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The Saviour

  A translation from Bengali to English by Dipankar Ghosh of Nabendu Ghosh’s Traankarta, a story set during the Partition riots

Nabendu Ghosh

The bad news reached here too, the news of the rioting. The roads looked tense and empty. Even the pariah dogs that usually roamed the streets had disappeared. Only a few brash teenagers were bunched up in a group at the head of the lane, swaggering around with cigarettes hanging from their lips.

On the other side of the city, fires were raging, severed heads rolling on the blood-bathed streets; teenaged girls had their breasts cut off and little babies had been thrown head down into concrete floors. Tonight they were paying homage to Satan in the stygian darkness, on the other side of the city. The news wafted in the gentle breeze, and the horrifying tales of the day’s events spread through the grapevine to every household.

Gloom descended on everyone. They felt benumbed, paralysed, by a tidal wave of fear.  Fear, unspoken fear.  Fear that made the heart palpitate madly in the breast. Fear that made you seek the company of a crowd. Awful fear. The kind of fear that deprived one of the will to live.

The ladies proceed silently with their chores. Not too many items on the menu for tonight. Rice and boiled vegetables. The children don’t understand much, occasionally they were bursting out into giggles, running noisily up and down the stairs, squabbling amongst themselves.  But, now and then, an older person would burst out like a sentry, “Silent! Or I’ll behead you with a smack!”

But they could think of very little that they could be done to save their own heads from the approaching holocaust. Everyone was discussing behind barred doors, what to do. Not just bad news, but terrible news that the people from the other side intend to attack them tonight. A cold wave of fear ran down their spines when they got the news. What to do, what on earth should they do?

The house of Mr Bose, a barrister who was the local leader, was brightly lit up. Arun was planning to quietly slip out, how long could one possibly stay cooped? But Mr Bose had his searchlight eyes on every possible exit, making it impossible for anyone to either enter or leave his fortress of Lanka without his knowledge.

“Where do you think you are going?” he asked in his deepest voice.

 “Just out – for a dekko.”

 “Just out! Forget it. Are you not aware of what’s going on in the heart of this city?! Go, get back and stay put in your room.”

Arun returned to his room.

His daughter Ruby came out. There were dark circles of anxiety under her large almond eyes. Her curly black tresses were floating in an unruly fashion, her usually healthy pink glow was replaced by sallow pallor. She was depressed, and fear had put its mark on her. Movies, parties, and picnics were suddenly out of question, the desire to fly around the flowers and taste their honey at will had suddenly flown out of the honey bee. Ruby was lost.

“Daddy –”

“Yes?”

“Will you take us to uncle’s house?”

Meaning Bhawanipore. Meaning a predominantly Hindu area, where perhaps she could put on her crepe silk sari and wander around at will, shaking her long coil of hair.

Mr Bose shook his head in frustration, “Uncle’s house? Now? Impossible! The roads are barren, not a man or a car about, we will have to cross many localities, driving through corpses and rivulets of blood, and more importantly, sudden unprovoked attacks! That important thing called life that we are trying to save, could very easily be ended en route! Stop making silly suggestions, go up to your room and stay there Ruby –”

But how on earth could Ruby sit calmly in her room! She felt frightened out of her mind. Occasionally the sound of shouting was floating in from afar. Awful noises. Last night she had seen the sky flare up in the east. She had heard all the beastly tales. It had all left a fearful imprint on her mind and every now and then, a spark of fear would set off a burst of anxiety in her mind. The nervous pulsating of the vessels under that pink alabaster skin of hers bore witness to her angry, frightened state of mind.

Now, it was one thing browbeating Arun and Ruby, but Mrs Bose?  Perpetually conscious and tense about her obese abundance, she was an entirely different proposition. No doubt the dreadful news of the riots would put her in a fairly explosive state of mind — of that Mr Bose was certain. Therefore, when the substantial lady made her appearance Mr Bose felt a bit intimated, fairly aware that if he tried to browbeat her, the result could be counter-productive.   

