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The Refugee – Debesh Roy

Aug 27, 2021 | Fiction, Front And Center | 8 comments

Translated from the Bengali by Sukti Sarkar

It is an indulgence to sip a cup of tea in bed while the day’s work stares down. Even if the wife doesn’t nag, he has to leave the bed by eight o’ clock. It’s eight thirty by the time he is up and washed, relieved himself and has taken the daily round of the bazaar. Half an hour more to sort the coal-stocks or medicines or rushing to the laundry-shop and a few more errands. The next eight hours – like a prostitute selling her womanhood for one, two or three hours – are for trading the ability to correspond in English for a livelihood. The remaining twelve hours that it takes the Earth to round up a day can be spend dozing off.

There is no escape from getting up at eight.  When the continuous grind of the days reverses the popular adage “earn to live” into “live to earn”, the wife or, the daughter coaxing with a cup of tea right under the lips to wake him up, may make one feel respectable. Enough to get through the day till again it’s time to sleep. In the event of death, savings in the provident fund account, after the adjustment of loans, takes care of cremation and all the funeral expenses. The world stands, a memorial without the corpse. “A proper man lived a proper life and died a proper death”, the epitaph remains as the body made of the five elements is reduced to ashes. “A man with roots, robust and widespread but never encroaching on land that wasn’t his own.”

Satyabrata was fast asleep on a cheap wooden cot, with all the confidence of a self-reliant man, under a handloom mosquito net worth four and a half rupees.

“Do you hear me, hey, do you hear me?”

Undoubtedly the woman calling him, imploring rather, was his wife.

A pampered Satyabrata turned reluctantly. As if Anima’s words could now slide through the earhole on this side. “Some people are asking for you.”

“Who?” Satyabrata opened his eyes and asked.

“No idea at all. Asked them to come inside but they won’t. They’re waiting outside,” said Anima as she left and added, “finish your tea first before it gets cold.”

Meanwhile, Satyabrata sat on the edge of the cot with his legs dangling, looked around and took note of everything that those men could presume as being owned by him.  It was as if the court was putting his house up for auction. He inspected the room for a few seconds.

Then he looked at Anju still asleep on the other cot, feeling largely reassured, finally turned to look at himself. He had draped a discolored lungi worth rupee two and four annas, like the saris worn by the goddesses, as he did not wear underwear. It is there, yet not really. He slipped into the gunjee that lay beside his pillow. Then imagined his appearance – shabby lungi, tattered gunjee, still sleepy – a man hardly worth anything. The two men had come to auction him off, he felt. He, who slept like a lord a few minutes ago, was fully awake now but somewhat startled by the sound of Anima’s footsteps. He stood up and rubbing his palms on his face went out as if ready to disown his own name if required.

“Hey”, Anima cried out, covering the cup of tea with the saucer, and pushing Anjana, “Anju, get up, quick, need a slap or what?”

The two men were waiting outside the house, on their bicycles.

“Come in,” Satyabrata told them.

“Oh, no.  We just have some news to pass along, we’ll be off right after.”

Satyabrata looked at the man’s smiling face and wondered if he was supposed to get an invitation in the next few days.

“Please, come in.”

“No need, just go and meet the officer-in-charge at the police station, any time today or tomorrow, whichever is convenient.”

“Me, at the police station?”

“Yes,” one of them said.

The other man took a notebook from his pocket, turned some pages and said, “Your name is Satyabrata Lahiri, father’s name Late Punyabrata Lahiri, Holding Number 230/A/6,” then he pushed the notebook into his pocket and said, “Yes, that’s you.”

They turned the cycles round and said as they left, “Go when you find time, there’s no hurry as such.”

They were about to pedal off.

“Can you tell me, why?” Satyabrata called them back to ask.

The two men stopped, turned back and one of them said, “It’s nothing. A government order says, in this country- which means town, a border area town to be precise- we know, many people happen to reside who aren’t the real people of the place.” The two men tried to reassure Satyabrata with a rehearsed smile and said, “Center’s brainchild, all this. Says, ‘those’ who are living here aren’t ‘them’ at all. Think of that, we are helpless, we have to retain our jobs. We’ll leave, just go and have a talk.” Satyabrata quickly stepped back into his house before the two men were out of sight. Anima must have overheard the conversation and whiling away time in the verandah would make her think he was scared of going to the police station.

