• Parabaas
    Parabaas : পরবাস : বাংলা ভাষা, সাহিত্য ও সংস্কৃতি
  • পরবাস | Satyajit Ray | Story
  • The Philosopher's Stone (পরশ পাথর) : Parashuram (Rajsekhar Basu)
    translated from Bengali to English by Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra

    Poster of the movie 'Parashpathar'. Based on this story, Satyajit Ray directed the movie titled Parashpathar (পরশপাথর, 'The Philosopher's Stone') in 1958.
    Pareshbabu had found a philosopher’s stone. When he got it, where, how and whether there are others like that…why do you need to know all that? Just listen to the story I’m telling you.

    Pareshbabu was a middle aged, middle class man. He lived in his ancestral home and practiced law. His earnings were not much but enough to sustain him. One day, while coming home from his office he found a stone on the roadside. He did not know what it was. It looked different from all the other pebbles and he put it in his pocket. When he took out his keys from his pocket to open the front door, he found the keys had turned yellow. He thought in surprise how it could have happened. It was steel, how did it become brass? Perhaps he had lost it earlier and his wife made a new one out of brass and he had not noticed it before.

    Pareshbabu entered his room and poured everything out of his pocket, execpt his wallet, on the table. Then he went upstairs and forgot about the keys. After some rest and snacks, he came downstairs to look over some papers of the litigations. As he turned on the light, the first thing he noticed was the stone. It was nicely rounded and shiny. He decided to give it to his young son next morning. He could play marbles with it. Pareshbabu pulled open the drawer of his table and put away the stone inside. The drawer also had a pen knife, a pair of scissors, pencils, papers and envelopes. Strangely, the scissors and the knife immediately turned yellow. Pareshbabu touched the stone to his glass inkpot, nothing happened. Next, he touched it to a lead paperweight, it turned yellow and twice as heavy. In a trembling voice Pareshbabu called his servant, “Haria, bring my watch from upstairs.” Haria brought it over. It was made of cheap alloy, with a leather strap. As soon as he touched it with the stone it turned yellow and stopped as the springs inside turned to gold and became weak.

    Pareshbabu sat stunned for some time. Gradually, he realized that he had come to possess that extremely rare item—a philosopher’s stone—that, when touched, turned all metals into gold. He folded his hands and praised the gods and goddesses, “Hail to Ma Kali, why such a blessing on me? God Hari, you are great, you are the truth. Are you playing with me? Am I dreaming all this?” He pinched his left hand hard; no, it was not a dream. He did not wake up from sleep. He felt dizzy and his heart thudded in his chest. Like Shakuntala he placed his hand over his heart and said, “O heart, please calm down. If you fail now who will enjoy this god given wealth?” He had heard once that a man upon winning four lakh rupees in the lottery jumped in joy so high that his head struck the ceiling and cracked right open! He held on to his head in case he too jumped like that.

    Just like extreme grief, people, in time, get used to extreme joy too. Pareshbabu quickly returned to his normal state and started to plan his next course of action. It was not wise to let the news out suddenly, some ill-wisher might cause problems. Right now, he would only tell his wife Giribala. But women could not hold anything secret. Pareshbabu went upstairs and slowly, a little at a time, unfolded the story of their great fortune to his wife. He also made her swear by the thirty-three crore gods and goddesses that she would never, ever divulge it to anyone.

    Pareshbabu warned his wife but himself became rather careless. He touched the stone to the steel beam on the ceiling of his bedroom. The beam turned to gold and weakened. As a result, the roof caved in. Next, he touched all the pots and pans, plates, bowls and buckets in the house and turned them all to gold. People wondered why he suddenly gilted everything. Friends and family started asking all kinds of questions. Pareshbabu rebuffed them, “Go away. Don’t badger me with your questions. How does it bother you what I do with my things?” Troubled by the barrage of questions, Pareshbabu stopped mixing with people. His clients decided he must have gone mad.

    After this, Pareshbabu slowed down. Changes made too quickly invited questions from others and made them suspicious. He sold some gold and deposited the money in the bank. He also purchased shares in many companies. He bought twenty bigha land in Ballygunge and constructed a huge mansion and an attached factory. There was no dearth of bricks, steel or cement as he could easily grease the palms of all the important people. In one place he saw a pile of rusted metals from junked automobiles. He asked the owner for a price. The owner, being an honest man, said, "Take away all of it for free. But I can't pay for transport." Pareshbabu everyday picked up ten or twenty maunds of trash and inside a room in the factory, in secret, turned them to gold. Ten Gurkha soldiers guarded his factory, along with five bulldogs. Nobody could enter without his permission.

