If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, 17 February 2018

What kind of a role model are you Sir?

The prime minister certainly has the right to interact directly with school children across the country, which he did yesterday, at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi, and through video links – to all the CBSE schools in the country. But besides rights, he has an obligation too: to share with the nation what his motives are. We, the ordinary people, too have obligations – to ask questions about those motives, and his moral credentials to address our youth.

Firstly, should it be aired to and made mandatory for every CBSE affiliated school? Should every school be compelled to send a video to prove their compliance? The moment state-sponsored compulsion comes in, the interaction ceases to be free and two-sided. It becomes a case of ramming down a talkative PM and his ideology down the throat of young people who cannot protest.

Secondly, and more importantly, what prime minister?

A man who tears into his political opponents with lies and nothing but lies every day? A man without the faintest sense of history or science? A man whose academic records are fuzzy? A man who has demonstratively lied about selling tea in a non-existing railway station in order to build a fake subaltern image?

A man under whose direct charge 1,500 Indians were brutally murdered and countless more families destroyed? A man whose government went out of its way to protect the murderers and rapists? A man whose political comrades and pet bureaucrats have been hauled up for extra-judicial killings time and again? And in order to prove their innocence, attempts have been made to kill the justice delivery system itself, if not a judge in flesh and blood? A man who equates Muslims being killed in communal strife with puppies coming under a car? A man – despite having unlimited powers in his party and government – who has done nothing to protect innocent Muslims, Christians, and Dalits against brutal violence initiated by his saffron stooges?

No Prime Minister, you are hardly a role model to be presented to the children of our country. If I had school-going children, I would say, ‘No Prime Minister, I don’t think my daughter or son should waste their time on you. In fact, you make a terrible model for the youth of our country.'

Dear Reader, if you were reading this and if you were a parent, what would you do?

Our future depends on your answer.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Carl Marx, died in Russia, buried in Bengal

Rabindra Kumar Dasgupta 
(11 July 1915 – 3 February 2009)

[Translated from ALEEK SANGLAP (UNREAL DIALOGUES) (pp 57-58) published by Gangcheel, Kolkata (2008), in Bangla. To appreciate the context, please keep in mind that this was written towards the end of the Left rule in Bengal, Shortly before the author passed away.]

Engels: The party devoured the society [in Russia].
Marx:  In the end, the society devoured the party.
Engels: But it will never happen in Bengal. For almost two hundred years, Bengalis accepted the British rule. In Bengal today, the party has replaced the British. Everyone seems to be begging for its favours. I can see that in this city [of Kolkata], a new breed of Rai Bahadurs and Rai Sahibs have been created.
Marx:   It saddens me that all this has been happening in my name. I died in Russia; I have been buried here.


Engels: Our theory talked about class struggle. It didn’t talk about uniting the human society. We understood economics, but couldn’t fathom the human mind.
Marx:   Now I see that the world, having forgotten everything else I said, remember only my last speech. On 4th September, 1872, I said in Amsterdam: “I do not deny that there exists countries like America, England, and if I know your institutions better, I would add Holland, where the workers may be able to attain their ends by peaceful means.”
Engels: Even then, I’d say that our philosophy will remain at a special place in the history of human thoughts.
Marx:   But I didn’t want to become history, I wanted to create history.

Translated Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Saturday, 10 February 2018


Abanindra Nath Tagore

[One of the greatest painters of Bengal, Abanindra Nath Tagore also drew stories. Abanindranath almost invented a new language to tell his stories. Here is my translation of one from the collection titled Rajkahini set in Rajasthan.]

Before Shiladitya was born, during the rule of the last king of the Kanakasena dynasty, there was a sacred water tank, Suryakund in Ballabhipur. In a gigantic Sun Temple beside the tank lived a very old priest. He had neither a family, nor friends. The water in the vast Suryakund was blue, like the blue of the sky. And beside it, the old spirited Brahmin Sun worshipper in the temple was as lonely and solitary as the sun in the endless sky. Lighting the lamps, ringing the bell, offering prayers at dawn and dusk – he did everything all by himself. He had no follower, no assistant, and not even one disciple. Every day, the frail old man lifted a heavy brass lamp weighing almost thirty seers and performed arati  of the Sun God. He held the huge bell, which looked liked the crown of a demon king, in his slender hand and rang it. ... And he said to himself: ‘I wish I had a companion! Then I could teach him all this and take rest.’

The Sun God fulfilled his devotee’s wish. On a dark evening in the beginning of the winter, after the sun had set, when the world was covered under a veil of fog, the old priest, after saying his evening prayers was struggling to close the temple gate that was as huge as Bhima's chest. A forlorn Brahmin girl came and stood before him. She was in tattered clothes, but was exceedingly beautiful. It seemed an evening star was seeking shelter in the temple to save herself from cold. The Brahmin noticed that although the girl bore auspicious signs, she was in a widow’s dress. He asked, ‘Who are you? And what do you seek here?’

The girl folded her slender lotus hands and said, ‘Master, I seek shelter. I am the only daughter of a Brahmin Vedic scholar of the Gurjar kingdom, Devaditya. My name is Subhaga, the Lucky One. But I lost my husband on the night of my wedding. And because of that sin, people branded me as inauspicious and threw me out of the kingdom. I had my mother; but even she is no more. Please save me.’

