|The mystery in itself was totally convoluted, and Feluda was making it more tortuous with his vague words. Finally, I decided to call it a day and not think about it anymore. But it is not easy to stop yourself from thinking, especially if the topic is appealing to you. My mind was full of queries. Why did Shyamlal babu have mud stains on his feet? Who sent the thuggee and the warning note? Whom did granny see when she cried out? What was in that hole in the garden? Why did Mr. Mallick refuse to show the message written by the spirit?|
‘Don’t you have an acquaintance who lives in Gosaipur?’ Feluda asked Lalmohan Ganguly, alias Jatayu, the mystery-thriller novelist.
After seeing the Victoria Memorial, we, the three musketeers, had been walking and had reached the edge of the Ganga. We now sat in that vaulted room that’s near the Princep Ghat munching on chanachur and savoring the breeze of the Ganga. It was five in the evening on the thirteenth of October. A buoy had been floating in the water before us and after explaining Lalmohan babu its use Feluda posed the above question. ‘Of course I have,’ said Lalmohan babu, ‘Tulsi babu… Tulsicharan Dasgupta. He used to teach Mathematics and Geography at the Athenaeum. Tulsi babu used to live in Raja Dinendra Street before moving to Gosaipur after his retirement. His ancestral home is there. He had asked me more than once to visit him. He is one of my ardent fans, you know? A composer of stories himself, he writes for children mostly. A couple of them have been published in the Sandesh as well – but why Gosaipur?’
‘I received a letter from there. The writer is Jibanlal Mallick. Jibanlal is the son of Shyamlal Mallick. Upon opening the Bansha-parichaya (Genealogical Identity), third edition, I saw that the Mallicks had been the zamindars of Gosaipur.’
A ship whistled rather loudly and made Feluda stop. I knew a letter from Gosaipur had come by the morning post. I had, however, no idea about its contents. I had observed Feluda light a Charminar cigarette and sit quietly for some time after reading that note.
‘What did the gentleman write?’asked Lalmohan babu.
‘He wrote that somebody or some people threatened to murder his father. He will be grateful and would award a suitable remuneration if I could come and solve the matter.’
‘Let’s go, sir,’ said Lalmohan babu. ‘We are almost free right now; my new book is out too. You don’t have anything on your hands at the moment either. Besides, we have already been to various places abroad, so visiting the countryside to change the palate doesn’t seem like a bad proposition at all. I heard that in Segunhati, which is very close, they have a fair at this time. Let’s go, sir.’
‘They may have problems if we stay in their home. That’s why Jibanlal said he will arrange for our stay at a house of one of his acquaintances, about three miles away in Sripur. We will have to commute by cycle rickshaw. However, I think it will be convenient if we stayed in Gosaipur. That’s why I asked about your friend.’
‘My friend will be damn glad. And if he hears you are coming along then he will be more than happy. He greatly admires you as well.’
‘Let me know who else he admires.’
Lalmohan babu took this sarcastic question rather seriously, ‘I heard him mention Jagadish Bose sometimes; he said that there was not a man greater than him in the entire world; and I guess he learnt wrestling from Gobor babu when he was young; and--’
‘Okay, that’s enough.’
To reach Gosaipur you need to get off at Katwa Junction and take a bus. It is seven miles from Katwa and will take at most half an hour. Feluda sent a note to Shyamlal’s son Jibanlal informing him about our arrival and our arrangement to stay in Gosaipur. Meanwhile, upon receiving Jatayu’s letter, Tulsi babu had replied promptly. Not only was he happy, but he also wrote that ‘Gosaipur Sahitya Sangha’ (Gosaipur literary club) wished to arrange joint felicitations for Lalmohan babu and Feluda. Lalmohan babu had no problems; however, upon hearing the news, Feluda turned all angry and said, ‘If crime stops in the country then investigators lose their means of livelihood. Do you understand the conditions under which I work? Why do I need to be felicitated for that, sir? And please mention to your friend that he must keep my identity a secret, otherwise the investigation will be totally spoiled.’
Lalmohan babu was compelled to do as instructed by Feluda. In his note to his friend, however, he mentioned that he had no problem in accepting the felicitation himself. In fact, the ceremony was probably on his mind when he packed the satin Panjabi with blue chikan threadwork in his luggage.
Tulsi babu had informed us that he would be waiting for us at Yogesh’s grocery store, a hard-to-miss spot near the entrance of the Gosaipur village. His home was only a ten-minute walk from there.
While on the bus from Katwa to Gosaipur, I was pretty surprised to see a palki on the road. I observed Feluda and Lalmohan babu turning their heads and staring at it as well. ‘Which century are we in, sir?’ said Lalmohan babu. ‘Do you suppose electricity has reached here? I didn’t consider the location to be this rustic.’
The bus conductor said that he knew Yogesh’s grocery store. Upon reaching the destination, he shouted shrilly ‘Gosaipur, Gosaipur!’ The bus stopped and we got off. It went without saying that the gentleman whom Lalmohan babu now approached with a big smile had been a school master. The bespectacled gentleman held a patched-up umbrella in his hand, had on a pair of brown Keds shoes, wore a half-panjabi and dhoti, and under his armpit held a very old copy of the National Geographic magazine. On being introduced to Feluda he smiled, winked and said, ‘I followed your instruction—you needn’t worry anymore. You are a tourist. You’ve spent your whole life in Canada, and now you’ve come to see the country out of sheer whim. I thought that if you are here on some investigation you might have to move around here and there, that’s why it’s better to be on the safe side and be a tourist rather than anything else. Everybody is familiar with the strong inquisitiveness of tourists.’
‘I hope you have informative books on Canada at your home’ Feluda said with a smile.
‘You don’t worry about that too,’ said Tulsi babu. Next he turned towards Lalmohan babu and said, ‘Ganguly bhaya, you do, however, need to suffer a bit of trouble. The day after tomorrow is Friday, and I have arranged a function on that day at our New Primary school. The lawyer Suresh Chakladar will be presiding. It’s nothing—a little song and dance, a couple of recitations, a couple of speeches and that’s about it. Baladev, the son of our postmaster Harihar, is a good artist; he wrote the address of honor. The language, however, is mine.’
‘The formalities seem to be a bit excessive—’ Lalmohan babu tripped on something on the unpaved road and couldn’t finish his sentence. However, Tulsi babu having understood the rest of his intended speech said, ‘Well, there will be a bit of excess in such matters. There aren’t a lot of successful authors like you around here. Parikshit Chatterjee was the last who visited— and that was back in sixty seven.’
Feluda said, ‘We saw a palki on our way here. Do people still use palki in this area?’
‘Just palki?’ Tulsi babu said, prodding a calf that had ambled onto the road with his umbrella. ‘Name any artifact you want from the bygone era. Footmen and other followers? Yes, sir. Hookah-holder? Again yes. Lamp and lamp-stand? Yes—’
‘But I see you have electricity here.’
‘It’s everywhere, except for where it is most needed.’
‘Where, sir?’ Lalmohan babu enquired.
‘The Mallick house’
Surprised, all three of us stared at the gentleman.
‘Mallick meaning Shyamlal Mallick?’ Feluda asked.
‘They are the only Mallicks in Gosaipur. They used to be the zamindars here, you know. Under Durlabh Mallick’s name even traditional antagonists behaved as friends. Shyamlal is his son. After the demise of landownership, he started a business of plastics and made a lot of money. One day he was groping in the dark to light a switch in his room and he didn’t see the live wire that was on the switchboard. Unfortunately, his hand came in contact with it. It was AC current, sir; there was much uproar over his burnt hand. He was in the hospital for quite some time too. After he was discharged, he transferred his business to his son and came to Gosaipur. No sooner did he arrive than he disconnected the electricity connection in his home. We could have understood if he had limited himself to that. At the same time he rejected everything that belonged to the twentieth century. He quit the cigar for the hubble-bubble; the toothbrush for the tooth-twig. All the English books in his house were sold off; he sold off his car as well and started using the palki. He restored an old broken palki that they had at home and employed four palanquin-bearers. He discarded all the imported medicines he had and now relies entirely on Ayurveda. This has proved to be an accidental piece of luck for Tarak kobiraj. There isn’t any count of such things he did. Now that you are here, you’ll doubtless be introduced to him, you will see everything then.’
‘I cannot but be introduced,’ said Feluda. ‘I was summoned by his son.’
‘Yes, the son is here all right. What’s the mystery?’
‘Did you hear any news about attempts to kill Shyamlal Mallick?’
Tulsi babu seemed rather surprised to hear this. ‘No, I didn’t hear any such thing. By the way, if somebody wants to kill him then why bring people from outside? His enemy is in his home.’
‘How is that?’
‘The person who summoned you doesn’t get along with his father at all. They have altercations whenever he visits his father’s home. Nevertheless, I do not blame Jibanlal for that. How can a son get along with a father with such queer ideas? Whenever Jibanlal comes he has to live in that house. It’s very difficult to keep your cool in that haunted house.’
