys on branches of trees. Dr. Biswas thought his expedition to Naseebpur village would be an attractive excursion. A kind of relief. He left for the village the very next day. Mrs. Biswas packed a bottle of boiled water and a lunch box full of sandwiches and sent him off with the customary Dugga Dugga. Dr. Biswas did not want to carry sandwiches. He had planned to have jhal-muri on the train ride, or the samosas and vegetable chops kept in bamboo baskets, covered in red cotton cloth. That is why, as soon as he boarded the taxi, away from the eyes of the missus, he threw the sandwiches in the street.

After deboarding the train at Bardhaman, Dr. Biswas found that the next bus to Adrahati was scheduled to leave after three hours. An individual suggested that he might get a bus to Adrahati if he reached Galsi. Dr. Biswas did that. He could hear the sound of the jhal-muri, consumed in the train, moving rhythmically in his stomach in tune with the lurching of the rickety bus. The suffocated scientist somehow stood holding the rod in the bus overcrowded with lambs, chickens, and people wearing dirty clothes. Meanwhile, he couldn’t catch a glimpse of the verdant beauty of the rural Bengal that passed him by. When he finally got off at Adrahati, Dr. Biswas started to miss his air-conditioned room with its relaxing couch and its blue light. He heard at Adrahati that Naseebpur was eight kilometers away. A van rickshaw would take him to Subhasganj along the side of the Damodar river. It was a walking distance of five kilometers from that point. 

Dr. Biswas’ heart began to tremble at this prospect. He had believed that every corner of West Bengal had pitched roads and that buses plied everywhere. That belief was a little dismantled. Bardhaman was a highly developed district. Was this possible despite its progress? He started walking accompanied by the pain of disillusionment. He wasn’t attentive to the intermittent tufts of Kaash phool that swayed in the breeze, let them sway. Neither did he look at the three or four butterflies that fluttered close to him, let them flutter. He was also not mindful of the breeze that came his way touching the sands of the Damodar, let it come.

Dr. Biswas reached Naseebpur long after the sun had set among the greenery on the other side of the Damodar. A swarm of mosquitoes had created a tent-like structure on top of his head. They were buzzing all around and stinging him as they pleased. When Dr. Biswas reached Panchu’s house after a lot of inquiries, he didn’t have the strength to talk. 

“Is this really Panchu’s house?”

A wrinkled old lady answered, “Yes, sir. But who are you? The police?”

Dr. Biswas could merely reply that Panchu worked at his house, after which he lay down on the bundle of palm leaves that lay in front of him. Panchu’s grandmother used a palm-leaf hand fan to give him some cool air. He could hear the frogs calling and the gnats droning. Uncommonly enough, a raven called out somewhere. The atmosphere did not affect Dr. Biswas much. A little later a fox called out. Scared and out of sorts, Dr. Biswas hurriedly woke up from his mild slumber and asked the woman, “Where is it calling from?” Panchu’s grandmother replied, “In the forest.” Panchu’s mother was also standing nearby with part of her sari covering her head. A sliver of a moon shone in the sky. The fireflies were emitting bio-luminescence.  Everything seemed nonsensical to Dr. Biswas. He sat straight and asked, “Where is Panchu? I have come just to take him along with me.”

Panchu’s grandmother replied in a voice choking with tears, “They have taken my grandson.”

“Who are they?”

“They are men from another planet.”

“What do you mean planet?”

“By planet, I mean planet, one that is found in the sky.”

A handful of people had gathered there, neighbors mostly. A boy explained, “The sky has stars and planets, doesn’t it? People from one such planet came and took Panchu with them.”

“Have you had weed?”

“We don’t farm weed here. The police will beat us if we do so.”

 “Then why are you saying such things?”

“In the name of the Goddess Kali, I am speaking the truth.”

“How did you know they were people from another planet?”

“We recognized them from the television. We have two television sets in our village, one at Babul Kangar’s and the other at Ganesh Garai’s place. They operate on battery. We have seen people from other planets on television in their homes. Those who had come had exactly the same expression. A watch on their chest, round eyes, horns on their head, fire oozing out of their fingertips.”

“How had they come?”

“In the exact same manner that they arrive on the television.”

“Describe it.”