The Brahmin said, ‘How can I help you, unfortunate child? I have nothing to eat, I am extremely poor, and have no friends.’

Although the Brahmin said so, someone whispered into his ears: ‘Ye poor and friendless! make this girl your friend, offer her shelter!’ The Brahmin was in two minds. He wanted to take the girl in, but at the same time, he thought, ‘I have worshipped the Sun in this temple for eighty years; now, in the autumn of my life, should I pass on the responsibility to a stranger?’ He hesitated. That moment, tearing apart the darkness of the world, a slender ray of the sun from the western sky fell on the face of the ill-fated girl. It was as if the Sun God himself pointed a finger and said, ‘I accept her as my disciple! My dear devotee, offer this girl shelter, let this unfortunate widow serve me for as long as she lives.’

The Brahmin folded his hands, bowed to the sun and then took Subhaga, the daughter of Brahmin Devaditya, into the temple.

Many years passed since that day, and Subhaga learnt all the rituals. The only thing that she could never manage to do was to lift the heavy brass lamp with her soft, butter hands. And so, the old priest continued to do the arati. One day, Subhaga noticed, the shrunken body of the old Brahmin was about to crumble. The lamp shook in his trembling hands. That morning, she went to the Ballabhipur bazaar and returned with a small lamp weighing just one seer. Said she, ‘Father! This evening, please offer prayers to the Sun God with this lamp.’

The Brahmin smiled, ‘In the evening, I’ll have to say my prayers with the lamp that I used in the morning. Keep the new one aside for a day. Tomorrow will bring a new dawn, and we’ll do arati with the new lamp.’

The same day, when the sun was directly above their head and the world was flooded by light, the Brahmin taught Subhaga the secret prayer of the Sun God – the prayer that would make the sun come down to meet his devotee, and the prayer that, if recited for a second time in one’s life, would inevitably bring about one’s death.

Then, at the dark confluence of day and night, the lamp of the Brahmin’s life too died out slowly like a flickering lamp. The sun set, plunging the whole world in darkness. Subhaga was alone.

For a few days, she cried her heart out for the old priest. The next few days, she cleared the ground around the temple of wild growths, and planted trees and plants. Then for months, she scrubbed and cleaned the stone walls of the temple and painted on them birds, creepers with leaves, and blooming flowers, elephants and murals depicting stories from the Puranas and history. In the end, Subhaga was left with no work. So she wandered about in the garden. Overtime, as flowers came into buds and fruits began to ripen, a few tiny birds and colourful butterflies flew into her garden, and along with them, came a group of children. The butterflies were happy to sip just a few drops of honey from the flowers, the birds would only peck at a few ripe fruits, but the children ripped off the flowers and broke branches to wreck the garden. But Subhaga didn’t complain; she suffered everything in silence. Her days rolled on absently as she observed little children in colourful dresses playing around on the green grass under the trees.

After some days came the rains. All around, there were dark clouds, thunderclaps, and flashes of lightning. One day, a razor-sharp eastern wind blew in like a tempest, tore leaves and flowers off their stalks, and the garden that she tended with so much care was almost reduced to a barren patch. The flock of birds flew away with the wind; the wings of the butterflies broke, they lay scattered on the ground like petals of dead flowers. The children had left. Subhaga sat in the pouring rain and cried, as she thought about her parents, her heartless in-laws, and recalled the smiling face of her husband on their wedding night. And she said to herself, ‘Oh! How will I spend the rest of my life in this desolate place all alone?’ Tears welled up in her dark eyes, which were as beautiful as a deer’s. As she turned towards the east, darkness met her eyes; there was darkness towards the west, north and south, in every direction. The evening reminded her of the time when she had arrived at the temple. The sky was dark just as it had been then, similar moist winds were blowing, and the great Sun Temple stood broodingly; but alas, where was the old priest who had sheltered the orphaned, unlucky Subhaga in her hour of despair? Like raindrops, two beads of tears rolled off her stunning dark eyes and merged with the darkness. She closed the doors of the temple, lit lamps, and offered prayers. Then, a thought crossed her mind and she started meditating before the deity. Gradually, her eyes became still, the noise of the raging storm and the booming thunders drifted far away. She had neither regrets, nor sorrow. It was as if the darkness of her mind had been wiped off by a scorching sun. Trembling with fear, she said the prayers she had learnt from her foster father. Suddenly, she felt as if the whole world had come to life. She could hear birds warbling, a flute being played far away, and happiness reverberating all around. Then, shaking the sky with the rumbling wheels of his chariot pulled by seven green horses, lighting up the whole world in scintillating orange, the Sun God appeared as if after melting away the temple’s iron gates, and stood before her like a million raging fires. Human eyes cannot stand such light, such brightness. Covering her face with her palms, Subhaga begged, ‘Please spare us, God! Forgive me, the whole world is burning.’

The Sun God said, ‘Fear not, little girl! You may ask for anything you wish.’

