Gandhiji by Nabendu Ghosh

Translated from Bengali by Ratnottama Sengupta

The sun went down.

One after another the lamp posts in the winding lane sprung to life. Their brilliance was dimmed by the smoke from the homely clay oven, sigri. The darkening sky above got dotted by a glittering star or two. And that is when Ratan’s feet became unruly like a wild steed. Donning a mulmul kurta he got ready to go out for the evening.

Jasoda had entered the room to pick up something. She came to an abrupt halt. 

“Off?”  she asked, her voice laced with sarcasm. “Can’t stay put at home any longer, can you?”

Solemnly Ratan nodded his head. “Yes, just need to take a round.” 

Jasoda knitted her brow, “Just take a round? Chhee! Don’t do that. Pour some down your throat too, okay?”


“Why? Am I saying something wrong, haan[1]? Something not quite done?”

Ratan did not utter a word in reply. He only glared at Jasoda for a second before walking out in rapid steps.

He didn’t stop until he reached Jatin’s house. His friend Jatin who sells fish every morning and evening. He has no family save his aged mother – he had married but his wife died years ago, and he made no attempt to have another after that.

They all gather in his house – Haaru, Potla, Jaga, Radhu and a few others. Since most of them are in the business of selling fish or meat, they have cash in their pockets. They easily turn uproarious as mutton chops and prawn cutlets stream in to enhance the pleasure of downing country liquor. 

In a room foggy with fumes of cigarette, they settle down to a few games of card. They play as long as they feel like; when they don’t want to, they storm the cells of Gendi or Bunchi in the dark of the night. Or, when they are told to, they dive into the alleys of the Muslim neighbourhood and toss a few hand grenades. 

Yes, the responsibility to curb the riot – a euphemism for hunting down Muslims – has suddenly come to rest on their able shoulders. They didn’t anticipate or expect it to, but it did. All of a sudden the wealthies of their end of the city started to pamper them. They raised funds through donations, to arm Ratan and his friends with small weapons so that they could protect the prestige of the Hindus, and of the womenfolk.

The way things were going, this was bound to happen. They had outdone everyone in severing head from the torso of walking talking men. 


They were all there. Haaru, Potla, Jaga, Radhu – all of them had showed up. Ratan lent the final touch. 

“Come in saala[2], come!” Jatin affectionately welcomed him. 

Laughter and banter followed. 

There was a sudden lull in the spate of riots that had been on sporadically for a year since the Direct Action Day, and had got a spurt when the country won its freedom on 15th August. But God knows what went wrong? All of a sudden the darkness of hatred started to melt, and the two warring units that had been at each other’s throats, suddenly saw themselves in the mirror: they embraced each other in brotherhood.

Since that day their ‘work’ had gone down. Further calm has descended since Gandhiji appeared in the city. He is camping in Beliaghata. He has been saying that he will not go anywhere until there is peace. Why, he has even staked his life! He will give up his life if he has to, to stop the riots! That is why Ratan and his company are spending more hours in downing liquor and visiting the sluts in the forbidden quarters, singing in their hoarse voice and walking with unsteady steps. 

The chops and cutlets from Nitai’s shop were hot off the oven. The air thickened with the smell of blended oil. And their eyes sparkled with the spirit. 

Abey Jatin, get the bottles out…” Ratan urged. 

Haan bey,” Jatin was most willing to oblige.

A bitter-sharp smell spread through the room. The earthen cups filled to the brim were emptied in no time. The world before their eyes started dancing like a flame. Nasha… stupor.

“Bring out one more bottle, saala…” Ratan nudged Jatin.

Haan bey, I will…”

Arre call for more chops and cutlets.”

“O-K-K Sa-a-la…”

Jaga suddenly sprung to his feet. “I’m off, bye…”

“Where to?” Jatin wanted to  know.

“To Bimli’s…he-he-he…”

“Get back to your chair” – Jatin barked at him. “We will all go in a group.”

