Of Man and Bolster
Swapnamoy Chakravarty

Translated from Bengali by Tapati Gupta

  The road has been tarred only a few days ago. Taradas cycled at great speed for cycling on this road was a pleasure now. A car overtook him and stopped. Out stepped a man, thinnish, gray-haired and fair skinned. Said he, “Listen Taradas … a word with you.” Taradas had never met the man before.

“What is it?” said Taradas.
“Will you fly?” asked the man.
“I’m saying, will you fly?”
“Bless me! ---Can man fly?”
“No not man, … not till now. But now he will.”
“Listen Taradas! I’ll teach you to fly.”
“Oh”. Is he mad or what!. And Taradas pressed the pedals.

Said the man again, “Don’t go! I have more to say.”
“I have no time to listen now,” said Taradas, “I have to go to Dwarakpati.”
“Dwarakpati? To whose house?”
“Bhola Ghosh’s. Do you know Bhola Ghosh? He has set up a dairy farm at his place. Forty Jersey cows. The house has a generator. He runs his TV, his video with the generator….”
“And now you are carrying a video cassette for him, --- aren’t you? ”
“Yah! Sholey, Don and… you know what! ”
“I understand. Carry on.”
“That will be played late in the night. Bhola Ghosh’s brother-in-law has come, you know! ”
“Come on, Taradas, get ready. I’ll teach you to fly. You’ll have no trouble then. Now the chain hangs loose, now the tire goes flat, and then the tube leaks. You’ll be spared such bother. Flying in the sky you will….” Here Taradas looked up at the sky. There are patches of clouds. Two kites are flying. The old man takes something out of the boot of his car. “Look, a pair of wings, red wings.” The old man holds them open. It is like the kind of wings the fairies have in pictures he has seen in fairy tale books. The man is smiling as though he were a magician.
“I will fix this on your shoulders, Taradas.”
“Eh! Bless my soul! Set me flying and then make off, laving me to tumble down. Taradas has a spark of wit. He says “First you show me how you yourself can fly, and then I will try.”
“But I have heart trouble; I can’t go up too high. Don’t worry, I have experimented a lot. I have sent monkeys up into the sky. Wait, I’ll show you.” So saying the man brings out a cage from the boot of his car. An empty cage. “The monkey was in this cage. It ran away the other day.” The old man now brings out a long bolster. It has a silk cover with zari tassels hanging from it.
“Now,” he says, “Imagine that this long pillow is a human being. And he is lying down. Now look, I’m tying this pair of wings to the man’s shoulders.”
“Wow, what a nice pair of wings, and they have mirrors attached to them!” Taradas observes that as soon as the wings are fixed to the bolster, it changes into a butterfly.
“These are not mirrors, my boy, these are photo electric cells. When the sunlight falls on them they produce electricity with which the wings move. Petrol or battery--- nothing is needed. At daytime you may fly comfortably like a kite the whole day --- no problem. But not at night; no, not for long. It’s solar energy after all ; with the sunlight charged into the wings throughout the day you can fly for some time during the night, but then gradually the energy is used up.’ Wipe off the smell of the sun from your wings, o kite’ : it’s in Jibanananda’s poem; but you have’t read such things, … it’s something like that, you understand?” Taradas understands nothing. He only stares vacantly.
“Now look, I have hung the cage. And this man that is lying down, I’m attaching the monkey’s cage to the man’s belt, fastened round his waist. Didn’t man send dog, monkey etc. up into the moon first? --- and then he became confident enough to go aboard a rocket himself--- You are also human; so I’m sending this monkey up first so that you may muster confidence. Although the monkey has run away I’m sending the cage.”
“Now look, I’m pressing this button stuck to the belt of the man, or bolster. On comes the green light. That means energy is flowing. Now if I switch it on, the wings will start moving. Now look. Taradas, what I’m doing here. I’m pressing the ‘thousand feet’ button. ---guess why? because this man wearing a silk dress is actually a pillow. It has no consciousness, no intelligence or judgment. It won’t know where to stop. Won’t even know when to turn left, when right. That’s why I’ve pressed the thousand feet button. It will go up to thousand feet and then come down immediately. I can manipulate it to turn left, turn right, go up, come down, as I please. Absolutely as I please.”