As he talked, His brightness turned fainter and fainter, until He became a slender ray on Subhaga’s head, like the vermilion line on the parting of married women. She said, ‘Master, I have neither a husband nor a child, I am a helpless widow, I am all alone. I seek a boon from you: let me not live in this world any more, let my troubles end, let me die.’

Sun said, ‘A god’s boon doesn’t kill anyone, their curse does. Please ask for a boon.’

Subhaga kneeled down before him and said, ‘If you wish to bless me, please give me a son and a daughter. I will live for them. Let my son be as strong as you, let my daughter be as beautiful as a spec of the moon.’

The Sun God said ‘Granted!’ and went away. Slowly, Subhaga drifted into sleep. She spread the end of her sari on the stone floor of the temple and lay down. It started raining heavily. Later, when the dawn was breaking, she heard a few birds warbling beautifully in her devastated garden. After some time, as a golden ray of the morning sun fell on her eyes and she sat up with a start, something pulled the end of her sari. Turning around, she found two little babies sleeping on her sari. By the grace of the Sun God, Subhaga became the mother of two babies as gorgeous as the gods themselves. As the babies had come to the world without anyone knowing about them, Subhaga named them Gayeb and Gayebi.

With the infants in her arms, Subhaga went out. The sun was rising in the east and the moon was setting in the western sky. She noticed, sunlight lit up Gayeb’s face brightly, but the moonlight faded quickly in the dark hair of Gayebi. Subhaga understood that she would not be able to hold on to Gayebi for long.

As Gayeb grew up and started going to a children’s school, Gayebi stayed at home and learnt the tasks performed at the temple. She was quiet and obedient, but Gayeb was unmanageably restless and feisty. Children wanted to play with Gayebi, but her brother became a terror to his classmates. In the end, all of them sat together and decided: Gayeb is far better than us in studies, and is much stronger physically. Let’s make him our king. Then, he won’t torment us any more. So they picked up Gayeb on their shoulders and started dancing. Gayeb was quite pleased to sit on the shoulders of boys who were much smaller than him. After some time, a little boy said, ‘I am the royal priest. I’ll chant mantras and put a tilak on Gayeb’s forehead.’ They made him sit on a mound on the ground. He sat on the earthen throne like a real king and the little boy, after putting the mark of royalty on Gayeb’s brow, asked, ‘Gayeb, we know your name. Who is your mother, and who is you father?’

He answered, ‘My name is Gayeb, my sister’s name is Gayebi and my ma’s name is Subhaga. But what is my father’s name?’

Gayeb did not know that he had come to this world as a boon from the Sun God. Since he didn’t know his father’s name, he looked down in shame. The boys started laughing and clapping, and his face turned crimson. Then he smashed his earthen throne with a mighty kick, smacked the small boys, making their puffy cheeks puffier, and trembling with rage, went straight to the temple. Subhaga was teaching Gayebi how to perform arati with a small lamp, when Gayeb arrived like a storm, snatched the lamp from her hand and threw it away. The solid brass lamp crashed on a stone wall with a loud clank and broke into pieces. And along with that, a black stone with a carved image of the Sun God fell off the wall. Subhaga said, ‘Are you insane? How could you disrupt the arati of the Sun God and insult Him?’

Gayeb replied, ‘I care neither about your sun nor about your god. Tell me, who is my father? If you don’t, I’ll throw the deity into the Suryakund.’

Although no one, not even Bhima himself, could have dislodged that gigantic stone statue, seeing Gayeb’s fury, Subhaga thought he might do anything! She rushed towards him and held his hands. Said she, ‘Calm down, my son! Don’t insult God. What will you do with your father’s name? I am your mother, Gayebi is your sister, what else do you need?’

Gayeb started crying bitterly. He asked between his sobs, ‘Do you mean, mother, that I am no one, that I am as insignificant as the dust on the road, worse than a beggar?’

The words hit Subhaga like sharp arrows; she sat down, covering her face with hands. She said in her mind, ‘Oh God! Why did you do this? How do I explain to this desperate child? How do I pacify him? Gayeb and Gayebi are not to be despised, they are not ordinary, they are children of the Sun, holier than everyone. But who would believe this?’ Subhaga thought of the secret prayer of the Sun God, but recalled, if she would recite it the second time, she would die. She did not want to leave her two little children, the mother in her cried out in pain …. She said, ‘Son, let’s not talk about this, let’s go away from here. Try to believe that the Sun God is your father.’

Gayeb shook his head; he didn’t believe his mother. Then she said, ‘Shut the doors. You’ll soon see your father, but you’ll lose your mother for ever.’

Tears started flowing down her cheeks. Gayebi implored, ‘Brother, why do you make ma suffer?’

Without replying, Gayeb started closing the temple doors. Subhaga sat down before the deity of the Sun God for meditation, with her children on her sides. There was a time when she had wished to die and had recited the same mantra without fear, but now, she thought of her children and felt the mantra was an agent of death, like a venomous serpent. She recited it with terror. As the Sun God appeared, the temple seemed to have been drowned in a deluge of blood … He looked massive and frightening. Subhaga asked, ‘Master, who is the father of Gayeb and Gayebi?’

