I am not really sure why Einstein, on his way to Darjeeling, got down at Ranaghat and why he was eager to give a talk "On... so on and so forth” at the Municipal Hall there. I was not present there at that time, and consequently am not in a position for giving you a first-hand account of what happened. I can only tell you what I heard from others.
The crux of the matter is that, after being exiled from Nazi Germany, Einstein was probably somewhat short of money. So he came to India with the intention of giving some lectures and earning some money. Everyone knows that he was going around giving talks, and I have nothing new to add in this regard.
Ray-Bahadur Nilambar Chattopadhyay, who was the professor of Mathematics at KrishnaNagar College at that time, was a competent person. Like many intellectuals, he was overwhelmed by Einstein's remarkable lecture "On the Unity & Universality of Forces” at the Senate Hall in Calcutta. He really wanted to invite Einstein once to his college for delievering a lecture, but the Principal stood in the way.
He said, "Ray-Bahadur, I don't have any other objection. I am only worried about one thing: do we really want to invite a German in this sitation?”
Ray-Bahadur said agitatedly (as agitated as he used to get when someone hinted at a debate during the evening sessions of Bhagabat readings at the outer room of RamMohan the lawyer): "What do you mean? German? Did you really say German? You call Einstein German? Can you really assign such sages, such savants, such great people to any one country? Or to a single race? What I say is...”
The Principal interjected, "No no, please, I more or less agree with you. But look at the situation around us...” And the two senior professors got involved in a heated argument.
The Principal was a scholar of Philosophy. He cited the example of John Scotus, the great exponent of medieval Scholastic Philosophy. Scotus was born in Ireland, but was driven away by ninth century fanatics and had to take refuge in France. Could he return to Ireland ever? No. But people do care about his philosophy, though not so much about the man himself.
In any case, the Principal could not be persuaded ultimately, so Ray-Bahadur had to give up on the idea. Presently he came to know that Einstein would be travelling to Darjeeling. Since his arrival in India, he had been busy with delivering lectures and did not have the time to see the Himalayas, and now that he was so close to the mountains, he did not want to give up on the opportunity.
Ray-Bahadur thought, "Why not ask Einstein to get down at Ranaghat on his way to Darjeeling and have him give a lecture there?”
He went to Calcutta to meet Einstein at the Grand Hotel.
Einstein said, "Please tell me something about Indian Philosophy.”
Ray-Bahadur sensed trouble. He taught Mathematics, and did not really care about Philosophy, in particular about Indian Philosophy. Fortunately, he had the habit of reading from the Gita at times. So he clutched on to the raft of the Gita in the endless ocean (not in any spiritual sense of course) and tried to mutter a few things like "Basangsi jiirnani” etc.
Einstein said, "Once, when I read Max Mueller's essays on Vedantic Philosophy, I really wanted to learn Sanskrit. In Philosophy, I was a follower of Spinoza all along. Spinoza presented his philosophy in the form of a mathematical deduction. He had the mind of a mathematician creator. That is why I was attracted to him. But then I found new horizons when I read Max Mueller's writings on Vedantic philosophy. Spinoza had the mind of a pure pragmatic, like that of Euclid, where even sophistry takes a predicted route. But I am a romantic at heart....”
Ray-Bahadur looked at Einstein's face in great astonishment and said, "You are?”
Einstein smiled and said, "Why are you surprised? Don't you think that my unification of time and space was moulded by imagination?”
Ray-Bahadur was even more surprised. He started mumbling, "You are the harbinger of new dimensions, the great discoverer of new universes right after Newton... to think that you indulge in imagination...”
But he looked at the poetlike long hair and dreamy eyes of this scientist, the greatest of our times, and his words remained in his mouth. Probably one could not become a great scientist unless one had plenty of imagination, thought Ray-Bahadur. He was going to say something when Einstein picked a cigar case from the small side-table and placed it in front of Ray-Bahadur. Then he pulled a fat cigar, cut the tip with a pair of scissors, and handed it over to Ray-Bahadur. Ray-Bahadur's Bengali sentiments made him shrink with embarrassment. Could he, a nondescript Mathematics teacher, really light a cigar in front of such a big scientist? And, not to forget, the scientist was a sahib. Sahibs ... the incarnation of flesh-eating Gods. Ray-Bahadur took the cigar and said, "Won't you please?”
