Translated from the original Bengali short story titled ‘Kalo Sukh’ written by Smt. Suchitra Bhattacharya, a very popular and renowned writer of novels, short stories, adventure fictions for young readers besides several other writings on a variety of themes. Smt. Bhattacharya died a premature death a few years ago causing immense loss to Bengali Literature. She, despite her extreme busy schedule, had gone through this translated version of her story and had kindly accorded her full approval.
I sat down to examine answer scripts for the B.Sc. Part-II Exam. The Head Examiner was naggingly pursuing and sixty-two scripts had remained still to be gone through. It was for sure that I wouldn’t be able to have a wink of sleep that night. Manasi had nicely arranged for keeping sleep at bay. A flask full of coffee was waiting on the table.
I had just picked up the third of answer script and was ready to put a mark against an error in red ink when the phone on landline started ringing. Almost instantly Manasi shouted from the next room, “Don’t you hear? Pick up the phone”.
Who is it?
“Your ex-colleague — Arindam Chowdhury”.
As soon as the name entered in my head my eyebrow curled up as if by a reflex action.
I picked up the phone on the parallel line and said, “Hello, Arindam Da. Tell me what is it? What kept you silent so long?”
“I just thought that I would get in touch with you to enquire how things are going. You resigned from the job long back and it seems that you have forgotten us all”.
I could not turn down the acquisition right away. I had resigned from Government Service and had taken a teaching job in a college about two years back. So, the link with my previous service life was getting weak to weaker. It was destined to be so. The job, the working environment there, the people around, none of those was to my liking. I spent long seven years in a stifling atmosphere. Every time I felt as if I was spending my time in a place, which was stinking with the bad odour of a fish go down. A conviction was growing on me as if I would soon start to stink in the same way. There were so many corrupting allurements all around. Money would flow like anything, just waiting to be grabbed. I had my postings first at Siliguri then at Bardhaman and when I got transferred to Howrah, I got this offer of college lecturer ship and heaved a deep sigh of relief. Of course, every establishment has some exceptions who keep them away from allurements like rare species. A few of them would ring up me from time to time for some occasional chats. They would share with me some of the developments of the office and whispers from the grapevines. But Arindam Chowdhurey surely did not belong to this group of rare species. Rather, most befittingly he deserved to be known as key character on the other extreme. So, I had no motivation of keeping my relation alive with him.
So I returned a loose reply, “Can’t manage time dear brother, as you know, I was on the verge of forgetting my own subject of study, when I was on the Government job. That’s why for updating my knowledge, I am finding it a compulsive necessity to put in some extra time than would be otherwise necessary. Simultaneously, I have to keep apart also some time for commuting to the college and for the journey back, not to speak of devoting time for examination, invigilation and various other responsibilities”.
“Bravo! You appear to have remained unchanged! Dead serious! You have not changed even after joining your teaching job.”
“May I know, what you actually want to mean?”
“What I mean is that the teaching community tops the list of shirkers.”
Arabindam Da belongs to that class of persons who are always in the habit of finding fault with those in other professions. It was liable to be so, as he would always see the same of face of himself in the mirror taking that to be of others. If you are a rotten guy, you are expected to judge others by your own standard. Not differently by any means. As if as a slip of tongue a reply shot out of my mouth –
“So far I remember, your father was a school teacher, isn’t Arindam Da?”
“Leave the case of my father. He was a downright stupid fellow. He would keep his wife and his kids fasting to stay glued to his morals. That apart, time has changed, the teachers are now well paid, not half paid as they used to be earlier. With heir fat salary they now stink of money, wealth and power, but are blissfully forgetting their responsibility to teach. They are thriving on their sideline profession of private tuition -- minting money by extorting the parents of their wards”, -- Arindam Chowdhury broke into a loud laughter and then said – “Ok, let it go. Getting down to business, what I rang you up for is that I want you to take care of my son”.
‘Take Care! What you want me to do? What responsibility are you talking of?” -- It came to me as if as a bolt from the blue.