Jaga wasn’t too pleased, but he sat down again. “Okay baba, that’s what we will do. Meanwhile let me have a bite of the cutlets…”

The room was filled with the odour of country liquor and smoke. Reddened eyes and numbed  responses. Tidbits dropped on the floor, empty bottles and used cups and dishes piled up. Vegetable salad and sauces dripped to stain their clothes. None of them cared to wash their hands, silently they went on downing the liquid fire. Periodically they pulled their faces and uttered satisfaction, “Aah!” 

“Hear that?” Ratan turned to gaze at Jatin. 


“All of you here can hear this?”

Potla shook his head, “How can we hear if you don’t spit it out, saala…”

Ratan crinkled his face, “This Gendo[3] of yours has thrown a spanner in the wheel, re…” 

A gentle murmur coursed through the room. Almost as if a gentle breeze had rustled dry leaves. 

Gandhi – yes, Gandhi! Superannuated Gandhi, old rascal Gandhi. This Gendo chap is a fraud. He is in cahoots with the Muslims, enemy of the Hindus, foe of the Bengalis…

“Yes, he has thrown us off-gear,” Jatin spoke through gritted teeth. “But for how  long can he stymie us? He can’t get away with his bujruki, his hoax …”

Jaga spoke in a tired voice, “I just want to see Bimli for a while…”

“Sit, you owl!” 

“Whatever you may say,” Haru spoke in a soft voice, “Gandhiji is a good soul, hanh?”

“Good soul?” Ratan roared out a nasty abuse, “My foot! All of us can sing bhajans and paeans to Ram if we had a life of comfort like him, buddy! And this guy alone is responsible for the Muslims daring to go so far as to demand a separate land. But this can’t go on! Now we have gained Independence. This is Hindustan – we will put an end to the last Muslim standing here!”

“Right! Right you are!!” they chorused in their boozy voice. 

“Riot! We must hack every invader, every single Yavan!”



Haan…  pour me one more bhaanr[4] of the stuff…”

“Where is it? Dum aaloo[5]?”

“Listen!” Jatin ran his eyes over them, “What Ratan is saying is hundred percent correct. Gendo can’t have a run of the state. No. D’you know what that chap is up to now? He’s saying he will bring back every single Muslim and rehabilitate them in the bustee[6]at Beliaghata. Why, I ask you dear, why couldn’t you say this to our people? What did you, all told, achieve in Noakhali?”

Ratan nodded in agreement and let out a mouthful of smoke. “No, such humbug will no longer work here. Enough. The guy wants to unite Ishwar and Allah[7]! As if you can do that at will!”

“Shut up bey!” Jatin cackled.

“Tomorrow. We will rake it up tomorrow itself. The Babus had sent for me today – everything is fixed.”

“All fixed?” Ratan’s face brightened at this, “Good. I’m relieved.”

“Oh, good. Come on, baba Jatin…” Haru called out, “bring out another bottle Jatin!”

Abey shut up saala ! Here I come…”

“Hey where’s the chaat[8]? Pass it around…”

“Die, you pests!” Jaga stood up and spoke in excitement, “None of you are sober. I’m off to Bimli’s.”

Saala can’t wait to get there,” Ratan chuckled. “Arre baba, we’ll all go with you…” They all got to their unsteady feet.


Ratan couldn’t contain his glee. As he strode forward he kept thinking, “So there’ll be riots again – good!” 

The lull in the violence these past few days was most irritating. He simply couldn’t take it anymore. He had tasted blood – and that is a dangerous addiction.  For years, he had been a butcher and beheaded goats and lambs. But the thrill of killing a man, a live human being, was something else. 

The first day he stabbed a man he understood that this was the king of highs. Day after day, he had sought out Musalmaans and delighted in putting the knife into them – and now it had spread through his veins. Now he felt out of depth on the days when he did not snuff out a life. He felt rather unwell.

He had a faint recollection of one particular afternoon.

He was sipping tea in Bipin’s tea stall.

All of a sudden some boys dragged in a young Muslim fellow. They told Ratan, “Now you have to finish the job Dada[9]. We are exhausted.”

Ratan grinned, “What’s so tough, idiots?”

“You’re mistaken bhai[10]…” the young man broke into tears. “I’m a Hindu!”

“Really?” Ratan laughed uproariously. “I’ll check that out once I’ve finished with you.”

