Monthly Archives: September 2021

Ha!

Soon after lunch today, my wife declared that she was leaving me. Not for good, but for an unspecified period of time. We were still sitting in a restaurant in Puri and she passed on her purse to me asking me to take good care of its contents till she was back. Amongst other things, I knew that she kept her mobile phone inside the purse.

“Why won’t you carry your cell phone with you?” asked I in alarm. “I can’t get in touch with you if you are late. “

“They don’t allow mobile phones there,” she replied and got up to leave.

“Hey look,” said I “who’s ‘they’ darling and where’s ‘there’?”

“I am going to the Jagannath Temple. They have their rules. Amongst other things no leather goods are allowed inside and no mobile phones either. Anyway I am getting late. This is the best time to visit. Because it’s Jagannath’s lunch time and there are few people around. If I can make it on time, I might manage to get a ‘darshan’.

“I can come with you too. Why are you leaving me with a woman’s purse? People will get ideas to see me carrying a purse you know”

“Well, just go back to the hotel room and wait there she said. The room is less than five minutes from here. You can bear the embarrassment for a short time at least. For my sake, do it. This is your once in a lifetime chance to do something for my sake. Try and recall the last occasion you did anything just for me.”

“Look,” said I, “I am even willing to accompany you to the temple. You are doing me wrong.”

“Oh no, they won’t let you inside the temple. You will have to wait outside on the street with my purse much longer that way.”

“Why won’t they allow me into the temple?”

“They are very strict. Non-Hindus are forbidden entry.”

“Since when did I turn non-Hindu?” I asked severely concerned.

“How do I know? Probably since the day you were born. Anyone who cares to study you will know. And then there will be trouble. Look, I am getting late. I want to be present there at the opportune moment.”

“But please don’t leave me in a sea of mystery. Have I been excommunicated? But why?”

“Hindus cannot be excommunicated. You need to convert. But how can you covert from Hinduism if you are not a Hindu in the first place. Stop bothering me. Ask yourself what you have ever done that would qualify you as a Hindu.”

“Oh come on, I married you with the holy fire as witness.”

“Ha!” she exclaimed.

“I put the vermillion mark on the parting on your beautiful hair.”

“Ha!” she repeated with passion. “You are not just a non-Hindu. You are a non-anything. If you are anything at all, you are a lizard in a bathroom.”

“Bathroom!” I exclaimed. By now she had hailed an auto. As she was boarding it, I asked her, “Why don’t they let you carry the cell phone inside? Are they worried that you would call up Jagannath-ji when he was enjoying his post lunch siesta?”

“See, see, see …! Did you hear what you said? You call yourself a Hindu. Ha!”

This last ‘ha’ was pretty lethal, but before I could recover from its attack, the auto had disappeared. So I mournfully retraced my steps to the hotel room and turned on the laptop to check my mail. May be I managed to join company with Shri Jagannath, for I woke up with a start when someone knocked on the door from outside.

I opened the door and there she was. Triumph radiated from all over her person. Full of excitement she told me how she had managed to enter the sanctum sanctorum and watch Shri Jagannath standing only a few feet away. “The Pandas were most helpful. They said I was super lucky. Normally there is a huge crowd, but I got the opportunity to stand there all alone and watch him in his infinite glory.”

“You sure you didn’t call him up and make an appointment this morning,” I asked.

“Ha!” she said again, producing in me the distinct impression that she was slowly forgetting spoken language. ‘Ha’ appeared to be the single entity with which her vocabulary was bursting at the seams.

It was late afternoon and I felt like taking a stroll on the beach. “I am going out for a walk, OK?” I told her.

“Yes do so. You’ll soon forget how to walk if you sit in front of the computer much longer.” She was forgetting to talk and I to walk. I guess we were even.

With her reassuring message about my walking abilities, she bid me farewell. I went out and stood deeply engrossed in thought staring at a camel on the sea shore. The camel too reciprocated. It’s owner watched me suspiciously though until I asked him if he would mind if I took a picture of the camel.

