Translated from the original Bangla novel
Bholu Jokhon Raja Holo (ভোলু যখন রাজা হল)
Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra
|Poor Bholu wanted nothing to do with being a king. There was too much hassle, not to mention being pestered by strange characters like sinister Abidya Thakur with his minions, Brahmagopal who heard voices from the sky, pawnshop owner Patol and amnesic Nagen Ray. Everyone wanted a piece of the ‘Hidden Treasure’! Some wanted to help Bholu but others were not so benign. Would Bholu be able to sidestep the dangers and ultimately get the treasure?
Who cared for pranks early in the morning! Bholu certainly didn’t. As it was, he was having a hard time. His widowed aunt from Nabadwip called him before her death and told, “Bholu dear, keep in mind, there is no one of your own in the whole world. I have cared for you all these years, but let me tell you now; even I am not related to you. Your father dumped you on me and disappeared who knows where. Later I heard that he was caught while trying to break in someone’s house and those guys beat him to death. Anyway, even without any blood relations, I did care for you all these years. But now I have no more money left. Even this house is mortgaged to Mahadev Tejpal. He will claim it as soon as I breathe my last. Which means, this house won’t come to of any use to you either. This is how things stand. As long as I am alive, you will be ok, but after my death, you will have to take care of yourself.”
Bholu was stunned.
His aunt passed away about six moths ago. As expected, Mahadev marched in, not alone but with four or five mean looking goons.
Bholu had pleaded with them for a few days break to arrange his affairs, but that too was at an end now. Whatever little treasures his aunt had, a few jewelries, utensils, furniture, a few silver items for prayers, he had to sell all to get by these last few days. Now that money too was gone. Who knew his aunt would leave him penniless like this!
It happened in the morning. As usual, Bholu woke up very early and after brushing his teeth and washing up, he just sat on his porch for some time. Then he felt there was no point in just sitting; he had nothing else to do, so why not go back to bed. So he did just that and took a long nap.
He woke up at the noise of someone knocking and shaking the front door, “Is anybody home?”
Bholu opened the door and was surprised by three weird looking strangers. One was short and crooked, one tall and spindly and the third was stout and fat.
The short one spoke up, “Is this the house of Devya of Nabadwip?”
“Yes. But what do you want? She has passed away.”
“ That is fine. That is of no concern to us. We want to see King Rupesh Chowdhury. Is he in?”
Bholu was irritated, “You’ve come to the wrong house. Nobody of that name lives here. Just spoiled my morning nap for no reason.”
The man looked at him with big round eyes, “Morning?”
“Of course morning. What else?”
“Like morning has nothing else to do but stay put for ever in this filthy village of Nafarganj! Morning has plenty more things to do mister. It is now ten o’ clock.”
Bholu looked out and realized the man was right. The sun was up and strong. He said a bit hesitantly, “True, I got up a bit late today. But who is this royalty you are searching here? Does this place look like a royal palace to you?”
“No, no! We are not searching for a palace, we are searching for the King, Rupesh Chowdhury.”
“I told you, you’ve come to the wrong house, wrong neighborhood, wrong village! There hasn’t been any king or queen , ever, anywhere around here.”
The shorty, the spindly and the fatty looked at each other. Then the shorty spoke again, “ Do you want to say this is not the village Nafarganj, police station Bishnupur, district Bankura?”
“Of course it is Nafarganj. And the police station is Bishnupur and district too is Bankura, as far as I know. But I am sure you guys are making some mistake somewhere.”
“OK, but this is the house of Devya from Nabadwip, isn’t it?”
“Yes. That is true too,”
“Then it is right. Two and two make four! Isn’t that so, Nitai?”
“Nitai, the spindly, tall one, shook his head, “Why don’t we check it with note from Abidya Thakur. What do you say Nobu?”
“Nobu, the fat one was glaring at Bholu all this while, “I think this guy is hiding our king. Why don’t we shove him aside and search his house?”
That raised Bholu’s heckles, “Oh yea? Just shove me aside? As if there is no police? No law of the land?”