The youth was dragged to a dark end of the lane and done with. After the job was over, a curiosity gnawed Ratan. He was absolutely certain that the kid had claimed to be a Hindu out of sheer fear. Still… He bared the body and checked the genitals of the naked corpse. “Shhuh, I got fooled!! This guy was actually a Hindu…”

They were outside Bimli’s door. There was no one else in the gully but them. The entire city was holding its breath, too scared to breathe in the riot-torn air. And then, it was late in the night. The gaslight was casting eerie shadows. Silence ruled.


Jatin’s words came true. The riots broke out the very next morning. And there was severe rioting. But this time around it was the Hindus who were aggressive, not the Muslims. The bombs and sten guns resounded across the sky and the air was rife with fear. 

Ratan finished one round and returned home. Aah ! He felt somewhat relieved today. 

But Jasoda was furious and would not relent. “So! You do have to come home to Jasoda, yeah? So liquor and sluts are not your cup of tea round the clock!”


“But why are you losing your cool? I’ll get it for you – after all, you have been doing so much work! Boozing… whoring… killing…”

“Jasoda I’ll knock your head off!”

“Don’t I know that?” Jasoda’s fiery eyes bored through him, “The day you will fail to find a human to stab, you’ll twist your knife into me to satisfy your thirst for blood…” 

Jasoda walked out of the room.

After a while she sent a khullar[11] of tea through her little boy but she herself stayed away.

Ratan was displeased. He spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping. Let the others take the responsibility to keep the fire aflame; now that it has been lit again, it will spread on its own steam.

That’s exactly what happened. By nightfall the riots took a sinister turn. Tension gripped the air of the city, dread filled the dark of the eyes. There was hardly any footfall in the streets.


When they met in the evening, Jatin said, “See how easy it was to rekindle the flame! But…”


“It seems that Gendo chap is fasting since morning.”

“Fasting! Really?”

“Yes. Crazy, this man is. He will fast unto death, he won’t eat a morsel until the riots stop, he has said.”

Arre let him!” Ratan hissed. “Let the oldie die. This is how he has been pampering the Musalmaans. Forget him – he should die!”

“Right you are,” Jatin nodded in agreement, “let him die. You come with me, there’s work to be done.”

A while later the sky lit up with the blaze of a burning slum. The fire brigade rushed to the spot with sirens blaring. The city cowered, trembled with fear, as the sound of bombs rent the air every now and then.

Coming home, Ratan was again subjected to the tongue lash of Jasoda. What is this vixen, a virago? No fear in her soul! 

“So you’ll kill him? You will kill Gandhiji?”

“And what if I kill him?”

“What if you kill him! Are you a human being? You’ll kill a sage like him? You’ll rot in hell if you do that, understand? You’ll burn in hellfire…”

“Piss off! Just shut up and go. Get lost — ”

Chhee! What are you, a man?”


“What? You’ll kill me too? Go ahead, do that!”

But what good was silencing Jasoda? Ratan simply couldn’t sleep that night. 

That Gandhi has gone off food?! What stuff is the man made of? If I kill two men, you’ll fast yourself unto death? What a dissembler. But otherwise the man has done so much! That the country has gained independence – it is largely due to this man, they say.  So what? Why must he pamper the Muslims to this extent? If he’s really so bothered, why doesn’t he go fast to stop the riots in Punjab? Humbug. Let him rot.


The same story repeated itself the next day. The sacrificial fire kept devouring human flesh. 

“What a hassle,” Jatin grumbled. “This Gendo simply won’t eat a bite, I hear! He’ll kick the bucket day after if not tomorrow.”

“All this is willed by Goddess Kali, d’you realise Jattye?” Ratan added with a wave of his hand, “It’s best he shuffles off his mortal coil and drops dead.”

Stray incidents filled the day. Then it started to pour. They couldn’t do very much after that. When the rain stopped, Ratan stepped out to stretch his legs. He noticed that people were gathering here and there, reading newspapers, discussing something in a grave voice. Gandhiji, the name, kept recurring. They all looked worried, sounded concerned, crestfallen. 

All his countrymen genuinely worshipped Gandhi. He has actually done a lot – gone to great length to gain independence for the people. Not just the Lord Saheb, even the King of the British rulers held him in deference!