“You must be knowing that I have given my younger son ‘Ronnie’ the best ever possible schooling. When I got transferred from Siliguri, I got him admitted in Saint Augustine School. A very expensive school! It needed donation of an amount of one lakh at the beginning and rupees three thousand towards tuition fee. Besides, you need to pay a lot on other accounts, almost everyday. I engaged six private tutors for him before his secondary examination. Still he could not do quite well in the final exam. He managed to get star marks, but his score for mathematics has been poor.
The skunk whom I engaged as the private tutor for mathematics was always mindful of downing extra dose of maths for him, but never cared to make him understand the problems in the right way. So, I thought why it can’t be you who should teach him that subject?”
“Why not? I need a sincere professor like you, so that Ronnie’s base of understanding of Mathematics builds on a solid foundation. I want him to compete for Joint Entrance Examination.”
“But ..…. you know Arindam Da, I don’t give tuition to anybody. But since it’s you, send him to my place at his convenience. I will give guidance as far as I can.”
“No, no, I don’t need any favour of yours. I want you to give coaching to him twice a week at your level best manner. I will pay -- whatever amount you may demand, one thousand, one thousand five hundred, two thousand ……”
“I understood, what others want to mean when they speak of someone treating the earth as a tiny saucer from audacity grown out of being rich. He appeared to have lost sense about whom he was talking to. However, I stomached my feeling of disgust and sent down a cold reply.”
“Sorry, Arindam Da, I am the last person to accept money to teach privately. I stick to this as my principle.”
As if this slapped a daunting effect on Arindam Chowdhury. There was no reply for a few seconds from the other end. Then the voice resumed, -- “All right. I gave you the offer being known to me since long. Now I find that I shall have to get hold of another tutor. Many would simply die to grab the offer. I hope you know this”.
Such an insulting and uncivilized comment was only natural from an out and out dishonest person like Arindam Chowdhury. So, I coldly replied, “That’s a good decision, Arindam Da. When you have money you don’t have to worry.”
“The voice of your reply sounds to be queer. Did it hurt your ego?”
“No, no. You know and expected to use your own language. Don’t you agree? …Let’s drop the topic and tell me how things are going on.”
“Oh! First class, as always. I am capturing my fouls, slaughtering them and gulping down every drop of blood, not allowing a single drop to reach the dust. Ha-ha-ha--.”
“Take care Dada, mind to go slow on your hunting. You are getting old and over eating may cause indigestion.”
“No, not a chance. I have a stomach which matches only that of Ravana. I can open my mouth as wide as a Rhinoceros. I can gulp down the entire globe itself.”
“That I know very well. Still … it does not harm being careful.”
“You are still in the habit of handing down unsolicited advices for others. My dear brother, you have seen me for long three years from very close corners. You know very well, how many bastards tried to put me in tight spots on multitude of occasions and in what multifarious ways. But could anybody touch a single strand of my hair? The other day the Secretary of the Department who took over charges recently tried to transfer me to ‘Mathabhanga’ just planning to cause some damage for me. The transfer list was ready. But just before the order got released I played my card and deactivated his efforts entirely. Everyone has his father and on this occasion also the one up above the Secretary did the trick. It was the Minister himself. Of course, I had to part with a few of my bucks and nothing else. I got this compensated too, later. In the subsequent three months’ time I managed to make a fortune and minted money five times of what I had spent. I am contemplating if I should enter the chamber of the Secretary one day in my ‘brief’ only and give him a piece of belly dance show.”
The man is capable of anything and everything. In my tenure of seven years in Government service I did not come across any other single person who is so desperate about taking bribes. He is of that kind who is not only content by eating but takes perverse pleasure in describing in detail about what he has eaten. One wouldn’t believe if he does not see him face-to-face to what extent of distress he can put his clients to. He needs money, he needs huge variety of amusement and simultaneously he would treat his clients as badly as possible. He does not consider anybody to be human. When I was posted in Siliguri I experienced this first time how he would harass the persons who would come to see him for business and sit opposite to his chair. It happened quite often that a person for my presence was hesitating to hand him money, put into an envelope for payment of bribe. Arindam Da would instantly shout at him, “Don’t be silly and behave like a prostitute. Put the money on the table. Let me check whether you have removed some notes from the bundles you have handed me?” When the face of the client would turn pale under impact of direct insult inflicted on him, Arindam Da would start grinning. One day it happened that a person had come to see him, immaculately dressed in suits. As soon as he had lighted a cigar sitting opposite to him, which created instant annoyance for Arindam Chowdhury, he abused the person like anything. To my utter surprise I found, few seconds later, Arindma Da to get that very person to send somebody to market to buy very expensive five packets of foreign cigarettes. It hardly needs mention that the money was paid by that same insulted person. The crudity of all these happenings still sends a feeling of nausea down my stomach.