— No thanks. I don't smoke.
— I see.
— I have a thought in my mind.
— Let it out, please.
— Do you think we can pull a good crowd if we arrange a seminar at Ranaghat? What do you think of Ranaghat?
— Good place. I think we will have a decent crowd.
— I need some money right away. Whatever I had, I had to leave it in Germany. They did not let me take out even one Mark from the bank. So I am quite broke now.
— I will try my best at Ranaghat, Sir.
— Do they have a big auditorium there?
— "Not very big. But there is the Municipal Hall, which will do.” And after a while, Ray-Bahadur wanted to leave, because he thought that it would be unfair to impose upon such a great man's time.
Einstein said, "Please take some of my posters and advertisements. I will tell you the title of the talk in a few days. How much do you think the tickets should be priced?”
— "Not very high of course, let's say...”
— "How does three Marks sound? Or ten shillings?”
— "No way Sir, that will be disastrous. This is a poor country. Ten shillings would come to about ten rupees. We don't have people in this country who would buy tickets at that price, Sir.
— "Five shillings then?”
— "That's better. And one shilling for students.”
Einstein smiled and said, "People from the university should be exempted. After all, I am a school-teacher myself, so they should get some kind of preferential treatment where I am concerned. It was the same at Bombay and Benaras Hindu universities. Students should not have to buy the tickets. Anyway, take these leaflets and handbills for advertisement please—”
Ray-Bahadur took the leaflets, tried to read them, and exclaimed with disappointment — "But Sir! This is written in French!”
— Of course in French. I printed them before my talk in Paris. Why, won't anyone understand French here? I heard the other day that French is taught at the University here.
— No Sir, that won't do. Maybe a handful of people will understand French. We don't learn French here usually, Sir. English is the lingua franca. No one would understand French.
— Now that's a problem! Could you please have it translated into English and printed at some local press?
— I ... okay ... why not ... yes I will.
Ray-Bahadur thought that he would go to Baliganj and take Binod's help. That guy knew French well. It was getting quite embarrassing having to say "I don't know” every so often in front of such a great man.
Binod Choudhury was his eldest brother-in-law. He knew a lot of things, including many languages. He translated the bills enthusiastically into Bengali and English, and said, "I will most certainly go to Ranaghat on the day of the lecture. My acquaintance with the theory of relativity is very little, only through the book by Linden Boulton. But I consider Einstein to be a great savant of our times. A savant with an inner eye. You see, those who discover the truth have this inner light. I may not understand long and clumsy equations, but make no mistake, I can make out who belongs to which league.”
Ray-Bahadur realized that his clever brother-in-law was making fun of him. He smiled and said, "Ah well, so you also decided which league I belong to.”
— God forbid! I never said anything to that effect.
— You really didn't?
— Do you think it is possible for a person like me, tangled so much in the web of space-time continuum, to guarantee either my state of existence at any given time, or what I say in that state? Anyway, why don't you stay over for at least half a day?
— That would be impossible. I have so many things to do now. I have to ensure that the great man gets some money in his pocket. Let me go back and butter up the chairman and the vice-chairman of the municipality. They are all big rogues. Anyway, I will have to try to book the hall.
— What are you worried about, Chatterji? Once you mention Einstein's name, is there anyone who won't give the hall to you? It's a pity, really, that at this old age, such a great scientist has to go around giving lectures for collecting some money. The world does not know its greatest...
— You still talk like a child, Binod. What you said at the end is what is right. I will have to use a lot of persuasive techniques. Let me catch the five-forty train.
• • •
Ray-Bahadur remained very busy during the next few days. He met the chairman of Ranaghat Municipality, the vice-chairman, the school headmaster, lawyers, attorneys, government employees and businessmen, and explained the plan to them. He found, to his surprise, that all of them felt very happy and excited, as if they were going to touch the moon.