Tulsi babu said that his brick house which stood on an acre of land was nearly a hundred years old. He said it was built by his grandfather who had been an attorney. Tulsi babu’s wife died in Kolkata. His daughter was married to an iron and wood businessman in Ajimganj. Of his two sons, one was employed in the sign-painting business in Kolkata; the other was a medicine salesman. Tulsi babu lived in Gosaipur all by himself. ‘However, you know, you don’t feel lonely in the village. Here everybody is aware of everybody’s whereabouts; you see them every day, the intimacy is greater here.’
Upon reaching Tulsi babu’s house around four in the evening and freshening up, the tea arrangements were made. Feluda being rather finicky about his tea carried a packet of good tea along with him. We all drank that with chira-narkel. Tulsi babu’s servant Ganga made all the arrangements.
Tulsi babu stayed in one of the rooms on the first floor. There was a spacious room on the second floor. Three wooden-plank beds were placed in that room for us. We learnt that Tulsi babu’s daughter and son-in-law and their children came once every year and stayed in that room.
While sipping his tea Feluda said, ‘I need to visit the house that doesn’t have electricity to meet Jiban babu. I wrote him that I will be visiting him around five-thirty.’
Tulsi babu said, ‘Oh, very well, I will take you there. The Mallick house is five to seven minutes from here. However, I am not leaving dear Mr. Ganguly. A few people are coming over this evening. They wish to have some amiable conversation with the literateur. Mr. Mitter, will you be back in a couple of hours?’
‘Why would you ask?’
‘I want to take you to Atmaram babu’s place. He is one of the attractions of Gosaipur.’
‘His real name is Mrigen Bhattacharya. He practices summoning spirits, that’s why some people have named him Atmaram. I didn’t name him though! I believe the gentleman does have something in him.’
We couldn’t ask Tulsi babu anything more about Atmaram babu’s profession of summoning spirits because right at that moment we saw that palki once again. We were sitting in the verandah and having our tea and chira, the road ran just outside this porch, and the palki was coming along that road. We now saw somebody sitting inside it.
‘Dear me, I guess Jiban babu is inside the palki!’ said Tulsi babu. We saw a gentleman peeping through the door. The palanquin bearers, like the ones we read in stories, made their customary ‘heave-ho’ sound as they marched, and then, suddenly, both the sound and the palanquin stopped before us.
No sooner had the palki been placed on the ground than with great difficulty a man of about thirty-five emerged out of its cramped interior. With greater difficulty, he subsequently managed to stand up. In a smart Kolkata style bush-shirt and a pair of Terilyn trousers, he seemed totally out of place in the old palanquin.
‘Mr. Mitter?’ said the gentleman approaching Feluda with a big smile.
‘My name is Jibanlal Mallick.’
‘I guessed that. This is my friend Mr. Ganguly, and this is my cousin Tapesh. I guess you are acquainted with Tulsi babu.’
Jiban babu asked the palki to leave and said, ‘My house is five minutes walk from here. Will you please come? I have something to discuss. Have you had your tea?’
Lalmohan babu stayed back, while Feluda and I accompanied the gentleman and headed for the Mallick residence. We left the road and took a route through the bamboo forest; I understood it was a shortcut. Jiban babu said, ‘I needed to make a telephone call to Kolkata, that’s why I had to go to the station.’
‘I guess there isn’t any other alternative save for the palki?’
Jiban babu cast a sideways glance at Feluda and said, ‘I understand Tulsi babu has told you about it already.’
‘Yes, he said it was the result of the electric shock.’
‘The result wasn’t so dangerous in the beginning; the grudge was directed against only the electricity. But you can understand the current situation when you reach our home.’
‘Are you a frequent visitor here?’
‘Once in every two months. We have a business, and I supervise it now. I have come this time to talk about that.’
‘So your father is still interested in the business?’
‘Not at all. But I don’t want him to. I have been trying my best to return him to his normal state.’
‘Do you see any hope?’
The Mallick house was a considerably old structure; however, because of timely renovations, the establishment didn’t look that dilapidated. One couldn’t perhaps call it a palace; nevertheless, it surely qualified as a mansion. Walking through the main gate we observed a pond on the right hand side. Through the gaps on both sides of the building trees and plants in the back could be seen, suggesting the existence of a garden in that direction. The surrounding wall hadn’t been renovated, it had crevices here and there, with some sections in utter ruin.
The buckler and the spear held by the gatekeeper we saw standing on the portico made me feel that he had been getting ready to perform in some historical drama. A footman in equally ridiculous outfit positioned next to the main entrance made an enormous gesture of salutation as soon as he saw Jiban babu. It was highly amusing.
We sat on the mattress on the floor of the living room on the first floor. There were no chairs. The pictures hanging from the wall appeared to be either of Hindu gods and goddesses or of some mythological scenes. The wall cabinet held about ten odd Bengali books, the other shelves were empty.
‘Let me know if you need the fan, then I will assign Dasu.’
I had not noticed it before, but now I observed a couple of fringed woven mats suspended from a wooden stick in the ceiling attached to a couple of ringlets. The rope attached to the stick went over the door on the left and piercing the wall above went into the verandah. This was a hand-pulled fan; when the rope-attached to the device was pulled from the verandah cold air circulated within the room. It was the month of October, and in the evening it wasn’t that warm; we said we did not need the fan.
‘Do you know what this is?’
Jiban babu opened the cabinet and brought out a square piece of checkered cloth. The interesting thing about it was that it had a piece of stone attached to one of its corners by means of a string.
Feluda took the gamchha and frowned. He held the fabric opposite the stone-attached side, whirled it a couple of times in the air and said, ‘Topshe, get up.’
I got up. Feluda stood three arms length away. Then like throwing a net he hurled the gamchha in my direction, and all of a sudden the rock-attached side looped around my neck.
‘Thuggee!’ I said
Feluda had told me about the murdering band of robbers once prevalent in India. They used to strangle travellers by tossing a handkerchief or scarf around their necks and tightening the noose.
Feluda, however, did not pull on the gamchha. In no time he disentangled the noose and asked, ‘Where did you get it?’
‘Somebody threw it in my father’s room at midnight,’ said Jiban babu.
‘A few days before I arrived.’
‘I wonder how that was possible with all these guards on the premises.’
‘Guards?’ Jiban babu chuckled. ‘They are guards in their fancy uniform only, in reality they are rustic do-nothings, totally lazy. They do realize that babu is a bit zany. They hardly work. Thank god the robbers didn’t attack the house; otherwise the strength of those guards would have been tested that day.’
‘May I know who else lives in the house?’
‘Apart from my father, my widow grandmother also lives here. She belongs to the ancient age and is pretty well adjusted. And then there is Bholanath babu. He can be called the domestic aid, the manager who runs errands for my father and takes care of him. Calling the Ayurvedic physician when my father is ill is also a part of his job. In case there is a need to visit the town, he does that for him too. That’s all—there isn’t anybody else. Of course there are servants: a cook, a couple of guards, a domestic helper—they all stay in the house. The palanquin-bearers and the punkah-puller come from a nearby village.’
‘Where is this Bholanath babu from? How long has he been here?’
‘He is from this village. They had been our tenants. His ancestors were farmers. Bholanath babu went to school, he was a bright lad. He is almost sixty years old now.’
‘Is he your grandfather?’
Feluda asked pointing at a picture in the wall. The portrait showed a man sporting a pair of imperial moustaches sitting in a chair with his left hand on a marble-top table and his right hand holding a silver inlay walking stick. His terrible might could be judged by looking at him.
‘Yes, this is Durlabh Singha.’
‘The one who could make even traditional antagonists like the tiger and the cow behave as friends?’
Jiban babu started laughing.
‘Yes, he was a well-known zamindar; and shamefully torturous too.’
A servant in the meanwhile brought something in a cup and a couple of glasses placed on a tray.
‘It seems your father hasn’t totally discarded the practice of drinking tea.’
‘Of course, he has. This is not tea though, it’s coffee. I get a cup for myself and a tin of Nescafe whenever I come. I drink it twice daily. The glasses are for you, please don’t mind.’
‘Why would we mind? This is like the Madrasi system. I was served coffee in the same fashion in a bell-metal utensil at Kamala Villa.’
We heard an intermittent dry-wooden sound from upstairs. I understood from Feluda’s query where the sound came from.
‘Does your father wear khadam?’
Jiban babu smiled and said, ‘Isn’t that natural?’
‘Apart from the thuggee napkin what else gave you the idea that your father’s life is in danger?’
Jiban babu brought a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it over to Feluda. The note written in pencil in block letters declared—
‘To avenge the atrocities committed by your ancestors, you have been given the death sentence. Be ready to die!’
‘This came on the fifth of October, a day before my arrival. It was mailed from Katwa. Anybody from here could have dropped it in the post.’
‘Please don’t mind my asking—it would be a great help if you could throw some light on the kind of sins committed by your ancestors.’
‘I guess you understand,’ said Jiban babu, ‘that in the history of a zamindar family there could be several examples of indiscretions. I really don’t know which sin to talk about. My grandfather had committed many atrocities on his subjects.’
‘Why didn’t you talk to the police after receiving it?’