The Sun God did not utter a single word. His searing heat burnt poor Subhaga into ashes. Gayebi cried out in terror, ‘Ma! Ma!’

Gayeb asked calmly, ‘Where is our ma?’

Once again, the Sun God did not reply. He only pointed towards a pile of ash on the floor. Gayeb realised that their mother was no more. With eyes blazing in grief and anger, he picked up the piece of stone with the Sun God’s image carved on it and threw it at him. The stone, which looked like the head of Yama's buffalo, was deflected off the God’s crown like a piece of burning ember. Gayeb fainted.

He sat up after a long time. By then, the God had left. Gayebi alone was sitting beside him. He asked, ‘Where is He?’

Gayebi showed him the black stone and said, ‘This is the Adityasheela . If you hit anyone with it, they will die. The Sun has given it to you. He said he himself is your father, and from now on, your name will be Shiladitya. Your descendents will be known as the Sun Dynasty; they will rule over the world. And He has left his chariot drawn by seven horses at your command. Whenever you wish, it will come out of the Suryakund for you. Brother, it’s time for you to go out on the Sun’s chariot, Adityasheela in hand. Go and conquer the world!’

Gayeb said, ‘But where do I leave you, sister?’

Gayebi said, ‘Brother, please leave me here. I’ll eat fruits from the trees in the temple garden and drink the water of the kund. When you become an emperor, please take me to your palace.

A happy Gayeb left his sister behind in the temple and went on a conquest, riding the chariot drawn by seven great horses. Gayebi immersed the ashes of her mother in the holy waters of the Suryakund, fell on the stone floor and cried bitterly for her mother and Gayeb.

That night, when there were no stars in the sky and no light in the world, the Sun Temple shook with a deafening noise. Almost half the temple, including the gigantic statue of the Sun God, started sliding down towards the womb of the earth, taking the soft, wispy, beautiful Gayebi along. She tried to save herself, but couldn’t. She tried to crawl up, but she slipped as the stone wall was smooth as glass. She cried, ‘Brother!’ and fell down, unconscious. Everything came to an end, darkness enveloped the world.

Many years passed. Gayeb went around on the Sun’s chariot, collected an army of soldiers from different countries, conquered many kingdoms and in the end, returned to defeat the king of Ballabhipur in a war. Gayeb killed him by throwing the Adityasheela at him. Then, taking the name Shiladitya, he ascended the throne, made his former classmates ministers and generals and drove away the infirm and useless employees of the former king. Then on a fine day he married Puspavati, the princess of Chandravati, amidst blaring of bugles and conch shells and retired to his marble palace. Late in the night, when the world was still, when the maid fanning him had nodded off beside his feet and the golden lamp near his head had almost died out, Shiladitya saw his lovely little sister in a dream. He felt she was looking at him from far away, and heard a feeble cry from the direction of the Sun Temple: ‘Brother! Brother …’

He woke up with a fierce cry. By then, it had been dawn. Without wasting a moment, he rushed to the Sun Temple in his chariot, with soldiers in tow. The massive gate of the temple was firmly shut; vines grown over years had tied it up like iron chains. Shiladitya removed the creepers with his own hands to open it. As daylight fell on the dark interiors of the temple, bats flew out. Shiladitya entered the temple. As he looked towards where the deity used to be, he found darkness hanging like a black curtain. Shiladitya shouted, ‘Gayebi, Gayebi, where are you?’

The darkness responded, ‘Oh poor Gayebi, where is she?’

Shiladitya asked for a torch. In the torchlight, he found that the northern part of the temple had vanished, gone underground. Only the heads of seven stone horses rose above the ground like the hood of a gigantic serpent. He found no trace of the room where he had played with Gayebi, where they had drifted into sleep in their mother’s arms after listening to stories of the Gurjar kingdom, the room where the brass lamp like a deodar tree had been kept. He stood before the deep chasm and called out, ‘Gayebi! Gayebi!’

His sad voice rebounded off the walls of that endless hollow and trailed away farther and farther, up to the gates of hell. A devastated Gayeb returned to his palace.

That day, following the king’s order, workers started covering every inch of the temple with plates of gold. Shiladitya did not install another idol there. The seven horses of the Sun God continued to look up from the dark chasm. Afterwards, Shiladitya got the sides of the water tank covered with gleaming marble slabs brought from the best mines. Whenever there was a war, he prayed to the Sun God sitting beside Suryakund. Immediately, seven horses would pull up the chariot from the depths of the kund. Shiladitya was invincible when he was on that chariot. In the end, a minister whom he liked and trusted more than anyone else betrayed him and brought about disaster. But for that minister, no one knew that the Sun’s chariot came out of the Suryakund for Shiladitya.

When uncivilised aliens called Parads from the land of Shyamnagar on the other side of the seas invaded Ballabhipur, the traitor conspired with them and for the sake of money, poured cow’s blood into the holy tank to desecrate it. On the day of the battle, Shiladitya prayed to the Sun God, but the chariot did not appear. He called the seven horses by their seven names again and again, but alas, there was not a ripple on the water. A dispirited Shiladitya went to the battlefield on another chariot to combat his enemies. After battling through the day, the Sun God’s gift to the world died as the sun set in the west. The brute enemies destroyed the Sun Temple and left after looting and sacking Ballabhipur.

