• Parabaas
    Parabaas : পরবাস : বাংলা ভাষা, সাহিত্য ও সংস্কৃতি
  • পরবাস | Novel
  • The Forest Goddess and Five Pigeons: Translation of A Science Fiction By Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay [Parabaas Translation] : Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay
    translated from Bengali to English by Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra

    The Forest Goddess and Five Pigeons

    Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay

    Translated from the original Bangla novel
    Bonodebi o Panchti Payra (বনদেবী ও পাঁচটি পায়রা)

    Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra

    New Creation and Low Town. One is ultra-modern and the rest is the old world. Rikta does not know what is love. Pranam draws only to tear them up. Why is the crazy scientist Kahna suspicious of the new science? Sirshendu Mukhopadhya's new novel searches for humanity in the robot-world of 2317.

    An evening in November, year 2317.

    Rikta slowly stood up. She felt very tired, a never-ending exhaustion. It was five in the evening. She had just finished her work for the day. Others in the large hall also stood up and stretched. Now they would all go home. Everyone had small insects hovering about two feet above their heads. Nobody was talking much. Almost as if ignoring each other, they silently stood in a line near the exit door. The door had a time lock. It opened automatically. In front was a walking hallway. Everyone got on. About 200 meter away was a stationary platform, with an escalator. Everyone lined up on it. All the hovering insects followed, watching and measuring their movements.

    After rising 200 feet, there was open sky at last. Glancing down, one could see the treetops like a dense green jungle below. A cool breeze was blowing. It was early winter. The darkness was gradually descending on everything, like a veil of fine mist.

    Those insects never made any noise. They just hovered, watched and analyzed.

    Rikta could never be completely alone, completely relaxed. That insect was measuring her every footstep, every movement, heartbeat, blood pressure, every data was sent twenty four hours to a central storehouse where everything was recorded. She had heard that these insects with the finest machines could decipher a man’s desires, likes, dislikes, hungers, even his dreams while he slept. It could detect hope, enthusiasm, even depression. That insect was always above her head. Following her. There was no way to avoid it, not even for a moment.

    It had been told that there were no more trusting friends than those bugs. They could keep one away from danger; give warnings before danger and help one get over dangerous situations. In the beginning they were lovingly called “Problem Solver”, now they were just called ‘Friend’.

    Down below, there was a narrow path in the green jungle. No one walked that path any more. There was no light. No vehicle was ever seen on it. Sometimes the path was obscured by overgrowths. Everyday Rikta looked at it from above. She really wanted to visit there some day, perhaps on a holiday.

    Rikta entered a capacious hold on her left. There was no need to get inside. Right near the door was a lighted panel with buttons. Everyone keyed in their designated code number and went out. And through another door, one by one, designated cars drove out automatically.

    Rikta’s car too was like others. Small and lightweight. There was a fiberglass roof overhead. There was no need to drive the car. You just had to enter a designation code and the car automatically jumped into space and zoomed to your destination.

    Soundless and vibrationless, the car sped towards her building. Rikta was still feeling exhausted. She turned and watched the bug. It too was still in air, watching and measuring her from about two feet above her head.

    All around her, above and below, other cars of different sizes and colors were speeding by in different directions. Each car had a tiny nuclear engine with a superb buoyancy stabilizer. There was a tiny artificial brain that controlled temperature, music system, wireless connections, TV, seat adjustments according to one’s body shapes etc, etc. These flying cars would never break down and never hit each other, always politely passing by.

    As there was nothing for her to do in the car, Rikta usually kept her eyes closed. Sometimes she even fell asleep. She couldn’t figure out if this ennui was in her mind or body. She was only 19 yrs old, an expert basketball player, an ex gymnast and an excellent swimmer. Last month she underwent her obligatory health check up. Every inch of her body, from her hair to her toes was examined thoroughly. There was no disease. Even her mental exam showed no deficiency in her intelligence, cognition or IQ. Still she could feel this exhaustion. Two years ago after a routine check up, a male physician had asked her, “Are you homosexual?

    “No? Why do you ask?” Rikta was surprised.

    “Because it is my job to ask.” The doctor was serious.

    “Is there anything unusual in my check up?”

    “No, not really.”

