Categories
Tagore Translations

The Funeral: A skit by Rabindranath

Translated from Bengali by Somdatta Mandal, this satirical skit[1] was part of Hasyakoutuk (1914) or Humour by Tagore

Rabindranth’s bust in  Hungary, Balatonfüred, Tagore promenade

Scene One

Ray Krishnakishore Bahadur is lying on his deathbed. His three sons Chandrakishore, Nandakishore and Indrakishore are busy consulting each other. A doctor is present. The women are close to tears.

Chandra: Who are the people we should write to?

Indra: Write to Sir Reynolds.

Krishna: (With great difficulty) What will you write, son?

Nanda: The news of your death.

Krishna: But I am not yet dead, son.

Indra: You might not die right now, but we have to fix a time for the event and write that down…

Chandra: We should collect the condolence letters from all the Englishmen here and get them published in newspapers. No point in publishing them when all the excitement is gone!

Krishna: Patience boys; let me die first.

Nanda: We can’t wait, father. Let’s make a list of the letters to be sent to the people in Shimla and Darjeeling. Come on, let’s get all the names down.

Chandra: The Governor, Sir Ilbert, Sir Wilson, Beresford, Macaulay, Peacock –

Krishna: Boys, what names are you chanting so close to my ears? Chant God’s name instead. When the time comes, He is the only one who can save us! Hari –

Indra: Yes, good thing that you reminded us, we forgot to include Sir Harrison.

Krishna: My sons, say Ram, Ram –

Nanda: Really, I had forgotten about Sir Ramsey.

Krishna: Narayan, Narayan!

Chandra: Nanda, write down the name of Sir Noran also.

Enter Skandakishore.

Skanda: So, you people seem so relaxed! You still haven’t done the real thing!

Chandra: And what is that?

Skanda: We have to inform in advance all the people who will be part of the procession going to the funeral ghat.

Krishna: Sons, which one do you consider the real thing? First, I’ll have to die, only then –-

Chandra: No worries on that account. Doctor!

Doctor: Yes sir!

Chandra: How much time is left for father to go? When do the public have to be here?

Doctor: Perhaps–

The women start wailing.

Skanda: (Disgusted) Ma, will you stop it? You’re creating quite a scene!  It’s better to sort out everything in advance. When doctor?

Doctor: Most likely this night at—

The women start wailing again.

Nanda: This is a huge problem! You shouldn’t disturb us during work. What do you think your crying will accomplish? We are planning to publish condolence letters sent by important Englishmen in newspapers.

The women are sent out.

Skanda: Doctor, what do you think?

Doctor: From what I can see I think he will expire around four a.m.

Chandra: Then there is no time – Nanda, go quickly, get the slips printed at once right in front of your eyes.

Doctor: But first mustn’t the medicine—

Skanda: Look here! Your medicine shop will not run away. On the other hand, we’ll be in trouble if the print ring shop shuts down.

Doctor: Sir, the patient might not —

Chandra: That is why you must hurry. For who knows what might happen if the slips are printed before the patient —

Nanda: Here I go.

Skanda: Write down that the procession will begin at eight tomorrow.

 Scene Two

Skanda: What, doctor? It’s already seven now instead of four.

Doctor: (Apologetically) Yes, yes, amazing the pulse is still strong.

Chandra: You are a fine one doctor to have got us into this mess!

Nanda: Everything went wrong when I was late in bringing the medicine. In fact, dad began to recover as soon as the doctor’s medicine was stopped.

Krishna: All this time you were so very cheerful, why is everyone looking so glum all of a sudden? I am feeling fine now.

Skanda: We aren’t feeling that great. We had already finalized all preparations to go to the funeral pyre.

Krishna: Is that so? I guess I should have died.

Doctor: (Feeling irritated) Do one thing and that will solve all problems.

Indra: What?

Skanda: What?

Chandra: What?

Nanda: What?

Doctor: Instead of him why don’t one of you die when the time is ripe.

 

Scene Three

A lot of people have assembled in the outer house.

Kanai: Hello, It’s already eight thirty. Why are you all late?

Chandra: Please sit down. Have some tobacco.

Kanai: I’ve been [chewing] tobacco from the morning!