AbhoyBabu, the old attorney, said, "What's the name again? Aa... how does it go? Aa-yin stah-in? Ah yes, very famous name. Everyone knows about him. He is a celebrity by any standards. Of course, I am very familiar with his name.”
Ray-Bahadur seethed in anger and muttered to himself: "Your foot! That's what you are familiar with, damn old idiot! You are not talking about ShyamChand Pal, the wholesaler of cloth. Celebrity! Connoisseur! Huh! It will take three generations before his name reaches your family! Someone spent all his life coaching people to give false evidence in court, and now he has decided that Einstein is a celebrity! Is there no limit to idiocy?”
On the scheduled day, Ray-Bahadur boarded the morning train with a few students of KrishnaNagar College and got down at Ranaghat. His brother-in-law Binod Choudhury had written to him that he would not be able to come, and lamented that not everyone could be so fortunate as to listen to Einstein, and so on. Ray-Bahadur felt sorry about him. He really thought that his brother-in-law was a connoisseur, and it would have been really great if he could come. Bad fortune indeed!
As he came out of the railway station, he was dumbfounded by the sight of the boundary wall facing him. What was going on? He saw a huge multicolored poster stuck to the wall, and it read as follows:
She will be here! She will be here!!
She will be here!!! (in black)
At the Bani Cinema Hall. (in blue)
Who?? (in black)
When?? (in black)
She is the famous film star Indubala Debi (in red)
And the date and time is 27th of Kartik, at 5:30 pm (in blue)
She will greet the people there!! (in black)
Entry fees 5, 3, 2 and 1 rupees, (in black)
For women, it is 5 and 2 rupees. (in black)
Don't let this rare opportunity pass by. (in red)
Ray-Bahadur took out his handkerchief and wiped off his forehead the sweat that gathered there even on that November morning. Then he read the date again, carefully. No mistake, it was indeed today, the 27th of Kartik, Sunday.
Absent-mindedly he walked a little while and saw the same poster again. He walked more and more, and saw more and more of the same three-colored poster. He saw at least thirty-six of them at different places before he reached the house of the Vice-Chairman of the Municipality.
Vice-Chairman SrigopalBabu was sitting in the small porch by his flower garden and was rubbing oil on his body. When he saw Ray-Bahadur, he assumed a more formal posture. He smiled and said, “Looks like I am fortunate this morning! What brings you here so early in the day? Greetings!”
— Greetings, of course! I see that you are getting ready for your bath. Do you really take your bath so early on a holiday?
— Yes, indeed, I like taking my bath early.
— At home?
— No no, I go to the river. I don't feel like it is done unless I plunge into water... It's a habit since my childhood. Sit down please. Now that I have you here, you must stay for a modest lunch.
— Don't worry about that. No formality. I have to visit my cousin Niren, or else he will be offended. I could not even go to his place when I came the last time.
— Okay, then at least a cup of tea?
— I won't mind that. Let me now tell you the reason that I am here. I found out that there is some trouble. Some Indubala Debi is coming to Bani Cinema today...
— That's right, I have seen the posters as well.
— And that's really today?
— Yes, I was worried. Will there be a clash of interests?
— But now we cannot change the date! Everything has been arranged. We have finished distributing the handbills and the posters. Einstein will arrive by Darjeeling Mail.
— Yes, I know. I thought about that.
— You know what I feel? The crowd that would go see Indubala would not be interested in the Sahib's lecture. And the people who are interested about the lecture will show up no matter what else goes on.
Ray-Bahadur was furious at the word "Sahib" used to refer to Einstein. Why did he ever put his efforts into bringing Einstein, the greatest scientist of the world, to a place like this? Is Einstein a jute-mill manager or a railway ticket inspector that one should call him "Sahib"? Can't one be a little more careful while mentioning such names?
But when he spoke, he just said, "Yes, I agree."
Vice-Chairman SrigopalBabu was famous in Ranaghat for his hospitality. Tea appeared on the scene, accompanied with a plate of snacks. Ray-Bahadur had both, and left because he had to go to many other places, meet a lot of people and arrange a lot of things.