“No problem,” said he. “Just climb up the ladder and sit on its back. I will take a picture with you sitting on the camel.”

“Oh no,” I replied in alarm. “The camel alone will do.”

The man looked bored. “Oh, go ahead.” I began clicking from different angles and was quite engrossed in the work when I realized that a general atmosphere of panic had developed in the meantime. People appeared to be running helter-skelter for their dear lives and I alone was blissfully occupied in taking photographs of a camel that did not belong to the beach in the first place.

I looked up and tried to digest the event in progress. No it was not a tsunami, but something pretty close. Right behind me two bulls had arrived from nowhere it seemed and started to bully one another. Locked horns and all. I stood petrified. No cow was visible in the horizon, so I had no idea what they were fighting over. What would happen next appeared to be a stochastic event, probably captured by what statisticians call a white noise.

As I anticipated, one of the bulls won the match and the loser lost not only the fight but its temper also. It looked around and saw me standing in the empty sea beach. And took to chasing me.

Now I don’t know if any of you have been chased by a frustrated bull on a sea beach. You need to be well-trained  to run at all at the age of ninety eight. And you need to be immensely skilled to be able to run through wet sand pursued by a mighty bull. And recall that I had, according to my wife, almost forgotten to walk!

Well, when situations demand, even non-walkers turn into sprinters. So I survived with a few minor bruises. As I was running for dear life, I remembered that it was Yama who was supposed to ride a bull. (Some believe it was a buffalo he rode, but authentic evidence surrounding the matter appears to be lacking. Till this day, no one has agreed to take the witness stand after being interviewed by Yama.)  And since only a few hours ago my wife had told me that I was hopelessly unreligious, I conjured up a vision that had been aptly captured by a talented economist friend of mine, now teaching in New Zealand. He drew this picture for a love story written jointly by us in Bengali rhyme. I am using the picture to help you imagine my state this evening.

Drawing by Amal Sanyal

I reached my hotel panting. My wife was surprised to find me in a somewhat roughened up condition.

“What happened? Did someone beat you up?”

“No. A female Yama chased me sitting on a bull. ”

“What rubbish!”

“No, no rubbish at all. I saw Yama riding a bull just a few minutes ago. The way you saw Jagannath. From close quarters you know. Only Yama assumed a female shape. I wondered if it was you …”

“Ha!” she ha–ed back in disdain.

Sankari vs. Mathematics: A Moonlit Night’s Tale

young_sankari-2


On an evening parked far away in the mists of time, I had gone out for a stroll with a young and adorably pretty woman. Slim, charming and lively, she was my newly acquired wife, Sankari. I was around twenty nine and she must have been about twenty four. And, as I said, we were out for a walk on a balmy evening in spring.

Had I been Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice, I would probably have told her:

“The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees
And they did make no noise, in such a night
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls
Where Cressid lay that night.”

But I wasn’t Lorenzo. Nor was Sankari Jessica. Or else, she too might have replied:

“In such a night
Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew
And saw the lion’s shadow ere himself
And ran dismay’d away.”

We didn’t exchange words even remotely similar. Yet, the sky was clear and a million stars glittered above us as they watched us in inquisitive silence. We went and sat on a bench in the nearby park.

“How beautiful the sky is, isn’t it?” said Sankari. This is the closest she came to Jessica.

“Yes, isn’t it? And have you noticed how endlessly the stars are spread?” said I. I couldn’t have been farther away from Lorenzo.

Sankari misunderstood my train of thought I think.

“Oh yes. Endless indeed,” she said, “fascinating little lights under the dark canopy of the sky. Lovely, aren’t they?”

“Right,” said I. “But how many stars do you think there are in the sky?”

“Oh, I don’t know … how should I know how many? Infinitely many may be. Like grains of sand on the sea shore.” Sankari stared at the sky in wonder. A mortal beauty, tucked away in an inconsequential corner of the solar system, looking up towards the immortal beauty of the universe.