    “Then why?”

    “Well, you are seventeen, but I don’t see any evidence of sexual interest in your body or mind. You are not frigid. You seem …neutral. It is rather unusual.” The doctor said hesitantly.

    She had thought about it since, but didn’t worry over it. Now she wondered if that neutrality was the cause of her tiredness.

    For some time Rikta was feeling a tickling sensation near her left knee. Now she looked down and was terrified. A scorpion had climbed up her leg, along her pants! It was almost improbable. The places where she lived and worked were totally free of any such pests. She had never experienced anything like this and didn’t know what to do next.

    Suddenly the insect hovering over her head came flying forward. Rikta saw a needle like something shining in its mouth. In the blink of an eye, the insect impaled the scorpion on its needle and lifted it away behind Rikta. The scorpion writhed on the needle for a while and then became lifeless. Then, as if in some super hot oven, the body got charred, shrank and fell off the needle as a tiny piece of ash on the floor of the car. Rikta was wide eyed in surprise. A suction machine immediately sucked the ash away. There was no sign left of its existence.

    Rikta stared at her insect. Should see feel grateful? Say thank you? She smiled faintly and said, “Thanks a lot.” The insect hovered on as before, as if nothing had happened.

    It wasn’t as if the scorpion venom would have seriously harmed her. Her small bag had anti venoms of all kinds. Just a little spray would have taken care of the pain. But Rikta was still scared of these animals. They lived way below in the jungle and Rikta wasn’t familiar with them.

    Rikta stared at the world outside. The jungles below were getting darker by the minute. The world was getting greener. Above, the life was well controlled. The population was controlled; there was no shortage of food and wealth, no lack of anything needed for happiness.

    About 200 years ago, during the earth’s last warm age, when both the polar ice caps were melting away, the sea level rose to a dangerous high. Many islands, coastal areas, low lying areas, Sunderban, even Kolkata disappeared in the inundation. When the sea water flooded a volcano in Indonesia and caused a massive explosion, the resulting three hundred feet high tsunami raced across the globe like a jet aircraft and totally obliterated the coastal cities around the world, the state of the world at that time was very pitiful. Billions of men, women and children were lost in that tsunami.

    At that time a crazy scientist named Kahna Rai had invented his famous instrument named “Sweeper”. They looked innocuous, like stumpy mailboxes. But they had a tremendous capability. They could remove all pollutions from an area of one mile around them. They not only consumed all carbon dioxide, dust, smoke etc, but synthesized new fuels from them too.

    Within a year of his invention, the warm age disappeared from the earth and the normal seasonal climate returned. The polar ice caps reformed. Even the hole in the ozone layer filled up.

    Kahna received many awards, medals and titles for his invention. But the crazy man did not accept any of them. He spent all his days and nights in his huge laboratory with a few coworkers who were just as workaholic as he. Once in a while, Kahna would set out without any destination. He would walk for miles or stay in meditative silence under a tree. Sometimes he would mutter to himself. His wife Akshara had left him because of his craziness. He had not even kept touch with his two daughters.

    Kahna’s bronze statues now decorated many cities and towns in the world. His birthday and death day were celebrated all over. He was considered the ‘protector of the earth’. His sweepers were busily ‘Sweeping’ all pollutants in every corner of the globe. The later models were much more efficient too.

    It might have been a very distant relationship, but genetically Rikta was related to this mad scientist. Not that she felt any pride for it. After all, the man died almost 200 years ago. But what bothered her was the question if she inherited any weird trait from this man. She had read in his biography that his wife left him because of his impotency. Also it was known that Kanha suffered from periodic depression and melancholia. In his middle age, he was apparently suddenly interested in paranormal phenomena and roamed around in search of spirits. He even visited many shamans, exorcists and other experts in these fields.

    Rikta looked at the insect again. Exactly two feet above her head it looked like a dung beetle floating still in the air. In last two years Rikta couldn’t figure out if there was some form of connection between her and the bug. Was the bug her friend? Or enemy? Or just a spy? In the beginning, she hesitated to disrobe in the presence of the insect. Felt embarrassed to use the toilet. But she was explained that there was no reason for it. Apparently the insect always saw her without any clothes. Her clothes were no barriers to its sight. So Rikta gradually got used to its presence. She was told that the insect was her protector as well as a servant. There was nothing to be fearful about it.