Before leaving, he asked, “What about the key to the Municipal Hall?”
SrigopalBabu said, “I am sending the Hall employee Rajnidhi right away. My family servant will also go. They will open the Hall and keep everything ready. There is a free reading room there, some people will come to read the newspapers. I will ask some of the younger ones among the readers to help set up the benches for the audience. Don't worry.”
When SrigopalBabu returned to his house after his bath, his eldest daughter (SrigopalBabu had been a widower for three years; his eldest daughter, married, was visiting her father at that time and managing all household affairs) said, “Dad, could you please buy five tickets for us?”
— Tickets for what?
— Haven't you heard? Indubala is coming to Bani Cinema in the evening! She will dance and sing. Everyone from our neighborhood is going.
— Who is everyone?
— You name anyone! Just now Ranu, Alaka, Tepi, Jatin uncle's daughter Dhyaros, they all came here. They said that they have reserved a box enclave — there are reserved seats for women if one pays for a box enclave. Why don't you reserve a box for us too?
Srigopal retorted, “Huh, box indeed! You think I am sitting on top of a pile of money, don't you? I took on the burden of this family way back in 1903, and carrying it on ever since. The only thing I hear is everyone whining for money.”
Grumbling, he opened the drawer and tossed a ten rupee bill and some coins towards his daughter.
A little later, their neighbor RadhaCharan Nag popped his head in their their drawing room and said, “How are you doing, SrigopalBabu?”
— Come in, Doctor. How are you? I assume you will be there in the evening?
— That's exactly what I've come to ask you about. Are you going?
— Of course we are! This is an unprecedented good news for Ranaghat. We all must go.
— I was saying exactly the same thing at home. Of course some money will be spent, but then money is for spending. But such an opportunity... Everyone at home wants to go, so I gave them ten rupees. You see, I am now fifty six years old, and no one knows when life comes to an end. So before that happens...
— Sure. How often does one get such an opportunity? We the people of Ranaghat are incredibly fortunate to have such a person visiting us today.
— I was saying exactly the same thing at home. Before we get too old, let us see what is there to be seen and hear what is there to be heard. If some money is spent in the process, so be it.
— Besides, such a famous...
— Of course! Anywhere you look these days, you will see the name of Indubala. Ads for soap: there is Indubala. Perfumed oil: there is Indubala. Sarees and dresses: Indubala's picture again. To see her in person — specially in such a dungeon as our Ranaghat — that's great fortune indeed! Unbelievable fortune!
SrigopalBabu stared at Mr Nag in wonder. For a while, he could not even utter a word. About two minutes later, he gathered himself up and muttered, “But I was not talking about that! I was talking about the lecture by the Sahib at the lecture hall.”
RadhaCharan raised his eyebrows and asked, “Which Sahib?”
— Haven't you heard? Einstein, Mr Einstein!
RadhaCharan pretended that he just remembered the matter and said, “Ah, that German or Italian Sahib! Yes, I heard about him, my son-in-law was talking about him. What is the subject that he is going to lecture on? Anyway, at the age that I have reached, I mean, I have no connection with the academic world for a long time. Those lectures should be attended by school students, they are young.”
Srigopal was going to protest faintly, but RadhaCharan continued, “So what are you going to do?”
— The women from my family are going to the cinema hall. But I will have to go to the Sahib's lecture. Ray-Bahadur NilambarBabu has been pestering me for a while.
— Who is this Ray-Bahadur NilambarBabu?
— He teaches at KrishnaNagar College. He is the main organizer of the lecture. He has made a special request to me...
RadhaCharan winked and said, “Let me tell you something, my friend. For one day, you forget your promises. Let's go see Indubala. There is a lot of difference between Indubala in a picture and Indubala in the flesh. That would be something to remember for the rest of your life. You have seen a lot of Sahibs, and will see more. Every morning or afternoon, wait at the railway station at the time when Darjeeling Mail or Shillong Mail would arrive, and you will see Sahibs. But the opportunity of seeing Indubala... you may not...
