Monthly Archives: May 2017

আন্’না


গৌরীর রান্'না
গৌরীও খান্'না
একবারই সখ করে
খেয়ে নিয়ে পেট ভরে
বলেছেন ওরে বাবা  আন্'না। 

 


 


God Almighty — Flash Fiction #17


The tiger has turned into a great nuisance. Humans are worried to no end. It started with cattle and then human beings too began to fall prey to the tigers. People brought out their sticks, their spears and their guns and killed the tiger. But then yet another tiger arrived. Finally, the humans approached God Almighty with an appeal.

“God Almighty! Do please save us from the tigers.”

God Almighty replied — “Okay.”

Soon after, the tigers showed up in the court of God Almighty with a complaint — “The humans have made our lives unbearable. We are running away from forest to forest. But the hunters are not leaving us in peace. Hey God Almighty, can’t you please find a remedy for this perilous situation?”

God Almighty replied – “Of course.”

Just then young Nerha’s mother appeared before God Almighty and prayed —“Baba, please make sure that my Nerha is blessed with a lovely young bride. Please, please dear God Almighty. I am offering you five paisa in obeisance.”

God Almighty replied – “Okay.”

Harihar Bhattacharyya addressed God Almighty on his way to court where his case was pending. “I have worshipped you all my life. My body has thinned on account of the fasts I kept. I want to give a proper lesson to my rascal of a nephew. Please do be my ally.”

God Almighty replied – “Okay.”

Sushil is preparing for an exam. He tells God Almighty everyday, “Dear God Almighty, do make sure that I pass.” Today he added — “God Almighty, if you can arrange for a scholarship for me, I will spend five rupees to distribute sweets I offer in your glory.”

God Almighty replied – “Okay.”

Haren Purakayastha desires to be the Chairman of the District Board. He approached God Almighty through an intermediary, a priest called Kali. “I need only eleven votes to win.” The priest, in lieu of a fat fee, chanted prayers in incorrect Sanskrit making God Almighty nearly lose his mind – “Votam dehi, votam dehi —”

God Almighty replied desperately – “Oh, okeigh, ohkeigh.”

The farmer raised his hands towards the sky and said — “God Almighty, give me water.”

God Almighty replied –”Okay.”

The mother of a sick child prayed to God Almighty–”Oh Lord, I have but a single child. Please don’t snatch it away.”

God Almighty replied – “Okay.”

Khenti pishi, the next door neighbour of the mother, said –”God Almighty, the slut is far too vain. She shows off new jewelry every other day and looks down on us all. You have shown endless mercy by catching hold of the child by his throat. Give the broad a proper lesson.”

God Almighty moaned – “Okay.”

The grim philosopher said – “God Almighty I wish to understand you.”

God Almighty warily responded – “Okay.”

China came up with a piercing cry – “Please save us from Japan Oh Lord.”

God Almighty replied – “Sure.”

A young man from Bengal caught hold of God Almighty– “No editor is accepting my submissions. I want to publish in ‘Prabasi’. Please tell Ramananda-babu to be kind to me.”

God Almighty replied – “I will.”

During a short break, God Almighty asked Brahma, who was sitting right next to him – “Do you have pure mustard oil at your home?”

Brahma said – “Yes, I do. But what’s the problem?”

God Almighty said – “I am in dire need of it. Can you spare some for me?”

Brahma. (Speaking hastily out of all five mouths) “I definitely can.”

Pure mustard oil arrived from Brahma’s home. Immediately, God Almighty put drops of mustard oil into his nostrils and fell into a deep slumber.

Till this day, we has not woken up from that slumber.

Translation-cum-transcreation of a classic Bengali flash fiction বিধাতা (bidhata) by Banaphool. The original version of The Neem Tree was also his creation.

 
 
 
 
 

[This a transcreation of an original story written by Banaphool. He is the same writer who had penned The Neem Tree. The present story in its original version was published by Gurudas Chattopaddhay and Sons in 1936 in a collection entitled Banaphhol-er Galpo (Banaphool’s Stories).]

Of Crows and Men — Flash Fiction #16

I am either a schizophrenic or a downright hypocrite when it comes to my attitude towards animals. At the same time that I cajole my dog-hating wife to allow me a puppy in the house, I will definitely be sorry to see Kentucky Fried Chicken pack up and leave the country.

I have nothing against birds though. The koel drives me to distraction on many a moonlit night. The kingfisher’s perfect somersault leaves me speechless. I have tarried patiently by peacocks for an opportunity to watch them dance. The magnificent curve of a flamingo’s neck fascinates me and, quite unpardonably, I adore the sight of little chicks scampering about.

