Translated from the original Bangla novel
Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra
Bhabani returned home much later that night. The countless stars lit up the autumn sky overhead. Far away a woodpecker’s sleepy pecks could be heard, an occasional howl of a jackal—all seemed overly mysterious to him. Today he felt his heart was steeped in some quiet, silent elixir. Sweet yet mysterious. Like his God, vast and beautiful, very close and intimate, this God. The only God, there was none other. He was soundless, touch-less, without form, without substance, without smell, without beginning and without end. The night sky resounded with His unique presence. In these villages, nobody talked about this God. In the deaf forest they passed each other by. The stars did not shine, the moonlight did not bloom. Everybody was busy with grabbing as much money as possible, tried to advance their bherenda(*) fences by inches into their neighbor’s property so as to gradually claim it as their own.
O serene God, O the obvious and the hidden one, the sky is intimately mixed in You as in the darkness. Bless us all. Bless everyone. Bless Khoka. Make him poor, that is fine but make him understand You. Bless his three mothers.
Tilu was awake, waiting for her husband. It was very late. He usually was not so late at night. Bilu and Nilu too kept coming out of their room asking if he had been back. Nilu spied him first, “There comes his highness!”
Tilu asked, “Does he look alright?”
“I think so. Say, O Lover Boy! Which girlfriend’s cottage were you visiting tonight? Don’t you like our Didi anymore? Let alone us—”
Bhabani came in, “You all are acting like I’ve been eaten by a tiger from the Sunderban. Can’t I have a stroll at night? I was with Ramkanai Kabiraj.”
“Have they started a hashish den there too?” Bilu asked.
“Otherwise what were you doing there so late?” Nilu said.
Tilu saved Bhabani from her sisters, somehow made them listen to her and send them to their room and got water for Bhabani to wash up, “Shall I wash your feet? You have mud all over.”
“It was very muddy under that Malsi jackfruit tree.”
“What would you like to have?”
“Nothing. I had some pressed rice in Kabiraj’s home.”
“You must eat something. You asked in the morning to keep some shuktuni (*) with ash gourd. That is here. Who’s going to eat it? Nilu has kept a bowlful. She loves you so much.”
“OK. Give me some. What did Khokon have today?”
“No more cough?”
“Gave him some dried ginger roots soaked in warm water.”
While eating, Bhabani told Tilu everything. Tilu said, “He is a different type of man. The other day too he had asked similar questions, remember? You had taught me that day—‘Purushanna parang kinchit’—There is nothing greater than Him, right?”
“I too think about it. Busy with house works, I don’t always find the time. But you must teach me more. And by the way, you have to give each of us two annas.
“Tomorrow is Thirteenth Day festival. We’ll have to go for a picnic.”
“I want to go too.”
“You can’t. There will be other wives and girls. Say, does it always rain on Thirteenth Day festival?
“Not nonsense dear, I know it will rain.”
“You still have those superstitions? What is the relation between rain and picnic?”
“Fine. We shall see how far your scholarship goes.”
Today was thirteenth of Bhadra (*). All the women of Panchpota village had gathered at at the bankস of Ichhamoti to celebrate ‘Thirteenth Day’ festival. Everyone was greeting Nalu Pal’s wife Tulsi with extra care, as her husband was now very wealthy. The festival took place under a very old jiuli (*Lannea grandis) tree and a kadam (*Nauclea kadamba) tree by the river. These two trees have been there for so many years that nobody could keep count. Amongst the very old folks, Nilmoni Samaddar’s mother used to say that she took part in the festival under those two trees with her mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law about seventy-six years ago when she came to the village as a new bride. Last year Nilmoni’s mother passed away at eighty-five years of age.
The women divided themselves according to various communities and arranged for their picnics. They didn’t cook there. Everyone brought something from home according to her ability and put out banana leaves as plates for food. They recited rhymes, sang songs, ululated and blew on conch shells. The rule of the festival was to share everything—a rich wife would share her delectable morsels equally with a poor widow who perhaps brought only a few grains. Nobody had to teach or enforce these rules. They were unwritten but totally accepted.