    200 meters below a huge building sparkled. The building was 50 floors high and had a huge roof like a wide field. There written in bold green letter was the sign “The Third Nest “. That is where Rikta lived. This building was like a heaven. The rooftop had parking garages for cars. Below were thousands of apartments, as well as shopping malls, hospitals, post offices, swimming pools and many entertainment centers.

    Rikta’s car descended on the rooftop. The door opened automatically. Before getting out she touched a button labeled ‘hold’ on the panel. After she got out, the car automatically rolled through an open door into the hold.

    It was breezy on the roof and quite cold. There was a fog all around. Tired, Rikta walked towards the moving staircase. There was a crowd of ten or twelve men near the stairs with an equal number of women. Rikta guessed they too were dwellers in her building, but like in a town or city, nobody knew the neighbors next door.

    The building stood in an artificial, circular gravity-less space. Somewhat like a standing egg. It was about a kilometer wide. Above the sky too is artificial, but decorated with stars and planet according to the dates and times. It looks exactly like a real sky. There were areas for games and entertainment in this open gravity-less space, but the entrance fees were quite high. However Rikta spent some time every day in the ‘space walk’ or ‘high sky’. She had a membership card so did not need to pay entrance fees.

    The ‘space walk’ seemed eerie in the beginning. The sky was dark that day and so was the space. From outside she could see in through the glass enclosure. People were floating in space, boats too. Kids played ball in space, or tag. There were seats for resting in space. There was also a space garden.

    Rikta didn’t need any ID card or code number; the insect with her was her ID. She only had to stand in front of the door and it opened. Before leaping in space, Rikta waited a minute. Under the dark sky, she could see a dim light of the world below. But daily viewing of it left no more surprises for her.

    She let go herself in the space. She didn’t need to do anything. The body floated and turned, came down and got up, all by itself. There was a freedom in this undirected, uncontrolled motion. But freedom from what? Nobody had tied her to anything. Then why did she seek this freedom?

    Another body floated up very close to her. Rikta felt a bit uncomfortable and tried to move away but suddenly heard an urgent female voice, “Listen, do you know me?”

    Rikta saw a slim, pretty girl in a swimsuit, floating on her left. Surprised, she said, “How would I know who you are? I’ve never met you before.”

    The girl looked at her with wide eyes, “Even I can’t recognize myself. They tell me I am Jaba.”

    “Who’s telling you?”

    “Those guys, from ‘Who, What, When, Why, Where’ department.”

    Rikta understood. That place was also called ID or five W’s. Also known as Panchak in Bengali, She smiled, “Then there is no problem. If they say you are Jaba, then you must be Jaba.”

    The girl forcefully shook her head, “No, no! My name is Purna. I was never Jaba. They want to change my ID. That 5W people are telling me that I live in 3rd nest, 47th floor, E-F block. But they are wrong. My name is Purna Roy. I am supposed to be in Weaver Nest, 71st floor, A-89 room, and number 3 catwalk. I remember all this.”

    Rikta stared at the pretty girl for a minute and thought. She had heard of such cases recently. This problem of self-identification. There had not been any cure found yet.

    She said very sweetly, “Usually 5W doesn’t make such mistakes. Their computer brains can easily correct any errors. Besides, what would they gain by giving you wrong information?”

    Jaba or Purna frowned, “Gain? There must be some gain. Perhaps it is revenge.”

    “Revenge? Why? Have you done them any harm?”

    “Yes. I killed the insect they sent after me.”

    Rikta was startled, “But why? Why did you kill it?”

    “We can’t talk floating like this. We are floating up, down, sometimes near sometimes away, can you talk like this? Come, let’s go sit in that restaurant.”

    Rikta never liked gravity-less floating restaurants. It was difficult to swallow food. Often the food just floated around. But she agreed, “OK, let’s go.”

    The floating restaurant was covered in glass. The furniture too was floating but secured and as there was no floor, there were foot holds below each chair.