Yet there are boundaries I will not cross. I do not enjoy the company of rodents, of spiders, of cockroaches, and, among birds, of crows. I detest crows. I am repulsed by their looks, their raucous caws and their untidy nests. Besides, dirty fish-bones on my balcony, along with other filth, are daily reminders of their slovenly habits.

I was more than a little surprised, therefore, by the agony I felt the other morning, to discover a group of little boys shriek with delight as they pulled at a string fastened firmly to the claws of a baby crow. It had not yet learnt to fly properly and must have crashed on the pavement during one of its training sessions. The miserable thing believed that the way to freedom lay in flapping its wings, which it did with all its might, much to the merriment of its captors. As it was dragged along the rough surface of the pavement, it parted its beak and cawed in a hoarse whisper, revealing the raw redness of a mouth unaccustomed to anything other than the infinite tenderness of a feeding mother.

It took me all the powers of persuasion to put a stop to this horror and make the boys untie the string.

Later on in the afternoon, I searched for the crow on my way out for a stroll. The local presswallah pointed it out to me as it perched precariously on a heap of rubble close to the edge of the pavement. I went near to have a closer look and check if the string was truly detached. The bird recoiled in panic and, losing its foothold, tumbled down the slope right into the middle of the street.

Just then a Maruti van whizzed past, far too close to the spot where the hapless crow had landed. I winced in fear and closed my eyes. When I opened them at last, prepared mentally to absorb a gory spectacle, I could hardly believe what I saw. The creature was wobbling back towards the pavement on a return trip to life!

I gazed at the scene and found myself wondering how soon it might pay a visit to my balcony.

And then I winced again, this time in disgust.

 

Krishnendu Karmakar – Unfinished Story of an Unknown Man

Prologue

It is doubtful that any story involving a human life is ever complete. And this is true even for the simplest of nursery rhymes. Jack, we know, had sustained a skull fracture after he had fallen down and Jill had tumbled down after him. But we never got to know if Jack’s fracture was treated, nor if Jill too had an injury that needed to be attended to. For all we know, the best part of Jack’s life story unfolded only after he was released from a hospital where his crown got fixed. And Jill too might have grown up into an attractive blonde and married a dark, handsome person. They brought up a family of healthy children perhaps, except for the one that died of infantile pneumonia. The Jack and Jill rhyme talks to us about the most inconsequential parts of their lives. Other important events could have happened to them, but they remained unrecorded.

Likewise, most other life stories too are probably unfinished. Even so, if one were to view life as a series of chapters of a book, a few of these might well appear to be somewhat more finished than the others. And these are the ones that tell us a partial story at least of the life that is being portrayed. However, a book, all of whose chapters have been partly or wholly destroyed, deliberately or otherwise, can be retrieved at best by relying on the memories of people who claim to have read them before the destruction took place. Needless to say, a life story reconstructed in this manner is likely to remain almost totally unfinished and not just partly so.

I

This is how Krishnendu Karmakar’s life appears to me today. It was a life about which I have known close to nothing at all. Yet, he has definitely resided in the hidden recesses of my mind as a puzzle of sorts, an unsolved puzzle that challenged me not only through his entire lifetime, but even beyond it.

I met him for the first time as a student of Class Seven in an all boys’ school, which still stands opposite Deshapriya Park, Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta). It was not his look alone that distinguished Krishnendu from the rest of the class. What stood him apart was the erudition that marked his conversation. While the best students in the class were concerned with problems in arithmetic and elementary algebra at the peak of their scholarly inquisitiveness, Krishnendu remained miles ahead of them all and pontificated on esoteric knowledge reserved for the chosen few. Quite invariably, he was concerned with science, as in Physics, and appeared to be familiar with breakthrough advances in the subject along with the names of books and research journals dealing with the issues.

We were too ignorant to verify his statements and took them at face value. Of course, anyone who spoke the language of Einstein, Niels Bohr and their likes, when his peers were learning the basics of elementary trigonometry at best, was not always an object of admiration. Quite often therefore he was ridiculed as well, but he remained unmoved as much in the face of praise as deprecation. At that young age at least, he did not normally lose his poise, whether it was happiness that greeted him or reverses.

He was a tall person, always dressed simply in clothes bearing the stamp of austerity, his dark, sharp featured, close to handsome face wearing the haunted look of a scientist stuck with problems concerning the universe. He smiled but rarely, and when he did, it was not exactly audible or exuberant.

I liked Krishnendu. Partly out of an irrational respect for his apparent command over subjects totally beyond my intellectual reach. He had once written an article for the school magazine titled Epistemology of Interacting Fields. I doubt that our teachers even attempted to read it. I distinctly recall a shiver running down my spine when I read the title and might have felt like Bertie Wooster standing face to face with Jeeves’ collection of Spinoza’s works. In utter naiveté though, I told him, “Krishnendu, when it comes to Physics, you can probably take on the most well-known scientists in the country, can’t you?” Krishnendu didn’t turn to look at me. Instead, he had this lost faraway look on his face as he replied without the slightest trace of amour-propre, almost with humility as it were, “Oh yes, that I can …” I felt satisfied to hear the reply of this teenager, my classmate at that, which may well have indicated that the grey matter I lacked in my youth was amply compensated by gullibility.