Today too was not an exception. Tulsi came wearing a red-bordered sari and stood with Jatin’s wife and his sister Nandarani. The rules of untouchabilities were lax on this day but the Brahmin women still arranged their eating places near the river banks and other women away near the open fields. Jatin’s wife had brought some fried rice grains, only two ripe bananas and one bowl of whey. That was all she would have with her sister-in-law Nandarani. Tulsi came over to them, “How are you Swarna?”
“Fine Didi, you didn’t bring your son?”
“No. Left him at home. He would be very naughty here. What did you bring to eat sister?”
“This is it. I made the whey this morning from three days’ collection of the cream from the milk. Take some if you want.”
Tulsi brought a stone bowl for the whey and offered four large martaman(*) bananas and two large wafers.
“What is all this sister?”
“Have some. The bananas are from our garden. Large clusters grew two months ago but got spoiled by too much rain.”
Tilu and Bilu had come to the picnic. Nilu was babysitting at home. Everybody was talking sweetly to them and exchanging foods, fruits and sweets, milk, sugar mauths, murki with sugar cane jaggery, popped rice, bananas and many more. There was no use saying ‘no’. People just came and piled on the food. They too equally shared whatever they brought with Nilmoni Samaddar’s daughter-in-law (they were the poorest of them all).
“Hello Didi, what are you having?”
“Just a little fried rice. And a cucumber.”
“From where? Our cow did not have a calf yet.”
“Not yet? When will it happen?”
“End of next month, perhaps.”
At Tilu’s gesture, Bilu brought them pressed rice, murki, wafers and sugar mauths. Shashthi Chowdhuri’s wife brought them half a dozen ripe bananas.
Phoni Chakravarti’s daughter-in-law said, “I’ve brought a lot of date palm jaggery. I’ll bring over some.”
Tilu said, “Not for me. Give it to the youngest auntie there. We collected a lot of mauths and wafers. Bidhu-didi, recite a poem please.”
Bidhu was Phoni’s widowed sister. She was about fifty. Once she was reputed as a beauty in the village. She started reciting with expressive hand gestures—
“They asked me today
To come and have paan
Inside the paan, a fennel paste
Itty bitty pictures stuck
Shampoo from Calcutta
I’ll do your pretty hair
With Champak flowers
My name is Sarobala
I’ll give you flower mala—”
Bilu smiled with pretended offense, “Oh yea, Bidhu-didi? Making fun of my name? Wait, I’ll show you—
“Bumblebee hive in a chalta (*) tree
It has no corners except one crammed with—
“Hey, Bidhu-didi, please sing a song. One Tappa (*) of Nidhu-babu?”
Bidhu started going around singing—
“Love is not just a word my friend
One heart is twined with the other
Can the vine live if the tree dies?
One heart is twined with the other—”
Everyone requested a shy, young bride from the neighboring village to sing a song for Goddess Kali. The girl was the daughter-in-law of Bhajagobinda Banerji and the third daughter of Ratneshwar Ganguly from Kamdebpur. Her name was Nistarini. Her father was a good drummer. He was often invited in the local music sessions. Nistarini was slim, dark with beautiful eyes and very sweet voice. She sang—
“Blue dressed young goddess
Snakes twined in her hair
Blue-eyed and three-eyed
Beautiful as the moon in the sky.”
At the end of the song Tilu crept behind her and stuffed a whole mauth in her mouth. The shy girl was more embarrassed in front all the older fun-loving women.
She said, “Didi, give it to your husband.”
“Why? Have you seen him?”
Bilu came over, “Hey, why do you mention him all of a sudden? Are you tempted? Be careful. We three sisters will guard him with brooms in our hands. How will you get in?”
All the women around rolled with laughter.
Just then a surprising thing happened. Bhabani Banerji himself appeared there with a red gamchha on his shoulder and Khokon in his arms.
Nalu Pal’s wife Tulsi said, “Wow! Just take his name and he appears!”