“Listen, I can’t go on like this — this suspense, this danger, it is unbearable.”

“But what — tell me what am I to do dear?” Mr Bose protested weakly.

“Do something, for Heaven’s sake! Don’t just sit still, quietly—”

“I am not sitting still. I am trying to think. Besides, we have two rifles, five hundred rounds of ammunition, we have a sentry, a bearer, a man servant and also a chauffeur, so what are you worried about?”

Mrs Bose collapsed on the sofa, there was a glint of fire in her bluish eyes, sharply she said, “Spare me a list of your rationale, please — your little group would disappear in front of a massive crowd. I’d like to see you stop them with those five hundred rounds. You don’t consider that an unending supply, do you? No, I’m sorry that is not enough to reassure me — I’ll faint any moment under the strain!”

Knock, knock. Somebody at the door.

“Sir,” the sentry’s voice outside the door.

“What is it Tiwari?”

“Some people of the community want to meet you Sir.”

“Offer them seats,” he spoke aloud, then continued to assure Mrs Bose, “Now listen, don’t get overexcited. Let’s wait and watch. We are due to have a meeting of the local defence committee. It is such a large community I am sure they are all willing to fight to protect us all. Don’t be nervous dear. If the situation deteriorates then of course we will have to take a risk — but the car will be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.”

*

In the margins of the so-called civilised society, at the end well-to-do side of the neighbourhood, separating them from the Others on the opposite side, lived a group of people who considered themselves a part of the same community. They were the untouchable Doms. Living in pigeon hole sized tiny hovels, they just about carried on living. They swept the roads, carried water for folks, washed their drains and lavatories. They collected night soil, got into manholes and extracted rubbish from them, they cleaned refuse bins and manned the garbage carts of the municipality. Their hovels were plastered with mud, and they ate from chromed metal plates of their dirt mixed rice. They sat in the light of little kerosene lamps and got boisterously drunk in the evening. And although they considered themselves to be part of the community, to the more genteel and affluent part of the community they were always a bit of an embarrassment. 

These people in the no man’s land between the two communities numbered some two hundred. And the only man who had the absolute obedience of these two hundred odd bods was called Jhagru. Such was his hold over them that, if he chose to call daylight as night his men would do so without batting an eyelid. He was their unopposed and unanimous chief, their sardar.

Jhagru’s men had come to him. They had seen bits of what had happened on the other side, heard most of all the atrocities that had taken place, they had even helped the frightened people who had managed to flee from the fortress-like bounds of the place, and taken them to safety. But the question was, what would they do today? If what they had heard on the grapevine was proven true, then how were they to react?

Having binged on some onion bhajis (fritters) and the potent rice-wine of Tari, Jhagru was feeling content. The capillaries of his eyes were bloodshot, and in the cool evening breeze his large figure deemed ready to take off like a well inflated balloon. He eyed his wife’s, Suratiya’s, generous proportions as he was preparing himself for some decent basic entertainment for the evening, his men all descended on him with the bad news, and spoilt his mood.

 “Bugger off !” he said crossly in Hindi. “What will be, will be. So what if they attack?”

Ranglal said, “But surely we must do something -”

“You buggers have ruined my drinking,” Jhagru barked at them.

Waving a hand, he demanded, “What the hell is there to worry about? If they attack, we will fight. What else? The main thing is, be prepared with your weapons, when the gong is rung, jump on them — end of story –”

“But sardar–”

“No buts, you all run off. Sitting here with my toddy, let me enjoy my drink — you blighters get back to your homes.”

They all left.

Munching his onion bhaji, he sipped from his earthen cup. Slowly but surely the warmth off the stinging spirit made his ears ring, his breathing got heavier, his eyelids drooped, his sight got hazy. Jhagru was drunk. In that state he was pleasantly surprised to notice that Suratiya had turned into an exceptional beauty, like an unattainable princess of a fairy tale.