I liked Krishnendu for his soft-spoken manners as well. He was not a noisy person as I said, so I was taken by surprise one day when the teacher in the class handed out a punishment to him, asking him to climb up and keep standing on the bench where he was supposed to be sitting! I never found out the offence he had committed. It is not impossible though that he had submitted for a homework assignment in arithmetic an essay on the latest advances in quantum mechanics. I am sure of course that he had not been pulled up for misbehaviour. He accepted the sentence without demur and remained standing on the bench, Prometheus like, submitting totally to the dictate of fate. Even though we were not exactly bosom friends, I found it hard to accept Krishnendu’s humiliation. But Krishnendu himself expressed stoic indifference if anything at all. And I carry a vivid memory of the scene till this day. The bench on which he stood was lined up against the northern wall of the classroom and he remained gazing at the southern wall above our heads from his elevated location.

II

Isolated events such as these cannot explain why Krishnendu managed to leave a lasting impression in my mind. As I found out from my classmates, there was a paradoxical trait in his character. His love for books was not limited to science alone, for side by side with his collection of learned books, stood a shelf full of lewd pornography. He was the proud owner of a porno library, from which a selected few of his friends were allowed to borrow. I was somewhat innocent I suppose and had not yet been exposed to these forbidden books. But not being above the inquisitiveness that accompanies puberty, I forgot all about my regard for his awesome intellect and felt an irresistible urge to lay my hands on his treasure. On a holiday afternoon therefore, I pestered my informer to lead me to Krishnendu’s home, hoping to borrow from his collection. And this adventure led me to yet other mysteries surrounding Krishnendu’s life.

He lived in the ground floor of a large three storied house on Dover Lane, a posh area in South Kolkata. The appearance of this floor, however, did not match its surroundings. There was something distinctly odd about the deserted look it wore, shrouded in the obscurity of an unkempt garden leading up to its entrance. It was past mid-day and the street was somewhat empty. There was a door bell, but my companion preferred not to use it. Instead, he stood out on the street and called out “Krishnendu” in a full-throated voice that rang through the lonely afternoon. The call had to be repeated several times before Krishnendu appeared from behind the closed door of a room in the front corner of the ground floor. For the first time during our period of acquaintance did I notice signs of annoyance on Krishnendu’s usually placid face. He was disturbed by the arrival of visitors. He did not speak to me at all and kept me waiting on the pavement. My companion entered through the front gate and spoke to him out of earshot. I did not have the slightest idea about the exchange that took place between them. It was a short conversation, during which Krishnendu’s dark face turned visibly darker. Finally, it was clear that he wanted to have nothing to do with us and the question of letting us into his house did not arise at all.

The pornography riddle remained unsettled, since Krishnendu was clearly against admitting me into his inner circle. But the classmate who took me there told me further that Krishnendu’s family did not wish him to bring anyone into his home. I was puzzled. Why can’t we enter his house? I kept asking myself, since there was no restriction in my own family as far as my friends were concerned. Not letting us into his home was a problem that I tried to solve without any success at all. Did his family have a secret to hide? Who were his family members? What were his parents like? I had no clue at all, except that the grim atmosphere suggested that a secret did exist, one which did not exactly point towards something as trivial as a hidden pornographic collection.

We rarely conversed after the event and my visit to Krishnendu’s home was a topic that was completely avoided. In any case, he began to exercise a strange influence on me. Despite his mild manners, I began to feel uncomfortable in his company. There was a darkness that surrounded him that I had no wish to associate with.

III

I didn’t continue in this school for too long though and was shifted away to a new one during the middle of the year. The new school was delightfully different from the old one and at that young age it didn’t take me long to forget the school I had left. However, there was a good reason why I couldn’t forget Krishnendu, the double agent connecting the worlds of learning and pornography and holding up a No Admission sign in front of his home. My new school was located close to Krishnendu’s home and I walked past it every day. I noticed signs of life on the upper floors of the building, but the ground floor, from which Krishnendu had once emerged, continued to be shrouded in joyless silence behind tightly closed doors and windows. It didn’t seem to have any contact with the stream of life flowing by it, whether on busy mornings or on quiet afternoons.

I cannot remember a single day when I didn’t stare at the house with a feeling of expectation mixed with apprehension for the remaining years I spent at the school. I felt that a mystifying object or the other might suddenly spring out to warn me against my idle curiosity. But nothing happened at all. It always looked deserted, though I had an odd feeling that its looks belied reality. There were people living in that flat, people who might have been keeping a watch over the world outside through hidden crevices in the windows, but who were reluctant to reveal themselves to the living world.