The fat goon sneered, “Bishnupur police station is three miles away, and law is only on paper. You can’t get anything done without judges and lawyers. Get it? Now fess up. Have you killed our king and hid the body somewhere? Perhaps buried him in the yard? I don’t think you are as innocent as you look. Ain’t I right, Gokul?”
The shorty was called Gokul. Now he said, “There is no point looking for innocent people now a days. Just look at us. We aren’t all that innocent ourselves, are we? All of us been inside the prison for a few years.”
Bholu got a bit nervous, “Watch out. I am going to scream now and gather all the neighbors. They are real goons!”
Gokul, the short one looked hurt, “Why do you want to do that? Have we beaten you? Tortured you? We are just trying to do our job, we must find our king and take him to Abidya Thakur.”
“Well” Bholu said,”You can’t just look haphazardly for your king. I have lived in this house all my life and I can tell you there has never been any king or queen here.”
The three goons again exchanged glances. Then Gokul tried again, “Well, brother, our Abidya Thakur is a very wise and learned man. He has checked all the family trees and horoscopes and decided to send us here. Isn’t that right Nobu?”
“Absolutely! Abidya Thakur has never made a wrong prediction, right Nitai?”
Nitai worriedly said, “He said to look for a tiny trident shaped birthmark in the lower back of the person…”
“I told you, no such person lives here. Perhaps you can ask other households, or neighboring villages.”
Fat Nobu said, “Ok, agreed that he is not here, but we three have come a long distance, now we have to start a long journey back too, can’t you at least offer us some water?”
“Sure, sure. Please come in and sit down. I have some cucumber on the vine. Would you like some?”
All three in chorus said, “Yes, yes. We love cucumber.”
Not only cucumbers, aunt’s best friend had brought a basket of puffed rice a few days ago. All three ate up their cucumber-puffed rice mix, drank plenty of water and gave loud satisfying belches.
Gokul said, “We better get going then. It will be difficult to explain all this to Abidya Thakur, but what to do.”
Bholu slammed the door shut after them and immediately another event happened. With the jarring from the door a fat lizard fell off the wall and landed right on Bholu’s head!
Now a falling lizard is not such a big deal. They often fall on people’s head too, but somehow this lizard felt like a lightning strike to bholu. “Oh my God!” He screamed and fell on the floor. The lizard safely crawled off. Suddenly Bholu remembered his aunt telling him, “O my Bholu, remember son, you have a proper name too. A very fancy name, Rupesh Chowdhury! I can’t remember everything, so I wrote it down in a piece of paper but couldn’t remember where I put it. Yesterday the milkman Mahesh came for his money. So I went to pawn the lost silver box to the jeweler Balai and I found this folded note along with two silver coins inside. See, here it is. Take it son and keep it safely now.”
Bholu rushed to his little tin box. Yes, the piece of paper was there, under the old newspaper lining.
Bholu ran out to search for those three men. He asked Bhikhuram in the nearby shop, yes, three weird-looking men were seen walking towards the bazaar.
Bholu ran full speed and caught up with them a little beyond the market. “Hey! Stop!” he yelled, “O Mr. Nobu, Gokul, Mr, Nitai, wait. Listen to me.”
The three men heard him and stopped. Bholu reached them and panting hard, “Please come back with me. I made a big mistake.”
Gokul said, “Why? You forgot to give us a beating?”
“No, no! Please come back.”
So they all returned. Bholu set them down on his worn mat and said apologetically, “Please forgive me. I suddenly remembered something very important.”
“Can you be a bit more specific?”
“Yes, of course. As soon as you left, a huge lizard fell on my head!”
All three spoke out, “What? Lizard fell on your head?”
Gokul eagerly said, “But that is a great omen. A royal one! Isn’t that true Nitai?”
“Don’t know anything about royal omens,” said Bholu, “But it set my head buzzing and I suddenly remembered that my other, formal name is indeed Rupesh Chowdhury! My aunt had told me long ago. But who cares to remember formal names. Bholu was good enough for me. So I had completely forgotten this other name.”
“Well, then you are the person we are looking for!” Gokul said, “You are our king Rupesh!”