One of the boys asked, “We have prepared a song for our Tusu, would you like to listen to it?”

My Tusu emits light
His head has strange horns
Swaying this way and that, he boards a rocket
On a vacation to Anuradhapur…

“What do you mean by Anuradhapur?”

“Don’t you know a star called Anuradha? He has gone there.”

“Who has told you that he has gone to the star named Anuradha?”

“This is the poet’s imagination.”

“Put your poet’s imagination aside. Honestly narrate what you have seen.”

“Then let me tell you. I suddenly heard a sound at night. The sound was louder than a hundred-grain thresher machine. I also heard a hollow sound similar to the one made by a deep tube well when it cannot produce any water. I came outside. I saw a light on the fairground next to the Manasha temple. I saw a long funnel-like structure come down. I have seen a picture of a similar object in my son’s level five textbook. It had three legs. The rocket was pushing off smoke from its rear, and the light was coming off its surface. The smoke had the pleasant smell of candy. When the smoke receded, the doors of the rocket opened, and out jumped a few men. I have already described to you how they look. I forgot to mention one thing. When the men run, they emit white smoke from their rears. That smoke smells like candy as well. And the fingers of their hands are quite long. Each of them has many fingers. Their fingertips emit a spurt of light. Many of us had come out of our homes by that time. We were watching the events unfold from a distance. We weren’t scared.”

Meanwhile, Panchu’s mother brought a large egg omelet on an aluminum plate. It was quite hot with steam coming out of it. Dr. Biswas was really hungry. He wolfed the omelet down. There was no spoon, he ate it all with his hands. While eating the omelet his fingers got its taste, and felt its warmth, and Dr. Biswas was experiencing this visceral comfort after long. Next came tea. Sipping his tea, Dr. Biswas asked, “Then?”

“After that they sang and danced in the fairground, then they stepped onto their ladder, shut their door, and fell asleep. The next morning, we woke up and stood near the pond. We were thinking that we would catch them as soon as they would try to leave for their home. We were planning to ask them to give subscriptions for the development of our village as well as subscriptions for the worship of Manasha. One asked if the currency of their planet would work in our country. Then I suggested that we should ask for gold instead. Gold is valuable everywhere whether one goes to Anuradhapur or Magha-Krittika or Bhadrapur. But how do we ask for it? Would they understand our language? Anyway, they stepped off their ship a while later. There were four of them. Two women and two men.”

Dr. Biswas asked, “How did you understand which of them was male and which female?”

“How do we not understand? They had opened their clothes. Perhaps they were feeling hot. They had their pet animals with them. Each of them had an animal in their arms, the animals were licking their skin with their tongue. When I went near an animal later, it licked my skin as well. The tongue was as cold as ice.”

“After that!”

“After that, they left. A goat was excreting, they took the feces, they even took cow dung in a shiny plastic bag and plucked a few custard apples from the tree nearby with their long hands. They have a particular mechanism in their hands that enables them to stretch their hands for long distances, the longer the hand stretches, the narrower it becomes. They can grow tall as well. The taller they grow, the thinner they become, and the shorter they grow, the fatter they become. One of them stood in front of the Manasha temple and grew taller and fatter in turns. I think it is their form of exercise. One thing sir, haven’t I told you about their pet animals? They cannot do without their pets. The animal sits on their shoulders. It sometimes licks itself with its tongue, and when someone would scratch its stomach, it would immediately produce an egg, which they would snatch and eat immediately.”

Birat Biswas’s eyes showed his huge disbelief. He said, “Just because I am from Kolkata, you are not lying to me, are you?” The boy said, “Will I lie to you, sir? You are our Panchu’s master…”

Dr. Biswas asked, “How does that animal look? Does it look like our chickens?”

The boy said, “Had it looked like a chicken, would I have called it an animal? Wouldn’t I have called it a bird? It is a very strange-looking animal. How do I say what it looks like? It doesn’t look like a mongoose, nor does it resemble a monitor lizard, or an earthworm, and certainly not a squirrel. It is an amalgamation of all. The animal is one and a half to two feet long. Its face is like that of a monitor lizard, it has fur like a mongoose with long stripes on its body like a squirrel. If one can elongate an earthworm such that it can wind itself around the shoulders and neck of a person, the animal’s body would be such. It has many legs like an earthworm. The animal crawls and wriggles fast and that is why I have named it Turturia.”