Anima had heard nothing. Satyabrata lifted the cup from the table and sipped. Anju came in, still biting her piece of bread, followed by Anima. Anima must have been in the kitchen all this time, he smiled as he thought, “Why on earth should I hide this from her, after all, I am not charged with theft or plunder!”

“The point is, I need to visit the police station as the government has ordered them to find out if ‘we’ are ‘us’.”

“Visit the police station, but why?”

“To prove that I am who I am”.

“What for?”

“The government’s ‘order’,” said Satyabrata and lowered the cup on the table. He hastened to the draw well. He needed to get ready and leave for the bazaar.

Satyabrata usually has a half hour for various odd jobs once he’s back from the bazaar. He made up his mind to visit the police station so somewhat hurriedly finished his purchases. Those two men had told him, though, to go to the police station whenever it was convenient. He knew it was best to go after work, but the ‘order’ irked him. He couldn’t wait and left for the police station straightaway.

“What’s the hurry?” Anima questioned him. “You can go in the evening as well.” Anju too needed help to get her schoolwork checked. But Satyabrata left for the police station.

He returned after sunset. Anima worried all day. After ten o’ clock in the morning there was no one left in the locality who could be persuaded to check at the police station.  Late in the afternoon she could manage to send someone there to look for Satyabrata. The young man came back and confirmed that Satyabrata was indeed there. Anima enquired from her neighbors and learnt that everyone had been instructed to report at the police station. Each one was supposed to get his own identity verified, once and for all, to prove that they were not anyone else. He who had stood firm on the ground like a tree was supposed to uproot himself, sooner or later, leave the family, of which he was an acknowledged member, and present himself at the police station to prove his own identity and existence.

Satyabrata dragged his feet along, his body listless. His neck seemed to hang like that of a dead cock, his hair scruffy like a wet dog’s, his collar bones as cold as a corpse, fingers resembling those of a pair of leather gloves. Anima followed him in silence from the main door of the house. He attempted to comfort her but with a sudden sense of detachment took away his palm from her back. He threw himself down on the stairs inside the house as if he was just back from the crematorium. He closed his eyes and leaned against the pillar. Had it not been there he would have lied down.

Anima had not bathed or had her meal. She intently looked for some answer in his body language and finally, with a thud, sat down next to him. Satyabrata’s eyeballs rolled around as if looking for someone. “Anju has gone to a friend’s place,” Anima said. Satyabrata fixed his gaze on Anima’s face. Anima at once saw something, deep inside, through his eyes that convinced her, this was Satyabrata beyond any doubt. Satyabrata took out some papers from his pocket, handed them to Anima and shut his eyes again. Darkness began to descend from every corner. Anima rose, stepped out and stood under the sky in search of some light.

For the information of the public at large:

The Second World War from 1939 to 1945 has caused serious changes in the geography and history of the world. In the absence of a comprehensive document, it is very difficult to identify the countries, race, language, family and descension of the population of the world. All the countries have undergone such important changes that it is impossible to determine, with certainty, who is who. We have come to know from a fact-finding mission that there are many people on planet Earth, who are of dubious status, absconding or impersonating others. This is particularly true for India, Pakistan, North and South Vietnam, North and South Korea, East and West Germany etc. In order to comply with the scheme named, “Search for the Original Person” organized by the UNO, we are verifying the original and true identity of the citizens of all the countries. We request each and every one to appear in the local police station with documents to prove his or her own identity.

Information available at Ballabhpur Police Station:

One: Satyabrata Lahiri, son of Late Punyabrata Lahiri, originally from East Pakistan, currently resides at Holding No. 230/A/6. He is paying the municipal tax for this holding for the last twelve years. On 10th June of the year 1950, the signed sales deed of Brindaban Mullick, the former owner of the aforementioned Holding, was examined and transferred in the name of Satyabrata Lahiri and registered in his name at the Ballabhpur Registration Office. However, after a special investigation, it is now known that Sheikh Mansur Ali, son of Late Kadam Sheikh, currently resident of Raichar in Pabna District of East Pakistan is the lawful owner of the Holding. After the Hindu-Muslim riots in 1950, the now dead, Kadam Sheikh along with his son Mansur, daughter Amina and wife Nura had left for East Pakistan but prior to that had entrusted the maintenance of his house to Brindaban Mullick, a local resident for three generations. In the same year Brindaban Mullick, as owner of the Holding, had sold it to Satyabrata Lahiri. Sheikh Mansur Ali of Raichar in Pabna District of East Pakistan, is in possession of a copy of the original document of ownership, dated 13th December, 1921.