“Yet,” said I, “each one has a name, hasn’t it?”

Her face turned sharply from the sky towards me. There was bit of a frown on her puzzled countenance. “Of course they have names. How does that matter?”

“Doesn’t it surprise you that there are infinitely many objects up there and each one can be distinguished from the other by name?”

She stared at me in silence for a while. The frown slowly melted away into an awfully cute smile of indulgence. “You are crazy,” she said lovingly and then went back to stare at the sky again.

“But you can’t name each particle that makes up the sky, can you?” I asked.

Once again the questioning look returned to her face. “What on earth are you talking about? Pulling my leg, are you?”

“Oh no,” I quickly intercepted. “I was merely thinking that the sky too is probably made up of little particles of some sort of matter, gases may be. And it is not possible to give each particle in the sky a name, is it?” I looked askance at her to study her reaction.

She didn’t appear to be too interested. The expression on her face had a stamp of incredulity. “Is this guy really crazy?” it appeared to ask.

But I pushed on. “The particles that form the sky are infinitely many and the stars too probably infinitely many. But in one case you can find distinct names for each particle and in the other you can’t. Isn’t that strange, Sankari?”

She giggled in reply, revealing her sparkling teeth in the light that shone down from a nearby lamppost. “You know what’s strange?” she asked.

“What’s strange?” I asked back.

“You!!” she said emphatically. And then she moved the conversation closer to Lorenzo and Jessica. “The moon’s so beautiful tonight, isn’t it?”

I had to admit this was the case. It must have been full moon or very nearly so. “Yes the moon’s lovely,” I responded casually.

“Don’t you want to tell me something, now that you have noticed we are sitting under a perfect moonlit sky?”

It was my turn to be puzzled. “About the moon?” I asked doubtfully.

“No, about me,” she said and looked away, disappointment writ clearly on her face.

I couldn’t follow her. She appeared to be upset. But why, I had no idea.

So I went back to where I was. “Do you see that there are at least two kinds of infinity? In one case you can name each object in the infinity you behold and in the other, you can’t.”

Her face was still turned away and I had no idea if she was listening. I failed miserably to perceive that I could reach out for the moon so easily on that evening and was wasting that wondrous opportunity!

The moon above kept smiling of course. But the moon next to me wasn’t.

“You know, mathematicians have names for these different kinds of infinity. The infinity of stars is called countable and the infinity of the sky is uncountable.”

I was greeted by deathlike silence. Nonetheless, I went on.

“And you know why the very basis of mathematics is illogical? It is illogical because classical mathematics assumes that the uncountable infinity can also be named particle by particle. It’s called the Axiom of Choice. Without this axiom, which no one can prove, mathematics cannot progress a single step. Logic is just a convenient house mathematics chooses to reside in. In fact though, it’s hopelessly illogical!”

Sankari could have been a mummy resting under a pyramid. I sighed, seeing that her interest had still not been aroused. And then I shrugged.

“Well illogical or not, it works. So I guess we shouldn’t grumble,” I concluded.

“Who’s grumbling?” Sankari had finally found her voice. She was facing me now. Her beautiful eyes smiled at me. A smile charged with sadness.

Have I offended her somehow, I asked myself stupidly. She stood up.

“Let’s go back home, shall we?” she asked.

“Why? Do you have work at home?”

“Yes, I have work at home. Someone needs to work you know, to keep a family running,” she said. I didn’t fail to note the sarcasm in her tone. Gloomily I got up too.

“Well, what are you so upset about?” I asked. “Have I offended you? I said nothing at all to hurt you!”

“No, you didn’t say anything to hurt me at all. But I wish you did. I would have something to complain about.”

I was nonplussed. But I was reassured at the same time. “Thank God,” I whispered to myself. “I didn’t hurt my lovely wife.”