“Does the animal call out?”

“It has a beautiful call as if it were a telephone.”

Dr. Biswas said, “I think the animal is a kind of vertebrate of the Endopterygota genus, of class Malofacotis, sub-class Lacertilia. What does the animal eat?”

“I haven’t seen it eat anything.”

“Has the animal purged anything?”

“What?”

“Has it excreted anything?”

“What sir?”

Dr. Biswas shouted, “Has it shitted?”

“No sir, it hasn’t shitted at all.”

“And those people?”

“No sir, those people didn’t shit either.”

“However, they do something else.”

“Do they discard their skins?”

“Now what is that?”

“Sir, it is really a very surprising thing. Three of them stood in a line, now what did the fourth person do, he took their skin off using his fingers. The skin came off with a grating sound. After shedding their old skin, their new skin glistened. After that, the rest three would do the same to the fourth person.”

“Where? Where is that skin? Let me see, give it here…” Birat Biswas was now excited. 

“Skin? What can be done with that?”

“What do you mean what can be done? So many things can be accomplished. Listen, does anyone else know about this skin? Have people from the newspapers been here? Has a team of scientists arrived yet? Any investigative team? Has anyone from the Environment Saving Committee come here yet? I am the first one, right?”

The boy seemed to be caught off-guard by this sudden onslaught of questions. He was flabbergasted and became quiet. Dr. Biswas asked, “Has anyone else come to know of these things before me?”

“The police constable knows.”

“Why did you go to the constable?”

“Why wouldn’t we go? Our Panchu has gone missing. Wouldn’t we inform the police?”

“What did the constable say?”

“He said that they would not be able to go to Anuradhapur, the place cannot be reached without a rocket. Also, because the police station did not even have a jeep or any other car.”

“Good. I hope they didn’t make a general diary?”

“No.”

“Good. Then no one knows. I am the first one. Why don’t you show me the skin of the people from another planet? Cosmic leather. I will roam the entire world with this. Demonstrations! Lectures! Show me, show me the hide. Right now.”

“Show me that skin, immediately.”

“Do you think we have it? We don’t have that skin anymore.”

“Why? Who took it?”

“No one has taken it.”

“Then?”

“It has been used as fuel.”

“Fuel? What do you mean?”

“No other meaning. Merely fuel.”

“Why?”

“Scarcity of fuel. The jungle committee has told us if we cut trees in the forest, we will be put in jail. Now the harvest in the month of Kartik is here. We need to heat the grains. When they went away to Anuradhapur, they left their skins behind in the playground. Chandi Garai was the first one to use that skin to thresh his grain. He said that it was very good fuel, and burned very well. It burnt steadily for two hours. After that, the other people took the rest and burnt it. I couldn’t get my hands on it.”

“Well, you have done remarkably well. This is the reason people say that farmers die an inglorious death. You people do not have the slightest awareness. And here they say that every district now has a literacy program. Nonsense! You don’t even have a tiny bit of their skin?”

“No sir.”

“What was the color of that skin?”

“It didn’t have a color. It was transparent like a polythene bag.”

“Stop,” Dr. Biswas said seriously. The gnats were calling. The light from the kerosene lamp fell on the bench like a truant student. After some time, Dr. Biswas asked, “What did they do after that?”

“They shed their skins, we stood watching them. Suddenly one of the females elongated her hand and caught hold of our Panchu. She pulled Panchu to her. She caressed him a little. I was a little worried. I had heard the people in the AIDS car mention that one should not be intimate with strangers. One gets AIDS from that. I couldn’t think for very long. They took our Panchu inside their rocket. What could I do?”

“And then?”

“After that, the rocket left towards the skies leaving smoke with the smell of candies.”

Dr. Biswas was quiet for some time. He had a difficult time figuring out what was awareness and what was not. Dr. Biswas inquired again, “Do you have any proof that these people had actually come? Didn’t they leave anything behind?”

“They have left Panchu’s grandmother something.”

“What?”

“An egg.”

“What do you mean?”

“The egg of the animal Turturi. Didn’t I tell you that they were taking things from our planet? Things like goat feces, and fruits from the tree. It was at that time they asked for a chicken egg from this old woman. She has a lot of hens!”