    Making and selling gold was not difficult but trying to do so on a large scale needed help. Pareshbabu advertised in the papers and after interviewing many applicants, he chose a recent M.Sc. graduate Priyatosh Henry Biswas for a monthly salary of hundred and fifty rupees. Priyatosh did not have a family and decided to live in the factory itself. He never took more than an hour for his personal chores. He slept for seven hours, worked in the factory for eight and during the remaining eight hours he wrote long love letters and poems to his classmate Hindola Majumdar. He was a simple man, did not mingle with anyone, did not go to church on Sundays, he was not curious about anything, not even about the source of so much gold. Pareshbabu considered him another gem, next to the philosopher’s stone itself. He melted the gold in an electric furnace and made it into solid ingots. Pareshbabu sold that to a Marwari syndicate. His bank account grew rapidly. His wife had all the jewelry she ever wanted. In fact, her whole body ached with the weight of all that gold. So much so that she got fed up with gold and wore only two conch-shell bangles and a necklace of rudraksha beads.

    But Pareshbabu could not keep his activities secret for too long. Bengal government ordered police investigations about his business. However, the investigators, not being yet indoctrinated into the rules of utopian Ram-rajya, were easily tamed by ten-twenty bhoris of gold each. The scientists started wondering about the source of his wealth. If they were born two centuries earlier, they would have easily guessed about the philosopher’s stone. But modern science had no place for such a thing, so they decided that Pareshbabu somehow had succeeded in smashing the atoms and rejoining the broken bits together to make gold. Problem was that Pareshbabu never replied to any of their letters and Priyatosh was an idiot. When asked he always said, “I only melt the gold. I don’t know where it comes from.” Foreign scientists first dismissed the story as a fairy tale but lately they too became curious.

    At the advice of the experts, the Government of India panicked and decided to declare Pareshbabu as a danger to the national security. But nothing could be done against him, as he was not breaking any law. They tried to arrest him and even issued an ordinance to seize his factory. But other powerful persons, at home and abroad, strongly objected to it. Ambassadors to India, from countries like Britain, France, America, and Russia developed close relationships with Pareshbabu and often invited him for dinners. Pareshbabu stayed quiet at such meetings, just saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ only. Nobody could make him spill out any secret, not even after many glasses of champagne. Congress leaders in Bengal had suggested that he share his secret with a few trusted leaders for good of the country; but the opposing Communist Party warned him, ‘Be careful. Don’t tell your secret to anyone. Just keep on with what you are doing. That is the best for everyone.’

    The crowd of relatives, friends and flatterers increased daily. Pareshbabu offered them enough rewards but everyone wanted more. For the time being, his enemies stayed quiet, not knowing how to react. In spite of his rise in wealth, Pareshbabu kept a simple lifestyle. His wife too was old fashioned and did not know how to spend exorbitantly. Still, Pareshbabu became world famous. It was said that he could easily own four Nizams. What he ate, wore, said, or liked became big news in Europe and America. Recently he had started getting love letters and marriage proposals from all corners of the globe. Ladies were sending their pictures with descriptions of their assets and requesting, “Dearest Sir, let your first wife be. I have no objection. But you are a generous, liberal-minded Hindu, please purify me and admit me to your harem. Or I shall take poison.” Piles of such letters were coming every day. Giribala grabbed all such missives. She had appointed a white girl to answer such letters for her. Every day she translated these letters and wrote Giribala’s reply in English. In a fit of temper, Giribala cursed and said many nasty things but the white girl did not know enough Bengali. She only wrote one (??) sentence—'Damn you! Can’t you get a rope for your neck?” Ten famous scientists from Europe wrote to Pareshbabu that if he divulged the secret formula of his gold, they would try to make sure that he got all three Nobel Prizes together--in Chemistry, Physics and also the Peace prize (??). Giribala thought that too was a love letter and through the white girl answered, ‘Damn!’

    Pareshbabu kept decreasing the price of gold, as its market price had fallen from one hundred and fifteen rupees per bhori to seven rupees and ten annas. British government was buying gold cheaply and paying up their dollar-loans to America. America was pretty mad but could not find a way to object. Britain wanted to pay up each penny of the outstanding sterling balance with India too, but the Prime Minister of India objected by saying, “We did not loan you gold or dollar. We provided material help during the war. We want to be paid back in the same way.”

