Category Archives: Fiction

Pure stories, part fictions based on personal memoirs, translations of Bengali and Japanese fiction.

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.

Of Men, Women and Other Creatures

A little book available at themabooks@yahoo.com

Excerpt from the first story —

And then one day Maganlal Magicwallah disappeared himself. Not because he wished to perform a disappearing trick ...

Contents

Maganlal Magicwallah

Debu-da: Large Man in a Larger World

A Flat Atop the New Market

Girls Vanish

The Dog and I

Of Crows and Men

More or Less

By the time he had made enough money to buy whatever money could buy, he realised that he was too old to recollect what he thought money could buy before he had made enough money to buy, to buy whatever money could buy, and wished that he had made far less money to buy than what money could buy and remembered far more about what he thought money could buy if he had money to buy.  

Mission

I wonder what this bee wants with me. I don’t think it wishes to sting me, but it’s flying too close to me for my comfort. I never invited it in when I went to collect the morning paper. It’s been whizzing past me ever since, not letting me concentrate on the news. Finally, it comes down and perches on the newspaper next to my right thumb. I throw away the newspaper in alarm and run out into the balcony. The bee follows me and disappears somewhere inside the tree facing me from the street. The tree is in full bloom. Like the bee, I don’t know the name of the flowers, but they are lovely to watch. I stare at them as they softly glow under the autumn sun. Quite oblivious of newspapers. I think the bee has accomplished its mission.

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.

 

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.

Waiting — Flash Fiction # 13

They had been waiting for weeks when a few of them pointed out that they had waited for months, and soon enough the months changed to years, till, finally, those who were still alive forgot what they were waiting for, even though they felt vaguely that they had been waiting.