The man presses the button. The wings stuck on to the back of the pillow start fluttering. The pillow is a butterfly. It flies. With its beautiful mirrored wings. The empty cage is easily climbing up into the sky. Taradas cranes his neck to look at the pillow. Wah! The wings are fluttering. Butterfly. In the breeze, a faint droning is heard. Taradas stares with eyes wide open. In a little while the pillow hits something and starts coming down. Says the man, ‘Well, you see now, how it’s coming down? It’ll do whatever I command it to.” The pillow comes down and the monkey cage is sprawled upon the ground. Looking at the pillow the old man says, “Everything okay?” The zari fringe sways affirmatively.

“Taradas, your turn now!”
Taradas scratches his head. ‘No, I can’t do it,” he says.
“Stupid boy! There’s no such word as can’t. You will fly as soon as you press the button. And the steering wheel is right in front of you. It will move in whichever direction you turn it--- right, left, up, down. The bolster cannot steer. So it just went up and then came down. The pillow has no judgment so it simply did what I asked it to do. Come here, let me fasten on the wings.”
“But why pick upon me. I don’t like all this.”
“What ‘don’t like’? Haven’t you often said to yourself--- while riding your ramshackle cycle for long six or eight miles to deliver or bring back those video cassettes, haven’t you said to yourself, ‘O God, wish I could be a bird! ’?”
“So what? It is what so many people wish.”
“But everyone is not like you. You love your grandmother so much. You put into practice all her teachings. You don’t utter falsehood. You don’t do anything wrong. No abusive or bad language escapes your tongue. Taking what rightly belongs to others is known as stealing. Therefore you do not take others’ belongings. You do not idle away your time. Whatever Narainbabu, your boss and owner of the Video Store commands you to do, you perform smilingly.. You stow away the blue cassettes in the right places.”

In the meantime the belt has been fastened on to Taradas’s waist. The wings have been set on to his shoulders. “Now hold the steering wheel. Up! One, two, three!” The man presses the button. The wings start fluttering. “Push the steering upward,” shouts the man. Taradas does what he is told. And he starts moving up into the sky. ”Look after my cycle,” he shouts back.

“Let it lie’” said the man, ”You have surpassed the cycle phase. Fly. Keep on flying. Taradas is flying. Green upon green sprawling out on either side. below him. With his arms raised, the old man goes on saying, “ You must honour the dignity of the wings, Taradas. Do not misuse it. Respect it Taradas. Use it to benefit mankind.”…Thus the old man went on and on. Taradas looks up at the clouds. He shoves the steering wheel ahead and back, then up, then down, to the left, to the right, Taradas flies. He takes the sky as a plaything, the whole sky! A long way off down below him there is the river Madalasa. It flows into the Madukshara. The restlessly splashing waters of the Madukshara is surprisingly calm. The fields look like an embroidered quilt. Cornfields. The tillers of the soil are merged into the green of the fields and the green of the fields mingle with the blue of the distant horizon. Which is Champahati, which Sajnehati --- one can’t tell from here. Which is the Village Dudhsagar which the Village Khirsagar? The petty bickering over three cottahs thirteen chhataks and two cottahs twelve chhataks seem quite insignificant. Issues such as Janardan’s custard apple tree extending by a mere two feet its branch into Haripada’s land seem unreal. Only the vastness of the green fields is real. The white of the clusters of kash flowers, like frothy milk, on either bank of the river Madalasa, that’s real. The cotton-wool clouds floating in the sky are real. With these three realities rubbed into his body, Taradas tumbles from cloud to cloud. Then a time comes when he finds himself descending. He can now see the mud banks that divide the green of the fields into square segments. Popping out from the green are biri-smoking men. There are black pathways cutting through the green. On the black path a van-rickshaw. There goes a person on a bike. It could be any Tom-Dick-Harry. It’s difficult to say who it is. The cycle may be of any make--- a Hero-Raleigh-B.S.A., or anything. One can’t make out from here. The man rides on through clumps of mango-berry-pakur-peepul and disappears into the depths of the village. Descending upon the spot from which he had taken off Taradas finds that his cycle is missing. “Cycle…my cycle…: he shouts.” But there is no trace of it. Suddenly he remembers the old man’s words : “You are past the cycle phase, Taradas,” Taradas sings a snatch of a popular lyric, Shyamal Mitra’s, jak ja gechhe ta jak (Let go what has gone) Just then he sees a van-rickshaw on the black road. Voices are heard coming from it. It is fitted with a loudspeaker.