With a tinge of rebuke in my voice I said, “So, what holds you back, go and perform the dance show for entertainment of Mr. Secretary you are referring to.”
“Entertainment! Very, very well said. For this sense of humour of yours, may be your ‘Boudi’* still remembers you and speak of you at times.”
“Is that so? How is she keeping now.”
“Quite fine. Eating, sleeping and putting on weight. That apart, she is spoiling her son with over doses of affection.”
“And what abut Masima?”*
“She is also keeping well. You know that I have left nothing for my mother, wife and sons to complain about. I have arranged everything for their comfort. Why don’t you come down to my place one day? They will be happy to meet you. They did not see you after we left Siliguri.”
Of whatever kind Arinmdam Chowdhury as a person may be, I had grown some degree of intimacy with his mother and wife when I was staying at Siliguri. Then I was a bachelor and I must admit that I was well taken care of by them. Every week I would receive at least one invitation from them and also received palatable dishes at regular intervals from their end. At least for the sake of those memories and gratitude I could not decline his offer right away. At this other end of the telephone I nodded my head and said, “Yes, surely I would mind to drop in some day.“
I was not aware when Manasi had come silently and stood behind me. As soon as I put down the telephone I discovered a twinkle of curiosity in her eyes. She appeared to have been hurt in a way, hearing that I turned down the offer of Arindam Da. She said, “You always blow everything out of proportion. What might be the harm if you taught the boy?”
I was amazed and without suppressing my feeling I said, “How can you expect me to do that? Don’t you know, that is not permitted under law?”
“Oh! My God! You say as if everyone around is bothering to abide by the law you speak of!”
“Besides that, your college is located at Naihati. Who can find out what you are doing if you give private tuition sitting at Tollygunj to a few students?”
“Don’t talk rubbish. I can’t go against my conscience”.
“Conscience! That word exists in the dictionary only for the timid persons like you. Why don’t you understand, you are not going to earn without putting in any extra labour like your colleagues in your earlier establishment. You will earn it as a compensation for your work. The eyelashes of Manasi fluttered meaningfully for some seconds, -- “Mind you, you will earn two thousand per month which aggregates twenty-four thousand per year. You can measure up, simply at the cost of a little labour we can manage a lavish trip to Kulu-Manali.”
“I could not suppress a smile. I raised my finger and in a gesture of mock warning, told her, “Don’t tempt me woman. Goading me to do that, later you will find me always engaged in washing blood off my hand. Understand?”
You are destined to die if you choose to be avaricious -- the scriptures say. If Manasi has no faith in such maxims, I have every inclination to believe. Though it hardly happens in reality in world around us what the maxim implies, it came true as an event in respect of Arindam Da one day. Though he did not really die for his avarice, he landed in a big trouble. He was caught red handed by vigilance people and that too in his work place.
Was I actually startled to read the story in the newspaper?. Did a feeling elation dawn on me?
No. Not that either. Did it occur to me as a stroke of pain to me? There was no question of that at all. What kept haunting me was just a question. A person who never bothered to be surreptitious about his habit of taking bribe and kept himself continually engaged in exercising this, how could he get caught? Though I remember that once Arindam Da had mentioned about his new Secretary of the Department who was trying to put him in trouble. Had this anything to do with him?
That day I was in a hurry to reach my college. So I had to stifle my curiosity for the time. Next day I rang up an old colleague and asked, “Atanu, could you tell me what is the case?” As if I sensed some kind of suppressed rejoice in his voice,-- “What else can it be, it is an obvious outcome of excesses”.