“Suratiya dear –”

“What?”

“Come on, over here –”

“Unh-hun –”

“Have a bit of tari?”

“NNo – I won’t –”

In his stupor Jhagru was suddenly enraged by this rejection, and got headstrong.

“You coming here or not — you bitch!”

“No I won’t — I’ve enough work still to finish –”

“Then suffer the consequences –”

Jhagru got up. Walking with unsteady gait like a child, he reached Suratiya, caught hold of her and lifted her in his arms.

“You’ll kill me,” Suratiya screeched, “you’ll break every bone in my body!”

Pulling his wife close to him Jhagru guffawed loudly, “You frightened? Don’t be, woman. Go on, sit in my lap.”

Jhagru was drunk like a lord. No way could he hold on to a strong woman like Suratiya in his drunken state, let alone have his way with her. Giggling loudly, Suratiya ran away.

Ten or eleven o’clock in the morning. If it were an ordinary day, Jhagru would be up to his neck in work. But since the rioting was a good excuse not to be at work, why not have some fun. 

 “Ran away,” Jhagru laughed. “Bloody woman.” Got to do something, he thought to himself.  The tari was finished, he was drunk, and Suratiya was gone. So he needed to do something. But what?

Suddenly in a dusty corner he noticed his forgotten dhol (drum). He pulled it out and started to beat it enthusiastically. He would sing. Never mind, if it scared the daylight out of people, Jhagru could not desist. He was in the mood for some singing, and sing he would.

Vigorously beating the drum, Jhagru started to sing widely. Amongst the incoherent lyric the audience could have deciphered only one line, which he kept repeating in a refrain:

Chhappar par kauwa naache, Bug bugoola/ Hanh hanh bug bugoola…

(The crow dances on the rooftop, bug bugoola)

 Ya, Ya, bug bugoola

What wonderful tune! What incredible control of voice! What melody and feeling in rendition! The entire slum of untouchables woke up to fact that Jhagru was drunk and was singing.

Respectfully they whispered, “Sardar is singing, by jove he is singing.”

*

The Defence committee meeting was on at Mr. Bose’s house. He himself was the chairman.

Almost all the important folks of the locality were gathered there. Venerable teacher Nibaran Mukherji, solicitor Haridas Mitra, Dr. Santosh Dutta (MBE, RCS), and iron merchant Sukumar Roy.  There were also the young representatives of the Saraswati Orchestra Group, Youth Body-Culture Samiti, and the Evergreen Dramatic Club. A large blanket had been laid on the floor of Mr Bose’s inner courtyard. Seated on it, all the members were earnestly discussing the situation.

In a room across the corner Ruby had drawn the curtain aside to watch the proceedings. Sheer curiosity. Unable to get out of the house, the lack of parties, movies and picnics was getting unbearable. The meeting was an interesting diversion. If nothing else, she would see a wide spectrum of people. Ruby did not watch them passively, she tried to instinctively assess them. It pleased her to do so.

Mr Bose started in a deep, appropriately grave presidential voice. “You are all aware of the reprehensible events that have started in our city yesterday. Some of you may have witnessed the carnage. This is not the time, and I’m not the person, for long drawn speeches. Suffice it to say that we, especially us Bengalis, are witnessing the beginning of an evil period. Today we must bind together against this medieval barbarism. We have to fight it and stop it — meaning, we have to stop this aberration. We must forget the differences of our castes, our classes, high or low, who is untouchable and who isn’t– remembering only one thing– that we are Hindus and nothing else.”  

Mr Bose stopped for a moment, took a hanky out of his pocket, wiped the tension-induced sweat off his forehead. Opening his cigarette case, he offered the expensive ‘Black and White’ cigarette to the assembled elders and lit one for himself. There was a murmur of appreciation in the gathering for his opening speech, Ruby was flushed with pride.