Then, inevitably enough, I passed out of school one day and entered college. My connection with Krishnendu’s home was finally cut off, for the college I went to was located at the other end of the town. Even though I no longer went past Krishnendu’s home anymore, he continued to dwell in my mind subconsciously. In fact, some of my classmates from the old school, Santanu, Partha and others joined the same college I went to. And, every once in a while, Krishnendu’s paradoxes turned into topics of conversation and made us snicker. None of these friends were too sure about what Krishnendu did after leaving school. The riddle deepened therefore and even if he did not occupy my thoughts the way he used to in the past, I did not totally forget him either.

I completed the routines of college and university education, earned degrees abroad and finally entered professional life. Several years went by and then one fine morning, almost twenty five years after my last meeting with him, Krishnendu materialised. I was walking down Gariahat Road when I bumped into him near its crossing with Rashbehari Avenue. The spot where we saw each other lay close to Krishnendu’s residence in Dover Lane, a mere five minutes’ walk from where we stood.

It didn’t take me more than a moment to recognise him, even though he had visibly aged compared to his school days. He was dressed in bellbottom white Bengali style pyjamas and a long, light apricot coloured khadi kurta. This was the same casual costume he wore to school, which had no uniform regulations. His hair displayed grey patches now and he wore glasses. Krishnendu had aged, but not so his apparel. Yet, I felt that I was back at his residence, wondering what lay inside and his curious life tale confronted me all over again.

He recognized me, though he was his old unforthcoming self to start with. It was I who began the conversation. I asked him what he was doing, but he avoided answering the question. Instead, he stared at me for a while and then, suddenly, blurted out in an almost accusing tone, “Are you married?” Not that he repeated the question, but the intense look in his eyes and the total silence accompanying the look told me that he wanted to know  nothing else at all. What my profession was? No. Where I worked? No. Was I in touch with any old classmate? No. Married or not was the only issue that mattered.

It took me a few seconds to swallow that missile of a question and then, somewhat taken aback, I answered him in the affirmative, and even told him that we had a child. Upon hearing the news, the expression on his face turned into disgust, bordering on hatred almost, and he didn’t wish to carry on the conversation any further. He simply walked off without even bothering to wave me goodbye and disappeared in the crowd. That was the last time I spoke to him, but I did spot him in the same area on later occasions also. He was always preoccupied, walking down the pavement in long strides, never noticing me, or even if he did, he did not acknowledge the fact.

Why on earth did Krishnendu react the way he did to the news of my marital status? I wondered. Was it because he wished to be married and hadn’t found a bride yet? By then, he was well past the age to dress up as a bridegroom. Could it be the case that he was himself married too, but not too happy with his marital life?

IV

I failed to answer my own questions and lost track of Krishnendu a second time and this coincided with a longish stint away from Kolkata. But then, of all places, I ran into Krishnendu over internet. I came across a person on a social networking site who was Krishnendu’s neighbour in youth. And as soon as I found this out, Krishnendu leaped back into my consciousness with renewed vigour. My curiosity knew no bounds. His enigmatic personality stood before me and challenged me to read him out. I kept pestering the person about Krishnendu’s whereabouts, but he had himself left Kolkata. His mother though still lived in the old locality.

Following his interactions with his mother, I was informed a few days later that Krishnendu was no more. There was nothing unusual about Krishnendu’s passing away. But what did make his story somewhat poignant was the additional information that he hailed from a psychologically disoriented family. An elder brother was the worst affected and had even been admitted to a mental home where he was subjected to electric shock treatments.

My mind went back once again to the distant past when I had visited his home and for the first time I conjectured a probable reason why Krishnendu’s family didn’t permit his friends to visit his home. The picture inside was unlikely to have been pretty. And I began to entertain thoughts all over again about Krishnendu’s family members. What were his parents like?Did he have siblings other than the elder brother I had now heard of? Questions poured like heavy showers on a dark night.

I distinctly felt that there was more to find out about him than I had already found out. All I knew about him was that he was a self-professed scholar, a pornography enthusiast and probably a man who had not been visited by conjugal happiness. This was a hopelessly incomplete description of a man I had gone to school with and remained interested in ever since, though not continuously so.

V

And then I received a call from Santanu one morning. Partha and he, as I said, were the classmates from the old school that I had gone to college with. Santanu had settled in the United States and was visiting his old haunts in Kolkata. He suggested a get together in the Food Court of Acropolis Mall and roped in Partha as well. Partha still lives in Kolkata, not far away from my residence as it turned out.

