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Ramratan Sarani – Ramanath Ray

Jan 22, 2021 | Fiction | 0 comments

Translated from the Bengali by Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra

 

I have no idea where Ramratan Sarani (street) is. But I’ve heard a lot about it from my dad. He used to say that there was no street prettier than Ramratan Sarani. Its black top stayed clean all year long. Even if you searched in all corners you would not find a single empty pack of cigarettes, banana peels, dead rats or even a scrap of paper. Not only that, this road never softened in summer, or flooded in the monsoon rains. Deodars, paradise flowers and meddlar trees in orderly rows, bloomed all year long. Even the houses along the road were picturesque, they never looked shabby but shone in the sunlight as if were just painted. Here nobody slapped posters on the walls or slogans in black ink. Each house had a green lawn in front. Everyday after school, children played badminton on these lawns.

As I listened to the stories, I longed to see this place for real. I dreamed of walking down the sidewalks of Ramratan Sarani. I begged my father to take me there, but he never paid much attention to my pleadings.  He just placated me with vague promises of going there someday. Surely he would. I just  had to wait for the day.

“Can’t stay here anymore!” Dad said one day.

“Then let’s go to Ramratan Sarani.”

He gave out a strange laugh, “Yes, I’ve decided just that.”

At last! I was delighted.

But we never did. Dad passed away.

But Ramratan Sarani did not. It stayed alive in my memory. I would think about it while working in the office or lying in my bed at night. My father could not take me there, but I would take my wife and children. I must, there was no other  way.

Sometimes my heart aches looking at my son. He used to be good.  Scored well in his class. Now he was deteriorating every day. And why not? It wasn’t really his fault. Previously I used to help him study every evening. Now I get home late for various reasons and feel too tired to sit with him. All I want to do is sleep. I could see the kid getting worse in front of my eyes. Everyday he leaves for school, but some days he goes, some days he does not. I get all the news. One day, someone saw him waiting at the que at the movie theatre in our neighborhood. Another person saw him idling by the road with his friends. I do not like these friends of his. None of them has any future. They are not good kids. I have often tried to explain all this to my son. Told him not to waste his future in this way. He just lets the words pass through one ear and out the other. He shuts me out completely and goes around with his friends, plays ball, flies kites, goes to the movies, smokes perhaps, maybe teases the girls and  then falls asleep while studying in the evening. His mother yells in frustration. But she does not understand that no kid can do any better while living in this neighborhood. To grow into a better person, he has to leave this house. He must go to Ramratan Sarani. Only there could he find a better school and better friends who will play badminton with him on the lawns. I want him to grow up like them and become an IAS officer or a doctor or an engineer. I don’t want him to waste his potential here.

One day I told my son, “We will not live here anymore.”

“Where will you go?” the boy asked.

“Ramratan Sarani.” I said.

The boy stared at me in surprise. I asked, “Don’t you believe me?”

He did not answer, “When do we go?” he asked instead.

“Very soon.”

His face lit up with happiness.

Sometimes, it hurts  to look at my daughter. She goes to school just for the sake of it. At home, she has no time to study. While her mother cooks, she lends a hand.  She grinds the spices, washes and dices the vegetables. If needed, she runs to the stores, waits in line for rations, washes the clothes. And if she does find some time, she listens to music on the radio, or tries on make-up and stands by the window. The boys in the neighborhood smile, wink or whistle at her. I have seen all that so many times.

In the beginning I used to scold and curse at her. I don’t anymore. I have realized that it is a mistake to expect anything better on this street or in this neighborhood. Even if I try my best here, I will never get her married to a good family. Not even an ordinary family. I hope she will find somebody herself. That will relieve me of this responsibility. But from my heart, I don’t want her marrying this way. I want to take her to Ramratan Sarani. I want her to play badminton on the lawn there with the boys, walk under the meddlar trees holding hands with her lover. I will see them from afar. I will be happy.

I told her, “We won’t be  here anymore.”

“Where shall we go?”she asked

“Ramratan Sarani.” I said.

She stared at my face in wonder.

“Don’t you believe me?”

Just like her brother, she didn’t answer but asked, “When will we go?”

“Soon. Very soon.” I said.

Just like her brother, she too brightened up with hope.