Suddenly Ratan hastened his pace. Why not go upto Beliaghata and take a look at Gandhi? To this day he had not set his eyes on this man, what was the harm in sizing him up? Ratan was not enamoured of Gandhi, he didn’t care two hoots whether he lived or died. Still, a peek at the man would do no harm. All said and done, he’d made a name for himself, perhaps even a place in history.

Ratan was overcome by a strange emotion. Inscrutable. Without much thinking he showed up in Beliaghata for the evening prayers. There was a large crowd waiting outside the house. He nudged and pushed to wend his way and find a footing in the front row. After a long wait he got to see Gandhiji.

A short statured, dark complexioned ageing man with the radiance of a child on his face. Bare bodied, Khadi-clad, he had a meditative calm about him. So this was the magnanimous Gandhiji!

A tremor passed through Ratan. It was as if he had suddenly come face to face with a morning sun. As if he was standing on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, as deep as its boundless expanse.

In a flash something happened deep within Ratan. Everything turned topsy turvy as if shaken by an earthquake high on the Richter scale. He realised he had finally encountered a magnificent personality. One who would not bow his head to anything unjust or immoral. One who would not daunted by guns and bullets.

As he looked on, Ratan turned misty eyed. Who said Gandhi was a pygmy? To Ratan he seemed like the Himalayas piercing the sky. Ratan trembled, he panicked, he fled.

All kinds of thoughts beset Ratan and he became restless. He headed straight for Jatin’s house. He felt like settling down with bottles of the fiery stuff. As he felt the liquid sear down his throat, the daze cleared somewhat. 

“Know what Jattye?” he tried to draw his friend’s attention.


“I went for a darshan[12] of Gandhiji today.”

“Who? Gendo?”

Hanh, Gandhi.”

“What was it like?”

“I mean… the man seems to be a sadhu[13].”

“Seems a sadhu, right? Yes, the fellow has actually done a lot for the country…”

“That’s what I hear. So many times he has been incarcerated and been to the jail. So much suffering he has put up with…”

“But that one failing! He has spoilt all his good actions by pampering and mollycoddling the Muslims, over-indulging them…”

“You have hit the nail on its head!”

One by one the others joined them. In no time the place was abuzz with food from Bipin’s Stall and bottles of country liquor.  Downing the liquid in rapid succession they were quite a boisterous crowd. 

“Follow me, Ratnya?” Jatin slurred, “this…”


Gendo is fasting, let him. He won’t kick the bucket in a day or two, will he? Old bones are sturdy – he’ll last. Meanwhile, in two days we’ll clear out all the ragheads, won’t we?”

“Yes Jatye, spot on…”

“Here, some more… f-o-r youuu…”

“Yeah… g-i-v-e mee…”

Ratan could not walk straight when he reached home. 

“Why?” Jaosoda came at him like a bull at a gate, “Why are you back here? Was there no space for you in Chandravali’s love nest?”

“Shut your trap Jasoda!”

“The frigging bastard won’t let me be in peace.. Maa-go!”

Ratan flopped in his bed and murmured, “Q-u-i-e-t Jasoda! Shut up and keep quiet bhai…”

Bhai! Bro? Shame upon you, no-good burnt-face monkey! You see a brother in me?”

Jasoda kept on muttering long after Ratan had started snoring.


Next morning the rioting picked up in momentum. 

Ratan and his chums returned to action big time, complete with sten guns. From the rooftops, on the streets, wherever they were, they kept firing towards the Muslim shanties. After almost three hours there was a lull in the firing. The police and military forces had arrived and by afternoon things were quiet again.

Vans with loudspeakers were blaring that, unless the riots came to a stop, Gandhiji would cease to be. He would end his life. 

The peaceniks took out a procession. The violence started to wane. 

“That was quite a blast, wasn’t it Ratnya?” Jatin was smiling ear to ear when they met in the evening.

Ratan simply nodded.  

Jaga returned from the paan[14] shop with a fresh stock of bidis[15]. “Folks have you heard this? Gendo is about to snuff out!”

“Who said that?” Ratan was startled. 

