Translated from the original Bangla novel
Bholu Jokhon Raja Holo (ভোলু যখন রাজা হল)
Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra
Two of them were sitting in silence under a jambu tree. For a long time neither spoke a word. Danu of course fell asleep and Nagen Ray was deep in thought.
A few minutes ago a girl collecting dung had passed by. She was young but had an aggressive look. Nagen Ray called her, “Hey, girl, can you tell me if that two storied house belongs to Abidyathakur?”
The girl observed him with suspicious eyes. Nagen was not wearing any expensive outfit, just faded pants and an ordinary shirt. The girl asked, “Why are you looking for him? Do you belong to their group?”
Nagen Ray shook his head, “No. We’ve just come to give him some news.”
The girl replied grimly, “I’ve no idea where Abidyathakur lives. But this house is not his. This was Kashishwari auntie’s house. Abidyathakur is such a nasty man, he threw out an old lady of one hundred years age and occupied the whole house with this followers.”
That name Kashishwari had been buzzing in his brain since then. Like a far away echo of something. Was there a Kashishwari in his forgotten memories? Who knew! This morning as soon as he woke up, the word ‘throne’ dropped into his mind. Who knew why? How could a throne be related to him!
Danu had told, “You remember all kinds of odd things. We are simple folks. And throne is a royal thing.”
Danu yawned and sat up, “How long do you want to sit here? I say let’s go nab that guy Gokul.”
“There is a word ‘consequences’, know of it?”
“Very well. But what is the point in thinking of consequences now? We are not getting anywhere. Can’t you think more strongly? Perhaps a memory or two may pop up.”
“Too much thinking gives me a headache, blurs my vision.”
“I’ve heard that amnesia due to head trauma can sometimes be cured by another trauma to the head.”
“I too have heard that. But the doctors said that another injury will definitely kill me.”
“Then we have a problem!”
“You know how it feels like? As if some cork has stoppered an important memory in my brain. If I can just access that, everything else will come out in a rush.”
“Then you should start reciting random words, like potato, beans, neem tree, Gaya, Kashi…one by one, every word you know…”
“Don’t be silly, that would make me more confused.”
Just then they a heard a rough voice, “Hey Gokul, hurry up.”
In reply someone said, “Go ahead. I’ll catch up with you. Can’t you see I’m trying to light a cigarette?”
Danu and Nagen Ray saw a short and a large sized man walking slowly by. The short guy was lighting a cigarette.
Danu said in low voice, “Which one is Gokul?”
“I think the short one. He should have a ‘with God’s help’ tattooed on his hand.”
“Wait a sec.” Danu stood up.
Nagen Ray was annoyed, “You can’t handle it alone. There are two of them.”
“You tackle first, then I will do the second one. Which one do you want?”
“The big guy. You go ahead.”
Danu quickly caught up with them and stood in front, blocking them, “Brother, can I borrow your matches please? Need a cigarette bad.”
Gokul was a bit annoyed, but pulled out the matchbox from his pocket and handed over to Danu. The tattoo could be clearly seen on his right hand. Danu took the matches and suddenly grabbed Gokul by the neck. And before the big guy could do anything, Nagen Ray hit him on the neck from behind. The guy almost fell in faint, but Nagen dragged him into the jungle. Gokul was struggling in Danu’s hand.
Deep in the jungle, Nagen dropped the man on the ground. Danu pulled Gokul up, “What’s your name?”
“What business is that of yours?” Gokul hissed.
In reply, Danu flicked him hard on his cheek, “We don’t reply. We only ask the questions.”
Gokul massaged his cheek, “No need for physical violence. You will be sorry.”
“We do need that. Now answer!”
“I am Gokul, Gokul Mistri.”
“What do you do?”
“Various odds and ends.”
“Nagen noticed Gokul was not looking at him in the eye. He kept looking away from him.
Now Nagen asked, “Do you recognize me?”
“Danu slapped him hard, “Look closely,”
Gokul didn’t look up. Just said, “No, I don’t know you.”
“You do know him. Because you have the tattoo on your hand. Now say the truth or we will bury you alive right here. We are not nice folks.”
“How would I know? I’ve never seen you!”
The next punch was so hard that Gokul fell on the ground.
Nagen was annoyed, “You know your problem Danu? You don’t know your limit. You have to be careful while beating up a man. Now if he loses his memory due to your punch, what would we do?”
“Don’t worry boss. These guys are toughies. One punch wouldn’t do anything to them.”
Danu got a water bottle from his bag and sprinkled some on Gokul’s face.
Gokul sat up and said sobbing, “I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t even in the gang.”
Gokul shut up again, “I don’t know.”
“You know what is next for you?’ Danu said, “we will hang you upside down from that tree. All your blood will pool in your brain and you will die slowly.”
“I told you I wasn’t in their gang.”
“Then who was?”
“Raghu, Raju, Nyara, Bateshwar, Katu, those guys.”
Danu pointed to Nagen Ray, “Now do you recognize this man?”
Gokul bowed his head and stared at the ground.
