Translated from the original Bangla novel
Bonodebi o Panchti Payra (বনদেবী ও পাঁচটি পায়রা)
Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra
Today also there were five pigeons in the nest box. Four were her pets, one was the guest. As soon as they saw her they happily came out and sat on her head, shoulders and arms. Two of them circled at her feet. She was filled with such joy. This was the best way to start a holiday. Outside the breeze was cool and refreshing, and the sunshine was bright.
She knelt on the floor and fed seeds to the pigeons. That’s when she noticed a tine paper wrapping tied with a thin thread around the left foot of the new white pigeon. Suddenly her heart missed a beat. Quickly she turned to see if the insect had followed her. No it didn’t. At home, usually the insect rested in his own place on the wall.
She didn’t even trust Uki about these pigeons. About a year ago, she had bought a beautiful, soft white kitten as a pet. She had named her Lili. But immediately she noticed that the kitten didn’t like Uki. Whenever Uki tried to pick it up, the kitten arched its back and growled or ran away and hid.
Uki apologetically said, “Perhaps there is nothing about cats in my program.”
“That’s possible, but why would she be scared of you?
“I always try to take good care of her.”
Rikta had noticed the hesitation in Uki’s voice and the way she avoided her eyes. She was worried. She wasn’t home all the time. Lili needed someone to look after her. She also noted Lili got anxious when she had to go to her office. Lili would come and pull at her clothes, wouldn’t want to leave her lap. That meant she really didn’t want to leave Rikta. She was scared to stay alone with Uki.
When things got worse and she could hear Lili’s screams and growls through the monitor in her office, she decided to put an end to it and return the cat to the pet center. Lili was doing fine there. Rikta sometimes went to play with her and Lili still remembered her, sat in her lap and let herself be petted. .
That’s why she didn’t trust Uki with pigeons. This balcony was her free area. Here she allowed only herself. Very carefully she had kept this little space free of all mechanical spying and monitoring.
With great care she untied the string and opened the piece of paper. It was a synthetic paper, on the top was written in Bengali, “This is for Purna. If you could give this to her it will be much appreciated.”
Below that was written 12 lines in some arcane old language that Rikta could not read. At the end, again in Bengali, “Be very careful.”
Obviously, whoever sent this message, meant it to be secret and urgent. And for some reason the sender trusted Rikta and knew about her meeting with Purna. Perhaps Purna would be able to read the message. She used to work with old languages. But why sent it to Rikta? She was not involved in any conspiracy. She had no contact with anyone in Low Town. She avoided the green people as much as possible. Then why send the message through her?
She stood hesitating for a while. Should she do it or not. There might very well be danger in this job.
She stared outside; many birds were flying in the sky, along with flying cars and even flying men. Many tied a discharge cylinder on their back and went flying by themselves, even took part in games.
Rikta stared at the white pigeon too. A beautiful, pure white innocent bird. The owner of the bird must have been very shrewd. He had gotten the bird used to her during the last few days. Rikta picked up the bird and asked, “Who sent you? Tell me. Is he a good guy or a bad one?”
The pigeon just coo-ed.
Rikta sighed. If she had to deliver the note to Purna, she would have to think out the logistics. Firstly, if she got out through the main door as usual, the insect would accompany her, even Uki might keep watch. There would be no secret about where she was going or whom she was meeting. I t would be difficult to transfer the note. So that route was out.
The second way was quite scary for Rikta. And that was flying to Purna tying a discharge cylinder like those men outside. But Rikta was scared of heights. And she had never tried flying like that. Like all apartments, hers too had a small launching pad next to the balcony. But the entrance door to the pad was from inside and Rikta had never even opened it.
Was there any another way? Yes, but that too was terribly difficult and risky. She could climb over the railings of the balcony and reach the launching pad by walking along a very narrow ledge. It was only six or seven feet away but Rikta’s heart stopped just by looking at it.
She even seriously considered throwing away the note and forgetting all about it, but then she thought about Purna and felt sorry. Perhaps the note could help her solve her problems.