    There were not too many people at that hour. An old man was sitting alone in a far corner, staring at some instrument in his hand. In another corner, an almost nude couple was busy kissing each other. Their food in front was getting cold. There was also a tall black youth sitting quietly, wearing dark glasses. Those dark glasses were worrisome. They could penetrate clothes and show the naked bodies of the women. But Rikta had become used to them. This was all part of her life. She didn’t feel embarrassed.

    Looking down at the table, Rikta ordered, “Two coffees. Kerala black. No sugar.” A green spot shone and disappeared from the table, meaning that the order was processed.

    The girl was staring at Rikta, “You are very beautiful.”

    Rikta smiled back, “You too.”


    The girl frowned, “Beautiful. But the person I see in the mirror is not Purna. It is some alien person.”

    “How long have you been having this self-identification problem?”

    “Six months. One morning I got up and saw everything different, bed, room, and the face in the mirror. I was so shocked that for a long time I could not even think …”

    “You killed your insect, right?”

    “Yes it used to bother me a lot.”

    “But right now, about two feet behind your medulla oblongata is an insect, hovering.”

    “I know. It’s a new one”

    “Why did you kill the insect?”

    “Nobody believes me, but it is a love story.”

    Rikta was wide eyed in surprise, “Love story? I’ve heard 'Love' used to happen long time ago. I have no idea how it was.”

    “Yes, you are right. 'Love' does not happen anymore. Now we are so materialistic. Man and woman are so natural and easy in their relationship. There is no modesty, no covering. It is just like drinking a glass of water or asking for a cup of tea. You don’t want to listen then?”

    “I do.”

    “Are you very tired?”

    “You start the story.”

    “I used to work in an archive.”

    “You don’t anymore?”

    “No. I was Purna then. The archive contained all the old literature, poems, history, letters etc. My work was to read them. I know many languages, about seven—Sanskrit, Tamil, Urdu, Bengali, Hindi and Kanada. Have you ever read the old literature?”

    “No. Literature was not my subject. My specialty is analyzing the radio waves coming from the cosmos.”

    “When I started reading and sorting those old books I felt something going wrong within me.”

    “How so?”

    “I read countless love stories. And I somehow got attracted to them. I started thinking what was love, how it was. How did one boy or one girl get interested in one person only? Even among the homosexuals, such stories and poems are numerous.”

    “Yes. I haven’t read any but I do know a little about them.”

    “About hundred and fifty odd years ago, love used to happen here and there then it completely disappeared from the world. The magic between a man and a woman does not happen any more. Now the body needs another body and is used for pleasure and reproduction. That’s it.”

    Rikta smiled, “I’ve heard, in those old days people actually fought wars for love, committed suicide or left home if failed in love. Even civil wars had happened over love.”

    “Yes. You heard right. The old literature is filled with love. If you keep reading, you will be almost hypnotized. I went to a parapsychologist once, to discuss this in more detail. I specifically wanted to know if love happened because of some physical phenomenon, some hormone secretion perhaps. He told me that it indeed was caused by a specific secretion from the brain. That does not happen anymore.”

    “You fell in love with love itself.”

    “Exactly. I used to have all kinds of unusual feelings while reading about love. I used to try to create the feelings that happened between people in love. Imagine, in old days, a boy falls in love with a girl. That shivery feeling when he was touched, or the electricity flow in his body when they looked in each other’s eyes. I tried to create those feelings in me.”

    “Were you successful?”

    “Not in the beginning, but later on little by little…”

    A tray floated up to them, carrying two covered cups of coffee. The cups were never opened, so could not spill anything. There was a panel on each lid. The customer would sip directly from the panel. Rikta took one sip and looked at her companion, waiting.

    The girl was trying to remember something. She too took one sip, “Do you know what the words ‘meaningful glance’ mean?”


    “Dictionary says, “A shy sidelong glance filled with love.”

    “Hmm! The words are familiar, but no one uses them, right?”

    “ Yes. I had a hard time understanding this. I used to practice it in front of the mirror. You perhaps remember that a few years ago we received a radio signal? Perhaps it came from some intelligent being in a far away star or planet.”

    “I remember. There were some sounds that had similarities in our ancient Vedic languages.”