Aur ka goli, wa?
(How many bullets more?)
Chhe goli
(Six bullets)
Tera kya hoga Kalia!
(What will happen to you Kalia!)
Aapka nimak khaya sarkar
(I have taken your salt, sir)
Ab goli kha…
( Now take bullets…)

Dialogue from Sholay. Sholay is running at the Parvati Cinema Hall. No sooner does he think of the film than he gives an agonized shriek. The cassettes!?

The video cassettes were in the basket of his bicycle. Baffled, he stares at the road which lies there like a black ribbon. He sees a bare-bodied person picking up something from the road and then throwing it down. Another woman puts down the basket from her head and also picks up something, and then throws it away…..swooosh! Taradas comes down to earth with a swift movement. There they are… the video cassettes! Sholay, Don and the--- dot..dot. Lucky the bare-bodied people don’t need such things. But the Bhola Ghoshes find pleasure in them. Trying to find out all that is meant for Bhola Ghosh’s gratification, Taradas at last touches down upon the firm earth. He collects the cassettes from the ground and sets off for Dwarakpati on his wings.

Bhola Ghosh was then busy cracking bawdy jokes in the company of his brother- in-law and his wife. “Tell me,--- can you solve this one? Putting this upon that, they lie “ The brother-in-law’s wife says, “Ooo! How obscene! ” Says Bhola Ghosh, ‘You have a dirty mind. The answer is ‘Bolt”. The bolt with which you lock the door.” Suddenly a great commotion… the dogs start barking and the cows start mooing! Wow, wow, wow, Mooooooohh. On looking out, Bhola Ghosh finds a winged man standing in the courtyard. He comes out and the man stands with palms joined in a humble namaskar. He appears like Garuda who in ancient mythology was the escort or vahana of the Lord Narayana. “I come from the Narayana Cassette Stores. Here are the cassettes : Sholay, Don and, er…yamm ….. The dogs have surrounded Taradas They create a great din barking their heads off. Taradas nimbly lifts himself up into the sky. The sun is turning scarlet. “There is not much time left to fly,” he thinks, remembering what the old man had said. Twilight thickens and it becomes difficult to find one’s whereabouts in the sky. The river Madhukshara in the north, in the south the spire of the temple of Gopeswara. Taradas now glides towards his own village.

Janardan Mullick wearing a checked lungi is supervising the labourers. He holds a transistor in one hand and in the other a cigarette. Mullickbabu’s orchard is alive with chirping parrots and ripened custard apples. The parrots fly away as soon as Taradas arrives. Taradas plucks a big ripe fruit. Titu likes custard apples. Titu is the daughter of Janardan Mullick. A mud wall runs all around Janardan Mullick’s house : there is a Ganesha on the door. Upon the wall the words, PRESERVE THE UNITY OF THE NATION. And there is more :

“Plant a tree, save a tree, tree is life.”
So says Janardan Mullick

Janardan’s brother-in-law is the Panchayat chief of the next village, Khirsagar. A deep tubewell has been sunk by the administration near Janardan’s land. Now three crops a year can be grown. Nowadays Janardan Mullick is addressed by everybody as Janardanbabu. Janardanbabu had once seen Taradas putting a flower into the bun on Titu’s head and had burst out in rage, “Don’t you ever set your foot on my threshold again, you rascal! ” So Taradas does not foot the threshold. He descends directly and swiftly right in the middle of the courtyard. Titu was then cleaning her teeth with gudakhu. Taradas quickly gives her the custard apple and flies off almost at once. In great glee he swings a few times from the top most branch of the kadam tree. A crowd of people, curiously looking up at Taradas, surrounds the tree. With great yearning, they call out anxiously, “Come thou down from the kadamba branch, oh Taradas dear”, and Taradas flies down. The children clap in excitement. Titu stares in wonder, the custard apple still in her hands. Taradas unfastens the belt and lays down the pair of wings. The people are no longer looking at Taradas but are staring in wonder at the wings. They cluster around Taradas. “Here, Titu, what are you doing here? Go home at once!,” orders Janardan Mullick. Then turning to Taradas, he says, “Now tell us frankly Taradas, what’s all this? ” Taradas relates the story of the wings, right from the beginning. Motilal Bhatchaj whispers to Hiralal Mitra, “The Scheduled Castes get every advantage you see, in all walks of life.” Leaning against the kadam tree Janardan Mullick starts intoning, “Listen O you everyone, listen with attention, Taradas is our proud possession ….”