Translated on Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Sunday, 4 February 2018


[In the six decades since I was a child, two new generations have arrived, the air has acquired more carbon dioxide, summers have become hotter, winters erratic, the world has become Mammon worshippers almost completely …

And people no longer drop in at each other’s homes.

Here is my translation of Partha Kar’s “আত্মীয়”, a stunningly beautiful account of a time that was so near, yet so far away. The original follows. I have skipped a few lines, and taken marginal liberties with Partha’s contents. I hope he will approve of the English version.

Breaking practice, I am tagging this to friends who themselves write beautifully, or who I know enjoy reading good stuff. But please do untag if you wish, I won’t mind in the least.]

Relatives / Partha Kar

Please tell me, do people visit each other these days? Like they used to, after the space of a year, or maybe, a year and a half, someone wearing a neat dhoti or a delicately pleated sari, holding the wooden handle of a yellowish burlap bag with “Jai Durga Cloth Store” printed on it, all of a sudden? An embarrassed smile pasted on their face, as if saying, ‘Sorry, I’ve come again, it would be a heck of a trouble for you!’, they cross the courtyard in uncertain steps, worried that anyone seeing them would create such a ruckus that the entire neighbourhood would come to know of the visit. And when that happened, they would protest mildly, ‘You see, I’ve been planning to drop in for such a long time, just couldn’t manage to …!’ As they rehearse these lines, they also think, ‘That corner looks rather empty. There was something there. But what was it?’

By then, someone will have come out and bent down to touch their feet and say, ‘So at last, you remembered us? When you came last, there was such a fabulous crop of mangoes that year, you said, ‘Just wait and see, I’d visit you every summer from now on!’

Does such things happen any more?

Spotting from the veranda someone who was in familiar clothes, with a familiar bearing, at the crossroads – you get to see someone only when they reach that point – the thrill of discovering them as they get off a rickshaw or a van?

Within their bag used to be another bag, and still within, an inevitable, slightly wet earthen pot covered with old newspaper, tied up with cords.

They would stay back. Some of them would stay even for a fortnight, holding everyone in a thrall, by telling countless anecdotes, anecdotes about the fish in their pond, anecdotes about their village lake and their shapla weeds, anecdotes about the aals criss-crossing their paddy fields, anecdotes about their quiet cow and her mischievous calf.

They would also ask, ‘Why does the place near the entrance look empty? What was there?’

‘Yes, we did have a kamini there. It was spreading its branches, it almost got into the house, Na Kaka, he was in an bad mood that day, he just hacked it off.’

We would have gotten used to the absence, but they used to feel a kind of emptiness, ‘Cut it off? You could have sheared it a bit and kept it?’

They would hate missing anything in the house.

When they came, we would deliberately spare less time for our playmates. We wanted them to ask, ‘Has anyone come to your house?’

And we would jump up to respond, ‘Yes, we have guests, our relatives, didn’t you know?’

They would probe deeper, ‘Oh really? Who is it? What gifts have the brought for you?’

We would give them the low-down, with a touch of pride.

The guests wouldn’t spend time idly, they would accompany us everywhere. They would watch our games with keenness in their eyes, and later, we talked nineteen to the dozen to analyse the afternoons packed with stories.

They would say, ‘Babu, you can run real fast! And the girl who was the den, she too is smart.’

‘Smart? Not at all, she is actually dumb!’

At night, they would sleep in one of the spare bedrooms. If there was no spare room, in the same room. Spreading themselves on a pleasant bed made on a mat of date palm leaves, with a cotton mattress, an old bedspread and a saggy pillow, they would say, ‘After all, we are sons of the soil, I’ve slept on ground since I was this small. I would hate to sleep on a cot at your place. At home too, Bishu has got a cot made for me, but still, I prefer sleeping on the floor. This IS fine!’

As the day of their going away drew close, our afternoons became bland. And we would conspire to keep them longer, at least a day longer; and we would draw up such insanely impossible plans!

They too were considerate. They would announce departure after leaving a cushion of a day or two. When after supper they reached the point of packing bags, we would start nagging. ‘Please stay back for a day. What important work do you have at home?’

Baba and ma would give us an earful to begin with, but later, they would change side. We would jump up and down like an army that has smelled victory, and start shouting: ‘No, no, no! You aren’t going tomorrow, say that you aren’t going, PLEASE say!’

At last, the golden moment of the fairy-tale night: the blue fairy comes down, ‘Thik aachhe, thik aachhe, okay, I’m not going. But the day after tomorrow, I must start at the crack of dawn, don’t stop us then!’

I have never ever come across a more blissful moment of happiness. (Do you think the match had been fixed along with our parents?)

But the moment of parting would arrive, ultimately. Defying all our prayers, god wouldn’t grant us the boon of an earthquake, bus strike, or someone falling ill at home; even the guest himself didn’t suffer a stomach upset, nothing!