Bholu shook his head, “No Sir, I can’t be any king. My aunt said my dad Bhabesh Chowdhury was a bandit. He died during one of his break in attempts.”
The three men exchanged glances again, “Yup, this is he. All signs are checking out.” Nobu said with a serious face.
Nitai drew a long breath, “I was getting a royal smell from the very beginning.”
Gokul sighed with relief, “Thank God! Now we have two and two making four, four and four making eight, even eight and eight making sixteen!”
Bholu said, “No, no! You are not getting it. I am a robber’s son, not a king.”
Fat Nobu slammed his huge paw on Bholu’s back, “That is it! If you weren’t a robber’s son, we probably wouldn’t have believed you to be a king.”
“Huh?” Bholu was confused.
“Look”, Gokul said calmly, “What is the difference between a robber and a king? Huh? When a petty thief becomes really big and famous, people start respecting him just like a king. Their jobs are similar too. Both loot others and seize their properties and kill their enemies. Your dad did all that, now you can be a real king.”
Bholu felt even more confused. “What are you saying?” he said tearfully, “I can’t follow you,”
Tall Nitai said, “Lets not waste time, just check on his back for that birth mark. Abidya Thakur told us to check it to be sure.”
Before Bholu could say anything, the three men grabbed him and pulled up his shirt. “Yes, yes!” they yelled excitedly, “There it is! He really is our king!”
Bholu felt harassed, “What are you guys doing? Let go of me.”
All three went down on their knees respectfully. All of them had tears of joy in their eyes. Gokul said, “My Lord, you must come with us now.”
“Without your royal presence, your palace is dark and desolate.” Nitai said.
Nobu was rubbing his eyes, and said in a choked voice, “Now there will be sunrise in our Chandraghoshpur. Without the king, it is dark even in daytime. Like you need a lamp. Ain’t that true Gokul?”
“Of course” said Gokul, “Village without a king is like a father without mother, a sore without pus, a boat without water...”
Bholu said tearfully, “But I really don’t want to be a king!”
“What? Don’t want to be king? Your name is right, your dad’s name is right, you got the right mark on your back, you smell like a king, you have to be a king. There is no way out.”
Bholu sobbed, “But it is hard work. You have to manage all those ministers and generals, ride on those horses and elephants, and go to wars. I can’t do any of those things.”
Gokul sighed, “No luck for those. Yes, once there were horses and elephants, cowsheds and deer parks; now all are gone. And ministers and all? Nobody has seen anyone like that in last fifty years As for warfare, yes there are minor fights in Chandraghoshpur, but no wars.”
Nitai said, “You will see everything once you get there. All that is left are a ruined mansion and a dried up pond.”
Nobu quickly intervened, “Why that iron throne is still there. It is rusted beyond recognition true, I even saw a stray dog sleeping in it.”
“Then what’s the point of me going there?” Bholu said.
“Well, are you very happy here?” Gokul said, “Is this house yours? Has Devya of Nabadwip written this house to you?”
Bholu shook his head, “No. It is a sad story. The house is mortgaged to Tejpal and he is harassing me daily to vacate it. I have nowhere to go.”
“Then why not Chandraghoshpur? Even if it is a ruin, it is still your property. Plus you get some royal prestige. Here nobody cares about you. Over there even if you wear rags, people will still call you a king.”
Bholu thought about it. It was true, He had no future in Nafarganj. Might as well see what this royal business was all about.
“Dear sirs, hope you are not abducting me with sweet promises, just to sell me off somewhere?”
Gokul was surprised, “Who will buy you? Look around, there are people everywhere, more than insects even. No body cares about anyone else. Go to your market and try selling yourself and see how much you get.”
Bholu was embarrassed, “That is true. What would I cost? I have no degrees, no smarts, and no money in my pockets. Can’t even feed myself.” He sighed, “I may as well go with you.”
“Well, then let’s not delay anymore. Pack up whatever you have.”
Bholu didn’t have much to pack. A couple of shirts, two underwears and two dhotis, couple of plates and glasses. There was no bedding to speak of, just a rug and a mat. Auntie used to sleep on the rug on the bed, he slept on the mat on floor. He rolled those up too.