‘There are a couple of reasons,’ Jiban babu said after pausing to think for a bit. ‘First, I thought people wouldn’t recognize detective Prodosh Mitter in these parts; so, naturally those who are dispensing the warnings wouldn’t adopt any safeguarding measures. Second, if the police arrive, I will be their prime suspect.’
We looked at him questioningly. Jiban babu continued, ‘Since the strange transformation of my father he and I do not get along very well. I could not throw out the modern conveniences quite so easily, sir. It’s true that the mental blow he experienced as a result of the electric shock had been severe. The incident took place five years ago. My father and I went inside the living room together. While switching on the light in the dark my father’s hand touched the exposed wires. The main switch was outside; I rushed immediately to turn it off. Yet, I don’t know why my father considers that I wasn’t fast enough. Anyway, we quarrel every time I visit. Once I was so angry that I threw away a burning kerosene lamp. The mattress on the floor caught fire; there was much uproar because of this. The news spread in our close community. Everybody knows that Shyamlal Mallick and his son do not get along. So, I guess you understand why I didn’t call the police. Of course, one of the reasons for summoning you is your reputation as a private investigator. Also, I believe a modern urban person like you will better understand the problem.’
A lantern was brought in even before we finished our Nescafe. The melody upstairs had ceased by now. Jiban babu said, ‘Do you want to see my father?’
‘That would be great.’
I wasn’t surprised to see the light of the few lamps and lanterns failing to illumine the corners of the spacious Mallick residence. While climbing the stairs Jiban babu got a small torch out of his pocket and said, ‘I sneaked in this one as well.’
With his back resting on a cushion and his hand holding the tube of his hubble-bubble, Shyamlal Mallick sat on the mattress spread on the floor. The gentleman’s appearance bore marked resemblance with both Jiban babu and the picture of Durlabh Singha downstairs. If Durlabh Singha’s moustache could be added to his appearance then he too would probably look pretty ferocious. Seeing him like this would scarcely evoke any fear in one; however, when he spoke in his grim tone it seemed that he could become dangerous when annoyed.
‘You may leave now’ Shyamlal babu said grimly. The one who was spoken to had been sitting in one of the corners of the floor-mattress. Jiban babu introduced him as the Kobiraj Tarak Chakravarty. Skinny to the bones, the gentleman had a thick moustache and a pair of thick eyeglasses hanging from his nose under his bushy eyebrows. The gentleman greeted us and left.
‘What did you want a detective for?’ Shyamlal Mallick asked with irritation upon being introduced to Feluda. ‘This conspiracy cannot be solved by some detective. Durlabh Mallick’s spirit confirmed that my enemy resides in my own home. He wrote the words on a piece of paper. The spirit has eternal knowledge. How can a mortal by merely studying some English texts know more than the spirit?’
Jiban babu seemed perplexed. I understood that he wasn’t aware of the incident.
‘Did you visit Mriganka Bhattacharya?’
‘Why would I go? He came to me. I called him. I needed to know who had been harassing me like this. Now I do.’
‘When did he come?’ Jiban babu asked grimly.
‘The day before you arrived here.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
Shyamlal babu didn’t reply. He kept on smoking his hubble-bubble between conversations. Feluda said, ‘Can we have a look at what Durlabh Singha’s spirit wrote?’
The gentleman put the tube of his hubble-bubble away and looked at Feluda.
‘How old are you?’
Feluda told him his age.
‘How can you be so impudent at this young age? Are you not aware of the spiritual significance of that document? Is it a thing to be revealed to just about anybody?’
‘I beg your pardon,’ Feluda said calmly, ‘I just wanted to know if your dead father has provided any solution for your problem.’
‘Why do you need the paper for that? You can ask me the question. There is just one solution—get rid of the enemy.’
Everybody was quiet for a moment. Then Jiban babu calmly asked,, ‘Are you asking me to leave?’
‘Did I ever ask you to come?’
Jiban babu didn’t seem like a person who would give up easily.
He said, ‘Baba, you seem to trust Bholanath babu more than me, I guess you are forgetting his family history. When Bholanath babu’s father failed to pay the revenue on time, Durlabh Mallick’s people burnt his house. And—’
‘Ignorant!’ said Mr. Mallick with a sneer. ‘Bholanath was just a child back then. Why would he take vengeance now after sixty years of the incident? Can’t you understand that people would laugh at you if you go about saying such things?’
After that we didn’t stay any longer. ‘Let’s go, I will take you back,’ said Jiban babu after coming out. ‘You wouldn’t know the shortcut.’
As we exited through the main gate he said, ‘I didn’t mean to humiliate you. I am extremely embarrassed that you had to face such an insult.’
‘Detectives need to be immune to such things, Jiban babu,’ said Feluda. ‘I am not displeased about coming here at all. Please don’t think about that. I am just worried about you. You need to understand one thing— that you are becoming the prime suspect because the warning note explicitly points at Bholanath babu.’
‘But when the gamchha and the letter arrived I was in Kolkata, Mr. Mitter.’
Feluda smiled and said, ‘How are we to know that you didn’t have an attendant in Gosaipur, Jiban babu?’
‘You too are suspecting me?’ Jiban babu said in a dry overwhelmed voice.
‘I don’t suspect anybody right now; I don’t, however, consider anybody innocent either. But I do want to ask you something. What sort of a person is Bholanath babu?’
Jiban babu was silent for a moment, and then he said, ‘Extremely reliable. I cannot but agree with that. But then why am I the suspect?’ he asked rather helplessly. Feluda said, ‘Jiban babu, I need to be completely unbiased while judging the situation. There isn’t any other way. And you need to be patient. There isn’t any other option for you. I don’t know how to save a criminal, but I will surely protect the innocent.’
It was hard to tell in the dark if Jiban babu felt reassured by Feluda’s last words or not.
As we reached towards the end of the bamboo forest, Feluda asked Jiban babu, ‘I see your father wears khadam; does he ever walk about without them—outside I mean?’
‘He never walks about without them even in the house, let alone outside! But this isn’t new practice, it’s an old one.’
‘I guess I saw mud under his feet. That’s why I am asking. Oh, by the way—does he use mosquito net?’
‘Of course; everybody does here. We have to. But why do you ask?’
‘I guess you didn’t notice in the light of the lantern that your father’s entire body was covered with innumerable mosquito bites.’
‘Oh, really?’ I understood Jiban babu didn’t notice it at all. To be honest, I didn’t notice it either. ‘But my father uses mosquito net. Mosquito net doesn’t belong to the sahibs, why say no to that?’
‘Then I guess there is a hole in the net, just have a look at it sometime.’
Tulsi babu and Jatayu had been waiting for us. We felt relieved in the presence of the electric light. Lalmohan babu said, ‘Can you imagine that even in this rustic joint I found around twenty people who have read more than fifty percent of my works? However, they didn’t all buy the books; sixty-five percent of them borrowed them from the school library. Those who had bought the books got them autographed by me.’
Tulsi babu said to Feluda, 'We have been waiting for you. Let’s now pay a visit to Atmaram babu. You can see Badure-Kali tomorrow.’
‘What is that?’
‘It’s another attraction of Gosaipur. It is located inside that bamboo forest you walked through. It’s an old derelict temple that’s nearly two hundred years old. There isn’t any idol. The bats have been nesting there for quite some time now. At one time the temple had pomp and grandeur.’
‘One question, is this Atmaram babu a native of this village?’
‘No, but he has been living here for a long time. It’s been two years since the gentleman discovered his unique gift of communicating with the spirit world. Other than that, he knows astrology. He is pretty well known actually. Even people from Kolkata come for consultation with him.’
‘Does he take any fees?’
‘I guess he does. But I haven’t heard him taking any from people around here. He calls the spirits on Friday; today we will just pay a visit.’
The reason for Feluda’s not objecting to the visit was clear: he understood that Mrigen babu is linked to the mystery. Soon we left the house.
The darkness outside seemed pretty dense even though we saw glimmers of electric light here and there. The moon wasn’t up in the sky yet. The sound of crickets, the hooting of owls and the baying of jackals suggested the appropriateness of Shyam Mallick’s palki and kerosene lamp in this environment. Lalmohan babu said that he had never experienced a more mysterious and thrilling atmosphere ever before. ‘I had chosen Guatemala as the setting for my new novel that I am planning at the moment, but I now feel Gosaipur is gradually becoming more attractive than the former as a befitting background for my work.’
‘If you had seen the noose in the thuggee, then you would have understood the meaning of thrilling,’ I said.
‘What was that, sir?’
Feluda gave Lalmohan babu a gist of the whole incident. He even mentioned the warning letter. Tulsi babu made a remark, ‘If Mrigen Bhattacharya could bring the spirit to say that Shyam Mallick’s enemy is a resident of the Mallick house, then you must accept it. There is no need to go about the village in that case.’
I thought to myself that we found another person whom Tulsi babu admired—Atmaram Mrigen Bhattacharya.