SrigopalBabu said absent-mindedly, “Yes, I mean... I see what you are saying... but the point is that I have given my word to Ray-Bahadur, so he will be offended.”
RadhaCharan gnashed his teeth and shouted, “The hell with your promises. Who is this Ray-Bahadur anyway? Why should you feel obliged to whatever you have said to him? You will tell him that the women in your family wanted to go to the Cinema Hall so you had to accompany them. They were so insistent that you did not have an alternative. Come to think of it, that is not even far from the truth.”
Srigopal was still absent-minded when he mumbled, “Yes,... that's right... of course... indeed...”
RadhaCharan said, “So that's settled. That is what you are going to tell Ray-Bahadur. Okay? Why don't you ask him to go to Bani Cinema as well?”
— Are you leaving now?
— Yes I am. I will see you in the evening.
• • •
Meanwhile, Ray-Bahadur was having an organizational meeting for the evening session at the local landlord Niren Chatterji's house.
NirenBabu was Ray-Bahadur's cousin. He was the owner of a huge estate and was an attorney by profession. He was not a very successful attorney, but because of the income from his estate and the money that he inherited, he held a prominent position in Ranaghat's aristocracy. And he was well-educated as well.
Ray-Bahadur had had a heavy lunch. The arrangements were lavish at his rich cousin's house. After lunch, he felt like having a siesta, but could not take to bed because of the call of duty.
NirenBabu asked, “Tell me, what would be the abstract of today's talk?”
— I am not sure. The title is: On the unity of forces. You will have to guess the rest.
— He has delivered a big blow to the idea of space. Am I right in saying that?
— What exactly do you mean?
— He is saying that space is finite. The concept of infinite space will have to be abandoned.
— Didn't you study Mathematics in your M.Sc.? You know about Geometry of Hyperspaces?
— I studied mixed Mathematics. But I know what you are talking about.
— I am very happy to know Niren, that you not only manage your estate; you also keep track of the bigger mysteries of the universe. Maybe not a lot, but even the little that you know is unknown to many.
— Tell me now, will he go back tonight?
— Probably. He was talking about visiting Darjeeling. He said that he would stop here on the way to Darjeeling. We should see to it that he can earn some money from the lecture.
— Why don't you come to my house after the lecture? He can stay here for the night. There is no train for Darjeeling tonight. So he can spend the night here. I'll have no problem.
— Alright, I will ask him.
— You should insist that he stays. I will make sure that the newspapers publish a report on his stay. There are reporters from the Free Press and Anandabajar Patrika in town.
Ray-Bahadur understood the real interest of his cousin. There was no point discussing these things now. The important thing is to have the lecture done. He would feel very much relieved once the lecture was over.
From inside the house, NirenBabu's daughter Mina appeared and pleaded to Ray-Bahadur, “Uncle, please ask father to give us money for buying tickets.”
NirenBabu chided, “Now, don't disturb us. Go to your rooms.”
Mina begged, “But I did not talk to you Dad, I was talking to Uncle.”
Ray-Bahadur asked, “Which tickets are you talking about, Mina?”
Mina said, “Which world do you live in, uncle? Our neighbor Sabita is a student at your college. She was telling us that you try to solve Math problems even when you walk on the street! Is that true, uncle?”
NirenBabu chided her again, “Oh! What a pest! Go away and leave us alone. You know brother what ticket she is talking about? There is this Indubala or whatever coming to the Bani Cinema this evening, she will dance and she will sing, and maybe give a little speech as well, and so everyone has to go there. The girls are making my life miserable since the morning.”
— Ah well, why not just let them go? You don't expect them to go to Einstein's lecture. Although, I must say, if they did, they could have boasted of seeing Einstein once for the rest of their lives. Now, Mina, where do you want to go?
— Uncle, we would rather go to Bani Cinema. We saw Indubala in the film "Milon", and since then I have really wanted to see her once. That she could come to Ranaghat...
Ray-Bahadur completed her sentence: “Was something that you never imagined, right? Niren, you should give her money for the tickets.”