“Are you going to confess or you need some more treatment?”
“I do know him. But he looks different now.”
“Who is he?”
Danu cast a quick glance at Nagen, who was frowning at Gokul.
“Why did you beat him?” asked Danu.
“I never beat him,” Gokul wiped his tears, “Those guys did.”
“Because of his son. He wasn’t telling us where his son was.”
“Son? Bhabesh’s son?”
“Yes. Rupesh Chowdhury.”
Nagen Ray suddenly clutched his head in his hands and flopped on the ground. His eyes were shut. He kept mumbling something, “Throne, the throne…”
Danu cast a quick glance at Nagen Ray, and then turned back to Gokul, “Where is Rupesh Chowdhury now?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t wish to live, do you? If you do, you better tell us all, or else!”
“He is under Abidyathakur.”
“Why with him?”
“That I don’t know.”
“I know you guys wanted to kill Bhabesh Chowdhury. For that you should be punished by hanging. How about if we do the hanging right here?”
“But I didn’t try to kill him.”
“What does Abidyathakur want from Rupesh Chowdhury?”
“Don’t know for sure, but the rumor is that Rupesh knows where the royal treasure is hidden.”
“That means he is under arrest?”
“Not quite arrest, but they are in the same house.”
Danu stood up and pulled up Nagen, “Up boss. We don’t have much time to think. Got a lot of work. Are you remembering everything now?”
Nagen stared at him vacantly, “I think so. Rather haphazardly, but I think I remember.”
“You are Bhabesh Chowdhury, not Nagen Ray. Remember?”
“You have a son, Rupesh?”
Danu looked at the guy still on the ground, “Your punch has really conked out this guy. Probably he will sleep whole night. What shall we do with him?”
Nagen Ray, alias Bhabesh Chowdhury said, “We may need him for more info.”
Danu also pulled up Gokul, “Watch closely the people walking in the street, and tell us who are in your gang.”
Gokul tearfully said, “But that will put me in danger.”
“Right now you are in more serious danger.”
Two hefty guys like body builders were walking by, Gokul pointed them out, “They are Raghu and Nobu.”
Immediately Danu walked up to them and stopped them. Before they realized what was happening, Danu punched Raghu in the jaw and hammered his fist into Nobu.
When he dragged both of them in the jungle next to the first unconscious guy, Gokul’s eyes grew wide and round, “Who are you?”
“We are very bad people,” said Danu with great regret, ”Perhaps even worse than you guys.”
Gokul stared in terror, but didn’t say any more.
Bhabesh asked, “How many such guys are in your gang?”
Gokul counted, “Sir, perhaps twelve or thirteen.”
Danu said, “Boss this may take awhile then.”
Bhabesh said, “Don’t be silly. Every gang has a few leader type men, perhaps four or five. The rest are all sheep. Well Gokul, how many such are in your gang?”
Gokul now looked at them with great respect, “You are absolutely right. Most guys in Abidyathakur’s gang are hired goons. The leader types are only five. Out of which three are lying here unconscious. That leaves only Preetam and Jharua.”
“Where will they be now?”
“Must be resting, after lunch. There is a gig tonight in Hariharpur.”
“Do they have cell phones?”
“Preetam has, Jharua doesn’t.”
“Then call Preetam on his cell and tell him he has a visitor from his hometown. Waiting under the banyan tree.”
“If he asks who it is?”
“Just say an old man.”
Gokul took out a cheap cell phone from his pocket and whispered something in it. Then told Bhabesh, “Coming. Thought it is his father visiting.”
Bhabesh looked at Danu, “Do you know that you have to break a bone if you want to put a man out of function?”
Danu said, “Even kids know that. But which bone?”
“Jaw and kneecap.”
A little later, Preetam came out of his house busily into the street.
He was built strong, with red eyes and wild hair. Danu grabbed him hard by the neck. He was so surprised that his mouth remained open and the surprised ‘Ah’ became an agonized one as he fell unconscious.
Gokul looked at him pitifully, “What now?”
“Come with us to Jharua’s house and call out ‘There is a snake in the house!’”
Gokul stood in front of Jharua’s house and yelled, “Jharua! Hey Jharua.”
Jharua’s irritated face appeared in the window downstairs.
“Why are you yelling for me?”
“There is a snake entering in your house! I saw just now!”
“What!!” Terrified Jharua stepped out of his door and immediately got caught in pincer like holds by both Bhabesh and Danu. One experienced chop from Danu and a calculated kick, and he too fell unconscious.
Bhabesh pulled out his heavy pistol and with Gokul and Danu, entered Abidyathakur’s house. He ordered Gokul to call Abidyarhakur out, “Tell him we have important business with him.”
Gokul knocked on the closed door next to the staircase, “Abidyathakur, please come out. We have something important to discuss.”
As soon as Abidyathakur peeped out of the door, Danu yanked him out.
“What is this? Who are you?”
“Bhabesh Chowdhury pointed his gun at him, “Call all your goons.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“First call them.”