    “Right, right! We still haven’t figured out the message. Although numerous experts worldwide are trying to crack the code. Out of total 119 sounds, 21 sounded like Vedic Sanskrit. As a result, everyone around the world is studying Sanskrit and Vedas again.”

    “I know. I had to learn Sanskrit for my work too. But I only learnt the grammar, not literature or poetry.”

    “Naturally. I went to a linguist to understand it better. He explained many events from Shakuntala, Meghadutam, Kadamvari etc and told me that love was a fruitless waste of time, a type of stupidity.”

    “But you didn’t believe him?” Rikta said.

    “I did believe him. After all we all have grown up with those ideas. Yet, secretively I kept on practicing making eyes, blushing, thrilling to a male touch. I used to think of them day and night. All the men I have been with, as soon as the physical need was over, our relationship ended. Now I can't even remember them. What else does the body need? What exactly is love? Even two days ago, I was with this well built man and while with him, I tried to evoke those feelings, but it just didn’t happen. Still I can feel something going on inside me. I am having some feelings that I didn’t have before. I have been changing over past two years.”

    “You have pretty good memory. Then why are you having problem with self identification?” Rikta finished her coffee.

    “I will tell you why. It is a green man.”

    “A green man?” Rikta frowned.” But they are dangerous!”

    “ Yes. The ones who live down below, in the jungle. Their lifestyles, cities, everything is very different from us. They hate us. They are anti-science, short tempered, aggressive, and violent, they are the enemies of civilization, culture, arts, government. We contact them only when we really have to.”

    Rikta burst out laughing. “They are not that bad. We have a few of them in our lab. They are quite decent, polite; only occasionally raise their hackles at some special topics. I think it is better not to provoke them too much.’

    The girl laughed for the first time, “When I was preoccupied with love, I chose my robot servant for experimenting how to express my love to him.”

    “With a robot?” Rikta raised her brows.

    “My robot is quite masculine. The factory had named him ‘He-man’. He is smart, quick and extremely strong. One night I tried my ‘meaningful glance’ on him, smiled with modesty, and said in trembling voice, “I love you.””

    Rikta laughed out loud, “Then?”

    “He-man had no idea what to do. Because he was never programmed to respond to such actions. I then hugged and kissed him. My robot is shaped exactly like a man, muscular and good looking but his reaction to my kiss was quite different. He stepped back, bowed and asked, “My lady, have I committed any mistake in my duties?” I said, “No He-man, I have fallen in love with you. I want you.” He knelt on the ground and said, My lady, I know how to cook, clean, kill the pests, run all the machinery in the house, even give you a massage, but …I can’t understand what exactly you want me to do?”

    Rikta laughed and laughed. Her depression was almost gone. She was really enjoying herself with this girl.

    The girl continued, “After this I tried on a middle aged man in the metro rail. Nowadays, almost no one rides the rails. That day too there was no one except another man in the far corner . So we were almost alone in the compartment”.

    The tray with the empty cups floated away from their table.

    “I started using my newly learned eye technique. He was holding an skywatch in his hands and trying to figure out the location of different planets. First he didn’t notice me, then he was surprised and later got irritated. “Why are you looking at me like that? Do you have a problem with your eyes?” I smiled very shyly and said in a low trembling voice, “I have fallen in love with you. I want you.” Then the man got really mad, “Why are you bothering me like this, what do you want? Are you mad or something?” I said, “Alas, oh man, do you not understand love?” The guy jumped off in the very next station. I bet he was relieved to get away from me.”

    “Were you very disappointed?”

    “Not really. I rather expected something like that. But the surprising event happened after this. There was another man in the compartment. He slowly stood up. Almost like a snake raising its hood. He was tall, slim, dense dark hair, coppery complexion, wearing a loose shirt and trousers. He came and sat right in front of me. It was then I noticed the green mark on his left little finger. I also saw that no insect was hovering above him. Proof that he was a green man.”

    “Were you scared?”

    “No. Not all green men are dangerous. And this guy’s face looked quite pleasant and smiling. His eyes shone with intelligence. He looked like a fun guy. He asked me, “Yes, what were you telling that man? Something about love?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “But that guy is a clown, like you. What would he know about love?” Do you understand ‘clown’?”