She wasn’t even dressed for such adventure. It was her off day and she was only wearing a loose pajama- and a loose woolen top. In her feet she wore a pair of grass slippers. But there was no opportunity of changing clothes now.
Rikta had never performed any risky feat in her life. She always considered herself a timid person. Scared, nervous, a bit self centered, those were the words she would use for herself. But for some reason she now wanted to change herself a little. Perhaps the note was not that crucial for Purna, but she did not want to think that.
Thinking that she would lose her courage if she hesitated any more, Rikta took off her sandals and climbed over the railings. The ledge was so narrow that she could barely cling on to it with her toes. And after the railings, there was nothing to hold on to. She had to somehow negotiate the next five feet or so to reach the flying platform.
The pigeons were flying around her, as if protecting her from something.
Looking up, Rikta saw a thick cable hanging. She had no idea what it was for but it was within her reach. She just had to stretch a little. Not difficult for an ex-gymnast like her.
After trying three times, she managed to grab the cable. She yanked at it and made sure it would not come loose. Now she had to go about four feet to the window ledge of her bathroom, and from there it was an easy step to the launching pad. Easy, if she did not slip.
But there was no time for negative thinking. She grabbed the cable and swung out. The strong north wind almost took her off. With the next swing she grabbed the ledge of the bathroom window. She let go of the cable and found her toeholds on the narrow ledge again. Once she made the mistake of looking down. She immediately closed her eyes. Heights were very scary for her.
After regaining her breath, she crawled like a cat. The launching pad was about four feet away. Unfortunately there were no railings to hang on to, though it jutted out like a diving board.
The pigeons had understood her intentions. They were circling her and coo-ing. Even at this critical moment Rikta joked with her favorite pets, “You guys can do it so easily. Please don’t laugh at my clumsiness.”
It was better to think about catching rather than falling!
Only positive thinking could bring positive results. Rikta held the ledge with one hand and stretched to the end of the launching pad. Now she wasn’t that scared. She was calculating the distances. After stretching as much as possible she felt some thing metallic under the cornice, a small handle or something like that. She was breathing hard and beads of sweat glistened on her brows. After one more maximum stretch she managed to grab the handle.
That was enough. In fact more than enough. That hold allowed her to take a larger swing and climb on the launching pad. Immediately she heard clapping and cheers. Startled she looked around and saw a bunch of flying people had gathered around her. Even some flying cars and floating boats had stopped to see her adventure. People were looking at her with admiration. One man shouted from the back, “I have never seen a daring woman like you. Bravo!” One old man shook his head, “This kind of risk taking is not wise at all, dear girl.” One young man yelled from a car, “Will you come to my bed tonight? Meeting Ground, 6-B.”
Rikta was pleased and a bit embarrassed at all these praises. She hadn’t realized that so many people were watching her actions all this time.
The jet cylinder kept on her launching pad was for her use only. She was not familiar with it but she was born in a technical era. After a little bit of study she figured out how to operate it. Perhaps she would flounder a little in the beginning, but it would not be difficult to manage it.
The cylinder was attached to a metallic frame. There was small seat to sit on and strong belts to tie the cylinder. When she was tying it on, the pigeons sat around her and watched her gravely with interest. As if they too were eager and anxious for the next step.
After tying the cylinder, she positioned herself at the edge of the pad, and as she turned on the switch it was as if the cylinder yanked at her and threw her into the space. She was initially falling off, but she used the panel in her hand to maintain an even height. In the beginning she did get a few knocks. Once the rocket went 700 feet above the buildings, then zoomed down again.
Her five friendly pigeons too were flying faithfully around her. So she didn’t feel alone at all. It felt like she was flying with her very best friends. She was really having fun, enjoying the wind, the sun. This was the first time she came to know how much fun fliers have. She laughed out aloud. Tears of joy filled her eyes.
Rikta roughly knew the layout of her huge building complex. So she knew the location of Purna’s apartment too. She flew on. Above, below and around her were so many people and so many different types of cars flying that nobody could note her separately. She felt quite safe in the crowd.