“The newspapers have headlined, it seems, that Gendo has refused to relent in his fasting because there’s no let-up in the riots.”


Arre that’s bullshit!”  Jatin reacted. “Two more days of action at this level and all the Mullas will be shown their place.”

Hunh!” Ratan nodded unmindfully, “but Gandhi is in such a poor shape, he’ll conk out, they’re saying…”

Arre forget it! Rumour – that’s all it is. Come, let’s have a toast.”

“Well then, let’s go.”


Ratan joined Jatin to open a liquor bottle long before sunset. The tumult in the morning had left him exhausted. A few drops of hard core liquor might just be the tonic. But Gandhiji? There’s something about him… a halo. He had touched the heart of thirty crore men and women. Ardently they cried out, “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai [16]!” All-pervading emperors and powerful lords had not succeeded in intimidating him. Mahatma Gandhi!

At this point Madhu ran up to them. “Hey guys, come fast! I’ve cornered one of them…”



Suddenly the thirst for blood got the better of him. Sitting bolt upright Ratan said, “Come on Jattye.”

The three of them strode forward. Jaga, Haru and Potla were waiting round the corner, a middle-aged Muslim in their grip. They’d got the better of the man who was walking down the street lost in thought. 

“Please let go of me bhai !” the man pleaded.

“Let go of you?” Jaga laughed out loud, “Why? Are you my wife’s brother, saala? Does your sister sleep with me?”

In silence Ratan went up to the man and grabbed him by his hand. Agitation tinted the blood that was coursing through his body. Blood! Unless he spilled blood his head might burst!

“Who’ll twist the knife in – you?” Jatin asked. Ratan nodded, “Yes.”

“How many will this be in your count of heads?”

“Maybe a score and half…”

“Well then, go on. Get over with it.”

“You’ll kill me?” The man wailed out, “Please let go of me baba – I implore you! Believe me, I have a son at home who is critically ill – I came out only to buy some medicine for him…”

“Shut up!”

Just then a voice floated across from a loudspeaker being played from a van: “Gandhiji is in a critical condition…” 

Ratan pricked up his ears. Jatin looked towards the van, “Hey, what are they saying?” 

“Gandhiji’s priceless life is in your hands today…” the voice was faint but the words were clear. “If you don’t stop killing, Gandhiji will not return to life. Stop now – and bring Gandhiji back to life…”

The voice receded in the distance.

“Go on, finish the job at hand Ratnya,” Jaga spoke, “or leave it to me.”

Ratan looked at the man. 

Instantly the man smiled. “You’re determined to kill me, Baba?”

Abey why are you showing your teeth?” Potla rudely demanded. 

“Kill me,” the man said. “But don’t  forget, killing me means stabbing Gandhiji.”

“Shut up!” Jaga roared, “not a word more…”

Still the man went on, “Listen to me Baba, now I’m not speaking for myself. Don’t kill me – let Gandhiji live!”

“Enough! Don’t want to hear the devil quote scriptures – hold your tongue.”

“Kick the rascal!”

“Go for it Ratnya!”

‘What’s holding you Ratnya??’

“Go go go…”

Unexpectedly Ratan turned around. He stood in front of the Muslim guy and said in a determined voice, “No.”

“Meaning?!” Jatin was stupefied, “What’re you saying Ratnya?”

“You heard me right Jatye — I’ll let this man walk.”


“Yes, I’ll let this fella go Jatye. If you try to stop me, you’ll have to fell me first.”

All the others moved back a few steps.

“Have you gone out of your mind ?!” Jatin couldn’t make head or tail of it. “What’s the matter, I say?”

Ratan didn’t reply. Instead he addressed the man, “Come Mian[17], let me take you to the high road.”

The two of them took a few steps forward. 

Bah ! Won’t you even tell us why you’re letting him off? Hey Ratnya?”

“Ratnya! Hey bugger!”

Without a pause in his walk Ratan said, “Don’t call out to me.”

After escorting the fellow to the safety of the main street Ratan headed home.