As is most often the case, our conversation receded back into the misty past as we sipped freshly ground South Indian coffee. We lamented the disappearance of the South Indian coffee shops from Kolkata and from one story of disappearance sprung up many others. Since all of us had known Krishnendu, it was inevitable that he was to show up at some point or the other.

I discovered that neither of them was aware that Krishnendu had passed away. None of us had any knowledge of the circumstances under which he had died. Nor did we know what sort of a profession he had chosen. But we did discuss a good deal about the paradoxical facets he exhibited during his school days.

“Did you know that he had a brother with a psychological problem?” I asked them.

“Oh yes of course,” replied Partha. In fact I had even seen him during my school days.”

“You did?” I asked in surprise. “You visited his home did you?”

“Oh no, no one I know ever walked into Krishnendu’s home. But this brother was visible once in a while, sitting all by himself on the edge of unrailed ground floor verandas leading out of people’s homes in the area. That too in the middle of gruelling summer days, when people either stay indoors or work in offices.”

“This was surely a sign of his mental problem,” I added. “In fact, I understand that he was treated with electric shocks!”

“Almost surely so,” Partha went on. “He was delirious and often complained about his lost batteries.”

“What?” Both Santanu and I asked in bewilderment. “What lost batteries could he possibly have been talking about?”

“I suspect,” said Partha, “he linked up the electric shocks to batteries. Once released from the mental home, he probably recalled the shock treatment and began to believe that he had a store of expensive batteries that was stolen and used by enemies who tried to electrocute him. He had even accused strangers of stealing his batteries and was roughened up a number of times.”

“Oh really?” Santanu laughed out. “The elder brother ran after batteries and the younger one after Einstein.”

“And pornography,” I added mischievously perhaps.

However, we saw that we did not really know anything much about Krishnendu and the way he travelled after leaving school.

I told them about my meeting with him at the Gariahat crossing several years ago and the dissatisfaction he had expressed about my marriage. We chuckled over the matter once again of course and then went on to chat over other matters concerning the world at large.

Santanu told us that he was leaving India the next day and had packing to do. We parted thereafter, but I felt all over again that the Krishnendu virus had attacked me. I needed a cure for my incurable disease and decided to follow him up. In retrospect needless to say, for he lived no more.

VI

There was only one miserable trail left to investigate. The home he lived in still stood, though vastly renovated and used as an office by a renowned medical practitioner, Dr. Datta. I knew him well and began by calling him up one evening. He confirmed that he had purchased the property from one Karmakar, though he did not know Krishnendu at all. After selling off the property, the Karmakars had moved over to a house in Bosepukur Road, pretty close to the Acropolis Mall near the south-eastern fringes of Kolkata, where we had discussed Krishnendu not too long ago. He gave me clear directions to the building. I wasn’t sure if the present occupants of the Bosepukur building, whoever they were, might be willing to entertain me. Yet I was anxious to find them out and needed to contact them somehow or the other. And I knew not how that feat could be achieved.

Then, all of sudden, I was visited by a brain wave. I remembered how Sherlock Holmes used to employ his street urchin squad to gather information. I had no such gang at my disposal, but luck was on my side. I learnt that the maid who had been working for us for several years lived close to the Bosepukur building during her childhood. I offered her a prize if she could help me get in touch with the people I sought. Like Holmes’ urchins, my maid too jumped at the idea of solving a possible mystery and she was interested in winning the prize money as well.

Under the scorching sun, she walked over several kilometres to locate the residents at Bosepukur Road. She discovered them and, fortuitously enough, found out that she had known them from her childhood days. Her mother used to work for them in the same Dover Lane building that intrigued me and she often went there in her mother’s company, because her mother’s employers were kind people. Who were these kind people? Krishnendu’s parents? Were they members of the family that firmly refused to let the daylight enter their abode? I was excited by the news and wanted her to find out if this was the Karmakar family I was searching. Much to my disappointment though, she came back with the news that they were Mukherjees! I was crestfallen. I had no idea how the Karmakars that Dr. Datta had mentioned metamorphosed into Mukherjees. But I didn’t give up hope, since the maid was full of praise for the Mukherjee brothers and their wives and was reasonably sure about her ability to build the bridge I was dying to cross. She left after work and I spent the night on tenterhooks awaiting her arrival next morning. She came back smiling and handed me a slip of paper with a phone number written on it.

“What’s this?” I asked her.

“Why, this is Mukherjee mami’s phone number, wife of the younger Mukherjee brother,” she said proudly.

“But will she speak to me,” I was still doubtful.

“Why not,” she said. “I told her that you were trying to find out about your old friend and that he resided in the same building in Dover Lane where they used to live years ago. She herself gave me the number and asked you to call her up.”

“Elementary my dear Watson,” her triumphant smile seemed to announce!