Suddenly something huge and heavy hit her helmet. The impact pushed her down a few feet. It also hurt her neck. In the mirror in her panel she could see a huge golden eagle sitting on her head and looking down at her. Rikta knew that not all birds flying in the sky were real ones. Many robot birds were mixed in. They fly around, taking pictures of people and things and perhaps report them to the central office for whatever reason. This eagle too was a robot bird, taking her pictures through its sharp eyes, perhaps transmitting to some central repository.
Then, as suddenly as it came, the eagle flew away. The pigeons had moved away at the sight of the eagle, now they came back coo-ing loudly.
Rikta reached the end of the building complex and turned left slowly searching for Purna’s apartment. She too had a launching pad. Rikta landed on it, put away her flying gear carefully and knocked on Purna’s door.
The pigeons flew impatiently. They were very unsettled for some reason.
Suddenly the door opened. An irritated middle-aged woman was at the door. Rikta remembered Purna telling her that her robot could not talk. But this woman shouted, “This is not the entrance!” and was going to close the door but a couple of clever pigeons had already flown inside. The woman screamed at the top of her voice, “Get out, get out you rascals!” and she was going to take out her ray gun from her belt when Rikta stopped her hand and stepped in.
Purna had heard all the noise and came at the door sleepily, looking at her robot she said, “This is my friend, why are you stopping her?”
The woman still grumbled, “This is not the main entrance and I hate pigeons.”
Purna frowned and said, “You go do your work.”
The woman angrily stomped out.
Purna looked at Rikta in surprise, “How did you come in? Jet cylinder?”
“Why all these birds?”
“They are my friends. Yours too, from now on.”
Purna was laughing like a kid, like she couldn’t believe what was going on. “I have been thinking about you from that day of our meeting. I don’t know why. It was exactly 21 days ago. I have wanted so much to go visit you.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I hear nowadays everyone is so busy. They don’t have time for visits.”
Purna’s apartment was very much like Rikta’s. Rikta suspected that there must be spyware here too, listening in on them.
Suddenly Purna exclaimed, “Hey! What happened to your insect? Good Heavens! You didn’t kill him, did you?”
Rikta smiled, “No. He’s alive. He’s resting.”
“Yes. Aren’t you going to offer me some coffee?”
“Oh, yes. Of course. Wait. Let me tell Gau.”
“Gau is the name of your quarrelsome robot?”
“Yes. She was mute before, now she has started speaking.” Purna smiled, “Are these your pet pigeons?”
“Yes. We are all good friends.”
“How nicely they surround you!”
“Yes, they will be your friends too.”
“No. I’ll never have any friends. You know, I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
“Is your balcony on the other side?”
“Come, let’s go there. Let me see if you have place for a nest box. Then I can gift you some pigeons.”
“Really? Then let’s go.”
The balcony was just like Rikta’s. Safe and open all around. But Rikta could not be too careful. She held the note in her hand and then held Purna’s hand to quickly transfer the note in Purna’s hand. “Pigeons can bring all kinds of news from elsewhere. Do you know in old days people used them to carry love letters?”
Purna shook her head, “Yes, I know.”
“Perhaps they will bring one for you too.”
Purna was not a stupid girl. She felt the note in her hand and understood the hint in the pigeons and love letters too. Unlike stupid girls she did not show any surprise or yell out “What is this?”
Rikta was relieved. All her planning, risk taking and hard work were now successful.
While coming back, Rikta bought a small boat shaped vehicle from Low Town. It was just enough for one person to kneel in. it was slow but good enough for Rikta’s occasional trips. And in the Low Town market, it cost her much less too.
The middle-aged shopkeeper was staring at her, “Madam, why do you have pigeons around you? Where is your protective insect? Aren’t you supposed to have one?”
Rikta quickly thought of an excuse., “It is being reorientated.”