Mina now became a little bolder and said, “You and Dad will have to come with us too! I will not accept any excuses. You know uncle, Dad really wants to go, but he doesn't dare say it in front of you.”
NirenBabu jumped at his daughter and said, “You naughty girl!”
Mina smiled and went inside to her room.
While leaving, she said, “But Dad, you must come with us. We will not take no for an answer.”
• • •
Five-thirty. It was time for Darjeeling Mail to arrive at Ranaghat.
Ray-Bahadur and a few students, NirenBabu and SrigopalBabu reached the station. But, what did they see?
Why were there so many people there? All along the platform, there were hundreds of people — of all ages, of all kinds. Was it really true that the people of Ranaghat had suddenly woken up to the event of Einstein coming to their town? And had all gathered to greet him at the railway station? That would be a reception that would be worthy of a scientist of his stature! The platform was teeming with people. It looked like a carnival. Ray-Bahadur was very pleased. Meanwhile, the Mail train thundered into the station.
From a second-class compartment, a wide-eyed Einstein stepped on the platform, with a small bag in his hand. At the same time, an attractive young woman got down from the first-class compartment. She was wearing a costly voile saree and a designer Kashmiri sandal, and carrying a vanity bag on her arm. Along with the young woman got down two other darker women who were presumably her maids, and they started busily unloading the luggage.
Someone screamed from the crowd, “There, there! I can see Indubala!”
Within a split second, everyone on the platform rushed to the direction he was pointing at. Through the crowd, Ray-Bahadur escorted Einstein towards the gate with great trouble.
Einstein did not really understand what was going on. He thought so many people had gathered to see him. He asked Ray-Bahadur, “Are they all students of the local university? Won't you introduce me to them, Mr Mukherji?”
Ray-Bahadur did not want to reveal the truth to this simple-minded and liberal man, an worshipper of science.
A university at Ranaghat! Probably Einstein had forgotten that this was not Europe!
NirenBabu had borrowed the vintage 1917 car of the famous local merchant Gopal Pal. They all got into that car and proceeded towards the Municipal Hall. Even when they boarded the car, they saw many people running towards the station gate. Someone said, “The train has arrived a few minutes ago. Look, it is still there on the tracks. Run, run.” Someone else from the crowd said in reply, “But she will come out this way for sure, so we can just wait here. No point pushing through the crowd. After all, she has a known face, we have seen her in many movies, most recently in "Milon"...”
Einstein was amused. He said, “These people are also going to the station? They have no idea that the person they have come to see has already boarded a car. That's funny, isn't it? Mr Mukherji, which way is the university?”
Fortunately, just at this time one pedestrian fell in front of Einstein's car and almost got run over, so Einstein's question was drowned in the screeching sound of the brakes and the wailing sound from the crowd. When the car managed to get out of the station and past the crowd, SrigopalBabu and NirenBabu got down near a crossroad. Ray-Bahadur said, “So, I assume you are coming there right away?”
SrigopalBabu's reply could not be heard. NirenBabu said, “I will come as soon as I finish escorting my family members. There is no one else who can accompany them to the cinema hall. After spending so much money for the tickets, it would be a pity if...”
• • •
The Municipal Hall stood not far from the station. But, what's the matter? The time 5:30 was mentioned for the lecture. And now it was 5:45, and no one was there. Not a single soul. Only the municipal clerk Jiban Bhaduri sat there, with a bunch of tickets lying on the table in front of him, waiting to be sold.
When the car stopped in front of the Municipal Hall, Ray-Bahadur held Einstein's hand and helped him out of the car. He tried to squeeze a smile when he said, “Welcome, the greatest of all scientists! Let the historians of the future note in golden letters that you have set foot in our town of Ranaghat. We, the people of Ranaghat, are honored by your presence.”
At the same time, he cast a quick and wary glance towards the empty hall. Where are the people? The rest of the people of Ranaghat?
Einstein stared at the empty hall and said, “No one has come yet? They are all still at the station. Mr Mukherji, you will have to arrange for a blackboard. I need to draw some diagrams during the lecture.”