We had started walking back homewards. She maintained her silence. To help matters, I tried to start up the conversation again.

“How paradoxical language is really!” I said dramatically.

“What paradox?” she retorted. “I didn’t say anything at all!”

“Oh no, I wasn’t talking about you. Actually, I was talking about Bertrand Russell.”

She stopped dead in the middle of the road and stared at me, mouth half open. There was a distinctly scared look in her eyes.

“I am married to a loony,” they appeared to say.

I tried to make amends. “Actually, Russell pointed out how strange logical language can get.”

She still didn’t resume her walk. Instead, she quickly checked to see if the road was empty or not. If necessary, help should be around to protect her from her husband.

“Well,” continued I, “suppose you were to say that the barber on our street shaved all those people who didn’t shave themselves.”

“Why should I say something like that?” she challenged. “I don’t even know the barber.”

“Well, just suppose you did say so.”

She was petrified now.

“If you said that, then you would be committing yourself to resolving a very difficult paradox.”

She shook her head slowly, clearly lamenting her fate. But we had now begun to walk again. She had probably decided that, though mad, I wasn’t violently so. But her attitude suggested that she believed a visit to a head shrink was in order.

I had the field to myself now.

“You know what the paradox is? The paradox is that you don’t know who shaves the barber.”

She was almost livid now with anger. “Why the hell should I want to know who shaves the barber? I don’t even want to know any barber at all, whether he shaves or not. You go tomorrow morning and find out who shaves the barber. If no one else does, you do him the favour yourself.”

But I was desperate. “Please,” I pleaded, “just let me finish.”

She stopped again and faced me with stony indifference.

“You see, if the barber shaves himself, then he must be a person who doesn’t shave himself. Because we agreed, didn’t we, that he shaved only those people who didn’t shave themselves.”

“No I didn’t agree to anything of the sort. But even if I did, so what?”

“Well, if the barber doesn’t shave himself, then he is a person whom he has to shave,” I concluded with a note of satisfaction. “After all, the barber we said shaved all people who didn’t shave themselves.”

We had reached home by now and Sankari was unlocking the front door. She entered the dark apartment and I followed her in, turning on the light switch. The room was flooded with light. She looked so fascinatingly beautiful. And she had her engaging eyes turned straight at my face. There was a strange light that they reflected.

She sat down on the sofa and kept staring at me and suddenly blurted out.

“Is this what you get paid for in your office?”

I was confused. “Is what what I am paid for at my office? How do you mean?”

“I mean what do you do in your office? Spread such rubbish amongst students? I thought you taught classes. So I was asking if this is the gibberish you teach. It’s a total waste of taxpayers’ money. Anyway, forget about that. But let’s get one thing straight. I am not your student, understand? I am your wife!” Her voice rose to a final crescendo. I thought I heard loud sirens before enemy attack and beat a hasty retreat to wait quietly for my dinner.

And I have quietly waited for dinner every night since then. I have waited for her delicious lunches too during the long many years that have rolled by following that fateful evening. Sankari is still very pretty I think. But I have realised too late in life I guess that she will never ask me again what a golden full moon on a clear spring sky should remind me of.

অবৈধ — অণুগল্প

অরুণিমা — ফোন করেছিলাম সেদিন, ধরলে না … ওয়াট্‌স অ্যাপ মেসেজেরও জবাব এল না।

পলাশ – ফোন? শুনতে পাই নি তো? ওয়াট্‌স অ্যাপটাও বোধহয় কাজ করছিল না। কী জানি।

অরুণিমা — ও আধ ঘণ্টার জন্য বাড়ি থেকে বেরিয়েছিল। সেই সুযোগে ফোন করলাম … তুমি ধরলে না। আজও একটু পরেই ফিরবে।

পলাশ – আমাকে তুমি সারা জীবনে আধ ঘণ্টার বেশি সময় দিলে না। আচ্ছা উনি আমাকে এত অপছন্দ করেন কেন? আমি তো ওনার সঙ্গে শত্রুতা করি নি। করার ইচ্ছেও নেই। একেবারেই নেই। কেমন করে শত্রুতা করা যায় তাও বুঝতে পারি না।  

অরুণিমা — হ্যাঁ … জানি … কিন্তু রেগে যায়।

পলাশ – কেন? কী বলেন?