Soon the night set in. The curfew hour started. The roads emptied out. From the lane they could make out that the military trucks and police vans were whizzing around the city. Some light escaped the windows of neighbouring houses. A handful of faces peeped out now and then. Swiftly, a dopey silence engulfed the habitat. The city seemed to be drained of vigour. The yellow gaslights on barren roads imparted a ghostlike ambience. The night deepened.

Jasoda noticed the worry lines on her husband’s visage and frequented her rounds of the room.

Out of the blue she even asked him, “What’s the matter with you, go[18]?”

“What? Nothing!” Ratan responded.

“Today you didn’t down bottles of liquor. Such good fortune!” She grinned at him, then wondered, “Why, you’re not even angry!”

Hunh !”

“Feeling unwell, are you?  So you’re missing your Chandravali Brigade! Care for a cup of tea?”

“Get it.”

Jasoda left to get the tea. Today Ratan was happy to see Jasoda.

Amazing! Something was the matter with him surely. He just could not bring himself to stab the man! One man’s life is so precious? People were correct about him. They worry for him, to protect him. To save his life, they appeal to all and sundry, even to strangers!

Yesterday he had visited that One Man. Short of height, dark of complexion, an octogenarian with a halo about him.  A man like the Ocean, like the Himalayas, like the Sun. Boundless his sacrifice; immense his patience, unending his hope. Forgiveness, compassion, truth, love, ahimsa [19]– he defined all these virtues.

Magician, he was! He had crazed thirty crore men and women who chanted in unison ‘Gandhiji Ki Jai! Victory for Gandhiji!’ He has made them fearless, and independent. Yesterday he saw his Ram with his own eyes. It was all rubbish, he was no one’s enemy. He was ajatshatru, his enemy had yet to be born. Everyone in the country was his child, his progeny. He did not punish one for the failings of another. The punishment due to everyone he placed on his own head – a crown of thorn. 

The night deepened and darkened. 

Lying in his bed Ratan started to leaf through the album of his life. Alcohol, meat, women, neglect of a wife like Jasoda, butchery, rioting and killing more than a score of lives… And that enlightened Old Man?  He had won the country, the world, in the brief bracket of a lifetime.

The night rolled on, towards sunrise. 

At daybreak Ratan rose from his bed. He searched through his house and pulled out every piece of hand grenade, bullets, knife, and tied them into a bundle. Jasoda was still not up. Ratan cast a silent look at her and stepped out of the house.

The sky had not yet lit up, but the curfew hours were over. A handful of souls had stirred out on the streets here and there. A few cars had set out for some destination.

Ratan took full strides eastward. That’s the direction from which a red sun would rise. But Ratan was not headed towards that sun. He was thinking only of the sun fasting in a dilapidated house in Beliaghata. Ratan would go to him and lay down the bundle of his sins at his feet and pray to him, “Oh sun! Please end the fasting soul within me and light up the inner soul so far deprived of light…”


[1] Yes

[2] Swear word

[3] Gandhi

[4] Clay cup

[5] Potato curry

[6] A slum colony

[7] Ishwar: Hindu name for God. Allah: Muslim name for God

[8] Savoury snack

[9] Elder brother

[10] brother

[11] Clay cup

[12] To go to view a great or holy man

[13] Sage

[14] A shop that sells cigarettes and betel leaves

[15] Small, thin, hand-rolled cigarettes made in India

[16] Hail Mahatma Gandhi

[17] Sir

[18] An affectionate way of addressing one’s spouse

[19] Non-violence

Nabendu Ghosh’s (1917-2007) oeuvre of work includes thirty novels and fifteen collections of short stories. He was a renowned scriptwriter and director. He penned cinematic classics such as Devdas, Bandini, Sujata, Parineeta, Majhli Didi and Abhimaan. And, as part of a team of iconic film directors and actors, he was instrumental in shaping an entire age of Indian cinema. He was the recipient of numerous literary and film awards, including the Bankim Puraskar, the Bibhuti Bhushan Sahitya Arghya, the Filmfare Best Screenplay Award and the National Film Award for Best First Film of a Director.


Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. 

Read the translator’s musing on Nabendu’s stories impacted by Gandhi by clicking here.


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Click here to access Monalisa No Longer Smiles on Kindle Amazon International

One reply on “Gandhiji by Nabendu Ghosh”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s