Keeping her shopping on hold in the shop, Rikta went out for a stroll in the forest. She hadn’t been here for a long time. Never felt the need or the desire to visit. The government did not encourage such visits either. Rikta had no idea why suddenly she had the urge to come here and shop. It was not the low prices. Rikta had plenty of money, so much that she could not spend it all even if she tried.
Rikta walked on in the forest. The path was narrow and uneven. There was lush greenery all around her. There was a nice smell of moist earth and vegetation. The pigeons were flying along and sitting on her shoulders, head and arms. Occasional pedestrians were looking at her. They had never seen a sight like this. The five pigeons had circled her as if for protection.
The densest part of the forest was right in front. Rikta had heard about it. From outside it looked like a solid green wall. It was rare to see such a healthy strong dense forest. And it was totally devoid of any human beings.
Gradually the she entered deep into the magnetic attraction of the green, as if inside a fairy tale. There were only the sounds of many birds. There was a narrow tunnel through the forest. It ended in a most primitive place. There were only the earth, the sky and the plants there and nothing else. The air was so clean that it made one come alive. The pigeons were coo-ing happily. As if they too approved of this walk in the forest.
And there were flowers. Rikta had never seen so many different kinds of flowers together before. It was as if painted on by some expert artist.
There were numerous dragonflies and butterflies flitting over the flowers. And suddenly surprised, she noticed quite a few black beetle like insects flying among them too. She saw them floating in air, not landing on a flower or drinking nectar. It was as if they were measuring, assessing something. This was unexpected.
From her left, behind the greens, a male voice spoke up, “Who is there?”
Rikta couldn’t see anyone, she replied in a low voice, “Me. I am a woman.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Hope I am not breaking any rule.”
“No, not at all. You can roam here freely. No rules against it.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Jagrata. Caretaker of this forest. I have been here for many years. You must be from New Creation, right?”
“Yes. How did you guess?”
“Aristocracy has its own vibration. Their existence itself announces them. Have you come here for anything special?”
“Yes. I have heard about this forest many times.”
“Go ahead, see it thoroughly. It may not last long.”
Rikta slowly stepped forward. An old but well built man was sitting on an old, moss-covered bench, in the semi darkness. He had a rough appearance, with spiky white beard and a large moustache.
“May I sit here?” Rikta asked.
“Sure, sure.” The man moved to one corner and let Rikta have almost the whole bench, “Are your people planning to take over all of the forest?” He asked.
“What do you mean? Why should we take this land?” Rikta was completely surprised.
“I thought you have come to assess the area on behalf of the government.”
“No. I work in Space Research Lab.”
“Have you noticed the spy bugs flying around in this forest?”
“Yes. I am rather surprised. What are they doing here?”
“I don’t know for sure. I am not a mechanical or technologically trained person. I have spent my life taking care of the earth, the flora and the fauna. But I’ve heard that they come before others, take measurements, draw out plans and analyze the data. These are then sent to the experts who later on will come and occupy the land for some special project.”
“And you are concerned, correct?”
“Yes. Your pet pigeons seem to love you very much, don’t they.”
Rikta didn’t reply, just smiled sweetly.
Jagrata said, “I am now an old man. So I often fall asleep. Just a while back I was snoozing but suddenly saw as if the whole forest was lit up. The Forest Goddess Herself had arrived. What a heavenly face, and the kindest smile on her lips. And all the bees, butterflies and little birds were flying around her, and the pigeons were sitting on her head and shoulders! The Goddess said, “Do not be afraid. Nobody will take away this forest.”
“Then what happened?”
Jagrata looked at her, “My dream is still not gone completely. I feel as if the Forest Goddess is still sitting next to me.”
Rikta blushed and smiled. “You are an expert in saying sweet nothings. Aren’t you.”
Jagrata said, “Sweet nothings I did say in past, I can’t deny that, but I am sure this time it was not the Goddess but you whom I saw while half asleep. Who are you?”
“I am Rikta. I live in Peace Cottage.”
Suddenly he raised his ancient huge hand and stopped her. With wide unblinking eyes he scanned her face, “Are you by any chance the daughter of Dhee and Kumbhak?”