অরুণিমা — ঐইই … অচেনা পুরুষটা তোমার সঙ্গে যোগাযোগ করে কেন? লোকটার মতলব খারাপ।

পলাশ — বললেই পার … অচেনা পুরুষ না, চেনা বুড়ো … কলেজে চিনতাম।

অরুণিমা — বিশ্বাস করে না।

পলাশ — সত্যি কথাটা বলে দাও। তোমাকে লাইন দিয়েছিলাম … তুমি ভাগিয়ে দিয়েছিলে … খুশি হবেন।

অরুণিমা — রোজ আমার ফোন খুলে দেখে তোমার ফোন এসেছিল কীনা।

পলাশ — বাপরে …

অরুণিমা — হি হি হি …

পলাশ — তোমার সঙ্গে যোগাযোগ না করলেই পারতাম। মানুষ ভুল করে ফেলে … জয়ন্ত তোমার ঠিকানাটা দিল, আমিও আমার নতুন বইখানা তোমাকে পাঠিয়ে দিলাম। ফোন কিন্তু করি নি।

অরুণিমা — ওয়াট্‌স অ্যাপ তো করেছিলে। এমন কথাও বলেছিলে যে আমাকে কোনোদিন ভুলতে পার নি।

পলাশ – বলেছিলাম বটে। কথাটা সত্যি।

অরুণিমা – সত্যি কথা? আমি তো এখানেই ছিলাম। যোগাযোগ কর নি কেন?

পলাশ — সে কী? তুমি তো আমাকে ফুটিয়ে দিয়েছিলে। সারা জীবনে একদিনই কথা বলেছ সামনাসামনি। মানে পাশাপাশি। তারপর আমি কলেজের গেটে ভিখিরির মত দাঁড়িয়ে থাকতাম, আর তুমি তোমার বান্ধবী পরিবেষ্টিত হয়ে পাত্তা না দিয়ে চলে যেতে। ঐ মহিলা ব্যূহ ভেদ করে তোমার সঙ্গে কথা বলা অসম্ভব করে দিয়েছিলে।

অরুণিমা – নইলে কী করতাম? দৌড়ে গিয়ে তোমায় … যাক গিয়ে … এবার বোধহয় ফোন রাখতে হবে। ওর ফেরার সময় হয়েছে …

পলাশ — তুমি আমার দিকে ফিরেও তাকাও নি কখনও। সঙ্গত কারণেই নিশ্চয়ই। যতদিনে বিদেশ থেকে ফিরলাম, নিশ্চয়ই বিয়ে করে সংসার করছ। ছেলে মেয়েও উপহার দিয়েছ। এদিকে উনি আমি পরস্পরকে চোখেও দেখি নি। তাই রাগটা রহস্যময়।  

অরুণিমা — হয়তো তাই। অত শত বিশ্লেষণ করে না।  

পলাশ – মিছিমিছি ওনার বিরক্তির কারণ হয়ে গেলাম। আচ্ছা, তুমিই বা আমাকে ফোন কর কেন? আমাদের কি কোনো সম্পর্ক হওয়া আর সম্ভব? অবশ্য শব্দ তরঙ্গের আদান প্রদানটাও একটা সম্পর্ক হতে পারে।  

অরুণিমা – হবেও বা …  

পলাশ – আর তারপর যদি শব্দের ছোঁয়াটা অন্য কোনো ছোঁয়ায় পরিণত হয়? তাও কি সম্ভব?  তুমি থাক নৈহাটিতে, আমি উলুবেড়িয়ায়। হাতে ছোঁয়া তো কোনো ভাবেই সম্ভব না। শব্দ দিয়ে যদি তোমায় ছুঁয়ে ফেলি … হয়তো তাই ভাবেন …

অরুণিমা — কী রকম?