They would pack their bag, ma would pack fresh fruits and vegetables from the farm, a little date palm jaggery wrapped in old newspaper, and she would cover her nose with the free end of her sari – she didn’t have a cold, but her voice would sound rather damp.

And they would say, ‘What all are you giving? How can I carry all this? And in any case, I’m coming again next summer!’

We felt a lump in our throat and an emptiness in our heart. Did anyone cut off a kamini plant there too? We wouldn’t risk talking. We would just nod to ‘Study well, Babu, Bunu, and you mustn’t trouble ma.’ And try to stop the tears welling up in our eyes by drawing a design of desolation on the ground beneath our feet.

Then, a knot would be unravelled in a corner of a handkerchief or the end of a sari, and out will come a ten-, twenty-, or fifty-rupee note folded multiple times, ‘This is for sweets.’

As they talked, did we notice a delicate tremble in their voice too? These faded pieces of papers would carry in their folds many an anecdote of their ponds, the smell of the payesh made with the milk of kalmigai, and the smell of a tawny afternoon beside a lake with shapla weeds. And … the smell of a distant prayer.

As they left, ma would say, ‘Come again. Let’s see, we too must find the time to visit you.’

A van rickshaw would arrive. As they sat down with their feet dangling, one of us would say, ‘Be careful, don’t get caught in the wheel.’

They would look below and move their feet a little, even if they were away from the wheel.

Ma would say, ‘Drop a postcard when you reach.’

We would shout, ‘Be careful.’

For as long as we could see, we would keep looking. At last, they would look up, wave, and we wouldn’t see them anymore.

It feels empty, very empty. For as long as our eye can reach, there is no one walking up with a burlap bag, bending slightly on one side.

Or maybe, we don’t have any space in our heart any more.

Actually, these days, we live in void.

Translated on Sunday, 04 February 2018



আচ্ছা আজকাল আর কেউ বেড়াতে আসে ? সেই যে এক-দেড় বছর পর একটা পরিপাটি ধুতি বা শাড়ি পরে কোঁচাকুঁচি দিয়ে জয়দুর্গা বস্ত্রালয় লেখা পাটের সুতোর হলদেটে ্যাগের হাতল 'রে নিয়ে হঠাৎ 'রে ? সেই মুখে একটা সলাজ হাসি, যেন এই যে আবার এসে 'ড়ে অসুবিধে 'রে ফেললাম' জাতীয় অপরাধবোধ নিয়ে আঙিনা পেরিয়ে আসা সন্তর্পনে, প্রথম কেউ দেখে ফেলবে আর উচ্চকিত ঘোষণায় বাড়ি মাথায় করবে.. আর তখন তিনি মৃদু মৃদু প্রতিবাদসহ কীভাবে বলবেন, 'আর বলিসনে, কদ্দিন 'রে আসবো আসবো করছি.. তা কি আর হয়ে উঠছে ?'... এই ভাবনা আউড়াতে আউড়াতে দরজায় এগোচ্ছেন আর ভাবছেন, 'এই জা'গাটা খালি খালি লাগছে কেন ? কী ছিলো.. কী ছিলো !'

ততক্ষণে কেউ এগিয়ে এসে প্রণাম করতে করতে বলবে, 'বাব্বা এতদিনে মনে পড়লো! সেই গতবছরের আগের জষ্টিতে এসে 'লে গেলে, দেখিস এবার ফী বছর আসবো !'
হয় এমন আর ?

সেই যে কাউকে ঢুকতে দ্যাখা, সেই পরিচিত পোশাকের মেজাজের একজনকে বাড়ির বারান্দা বা দাওয়া থেকে দেখতে পাওয়া রাস্তার মোড়ে, যেখানে এলে তবেই প্রথম কেউ দৃষ্টিসীমার মধ্যে আসে.. সেই মোড়েই একটা রিকশা বা ভ্যান থেকে নামতে দেখে ফেলার রোমাঞ্চ ?

তাঁরা আসতেন, তাঁদের ব্যাগের ভিতর থাকতো ব্যাগ.. তাঁরও ভিতরে হয়তো পুঁটলি, একটা খবরের কাগজ মোড়া সুতলির হাতল ওলা ভেজা ভেজা অবশ্যম্ভাবী মাটির হাঁড়ি...

তাঁরা থাকতেন... কেউ কেউ তো পনেরো দিন পর্যন্তও, জমিয়ে রাখতেন গল্পেগুজবে.. তাঁর বাড়ির পুকুরের মাছের গল্পে, শাপলাবিলের ধারের আউশের ক্ষেতের আলের গল্প, তাঁর গোয়ালের লক্ষ্মীগাইয়ের দুষ্টু বাছুরের গল্পে

আর তাঁরা জিজ্ঞেস করতেন, 'তোদের দোরের কাছটা এমন ফাঁকা ফাঁকা ঠেকছে কেন বলতো ? কী ছিলো ওখানে...'