Sometimes I feel sad looking at my wife too. She wakes up in the wee hours of the morning, starts a fire in the oven and begins cooking. She never takes a bite of a morsel  before two in the afternoon. She spends all day doing endless chores, never gets to go out. Besides, where would she go? As long as her parents were alive, she visited them occasionally. After they passed away, she stopped going there completely. So, now she is stuck at home day and night. At most, some evenings she visits the next-door neighbors and watches TV there, or occasionally goes to a movie for the evening show. I cannot take her anywhere. I had often dreamed of taking her to Puri or Darjeeling but never managed to do it. In front of my eyes, she withers away- dark circles under her eyes, hair  thinning… I can’t help… Long back, she was chosen by my father for her beauty. Once I used to find excuses to hold her hands, now I don’t even feel like looking at them. I wish my wife could also live happily on Ramratan Sarani like other wives there. I wish she did not have to slave in the kitchen but just take dishes out from the fridge like those other wives. I wish she too would find time to watch TV and ride in the car every day.

One day I told her, “We are not going to stay here anymore.”

Wife asked, “Where do you want to go?”

“Ramratan Sarani.” I said.

She stared at me in surprise.

“Do you not believe me?”

My wife didn’t give me an answer. Instead she asked, “When do we leave?”

“Very soon.” I said.

Yes. Now we can’t delay any longer. We must leave soon for Ramratan Sarani. I looked for rental ads in the newspaper every day, but I never saw any ad for Ramratan Sarani. I realized the owners did not need ads to attract renters. They would come anytime there was a vacancy. Therefore, I needed to find someone who lived on that street. Through him I could gain access. Who lived there?

I asked my friend, “Do you know anybody who lives on Ramratan Sarani?”

He was surprised, “Ramratan Sarani?”

“Yes, Ramratan Sarani.”

“Where is that?”

“That I do not know.”

Later, I asked another friend. He too knew no better. I didn’t get disappointed and kept asking many others, but nobody could answer my questions.

In the meantime, my wife, son and daughter all got busy about moving to Ramratan Sarani. The boy kept asking ‘’How long?”, the daughter kept asking “How long more?”, the wife kept asking “How long?”. I reassured everyone that it would be soon. But it wasn’t soon. Much as I tried, I couldn’t find the directions to Ramratan Sarani.

At last I went out and bought a road atlas of our city. I searched each and every page in minute detail. There were many Sarani names but no Ramratan Sarani. I thought the atlas must be incomplete. Or they deliberately omitted the name so people like me could not find the way. I went out and bought all the other atlases. My table was full of atlases of our city. Every night I took one of them and searched through every page.

One day my son asked, ”You must buy me a good racket on Ramratan Sarani.”

I said, “Sure.”

One day my daughter came and demanded, “You have to buy me an expensive sari on Ramratan Sarani.”

I said, “Sure.”

One day my wife said, “You need to get me a TV set on Ramratan Sarani.”

I said, “Sure.”

Yet days after days passed by. I could not find any Ramratan Sarani in any road atlas. I thought perhaps it was there, but I missed it somehow. I started flipping through the pages of each book all over again.

One day the boy reminded me, “Remember what I had asked for?”

I said, “Of course.”

One day the girl came to remind me, “Remember what you promised me?”

I said, “Sure I do.”

One day wife came to remind me, “Remember what I had asked you?”

I said, “Of course I do.”

But I still could not find any street named Ramratan Sarani anywhere. I knew there was a street with that name. It had to be. It just could not have disappeared. I could see it clearly in front of my eyes. I see it in my dream. I dream of walking down the road holding my children’s hands. How could I doubt its existence? How could I think it  only imaginary?

One day I got into a taxicab and told the driver to go to Ramratan Sarani.

“Where is that?” The driver asked.

“You don’t know Ramratan Sarani?”

“No.”

I immediately got out of his cab and climbed into another one. But this driver did not know Ramratan Sarani either. I asked many taxi-drivers, nobody had heard of Ramratan Sarani.

Next I got into a bus and asked the conductor, “Is this bus going to Ramratan Sarani?”

“No.” said the conductor.

“Which  bus goes there?”

“No idea.”