Therefore, any individual named Satyabrata Lahiri, is not the owner of the Holding No.230/A/6 located in the Ballabhpur municipality or the name of the owner of Holding No. 230/A/6 under Ballabhpur municipality is not Satyabrata Lahiri.

Two:Satyabrata Lahiri, stated to be son of Late Punyabrata Lahiri, has worked in many government and private institutions of the Indian Union in various capacities such as school teacher, clerk etc., since 1947. In every instance he has declared his identity as Satyabrata Lahiri, son of Punyabrata Lahiri, Bachelor of Arts (BA) from Dhaka University in 1945.

On a specified date when asked to show his BA degree certificate at his workplace, he stated that due to a communal riot he had left East Pakistan after the examinations and, therefore, could not collect the original certificate and due to the Partition it was no longer possible to do so. In some more cases, whenever the authorities insisted on submission of the original certificate, Satyabrata Lahiri resigned from the jobs in due course.

Investigations have revealed:

A person named Satyabrata Lahiri, son of Late Punyabrata Lahiri, had passed the BA examination from Dhaka University in 1945 but was killed the very next year in a communal riot while travelling to Khulna by a train.

It is quite possible that, at present, “he” or “they” who have impersonated Late Satyabrata Lahiri are close acquaintances of Late Satyabrata Lahiri and are, therefore, capable of using all the information related to the identity of original Satyabrata Lahiri. Late Satyabrata Lahiri may be roaming around as a living Satyabrata Lahiri though, in reality, the original Satyabrata Lahiri is dead.

Late Punyabrata Lahiri’s paternal cousin brother was working in Calcutta since long before Independence. In an interview conducted by the Investigating Commission, he mentioned he knew that jobs were applied for using the name of Satyabrata Lahiri in ten instances. Upon hearing these ten instances in details it was concluded that such applications were submitted in many more cases unknown to him. Apart from job applications, matrimonial alliances were also pursued for Satyabrata Lahiri and there’s evidence that one such marriage had indeed taken place.

In this context, the Dhaka University Gazette was examined and it was found that two persons named Satyabrata Lahiri had passed the BA exam in 1945. It was the second Satyabrata Lahiri who complicated the problem, otherwise, the authorities could easily arrest anyone with the same name who claimed to have graduated from Dhaka University in 1945.

Data received from different district authorities revealed that, in all, eighty seven “Satyabrata Lahiri”s had married after 1947. However, how many of them were “BA, Dhaka University, 1945”; remained unknown.

Since a second Satyabrata Lahiri had passed the BA degree examination from Dhaka University in the same year,it is difficult to distinguish between Satyabrata, the living and Satyabrata, the deceased. It may well be that “deceased” Satyabrata (or fake Satyabrata) had used, whenever convenient, the name ofthe original and dead Satyabrata or original and living Satyabrata’s father’s name as his own.

“BA, Dhaka University, 1945”, the only true identity essential for fake Satyabrata was never tampered with. He cannot be disbelieved either as at least one Satyabrata Lahiri had indeed passed BA from Dhaka University in 1945. Fake Satyabrata Lahiri was in no need to disclose his father’s authentic identity so father’s name was liable to change.

As a result:

  • Son of Late Punyabrata Lahiri,
  • BA, Dhaka University, 1945 and
  • Satyabrata Lahiri

these three references of identities were not found to concur in any single case.

In addition, the matter became more complicated due to the uncertainty of the death of the original Satyabrata Lahiri. It was reported that a group of hooligans had once attacked a Khulna bound train in the early 1946 and many people got killed or sustained severe injuries. The list of the dead mentioned one “Satyabrata Lahiri”.This could have been a printing error. This Satyabrata Lahiri could very well be someone else altogether. Records, however, state that, Satyabrata Lahiri, the one heir to Punyabrata Lahiri, the one with a BA from1945 had left for Khulna, and was considered dead, as he never returned.

Therefore, the problem can be stated as below:

  1. Is it illogical to presume that Late Punyabrata Lahiri’s son, the BA from Dhaka University, 1945, was killed in the Khulna train attack? In other words, is original Satyabrata Lahiri presumed dead despite being alive?
  2. If original Satyabrata Lahiri is dead then who are the people appropriating his identity so far?