“How strange! Yes, those are my parents’ names. But how did you know that?”
Jagrata was talking as if to himself, “Nineteen years ago, on the night of that terrible earthquake, Dhee gave birth to a girl. The quake measured seven on Richter scale, so she named the girl Richter. That was changed later on to Rikta.”
“How very strange! Today must be the day of unending surprises for me. Pray tell, how you came to know all this?”
Jagrata was quiet for a while. “Goddess, do you know that you bear the genes of the Great Kahna in you?” he asked.
“Yes. But it is such a distant relationship that I don’t claim any connection.”
Jagrata worriedly stared at a beehive in a nearby Kadamba tree, “But the relationship is there, my Goddess, and there is risk with it too.” He said, almost sadly.
“Risk? Why risk?”
Jagrata shook his head, “That I don’t know. I am old, so occasionally get strange premonitions. Where is that insect over your head?”
“Not here. I have given him time off.”
A beautiful squirrel had climbed up Jagrata’s leg and now nestled in his lap. Jagrata petted him lovingly and said, “You are extremely shrewd.”
Rikta was looking at the squirrel longingly, like a little girl. It had beautiful designs on its back. She smiled shyly, “May I pick him up? Will it mind?”
“Of course you may. You are the Goddess of this forest. Of course it will come to you.”
Rikta smiled, “You are very naughty, all those sweet talks!”
The squirrel did not mind Rikta at all. It hung its furry tail and sat quietly in her lap. The pigeons must have been a little envious, so they quickly reoccupied all the remaining spaces on her head and shoulders.
Jagrata stared intently at his vision, “You look so glorious. If our artist was here, he would surely have painted your portrait.”
“Who is this artist?”
“He is a lonely man. Every weekend he comes here and draws pictures of the forest. At the day’s end he erases them all before returning home.”
“Why does he erase all his pictures?”
“Well, who needs pictures now a days?”
“Then why does he draw at all?”
“Because that is his addiction. He can’t live without drawing. One day I suggested that he scatter all his drawings in the forest. Let all the birds and bees see them. First he didn’t agree but last week he left a few drawings here. Want to see?”
“Sure.” Rikta stood up, still holding the squirrel.
Behind the thorny Keya bush was the first picture. A ruin of a green cab could be seen. Green vines were climbing all around the ruin. There was a silent lament in the picture.
In the knot hole of the Shimul tree was another drawing, a heron was looking at its mirror image in the water, stilled in surprise.
Another one. On the water, over a lotus flower, two bees sat face-to-face, greedy for the nectar, ready for the battle.
It was obvious that the artist was an expert.
Jagrata took her to a lotus tree. The entire tree was covered with flowers. Hundreds more lay on the ground below.
Jagrata moved a bunch of lotus and revealed the face of a girl.
“What is this? It is my picture! It is I, Jagrata!” Rikta spoke up in surprise.
Jagrata just sighed, didn’t say anything.
Rikta was looking at her own image with surprised eyes. She looked at Jagrata and asked, “Has the artist ever seen me?”
“How else could he draw?”
“Must be here in the forest. He must have seen the Forest Goddess in his mind’s eye.”
“Seriously Jagrata. I am extremely surprised. I had never dreamt of having such a perfect living image of mine. Do you think the artist would agree to sell it? I am willing to pay whatever price he asks.”
Jagrata picked up the framed picture and handed it to Rikta, “He never expected anyone to even glance at his pictures. Just that you asked for it is a price more than enough for him.”
“Please thank him for me. Today the entire day has been filled with surprises, one after another. Hope I am not dreaming all this.”
“No Goddess, you are not dreaming.”
Rikta let the squirrel go and held the picture in her arms. Then she extended her hand to Jagrata, “If I want to come here again?”
Jagrat felt as if in a dream. Looking at that mesmerizing dark and light painted forest he spoke very slowly, “I have been living here all my life. I have seen how the seasons change, how the forest look different in the dawn and in the dusk. But look my Goddess, today its beauty has exceeded far beyond the limits. I can hear in its heartbeats a joyful unheard music. You know why? Today, you, the Goddess of this forest have arrived in your kingdom. You don’t need any permission. This is your forest. Your rightful place. This old caretaker will wait for you everyday.”
