Translated from the Hindi by Rituparna Mukherjee
He stared at his father with his eyes brimming with tears and a heart filled with fear. Babuji had his Kolhapuri slippers in his hands which he was using to strike his elder brother repeatedly, mercilessly, most cruelly—”Bastard… Do you have anything else to do the livelong day apart from loitering aimlessly? I have brought you up with my own blood and sweat and enrolled you in B.Com. so that you make something of yourself and this family sees better days. But you, you will ruin the name of this family with your gallivanting and reckless drinking. What will your young brother and sister learn from your behavior? Get out of the house… Get out this instant—you monster!”
Maa ran in between them trying to shield her son, “What are you doing? Is this the proper way to behave with a young educated lad?”
Babuji pushed Maa aside forcefully. She fell to the floor with a cry on her lips.
Bhaiya stepped out of the house that instant, dressed the way he was. Maa ran after him to stop him but Babuji scolded, “Let him go, that useless fellow! It’s better not to have children than have the likes of him.”
Munni and he sobbed themselves to sleep. No one had dinner that night. Things didn’t return to normal even the next day. On the third day, Maa felt a little hopeful. Bhaiya had come for a while. He took his books and went to one of his friend’s homes. When Maa told Babuji about this at night, he said angrily, “You were anxious about his whereabouts, weren’t you? That he would probably die somewhere! Your son is not brave! Good riddance of the monster, I say!”
When he heard his father speak this way, his innocent mind swarmed with questions. Days passed by.
One Saturday evening, he saw a well-dressed gentleman accompany his father to his house. Perhaps Maa was working so hard in the kitchen since afternoon for his welcome. Babuji called the two of them to him. Unlike other days, he mixed a little love in his voice and said, “Children, welcome our guest properly with a pranam . He is my boss, Guptaji.”
Guptaji accepted their pranam and said, “Hello,” amiably, and accompanied Babuji to the sitting room. After some time, Babuji came out of the sitting room and told Maa, “Sahab does not drink tea or coffee in the evening. Send Munni to Tiwariji’s house next door and get a few ice cubes from their refrigerator. Clean one or two glasses.” Babuji turned to him next and said, “Come here, Bablu.”
He followed Babuji to the almirah. Babuji opened the almirah, took out a fifty-rupee note, put it in his hand, and whispered, “Hurry along to the ‘Aaram Wine Shop’. It’s right next to the mill. When you reach there, ask for a bottle of Old Monk Rum . Go hurry, take a bag from your mother and listen, be back in a flash! Do you understand which shop it is though?”
He was taken aback at his father’s words. What was Babuji saying? He couldn’t stop himself from saying, “Isn’t that an alcohol shop, Babuji?”
“Of course, it’s alcohol! Do you think I’m sending you to fetch the waters from the Ganges?” Babuji shoved him ahead and said gruffly, “Don’t forget the name, Old Monk Rum.”
“But who do you want it for…?” He couldn’t stop his curiosity.
“For Sahab, who else?”
“For Sahab? Is he a monster?”
The sound of Babuji’s slap reverberated in the room. “You fool! How dare you call him a monster? He is my boss, you understand, my boss! He is our provider.” Babuji clenched his teeth in repressed anger.