Bolai: Where is everybody? I can’t see signs of any arrangements being made.

Chandra: Everything is ready – it’s not our fault – now only—

Ramtaran: Hey, Chandra, we shouldn’t waste any more time.

Chandra: Don’t I understand that – but—

Harihar: What is causing the delay? We’ll be late for office, what’s the matter?

Indrakishore enters.

Indra: Don’t be impatient. We are almost ready. In the meantime, why don’t you read the condolence letters?

He distributes them.

This is from Lambert, this from Harrison, this is Sir James’s—

Skandakishore enters.

Skanda: Here take them. In the meantime, read the obituary notices on father in the newspapers. Here is The Statesman, here The Englishman.

Madhusudan: (To Yadav) Isn’t this typical? Bengalis won’t ever learn what punctuality is all about.

Indra: You’re absolutely right. They will die and yet never learn to be punctual.

The guests shed tears reading the newspapers and the condolence messages.

Radhamohan:  (in tears) Oh God, the poor man’s friend!

Nayanchand:   Alas! To think that even such a good man has his share of troubles.

Nabadwipchandra: (in a deep breath) Lord! Everything is your will!

Rasik:‘The lotus that blooms in the heart’ – I’m forgetting what comes after that –

                        ‘The lotus that blooms in the heart

                        Has been plucked untimely

                        The lotus heart sinks in the sea of sorrow!’

This is exactly the case here. The lotus heart in the sea of sorrow. How sad! Add esquire. O tempora! O mores[2]!

Tarkabagish[3]: Challchittang challadbittang, challajiwan – The mind is inconsistent, wealth is transitory and one’s life is perishable. Oh how sad!

Nyayabagish[4]: Yadupathe kri gata mathurapuri, raghupate – Where is the city of Mathura that belonged to the Lord of the Yadavas (i.e. Krishna), to the Lord of the Raghus (i.e. Rama Chandra)? (chokes)

Dukhiram: Oh Krishnakishore Bahadur, where have you gone?

 A faint voice can be heard from within:  I am here. Please, don’t shout.  


[1] [Translated from “Antyashti-Satkar” in the Hasyakoutuk series Bhadra 1293 B.S. by Somdatta Mandal].

[2] “Oh the times! Oh the customs!” – Latin phrase, first recorded to have been spoken by Cicero

[3] Bengali title given to an expert debator

[4] Bengali title given to a legal expert

Somdatta Mandal is a former Professor of English and ex-Chairperson, Department of English, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India. A recipient of several prestigious fellowships like the Fulbright Research and Teaching Fellowships, British Council Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship, Rockefeller Residency at Bellagio, Italy, Salzburg Seminar and Shastri Indo-Canadian Faculty Enrichment Fellowship, she has been published widely both nationally and internationally. She has also an award from Sahitya Akademi for the All India Indian Literature Golden Jubilee (1957-2007) Literary Translation Competition in the Fiction category for translating short stories series ‘Lalu’ by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya.

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Categories
Musings of a Copywriter

An Encounter with Snake charmers

Our non-fiction columnist, Devraj Singh Kalsi, amuses with his hilarious invasion of snakes and snake charmers in his home in a pre-COVID world

Some months ago, before the pandemic broke out, a group of snake charmers turned up at my door, with torn cloth bags and woven baskets containing coiled snakes sleeping blissfully unaware of their dark, claustrophobic world. The leader of the group tried to wake up a hynotised snake to offer me a sneak peek of the slithering beauty. I had no interest to exchange pleasantries with the unwanted guests or strike a conversation with their captive partners, but I realised it was wiser to stay courteous or else they would bare their fangs.

Having known from mainstream Hindi films that snakes possess strange transformative powers, I thought for a while whether this one would take the form of a gorgeous lady and stand up right in front of me and hiss a husky hello. Before I could prepare myself, the snake-charmer had already taken off the lid of the basket and the snake raised its hood without striking. I stepped back in fear but smiled bravely, wanting to know its pedigree.