VII

I hesitated for a while and then finally called up the number. A lady answered the phone and I asked her if she was Ms. Mukherjee. She answered in the affirmative and from the tone of her voice I could make out that she was waiting for my call in suspended animation. And that helped matters immensely.

I introduced myself to the lady and began the conversation.

“You see, Ms. Mukherjee, I am trying to locate an old acquaintance who might have been your neighbour in Dover Lane before you moved over to your present residence. His name was Krishnendu Karmakar. Did you know him by any chance?”

“Of course I knew him,” she answered mirthfully. “He was known as Einstein in that locality! They were our ground floor neighbours. We occupied the top two floors.”

I knew immediately that I had hit the bull’s eye. I had indeed seen people in the top floors of the building on my way to school. This was Krishnendu alright. He was Einstein in school, but unknown to us, he entertained his neighbours at home with fundamental problems in science as well. Moreover, unlike his classmates, the neighbours in Dover Lane were probably far less convinced about his intellectual prowess.

“Ah yes, that must be he,” said I as jovially as I could. “He had the same designation at school too. Anyway, what was your impression of Krishnendu?”

“Impression? I hardly formed any impression,” she replied. “He pretty much kept to himself. He went to office muttering away to himself and came back home the same way. Off his nut, he certainly was. He didn’t really associate with anybody at all.”

“But he must have associated with some people at least, or else why should they call him Einstein.”

She thought for a while and then said, “Perhaps he did before I arrived there. By then he had cut off neighbourly relations. After acquiring the title they gave him I guess.” That sounded like a credible explanation, I told myself. But I remembered at the same time that Krishnendu and his family had never really been a sociable lot. Unless accusing neighbours of stealing batteries constituted social intercourse.

“Who were there in his family?” I asked carefully.

“Oh, I understand that he had brothers and a sister, but except for an elder brother, most of them were dead by the time I moved into that building as a newly wedded bride.”

“Elder brother?” I asked. “Do you know anything about him at all?

“I think he was a mental patient. At least that’s what I learnt from neighbours. And he passed away soon. So Einstein alone lived there with his wife and child. That was the only family I was aware of.”

“Wife!” Here was new information. I prodded further. “He had a wife, did he? What kind of a woman was she?”

“Umm, … she was far too young to be his wife. I heard that she came from a locality in North Kolkata. Probably her family was not too affluent, or else why should they marry her off to a halfwit? Besides, the person was old enough to be her father!”

I could see that Ms. Mukherjee did not feel particularly friendly towards Krishnendu. Yet I continued with my quest.

“Was it a happy family?

“Not at all, not so at all!” she said emphatically. “As far as I know, they hardly ever communicated. They had a hopelessly strained relationship. The loony talked to himself and she too left home for unknown destinations soon after he was gone to office!”

This information about the woman, a woman much younger than Krishnendu, was loaded. I needed clarification.

“Perhaps she had a job as well?” asked I.

“I doubt,” said Ms. Mukherjee without the slightest trace of hesitation in her voice. “She did not appear to be professionally educated. She simply went about her own way.” Then she added with unconcealed sarcasm, “She too had her own circle you see.”

Well, I thought, they must have started off with some sort of a relationship, at least towards the early stages of their conjugal existence. Or else, where did the daughter arrive from? Once again, cruelly enough, I remembered Krishnendu’s pornography connection and his possibly sex starved life. There could have been a deep rooted tragedy in the life of the middle aged Krishnendu’s far too young wife. I did not have the heart to ask about the daughter.

“They could have fallen in love,” I suggested, trying to elicit more information, “and then the relationship dried up.”

The lady began to giggle. “No, not a chance. This must have been an arranged marriage, though I cannot say who had planned to destroy the girl’s life. Almost certainly she came from a poor family, lured by the fact that Mr. Einstein had a good job.”

“Good job? What sort of a job was it? Do you have any idea?”

“Well, I am not sure, but I have heard that it was a government job in some department or the other. Irrigation, was it? Any government job, even a clerical job, must have appeared lucrative to a distressed father desperate to marry off a daughter. You know the status of women in Indian society, don’t you?”

“Yes of course, the state of affairs is deplorable.”

“Hmm,” she uttered grimly from the other end.

But my curiosity was still alive. I ventured to carry on with the conversation, not knowing how much longer she might entertain a stranger.

“And then one day you sold off your house and moved over to Bosepukur Road, right.”

“Well, in a way,” she replied. “That was way back in 1996. But it was not our house you know.”

“No?” I was surprised. “It was Krishnendu who owned the house, did he? Did he inherit it from his father?” I remembered what Dr. Datta had informed me. He had purchased the building from a Karmakar.