After changing buses three times, they reached Fakirganj. From there they had to take a cycle-van for three miles, and then on foot three more miles along the dykes. When they reached Chandraghoshpur, it was already dark.
The village didn’t look inviting. It was dark and there was overgrowth of jungles everywhere. Bholu felt a bit nervous.
“Let’s first go to Abidya Thakur.” Said Gokul.
“Who exactly is he?” Bholu asked.
“Oh man! He is the big Boss. His real name is Abidya Binashak Kanjilal.”
Abidya Binashak was about fifty some years old, short and stout. He had a well nourished salt and peppery moustache but totally bald head except for one tuft of hair with a marigold tied at the end. He lived in an old brick colored two-story house, and was busy with piles of papers, and notebooks in a dark room lit by only a hurricane lamp.
All three bent down to pay respect, Bholu too imitated them.
Immediately Abidya Thakur stood up to stop him, “Stop, stop! A king should never bow his head to any and all.”
“What king? I am not at all clear about this king business,” said Bholu.
Abidya eyed him closely for a while, “You don’t need to understand. More you know, more problems you’ll have. Here, raise the lamp and let me check his birthmark.”
Again Bholu had to raise his shirt and show the mark. Abidya sighed in relief, “Good. This is exactly as predicted. But there should be no doubts at all.”
Then he took a hand lens and examined Bholu’s forehead, made him open his mouth and checked his teeth, checked his palms, did some strange calculations in his notebook and at the end looked up and smiled, “Yes. You are the king, for sure. Lets not tarry any longer. Lets finish the coronation tomorrow.”
Bholu said in irritation, “’Corrosion’ or whatever can wait. Can we have something to eat first? My stomach is totally empty.”
But no one paid any attention to him. Abidya Thakur was writing something in the dim lamplight and the three goons were squatting close to him and trying to understand it. Bholu sat on the floor and as soon as he leaned against the wall, he fell asleep.
He didn’t have any idea how long he slept but a heavily muscled man grabbed his shoulder and shook him so heard that he woke up yelping in pain. The man said, “Get up Sir, your dinner is ready.”
Bholu was not used to such royal address. He quickly got up to throw some water on his face and came into a long verandah. Arrangements were made to seat at least fifteen to twenty people on the floor for feeding. All the invitees were muscular and fearsome looking. Not at all like Abidya Thakur’s relatives. Even their eyes looked feral, shining in the light of the lamps.
Though most of them sat on mats on the floor, Bholu and Abidya Thakur got raised seats and bell-metal plates, whereas others got only banana leaves.
The menu was not bad either. Coarse grain rice, thick moong daal, potato and pumpkin veggie, large pieces of fish in the curry and at the end were darbesh for dessert. Bholu felt thoroughly sated afterwards.
While eating, Abidya Thakur told him, “Think of these guys as your soldiers in the army.”
The words ‘soldiers’ and ‘army’ made Bholu nervous again. Oh dear! Did it mean he would have to join in some warfare? He had no talent in that field.
After dinner Abidya Thakur said, “Go, get a good night’s sleep. From tomorrow your life will be totally different.”
The heavyset guy who had woken him earlier, also took him to the attic room on the third floor, “Today you have to sleep here. From tomorrow you will be in the royal palace.”
The guy turned down the lamp and left. Bholu looked around. The room was not too bad. There was a rug and a sheet spread on a bare wooden bed. One hard pillow was present too. For Bholu, compared to his aunt’s place, this appeared royally luxurious. He was used to sleeping on the floor on a mat only. The door and windows looked rather wobbly. Two out of three windows had no shutters; the bolt on the door looked so flimsy that Bholu guessed even a cat could kick it open. But his hosts were thoughtful. They did leave a large brass ewer of drinking water by his bedside.
Bholu had a long day, miles of walking, plus the meal was heavy too. As soon as his head touched the pillow, he was fast asleep.
Bholu always slept through the night. But that night something woke him up. Someone was shaking his left shoulder and saying in a low voice, “Sir, please get up! Goodness! He does sleep soundly.”