Hearing all the noise, a few robbers came out. As soon as they saw guns, their aggressive looks disappeared.
Bhabesh Chowdhury said, “I am giving you exactly three minutes to disappear from this village, for good. Otherwise blood will flow!”
Danu raised his pistol and fired an empty shot at the wall. A slab of plaster fell off. Immediately all the goons started rushing out. Long before three minutes all ten or twelve bandits disappeared from the village.
Abidyathakur sat on the floor trembling.
Danu looked at him with contempt, “Boss, is this guy the gang leader?”
Abidyathakur was pleading with them, “Please don’t kill me. Please!”
Bhabesh asked him, “Remember me Abidyathakur? You sent those goon to kill me, didn’t you?”
Abidyathakur stared at Bhabesh, then sobbed out, “Bhabesh? Not me! Never! I was trusted by you, how could I be unfaithful?”
“You know what happens to rotten Brahmins? Untouchables, outcastes. No amount of penance can undo that.”
Abidyathakur covered his face in his wrapper and wailed loudly.
A tall, slim boy was coming down the stairs. He stopped half way to take in the scene in front.
Danu was staring at the boy, “He looks like your spitting image, boss! Perhaps not as fair as you. No need to ask who he is!”
Bhabesh too was staring at him gravely, “Yes, there is a need. I’ve lost many things. Perhaps will never get them back.”
The boy stood still, then said, “I am Bholu!”
A severe headache swamped Bhabesh. He shut his eyes and leaned on the wall for balance. Then asked stuttering,
“Who is your father?”
“I am Bhabesh Chowdhury’s son Rupesh Chowdhury. I think I know who you are, but can’t believe it. Are you my father? And you are really alive?”
“No, my son. I am not completely alive. Much of me have died. I had forgotten you. I had forgotten even myself.”
“I remember you carrying me on your shoulder, when we fled the village. I fell asleep on your shoulder. You must have suffered carrying me such a distance. I heard that you almost died trying to save my life.”
“I didn’t suffer at all.”
“These guys brought me here to help find the royal treasure. I am wondering, is there really any need for it?”
“Yes, Bholu, there is. These greedy criminals will always be after you till you find this treasure. They will never leave you in peace. You will always be in danger. That is why it is better to be rid of this damned thing for once and all.”
That night, Bholu, Bhabesh, Danu, Baburam, Brahmagopal and Gadai Khatik gathered in the dark in the court room of the palace. A few flashlights flickered around the room.
Brahmagopal said, “Well, what do you think?”
Bholu said softly, “Yes, day before, I sat on this throne for a long time. I feel if there is any clue, it is hidden somewhere in this throne. Pass me that trident, uncle.”
“Sure. It is yours after all.”
Bholu inserted the trident in the hole on top of the back of the throne. First nothing happened. But after pushing it deeper, the round disc fell off the back with a clatter. Under it was a keyhole.
Bholu said, “Now the key, please.”
“Here you are,” Brahmagopal handed him the key.
Bholu easily inserted the key and as he turned it the throne suddenly went at least four inches deep in the ground.
Then nothing else happened. Everybody was keenly staring at the throne. Baburam suddenly spoke up, “I know!”
Brahmagopal was still upset with Baburam about their ghosts. Now he grumbled, “What do you know?”
Baburam said, “Come with me. The treasure is not here.”
Brahmagopal sneered, “Then where is it?”
“In Tejenbabu’s house. Come, I’ll show you.”
He brought everyone to the northwest corner of the garden, near a weed covered area. “There is a stone slab under these weeds. You can’t guess from outside. Shine the light here please.”
There indeed was a stone slab. Gadai said, “Wish we had a crowbar.”
They brought in a few crowbars and sticks and pried the slab off the hole underneath. It was a large hole, about six or seven foot deep, and within it were four large wooden boxes.
Baburam proudly said, “See, didn’t I tell you?”
Brahmagopal grumbled, “Hmph! Who brought the trident and the key?”
After a lot of effort, they managed to get the heavy boxes out and bring them in the courtroom. They were very old boxes and the wood at the bottom was rotting in places. The lids were opened easily with the crowbars. What they saw in the flashlight didn’t really surprise anyone. They all had expected something like this. All four boxes were crammed with old gold jewelries, gold coins and golden utensils.
Bholu asked his dad, “Do we need to declare all this to the government?”
Bhabesh said, “No. Once government gets it, it will remain tied up in red tape for ever and will never come to any use of anybody.”
Bhabesh sighed, “Wealth can be used in many ways. You can enjoy it yourself or use it for the good of others. Using it on yourself would bring joy to one or two people, using it for others would bring joy to many people in the village. Now you decide what you want to do.”
Bholu paused for a moment, the said, “Then let’s use it for all.”
The original novel "Bholu Jokhon Raja Holo" (ভোলু যখন রাজা হল) by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay was first pubished in 2015 by Ananda, Kolkata.
Illustrated by Ananya Das. Author of several books and an illustrator, Ananya Das is based in Pennsylvania.