Bhabani came over and said, “Great job! You all dump him on me and go away. He doesn’t like that. He got up from his nap and been crying for his mother. I could’nt stop him, so—”
Khokon looked confusedly at all the women and cried, “Maa—”
Bilu ran to him and picked him up, “Why? Nilu was there. I told her—”
“Boudi called her over. Dada isn’t feeling well, so she left dumping him on me.”
The women were whispering among themselves. Nobody would speak out in Bhabani’s presence. That was the etiquette. Only middle aged Bidhu came in front and addressed, “Hello, first, second and third Jamaibabu, everybody is saying that now that we’ve got you amongst us, we aren’t going to let you go easily—”
Bhabani stopped her in mid sentence, “Please forgive me Bidhu-didi. I alone won’t be able to—also getting old—”
At that a wave of laughter flowed through the women, some smiled, some laughed covering their mouths, some turned away to hide their laughters, some hid behind their veils and laughed. The laughter flooded the Bhadra afternoon with warm sun on the kadam(*) branch and the kaash flowers swung along the banks of Ichhamoti. Doves cooed far away. Khokon talked nonsense in Nistarini’s arms. All in all, this year’s Thirteenth Day picnic seemed very enjoyable to Nistarini. Jamaibabu was such a humorous man. And even at that age he looked so good!
The new magistrate had arrived to inspect the indigo plantation. Since Mr. Duncinson’s departure, nobody had come to the plantation for a long time. Therefore there was extra enthusiasm in the feasts and dances for the entertainment. Before leaving Mr. Coleman offered some advice in private to Baro-sahib.
“Do you read the native newspapers? You do? Hard times are ahead, Mr. Shipton. Stuff some wisdom into the brains of your men. You understand? I hope you will not mind me saying so?”
“Explain that to me.”
“I will, presently.”
In truth, the times were getting hard. The local newspapers had started a commotion, Harish Mukherji was writing incendiary opinions in the newspaper Hindu Patriot. Ramgopal Ghosh was delivering inspiring speeches against the indigo planters, the natives were almost grown up now. ‘Those good old days are gone, now you had to be much more careful and circumspect in your job. We have received classified circular from the government to side with the tenants in cases of conflicts with the indigo planters.’
That was the summary of Mr. Coleman’s advice.
Next day, Baro-sahib called his junior and conveyed all he had learned. David was a little peeved, “You see, I can work and I can do with very little sleep and I have never wasted time on liking people. Perhaps I’m not clever enough—”
“No David, we have a stake here, in this god-forsaken land, you see? What I want to drive at is this—”
Right then Sriram Muchi entered and announced, “Sahib, the tenants are waiting in the outer office. There is a big hullabaloo. The Bagdis from Hingnara and Rasulpur are upset. Apparently they grazed their cattle on the indigo fields and had all the plants eaten up—”
David sprung up, “Tenants from where? Hingnara? I have my eyes on Sadek Morol and Chhihari Sardar for a long time—two scoundrels. I know how to discipline them.”
Shipton-sahib too was angry, “The devil that is! I will come in with you this time. Will you like to come to a mouse-hunt tomorrow morning?”
“Sure I will.”
“I wonder whether I ever told you these thieving people drove off some of our horses from the village?”
“My stomach! You never did.”
“Well, be ready tomorrow morning. May be we would kill off the mice right away.”
Next morning saw a strange scene.
Two sahibs rode on two horses, behind them on a large white horse was Dewan Rajaram Ray and on a brown horse was Prasanna Amin, all riding in a long file with the leader of the lathials(*) Rasik Mallik bringing up the rear. People realized that there was going to be a serious riot. Suddenly in one place Prasanna Amin quickly got off his horse and called to Dewan, “You guys go on. My horse’s seat has come loose. Let me tighten it.”
After a while he looked around and saw everyone quite far ahead, he tied his horse to a golden shower tree and walked to a thatched hut nearby, “Gaya, are you in?”
From inside Gaya’s mother’s voice could be heard, “Who’s there outside?”
Prasanna Amin was in a fix. Usually the old hag wasn’t home at this time. She went to the plantation to help the white women take care of their kids. What on earth was she doing at home today? What a pain! Prasanna raised his voice, “It’s me, Didi—”
“Who? Aminbabu? At this time?” Bagdini came outside. She was probably boiling paddy, the soot from the oven blackened her hands, and her hair was piled up like broomsticks. She did not look happy.