“No no, you got me wrong,” she continued cheerfully. “We had a leasehold on our part of the building. They too had a similar arrangement for their part I presume. But no one had ever heard of his father, or of his mother for that matter.” Her voice was full of doubt. About the lease as well as about Krishnendu’s parents. As far as she was concerned, Krishnendu may never have been fathered at all. He could well have been a fruit of his own loins! His parents were not members of the family that lived behind the closed doors. There were brothers and a sister, but no parents.”

I decided to ignore the possibility of Krishnendu’s self-creation. And of course, I couldn’t follow how lessees sold a property, but kept quiet. It was she who clarified voluntarily.

“We were compensated for giving up the lease and used the proceeds to purchase this property in Bosepukur.”

“Krishnendu did the same, did he,” I inquired.

“Well, he must have,” she explained. “All of us vacated the house and moved elsewhere.”

Krishnendu was then not a total novice as far as worldly matters were concerned. Self-declared physicist, collector of pornography and a person capable of carrying out a real estate deal.  But I was assailed by doubts, given the Karmakar connection Dr. Datta had indicated. Could it be possible that it was Krishnendu’s family that held the lease for the entire building and that they had sublet a major part of the building to the Mukherjees? Finally, when the doctor wished to purchase the property, he might have offered money to Krishnendu to make him vacate the building and the Mukherjees in turn demanded the lion’s share of the cake to move out themselves. I did not even try to figure out who the original owner of the building could have been. I was confused enough already.

“Where did Krishnendu move?” I asked with some hesitation.

“No idea at all. But some say that they bought a small apartment further south in Dhakuria or Santoshpur.”

Krishnendu bought a small apartment and the Mukherjees bought a bungalow. I must have been correct in assuming that Krishnendu wasn’t compensated enough.

“You have no further information about their whereabouts then?”

“Well, the only information I have is that he died soon after they moved to wherever they moved.’

“And the wife and the child?”

“That is anybody’s guess. They may still be living in the apartment they purchased. They could have sold it and moved elsewhere. And, for all I know, they could well be dead too.”

Even if she knew, I began to suspect that she was unlikely to let me follow the trail any further. Her information was self-contradictory. How had she found out that Krishnendu had passed away after moving to his new flat? I asked myself. Someone at least must have known the way to the flat and brought back the message for her. She was on her guard and didn’t reveal anything more at all. The only persons then who were likely to know more details about the story were Krishnendu’s wife and daughter. But they had vanished altogether according to the lady.

I knew that my time was up. I thanked Ms. Mukherjee profusely before disconnecting. I felt that I knew now all that one could possibly find out about Krishnendu from the Mukherjees and awarded the prize I had promised to our maid.

VIII

I was chatting with Partha over the phone a few days later. Partha had associated with Krishnendu far more than I ever did. Krishnendu was a regular at Partha’s home. Partha, who is a flourishing computer scientist was interested to know what I had discovered about Krishnendu. But he also told me what he had concluded during his professional career. He had found out that Krishnendu was mostly correct about the Einstein theories he used to preach in school.

“I am convinced that Krishnendu had actually read up Einstein in the original as a school boy,” said Partha. “He was an eccentric and one of his eccentricities concerned Einstein. It led him to neglect his school curriculum. He tortured his adolescent mind to figure out Einstein’s earth shaking findings. This was not exactly a healthy exercise for the warped state of his mind.”

“Oh really,” said I. “My understanding of Einstein is still quite poor. So, I shall not be able to check this up. But tell me, what other eccentricity was he afflicted by?”

Partha came out with an embarrassed laugh. “I feel constrained to talk about it even with you. But since you have asked me, I will satisfy you.”

I was at my inquisitive worst once again. “Please do, I have my theories too. Let me ask you, are you referring to his obsession with pornography?”

Partha guffawed into my ear. “You are absolutely right. He was obsessed with women’s bodies. His hallucinations surrounding female physiology will make you blush even at this mature age. You remember Purnima? She was the young sister of our Santanu.”

I tried hard to recall and vaguely remembered a cute, young face. “Well, what about Purnima?”

“Krishnendu used to describe to me his lust surrounding Purnima …,” said Partha hesitatingly. “Krishnendu’s vivid pornographic imaginations concerning this innocent young girl often made my mind begin to spin.”

“Well this fits well,” I said, “with the information I gathered  about his relationship with his wife and why the marriage went sour.”

“Information? Wife? Oh yes, tell me. What have you unearthed?” I had managed to arouse Partha’s curiosity now.

I related to him in response the details of my conversation with Ms. Mukherjee. “Well, we haven’t really resolved the puzzle, but we probably know enough by now, wouldn’t you say?”

Partha agreed with me. “Yes,” said he, “your wild goose chase has not been entirely in vain. But you will never find out what went on inside his mysterious Dover Lane home. Nor about the flat to which he finally moved and where he died. I wouldn’t advise you to proceed any further.”

“Right,” said I. “But don’t you think that his story is not yet completely lost?”