Huh, blackboard! Ray-Bahadur was a local, he knew the place inside out. He looked around, with a empty and disappointed gaze.
Jiban Bhaduri approached Ray-Bahadur and whispered, “So far I have sold tickets worth three rupees only. And even then one person has not paid, he just promised to pay later. Tell me sir what do I need to do now. I have to accompany my family members to Bani Cinema. Indubala has come from Calcutta, so all of them want to go see her. It's hard, sir, with my salary of thirty-five rupees a month, but I say, there is hardship in whatever you want to do. People like her do not come often from Calcutta. So, if I have to spend five rupees for seeing her, so be it. You will have to let me go sir, in a few minutes. By the way sir, who is this Sahib? I don't think you will find anyone to attend this Sahib's lecture today. Who will, in his right mind, come this way now?”
Jiban Bhaduri explained the accounts and left. Inside the auditorium, in the jungle of chairs and benches, there remained only two creatures — Einstein and Ray-Bahadur.
Einstein was busy laying down some props on the table, things that he would need during his talk, In the meantime, Ray-Bahadur slipped outside and looked anxiously at the streets.
People were rushing, nicely dressed women riding horse-drawn carts, pedestrians walking briskly — and they were all headed to the Bani Cinema.
An advocate, an acquaintance of Ray-Bahadur, was following the crowd with a walking stick in his hand. When he saw Ray-Bahadur, he exclaimed, “Hello! Has the Sahib arrived? How is the crowd inside? His lecture unfortunately clashed with this other thing. On any other day... today I just can't... the women of the house all went there, so I must accompany them...”
Ray-Bahadur whispered to himself, “Oh yes, very unwillingly.”
• • •
Half an hour passed by. Six-thirty. Then six-fortyfive. Seven.
No one showed up.
Bani Cinema Hall was teeming with people. Many people could not get a ticket and were standing outside in groups. A few persons tried to forcibly enter without tickets, and failed. The balconies on two sides, where the women were supposed to sit, were so full that there was some apprehension that they would collapse. The curtain was lifted. Film-star Indubala was singing songs made famous by her when she sang them in the movie "Milon", songs which were on everyone's lips — children, young people and seniors — like "The wind from the wilderness", "The pet bird from the unknown land", "The Prince on his horse", and so on.
At this time, Ray-Bahadur entered the hall and was quite surprised to see SrigopalBabu sitting in front of him. Not far from him, NirenBabu was sitting as well. He said, “So... you are here then!”
SrigopalBabu felt like a thief caught red-handed. He fumbled, “I did not feel like coming here... but you see, the women... someone had to... anyway, how was Sahib's lecture? Did you have enough people?”
— How can I have enough people if all of you are here? Who will go there?
— Where is Sahib? Has he left?
— No, here he is.
Einstein was standing right behind Ray-Bahadur.
SrigopalBabu got up from his seat and politely offered the seat to Einstein.
• • •
I have, in my possession, a piece of a page from a very old newspaper. I am quoting from it below.
The price of potato is going up. The price of rice is gently decreasing. Malaria is spreading around. The local Sub-Divisional Officer has been very kind and efficient in motivating the health officials to work on the outbreak.
Last week, the famous film star Indubala graced the Bani Cinema Hall. With her ethereal skills of dancing and singing, she kept everyone mesmerized. In particular, the people of Ranaghat will never forget the level of art she had displayed in her "Black Bat dance". There was unprecedented crowd at the cinema hall on that day — a veritable sight indeed! The overwhelming attendance caused the beams of the women's balcony to bend. Thankfully, it was quickly detected and a catastrophe was avoided.
Famous German scientist Einstein stopped here to give a lecture at the Municipal Hall. He was also seen in the audience at Indubala's program at the Bani Cinema Hall.
Published in Parabaas, October 2015
The original story Einstein and Indubala (আইনস্টাইন ও ইন্দুবালা) by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay was first collected in the book titled Upalkhanda (উপলখণ্ড) published by Mitra & Ghosh, Kolkata, on April 16, 1945.