The iron merchant said, “Absolutely, there’s great merit in what you have just said. The time for squabbling about class, caste et cetera is gone — from now on we are all equal, we are all Hindus.”

Mr Bose said, “Now let us determine how we should go about it.”

“Right, right,” they said in unison, and leaned forward.

The venerable teacher said, “Let’s divide the neighbourhood into four parts, each one keeping guard in their side of the four directions.”

The solicitor said, “Let’s use a siren or conch shells to signal danger to others.”

The doctor said, “A group of youths should stand guard, by rota, and blow on a conch three times at the first sign of danger. The siren should go off then. There should be red beacons in the last row of houses in the four main directions, and if danger approaches, the beacons should be lit up to let the others know which direction the danger is approaching from.”

The industrialist said, “The women, children, and the elderly should remain in the top floor or in the terrace armed with bricks and stones. The men should stay on the ground floor, armed with sticks and other weapons.”

All the suggestions were passed. The defence committee meeting was progressing nicely, but suddenly, a young lad called Jatin, created a problem. He wore clothes of hand woven khadi, which meant he was a nationalist, he had short cropped hair, and he was rough-spoken.

He said, “You have arranged everything. But if they really do attack us, then who is going to engage in a hand to hand fight?”

It seemed like a bomb had been set off. Everything felt hazy and nebulous like smoke. Not for a moment had they considered this! Really worth thinking.

The industrialists said, “Why, won’t we all fight them? Let all of us get to grips with them.”

The teacher shook his head in dissension, “That does not sound reasonable. It would mean that a group of people would always have to be outside to fight the enemy. In other words, they would have to be prepared to sacrifice their lives. Can all the able-bodied men do that, or be willing to do that?”

Another explosion. Really, who should fight on ground, if there were a fight?  If their worst fears materialised and thousands of people attacked them suddenly, then would people in individual houses, like disparate little islands, battling the enemy with bricks and sticks be able to save themselves?

Jatin said, “So, in spite of our well-organised meeting, and all our arrangements, we will not be able to save ourselves. So consider what ought to be done–”

Mr Bose was an intelligent man, having passed his bar at Law in the distant land across the seas had sharpened his instincts even more. He realised that since Jatin had raised this insoluble problem, it was fairly certain that he had pondered on the answer to it. And truly it was a serious point. He said, “I really have no solution to the problem Jatin has set before us, so I must request Jatin himself to show us a way out of this dilemma.”

Jatin smiled. “Fine,” he said, “I will resolve the problem. Have you any idea knowledge of the poor people who live between ‘Them’ and ‘Us’?”

“The Doms?”

“Yes. They don’t belong to the other community, they consider themselves part of us Hindus. And, although they cannot enter the Shiva temple at the other end of our colony, they worship the idol in that temple. Meaning, they are Hindus –”

Mr Bose smiled appreciatively at him, “The idea.”

 Jatin continued, “They might earn little and eat less but they are hardy and strong. The instinct that we have lost, which is presently making us timid despite our numbers, is fully active in them. So if you really want to perform as a defence committee, and live on, then you better bring them into this meeting. And raise a fund-immediately!”

The mention of money made the industrialist take note, “Fund for what?”

“It is best to give some salted yeast to the cow when it’s in milk,”Jatin smiled.

“Meaning what? Cough a bit freely, son –” the industrialist said, testily.

“The meaning is self-evident. We must give them weapons, good food, and a decent flow of liquor.”

“That is true. Those who are going to put their lives on line must be well tended,“ Mr Bose agreed with Jatin.

“Don’t waste time in thinking,” Jatin stressed. “Atrocity has to be stoutly countered with ferocity, so we must be prepared. And let there be no doubt in your minds that they will attack us tonight.”