We observed that Mrigen babu’s residence didn’t have electricity either. It occurred to me that possibly it might be easier to summon spirits in the darkness. The gentleman’s appearance was remarkable. His age couldn’t be ascertained from his appearance. Even though there were wrinkles underneath his eyes and under his chin, his thin hair hadn’t turned grey. His whole appearance resembled the pundits of the Sanskrit schools in Kashi. He was what you call a marked Brahmin. His calves suggested that he used to walk a lot at one time.
Even though the house did not have electric light, there were ample sitting arrangements. Apart from the two benches on either side of the wooden bed on which Mr. Bhattacharya sat there stood three tin chairs and one wooden chair in the front. A young man of about twenty-five sat on the bench to the right turning pages of an old panjika. We later learnt that he was Mrigen babu’s nephew, who also helped him in summoning the spirits.
Upon seeing Mrigen babu, Tulsi babu touched his feet, and pointing in our direction said, ‘My friends, they have come from Kolkata. I thought I should bring them here. I thought they should see for themselves the person whom we consider the pride of Gosaipur’
Mrigen babu gestured for us to settle down. We all sat down, except for Tulsi babu who remained standing.
Suddenly Mrigen babu stretched, closed his eyes, and sat in the Padmasana (lotus posture) position silently for a few moments. Afterward, while still in that position he said, ‘Which one is the sandhya-sashi- bondhu (evening -moon -friend)?’
We all remained silent. Feluda frowned. Lalmohan babu said, ‘There isn’t anybody with that name—’
Tulsi babu put his finger on his lips to silence him.
‘Prodosh Chandra Mitra is my name,’ Feluda said abruptly.
Oh, certainly! –Prodosh meant evening (sandhya), Chandra meant the moon (soshi), and Mitra meant a friend (bondhu)!
Mr. Bhattacharya opened his eyes and turned towards Feluda. I observed Tulsi babu looking at Feluda with a sense of pride.
‘You know, Tulsicharan, after a few days I won’t need any spirits at all. I can feel the power of eternal knowledge generating within me. But it will take some more years.’
‘Can you tell his profession?’ Tulsi babu asked while looking at Feluda. In the meantime, we observed somebody else had entered the room, and it wouldn’t be good if the news that Feluda was a detective were released in front of him.
‘That could go without saying,’ said Feluda. Tulsi babu seemed embarrassed about his carelessness and changed the subject. ‘I will bring them once again on Friday. Today I brought them for a visit only.’
Mrigen babu was still eyeing Feluda. He smiled a bit and said, ‘If I say that you have come to sukkha-shal-sashya (tiny-year-grain) then would anybody apart from you understand? You are becoming uncomfortable for no reason at all, my dear.’
After we took leave of the gentleman Feluda said, ‘That was a shrewd man; if he won’t make money then who will?’
‘What’s sukkha-shal-sasya (tiny-year-grain), sir?’ Lalmohan babu asked.
‘I could understand evening-moon-friend after much difficulty—that too because you said your name.’
‘Sukkha is anu (an atom/minute), shal being sana (year), and sashya is dhan (grain). And together the three means—‘
‘Anushandhan (investigation)!’ Lalmohan babu clapped and said, ‘The person doesn’t just foretell future, he knows riddles too. That’s fascinating!’
Somebody was coming in our direction. The lantern he held swayed from side to side such that it seemed his shadow was sweeping its way up the street.
Tulsi babu raised his torch and focused on the person’s face, ‘Going to Mr. Bhattacharya’s place, I presume. What’s the matter, why these frequent visits?’
The man laughed and went his way without answering.
‘Bholanath babu,’ said Tulsi babu, ‘Bhattacharya’s latest follower. He went to his house sometime and summoned somebody’s spirit.’
At night we sat on Tulsi babu’s verandah and had a delicious meal with three vegetable dishes, mung daal, and egg curry. Tulsi babu said the water from the tube wells here increases one’s appetite.
After our meal we sat in the verandah listening to Tulsi babu’s stories as a teacher. It was only nine o’clock when we went to bed, yet it seemed like midnight. We had brought bedspreads and mosquito nets along with us; Feluda said he would apply Odomos and wouldn’t need the mosquito net. I noticed that in the last one and half hours Feluda hadn’t talked much about anything except praising Ganga’s cooking skills. I never saw him so deep in thoughts like this before. Lalmohan babu needed to prepare his felicitation speech, so he asked for a lantern. But he feared the lights might disturb our sleep.
As soon as I lay on the bed, I had to ask Feluda one question, ‘How did he manage to tell your name and your profession?’
‘That is one of the questions among the innumerable others in my mind, Topshe. However, a lot of people do have peculiar powers which escape explanation.’
Lalmohan babu said, ‘Why did he ignore me like that?’
‘The whole village is about to give you a reception, and you are depressed because just one person didn’t make a riddle out of your name?’
‘Then it seems that my name cannot be made into a riddle.’
Feluda exhaled a couple of smoke rings and said, ‘Raktobaran (red complexion) mugdhakaran (enchanting) nadi pase jaha (that exists beside the river) bindhile (pricked) maran (death).’
‘How is that, how is that?’ Lalmohan babu asked excitedly. Feluda said the verse so quickly that neither of us could grasp its full meaning. Feluda repeated himself, ‘Raktobaran mugdhakaran nadi pashe jaha bindhle maran.’
‘Ok, wait, wait….Raktabaran is lal (red) and mugdhakaran—’
‘Mohan (charming),’ I shouted.
‘Yes, Lalmohan—but Ganguly?—okay, okay, yes, nadi (river) is gang and a bullet (guli) pierce causes death—brilliant, sir! I have no idea how such things occur to you. With you being here, there is no meaning in felicitating me. Oh yes, will you take a look at the speech once it’s ready?’
The next morning we went to the Jagarani Club to watch the rehearsal of the play Sirajuddaulla. Feluda introduced himself to the actors and gave a brief lecture on Canadian theater. It was here that we met Gosaipur’s sole mime artist Benimadhab. He said he would visit us on Friday and give a demonstration of his art. ‘You will see, sir, how I would climb stairs on a flat terrace, how people express themselves in the middle of a storm, how through six easy changes of expressions sad could become happy, I will show all that.’
In the evening we went to the Segunhati fair. We took a Ferris wheel ride, ate chicken cutlet and rajbhog, watched the dangerous conjuring tricks of the Spider Lady and spent thirteen rupees fifty paisa on knickknacks. It was six o’clock when we returned to Gosaipur.
Since it wasn’t dark yet Feluda said he wanted to visit the Mallick house again to see Jiban babu. Tulsi babu decided to wait for us in his home.
Jiban babu saw us approaching and came out even before we reached the main entrance. To Feluda’s question about any new development he just shook his head.. ‘Can I take a tour of your garden?’ Feluda asked.
‘Sure,’ said Jiban babu, ‘please come with me.’
It wasn’t a flower garden, for most of the trees we saw were large stout trees and fruit trees. I had no idea why Feluda wanted to inspect the gardens! Once he just stood and observed the ground for a little while. In the meantime, we heard a voice from the second floor verandah. ‘Who’s there, who’s there?’ Jiban babu’s grandmother was shouting. Jiban babu had to shout back in reply, ‘Nobody, grandmother—just us.’ ‘Oh, you,’ said the grandmother, ‘I have been seeing people roaming around here every day.’
‘How good is your grandmother’s vision?’ Feluda asked.
‘Very bad,’ Jiban babu said, ‘and her hearing matches her vision too!’
‘The garden lacks maintenance, I see.’
‘Whatever maintenance, Bholanath babu does it.’
‘Do people live on the premises at night?’
‘At night? Are you out of your mind? Do you think they will be on the vigil in this garden at night?’
‘Then the main entrance is locked at night, I presume?’
‘That’s Bholanath babu’s duty. And if I am here I lock it myself, the key remains with me.’
‘We haven’t been introduced to Bholanath babu yet; can you please call him now?’
Bholanath babu’s appearance resembled his ancestors despite his wearing modern dhoti and shirt. He wouldn’t have looked out of place working bare-chested in a field with a plough in his hand. We sat on the stepped embankment leading to the pond and began to talk. The monsoon rains had filled the pond to the brim. The whole pond was filled with water-lilies. Jiban babu summoned a servant called Nabin and asked him to bring lemon sherbet. The atmosphere was eerily silent except for the low creaking sound of a transistor which came from somewhere afar. If it hadn’t been for that then we would have truly felt that we were sitting in some bygone era.
‘So, Mriganka babu came just once to your residence?’ Feluda asked Bholanath babu.
‘Recently once, yes.’
‘And before that?’
‘A few times. When Madan Gosai’s group came in August it was Mriganka babu himself who brought them here to chant kirtan for kortababu. Apart from that, I saw him coming here once or twice by himself; I guess korta asked him to make a horoscope.’
‘Has that horoscope been prepared?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Who arranged for this latest visit of his?’
‘Well kortababu wanted it—and his physician also wanted him to come, and yes, I too wanted the same.’
‘I guess you are a frequent visitor to the Bhattacharya residence?’
‘Do you feel any devotion?’
Bholanath babu’s head bowed.