    “Not very well. It means someone who dresses up in a funny way and makes people laugh, right? It is a word from the past.”

    “Exactly. Clown also means silly, coy, artificial, laughable.”

    “That man told you all this?”

    “Yes. Then he asked, “Have you really loved that guy? Then you are in big trouble.” I said, “Why trouble?” He said, “You guys don’t believe in love and stuff, where did you learn about it?” I stayed quiet. He said, “My name is Tonkar, my number is D3370. If you wish you could contact me. And listen, that spy-bug over your head? Don’t trust it. It looks like a friend, but it really is a devil. If possible, try to escape from him.”

    “Wow! He has some guts!”

    “Yes, pretty gutsy. He didn’t look like he could be scared of anything. Before getting off at the next station, he told me, “You know that we have rejected eternal life? So we are not scared to die.”

    Rikta was curious, “What did you do then?”

    “I felt wiped out, somehow. As if someone inside me blew out all my courage, enthusiasm, curiosity, everything. Like an absentminded robot, I returned home. That night when I was in bed, thinking about all this, feeling very lonely, that face appeared on the TV on my wall. It was Sofi’s face, that unearthly beauty, not male, nor female, golden hair, green eyes, that addictively sweet voice. He asked me, “Dear Purna, do you not want eternal life? This is your time. You are only twenty. Imagine your body staying like this forever. Your youth will be eternal. There are so many things yet to enjoy in this world, they are all waiting for you. As soon as you get your immortality vaccination, we will send you to Mars for a month long vacation. A congratulatory gift. Tomorrow Dr. Nandan will wait for you in ‘Ayushmati’at 1400 hour. Ok?”

    “Did you apply for eternal life?” Rikta asked.



    “I think they were trying to bribe me. I wanted to wait till 22.”

    “Then what did you do?”

    “You know Sofi’s order is the last word. None of us know who Sofi is, man or a woman. Many thinks it is just an image, not live at all. Someone drew a picture and that was animated and given holographic dimension. Whatever it is, we must obey the order we get through Sofi.”

    “What did you do?”

    “A mistake!”


    “Perhaps I took a wrong step. First I sent a message in code to Tonkar, “Want to meet you. Tonight.” Got a reply in five minutes, “For the sake of security, we cannot welcome your spy-bug. If you want to come ask your robot to suck up the bug in his cleaning machine and grind him to dust. Then you are free. Stop by 17th floor, #3 catwalk, I will wait there for you.”

    “What did you do?”

    “I called he-man.”


    “Told him to do exactly as Tonkar said. You won’t imagine what happened next! I was never more surprised in my life. He-man looked in my eyes and listened to my instructions. Then I saw his eyes were shimmering in tears! And he was looking at me as if spellbound. Suddenly, in a trembling voice he started saying, “My beloved lady, you are the woman of my dreams. For you, I can break any and all taboos in this world. I can lay down my life for you. Purna, my love, just hold me once in your arms and one kiss…” And he held me fast. Immediately I felt a real heart beating in his chest. When he pressed his lips on mine, my lips were wet with his saliva. But robots can never do that. No type of secretion is allowed in a robot.”


    “Yes. When I first talked to him about love, he did not even understand me. But the wave of that emotion must have gradually overcome his mechanical programs and went beyond his limited sense and intelligence, somehow.”

    “Is that possible? Can it happen that way?”

    “He-man kissed me for a long time. Then he knelt before me, bowed and said, “Killing that insect is forbidden, so it will mean suicide for me. But beloved, to please you, I will gladly do it. I don’t know what will happen to me afterwards. Perhaps this is our last conversation.” Then he got up, in a lightning speed caught the insect in his hand and crushed it to pieces. Then he threw them in the incinerator. I was surprised, grateful, but I had no time to express them. Outside Tonkar was waiting for me. After destroying the insect I too was not safe anymore. I just told he-man a heartfelt thanks and ran to the catwalk.”


    “There were two men waiting for me. Before I could climb on the catwalk, they grabbed me. Before I could understand anything, I felt a needle in my right arm. Then I do not remember anything. When I gained consciousness, I found myself lying in a different room, in a different bed, different furniture around me, different clothes. He-man was not there. In his place was a stout middle-aged woman robot. She could hear me but could not speak. In the mirror I saw myself a different woman. I asked 5W my identity, they said,” You are Jaba. Who is this Purna you ask about?””