“Excess? Not a new word for Arindam Chowdhury! “
“I don’t mean that exactly. But, of late, he was even exceeding the line what we demarcate as the extreme limit of excess. After the office opened when the Puja vacation was over, he abruptly doubled his rate. Three of his clients declined to yield and he put them in deep trouble. He went on a sudden spree of seizing papers. How long can you expect the haven not to tilt?”
“But who actually made the heaven tilt? The Departmental Secretary of yours?.”
“So far I know it is not him. Then who else was he?”
“You can’t expect a man like Arindam Chowdhury not to have a single enemy. The Vigilance Commission was getting prepared to pounce on him and the I.T. Department was also keeping vigilance … He had a very good hold in the ministry. That’s why none could do any harm to him, but the wheel of the Chariot of ‘Karna’ has now got stuck under the soil. Now, everybody will be grinding him – all in a team.”
“The wheel of the Chariot of Karna? What does that mean?”
“ You could not understand, I see. I mean the person who always acted as the trouble shooter for Arindam Da.” Arindam Chowdhury could afford to be so desperate under his shield”.
“Do you mean the Minister?”
“You can also call him the Saturn God, whom Mr. Arindam Chowdhury always cared to keep in good humour. But this time the matter just snowballed. The god just disowned his worshiper.”
“Under the threat of Indra, the king of gods. We are given to learn that the client who lodged the complaint had also potential influence at the right place. He was well known at the highest echelon of Government administration. However, that man never allowed it to be manifested, that he was slowly laying a trap for Arindam Chowdhury. He was making show of getting intimate with him beyond ordinary limits and was allowing all sorts of indulgences, accompanying him to five star hotels for dinner, to the racing ground, so and so. Then, when Arindam Chowdnury could not be mellowed at any cost he played his card. He reached the political bosses, obtained green signal from ‘Alimuddin’ and after spreading his net with all precautions, he fished out his catch. Now let Arindam Chowdhury have the taste of what has been dished out to him and expel blood for excreta”.
I had no reason to be sorry for Arindam Chowdhury. But somewhere deep inside something was pricking. The slashing comments of Atanu were not sounding quite as music in my years. After all said and done, Arindam Chowdhury was born in a family of good lineage and he had also raised a family that depended on his income.
“Has he been granted bail?” – I enquired.
“No. He was remanded in police custody for one week. So he is now getting his first quota of dressing down by the police. You can just imagine what humiliation he is passing through! I heard that after he was apprehended he was dragged down with a rope around his waist to his new house. What an insult! That too before his new neighbours!”.
“Has Arindamda built a new house? Where?”
“Don’t call it a house. To be exact, call it a palace. It is at Salt Lake. Fully covered with marble. Those who were invited for the house warming ceremony told that the bathrooms too are made up with most expensive items. The roofs have false ceilings made of decorated frosted glass, separate wash areas of most fashionable kind, colour T.Vs – you will not miss anything even in the bathrooms. Now the vigilance people will measure up every inch of his house”.
After my dialogue with Atanu was over I kept sitting silently for a while. I was shaping up once more the image of a highly arrogant, desperate person. He must have broken down by now, I thought. What might he be brooding over presently sitting inside the police custody cell, I wondered. Could he be repentant just at the moment? I surely was curious to know.
At the dinning table that night we were discussing the event about Arindam Chowdhury. Manasi appeared not to be much disturbed. She was chewing a fish bone and said, “I can swear that nothing would happen to Arindam Chowdhury”.
“No, my darling. Take it from me, he is finished. The bundle of currency notes had the signature of the client, which was passed on to Arindam Da for gratification. So, he has no chance of escape.”
“All rubbish. Why don’t you see the point? If he can push up his next dose of gratification to the right place, the bundles you are speaking of will vanish. Taking bribe does not count any longer to be a crime. ‘Cut money’,- our time has given it a new name”.
“Boobli, my four year old daughter was listening to us very eagerly and was trying to make out what all these actually meant. I made a gesture to Manasi asking her to stop. Manasi hardly bothered and said with a touch of venom in her voice – “Can you keep all around you ignorant like ‘Boobli’ forever, making me stop. All will find out their own ways as per choice when they will grow up. I heard that the father of Arindam Chowdhury was a very idealist kind of person. So, he must have taught your Arindam Da a lot of moral lessons when he was young. Now tell me, how his son could grow like this? -- Tell me”, - she repeated.