Just then, Haripada Roy who was the panchayat chief of the village Dudhsagar and teacher in the primary school, raised his voice above Janardan’s, and started a long speech : “Friends, hear me. Taradas has found a flying machine, by whatever means … But the benefit of Taradas’s flights should not be enjoyed by Narain Biswas alone. Narain Biswas is reaping the benefits of Taradas’s wings by being able to deliver cassettes to places far away… this isn’t fair, really … Narain is making a lot of profit We have a request to make to you, Oh you Taradas, dedicate those wings for the good of mankind in general and do not be monopolized by one person alone. Fly over the mango groves and spray Metacid on the mango blossoms. Then all the blossoms will be uniformly sprayed. Some monkeys are creating such havoc and when chased, they escape, jumping from branch to branch. Do put on an ogre mask and frighten them away! O Taradas.”

“Well, yes, I will,” says Taradas.

Meanwhile Taradas’s grandmother weeps ; she is tense and anxious. Embracing the orphan Taradas she says. “O my dear, will they be okay, those wings? Is there any cause for worry? ” “ No, no, nothing to fear. They’re very easy to manipulate, those wings. Nowadays I don’t feel like walking on the ground, “he reassures her. Says the old woman again, “ Won’t your master increase your pay now? ” Says Taradas, “So what if he does not. You’ll see what I’ll do during fair time. I’ll make a lot of money. You know those wonderful tricks the motor cyclists perform, they turn round and round, and do what not and they make so much money. I will also fly and fly. The microphones will blare : Come along and see a flying maan….!”

A small new board is put up below the large signboard of NARAIN CASSETTE STORE, It reads : A SPECIAL PRIVILEGE SPEEDY DELIVERY OF CASSETTES BY THE FLYING MAN! !

It is now almost two years since the village was supplied with electricity. Telephone lines were installed six months ago. The telephone number of Narain Cassette Store is ‘2’ That of the Primary Health Centre is ‘3’. There is no other health centre or video cassette lending store within a radius of eight miles. Narain Biswas has given Taradas a new uniform :. black trousers, white shirt. Taradas flies and enjoys the rhythm of his happiness.

He also runs errands for other people. Very often this makes things awkward for him. When someone says, “Taradas, will you pluck some coconuts for me? ” he does as he is told…. The job takes him just a minute. Later Dukhiram comes and says, “Taradas, don’t take away my livelihood. If you start doing these jobs, what shall I do? I pluck coconut at one rupee per piece.” One day, Janardan says to Taradas, “ Taradas, take these papers please, and throw them down as you fly.” Taradas complies as usual. Haripada the schoolteacher turns red with anger. Says he, “Taradas, don’t become a party to Janardan’s conspiracy. He is campaigning against me. His brother-in-law, operating from Khirsagar is masterminding the plot. Don’t you do anything without my permission and remember my words, “ he warns, ”I am the chief of this village, ” Taradas nods assent.

One day there was a robbery in Janardan Mullick’s house. The police somehow had got the wind of it and arrived in their jeep. The robbers also came to know of the police and so they came before schedule. So by the time the police arrived the dacoits had left and were running away through the paddy fields. Since the police jeep could not be driven through paddy fields the robbers could not be caught. The police said, ‘ We have information that next week there will be a robbery at Haripadababu’s house. Haripada was shocked, “What! Then you’ve got to be on the alert.” The Officer-in-Charge said, “Yes we will be alert but what can we do if they escape through paddy fields? Our jeep will be useless then. ”Haripadababu at once calls Taradas and says, “Taradas, please teach the police sahib how to fly. If he can be trained then he can use your wings and shoot the robbers from the sky above the field! ”

Not an impossible proposition! so Taradas agreed.

The O.C. has high blood pressure, so Kanai Patra who is second in command, comes for the training.