I went on climbing in and out of buses, bus after bus, none  headed to Ramratan Sarani. Not only that, the conductors all acted as if they never even heard of the place.

At last I started asking the tram conductors. They had no idea either. Or perhaps they pretended they did not know.

In the meantime, the demands were getting more and more insistent at home. The son asked, “Aren’t we going to Ramratan Sarani?”

“Yes, definitely yes.” I said.

The daughter asked, “What happened to your plan to move to Ramratan Sarani?”

“We are going soon.”

The wife came and asked, “When are you leaving for Ramratan Sarani?’

“Soon, very soon.” I said.

Another day my son complained, “I don’t want to stay here anymore.”

I said, “Me neither!”

My daughter said, “My heart is not here anymore.”

I said, “Nor mine.”

My wife joined in, “ I can’t stand this place.”

I said, “Me neither.”

Truly, none of us could stand this place. Our hearts were not here. We wanted out. We must leave. But when? When would I find the directions to Ramratan Sarani? I have tried my best. Does that mean…

One day they all surrounded me.

The son said, “Why did you tell us that story about Ramratan Sarani?”

The daughter said, “Why did you give us false hope?”

The wife asked, “Why? Why?”

The son added, “We didn’t want to go to Ramratan Sarani in the first place.”

The daughter said, “We were fine here as we were.”

The wife said, “Now you’ve increased our pain.”

I said, “I didn’t lie.”

They all shouted together, “Yes, you did!”

“No, I didn’t.”

“You said it, a hundred times.”

“You don’t believe me?” I asked.

“No.” They shouted.

I paused and asked them quietly, “When do you want to go there?”

“Right now.”

“Right now?”

“Yes, right now.”

“OK, let’s go then.”

Immediately everybody changed. Their faces brightened with joy. The anger and doubt I saw a minute ago in their faces had disappeared completely. I decided today I must take them all to Ramratan Sarani. I must find out where it is.

Soon everybody changed and got ready. I also changed my clothes.

Now it is afternoon. People are walking about. Everybody has a strange smile on their faces.

We too started walking along the road. Someone asked, “Where are you off to?”

I said, “Ramratan Sarani.”

“Where is that?”

“I have no idea!”

*****  THE END  *****

POSTSCRIPT—

After reading this story, a renowned critic laughed out loud. I was annoyed, “Why are you laughing?”

“Because you wrote so many lies….”

“Such as?”

“Such as I know you are unmarried, but in the story, you are not only married but with two kids too.”

“And?”

“And you never saw any road atlas.”

“Anything else?”

“You never asked any taxi driver or conductor about Ramratan Sarani. The entire story is made up.”

I immediately objected sharply, “You are wrong. Each word of this story is true.”

The critic smiled, “No way. Because Ramratan Sarani is not an imaginary street. There is really a street with that name. It exists. I’m sure you are well aware of it.”

“Nonsense!” I objected strongly.

The critic pulled out a road map from his pocket and pointed to the street labelled Ramratan Sarani. Then he asked, with sarcasm, “Do you really want to go there?”

I said somberly, “No.”

Ramanath Ray

Ramanath Ray

Ramanath Ray  (born January 03, 1940) is an Indian short story writer, novelist and essayist. In the sixties, he pioneered the literary movement called Sastrobirodhi Andolan (the movement against the old realistic literary style) in Bengali literature. In 2014, he was awarded the Bankim Puraskar (Bankim Memorial Award), the highest award given by the Government of West Bengal for contribution to Bengali fiction. His writings have been translated into Hindi, English, Marathi and Kannada.

Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra

Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra

Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra was born in Purulia, West Bengal, but grew up in Delhi and did her medical education in AIIMS, in New Delhi, India. In the USA, she has worked as a Professor of Pathology, doing medical research, diagnosing diseases and teaching medical students. She writes and publishes in both Bengali and English. Her translations of Bengali classics (Distant Thunder and Ichhamoti by BibhutiBhushan Bandyopadhyay and Address by Nabanita DebSen) are published. She loves to travel and have visited all seven continents. In the e-zine Parabaas, along with her translations, she also has published her travelogues in Bengali. Chhanda loves photography, birdwatching, music, quilting, drawing, daydreaming and spoiling her three grandchildren! She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband.

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