“I could not return any reply. I, myself was hunting for the reason.”
“I never had any faith in the far sight of the women folk. But Manashi really took me by surprise. Very surprisingly it came true, what she had predicted.
“About two years had elapsed since then I was returning from college and was waiting at the bus stop at Mirjapur, after I got down from train at Sealdah. Suddenly, a car stopped at my side and very close. I saw a known face at the window of the car. I saw him last about five years back, but it did not take me to work hard to recognize him. It was Arindam Da – Arindam Chowdhury. Sticking his neck out of the window, Arindam Da asked, “Where are you going?”
I was not prepared for this chance meeting. With a distinct sense of astonishment on my face, I replied, “Gouribari”.
“Did not you live somewhere near Tollygunj?”
“Going to in-laws’ house. My wife and daughter are staying there for the last few days.”
“Come along and get into the car. Let me give you a lift.”
I hesitated for some moments, - “You stay at Salt Lake, as I know. Why should you take the trouble of going in a round about route?”
“What difference does that make? I am not going to pay for the cost of fuel! Get in, get in, don’t make delay”.
“Almost by force, he made me step into the car. I was feeling quite uneasy and was not at all comfortable. I was wondering what could be the development. I tried to discover if there was any sign of worry on the face of Arindam Da and did not find any. There was none. Cosily sitting in a car he was moving around just like how he did earlier. His entire person was also showing all symptoms of a rich person. His waistline had widened quite visibly. Ugly alcoholic patches were distinctly visible below his eyes. A person out of job for long two years could never look like thus,--so cheerful, confident, with no sign of stress. Even four months back I heard that charge-sheet against Arindam Chowdhury was ready and prosecution was all set to start proceedings.”
It was Arindam Da, who opened the dialogue, - “Now tell me Professor, how your practice of spoiling the students is going on?”
The same tone of voice, the same style of speaking. Daunted a little, with uneasy voice I replied, - “So, so, nothing new. Tell me how are you?”
“First class! First class! Getting hold of my catches, slaughtering them and gulping every drop of blood.” -- He repeated his old, hackneyed speech and stared at me laughing loudly and scandalously. He shot a side glance at me and asked, “What are you thinking?“
“No” -- I felt quite uneasy and returned an incoherent reply,-“I heard something about you. You landed in some kind of trouble at your work place …”
“Oh! What makes you feels so shy? Come clear. The entire world read in newspapers what had happened to me. Yes, I was put under suspension. By the grace of devil I have returned to my own place. It has been about two months I joined again”. I was quite taken aback, -- “But I learnt that there was a case in the court against you ... ?”
“Yes, there is and there will be one. It does not make any difference for me. The Vigilance Commission has submitted some articles of dull charges against me in the court. All bogus. I have also engaged a very clever lawyer of the impish kind. Now what he will do is that he will keep on asking for further dates from the court repeatedly and let the case stagger for quite some days like that.”
“…But, when one is subjected to trial can the suspension be withdrawn?”
“If you have the blessings of your bosses above, nothing is impossible.” – Arindam Da grinned with some hint in his eyes.
“I had to spend and do a lot, my brother, for this. I had to satisfy the highest demand at the highest level. My Minister, who is just a show of it, was also put to silence with whatever gratification his stature matches. His hangers on also were given their dues. Only the Secretary kept howling. That too was taken care of by getting the Minister to send a note. Can you imagine what note he sent? He wrote in his note that an employee placed under suspension requires to be paid as substantial amount for his subsistence every month, a part of his salary, month after month, without any service from him. He made his observation that it was mis-utilisation of Government money. So, let the court proceedings continue in the usual manner and also let the employee be re-instated with an undertaking to perform work for the service of the public and do justice to the expenditure out of government exchequer. So, what do you make of it?”
I could not suppress a smile and said, “You are really a person of an exemplary kind. You really justify the meaning of your name given by your father.* You have beaten all your enemies.”