These two questions can be answered by only one of those who claimed to be Satyabrata Lahiri. This is why a door-to-door search is being conducted to find out each person who has married after 1947, fathered a child, and is pursuing a livelihood here.

As long as these two questions remain unanswered, no Satyabrata Lahiri will be allowed to declare himself as Satyabrata Lahiri, for sure. No wife will accept, beyond doubt, her husband to be Satyabrata Lahiri, son of Late Punyabrata Lahiri, and no child will be absolutely convinced that his/her father is the one and only original Satyabrata Lahiri .

You are required to report at the nearest police station with all the documents in order to testify that YOU are, in reality, the person YOU claim to be.

Three:On 30th July, 1952, Satyabrata Lahiri married Anima, the second daughter of Hem Chandra Sanyal who lived in Mukhera, a village in the 24 Parganas. The marriage was performed in accordance with all the Hindu rituals. Late Biswanath Bhattacharya and Narendranath Chakraborty, the two priests who solemnized the marriage, had testified that the same was conducted as per the Hindu scriptures. Both Satyabrata Lahiri and Anima Lahiri resided as a married couple in the house at Holding No. 230/A/6 of Ballabhpur municipality for the last ten years. On 17th March, 1953, Anima Sanyal gave birth to a girl child in the Ballabhpur Town Hospital. It should be mentioned that though born seven months after the marriage, the child was fully mature, healthy and normal. Records at Ballabhpur Town Hospital indicate that Anima Lahiri was discharged just five days after admission. This child, named Anjana Lahiri, is the only child of Anima Lahiri and Satyabrata Lahiri.

The worldwide project named, “Search for the Original Person”, has revealed that Janab Enamul Haq Choudhury, current citizen of East Pakistan, voluntarily declared: Anima’s father Hem Chandra Sanyal was a resident of their neighborhood. In 1950, during the communal riots in East Pakistan, Hem Chandra Sanyal and his family took refuge at Enamul Haq Choudhury’s residence. Enamul Haq Choudhury’s father Janab Mainul Haq Choudhury was alive at that time. He and Enamul were firmly committed to save Hem Chandra Sanyal’s family. Ten to fifteen days after the riots, Hem Chandra emigrated to the Indian Union. His daughter Anima, however, stayed back at Enamul Haq Choudhury’s residence in East Pakistan. Hem Chandra Sanyal’s second daughter Anima Sanyal not only stayed back in Pakistan but renamed as “Kumkum”, got married to Enamul Haq Choudhury registered on 5th February of 1951. Enamul Haque Choudhury has submitted a copy of the registration certificate of the said marriage. The certificate mentioned the name of the bride as “Kumkum” with H.C. Sanyal as her father’s name.

The circumstantial evidence noted in support of the declaration are as below:

When Hem Chandra Sanyal migrated to the Indian Union, no one had seen his second daughter Anima with him. After reaching the village Mukhera, Hem Chandra told his neighbors that his second daughter Anima is residing with her older sister Anjali at a tea garden of Assam. Hem Chandra’s older son-in-law, the husband of Anjali, worked at a tea garden there. They, however, reported that Anima never visited them. These events prove indirectly that Anima was not with Hem Chandra Sanyal when he left East Pakistan in 1950.

Had Anima changed her name to “Kumkum” and really married Enamul? Apart from the common initials “H.C. Sanyal” as father’s name, there’s no proof that Kumkum and Anima are one and the same person.

If that is not the case, why had Anima stayed back in Pakistan?

There are two different opinions on the subject:

First Opinion:

Janab Enamul Haq Choudhury and Anima Sanyal were in a relationship from childhood. They both lived in the same locality and studied in the same primary school till the age of eight or nine. Enamul used to address Anima’s mother as, “Ma”. Enamul’s father,  Mainul Haq Choudhury was quite an influential person in the area. Since 1947, the amorous relationship between Enamul and Anima and close interaction of the two families were important reasons that prevented Hem Chandra Sanyal from leaving East Pakistan. Anima’s father used to ask for Enamul if he failed to visit the Sanyal home for a single day. There was a separate set of cup, saucer, plate and glass kept aside for Enamul in the Sanyal household.