‘I don’t know what to say. My daughter’s name was Lokkhi (Goddess of wealth); she lived up to her name. But when she was eleven she died of cholera. Mriganka babu asked if I wanted to know how she was in her own words.’
Bholanath babu rubbed his tearful eyes with the corner of his dhoti. Then he controlled himself and said, ‘Bhattacharya mosai summoned the spirit of my daughter. She said she is happy in the lap of the Lord and that she doesn’t have any pains. However, she didn’t actually say all that, it was written on paper. From that time onwards…’
Bholanath babu’s voice choked once again. To stop the matter from getting any worse, Feluda said, ‘Were you there when they were summoning the spirits in this house?’
‘Yes I was, but not inside the room. I was outside the door. Apart from kortamosai, Nityananda and Mr. Bhattacharya there wasn’t anybody else in the room. Kortamosai had asked me to make sure that his mother didn’t know about it. So, I had to be on the lookout at the door.’
‘So you didn’t hear anything?’
‘Well after ten minutes when a group of jackals started baying from Madhu Sardar’s bamboo forest I thought I heard kortamosai say—Has anybody come, has anybody come?’ After that, I heard nothing. When everything was done I took Bhattacharya-mosai back to his home.’
After finishing the sherbet, Feluda lit one of his Charminar cigarettes and said, ‘Do you recall the incident of Durlabh Mallick burning your house?’
Bholanath babu said a few short words in reply.
‘Yes, I do.’
‘You don’t bear any grudges?’
I have heard Feluda ask such frank questions before. He felt that peoples’ reactions to such queries were very informative. Bholathanath babu bowed his head in abashment. After a few seconds of pause he said, ‘May be he isn’t totally sane now; however, in normal circumstances you would be hard-pressed to find any other person as good as our kortamosai.’
Feluda didn’t ask Bholanath babu any more questions. Bholanath babu waited silently for a few moments and then said, ‘If you kindly permit me, I would like to visit Bhattacharya-mosai.’
As Feluda had no problems, Bholanath babu left. Seeing Jiban babu getting restless Feluda said, ‘Do you want to say anything?’
‘I am eager to know if you have progressed any further in your investigation.’
I understood that he was sufficiently worried about his position.
Feluda said, ‘I quite liked Bholanath babu.’
Jiban babu turned pale. ‘So you want to say—’
‘I definitely don’t want to say that I don’t like you. I just want to mean that you cannot adequately progress based on a doubt or two—especially if those doubts can hardly be related to the main incident. What we now need is another incident which—’
‘Who… who’s there?’
Feluda stopped because of granny’s shout. This time the sound came from the back of the house. The grounds being utterly still, we heard her voice rather clearly.
Instantly, Feluda was up and running towards the garden. We followed him. All this while Lalmohan babu had been looking at the pond and humming some tune. He too joined us.
We managed to reach the garden with the help of three torch lights. Feluda was ahead of us; he stood aiming his torch at a spot adjacent to the ruined side of the western wall. ‘Did you see anybody?’ Jiban babu asked.
‘Yes I saw somebody, but not too clearly to discern.’
In the garden in the next half hour, amidst the buzzing and the biting of the mosquitoes and the deafening noise of the crickets, we located a mysterious fresh hole dug up next to the base of a tree at the back of the north side of the garden. Jiban babu could not guess as to what could have or had existed in that hole. Lalmohan babu opined about hidden treasure; however Jiban babu denied any such legend in his family. Under the circumstances, Feluda’s words totally mystified me.
‘Jiban babu, I believe we had been waiting for this incident.’
After finishing the evening meal, we sat in our room for some time. We were all pretty tired; I realized that it was not an easy task scouring the jungles and forests. Lalmohan babu and I had to apply Dettol at several spots on our legs. There were thorny bushes among the weed.
Only Feluda seemed totally unconcerned. Having applied Odomos, he lay on his stomach with his upper body resting on a pillow, scribbling in his notebook. Lalmohan babu stopped in the middle of a yawn, because Feluda had just asked Tulsi babu a question. The gentleman had just walked in with paan for us.
‘Tulsi babu, tell me, if you tell a great man a scheme of swindling another, and if that person uses that strategy, would you call that person a great man anymore?’
Tulsi babu seemed puzzled when he replied, ’Oh dear! I am not an expert in riddles. But, would a great man ever stoop to such a level? He most definitely won’t.’
‘Well,’ said Feluda, ‘I am glad to know and you and I share the same opinion.’
The mystery in itself was totally convoluted, and Feluda was making it more tortuous with his vague words. Finally, I decided to call it a day and not think about it anymore. But it is not easy to stop yourself from thinking, especially if the topic is appealing to you. My mind was full of queries. Why did Shyamlal babu have mud stains on his feet? Who sent the thuggee and the warning note? Whom did granny see when she cried out? What was in that hole in the garden? Why did Mr. Mallick refuse to show the message written by the spirit? Unlike the previous night when I fell asleep as soon as I lay in bed, tonight I found it difficult to sleep. Nevertheless, I did manage to sleep after a while only to wake up in the middle of the night with a start.
Actually I woke up because of a cry. And I guess Lalmohan babu was responsible for it, because he sat wide awake on his bed. The moonlight trickling in through the bars of the open window lit his face, and I could clearly see his goggle-eyed look.
‘Oh, my god, what a dream, what a dream!’ Lalmohan babu exclaimed.
‘What did you see?’ I asked.
‘I saw my grandfather Harimohan Ganguly …in a felicitation program where he delivered a speech, and then he put a garland around my neck and said, see what a beautiful garland I have given you—And I saw that the garland wasn’t any ordinary flowery version, Tapesh, that was—oh my god—it was strung with little red human heads!’
‘How can you see such a weird dream in this gorgeous pre-dawn moment?’
I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed it before now that Feluda wasn’t in his bed. He walked into the room through the door that led to the terrace; I understood he had been doing yoga exercises there. Anyway, I was relieved to find that it was morning after all.
‘What do you expect me to do?’ said Lalmohan babu. ‘Your allusion to red-complexion and Atmaram babu together with the felicitation ceremony all became a total hodgepodge in my head.’
We got up wondering if Tulsi babu was still asleep. When I went out to the terrace I observed that the moon was looking dull in the sky as the eastern horizon was just beginning to lighten up. A few stars were still twinkling; however, their term seemed limited as well. I had wanted to experiment with the teeth cleaning twig and had broken a few neem twigs for that purpose—Feluda said that these twigs for tooth-brushing were far better than any store bought brush and paste—and as I was just getting one of the twigs ready for brushing by chewing the end I heard a helpless cry for assistance.
‘Mr. Mitter, Mr. Mitter!’
It was Bholanath babu’s voice. We rushed downstairs. ‘Something terrible has happened!’
In the light of the early dawn Bholanath babu’s already pale face looked even paler. ‘What happened?’ Feluda asked as he rushed in.
‘The house was broken into by the robbers last night. The safe is empty! They tied up kortamosai. I was tied-up too; chhoto-babu untied me this morning. Please come, fast!’
Shyamlal Mallick was not physically hurt, but being tied up for a couple of hours made him look pretty miserable. He sat on his floor-mattress looking confused. We heard him muttering, ‘Why didn’t you kill me when you tied me up?’ I wondered if he had any idea that his safe was empty.
Feluda scoured Shyamlal babu’s room. Except for the safe, everything else in the room seemed undisturbed. The gentleman used to place the key under his pillow. Bholanath babu slept on the second floor; the robbers attacked him in his sleep and tied him up. He thought there were at least two of them. The servant Nabin slept soundly throughout the night. Of the two footmen, one went to see a show in Segunhati. The other footman who was on duty received a hard blow on his head which impaired his movements for a few hours. The main entrance was locked which meant that the miscreants came through the back door, climbed up the wall and entered through the verandah in the back of the house. We thought it was needless to disturb granny as she slept in the northern side of the verandah next to three unused rooms.
We couldn’t find Jiban babu. ‘Has Jiban babu gone to the police?’ Feluda asked Bholanath babu.
He nodded his head confusedly and said, ‘Well, he did tell me he was leaving, but after that…’
Lalmohan babu and I followed Feluda who now rushed towards the stairs. Crossing the courtyard we entered the garden through the backdoor. The sun wasn’t up yet. There was a fog, or a layer of the smoke from the cooking ovens. The leaves on the trees and the grass under our feet were drenched in dew. The birds were calling—crows, the Indian Mynah, and others whose names I didn’t know.
Rushing through the garden we suddenly came to a stop.
There was a man in blue kurta and pajama lying on the ground near a jackfruit tree. I knew the clothes; I knew the pair of slippers too.
Feluda ran towards the body and having inspected it moaned in frustration.
‘O mister!’ Lalmohan babu called pointing at the ground near the body.
‘I know. I have seen it,’ said Feluda, ‘don’t touch it. Jiban babu was killed with that.’ A checkered towel with a piece of stone tied to one end lay in the corner of a bush.
Bholanath babu had arrived by then, and saw what had happened. ‘What a disaster,’ and slapping his head he staggered backwards as if about to faint.