“Yes, that is the only thing my father could do properly. What else he did was a big zero. He could not afford to buy enough clothing for us, but was never tired of catering sermons . ‘Never care for what you fail to get. But always mind to stay honest as a polestar’. All rubbish, hollow talks. My brother, why not understand, we are born for only few days to spend in this world. It can be any day when we may vanish as a bubble. If we cannot get hold of all what we want while we live, for every bit of pleasure and comfort, what is the point in being born. But see, how else my respected Dad felt.”
Filthy comments against his deceased father kept flowing from his mouth. I felt disgusted like anything. So, I diverted my look beyond the window glasses. For traffic congestion the car got stuck near Rajabazar for quite some time. As if to make Arindam Da stop, I dropped a comment, “Oh! The town is getting to be more and more intolerable everyday we are passing. We are made to suffer this tormenting heat and humidity of the pre-autumn part of the year, not a blade of grass is moving and on top of that crores of persons have come down to crowd the street along side all kinds of motor vehicles,- bus, auto-rickshaws, dust and smoke, what a mess!”
“Really sorry! I see, you are suffering. Obviously my fault. Kankaria wanted to send one A.C. fitted car, but I told him to send a non-A. C. one. There was a tickling sensation in my throat”.
“No problem. I am used to travelling by bus and tram only. So, I don’t have to complain anything about this everyday phenomenon.” I turned to Arindam Da, -- “Tell me about your family. Is everything going on o.k.?”
“Okay -- in a kind of way. ‘Ronnie’ did not sit for the joint exam. Though he was placed in first division in the Science stream, he got himself admitted for graduation with English for his subject in Hons. It was his choice and I could not dissuade him either. Your ‘Boudi’ also stood by him. Let him do what pleases him. Why should I choose to bother?”
I discovered a hint of injured feeling in his voice. Could it be for the reason that he had to give up before the decision of his son? I wondered. I tried to make just a passing comment and said, “He can also do well after he passes his B.A. in English. The subject also has its own prospect.”
“I don’t bother about the prospect of my son. I care a little about when he will be established on his own. The size of the fortune I will leave behind for him will be much more than enough for anybody. But if he could come out with a degree in engineering or medicine, my status and prestige among our contacts and acquaintances would boost sizably. That only makes the difference.”
What a comment from the son of a truly idealist father! - I wondered. I shook my head a little and asked, “Tell me about the health of ‘Masima’?”
“Can’t say, my mother no longer lives with me.”
“Is that so? Why?”
“She felt that I brought disgrace to her family. On the very day I returned home after being granted bail she left my house. She could have left earlier obviously but had chosen not to do so with the purpose of having this done in front of me.
“She left? At this age? Where did she go? “
“To an old age home at Sodpur. It was arranged by her daughter and son-in-law. They lack the capacity to maintain her but that did not deter them to instigate the old woman to leave. I offered her to live in a separate rented house, but she did not yield to any request. She would not touch my money earned by illegal means and would not see my face anymore – that was her stubborn decision. As if, she was sleeping so long and did not know anything. How could she fail to realize that one cannot afford to live so lavishly simply on his salary income?” Arindam Da roared in anger. “What a beautiful segment I had built for her! Wide south open room with a broad balcony in front, no dearth of air or light round the clock, separate privy, separate fridge, a giant size temple attached to the room for her worshipping, finished with black and white marble tiles, commode,- geyser fitted in the bath room. What else an old woman can crave for at the last phase of her life? Drink your life to the lees, offer worships when you feel like. Her husband was absolutely incapable of arranging any comfort for her and she should have appreciated that her son had given her all she could yearn for. But she lacked capacity to enjoy what she got and chose to leave for the sake of a piece of cheap sentiment. I am also waiting to see how long she will be able to spend her time in a place that simply matches an over crowded pound. I am also keen to see how long my widowed elder sister can afford to pay for her expenses out of her widow pension. I am sure, she has to return, bowing down her head to the mercy of her sinner son one day. The comfort level she got accustomed to when she lived with me can’t fail to prey on her some day. It’s a matter of time only”.
I was in no mood to return any word. I was wondering to what proportion the person by my side could be adjudged a human. Grossly deceitful, a self-centred creature, without any trace of self respect.