It was at this juncture that communal riots broke out in 1950. Enamul left his own home and moved in with the Sanyals. Enamul’s father, Mainul Haq Choudhury, was very reluctant to get involved in these developments. However, when his only son was in danger, he sensed trouble and provided shelter to Hem Chandra Sanyal and his family at his own residence. He also pleaded for and received help from the police and the government to maintain peace and harmony in that area of the town.

The Sanyal family put up in a single room and kept the doors and windows firmly shut. They were apprehensive of any sound outside the door. They could barely breathe if they realized Enamul had left the house and eagerly waited for him to return. In those precarious times Enamul was their only source of hope. It was only for him that they could trust the Haq Choudhury family.The door of their room was pushed open four times a day to provide meals. No separate sets of plates, bowls or glasses were arranged for the Sanyal family. All around there was sound of the murderers screaming in joy and hapless victims crying in unbearable pain. People shouted as the fires spread silently and every attack broke all mental inhibitions to pieces the way an earthquake shakes everything to the core to test the strength of all that’s believed to be stable. Threat from all quarters and fear of death convinced everyone that Enamul and Anima were like a boat that could save them from a dangerous and turbulent sea. Had Anima and Enamul not been in love, Sanyal family wouldn’t take refuge at Haq Choudhury’s home and Enamul’s father couldn’t compel the government to maintain peace and harmony in the neighborhood. Enamul wouldn’t contact his friends to form peace-keeping groups to douse the fires and save those injured in the riots.

It was easy to comprehend that the Sanyal and Haq Choudhury families worked collectively to protect the loving relationship the way our nerves work, quite unknowingly, to save our eyes from dust and smoke. It was clear as daylight that many lives were saved. Anima was thoroughly aware of the prevailing situation. Before the riots broke out, Anima and Enamul met each other occasionally but the changing times wouldn’t even allow that by any means. Enamul entered the Sanyal’s room barely three to four times a day. Legal investigations do not recognize love and affection as evidence of a relationship. It was difficult for Enamul and Anima to meet often. Despite the difficulties, Enamul found Anima ready with a towel, when after a hard day outside he returned home sweating profusely. On other occasions she gave him a hand fan just in time. Anima craved for Enamul as she had overcome most of her inhibitions. Fear of death loomed large over the Sanyal family but every breath, every heartbeat of all her family members convinced Anima about the strength of Enamul’s love for her. Mainul Haq Choudhury’s two-week long relentless efforts to arrange for safe passage of the Sanyal family to the Indian Union finally met with success. Anima’s refusal to accompany her family raised questions. It’s quite possible that Hem Chandra had not readily agreed to leave Anima behind in East Pakistan. Perhaps, the Sanyals were scared to find Anima emboldened enough to defy their decision even without direct intervention from Enamul. Maybe they felt indebted to Enamul’s efforts to save their life and hesitated to impose their decision on Anima. Whatever may be the reason, Anima stayed back in Pakistan.

At the end of the riots, Anima, out of her own volition, changed her name to “Kumkum” and got married to Janab Enamul Haq Choudhury on 5th February in 1953. The certificate of registration of Kumkum and Enamul’s marriage is available.                                 But what prompted the change of name?

Perhaps, both Enamul and Anima thought that their marriage, if reported to the Sanyal family, honorably repatriated in the Indian Union, may cause discomfort. This was also why just the initials of Anima’s father’s name were  mentioned.

Second Opinion:

Enamul was attracted to Anima even before the Partition. After the formation of Pakistan he wrote quite a few letters to her but received no reply. He tried to talk with her when he occasionally met her in the streets. He often visited Anima’s house, addressed her mother as, “Ma” and insisted for tea. Anima was forbidden to go out of the house when he told her that all her family members would be killed if she refused to be his wife.

Meanwhile, the riots of 1950 broke out. Enamul and his accomplices stormed into Anima’s house and threatened to kill every member of her family if she wasn’t married off to him. Hem Chandra Sanyal reported the incident to Mainul Haq Choudhury who told the police that Enamul and his friends were in charge of maintaining peace and harmony in the locality. Consequently, the police left from the area and Enamul became the sole guardian of the place.

One night at ten o’ clock, the Sanyal residence was attacked by a stone pelting mob that cried “Allah Ho Akbar” and eventually surrounded the house from all sides. The men threatened to set fire if the door was not opened. Enamul shouted, “Open the door, I am here to help you.” The Sanyals were compelled to open the door and told they would be spared only if they took shelter at Haq Choudhury’s house. The Sanyals were forced to shift to Enamul’s family home and lived under constant threat to life.