When the training is completed the second sahib starts flying. Dear me, without any warning, or pre-planning, he flies towards the river Madhukshara. And then what happens? Well by the river bank is the village Suhasini on whose fringes a lovely tank in which lively young maidens with their clothes laid off on the bank are enjoying a happy bath. Their laughter resounds in the air. And what does Kanai do? Swift as lightning he swoops down upon the clothes, picks them up and hangs them from the branches of a tree! Then he gets himself into the tree and sits there with his gun poised as though it were Cupid’s arrow! The affair soon became public and got some media attention in the local weekly called The Poisonous Tooth. Janardan Mulick read it out to his farm labourers :

O pay heed everyone to this strange tale
It has just come to light that
Haripada the schoolmaster,
Master Haripada --- Kanai Patra conspired together
To take away the clothes and honour of the young women
O listen to this tale…

Says Haripada to Taradas “ It is all because of those wings of yours, We must decide whether the wings should be broken into pieces. We will discuss the matter.”

‘Taradas, listen. Your gran’ma pleaded with me… she said, ‘Please do something for this orphaned grandson of mine,’ and so, to set the old woman at peace I gave you this job at my place.,” says Narain, “And look you here, I am your employer. You should listen to no Haripadas, or even Janardans. You must do whatever I ask you to do. You must not lend your wings to anyone. Those wings are mine.”

Says Taradas “The old man when he gave me these wings asked me to use them for the benefit of my fellow beings and not to dishonour them…”

“But you should be more discriminating in your charity. That’s what your tiny brain, your stupid brain is incapable of doing. So I will do the thinking for you and tell you what to do.” says Narain Biswas.

Narain Cassette Store is enjoying the blessings of the goddess Lakshmi and suddenly becoming more and more prosperous. It even gets a new name : the commonplace ‘Stores’ becomes the ornate ‘Centre’. “Narain Cassette Centre’. The video cassette lending store also gets a fresh coat of paint, new lights, and the Vishwakarma Puja is performed with great pomp and ceremony. The v.c.p. and the v.c r. are garlanded, so is Taradas’s wings, which are even smeared with sandal wood paste, and incense sticks are stuck in between the steering wheel. A mechanic is called to deck the wings with a wireless system. A speaker is fitted into the centre of the steering wheel. Narainbabu will now be able to give instructions to the flying man. And Taradas can also communicate with his employer :….

“I have reached Bhudev Samanta’s house, sir,…”
“They want to keep Sri Krishna Chaitanyafor two more days, sir.
“No how can that be? Twenty four hours’ non-stop kirtan singing is going on at Malatimadhavpur. We have to deliver Sri Krishna Chaitanya there today.
“Sir, I am speaking from Abani Santra’s house.”
“Abani is not at home.”
‘Speak to his wife then.”
“Sir? ”
“Will it be quite proper to speak to baudi about the umm dot-dot cassette?”
“Haven’ t you yet learned the tricks of the trade? Use your head! ”

So Taradas employs quite a diplomatic approach : “Baudi, here you are, these three cassettes are Sati Savitri, Hunterwali, and Draupadi ki Bastraharan.The last one is double the normal price. “Okay leave them,” says Baudi.

Narain has let Taradas live in the little attic atop Baikuntha Bhavan which is Narain’s new house. It’s all mosaic. Taradas ‘s grandmother has taken well to the place and contentedly cooks the daily fare of jhol and chachchari. “Now I will get me a granddaughter-in-law, “ and she beams with happiness.

Before venturing out to work Taradas touches his grandmother’s feet every day. As he presses the ignition button on the wings, he hears her murmur, “Dugga, Dugga,”. Taradas is wears his new wrist watch and his new uniform. The old woman watches intently, affectionately :…

Taradas goes
Zari shoes on toes
Wearing clothes that cost
Rupees hundred or more
A sweet breeze blows
      Upon my darling’s toes.…

So the days go by. And as they do, the affair of Janardan versus Haripada also reaches a climax. But Janardan is hardly the issue. The real quarrel is between Haripada who is the panchayat chief of the village Dudhsagar, and Gobardhaan the chief of panchayat of the village Khirsagar. Janardan’s only fault is that Gobardahan is his brother-in-law. The branches of Janardan’s custard apple tree crosses the bounds of his plot of land and intrudes upon Haripada’s. Needless to say the branches are ignorant of demarcation lines and J.L. numbers. But the matter causes tension. It was settled by an arbitration that the tree had to be cut. It was then that the famous lines were invented. That one, you know _which is found as graffiti upon Janardan’s wall.__ “Plant a tree, save a tree, tree is life.” So says Janardan Mullick. The tree was saved then. But now it has go.