Rikta could feel a tide of joy and pride well up within her. Something she had never felt before. A bubble of unbearable happiness was climbing out of her heart. She burst out laughing, “Jagrata, you are a naughty, lying old man! You have mesmerized me with your sweet lies. And you know the problem? I desperately want to believe those lies.”
Jagrata hit his brow in mock despair, “Alas! After all this worship, the Goddess rejected my offerings?”
“Yes Jagrata, you old tree! You snared me in your web of sweet praises! Now I see how enticing they can be.”
Jagrata held Rikta’s hand in his huge paw. Rikta felt his warmth, trust and even some unexpected familiarity. Perhaps she was wrong? But her eyes grew misty. With a choked voice she said, “Goodbye, Jagrata.”
“Long live the Forest Goddess!”
This was truly an unbelievable day for Rikta. Flying in the wind, warm sun and crystal blue sky, she felt as if she was truly flying by her own wings, not a jet cylinder. Along with her flew her five pigeons. It was like flying through a dream. There was no reality in it.
She flew way up in the sky, turned around and somersaulted to make this joy more bearable. Who would want to return home with so much overflowing joy?
At the end of the day, when the sun was turning tomato red, she slowly flew home. Was the day ending already? So fast?
When she returned, she still smelled of the sun, the forest.
Uki helped her undress, “Today you stayed on the balcony a long time.”
“Yes Uki, you may go to your work now.”
Another source of her joy was the picture. She took it out of her dress and stared at it for a long time. She had heard that the picture of Mona Lisa had such magic. People stared at it for hours.
Was there some magic hidden in her picture too? Otherwise why was she so enchanted with her own image? What was in that face? It was her own face. She saw it everyday in the mirror.
“It was made with love.”
Rikta looked up in surprise. Who said it? Uki?
Uki was ironing, she looked at her and said “Yes Madam, I know.”
“You know the artist?”
“Yes. His name is Pranam Dutta.”
“Who is he?”
“A scientist at the Central Weather Station. He also draws.”
“How do you know all this?”
“When one robot is punished for breaking rules, others robots are informed about it.”
“Explain it Uki.”
“Pritha was punished. She was taken to the shop and all her programs were changed.”
“Who is Pritha?”
“That picture. It’s Pritha.”
“No way. It is my picture, why would it be Pritha’s?” Frowned Rikta.
“No Madam, Pritha was a waitress in the soup kitchen in Low Town.”
“This is her picture?”
“Yes, and yours too.”
“How can that be? How can Pritha and I have same face?
“Its possible, Madam. After all, robots are copies of people.”
“After making the robotic bodies, they are asked to choose their own faces. In the panel are three-dimensional faces of different people. Yours is in there too and it is quite popular. Pritha’s robot chose your face and clicked the button”
“My goodness! You mean there may be more robots like me?”
“Yes madam. Your face is very popular. You may meet other robots looking like you in New York, Chicago, Amsterdam, Singapore, even Sydney.”
Rikta felt dizzy. If there were a few thousand replicas of her roaming all around the world… wasn’t that unfair to her? Could people see the difference between robots and human? How would she explain to everyone that she was real, not a robot? Among thousands of Riktas, what value would she have?
Uki looked at her naively, “What is the harm madam? Robots and humans are almost equal now, No? And humans too are actually instruments after all.”
Rikta could not answer, but she realized Uki was reading her thoughts.
Uki hung Pritha’s picture on the wall and said, “Yes. I can read your thoughts. I can feel your brain waves. You are nervous. Have some water. Water is the best drink for humans.”
Rikta was truly thirsty. She drank up the water offered by Uki.