There was a rustle of notes and coins changing hands. Then and there a collection of fifty rupees was raised, more funds would be forthcoming later. Who could object to a bit of wise investment when one’s life was at stake? Nothing is quite as deep as one’s life — so let the blighters have good food and potent country liquor. Not a lot to pay for the bargain. They might attack this very night. If the cruel pack of animals descend in the dark of the night, then these men will pour out their life blood for our protection. Wasn’t this the least one could do for them? Surely they would serve them. It would be a good deed. Not just the joy of being alive but also the gratification of doing a good deed, by giving the money. So let them eat, let them get drunk.

*

Jhagru suddenly tired of the drum and put it down. He kicked it to a corner, swearing, “Hell, I think I’m sober –”

No work today. How long can a person enjoy staying within the house? It would be fine if there was toddy around. That was gone. A bit of monkey business with Suratiya might have been fun, but she, wretched girl, had scampered. Maybe she really had work to do. Even bonking wasn’t much fun any more, but what he did enjoy was good liquor. This approaching sobriety, clearness of vision, reality creeping into the drowsy stupor of alcoholic haze was most disagreeable to Jhagru. What was termed as normal life was totally abnormal as far as Jhagru was concerned. To him normalcy was epitomised by gallons of drinks followed by drunken fisticuffs, singing and dancing bare-assed, puking the guts out and lying down inebriated.

This was rotten. Must get some more toddy. Must get back into the mood.

“Suratiya –O Suratiya–”

“What do you want?”

“Give us a couple of annas, dear.”

“Don’t have any.”

Jhagru jumped up and roared, “You going to give me the money without hassle, Suratiya?”

Suratiya answered back in the same pitch, “No hassle, no tassle — simple fact, I don’t have the money.”

Suddenly, Jhagru lunged at Suratiya — pulling her by her short pigtail he thumped a few hefty blows on her back, “You ungrateful slut–”

 “Oh my Ma — he’s killing me!” Suratiya wailed out loud. There was no need for the wailing, but Suratiya had talent for dramatic exaggeration.

“Are you gonna gimme the money or not, you wretched witch?”

The people of the hovels took note, and respectfully whispered amongst themselves, “Sardar is giving his wife a thrashing, a good hiding.”

It was at that moment they heard two or three voices call out, “Jhagru? Is Jhagru in?”

The voices were barely audible above Suratiya’s caterwauling. Again the voices were heard, this time a notch higher, “Jhagru? Jhagru sardar— are you in? Jhagru–”

Suratiya stopped her yowling, looked out and said, “Some people looking for you –”

“Me?”

“Yes, some gentlemen.”

“Gentlemen?!”

Caught unawares, Jhagru tried to collect his thoughts as he came out to meet the three ‘gentlemen’. Jatin was one of them.

“Are you Jhagru?”

“That’s me.”

“You have been sent for.”

“Who has sent for me?” Jhagru was a bit puzzled.

 “Bose Saheb, the barrister– don’t you know of him?”

 Jhagru’s pupils dilated anxiously, shaking his head vigorously he said, “Sure I know him sir, of course, yes.”

“He has sent for you — now–”

“Me? Oh my lord, what would he want with Jhagru Dom?”

“He needs you. Won’t you come?”

“Yes, yes, certainly I will come, sir. Barrister Saheb has sent for me, goodness–”

Salaam squire, salaam babus–”

Jhagru stood in front of the defence committee. He was still rather drunk, he swayed a bit on his feet as he waited. They all gazed at him. There was a fine sheen of sweat on his hairline pate, and the pupils of his small eyes flickered a bit anxiously. He was wearing a dirty torn loincloth and a thick loose shirt, an angry boil on his left cheek. That was Jhagru.

Ruby stood close behind the curtain. Her nose in the air, she muttered to herself, “How ugly and dirty!”

All the inspecting keen eyes seemed to pierce Jhagru like needles.

He smiled a bit uncomfortably, blurting out, “Forgive me sirs, I am a bit drunk on rice wine–”

Mr Bose leaned forward to ask, “So you are Jhagru?”

“Yes sir, Jhagru Dom.”

“And you are drunk?”

“Yes sir.”

“You enjoy your booze?”