‘We mustn’t fall apart now, Bholanath babu; I suggest you go inform the police. If necessary, an inspector from the city must be summoned. Make sure nobody touches the dead body or the towel. It must have happened only a few moments ago. I guess the murderer is still somewhere in the vicinity. And yes—please make sure Mr. Mallick doesn’t know about this.’
Feluda rushed to the garden wall. I too followed him.
Part of the wall had collapsed creating an entrance to the garden. We climbed over it. Feluda’s eagle eyes inspected the surroundings, and even scrutinized the ground. There was no house within a hundred yards, as the place was the shortcut connecting the bamboo forest. But what was that? A ruined temple! It must be the bat infested Kali temple.
A man was walking towards us from the temple. It was the Ayurvedic physician Tarak Chakravarty. ‘What’s the matter? So early in the morning?’
‘Didn’t you get the news?’
‘What!’ The physician was flabbergasted.
‘It’s not what you are suspecting. Mr. Mallick is alive and well; however, his home was raided by robbers. And Jiban babu was murdered—but please don’t share this news with Mr. Mallick.’
Tarak babu rushed back with us. But the murderer had escaped.
Climbing down the wall we experienced the third shock of the day. I felt dizzy. Was it a dream or reality? The ground near the jackfruit tree was now empty.
Jiban babu’s dead body was missing.
The thuggee near the bush had disappeared as well. Lalmohan babu stood trembling near a Golancha tree. He somehow managed to open his mouth.
‘Bholanath babu went to call the po…police and I was searching for you two and when I reached here I saw…’
‘That the dead body had vanished from the spot?’ Feluda filled in.
Feluda ran to the opposite end of the garden.
There wasn’t any crack in the wall on this side, but on the northern side was the hole under a tree that we had seen the previous evening,—which I saw was a mango tree— the hole was just behind it. It was a large opening; it could almost be called a gateway. Feluda and I stepped to the other side.
There was a pond within a few yards, and it was full to the brim. Obviously the body had been dumped in it.
We went back to the house and took the stairs at the back to the second floor.
‘O Jiban, o dear Jiban!’ called granny. ‘I thought I just saw Jiban, where did the lad go?’
The octogenarian with hollow-cheeks, close-cropped hair, wearing nearly opaque glasses and wearing a plain white sari stepped out in the verandah. We had heard her voice before, but today we saw her for the first time. Feluda stepped forward. ‘Jiban babu is out for a bit. My name is Prodosh Mitra. Do tell me if you need anything.’
‘Who are you, son?’
‘I am Jiban babu’s friend.’
‘I don’t think I have seen you before.’
‘I came from Kolkata a couple of days ago.’
‘O, you live in Kolkata too?’
‘Yes. Did you want to say something to us?’
The old woman suddenly seemed to have lost the trail. Craning her neck she observed the surrounding for a bit and then said, ‘I totally forgot what I wanted to say, dear boy, I have terrible memory!’
Without spending any more time with her, we ran to Shyamlal babu’s room.
Tarak babu was already present there; he was checking Shyamlal babu’s pulse.
‘Where’s Jiban?’ The patient asked anxiously. I understood Rasik babu didn’t give him the news of Jiban babu’s death.
‘You wanted him to return to Kolkata,’ said Feluda.
‘He went back? How did he go? Did he take the palki?’
‘You cannot travel the whole distance in a palki? There isn’t any other way but to take the train from Katwa. I hope you understand that nowadays traveling by bullock-cart or by the mail-coach isn’t a valid option.’
‘Are you mocking me?’ Shyamlal babu’s voice seemed a touch offended.
‘It’s not just me,’ said Feluda, ‘everybody in the village does so. What you are doing isn’t benefitting you or anybody else. You have seen what happened to you. Had there been a well-armed guard instead of a man with an old spear this wouldn’t have happened. Is this shock any less in comparison to your electric shock Mr. Mallick?
I had thought that the man would flare up in anger, but surprisingly he didn’t speak a single word but just sighed and remained silent.
‘Did you notice the condition of my face?’
Lalmohan babu remarked as he sat on his bed and looked at his face in his shaving mirror. It was not just he but all of us had the same facial condition.
‘This is one of Gosaipur’s drawbacks,’ Tulsi babu said, ‘I should have warned you beforehand.’
‘You say Gosaipur, but I think it’s the garden in the Mallick residence,’ said Lalmohan babu, ‘that’s the mosquito breeding depot.’
We came to our room upstairs after lunch. The police had already begun their investigation. I had no idea why Feluda looked so glum. Perhaps Jiban babu’s death was so unexpected that all his previous calculations were now disordered. And if the robbers had really committed the murder, then was there any fun left in our investigation? The police knew more about capturing the robbers, so what could a private investigator do?
In the meantime, inspector Sudhakar Pramanik came to have a word with Feluda. He had heard Feluda’s name before but didn’t seem to have been completely convinced of Feluda’s abilities. He was particularly vexed about the disappearance of Jiban babu’s dead body.
‘You detectives of leisure,’ said inspector Sudhakar, ‘never work systematically. I’ve seen another one like you, Ganesh Duttagupta—I had disagreements with him about a case. When there’s need for action, he sits thinking with his eyes closed. Only Ma Ganga knows what he thinks about. And when working, he acts without any thought or plan. When you saw the dead body, couldn’t you have put somebody on guard when you left? Now we have to throw a fishing net in the backyard pond. And if that doesn’t get the body… then just think—this village has eleven more ponds, and one of them is big enough to be called a lake. And if that too doesn’t help then…all this is because of your negligence.’
Feluda digested the reproach and then put forward an outlandish query thus vexing the Inspector further.
‘Do you believe in spirits?’
The inspector stared at Feluda for some time and then nodding his head said, ‘I thought you had the reputation of being serious, now I see that’s incorrect as well.’
Feluda said, ‘I asked you the question because in case you people fail to apprehend the murderer we may have to ask Mrigen Bhattacharya for help. He can summon spirits. I think it’s only Jibanlal’s spirit who can give the correct information about his murderer.’
‘So you too feel hopeless now?’ asked the inspector.
‘I accept that the investigation of the murder is beyond my reach,’ said Feluda, ‘I do, however, believe that I will be able to put handcuffs on the dacoit.’
That Sudhakar babu had little faith in Feluda was evident by his next question.
‘I hope you understand the difference between a living and a dead body? Do you have any idea as to the changes that occur in a person’ body who had been strangled using a thuggee?’
Feluda replied calmly.
‘Sudhakar babu, since I have no desire whatsoever to seek employment in the police, you can understand that my reply to your queries would be solely based on my own whim. As I am referring to the spirits without depending on the police, you can readily understand that my method of investigation is a little different.’
‘You don’t have any questions in your mind as to Bholanath babu’s whereabouts?’
‘I do indeed. But I suspect that without any evidence, you people are ready to put the cuffs on him, only because you may have heard that his ancestors were once persecuted by Jiban babu’s forefathers.’
Inspector Sudhakar smiled and got up from the settee, ‘You know what the problem is, you guys are complicating the situation by over thinking it. The case is as clear as water.’
‘As clear as the water of the pond where you’d throw the fishing net?’
Ignoring Feluda’s sarcasm the inspector said, ‘Had you thought a bit you would’ve understood why I am talking about Bholanath babu. He is responsible for both the murder and the robbery. It’s implicit that the robbery was committed by a member of the household. If it had been a real robber then he would have broken the safe, not open it with a key. Bholanath babu was fleeing through the garden with the money; he had no intention of committing the murder at the time. But Jiban babu woke up and took after him; hence Bholanath babu was forced to kill him. And in order to avoid suspicion, he came back here to summon you. Bholanath babu said that the robbers tied him up and that he was untied by Jiban babu later. How do we know he was speaking the truth, there is no evidence. There isn’t any witness either.’
‘Then where did the money from the safe go, Sudhakar babu?’ Feluda asked innocently.
‘We need to search for the money as well,’ said Sudhakar babu. ‘After we manage to locate the body, we would cross-examine Bholanath babu. Then everything would be easily revealed.’
I kind of agreed with Sudhakar babu’s ideas, but I couldn’t say why Feluda remained unconvinced. I don’t know why he called after the inspector as he was leaving, ‘This evening Jibanlal’s spirit will be summoned at Mriganka babu’s house. You won’t be disappointed if you come.’
Tulsi babu seemed all worried about the reception ceremony planned for the day after. If the mystery remained unsolved and if the murderer was not apprehended, the village people would not be interested in the program. Lalmohan babu was already resigned to the fact that his letter of honor and garland were a lost cause, and that his speech a waste. As a way to console himself he said, ‘Sir, we sell mystery for our living; and being part of a real-life mystery counts as the true reward for us.’
Even so, I frequently found him muttering the lines from his speech under his breath, and then checking himself from going on further.
‘Do you know where Mriganka babu lives?’
The question came from somebody outside the entrance.
‘Here it starts,’ said Tulsi babu. ‘From Monday to Friday they would bother me like this. And as mine is the first house on the road, I naturally have to endure this ordeal.’
Then he looked out the window and told the stranger, ‘On the right after the next three houses.’