Prasanna said, “I’m glad you are home. Something’s wrong with my horse’s shoe. Do you have some coconut oil?”
“No. We are out of it.”
“OK, then I better get going—”
Barada Bagdini kept looking at him suspiciously. It was doubtful that she believed Amin’s excuse. She was fully aware of people hovering around her daughter. She had to sweep away so many unwanted requests and trashy pleadings. She was not a naïve girl. Just because it was Amin-babu or someone old in age, he would not be beyond suspicion. She had seen many old men and many relatives. She did not trust anybody.
Prasanna Chakravarti sped off on his horse.
There were indigo plants growing all around Hingnara village. At that time the plants were nicely grown. Baro-sahib called the younger man, “See what they are up to.”
Right then they saw a group of lathi* carrying people coming towards them along the dykes of the fields.
Rajaram said, “Sahib, they are planning to surround us. Let’s move further ahead.”
David said, “You go back. We have to set fire to their houses. Bring in more people.”
Rasik the lathi charger said, “You won’t need anything. You just wait here. I’ll go ahead and see.”
Baro-sahib said, “You stay. David and I will go see. Have you got the spear?”
“No Sahib, we won’t need a spear. Even hundred folks can’t stand my lathi. You step back.”
Dewan Rajaram in the mean time had sped his horse towards the north side of the village. Baro-sahib called after him, “Wait, Rasik will go with you.”
After a while lots of yelling and screaming could be heard. All the Bagdi women and small children were screaming and running in all directions. Seventy-year-old Ramdhan Bagdi was sitting on the tree trunk by the road, smoking tobacco when a lathi hit his head. He fell on the ground screaming, his wife howled loudly, people came running towards them and a riot started.
After some time, a fire was noted in the Bagdi houses. People were running helter skelter. The people with lathis ran away to save their own houses from fire. This was Rajaram’s plan. Most people ran away when they saw Baro-sahib on the horse. They were all terrified of the Chief. Chhoto-sahib David could do many evil things but his senior Shipton was the main perpetrator. He could do anything to get his own way. Land grabbing, forgery, burning houses, killing people, nothing was too inhuman for him. But he usually didn’t get angry easily and unlike David-sahib, didn’t lose all sense of proportions. But once Shipton-sahib decided on something, however heinous it was he who went through it.
The villagers quickly extinguished the fire. The main purpose of the fire was to break up the riot and that was successful. Everyone was scared of the stick and spear prowess of Rasik Mallik. He was a low caste Namahshudra and could ply the lathi and the spear superbly. Eight years ago, he killed his own son by the spear, mistaking him for a jackal. It was the time of ripening jackfruits. Their village was Nurpur, in Mahammadpur district. One ripe fruit was placed in the room leaning against the bamboo wall. From outside Rasik’s nine-year-old son was digging into the fruit through a hole in the wall. Rasik from inside heard the rustling noise and thought it was a jackal eating the jackfruit. Through the hole in the wall he threw his spear with deadly aim and hit the child. His dying screams attracted others to run out with castor-oil lamps and find him lying on the ground with jackfruit pulp and seeds around his hands and mouth and blood pouring out of the wound in his chest. His eyes were fixed and his fist half opened. Only his small legs thrashed for a few moments as if he was pushing forward to stop something and again pulling back. Soon everything was over.
Rasik Mallik never forgot that night. But he was a murderous villain at heart. For enough money he could commit any crime. He was the one who murdered Ramu Sardar in the riot at the fish-bund. He also murdered Nebaji Mandal’s brother Satu Mandal with a single blow of his lathi in the hay field of Kharki village.
To see Rasik Mallik and Baro-sahib together was too intimidating for the villagers. They took a few steps back.
Rasik roared at them, “Where is your Chhihari Sardar? Bring him in front of me. Baro-sahib has ordered. I’ll carry his head on my spear back to the plantation. Come on, you son of a jackal. If you have the guts, if you have drank your mother’s milk, come out and fight me. Come out you sons of old pigs, show yourselves, you sons of mangy dogs!”