    “And Tonkar?”

    “Don’t know. There is no news about him. I tried many times to contact him by his code but nothing.” Purna shook her head, “I believe he is not alive any more. Or they are controlling my messages and not letting them reach Tonkar.”

    “You better go see a physician” Rikta sighed.

    “I did. The doctor too says there is no problem with my identity. I have always been Jaba. Never Purna. Whatever I remember about Purna is apparently born out of a strong desire and imagination. 5W has sent me data about my past seven generations. There my mom, dad, all are different people. I do not know them at all. I feel I am living in a mad house, or an alternate universe. Sometimes I feel I am Purna, sometimes Jaba.”

    ”How about your job?”

    “Changed. Now I work in a nondescript weather office”

    “And eternal life?”

    “No. I am still mortal. That is the only good thing.”

    Rikta stayed quiet for some time, then said, “Go along with it.”

    The girl looked pitiful, “It is not that easy. They could have wiped my past memories. That would have made it much easier. But they deliberately did not do that. So that I suffer this torture of two identities the rest of my life.”

    Rikta said, tenderly, “You are looking very tired. Why don’t you go home, take a bath, eat something and go sleep?”

    “Sleep? But I can’t sleep.”

    “Why not? Sleeping is easy. Just lie on the dream-bed and fall asleep.”

    “I do that every night, but still can’t sleep.”

    “Impossible! That dream-bed is the most advanced technology. It is bound to make you sleep.”

    “Not me. I can’t sleep.”

    Rikta knew the dream-bed was the very best in sleep technology. Light vibration, soft sound, some combination made one so relaxed that it was impossible not to fall asleep. Then why couldn’t this girl sleep?

    The girl asked, “Tell me your name.”

    “Rikta. 42nd floor, A-7.”

    “ I hope I didn’t draw you in any trouble. I am sure all our conversation has reached the main data office by now.”

    Rikta shook her head, “No, if you were that undesirable, my insect would have warned me.”

    “I am really tired. See you later.”

    “ Perhaps. Wish you good sleep.”

    The girl left.

    Rikta slowly swam through the space and came near the exit door. There was a glass elevator right in front. One could see through it in all directions. There was no need for keys, buttons or codes. The insect carried all the codes. She entered the elevator and it automatically stopped on her floor. There was a moving hallway in front. She stepped on it and landed right outside her door. Her door too was coded and immediately it slid open.

    Her apartment was neither too big, nor too small. Right in front was the drawing room, which could be enlarged or contracted, the walls were movable electronically. No furniture was visible but if needed, sofas, chairs or tables could be brought out from under the floor. Next room was the kitchen/dining room and beyond that was her bedroom.

    Rikta’s robot maid looked Japanese. She was very smart and quick. Her name was Uki. She always wore colorful kimonos, did her hair in Japanese style and always greeted bowing deeply from her waist. Uki was always active. She could bring up any data within three seconds. She could speak perfect Bengali. There was no need to turn her on or off, or worry about her battery power. She was not dependant on electricity or battery.

    Hearing Rikta’s arrival, Uki came running. Kneeling in front, she took Rikta’s shoes off. Next she took Rikta’s clothes off and put a loose comfortable gown on her. Then she said very softly, “I can smell coffee on you. Black Kerala, no sugar. Would you like tea now?”

    “No Uki. I will have a bath.”

    “Your warm water bath is ready. A scrub room is ready for scrubbing. You look a little pre occupied today, my lady.”

    “It’s nothing. You may go now.” Rikta waved her away.

    “As you wish.” Uki disappeared.

    Rikta sat on a tree trunk chair in the dining room and started thinking. She guessed every room had secret cameras and microphones in all corners. She had absolutely no privacy whatsoever. Of course she did not have anything to keep secret. The physical nudity was nothing to make secret of. It was the mental secrets, secret thoughts that one had to keep hidden. Could those cameras and the insect guess her thoughts too? In this era of advanced technology, it was not impossible. That’s why she felt a slight concern. She had never found any camera or microphone, but she had noticed that the insect did not hover over her inside the apartment. It stayed in one corner quietly. Did it sleep?