    The pundits of economics and politics were confused and could not decide on any plan of action. If it were the eras of Satya, Treta or Dwapar yugas, they would have done arduous meditations to please Brahma, Vishnu or Maheswara and obtained boons to control Pareshbabu. But such was not possible in the current Kali yuga. Some experts suggested the use of silver or platinum instead of gold. Others objected, as those too might be mass produced. Perhaps safest was to use radium or uranium standards or go back to using the ancient methods of bartering and exchanges of goods.

    Churchill was enraged beyond control. He said, “We will never let the Commonwealth be destroyed. We won’t waste time in complaining to the UN either. Let the British rule be reestablished in India. Our army will arrest that scoundrel Paresh and imprison him in the Isle of Wight. Let him make as much gold there as he wants. But that gold will be Imperial gold, property of the United Kingdom and we will decide about its distribution.”

    Barnard Shaw said, “Gold is a useless metal. You can’t make plough, sword, axe, boiler, engine, nothing useful with gold. Pareshbabu is doing us a favor by showing us the false power of gold. Now he should try to make the gold strong like steel. I shall shave my beard only with a razor made of gold.”

    An agent from Russia wrote to Pareshbabu, “Dear Sir, you are most cordially invited to come and stay in our country. We don’t differentiate between whites and blacks. We will treat you like a king. By sheer stroke of fortune, you are in possession of a great power. But forgive us, you are not that smart. You know how to make gold but not how to utilize it. We can help you there. If you have political ambitions, we can even appoint you the head of the Soviet Union. We will provide you a mansion on a land of one hundred acres right in the heart of Moscow. And if you want solitude, we can gift you a whole town in Siberia. It is a beautiful country. Your religious Shastras have named it Uttar Kuru.” Giribala thought this letter too was a love letter and answered it, ‘Damn!’

    Pareshbabu kept slashing the price of gold, now it is only four and half annas per bhori. Previously, the annual output of mined gold in the whole world was about twenty thousand maunds. Now Pareshbabu alone was producing a hundred thousand maunds every year. Gold standard was totally destroyed. Inflation raged in all the countries. Coins and paper money were worth nothing. In spite of increasing the pay scale manifold, people were still suffering hardship. Prices of every item in the market were rising sky high. Ten members of each political party were lying on the ground in front of Pareshbabu’s mansion vowing to fast till death. Pareshbabu was getting anonymous notes threatening to kill him as an enemy of the mankind. Giribala had started moaning and wailing, “What is the point of all this wealth if we can’t live in peace? Throw away the evil stone, dump all the gold in the Ganges and let’s go live a simple life in Kashi.”

    Pareshbabu made up his mind. Next morning, he called Priyatosh and told him the mystery of the gold.

    Priyatosh remained stoical. Pareshbabu gave him the stone and told him to destroy it by whatever means—burning, dousing in acid or any other means. Priyatosh said, “Right O.”

    In the evening, a guard came running to Pareshbabu, “Please come quickly. Biswas-babu has gone mad. He is calling for you.” Pareshbabu hurried to Priyatosh and saw him in his bed, crying his heart out. Pareshbabu asked, “What happened?” Priyatosh handed him a letter, “Read this, Sir.” Pareshbabu read—

    “My dearest dear,

    Goodbye. My father does not agree to our wedding. He has all kinds of objections—you don’t have any family, you live in someone else’s house, you only make a hundred and fifty rupees, and on top of that you are a Christian and younger than me by one year! He says this marriage cannot happen. No way. And listen, have you heard of a Gunjan Ghosh? Good singer, good looking, curly hair. Works in the Civil Supplies and makes six hundred rupees a month. Only son to a father who has amassed crores of rupees by working as a contractor. They have arranged my marriage with him. Please don’t be sad. Remember Bakul Mallik? Three years junior to me, we both studied in the same Diocesan School. She does not compare to me but still, she is one in a thousand. Grab her. You’ll be happy. My dearest, this is my last love letter. From tomorrow you’ll be my younger brother and I your affectionate didi.

    Yours till tomorrow—Hindola”

    Paresh read the letter and said, “You are really an idiot! Hindola is moving away by herself. It is very good news! Why are you moping? Of course you can’t go pray in the temple in Kalighat, but you can light two candles in your church. Come on, get up, wash your face and have some tea and luchis. Oh, by the way, did you manage to do away with the stone?”