Bholu woke up and tried to figure out if there was a thief, but then remembered there was nothing to steal in the house. But there was also a man sitting by his bed.
“Who are you?”
“Why do you ask that? Would it mean anything to you if I say my name is Rashomoy Das, son of Pitambar Das, from Mukundpur?”
“Well, no. Not really.”
“So you see? It is not so easy to recognize people just by their name and address. But I am really not Rashomoy, son of Pitambar. And I don’t live in Mukundpur.”
Half asleep Bholu felt thoroughly confused by such convoluted talk, “But you have to be someone. If not Rashomoy Das?”
“Sure. Just think of me as one of your subject. Just come to see my king.”
Bholu stared at him for a while, “Beg your pardon, but I can’t quite believe that.”
“And you should not. People constantly tell lies now a days. You wouldn’t be able to get any work done if you believed everything. And you mustn’t believe me either.”
Bholu yawned, “That is fine. But then is there no truth?”
“Wait, wait. There is of course truth in this world. Otherwise how will it function? So, there is also some truth in what I said. Imagine gravels mixed in rice. Rice is false and gravel is true. Now you have to figure out which is which.”
Bholu shook his head, “No sir, I can’t do that. I am a simpleton. Everybody says so.”
“What? Do you know Tejesh Chowdhury had the busiest brain? Always busy making hundreds of plans. Who to promote, who to fire, who is planning what, everything he could figure out in an instant. It was like you could almost hear his brain humming if stood close to him. Everyone said ideas popped in his head like popcorns.”
Bholu was more confused, “Who is Tejesh Chowdhury?”
“Goodness! Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten your own ancestors?”
Bholu sighed, “I never knew anyone in my family. All I know is that I am the son of Bhabesh Chowdhury. I don’t even remember him very well. I have only a vague memory of going somewhere at night, riding on his shoulder. And then I fell asleep. It was my aunt who always took care of me. I saw my dad a few times but never got close to him.”
“Didn’t your father tell you the names of your forefathers?”
“Nope. Like I said, I met him only a few times. Then I was told that he was killed while trying to break in someone’s house. It was not something to be proud of, so I didn’t ask any further.”
“Your great grand father Satyesh Chowdhury got Nobel Prize in physics. Did you know that? His father Danesh Chowdhury beat the national champion wrestler Gama. I already told you about your grandfather Tejesh. He also became a cabinet minister in Delhi. Hadn’t anybody told you these things?”
Bholu scratched his head and said apologetically, “No, not really. And please don’t mind but I can’t quite believe all these.”
“Why should I mind? But what exactly do you find unbelievable?”
“Everything. Seems too exaggerated to me.”
“Why? Don’t people get Nobel Prize in Physics? Can’t someone beat Gama? Or do you think it is impossible to be a minister in Delhi?”
Bholu demurred, “No, not really, but you see…”
“Exactly! You mustn’t believe everything you hear from other people. You couldn’t believe your forefathers’ Nobel prize or the wrestling championship, or the ministry in Delhi, yet you immediately believed that your father was a bandit?”
Bholu felt trapped, “But, my own aunt also said the same thing, and that he was beaten to death…”
“Did your aunt witness it herself?”
“No, not really.”
“So, an uneducated, simple widow in the village, she would believe whatever others tell her. No?”
“And one more thing, if I wanted to kill you, but don’t want to risk prison, the easiest way would be to spread some nasty rumor in your name and set a bunch of goons on you. That way I get my wish and still remain safe. If at night you grab a man and scream ‘Thief, help’, people will gather and start beating the man without asking any questions. That is the rule.”Published in Parabaas, July 2015
The original novel "Bholu Jokhon Raja Holo" (ভোলু যখন রাজা হল) by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay was first pubished in 2015 by Ananda, Kolkata.
Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra. Chhanda (Chatterjee) Bewtra was born in Purulia, West Bengal but...
Illustrated by Ananya Das. Author of several books and an illustrator, Ananya Das is based in Pennsylvania.
Illustrated by Ananya Das. Author of several books and an illustrator, Ananya Das is based in Pennsylvania.