Often Enamul entered the Sanyal’s room and ordered Anima to fan him or wipe his sweat off with a towel. The Sanyals were scared for life and worried all the while about how to defend themselves. They were like the devotees at a temple, keen to have their wishes fulfilled but completely indifferent to the blood gushing out of the sacrificed animal. Enamul’s indecent and obscene behavior towards Anima instilled a sense of defense in the Sanyal family. Anima’s presence was seen as standing guard against Enamul’s passion for murder. Any attempt to save her skin had to be paid by blood, the message was clear.

Legal investigations demand adequate acknowledgement of the role of carnal pleasure, greed, torture, rape etc – all of which can indicate the intention of a crime – as evidence of events. Unless Enamul’s desire to physically possess Anima is admitted it will not explain why, after ten to fifteen days, the Sanyal family accepted his terms and could safely leave for the Indian Union.

It is unlikely Hem Chandra Sanyal agreed at once to leave Anima behind in Pakistan. Life of all other family members compared to Anima’s modesty seemed a better deal and helped Hem Chandra decide on the best deal. He left Anima in Pakistan and emigrated to the Indian Union with the rest of the family.

On 5th February, 1951, after the riots ended, Enamul converted Anima to Islam, got her renamed as “Kumkum”, and duly registered his marriage with her. It was apprehended that all such incidents would be investigated once the riots ended. Anima’s name was, therefore, changed and only initials used so as to conceal her father’s identity.

A third possible opinion that Anima and Kumkum might not be the same person at all, cannot be substantiated. Hem Chandra Sanyal’s neighbor in Mukhera, as well as his older son in law and daughter Anjali in Assam, testified that Anima had not emigrated to the Indian Union. This proved that the idea of Anima and Kumkum being two different persons is illogical. The problem could not be resolved if Anima and Kumkum were believed to be two different persons. It has therefore been unanimously, even if indirectly, accepted that they are one and the same.

If Anima Sanyal and Satyabrata Lahiri had got married on 30th July, 1952, then why and when had Anima Sanyal alias Kumkum Haq Choudhury emigrated from Pakistan to the Indian Union?

There are two opinions on the subject:

First Opinion:

In the month of June, 1952, Anima was found to be pregnant. She developed symptoms of nausea, vertigo and loss of appetite. Meanwhile, Enamul’s father, Mainul Haq Choudhury had passed away. There wasn’t any educated or experienced lady in the household to take over. Anima would get anxious due to her conditions and reminisced about her parents, siblings and other family members often.

One aspect of the case needs to be noted here. Enamul was so surprised when Anima refused to accompany her parents and emigrate to the Indian Union, that after his marriage with Anima, Enamul chose to remain away from home most of the time. He believed this would help them to adjust to the changed situation. He was aware that Anima’s Hindu and his Muslim identities were deeply ingrained in their psyche. These separate identities could not be done away with unless they eroded from within. Enamul maintained a respectful distance when she voluntarily decided to stay back in Pakistan for his sake. He consciously tried not to force himself on her. Mainul Haq Choudhury’s death compelled him to come closer to Anima and he discovered that she too had maintained a distance, though he was always in her thoughts. This was followed by a happy conjugal life and in a year Anima was pregnant.

Enamul realized Anima now needed to be with her parents and it was time to get in touch with his in laws. Enamul made all arrangements to send Anima to Mukhera. He feared his presence could lead to social problems for his in-laws and decided not to travel with her.

Enamul’s active support helped Anima reach the Indian Union and ensured improvement of her physical and mental health. She wrote a letter to Enamul to confirm her safe arrival in the Indian Union at her father’s place. She signed the letter as “Anima”.

This was the only letter from her after she had left East Pakistan. Enamul had written three to four letters to her, in quick succession, stopped writing to her when he lost hope, wrote to her again, and finally sent her a telegram.

Once Anima reached Mukhera, Hem Chandra Sanyal immediately spread the word   that she was back from her older sister’s place as her marriage had been fixed. A pregnant Anima was almost confined at home, not allowed to write to Enamul and all letters from Enamul were seized. Hem Chandra desperately searched for a suitable match, a young Brahmin of any clan except Batsya. The cash and gold that Hem Chandra Sanyal could carry with him, with help from Mainul Haq Chodhury and Enamul, had enabled him to settle down as a Hindu Brahmin in the Indian Union. He intended to erase the days in between.