পলাশ — মন ছোঁয়া যায় না? তার সঙ্গে দেহের তো সম্পর্কই নেই। উনি বুদ্ধিমান লোক সন্দেহ নেই। ইংরেজিতে sensitive …

অরুণিমা – বলছ?  

পলাশ – প্রেমের জন্য দেহের চেয়ে মনের প্রয়োজন বেশি …  

অরুণিমা – তাই বোধহয় …

পলাশ – তাই বোধহয়? তার মানে তুমি কি এতকাল পরে আমায় ভালবাসতে পারবে? যখন তোমার সঙ্গে শারীরিক নৈকট্য থাকা সম্ভব ছিল, তখন কিন্তু ভালবাস নি। এখন তো কেবল মনটাই বাকি আছে।

অরুণিমা – তুমিই কি ভালবেসেছিলে? একদিন আধ ঘণ্টা কথা বলে কি ভালবাসা যায়? বললাম তো, আমি তো ছিলাম, তুমি কী করছিলে?

পলাশ – আমিও বললাম তো, তোমার তাড়া খাচ্ছিলাম …

অরুণিমা — এবার ছাড়ি …

পলাশ — আমার বয়েস আশি – তোমারও কাছাকাছি। তোমাকে দেখে চিনতেও পারব না। ওনাকে এটা বলেছ তো?

অরুণিমা — বেল বেজেছে। ছাড়লাম।

পলাশ — দাঁড়াও, দাঁড়াও — তুমি আমাকে আদৌ ফোন কর কেন? সেটা তো বলবে?

অরুণিমা – ছাড়লাম।  

ফোনটা এখন বোবা। পঞ্চাশ বছর আগের শরতের রাঙা একটা দুপুর পলাশের মনে পড়ে। ছবিটা পুরোন হল না। সে চোখ বুজে শোনে কে যেন ফিসফিস করে বলছে — শরীর? শরীর? তোমার মন নাই কুসুম?  

Memories — Haiku


            lovely moon shining --
        behind rain soaked rolling clouds --
            lingers on her face ...

দুখী

শোকাতুর প্রভাকর আপ্তে
পারে নি সে কোনোদিনই মাপতে
ঔচ্চে সে ঢের
নাকি বেশি তার বেড়
কেঁদে মরে প্রভাকর আপ্তে।

Thalia Story

Thalia the Greek
I met by the creek
On a faraway noon
And fell into a swoon.
So I failed alas to teller
That I never ever weller
Loved a girl
Other than
She.
Thus ended
The story of
Thalia ‘n
Me.

Riddle

Halfway across the bridge he stood
And began to scratch his head
Wondering, whether in wisdom should,
He further at all tread.

If the rest of the bridge collapses
And gravity assumes charge
To guide him along will there be mapses?
The query in his mind loomed large.

Should he then, retrace his way
To where he began his journey?
But couldn’t that part of the bridge too sway?
Would surely ask his ‘ttorney.

He stared in vain up at the sky
He stared below in fear
He hadn’t a plane in which to fly
Nor a parachute one could steer.

Which way to go, he never found
He could not solve that riddle
Grew ancient thus he, holding his ground
A fiddler without his fiddle.














Translation of a song by Rabindranath Tagore

Far away, a plaintive tune
Plays the veena of the path kissed by your feet.
This mind mine feels restlessly wayward
What it seeks I do not know alas.

Pursuing in this untamed breeze
Jasmine flavours lost in turbulence
Likewise the heart’s melancholy
So agonizing on this night of separation.

***

The original song baje karuna sure was used by Satyajit Ray in his film Teen Konya (Three Daughters). The background singer was Ruma Guha Thakurta.