আমরা বলতাম, 'আরে ওখানে সেই কামিনীটা ছিলো তো ! ডাল বেড়ে বেড়ে ঘরেই ঢুকে যাচ্ছিলো.. 'কাকা রাগ 'রে কেটেই দিয়েছে '

আমাদের সেসব সয়ে যেতো কিন্তু তাঁদের কেমন ফাঁকা ফাঁকা বোধ হতো তাঁরা বলতেন, 'পুরো কেটে ফেললি ! ছেঁটেছুটে রাখতে পারতি' '

তাঁদের বাড়ির কিছু কম পড়লে ভালো লাগতো না

তাঁরা এলে মা আগে বলতো, 'নাও তাড়াতাড়ি জামাকাপড় ছাড়ো.. এই লুঙিটা নাও, আর ওই গামছা.. দেখো, কলপাড় খুব পিছল কিন্তু.. 'ড়ে যেও না ! চান 'রে এসেই খেয়ে নাও..সেই কখন খেয়ে বেরিয়েছো !'

তাঁরা আপত্তি করতেন না, তাঁরা বলতেন না.. 'না না আমি জামাকাপড় নিয়ে এসেছি, আমার গামছা আছে ব্যাগে !'

তাঁরা বরং বলতেন, 'কোন বালতিটা নেবো ? গায়ে মাখার সরষের তেলের শিশিরটা কই ? এখন যেন আবার কিছু রাঁধতে যাসনে.. যা আছে তাই দিয়ে দিস ! বাবু, বুনু খেয়েছে তো ? ওদের না হয় আমার সাথেই বসিয়ে দিস '

তাঁরা এলে আমরা পাশের বাড়ের সামনে দিয়ে খেলার বন্ধুদের সঙ্গে ইচ্ছাকৃত একটু কম সময় দিতাম... ইচ্ছে করতো তারা জিজ্ঞেস করুক... 'কী রে তোদের বাড়িতে কেউ এয়েছে নাকি ?'

তখনই আমরা বলে উঠবো, 'আমাদের বাড়ি আত্মীয় এয়েছে তো, জানো না !'

তারা আবার জানতে চাইবে, ' মা তাই ! কে এলো কে এলো.. কী আনলো রে তোদের জন্য ?'

আমরা সগর্বে সেসবের ফিরিস্তি নিয়ে বসে যাবো  

তাঁরা এসে বসে থাকতেন না, আমাদের সাথে ঘুরতেন, আমাদের খেলার আসর খুব মন দিয়ে পর্যবেক্ষণ করতেন.. তারপর সন্ধ্যায় সেইসব ঘটনাবহুল বিকালের ময়নাতদন্ত করতে করতে আমরা বাড়ি মাথায় করতাম

তাঁরা বলতেন, 'আরে বাবু তুই তো দারুণ ছুটতে পারিস.. ওই যে তোদের বুড়ি হয়েছিলো মেয়েটা ..- কিন্তু খুব চালাক.. '

আমরা খেই 'রে নিতাম

চালাক ! কী যে বলো... এট্টা হদ্দ বোকা... জানো সেদিন ...'

তাঁরা রাতে আমাদের কোনো একটা বাড়তি ঘরে শুতেন, ঘর না থাকলে একই ঘরে মাটিতে বেশ পরিপাটি 'রে খেঁজুরপাটি, তোষক আর একটা পুরোনো বিছানার চাদর দিয়ে বানানো বিছানায় আরাম 'রে শুতেন, তাঁরা বলতেন, 'আর আমরা বাপু মাটির মানুষ, চিরকাল মাটিতে শোয়া অব্যেস বাড়ি খাট বানিয়ে দিয়েছে আমার বিশু, তাও আমি সেই মেঝেতেই শুই তোদের বাড়ি এসে বিছানায় শোয়া মোটে পোষায় না এই- ঠিক আছে '

তাঁদের চলে যাওয়ার দিন এগিয়ে এলে আমাদের বারবেলাগুলো বিস্বাদ হয়ে যেতো, কীভাবে আরও একদিন, আর একদিন অন্তত আটকে রাখা যায়..তা নিয়ে কত অবাস্তব কল্পনা করতাম

তাঁরাও বিবেচক ছিলেন, এক দু'দিন হাতে রেখেই বলতেন রাতের খাওয়ার পর যখন ব্যাগ গুছিয়ে রাখার কথা এসে পড়তো, তখনই শুরু হতো আমাদের আবদারের ঘ্যান ঘ্যান... আরেকটা দিন..আরেকটা দিন থেকে যাও না.. বাড়ি কী এত কাজ তোমার ! বাবা মা দাবড়েটাবড়েও শেষমেশ আমাদেরই সমর্থন করতো আর তখুনি জয়ের গন্ধ পাওয়া সেনার মতো তুড়ুক নাচন শুরু হয়ে যেতো আমাদের ..'না না না কাল যাওয়া হবে না..ওসব জানিনে, বলো যাবে না...বলো...'