A two-month pregnant Anima was finally married off to Satyabrata Lahiri, son of Late Punyabrata Lahiri, on 30th July, 1952, just a month and a half after she had left Pakistan. Seven months after her marriage Anima delivered a living, healthy baby on 17thMarch 1953, at Ballabhpur Town Hospital. The child was conceived by Enamul Haq Choudhury’s wife and delivered by that of Satyabrata Lahiri.

Second opinion:

Hem Chandra had not heard of Anima since he reached the Indian Union. However, he had anticipated that Anima could arrive any day. He had told everyone that he had a second daughter who was living with her older sister in a tea garden in Assam.  Suddenly, in the month of June in 1952, a seriously ailing Anima reached Mukhera. She reportedly stated that she had escaped from Enamul the day after Hem Chandra Sanyal left Pakistan. Ever since, she suffered a lot before she could leave Pakistan and through several leads could, finally, trace Hem Chandra’s address.

Hem Chandra duly helped his lost and found daughter to recover her health. In the process, Anima stayed at home most of the time and never met anybody from outside her family. Her health improved in a few months. Even before her medical treatment was complete, there was a proposal of marriage with one Satyabrata Lahiri, BA, son of Late Punyabrata Lahiri. Hem Chandra, as a responsible father and worried about his own failing health, conceded and Anima was married to Satyabrata on 30th July of 1952.

Anima visited her parents a month later and was found to be pregnant. Her neighbors at Mukhera can testify as witnesses to this effect. Anima was sent to Ballabhpur in the fourth month of her pregnancy. At the end of the seventh month, on 17th March of 1953, Anima delivered her only child. The child was conceived after her marriage with Satyabrata and none other than Satyabrata can be the father of the child.

Could Anima escape if Enamul had claimed his hold on her? If she had at all lived with the rogue, how could she have conceived a child a year later?

Analysis of all the views raises the following questions:

  1. Was Anima in love with Enamul or forced by Enamul to stay back?
  2. Had Anima voluntarily changed her name to marry Enamul or was compelled to?
  3. Had Anima agreed, on her own, to marry Satyabrata or was forced to?
  4. Who had fathered Anjana, Enamul or Satyabrata?

Anima and Anjana’s identities depended on the correct answers to these four questions. These questions aim to directly seek information about the identity of the concerned persons.

Until the correct answers to these questions remain unavailable, the person you know as your wife is not YOUR wife, the child you know as your child is not YOURS.

You are, therefore, required to report to the nearest police station with all your original, actual and true identification documents in order to prove that you are indeed YOU.

There was darkness everywhere, in every nook and corner; at the front and rear gates, on the courtyard, the stairs and at the corner with the tulsi. Darkness spread like a spilling flood or a deadly epidemic. Anima and Satyabrata, refugees without any identity, were immersed in the burning darkness of a sea of molten iron. Minutes back all that was home and hearth, stared at Anima in the yard, and at Satyabrata on the stairs, like dark and gaping eyeholes. The home, the house, the pleasures of all that, like a monster with overgrown legs surrounded and dazed the couple. The sky deepening with darkness declared in silence, “You are not YOU, Satyabrata and you are not YOU, Anima.”

Two completely unrelated souls collapsed to the ground. Outside, in a voice incipient, sad, and lonely but sharp as an arrow, Anju’s cry would pierce through the darkness and cry out, “Baba”, “Maa” to commemorate their existence. They waited for just that.

__

 

Glossary:

lungi: A piece of cloth worn in South and South East Asia, usually worn wrapped around the hips and reaching the ankles.
gunjee: a white, cotton undershirt with or without sleeves
Batsya: name of a clan (a sub group) within a caste generally derived from names of ancient Hindu sages.
Tulsi: the Indian basil, considered a sacred plant by Hindus.

Translator's Note

“The Refugee” is a well-known story by Debesh Roy. Outrightly political in content, the story portrays the dire consequence of an empowered state incriminating one in suspicion of their identity, therefore pushing their entire lives to jeopardy. Relationships, citizenship, marital status, educational qualification and even their religious practices, everything is brought under the scanner and get negated as the state denies the very existence of the individual. In both life and death, human beings are deliberately robbed of dignity and reduced to mere facts compiled in police record books. Debesh Roy takes up a narrative voice as found in such documents—devoid of emotional pulse, utterly nonchalant manner of telling reflecting the ruthlessness of the “authorities”. The story is set against the backdrop of the aftermath of the Partition of India. Its haunting message continues to resonate with conditions in India today, even after seventy-five years of Independence.