Feluda said, ‘It would be better if Mriganka babu is informed about our visit. And please mention that we will not stand in a queue. Our spirit must be given priority.’
It was probably now that Tulsi babu understood that Feluda was truely serious. After scrutinizing his face Feluda said, ‘I am done with the investigation from my side. Now I cannot go any further without Mr. Bhattacharya’s help.’
Feluda always felt that one should keep his mind open, especially in today’s times when we daily encounter incidents that defy scientific explanations, and yet they couldn’t be summarily discarded because of science’s inability to explain them. Just the other day I read in the papers about an Anglo-Indian youth named Uri Geller who with his gaze could twist a fork held by a scientist sitting five arms length away. And another reputed scientist became a witness to this incident, and together they could neither explain with reason nor disregard the incident completely. I wondered if Mriganka babu’s power was something similar.
Tulsi babu said, ‘It’s five-thirty now; let us go together and request him, that would add to the strength of our plea.’
Feluda got up and looked at us, ‘why don’t you two go somewhere.’
I was bored of sitting in the same room all day long, and Lalmohan babu had been talking about the beauty of the autumn evenings in Gosaipur. So, soon as Feluda left, we too went out as well.
When we came to Gosaipur only a couple of days ago, the village seemed different from how it appeared to me now. The reason of course was the thought of a strangled dead body hidden somewhere in that beautiful village. What if we suddenly saw —!
No, I decided to abstain from thinking such things or else the outing would be totally spoiled.
It got dark while passing through the bamboo forest and I observed my courage starting to wane. However, our meeting with the mime artist Benimadhab raised its level once more.
‘I was going to your house,’ he said. ‘Didn’t I tell you the other day that I would come and present a show for you?’
‘But, my friend, what can we do?’ Lalmohan babu said. ‘We had no idea that such a disaster would occur. Can one still be in the mood for show? You tell me.’
‘Absolutely, sir. You are here for some more days, right?’
‘Yes, we are certainly here for at least three more days.’
‘So, where are you going now?’
‘You tell us where we could go.’
‘Did you see Badure-Kali, sir? It’s a seventeenth century temple. Some remnants of the handiwork still exist on the walls. Let me take you there.’
I didn’t mention that we had seen the temple in the morning. To tell the truth, it was impossible to judge any artwork in the state of mind that I was in at the time.
We reached the temple in about three minutes. It was a bit eerie in the evening. There was a Banyan tree next to the temple. An aerial root hanging from the tree had actually crushed the diadem of the temple in its embrace. ‘It’s in this spot that sacrifices were once conducted,’ Benimadhab said pointing to a spot adjacent to the stem of the tree.
‘Sacrifice?’ Lalmohan babu asked in a quivering tone.
‘Human sacrifice, sir. Didn’t you read the history of the world famous Nedo dacoit from Gosaipur? That in itself could suffice as a plot for one of your mystery-thriller novels. Do you want to see the inside? Do you have a torch with you?’
The interior was dark already.
‘Inside?’ Lalmohan babu said in a choked-up voice, ‘No I didn’t bring a torch with me, my friend. Besides, I heard it’s infested with bats…’
‘Bats are out on their evening excursion now, sir. Of course, if you want to see them then—’
‘No, no, I don’t want to see them. In fact, it’s better not to encounter them at all, dear friend.’
‘Come, sir,’ said the mime artist. ‘ I am lighting a bidi, I hope you won’t mind.’
‘No, no, brother, we won’t mind if you light five bidis all at once.’
Benimadhab lit his bidi and held the matchstick near the entrance of the temple, and my heart suddenly did a somersault and relocated itself near my throat. Lalmohan babu said ‘Ji-Ji-Ji-Ji’ four times and then stopped.
Jiban babu’s dead body! We could see his blue kurta and white pajama peeping from behind a pillar inside! He had his watch on his wrist in the morning, now it was missing.
‘See, somebody must have left his clothes.’
Benimadhab was walking ahead, perhaps to return the clothes to its owner, when Lalmohan babu clutched the corner of his shirt and stammered, ‘That’s a…corpse! It’s a po-po police matter!’
The mime artist turned speechless at the word corpse—it was then we saw his acting prowess. He showed how to turn from surprise to alarm in a single step and immediately follow it by fleeing from the spot with great agility. We too did not want to linger there anymore and followed suit. We met Feluda back in the house. ‘Why do you look so pale?’ he asked. ‘Get ready fast. The spirit will be summoned within fifteen minutes.’
Lalmohan babu had returned to his usual self as soon as he saw Feluda. He said, ‘We made an important discovery. Not just me, but the two of us together. Jiban babu’s dead body is lying inside the Badure-Kali temple. Do you want to inform the police or let them find it themselves?’
I knew Lalmohan babu didn’t like inspector Sudhakar, and that was why he wanted him to find the body by himself. Feluda said, ‘Did you go inside the temple?’
‘No sir. We are not supposed to touch a dead body, so we didn’t enter. But it is Jiban Mallick, without a doubt!’
‘Okay. Sudhakar babu arrived here a few moments ago. I guess he will be coming to Mr. Bhattacharya’s place also. We can give him the news then.’
We left within ten minutes. Tulsi babu needed to go on a quick visit to his lawyer friend to inform him that the next-day program might be cancelled.
On our way Feluda told us that not only had Mriganka babu agreed to summon Jibanlal’s spirit, but had also shown great excitement about the matter. He had a few visitors but he asked them to sit and wait until after we were done.
Today we found a wooden table in place of the plank bed in Mriganka babu’s room. A set of five chairs, both tin and wooden, surrounded the table, and Mriganka Bhattacharya sat in one of the chairs. There was a lamp in the middle of the table and next to it a piece of paper and a pencil. Apart from these, there were a couple of settees and a single bench instead of the two. Nephew Nityananda was sitting on the bench.
The three of us seated ourselves in three chairs; one was left for Tulsi babu.
‘Should we wait for Tulsicharan?’ Mriganka babu asked.
‘We could wait for five minutes,’ said Feluda.
‘I knew it. I could feel it the day I first saw you that you would have to come back.’ Mriganka babu’s voice resounded in the dark room. ‘Bigyan (Science) means special knowledge. Connecting with a spirit on the other side is the highest form of special knowledge. Therefore the real men of science don’t despise this special knowledge.’
I didn’t like this needless prattle about knowledge and wished he would start the proceedings.
‘All of you have seen Jibanlal, who had just died. I’ll tell you why I expect exceptional success in today’s meeting. Jibanlal’s spirit hasn’t yet left the mortal world. It needs to be liberated from all the earthly bonds before ascending to the world beyond. His spirit is close to us. He is waiting for our call. He knows that if I call him he would have to come, and I know that he will come if I summon him. Jibanlal’s spirit is eternal, immortal. Land, water and the sky are all in his reach. My writing would become his writing. His knowledge, his experience, his belief will find expression in his own words with the help of my writing.’
Feluda now opened his mouth to speak. Only he could speak in such situations. My own voice had dried up, and I assumed Lalmohan babu’s too.
‘Everybody would be curious to learn what you are writing. And since I’ll be sitting next to you, and consequently would be able to read what you write, I wonder if you have any problem if I read the text aloud for the benefit of the others.’
‘I have no problem,’ said Mriganka babu, ‘You can read the writing. You have only one query, right?’
‘Three—the robber’s identity, the murderer’s identity, and how at what time did the murder take place.’
‘Very well,’ said Mriganka babu.
When Tulsi babu didn’t arrive in five minutes, Mriganka babu decided to start the proceedings. I knew that Tulsi babu had already seen such séances many times before; he could go without seeing the whole episode.
‘Will each one of you kindly stretch out your fingers and place your palms on the table.’
As soon as we placed our hands on the table a rapping noise made itself heard. It was nothing but Lalmohan babu’s trembling fingers drumming like a tabla on the table. Lalmohan babu gritted his teeth to steady his hand.
Mriganka babu sat with his eyes closed, his lips were moving. It being totally silent, I gathered that he was muttering a chant under his breath.
After a minute that too stopped. As we say in English, a ‘deathly silence’ prevailed. Three moths circled the lamp. Our shadows cast on the wall trembled. Mriganka babu sat still like a stone statuette. I hadn’t noticed when he had lifted the pencil. He held it over the notebook; the tip of the pencil was touching the paper.
Now Mriganka babu’s lips started to quiver. Droplets of sweat appeared on his temples. Beside me the tabla drumming had started once again. It was horrifying how people’s hands could tremble in such circumstances. I too experienced a shiver in my chest.
‘Jibanlal, Jibanlal, Jibanlal…’
The name was uttered slowly three times. I couldn’t clearly see if Mriganka babu’s lips moved or not.
‘Have you come? Have you come?’
Surprisingly, the questions were posed from behind us. Now, I understood Nityananda’s part. Mriganka babu didn’t reply. I supposed it was probably impossible to talk. ‘I have come.’
We heard Feluda’s voice. He read out the writing that had appeared on the notebook.
My eyes were glued to Mriganka babu’s hands. A question was asked from the background. ‘Where are you?’
‘Near,’ read Feluda.