Chhihari Sardar was going to confront him with his lathi but his wife pulled him back by his clothes and probably saved his life. He didn’t have a chance with Rasik Mallik. Ordinary villagers never did with professional killers.
Chhoto-sahib asked, “Rasik, can you nab Chhihari and Sadek and bring them here?”
Baro-sahib’s temper had cooled somewhat. He said, “I am afraid that wouldn’t be quite within the bounds of law. Let’s return.”
Then he smiled, “Sufficient unto the day—the evil thereof…”
Chhoto-sahib was annoyed at his senior. He wanted to say ‘Amen!’ but didn’t dare.
Dewan Rajaram had already turned his horse towards the Indigo House. Prasanna Amin too was returning with him when he spied a shapely, young sixteen year old girl, in a disheveled state, trying to hide in the bamboo grove. He stopped his horse. There was no one nearby. The woman was trying to get out from the opposite side of the grove. Prasanna Amin spoke with very reassuring, quiet voice, “Who are you?”
There was no answer.
“No need to be scared. I am not a tiger or a snake. What’s your name?”
Still no answer. Sounds of sobbing could be heard.
Prasanna quickly looked around and forced the horse around the grove towards the girl. But the girl too was a Bagdi girl. She saw the danger, screamed and ran into the deeper jungle. It was impossible to make the horse go into that dense thorny bush. Prasanna had to return empty handed. Why were some girls among the low caste Bagdis so good looking? No, really. Such sexiness amongst higher caste women? Huh! Like tomtom to a drum!
Baro-sahib called Chhihari Sardar, “What are you up to?”
“We will not plant indigo. Even if you punish or kill us.”
“And your reason?”
“Because we have no food, no clothes, all because of your indigo. I swear by Goddess Kali, I will never sow indigo.”
“What will change your mind?”
“No more indigo. We want to sow paddy. Your Amin marks the lands good for paddy farming, and we can’t do anything. Why don’t you buy the plows and bullocks and plant indigo in your own land? We will not object! Why seize our lands to farm indigo?”
“I will reward you five hundred rupees. Keep up with the indigo planting. Tell others too.”
“Forgive me Sahib. Nothing will happen by my saying alone. I’m telling you, listen, folks from thirteen villages have gathered together. Even the ryots of Bhabanipur, Natabere and Hudo-Manikkoli plantations are joining us. Messages are coming from the east and south.”
Baro-sahib knew all this. After the last excursion he called Chhihari and hoped to mollify him but he didn’t expect such antipathy. Still he tried, “You come to me. I will give you lots of rupees. Do you want to work in the office?”
“No Sahib. None of my forefathers had ever worked in an office. And let me also tell you—I alone won’t be able to stop this rebellion. Whole district is up in arms. What can I do alone? You think about it. Don’t blame me. I owe you a lot; that’s why I’m telling you all this openly—”
The Chief called David-sahib over, “I say, David, this man swims in shallow water. Let him go safely out and see that no harm is done to him. Not worth the trouble.”
That evening a secret meeting was called in the plantation.
The plantation spies had brought a lot of information. The farmers in the district were angry. They wouldn’t accept indigo money advance anymore. Seventeen plantations were at risk. People were calling meetings in the villages, the village heads were conspiring. In some areas, the farmers uprooted the indigo plants and sowed sesame and spinach. In the meeting were Shipton and David from this plantation and a few other sahib managers from the neighboring plantations. In such important and secretive meetings no native Indians were invited. Mallison said, “No natives need be called. We will make our own decisions known to them if necessary.”
Coldwell Sahib said, “Ask the magistrate for more guns. We need to increase the fire arms in each plantation at this time.”
Coldwell was a ruthless manager of the Bhabanipur plantation. There was no one better at seizing the farmers’ lands than him. He was expert at all types of reckless acts, including murders. But he was lately in a bad mood as his wife had left him for one of his friends.
Shipton said, “These blooming native leaders should be shot like pigs.”