As a translator, it was a challenge to grasp the flow of his rather abstruse rhetoric, especially in the first section of the story. The sentence constructions were often complicated, and the style of presentation maintained an even cold indifference throughout probably to heighten the shocking progress of events. If the translation communicates this sense of helplessness and bewilderment as we witness the horrid destruction of Satyabrata’s identity, I will consider my attempt, a success.

Debesh Roy was born in Pabna in British India. His first book was Jajati. During his five decades-long writing career, Roy is remembered for numerous books, including Borisaler Jogen Mondal, Manush Khun Kore Keno, Samay Asamayer Brittanto, and Lagan Gandhar. Roy’s life and works were inspired by the Teesta river-based Rajbanshi Community of North Bengal. He received the Sahitya Academy award in 1990 for his epic novel Teesta Parer Brittanto. He was also honoured by Bhasa Sahitya Parishad and Bhualka Purashkar.

Sukti Sarkar retired as an Assistant Manager of the Reserve Bank of India. Interested in literature and history, she is a passionate traveler and a theatre worker based out of Kolkata. She volunteers often for social/ community causes organized by NGOs of the city. Apart from contributing book reviews in little magazines she is currently trying literary translation.

8 Comments

  1. Romita Hunt

    The translator does strongly convey the starkness of the situation, the utter hopelessness and illogicality of a refugee’s identity (or lack of), as they couldn’t always carry their official papers (sometimes which didn’t exist either). Uprooted suddenly, there was enough trauma already, but to not be sure of their “official identity” in the eyes of the law in their current abode, is a very scary and dehumanising situation. The only identity remaining – their child (even though doubts were cast on paternity) – was very poignant.

    Reply
  2. Romita Hunt

    Excellent – the desperation was not lost in translation

    Reply
  3. Tinka Chatterjee

    I liked the translation. At the beginning I was finding the writing very dry and matter of fact and was not liking the narrative style at all. But as the story progressed I realized that bleak dry prose was able to tell the story realistically. The callous attitude of the state and the absolute helplessness of the situation as well as the utterly miserable state of mind of the protagonist…all were conveyed very well by the translator

    Reply
  4. Tinka Chatterjee

    I liked the transition. At the beginning I found the writing dry and prosaic and did not like the narrative style. But as the story progressed I realized that the bleak dry prose was able to carry the story realistically. The callous attitude of state officials, the absolute helplessness of the situation and utterly miserable state of mind of the protagonist, all were conveyed very well by the translator.

    Reply
  5. Suddhasatya Ghosh

    Indeed it is a good translation, which carried the weight of this story with elan. We are in troubled water now and this kind of story helps a lot to understand what is happeing around.

    Reply
  6. Mamata Sarkar

    Sukti Sarkar’s ‘The Refugee’ is a mesmerizing English translation of Debesh Roy’s Bengali short fiction ‘Udbastu’. The emotional journey of the protagonist, portrayed in Debesh’s story, is successfully transcripted in Sukti’s translation. The socio-political background related identity crisis in Debesh’s story is now-a-days a burning issue in our country. Moreover, Debesh Roy is an eminent writer. It was not an easy task for Sukti to translate this work in a lucid language. Sukti Sarkar not only handled it with utmost care, she has become instrumental too to present this unique story before a larger readership.

    Reply
  7. Bichitra Bagchi

    I really enjoyed reading Sukti’s english translation of ‘Udbastu’. Translation of such a complicated and harsh realistic story is not easy but Sukti did it remarkably. it felt like reading the original bengali version since that essence was not lost at all. Thanks Sukti.Waiting to read many more translations from you.

    Reply
  8. Tarun Sengupta.

    In most Bengali to English translations the essence of the original gets marred, specially in these type of stories entrenched in harsh reality.
    The author, Debesh Ray, like the protagonist of his creation ” Udbastu ” hailed from erstwhile East Pakistan and later settled in North Bengal.His intimate feelings for Satyabrata blended with his characteristic political undertones made it a great story.
    I was rather sceptical in the beginning but in no time realized that Sukti has done utmost justice to the perspective of the original piece.Thanks to her for the unadulterated translation.

    Reply

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