An acolyte answered on behalf of the team leader, calling it a viper. I folded my hands out of respect for the deadly snake and kept a stiff upper lip to ensure I did not spew venom to offend either the group or the snake. He noticed my rising discomfort and tried to assure me there was no harm intended. He explained the group had no ulterior motive to knock at my door, but they got some clear signals while passing by this stretch that confirmed there were poisonous snakes inside my compound. So, their noble intent was to catch those snakes and save the precious lives of the residents of the house. 

I was invited to watch the operation live. I did not know how to react to the offer. Since they were seasoned professionals, there was no reason to doubt their skills and powers. As I gave them the permission to launch the strike, the assistants spread in three different directions like trained commandos and kept walking slowly and cautiously. Then one of them suddenly stopped in his tracks. He raised an alarm as he became suspicious of something lying around the base of the guava tree. He went ahead, picked up a small mound of earth, sniffed it twice and then took it to the team leader who confirmed it was worth digging up. The cordoned off area become a hotspot of frenzied activity.   

I was asked to come closer and observe how he proceeded with it. Such an internship opportunity was a matter of great privilege. Although nothing was clearly visible to me without my spectacles, the assistant confirmed the majestic presence of the snake inside without playing any musical instrument to tempt the snake to come out of its hiding. He dug up a bit more and then I saw a bigger cavity, with the snake peeping out to protest this sudden invasion of privacy. He quickly grabbed it and held it in his hand before my reflexes could gather what had happened within the flash of seconds. The furious snake was hissing loudly in protest, seeking freedom like all creatures do.

Another assistant materialised like a genie with an empty basket. He made the snake sniff a piece of root and the agitated snake turned calm and dozed off within minutes. He then put it gently inside the basket and asked me to take a snap. It was certainly not a fun thing, but he insisted I should have a picture with the snake. It was an epic moment I should not miss because of anxiety. I should create a pleasant memory out of it. Besides, I could boast of having caught a snake at home and share the daring experience with people who become curious to know the acts of bravery in youth from the elderly types.

Had I known this was going to happen, I would have dressed up properly for the occasion. I was wearing faded shorts and an animal print kurta almost covering my knees – a weird and wild combination that would make the entire episode look fake or comic when posted on social media handles. Perhaps I should have asked them to wait there while I went inside the house to get my smart phone and change into something stylish. As I was mopping the confusion within, another junior fellow rushed in with the breaking news that there was one more snake in the compound. Surprisingly, there seemed to be more snakes than human beings living in the house, without paying any rent.    

The team leader swung into action. He went to the backyard and came back to confirm there was indeed another one. But they would not be taking it with them. Their refusal to carry this one came as a shock. He explained it was a resident snake living here for years and it would not cause any harm to the members of the house. He added there were in fact two resident snakes – one had died recently. He said he could hear the cries of the lonely snake. 

If the survivor was feeling the pangs of loneliness, I said he should definitely take it away and find a suitable partner somewhere to revive its happiness. A sad life here would prolong its misery forever. The team leader could not reject the logical point, but he disclosed he was forbidden by his guru to do so. His special powers would desert him if he ever did so. Well, he had his own compulsions restraining him from doing it. He clarified he never picked up any snake from the graveyard though there were many poisonous ones lazing around. Perhaps snakes were the only companions to mitigate the solitude of ghosts and the dead.   

I was not happy to know I had to live with a snake in the house. He said I would never have known the truth if he had not revealed it. So, I should trust his words and do not disturb the snake. He did not allow me to meet the resident snake though I insisted I should be able to recognise it in case it slithered indoor through an open window some day. Then I would not end up hitting it with a stick or feel guilty of having attacked a resident snake. He repeated the resident snake would never harm the inmates of the dwelling, with who he kindly shared the space. He lured me with the possibility of good fortune brough by a resident snake.

The third assistant emerged from behind the tall bushes and hissed like a snake into his pierced ear. He went with him and I followed them. Mid-way, he turned back and said there was another poisonous snake inside the house just a few hours ago but had gone missing at that point. I asked if that poisonous snake enjoyed non-resident status and whether there was any possibility of its return in the evening. Perhaps it had gone out for some important work and would be back like officegoers after sundown. 

The team leader thought I was trying to make fun. He looked at me scornfully and then chewed something and said he could not confirm that possibility. It could return or may not. It was some relief to hear that. I noticed their baskets were all covered with lids and one of the least active assistants was tying them in cloth bundles. I guessed they were about to leave with one snake as their catch – to sell it to a laboratory and share the proceeds.   