Coldwell said, “I say, you can go on with your pig-shooting afterwards. Now decide what we should do with our Impression Registers. That is why we are meeting here today.”
The bearer Sriram Muchi brought in bottles of sherry and many decanters on a tray.
Coldwell said, “No sherry for me. I’ll have a peg of neat brandy. Now, Shipton, old boy, let us see how you keep your Impression Registers. This man of yours, is he reliable? Nowadays, even the walls have ears, you see!”
Shipton looked at Sriram, “Oh, he is all right.”
The loan advance registers were very important documents for indigo plantations. All the tenants’ thumbprints were carefully recorded in them. The magistrate himself came to check them regularly. Most plantations had two copies. The magistrate was shown the real copy.
Shipton had already brought the register. He opened and placed it on the table.
Malison said, “This is your original register?”
“Yes. The other one is in the office. This one I always keep under lock and key.”
“Sure. You have got this week’s Englishman?”
“Sure I have.”
Coldwell said, “It is funny, a deputation waited on the Lieutenant Governor the other day. The blooming old fellow has given them a benediction.”
Shipton said. “As he always does, the old padre!”
They all conferred long and hard. The main questions were now that the farmers’ rebellion had already started—what was the chance of them attacking the plantations. And if attacked, should they move their women and children to the main plantation in Chuadanga or off to Calcutta.
Shipton said, “I don’t think those beggars would dare as much. I will keep them here all right.”
Coldwell said, “Please yourself, old boy. You are still the same bull-headed Johny Shipton as ever. Pass me a glass of sherry Mallison, will you?”
Mallison frowned with a smirk, “Funny, is it not? You said you would have nothing to do with sherry, did you not?”
“Sure I did. I was feeling out of sorts with the worries and troubles and also with the long ride in the drenching rain. Bearer, come here. Can you get a lemon?”
Shipton looked at Sriram Muchi, “Go, get it from the garden. Bring a dozen. Ten and two. Got it?”
After Muchi left the sahibs conferred some more. It was decided to send a messenger to the manager of the main plantation in Chuadanga next morning to find out how much fire arms they had and to inform them to be ready to receive the women and children from all the other plantations.
Mallison told Shipton, “You oughtn’t to be alone at present.”
Shipton sipped his glass, “What do you mean alone? Why, haven’t I my own men? I must fight this out myself. Leave everything to me.”
“Well, all right then.”
That night all the sahibs stayed in the mansion. At other times they would have ridden away on their horses but this time they did not want to risk it.
Early morning the news came that the rebels had tried to seize the plantation at Ramnagar. However, when confronted with guns, they retreated. Ramnagar plantation was thirty miles from here. The manager Andrew-sahib was notorious for having raped many women there. Even amongst the sahibs, he was not popular. Mallison sneered at the news, “Oh, that old beggar!” Then he turned to Shipton, “You don’t see anything significant in this?”
“I don’t see what you mean. I cannot carry on this indigo business here without my men, without that wily, old Dewan to help us, you see. They will not fail me at least, I know.”
“Very kind of them, if they don’t.”
The sahibs had a strange breakfast. They had a plateful of day-old ‘panta’ rice mixed with the juice of a dozen lemons, last night’s cold ham and a whole cucumber for each man. Also added were four or five small khaira fish (*) fried in mustard oil. After staying a long time in Bengali villages, their tastes had changed to local food. They mixed juices of mangoes and jackfruit with the rice. Many smoked the hookah. Many mixed with or kept lower class native women. The newcomers from England turned up their noses at these men saying they had ‘gone native’. But these men didn’t care.
Later in the morning the sahibs said goodbyes and left for their own villages. Within a few days the news came that all the white women and children of neighboring plantations had been moved to Chuadanga or Calcutta. Dewan Rajaram rode on his horse and collected news from everywhere. He heard that the rebels of seven villages were getting together and trying to loot their very plantation that night. Nabu Gazi brought him the news. Once he had received justice from Baro-sahib and he remembered it. He said, “Dewan-babu, I don’t care what happens to other sahibs, but this sahib is a good man. I don’t want any harm come to him—”
Dewan informed the sahibs and kept everyone ready. Both the sahibs stood ready with their guns. Shipton didn’t see the need to inform the police therefore there weren’t any.