‘Can you answer a few questions that we have?’
‘Yes, I can,’ read Feluda.
‘Who opened the safe and stole the money?’
‘The person who killed you, did you see him?’
‘You recognized him?’
‘Who was he?’
We couldn’t, however, learn how the murder was committed because right at that moment Feluda said, ‘This will be sufficient,’ and got up. He then looked at me and said, ‘Topshe, bring that lantern—the one placed outside the door. It’s awfully dark in here.’
Bewildered, I brought the lantern and placed it on the table.
Feluda picked up the piece of paper Mriganka babu was writing on. He glanced at the replies once and said, ‘Mriganka babu, I believe your spirit hasn’t yet gained eternal knowledge, because the answers seem a little inconsistent.’
Mriganka babu gave Feluda a sinister look, as if he was about to turn him into ashes with his glance. Ignoring this, Feluda continued—‘See, in reply to the question ‘who opened the safe and stole the money,’ he says –‘I did’. But there wasn’t any money in the safe, Mriganka babu.’
As if like magic the angry look on Mriganka babu’s face gave way to a look of suspicion. Feluda said, ‘I am saying there wasn’t any money because the safe wasn’t opened by Jibanlal at all; it was opened by Prodosh Chandra Mitra. Of course, Jiban babu helped me perform the task. It was he who opened the door for me at midnight and informed me that the keys to the safe were kept under his father’s pillow; he also helped me tie up Bholanath babu and Shyamlal babu. Anyway, what existed in the safe in place of money was—’
Feluda brought out a piece of paper from his pocket. It was also a page torn from a notebook, and it too had words written on it in pencil.
‘It is precisely this piece of paper which Shyamlal babu declined to show me when I asked him. I needed it because I had already developed a suspicion regarding Mriganka babu’s honesty. And that happened right after our first meeting. As soon as he saw me he feigned that he had come to know about my name and my profession by some spiritual method, when in reality he was already told by Tulsi babu. Isn’t it, Tulsi babu?’
I didn’t know when Tulsi babu had stepped in and had seated himself in one of the settees.
He seemed exceedingly embarrassed by Feluda’s words and stammered, ‘I mean to say… to…develop some devoutness... in your mind.’
Feluda stopped him, ‘I am not blaming you, by the way. You are not pretending to be a great man. But he is. Anyway, as soon as I smelled phoniness, I was determined to get that paper from Shyamlal babu. I believed that I would get some answers from it.’ In the lamp light I could see beads of sweat on Mriganka babu’s forehead.
Feluda held the paper near the lamp and continued to speak, ‘In this piece of paper Durlabh Mallick’s spirit gave a few replies to his son’s queries. The questions were spoken; hence they are not in writing. Nevertheless, we can easily guess them from the replies provided. I have written each one down before their respective reply, I will read them in that order. Mriganka babu will correct me if I am wrong!’
The flame of the lamp quivered by Mriganka babu’s heavy breathing. Feluda started—
‘Question number one—who’s my enemy? Answer—he is a resident.
Does he want me to die?—No. Then what does he want?—Money. How to protect the money?— Don’t keep it in the safe.
Where should I keep it then? —Underground. Wherein? — In the garden.
Where in the garden? — In the Northern side. Where in the Northern side? — Under the mango tree. Which mango tree? — The one at the corner of the cracked wall.’
‘Feluda now placed the paper on the table, ‘I suspected this when I observed mud stains on Shymlal babu’s feet and mosquito bites on his body. I thought that for some reason he had spent some time in the garden. Today I learned that he went there to follow these orders—meaning, you see, Mriganka babu’s orders—written in this paper and buried his cash box underground. Mriganka babu had wanted the money for a long time; however, as long as reliable Bholanath was there, he couldn’t get to the safe. At first he tried to remove Bholanath babu by introducing suspicion in Shyamlal babu’s mind. That scheme, however, did not succeed. But, right then an amazing opportunity came up when Shyamlal babu himself asked Mriganka babu to come to summon up the spirits. With that incredible intelligence of his, Mriganka babu killed two birds with one stone, if I may use that expression. He made a member of Shyamlal’s household his enemy, and then he brought the cash case out of the house into the garden. And yesterday evening that box—’
A noise made me turn around. I saw the nephew leave his bench and jump in the direction of the door. But he didn’t manage to leave the room as a couple of strong arms barred his movements. Then the owner of the arms came inside. Egad—it was inspector Sudhakar! The inspector said, ‘Found the case, Mr. Mitter. It was in a trunk under a pile of clothes. Manish—bring it here!’
A constable walked in with a steel box and placed it on the table.
‘I see the lid is broken,’ Feluda said.
When the lid was removed, I saw several stacks of hundred rupee notes crammed in the box. At that moment, it occurred to me that I had never seen so much money before in my life!
‘But murder?’ Mriganka babu suddenly cried. ‘I didn’t commit any murder!’
‘Only one person has committed the murder, Mriganka babu’—Feluda’s voice was sharp like a scimitar—‘and his name is also Prodosh Chandra Mitra. It’s your hypocrisy, your devilishness, your greed that is killed. Never would they raise their heads again because everybody would know that today you with your amazing prowess managed to summon the dead spirit of a living person in this room—come, Jiban babu.’
Jibanlal Mallick entered the room not through the back door but the front. The words Mriganka babu cried out when he saw him was— according to Lalmohan babu, ‘I am undone!’ however, I thought I heard ‘Oh, oh, handcuffs!’
He was handcuffed all right. Sudhakar babu had just one complain for Feluda—‘You made us pitch fishing nets in a couple of ponds for no reason at all!’
‘What are you saying, Sudhakar babu?’ Feluda said. ‘If the idea that Jiban babu is dead were not instilled in people’s minds, how was I to catch Mriganka babu’s charlatanism in the act?’
The matter of Jiban babu’s death was just an act intended to teach Mriganka babu a lesson. It was a planned deception. Once Feluda and I and then Lalmohan babu and Bholanath babu left the scene, Jiban babu got up, went upstairs through the back stairs and hid in a storeroom on the second floor. The granny saw him in his flight, but Feluda managed that all right. Today evening he got out of the house to witness Mriganka babu’s séance. When he saw us in the bamboo forest, he had to hide in the Badure-Kali temple and lay on the floor pretending to be dead.
At dinner Tulsi babu wore a shrunken expression on his face when he asked Feluda, ‘You are not displeased with me, I hope?’
‘Displeased?’ Feluda said. ‘Do you know how much you have helped me? If Mriganka babu hadn’t spun that riddle with my name that day I would never have suspected him in the first place! I feel I should thank you.’
Jiban babu was dining with us that evening. He said, ‘Before leaving the house I went to my father and touched his feet.’
‘What did you think of him?’ Feluda asked.
‘I was surprised,’ Jiban babu said. ‘Placing his hand on my head he asked me how the business was going.’
Lalmohan babu couldn’t speak before now as he was busy chewing the fish-head. He now looked at Tulsi babu and said, ‘The thing tomorrow then—?’
‘Of course it’s happening. There isn’t any constraint now.’
‘Very good. That thing of mine is also ready.’
Glossary of non-English terms:
Chanachur: A crisp snack prepared by frying chick-peas, peanuts and other things with salt and spices.
Panjabi/half-panjabi: A loose-fitting shirt without a collar.
Chikan: A special type of threadwork famous in Lucknow, India.
Dhoti: Loin cloth.
Bhaya: A form of address, like ‘dear brother’.
Kobiraj: Ayurvedic physician.
Chira-narkel: rice flakes with coconut.
Gamchha: Cloth-towel; a checkered piece of cloth usually red in color used for toweling.
Thuggee: A murderous band of robbers once prevalent in India, the thug or thuggee.
Punkah-puller: One who pulls the hand fans.
Namaskar: A form of customary greeting.
Sahebi: Western influenced.
Khadam: Wooden sandals, nowadays worn mostly by priests in India.
Panjika: An almanac of important dates and events.
Padmasana: Padma means lotus; this is a cross-legged yoga position.
Mung daal: A Mung lentil soup.
Rajbhog: A type of sugary dessert.
Korta/Kortamosai: Master/Head of the household
Mosai: A form of address, like ‘Sir’.
Paan: Betel leaves.
Neem: Azadirachta indica, a tree in the Mahogany family.
Chhoto-babu: young master.
Kurta: Panjabi (see above); a kind of loose shirt usually long.
Beedi: A thin Indian cigarette filled with tobacco and wrapped in a Tendu leaf and tied with a string at one end.
Tabla: An Indian percussion instrument.
Kirtan: A type of devotional songs.
.We gratefully acknowledge Aparajita Pant of Penguin Books, India, for granting permission to publish the translation in Parabaas.
The original detective novella Gosaipur Sargaram (গোসাঁইপুর সরগরম) by Satyajit Ray was first published in Sharodiya Sandesh (শারদীয়া সন্দেশ) in BE 1383 (1976), and later collected, along with another Feluda story, in Feluda & Co. (ফেলুদা অ্যান্ড কোং), published by the Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, India, in 1977.
Illustrations by the translator—following Satyajit's own illustrations.