All of a sudden, the team leader began taking interest in my life and health. As the snakes were still around, I had to oblige him. He asked me about high blood pressure and wanted to sell me herbal cure. I said I was perfectly normal, but he was not happy to hear that. I wondered if he had the miraculous power to read my systolic pressure by looking at my face. When he found there was no scope of selling any remedy, he tried the tricks of his trade. He sat on the floor and started making a circle with vermilion powder fished out of his pocket. Being the householder, I was asked to sit down inside that circle and participate in the ritual as it would ward off the evil eye though his eyes looked more evil than anything else at that time. Since I was writing a novel, I thought it would probably become an instant best seller with the blessings of a snake charmer.

He chanted mantras and I repeated those in good faith without understanding any of them. At the end of the prayer session, his team member billed me. I was shocked to hear the demand for five thousand rupees as donation in the name of a deity. The refusal to pay the amount would invite misfortune. I thought of finding out if an monthly payment option was available, but I chose not to raise this query as they would then get the excuse to visit me every month to collect the installment and make my life hell.  

To ward off the evil forces staring at the house, I went inside to get my cheque book, but the leader refused to accept anything other than cash. Unable to muster the courage to fleece them as they would reappear with a big curse and a bigger game-plan, I bought peace by parting with the soiled notes I had withdrawn from the nearby ATM last week. They looked happy while leaving, but I was sad. I slammed the grille door and scared them with the presence of a pet dog on the roof. Fearing a possible aerial attack, the rattled team leader rushed out quickly.

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short fiction and essays have been published in The Bombay Review, Deccan Herald, Kitaab, Tehelka, The Assam Tribune, The Sunday Statesman, Earthen Lamp Journal, and Readomania. Pal Motors is his first novel.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

                                              

Categories
Poetry

Two Covid-19 viruses meet Albert Camus

(A Dystopian spoof on Corona and Camus)

By Ra Sh

The world was calm now. And silent.

Only the birds chirped tweeted sang cawed.

Only the animals barked mewed mooed growled.

Only the river gurgled.

Only the sky thundered.

Only the fires crackled.

Two covid-19 teenage viruses walked around the city

assessing the damage. On Route vers l’ouest, they found

mansions with cars parked in front and little gardens.

Four dogs ran out of the house dragging a well dressed

woman and a naked man. It was the posh area of the city

and in house after house dogs feasted.

On Route Vers le nord, that led to the fields, unharvested paddy

lay in the fields. That was the operational area of the rodents,

snakes and the jackals. On Route vers l’est, that led to the offices,

the road lay thick with the police, applicants, clerks, officers and

mounts of paper. The vultures landed on them and tore away

the flesh.  It was a mass of rotting flesh, blood, hair and

official communiqué.

On Route vers le sud, that led to the river, peacocks danced on

the road. From the two theatres that showed no films, super stars

grinned from posters. Weeds were slowly climbing up the

courtyards of the college and the schools. The grounds were

covered with bodies , furniture, lab instruments and aprons.

The teenage viruses reached the river and sat holding hands.

Being young, they were in love and being idealistic a tad bit

sad about the end of humans.

They then spied a human in a trench coat and trousers angling for

fish  on the bank. He smoked a pipe and chuckled while he spoke

to the fishes. The adolescent viruses approached him and asked,

“Who are you sir, how come you are in one piece when

all humans are dead all over the world?”

The man chuckled again and retorted, “I am Camus

and I wrote a novel ‘The Plague’ long back. I wrote that the city

was happy, life went on, but the plague bacillus never dies or

disappears for good. It can lie dormant for years and years

in bedrooms, cellars, trunks and bookshelves and perhaps the day

would come when it roused up its rats again and sent them

into a happy city.  You are those rats now and you are the plague.”*

The Gen X viruses who could barely understand him, watched

as Camus gathered his things and made his way up stream with

fishing rods, bait and the day’s catch, whistling to himself.

Albert Camus

*From the last lines of the Albert Camus novel, The Plague.

Ra Sh is a poet based out of Kerala

First published in Countercurrents.org