The car had started rolling and I was not aware when the vehicle reached ‘Gouribari’. I thanked casually and got down. Arimdam Chowdhury waived at me and dropped his leaving comment, “Go and strip your father- in- law of a portion of his food stock. I know, you won’t keep in touch. So we may only look forward to a similar chance meeting some other day once again”.
I tried to wear a forced smile on my face. “God help me!” I mused to myself, “Let me be spared of a misfortune of seeing the face not even for a single day in future”.
I had shaken off the man from my mind. My faint acquaintance with the old office had also faded into nothingness with the passage of time. My friend circle in my college had substantially widened and my old colleagues were now just some faint memories. I needed to remain quite busy of late with family affairs either. Boobli, my daughter, was growing rapidly and I would need a substantial stretch of time for her now. As per wish of Manashi I had purchased an apartment house at Barrackpore. To satisfy the need of a shelter for family and myself I had to borrow money in the form of housing loan and quite understandably was in a tight spot. Last week I went to Bikash Bhavan to enquire about when my arrear dues on account of the last pay commission recommendations could be cleared. Seven years had passed and still some portion of the dues remained to be paid. I had heard from some one that the Government would be generous now to release the dues. After all, the General Elections were to be held soon.
I had just made my exit from the tall building and almost stumbled upon Arindam Chowdhury. He appeared to have shot up from below the ground. He put a hand on my shoulder and asked, “Hi! What brought you here?”
I was not, to be true, pleased to meet him. Still, for sake of courtesy, I needed to make a reply. With a forced smile I said, “I had to pursue some pending matters at the office of the DPI”.
“Got your job done?”
“No. The person who deals in the matter and holds the file is otherwise busy today with a deputation programme of theirs and is hell bent not to attend to any official business today”.
“See it for yourself. The Government is happy to keep paying for those who have no inclination to work. They are pampered like any honoured guest. And those who are simply anxious to offer their services are shunned as one like me, with no permission even to enter the office itself. How funny can the Government policy be!”.
I could not make out what Arindam Chowdhury was trying to mean. I looked askance at him.
“Couldn’t you understand? They have put me again under suspension.”
“What!” - I exclaimed.
“No ‘what’, but ‘yes’. Though it has been me only, always to collect the highest amount of revenue for the Department”. Arindam Chowdhury made a gesture and said once again, “The Government fails to appreciate that those who make fortune for themselves also keep the Government counter ringing by working extra-time”.
The same dose of conceited sermons! I was looking for opportunity to leave. He would let me go. “Won’t you ask why I got suspended?”
I had no inclination to know. Still had to put the formal question, “Why?”
“Let’s not keep standing here. My house is just round the corner. Come and drop in. You will also get to see the house?”
None of my objections could stand ultimately. Arindamda almost dragged me down to his place. He continued to shower on me all the details of what had happened meanwhile, - last time how the MIC clashed with the Secretary for reinstating him, how the Secretary gave him the step-motherly treatment having had to bow down, how the next Secretary continued to behave on the same track and how just after issuing a notice to him to show cause, how he was served with the notice of suspension on a flimsy ground. He did not forget to apprise either why the order of suspension was liable to be quashed.
I hesitated quite for some moments but ultimately could not abstain from darting the question, “What happened to your case?”
“The lower court passed an order of minor conviction for six months’ R.I. I have moved an appeal at the High Court. There are major flaws in the lower court order. I am sure that the High Court will set aside the order.” He smiled with a hint. “ The Hon’ble Judges of the High Court are like gods. Can you tell me how many of them can fail to be pleased with his devotee if they are worshipped with optimum offerings?”
I was not aware when we had reached the house. I had no reason to differ with Atanu. To speak truly, it was a palace, not just a dwelling unit of the ordinary kind. It was sure to excite a kind of inferiority complex for an ordinary person who could not afford to build one like this. Only a few seconds of look at the building was enough to instil that feeling for a person.