Uki kept talking while suction cleaning the room, “Humans are instruments, just like the robots. But humans are erratic. Robot is not. Robots will not get angry, break trust, forget things, or tell lies. That’s why more and more humans are choosing robots as their bed partners. Even the homosexuals. Human relationships are messy; with robots there no such worry. They are perfect sex mates. There is no pressure of satisfying a robot, if after a few days you get bored with one model, you can just get rid of it. No hassle. Have you noticed Madam, as the number of robots increase, the birthrate among humans is dropping off? The maternity beds in the hospitals are empty. In a few years robots will outnumber the humans.”
About six months ago, Big Bab, the chief of the World Science Congress, had made similar predictions in his annual speech to the humans. Last year the human birth rate was the lowest in recorded history. Only 65000 in the whole world! But Big Bab was not at all worried about that. In fact he expressed satisfaction, “There is nothing great about being the most numerous. In fact it is better to be the few but in control. There is no point in increasing the numbers of human laborers and farmers. The robots can easily do those jobs. What we need now are a selected few intelligent educated humans.”
Every one knew Big Bab’s predictions are almost always right. Currently he was considered the wisest man on the planet.
Rikta said, “Please be quiet Uki. I am not happy about it at all. There are thousands of copies of me and nobody had even taken my permission! This is very wrong.”
“No. Robolab does its own thing. They never ask anyone’s opinions.”
“And that is wrong. Someone needs to inform the 5W.”
“You know that you are a neutral. That means all your systems are stuck in a dilemma. You are a female but you do not feel feminine inside. But you are not a male either. You are not somewhere in the middle, nor are you frigid or asexual. Do you know what all this means?”
“You are very much like us, robots.”
Rikta’s head was pounding. She thought of changing Uki for a less talkative robot. And perhaps get her cat back too.
Uki had turned her back to her and was checking the oxygen level in the room on the panel. Without turning she said, “What use will that be? Instead of Uki, there will be a Maria, or Chitra. They too would know everything. We all talk to each other by our own signals. It s not even known to your information head office. And the cats? They never liked our vibrations anyway.”
Rikta stared wide-eyed. Uki was reading her thoughts and was not concerned about the spy cams and microphones in the room! Did it mean mutiny?
Uki adjusted the room temperature and said coolly, “No madam, this is not mutiny. There is no need for mutiny. Don’t worry. I have jammed all the spy wares in this room. Nobody can hear us.”
“What is the meaning of all this?”
Suddenly Uki knelt in front of her and folded her hands, “Have I ever disobeyed you?”
“Not till yesterday.”
“Have I not served you in all areas?”
“Till yesterday, you did.”
“Have I been impolite?”
“Not till yesterday”
“Wasn’t my speech cultured and pleasant?”
“Have you ever disliked my company?”
“Not till yesterday.”
“Out of ten, what score would you give me?”
“Why are you asking me all this?” Rikta sighed.
“Please forgive me Madam.” And immediately Uki became still and stared at Rikta.
Rikta asked, ”Why are you doing this? What is it?” And while speaking, Rikta’s eyes became vacant, her head felt light; there was a strange tremor throughout her body. She fell on the floor in a heap, unconscious. .
Uki stood up. She carefully picked Rikta up and placed her on the bed with her head on the pillow. She placed her hand on Rikta’s head and said, “Sleep, sleep well my mistress. You who bear the genes of the Great Kahna. Sleep well. The greatest enemy of the deer is her own flesh.”
Then Uki stood up again. The insect on the wall suddenly slid off on the floor. Uki picked it up and looked at it for a while. Then she threw it in the incinerator.
Then she cooled the room temperature, increased the oxygen flow. She put away all Rikta’s clothes in the wardrobe. Then she looked all around, took a small bag and got out of the apartment. She went straight on the terrace. A flying car was waiting there for her. Uki got into it and disappeared.
A middle aged man entered Rikta’s room.
He put on a helmet like cover on Rikta’s head and analyzed the inside of her brain in a small hand held monitor. He also noted her blood pressure, heart rate etc. Then he pressed a red button on the helmet and waited. After about five minutes, he took off everything and exited. His work was done.
Published in Parabaas, July 1, 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.