    Priyatosh pitifully said, “I swallowed it, Sir! I don’t want to live this life. The stone will go with me to my grave. Oh God! After loving her for so many years, now it is Gunjan Ghosh!”

    Pareshbabu was taken aback. “Why did you swallow the stone? It wasn't poisonous, was it?”

    “Don’t know the composition, Sir, but it feels like poison. Even if it isn’t and I don’t die by tonight, I have measured out ten grams of potassium cyanide to take tomorrow morning. Don’t worry Sir. You stone will be safe with me in my grave till the Day of the Judgement.”

    Pareshbabu said, “What crazy ideas? Listen, forget all this. I’ll try to get you married to your Hindola. Her father Jagai Mazumder is my childhood friend. I’ll give you plenty of wedding gifts—her father will definitely agree. But you are Christian—"

    “I’ll convert to Hinduism, Sir.”

    “This is called ‘True Love’! Now get up, let’s go to Dr. Chatterjee and get that stone out of your stomach.”

    Pareshbabu told the doctor that Priyatosh accidentally swallowed a pebble. An x-ray was taken. Dr. Chatterjee declared it a very unusual case and planned to send a case report to the Lancet. Apparently, the stone was lodged in a small semicolon next to the boy’s ascending colon. It could be left as it was for now, if it caused problems, it could be removed by cutting open the abdomen.

    Receiving Pareshbabu’s letter, Jagai Mazumdar came hurriedly to meet him. And after their conversation, he ran to call his daughter. “Hey Dola, Priyatosh has agreed to become a Hindu. You can marry him now. Better not delay. Today he'll go through the purification rites, let’s set the wedding tomorrow.”

    Hindola was stunned, “What are you saying, Baba? Yesterday you said Gunjan Ghosh, today you are saying Priyatosh? See this lovely diamond ring Gunjan gave me? What’ll he think? You and I both have promised to him. How can we go back on our words? Besides, Gunjan and Priyatosh? How can you even compare the two?”

    Jagaibabu said, “Sure! Like you know everything. Priyatosh is now ‘auriferous’. He has a veritable gold mine inside him. That stone has to come out sooner or later. Pareshbabu has gifted it to him. Return your diamond ring. Priyatosh can buy you hundreds of such rings. How can you compare Gunjan Ghosh to such a wonderful boy? No more arguments. You are marrying Priyatosh.”

    Hindola tearfully said, “I’d always loved him. But he is such an idiot.”

    Jagaibabu said, “Of course he is, or why would he want to marry you? One who carries the philosopher’s stone inside him could easily marry the most beautiful girl in the world.”

    Priyatosh Henry Biswas had not a shred of ego in his heart. He underwent the ritual purification with holy fire lit by one seer of vegetable ghee. Five Brahmins ate a feast of luchis, vegetables, curds and sweets. Afterwards, at an auspicious day and time, he and Hindola got married. But Jagaibabu and his daughter’s wishes were not fulfilled. The stone stayed where it was. After some time, a strange thing started to happen. All the gold made by Pareshbabu started losing their luster and after about a month, all turned back into iron.

    There was an easy explanation. Everyone knows that unrequited love can spoil one’s physical and mental well-being. Similarly, successful love can improve one’s health too. All the organs worked at peak speed, and the metabolism increased. It happened to Priyatosh also. Within a month he had digested the stone. Not a speck of it remained in the follow up x-ray. With the disappearance of the stone, its effects too disappeared. And all the gold reverted back to steel, iron and alloys.

    Hindola and her father were very upset. They called Priyatosh a liar and a cheat. They checked his stool for so many days, but for nothing. However, Priyatosh, after digesting the stone, had become much smarter and more confident. He did not care about his wife and father-in-law’s barbs. Even when Hindola threatened divorce he did not want to take cyanide. He had realized what St. Francis and Paramhansa-Dev had said years ago: Women and gold are equally useless. Nothing compares with iron. Now he is running Pareshbabu’s new scrap-iron factory with a daily output of fifty tons and living happily.


    Published in Parabaas, May 2021
    The original story The Philosopher's Stone (পরশপাথর) by 'Parashuram' was first collected in a collection of short stories titled Galpakalpa (গল্পকল্প).

    Illustration is taken from Wikipedia.

    Tags: Parashuram
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