The custard apples are scattered all over the ground. The parrots all fly away. The innocent Titu, Janardan’s daughter, sobs and sobs on and on and on. Taradas consoles her, saying, “Titu, don’t cry. I … I shall …I shall….

At the other end of the village, a big fire blazed in the Atabagan Basti in the custard apple orchard where the poor, lower class people lived. Two little children were burnt to death. The few remaining custard apple trees were scorched black. The Atabagan Basti people had put up a strenuous campaign for Haripada when the latter had contested the elections.

Ananta Majhi was missing. His body is found floating in the river Madalasa.
Narain Biswas’s telephone rings quite frequently these days.
Narain Biswas is quite a someone now. He wears a thoughtful look.
Narainbabu and Gobardhan whispers to each other ---“phushur phushur”.
Narainbabu and Haripada goes “phushur phushu” with each other.
Narainbabu and the police ----also conspire ---“phushur phushur”.

Tarapada is confined to his room for Narainbabu has told him not to venture out for a few days. “Everybody has an eye on your wings, Taradas,” he says, “They will either snatch them away or break them to bits,” he explains.

The superstitious old granny spits upon the wings. She fastens on to them little pieces of broom sticks in order to ward off evil.

One day many pairs of shoes are seen outside of Baikuntha Dham. Behind the closed door of the living room lots of people are busy discussing something. Taradas does not know who all are in the room. The sky is covered with clouds.

Taradas’s granny has just started cooking Khichuri. Just then Narainbabu comes into the attic.

“Taradas, a word with you.”
“What is it?”
“You have to go out for a while.”
‘But it’s a cloudy day. My wings don’t move unless they get the light of the sun.”
‘There is light. And it’s because there is light, you can see me and I can see you. Please try, Taradas my dear brother! It’s something extremely urgent.

The ‘brother’ softens Taradas’s heart. Strapping on the wings he gives them a try. He makes a circling flight. “Light is something wonderful,” he ruminates to himself. “Although the sun is hidden its presence can be felt, It is there.!”
“Where do I have to go?” asks Taradas.
Narain takes him away to a corner of the terrace and whispers, “ “Northward straight. The Madukshara river has to be crossed.”
“But there we don’t have any ‘calients’ for our cassettes,___”
“It’s not cassettes, it’s something else.” Narain’s voice sounds thick and husky. ”You’ll have to get the thing.”
“What thing? ”
“You will know later. Now listen carefully. You will cross the meadow full of elephant grass and then come upon the banks of the river Madukshara. Cross the river and you will see an old temple. Get down near that temple. Then I shall tell you over the wireless what you should do next. Take this key. You shall need it. You must be very careful with the thing, handle it carefully” Then he secures the basket used for carrying the cassettes to Taradas’s belt. Taradas starts upon his flight “Dugga, Dugga,” mutters the old woman. Narain waves and shouts, “Good luck.”

Taradas reaches the river. The monsoon - fed river flowing there below him looks frightfully vast and swollen.

Beyond the river the custard apple groves. It is full of ripe fruit. “Oeyé, oeyé… oeyé oeyé”….He will give two to Titu and sprinkle the seeds of the other two over Dudhsagar. Taradas put the custard apples in his basket. In the hollow of a tree trunk he finds a baby parrot and picks it up. He will care for it. Then he hears a voice over the speaker.

‘Have you crossed the Madhukshara?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Now speak to someone else. And follow his instructions.”
He hears a rough voice speak, ”Taradas, where are you now?”
“In the custard apple grove. It is so beautiful!”
“To hell with your grove! Move forward.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Do you see the temple?”
“Yes, sir.”
“It has a trident on its spire? ”
“Yes sir.”
“Now get down behind the temple.”
“Yes, sir.”