“In which language did they ask?”

“They asked in gestures.”

The old woman said, “The hens stay in a corner of the goat shed. They entered the place and saw two eggs. The men took the two eggs. After that, they pinched the stomach of the Turturi that was wrapped around their shoulders, and it gave out an egg. The two animals on the shoulders of two men produced four eggs. I haven’t suffered any loss. I got four large Turturi’s eggs in exchange for two small hen eggs.”

“Then let me see the eggs. Bring them to me immediately.”

“Do you think we still have those eggs?”

“Why?”

“I have sold those in the haat this very morning. I had a few duck eggs and hen eggs as well. I kept these eggs in their midst and sold them all. The customer asked me—is this an egg of a foreign duck? I said—it costs more. It sold for more than the usual price.”

“You have sold all four eggs?”

“No sir. I hadn’t taken four to the haat, how could I sell four then?”

“How many did you take?”

“Three!”

“What happened to the last one?”

“What do you mean what happened? Didn’t I give you an omelet a while back?”

“Oh, let the earth come asunder!” Dr. Biswas’s body underwent curious fission fusion. By that time, the egg laid by an alien animal must have been well digested by the workings of the gastric acids, pancreatic juice, and bile inside his stomach. He didn’t know the appropriate mechanism to stop his stomach from digesting.

Wouldn’t the stool examination yield anything? Any undigested bit? Perhaps a new type of protein or a rare metal may be discovered. Dr. Biswas had a priceless possession in his stomach. He could not adulterate it with any other substance. He didn’t have dinner. He merely feasted on mosquito bites. He didn’t even drink water. He didn’t speak to anyone. He started for Kolkata at dawn and planned to conduct a minute examination of the remnants in his stomach once he reached. He was walking along the banks of the Damodar. He would have to walk for quite a while. He didn’t even have tea. He had to keep the contents of his stomach safe. Just a little later his stomach ached. He had felt this same ache last night as well. It was steadily increasing now. He wasn’t able to digest the Turturi’s egg. If it couldn’t be digested, it meant that some of its original properties were retained. He would write a new paper: ‘Egg of Turturi- an Analysis’. He could not take it anymore. He might have to go on the banks of the Damodar itself. He sat there with his hands on his head. Two pigs stood next to him. The pigs were not the least eager about Turturi’s egg. Alas! They were now waiting for their meal. 


End-notes:

Kaash-phool: a form of tall, white autumnal grass found in rural Bengal 

Muri-beguni: a popular Bengali snack comprising puffed rice and fried aubergine fritters.

Dugga-Dugga: this stands for may the blessings of Goddess Durga be with you.

Jhal-muri: a spicy mix of puffed rice, lentils, onion, green chilies, nuts, and mustard oil, a favorite Bengali snack.

Manasha: a deity for snakes.

Haat: a local farmer’s market


Taken from SatarkataMulak Rupkatha (first published in 1998).


Also, read a Hindi story by Mamta Kalia , translated into English by Rituparna Mukherjee, and published in The Antonym

Freedom— Mamta Kalia


Follow The Antonym’s Facebook page  and Instagram account  for more content and interesting updates.

Swapnamoy Chakraborty was born in Kolkata. He started his writing career with short stories. His first short story was published in 1972, and Chakraborty’s first book Bhumi Sutra was published in 1982. His book Abantinagar won the Bankim Puraskar in 2005. His work is both critically acclaimed and well-received by readers. Holud Golap is a seminal, monumental work about the LGBT community and its relationship with the larger society.

Rituparna Mukherjee is a faculty of English and Communication Studies at Jogamaya Devi College, Kolkata. She did her MA in English literature and currently pursuing a Doctoral degree in Gendered Mobilities in west African and Afro-Diasporic Literature at IIIT Bhubaneswar. Her areas of interest include African and Indian literature and Post-colonial and Feminist theories as well as English Language Teaching, Second Language Acquisition, and Communication studies. She works as an ELT consultant, translator, and ESL author outside of her work and research schedule.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ongoing Event

Ongoing Event

Upcoming Books

Ongoing Events

Antonym Bookshelf

You have Successfully Subscribed!