    The scrub room was a small steamy sauna. As soon as she sat there a dozen human like hands came out of the walls and started massaging and scrubbing her down. Their touch was like human touch too. One could choose female soft hand or firm muscular male hands. The hands spread something like oil over her and started their work, relaxing all the muscles. The liquid was neither an oil, nor a moisturizer. It was some magical fluid that spread new life to all the organs from head to toe. Rikta always chose soft female hands. After the massage, she always felt cleaner, fresher and more rejuvenated.

    After half an hour of massage she came back into the bathroom. Immediately she gave a piercing shriek and stood as if electrified.

    Uki came running, “What happened?”

    Rikta could not speak. She just pointed up on the wall.

    A large live cockroach was sitting on the wall. Its antenna was moving slightly.

    “Please forgive me my lady.” Uki said, “My sensors missed it.” She quickly caught the insect in her hand and threw it in the incinerator.

    Rikta shut her eyes and breathed deeply a few times. Then she said in a hard voice, “I am not pleased with your work, Uki. How did it come inside the room?”

    Uki bowed and admitted her fault, “I keep an eye on all the rooms, all the time. Every three minutes, I recheck every spot. Any pest coming inside will be detected. But how this cockroach escaped my notice, I can’t tell. But I am going to check every corner again, right now.”

    That day Rikta had a scorpion in the flying car, now a cockroach in her apartment, these events were very exceptional. She felt a sense of unease. After the bath she entered her tiny make up room. She liked to spend time here with herself. She had named this the ‘image room’. The image she saw was not a two dimensional mirror image. Here she saw a three-dimensional herself, standing face to face. If she moved her left arm, the image also moved its left arm. It was not opposite image like in mirror. If ordered the image would turn back and Rikta could see her back side too. Rikta had named the image Re-Rikta. If she made a face, Re-Rikta too made the same face, if Rikta smiled, Re-Rikta smiled too,. Rikta could magnify any part of the image to see it more closely. The image was so alive that it was difficult to think of it as an image. But even though within reach, Rikta could never touch it. There was nothing to touch except empty space. This time Rikta looked at herself minutely enlarging each view two, three times and was not too pleased. Was there a shadow of concern, a hint of fear on her face?

    Her most favorite spot was the balcony. In this sliver of a space, Rikta felt free. The builders kindly did not put any spyware there. It was a plain, simple, open balcony. It got the breeze from outside, and the sounds and smells too. In this balcony Rikta kept a tiny garden and a nest box for her pet pigeons. In the garden she kept lotus, shiuli, banyan, champak and Bakul, all root bound in glass bowls filled with chemical nutrients. All were shortened and trimmed in bonsai like shapes.

    The nest box had four pigeons. They loved her too. As soon as she came in the balcony, the birds came out and sat on her head, shoulders and arms. Today Rikta saw with surprise a new white pigeon. He couldn’t find a place to land on Rikta, so walked around her feet. Rikta watched the newcomer closely, and then picked him up too, “Where did you come from?”

    All five walked all over her cooing softly. Then after awhile they jumped off and entered their nest boxes.

    Rikta leant on the railing and stared east at the bridge floating in air. She did this everyday. The bridge was ten miles long, arced like a rainbow and glittered with lights at night. How did they ever make a floating bridge without any ropes or pillars was beyond Rikta’s imagination. It was hanging at least 15,000 feet above the ground. After the advent of flying cars, the bridge had not been in use much. Only a few heavy trucks used it.

    Rikta thought the bridge looked very lonely and sad. She wished one day she would walk along the bridge from end to end. The wind would mess up her hair; the bridge would swing in the wind. She would get that delicious shiver when she looked down from there.

    Published in Parabaas, January, 2014

    The original novel "Bonodebi o Pnachti Payra" (বনদেবী ও পাঁচটি পায়রা) by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay was first pubished in the festival issue of Desh (Sharodiya Desh, শারদীয়া দেশ) in 2012 and later as a book in January 2013 by Ananda, Kolkata.

    Illustrated by Ananya Das. Author of several books and an illustrator, Ananya Das is based in Pennsylvania.

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