Taradas descends into a wilderness of kash flowers. Then as directed, he proceeds along the reddish pathway and comes upon a bungalow. A padlock hangs on the door. Again as directed he unlocks the door. All the doors and windows are closed and there is a musty smell inside. He takes out his torch. Lights it. There they are. Three packets. All in one corner of the room. Focussing his torch on them Taradas tries to spot the packet that has the picture of the lotus on it. He cannot find it. He turns the packets this way and that. None of them has any picture on it. What a problem! Now what to do? What did Hanuman do, Hanuman?

Well Hanuman went looking for the Bishalyakarani, and not finding that particular herb didn’t he carry back the entire mountain, the Gandhamadan upon his shoulders? Therefore Taradas too will take back all the four packets. He contacts the Head Office :

“ Sir, there is no packet with a lotus on it. Over.” Again that gruff voice answers ___ “Look carefully! ”
“I have looked very carefully, sir. Over.”
“But that’s strange! --- It must be there. Look again …”
“No sir, it isn’t here.”
‘The rascals! They have not done the job properly. Bring all the four packets, and we shall see which one is needed.
“What’s in the packet, sir? ”
‘That you need not know. You just bring those packets to us.”

So Taradas picks up all the four packets. They seem to contain a mystery. The sky is cloudy. It starts drizzling. Taradas presses the button on his belt. The yellow light comes on. That means there is not much energy left to propel the wings. Will he be able to cross the Madhukshara? “Bless me o Goddess Durga”, and with that Taradas takes off.

He flies over the custard apple groves. While flying he feels himself gradually moving downwards. The river is now below him. The wings do not seem to have the normal strength. Taradas feels himself descending slowly but surely. He is not yet halfway across the river. He is going down and down. A great fear grips him. Speaking over the wireless he says, “I am now crossing the river. But I am going down. I must make myself lighter. I must release some load. I am throwing down one of these packets…”

At once there is a chorus of protest :--- ‘No, No, Taradas, don’t do that.”
“But I cannot fly with so much weight…”
“Then piss Taradas, piss.”
Taradas obeys. He relieves himself into the waters of the Madukshara.
After some time, again he feels himself going down.
Terrified he shouts, “I am going down again. I must drop a packet. Any one of them.
“But among them is the one we need. You must not throw down any of them Drop down your trousers.”

And this time too Taradas obeys. He manages to unzip and drop the pants down into the river. For some time, all is well. But after a while, down he sails. The river is swollen and tumultuous. “I am going down again,” he shouts, “I am going to drown. Shall I drop a packet? ”

“Don’t you have anything else on you, Taradas, other than those packets?” comes the rejoinder, “Don’t you have anything sharp? Can’t you cut into your body and shed some of your blood?”

“I have some custard apples and a baby parrot.”
“You lousy ass! Throw them down at once! ”

Taradas lets out a sob. He takes out a fruit from his basket. How ripe it smells! He tightens his hold and it bursts, it breaks.

Inch by inch, foot by foot, Taradas is going down towards the waters. “Save me, o save me ….,” he implores, he pleads, with the sky, with the beautiful raindrops, with the whistling wind.

A few yards below him the swirling currents. Closing his eyes he shrieks “Save mee …. All around him there is only the rain and a chaos of sounds coming from the speaker, “Throw them down…. Throw down the damned fruit.”

In order to save himself now, the choice has to be made--- either the custard apples or the brown packets. He does not even know what is in the packets. Poison? Seeds ? or germs? Drugs? ---- Heroin or brown sugar or nuclear ashes ----Taradas cannot tell. Yet it is his wings on which the things are being carried. He is carrying out an order.

Before him the long bolster had also flown. It was made to fly. The bolster had no will power of its own. Therefore the question of a decision did not arise then. Because it was only a bolster. But before drowning Taradas has to make a choice.


Anustup is a well respected name in Bengali literature, for the Bengali Quarterly bearing the same name, and as a publisher of high quality books. Harvest, an annual volume of translations, is a recent addition to their catalogue. This first volume, guest edited by Tapati Gupta, features English translations of Bengali short stories by 13 different authors from both India and Bangladesh. A total of 11 translators have contributed to this volume. Besides the above story, we are glad to excerpt from Harvest Eight Legs and Sixteen Knees, another short story by Swapnamoy Chakravarty also translated by Tapati Gupta.