অবশেষে সেই রূপকথার রাতের নীলপরী নেমে আসার মাহেন্দ্রক্ষণ..'ঠিক আছে রে বাবা যাচ্ছিনে.. তবে পরশু ভোরে উঠেই রওনা দেবো কিন্তু, একদম আটকাবিনে '
সেই আনন্দে-মুহূর্তের কোনো বিকল্প এখনও পাইনি  

আচ্ছা বাবামা' সাথে ওঁদের এই একদিন থেকে যাওয়াটা গট আপ ছিলো, না ?
তারপর, তাঁদের যাওয়ার সময় সত্যিই এসে যেতো ঠাকুরের কাছে প্রার্থনা মোতাবেক ঝড় দুর্যোগ ভূমিকম্প বাসবন্ধ বা আমাদের কারও খুব শরীর খারাপ বা তাঁর নিজেরই পেটখারাপ... কিছুই হতো না

তাঁরা ব্যাগ গুছিয়ে নিতেন... মা খেতের সবজি, ফল পাকুড় একটু খেঁজুর গুড় পোটলা বেঁধে বেঁধে দিতো আর মাঝে মাঝে আঁচল দিয়ে নাক মুছতো.. মা' কিন্তু সর্দি লাগেনি আদৌ তখন, তবু একটা সর্দিবিজড়িত নাক টানার শব্দ হতো মাঝেমাঝেই ..

তাঁরা বলতেন, 'কত কী দিচ্ছিস রে.. কী 'রে নিয়ে যাই বলতো.. আবার তো সামনের জষ্টিতেই আসছি.. '

আমাদের গলার কাছটায় কী একটা দলা পাকাতো, বুকের কাছটায় কী একটা ফাঁকা ফাঁকা লাগতো... সেখানেও কি কোনো কামিনী গন্ধরাজ কেটে ফেলতো কেউ ?
কথা বলার ঝুঁকি নিতাম না,.. 'ভালো 'রে পোড়ো বাবু, বুনু... মা' কথা শুনো..' এসবের উত্তরে ক্রমাগত মাথা নেড়ে সম্মতি জানাতাম, আর পায়ের বুড়ো আঙুল মাটিতে উদ্গত কান্নার স্বরলিপি এঁকে এঁকে গলার কাছের ব্যথার দলাটিকে হালকা করতে চাইতো

তারপর তার হাতের রুমালের গিঁট খুলে, বা তাঁদের পকেটের কাগজের ভাঁজ থেকে, বা তাঁদের আঁচলের খুঁট থেকে বেরিয়ে আসতো দু'তিন ভাঁজ করা একেকটা দশ কুড়ি বা পঞ্চাশের নোট

নে, মিষ্টি খাস..' এটা বলতে বলতে তাঁদের গলাও কি কেঁপে যেতো ? কোন দূর দোয়াবের গন্ধ মাখা, কোন দূরকাল থেকে জমিয়ে রাখা এই রঙচটা কাগজের ভাঁজেভাঁজে লুকিয়ে থাকতো তাঁদের বাড়ির পুকুরের গল্প, কলমীগায়ের দুধের পায়েসের গন্ধ আর শাপলাবিলের জারুলরঙা দুপুর

তাঁরা যাওয়ার আগে মা, বাবা বলতো, 'আবার এসো, দেখি সময় 'রে আমরা যাবো একবার '

একটা মালবওয়া ভ্যান এসে যেতো, তার সামনের দিকে পা ঝুলিয়ে তাঁরা বসে পড়লে আমরা কেউ বলে উঠতাম, 'দেখো, চাকার ভিতর কাপড় জড়িয়ে না যায় ' তাঁরা নীচেয় তাকিয়ে পা একটু সরিয়ে নিয়ে বসতেন ... 

মা বলতো , 'পৌঁছে চিঠি দিও কিন্তু…'

কেউ চেঁচিয়ে বলতাম সাবধানে

যতক্ষণ চোখ যায়, যতক্ষণ দেখা যায় আমরা দেখতাম ..

শেষ পর্যন্ত তাঁরা তাকাতেন, হাত তুলতেন আর দৃষ্টিসীমার বাইরে হারিয়ে যেতেন

আমরা তখন কেউ কারও দিকে তাকাতাম না..ধীর পায়ে ফিরতাম, দরজার কাছে এসে চমকে উঠতাম.. বুকের কাছে বড্ডো খালিখালি লাগতো.. কী যেন নেই, কী যেন ছিলো..এখন নেই

দোরগোড়ায় কামিনী গাছটার কথা মনে পড়তো..

ফাঁকা লাগতো..

ওদিকে ঘর বাড়ানো হবে, গন্ধরাজটার মৃত্যুদণ্ড ঘোষণা হয়েছে.. আবার কোনোদিন কেউ এসে বলবে, 'হ্যাঁ রে, এইখানে কী ছিল বলতো..কেমন ফাঁকা ফাঁকা লাগছে '
ওকে বাঁচাতে হবে কিছু বাঁচিয়ে রাখতে হবে ... এখুনি ..এরপর আর সময় থাকবে না
আসলে এরপর আর কেউ বলতেই আসবে না, 'হ্যাঁ রে, এইখানটা এতো ফাঁকা ফাঁকা লাগছে কেন রে ?'
খুব ফাঁকা লাগছে.. খুব দৃষ্টিসীমার মধ্যে কেউ নেই যে একট ব্যাগ নিয়ে একপাশে কাত হয়ে হেঁটে এগিয়ে আসছে

আসলে আমাদের বুকে আর জায়গা নেই বোধহয়  

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