Hanging his head, Jhagru said, amused, “Certainly do sir.”

A bit more forcefully, Mr Bose asked, “Are you the leader of the Doms?”

“Yes sir.”

 “Well then, listen Jhagru. We will let you, and your comrades, have as much drink as you want. And not just drinks, we will give money for food too.”

Jhagru wondered if he was dreaming. He looked all round, somewhat warily. No, everything looks quite real. He wondered if he was he awfully drunk. Never, he had barely wet his snout. It wasn’t false, it was all true, real.

“You are very kind sir, but –”

Mr Bose interrupted, “I’ll tell you. You have heard about the disturbances, haven’t you Jhagru?” 

Jhagru nodded, yes.

“Tonight they might attack us here.”

 “Yes sir.”

“We are Hindus, and you all are also Hindus.”

“Sir.”                  

“If Hindus don’t save Hindus then who will save them?”

“Certainly sir, absolutely right.”

“If they attack us, you will all fight? We — we shall certainly join you, we will fight together.”

 Suddenly, Mr Bose noticed that amidst the seated gathering Jhagru was the only one standing up. In  an excited voice he said, “What’s this Jhagru, why are you still without a seat? Come take a seat, sit.”

Jhagru’s was stunned. The sudden, unexpected cordiality overwhelmed him, he uneasily said, “But –”

“No buts, no formalities, don’t be shy, take a seat.”

 “I am an untouchable Dom, sir.”

 “Dom?” Mr.Bose lifted his eyes to heaven, his voice quivering with feeling he said, “Dom so what? Untouchable?! You are a human being just like us. A Hindu just like us. Sit down, brother.”

Suddenly, to emphasise that he meant what he had uttered, Mr.Bose walked up to Jhagru, took the astounded man’s arm and sat him down on a chair.

Jhagru tried to say something but his chocked vocal cords would not cooperate. The man who could talk nonstop even when he was completely inebriated, was struck dumb through a combination of amazement, gratefulness, and a feeling of unprecedented happiness.

The soft crackling of notes being counted could be heard.

Moments later Jhagru came out of the house.

On his way back home, as he passed by the temple of Lord Shiva, Jhagru stopped short. He went up to the temple, moved his calloused hands over its mossy wall, and chuckled, “Lord Shiva, you are so kind, so good.”

*

All at once an air of festivity engulfed them all in the slums. Ramprasad Singh’s distillery of illicit liquor was drained within the hour. Banwari’s Confectionery shop had empty shelves, so had Tiwari’s eatery.

Occasionally the sound of a clash in the distance would float in. The battle-crazed sound of destruction, “Allah-Ho-Akbar!” It sounded like the sea from a distance, like waves the sound overpowered the senses.

Every now and then, a dog or two would respond to the danger of the distant noise. In the deepening silence of the dark night, the leader of the slum-dwelling Doms sat awake and alert. His eyes pierced the unknown before him, his ears pricked, attuned to every sound and echo.

At about one o’clock in the morning They declared war.

Allah-ho-Akbar–”

Pakistan zindabad–”

Jhagru started to beat his drums. Doom-doom-doom-doom. Every slum-dweller was awake. Without a word, they all ran out to the meeting point.

They came playing a band, with torch flares alight. A feeling of hellish surreality descended with them. Like a mass of primitive malevolent spirits, some blood-thirsty phantoms seemed to have taken possession of their dark souls.

The main assault was aimed at the Shiva temple, the purpose being its destruction and after that,  the colony beyond.

The entire neighbourhood was overcome with fear. Sirens were blaring, the blood-red lights at the top of the buildings sent out a morse flicker of fright, children could be heard crying as windows banged and doors rapidly closed.  The sound of fleeing feet was challenged by the conches.

The whole colony in fear roared, “Vande Mataram* –”The battle cry that was used to liberate the country from foreign rule was the very one they now used to strike at their own countrymen.

Jhagru had stopped beating his drum by then. Quietly they waited.