Arindamda pushed open the exquisitely designed gate and asked me to get in. We reached the round shaped veranda after going past a well kept little garden. Where the veranda ended, I saw the drawing room behind a large glass door. The drawing room was all covered with carpet, corner to corner. Sitting on the sofa I was taking a close look at the room – two fans were hanging from the ceiling and there was the additional provision of split A.C for optimum comfort. The house owner appeared to have spent a lot on interior decoration of the room and every item spoke volume of the taste and culture of a distinct kind of who took care to give the necessary finish – colour and quality of paint on the wall, all the furniture lying placed inside the room, draperies, lampshade, showpieces. Who’s affection might have worked in shaping up all these? Was it ‘Boudi’? I wondered.
Arindamda had gone inside the house and coming back he asked me, meaningfully putting his hands against his waist, “How does the room look?”
“Excellent”, I replied.
“I got one interior decorator to work up the details. The room had some other items besides these. On that side of the room there was a T.V with a large screen. Those buggers seized the television when they raided the house last time. It was an asset acquired out of disproportionate income, as per their opinion! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
A middle-aged man entered the room and put a glass of greenish sherbet on the table.
“Drink up the sherbet. Made of original mango concentrate. You will feel fresh”, Arindamda told me preparing to sit in front.
“Is ‘Boudi’ sleeping?’ – I asked.
“She is not in the house”, Arindamda said.
“Is she out shopping?”
“No. Ruma now lives with Ronnie at Purulia”.
“What is Ronnie doing at Purulia?”
“He has taken up the profession of his grandfather. He is a school teacher there. The young chap chose on his own to sit for selection test for the job just after his graduation and also chose Purulia specially for his posting”.
“A very wise thing to do. He can visit you during his vacations and you will also love to visit his place when you will find time….”.
“No. I am not allowed to visit their place and they have also promised never to step into this house to see me again”, - as soon as Arindamda said this, he burst into a fit of anger. “They hate me. Ruma now says to have been suffering under never ceasing heat of torment on a cauldron over the last twenty-five years of her marriage with me. My son feels like nauseating in my presence! I am now given to know that both the mother and the son were waiting for their day so long to leave my company…Can you tell me what class of traitors they deserve to be branded like? What did I leave undone for their comfort? And look, this is what I got in return! I have also taken my vow not to allow them to come to my house even for a single day in future whatever happens to me. I will stay prepared to suffer alone, be it the worst kind of eventuality, with none of them around. They can stay aloof with their petty sense of social prestige. Keep holding up your festoons with hollow sermons, I care a fig. What an audacity! They threw up in my front the costly dresses, ornaments I gave them!”
The face of Arindamda turned red. His closefisted hands were shaking and the swollen eyes of the person, well past fifty years of age, appeared to be shooting out in anger. I got scared and in a nervous voice said, “ Arindamda, please calm down”.
“No, no, I will burn everything one by one”- Arindamda got up in the pose of a possessed man and fiercely waiving his index finger at his invisible enemy kept on shouting, “ No body could ever play his trick on me to hold me in check. Never anyone will be able either. No one will see anything belonging to my mother, my wife or my son, not even a trace, in this house in future. When this house was built with ill got money, as they say, it will be me only who will live here, none else…”
Arindamda could have hardly finished his words when the middle aged domestic help entered the room and held him tightly with his arms. He gestured me to leave. His conduct gave me to believe that he was used to occurrences of the similar kind and would need to control his master on occasions of his identical fits of emotion, not very infrequent occasions as it seemed to me.
In slow paced steps I exited from the house. Day light was fading with a mellow sun at the distant horizon, all set now to melt into darkness.
Crossing the large iron gate at the entrance I looked back for a while at the palatial building of Arindam Chowdhury. Under fast receding rays of a setting sun a kind of pallor seemed to have settled on the palace.
Palace or a prison? The question kept echoing inside…
1. ‘Arindam’ means one who always comes victorious over his enemy.
2. ‘Boudi’ – means the wife of the elder brother. ‘Bou’ in Bengali means ‘wife’ and ‘di’ is the shortened form of ‘didi’, i.e., the ‘elder sister’, thus ‘boudi’ in conjunction is an endearing address to the wife an elder brother.
3. ‘Masima’ in Bengali is an address with reverence meaning a sister of one’s mother or a lady similar in status. This is also a conjunction of two words, viz., Ma, meaning mother and Masi, meaning the sister of the mother.