“How do you mean?” asked Partha.

“I suspect that Ms. Mukherjee can lead us to people who know where Krishnendu’s wife and daughter settled. But she is holding that card very close to her chest. Those two individuals, if they are alive, will be in a position to help us produce a somewhat more coherent tale. Incidentally, did Krishnendu ever mention his family to you? His brothers or a sister?”

“Well, he did once point out his elder brother to me, the one who was treated in a mental home. But he never spoke of anyone else.”

“Parents?” I asked.

“No, his parents were a complete mystery. It didn’t even occur to me to ask him. But I was quite young at the time and probably not mature enough to ask such questions. Anyway, are you suggesting that you are still trying to follow him up?”

“Why not?” said I as I switched off the phone.

Epilogue

I do not know if I shall ever find a way leading to Krishnendu’s wife and daughter. I tend to believe that they are traceable. How they will react to inquiries about the enigma that Krishnendu was, one cannot predict. His relationship with his wife had not been too cordial. She must have suffered in his hands and the story she will have to tell, if she ever tells one, could well be overblown. On the other hand, it is most likely that Krishnendu’s interest in his wife never went beyond his morbid concern surrounding a woman’s body. We will never find the complete truth. But then, as we had noted at the very beginning of this sordid tale, no story involving a human life is ever quite complete. What intensifies the mystery of Krishnendu’s story however, is that not only do we know where he disappeared, we do not even know where he had arrived from. Although people have mentioned knowing about his siblings, whether dead or alive, no one was even interested about his parents. Krishnendu, it might appear, was a person who neither had a beginning nor an end! These, if they existed, lay hidden in mystery, behind the tightly closed doors of his home. That home is no longer his of course and has changed into a doctor’s brightly lit crowded chamber. Perhaps Krishnendu’s family waits there too in impatience for the patients to leave, the lights to be switched off and the doors to be locked up by the security guard. And then, through the rest of the night, they confabulate happily amongst themselves about the secret they have jealously held on to till this very day.

 

Love and Hugs — Flash Fiction #15

Out of sheer disgust that his scientifically retarded old mother did not know how to be loved and hugged over a smart phone, a gentleman employed a human to help his mother find out that she had been hugged and loved over and over again by her invisible son from across a distance of eight thousand miles. The human in charge was invisible too, living forty miles away from the old woman, and had to deliver the love and the hugs over a phone, which, fortunately, the old woman knew how to answer, except when it stopped working. On such difficult occasions, other humans were needed to deal with the phone’s non-cooperation.

The human employed to convey love and hugs pointed out that the service contract was drawn up for love and hugs alone. A more pricey contract was called for to include the extra responsibility of finding humans to fix the old woman’s phone. The son was endlessly irritated by this inhuman demand from a human, but complied for a few months. He saw that the expenses were mounting, yet he was desperate to love and hug the old woman.

He suspected finally that he was being cheated by unscrupulous humans who had found out how frantic he was to love and hug his mother. Fortunately, he was scientifically inclined, unlike his mother. So, he was able to solve the expense problem. He sent his mother a cake on line and to make sure that the old woman knew that her invisible son truly loved and hugged her, he ordered a little girl’s picture as the topping for the cake. This was meant to make his mother feel young and smile as she tore up the picture while cutting the cake.

Unknown to herself, the woman was riding a time machine. The machine, like the phone, suddenly malfunctioned. It accelerated violently till the woman vanished two days before the day the cake with the little girl’s picture arrived. The human in charge of delivering love and hugs alone offered a special discount to inform the son about the incident. The son was annoyed to no end to learn about the mother unknowingly boarding a time machine without engaging a pilot, though he knew at the same time that pilots were expensive and paying their bills would have seriously compromised his love and hugs budget.

This being an emergency of course, he rushed to his computer to search on line for humans who repaired malfunctioning time machines, however highly priced the service might be. But google informed him that all such humans lived in the future.

Of Roots and Rootless — Flash Fiction #14

I have seen the tree since it was a baby sapling planted by the municipal corporation. We have grown old together.

On the tree bloomed beautiful multi-coloured flowers. Red and yellow. The flowers smiled, surrounded by shiny green leaves.

Like a pretty girl I often saw on my way to office. With her mother, she used to sell roasted peanuts in a street corner, wearing threadbare clothes. which indicated a hand to mouth existence.

The tree grew large and its branches threatened to penetrate my first floor window. I informed the municipality and had it cut down to size. But its trunk managed to keep standing where it had been planted. Soon it grew new branches and began to flower again. It had drowned its roots way down deep under the pavement.

The pretty little girl who used to sell roasted peanuts on the streets must have grown up too. Beyond her threadbare clothes.

Most probably, parts of her were chopped off as well. But, being rootless, she stands there no more.