“Make no noise brothers– let them get close–” Jhagru directed them.

Allah-ho-Akbar–”

Suddenly they descended like floodwater. In the bright light of the torches their knives and swords gleamed wickedly.

Jhagru was swaying to the beat of the band music, now he shouted, “Go strike now brothers– let’s clear this rubbish–”

The slum-dwellers let out a roar.

The Shiva temple whose walls had never granted them entry, the deity whose blessings they sought merely by touching its moss-covered walls, whom they prayed to and sought solace by beating their head in despair, the unresponsive stony God who never objected to the poverty and deprivation of His people, in His name, Jhagru joined the battle today.

Har har Mahadev– Jai Shivji ki jai—” Glory to the God of Gods–victory to Lord Shiva.

Then, it seemed as if two mountains had clashed. Not soft mud-hills of earth but two primordial masses of rocks.

Blood flowed in streams. Arms, legs, and decapitated heads fell and floundered on the soil. Shattered skulls poured out their contents like an outpouring of ghee. The sharpened knives pierced a chest or belly and emerged victorious, dripping blood.

Overhead, in the dark blue of the eternal sky the stars flickered weakly. Scraps of cloud floated noiselessly. Somewhere in the sooty night surely flowers were opening their petals, some child was peacefully sleeping, a lover was holding his beloved to his chest motionlessly. Somewhere, surely people were dreaming, someone was singing, making love. And yet…

*

The rioting stopped. They accepted defeat and retreated. Jhagru’s band had cooled their ardour for battle. The Shiv temple stands untouched.

But many had lost their lives. On both sides. On this side, only the Doms. All the genteel folks were watching the rear end of the battlefield, but the battle did not extend that far. If it had done, of course they would have pitched in, sacrificed their lives.

In the deserted battlefield only the corpses remained. The stench of spilt blood and decomposing bodies was stifling the breeze.

Outside Mr Bose’s house the car stood with its engine idling in the semi-dark of early dawn. Next to it stood an army truck, with four armed soldiers.

“Are you all ready, Ruby?”  Mr Bose urgently called out. “Hurry up, the military escort will not hang about much longer.”

 Ruby nodded in assent, “Yes, we are ready, let’s go. You know Daddy, Maa is still in a shock.” They all came out.

“Quite natural,” Mr Bose said, “Do you think I am my own self? The good Lord saved us so we are alive to talk about it. Now hurry up.”

 Mr Bose got into the car. It sped off. They were going to the safety of Bhowanipur.

Arun said, “Jhagru was our saviour, dad! The man put up some fight.”

Mr Bose lit up a cigarette, until now he did not have the state of mind to do so. Letting off a mouthful of smoke, he said, “Hunh — it was their kind of work. Do you think you all could have done that? Certainly not. Anyway, we did not fail to compensate with money, he was well paid.”

Ruby heaved a sigh of relief, what a close call. Thankfully picnics, parties, and movies would not go out of her life, the butterfly had not come to the end of her days.

The car disappeared into the distance.

In the slums of the untouchable community, the women mourned their dead.

Numerous women had lost their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Their cries of mourning rose like a flame into the morning sky.

Suratiya wept. Jhagru was dead.

Yes, Jhagru is dead, but then people like him are born to die so that may save the Mr Bose of this world. Without five sacrificial deaths in the highly combustible lac house of Jatugriha, the five Pandav princes of Mahabharat could not have been saved.

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*Vande Mataram — A song by Bankim Chandra written for his novel Ananda Math in the nineteenth century and used during the Indian independence movement widely.

(Published with permission of the translator’s and writer’s families.)

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.

Dipankar Ghosh (1944-2020) qualified as a physician from Kolkata in 1969 and worked as a surgical specialist after he emigrated to the UK in 1971.  But perhaps being the son of Nabendu Ghosh, he had always nursed his literary side and, post retirement, he took to pursuing his interest in translation.

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