Around ten that night, there was an uproar heard from near Ichhamoti. The sahibs fired a few blanks. Dewan Rajaram was standing in the dark, near some casuarina bushes in between the cemetery and a double storied building. With him were Rasik Mallik with his spear and his men.
Rasik Mallik said, “Please, Dewan-babu, let me have a try at them. Let me show you how to teach them a lesson. If they don’t get their just dessert, my father’s name is not Tribhanga Mallik,”
“Stop. Not now. Just killing a bunch of people is not the way to go. It would be okay somewhere else, but this is right in the plantation. It will be a mess if the police came to investigate.”
“We will hide the bodies right away. You leave it to me.”
“OK. Stop now. Don’t start plying your spear till I give you the order.”
It was a beautiful moonlit night. Rajaram had a strange feeling come over him. This had never happened to him before. The moonlight fell on the ground through the chinks of the casuarina branches. He had married off Tilu, Bilu and Nilu. He had seen his nephew growing up. He had finished all the duties of his life. Tonight if he lay lifeless on the ground here with a spear in his chest, would there be any unfinished wishes left? Not really. He had arranged for a comfortable life for his wife Jagadamba. All his land, property, paddy farms, everything was more than enough to run a large household. Income from his landed properties was three or four hundred rupees every year. It was a princely income. He could die here with no worries or regrets whatsoever. But he wouldn’t let any harm come to the sahibs. He had eaten a lot of their salt over the years.
He said, “Rasik, be ready. But murder—only if they directly come for your life. Understood?”
Through the network of darkness and moonlight between the trees, a horde of people were seen to advance carrying lighted torches, thick sticks and spears. Rasik roared at them, “Come forward you sons of bitches—let me punch holes in your bellies—”
A few came forward, “Who is it? Brother Rasik?”
“Not brother, your Death!”
“You mustn’t talk like that. Please, come closer, brother—”
Suddenly Rajaram couldn’t find Rasik next to him. Somehow he had disappeared in the part moonlight part darkness. Soon he saw the horde running away haphazardly—and in the middle someone was spinning like a wheel carrying something that briefly shone in the moonlight. Was that Rasik Mallik? Oh God! What was he doing?
There was an uproar just outside the plantation. Then everything fell quiet. The noise disappeared far away. There was not a person around. Rajaram thought he heard the sahibs’ horses near the balakhana (*), towards north. He started towards it. Was there anybody hiding amongst the casuarina trees? No. But what are those things?
They were dead bodies. One, two, three, four, five! What had Rasik done! All of them showed wounds by spears. All were dead.
“Rasik? Hey, Rasik.”
Rajaram felt dizzy. Rasik Mallik had made a big mess. These bodies had to be removed right away. The sahibs needed to be informed too.
After half an hour. Dewan and David-sahib were in deep consultation.
David said, “Five bodies? How can we hide them? Can’t throw them in the river. They will get stuck at the mouth of the fish-bund.
“No Sahib, not in the river. I have a plan. You order Heerey Dom and his brother-in-law Kalu. I have a plan.
“First let me do the job, then I will give you full report. You order them here. We must finish everything before it gets light. Have to wash away all the blood stains from the ground too. Tomorrow you must punish Rasik and fine him.”
That night Rajaram finished all the work and came home and went to bed.
Jagadamba said, “Goodness! So much work? The night is almost over—”
Rajaram said, “It is the matter of all the documents and accounts. It takes a long time.”
The original novel "ichhamoti" (ইছামতী) by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay was his last novel. It was serialized in 'Abhyudoy' (অভ্যুদয়) first and then published in book form by 'Mitraloy' (মিত্রালয়, পৌষ ১৩৫০) on January 15, 1950 when the author was still alive.
Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra. Chhanda (Chatterjee) Bewtra was born in Purulia, West Bengal but...
Illustrated by Atanu Deb. Atanu is currently teaching in a University in Orissa, India.
Illustrated by Atanu Deb. Atanu is currently teaching in a University in Orissa, India.