Jatin and His Sandals : Sukumar Ray
translated from Bengali to English by Zinia Mitra
’Jatin’s father got him a new pair of sandals and warned him, “If you tear your sandals this time you shall wear them torn.”
Every month Jatin needed a new pair of footwear. His clothes tore after a few days wear. He wasn’t careful about anything. All his books had torn covers, the sides were creased, his slate had a crack from the top to the bottom. The chalk always fell out of his hands; as a result, they were all tiny broken pieces. Another of his bad habits was to chew the ends of his pencils. Due to repeated chewing they had come to resemble groundnut shells. When his class teacher saw them, he asked, “Don’t you get proper meals at home?”
With his new sandals on, Jatin was very careful the first day lest they should snap. He climbed down the stairs slowly; he crossed the raised door-frame very carefully, heedful that he wouldn’t stumble. But that was all. After a few days he was his same old self again. Forgetting all about his sandals, he rushed down the staircase and stumbled against the stones. All these occurrences continued. Thus, even before a month was gone his sandals started ripping at the front. Jatin’s mother advised, “Call a cobbler and get them stitched in time or else they will be finished”. But the cobbler wasn’t called and the soles gaped wider.
There was only one thing that Jatin cared for—that was his kite. He would carefully mend the kite that caught his fancy with patches and make it last as long as possible. At playtime he mostly flew kites. Because of his kite he had to bear being chased out of the kitchen. If his kite was frayed, he’d barge into the kitchen demanding glue. If he wanted to add a tail to his kite or needed a pair of scissors, he’d rummage through his mother’s sewing box. Once he was out flying kites he’d forget all about his meals! That day Jatin was rather scared while he was returning home from school. He had torn his new clothes while climbing a tree. After putting down his books, he tried to push his feet into his sandals, but he found them too torn and beyond repair. But all these thoughts vanished completely from his mind as he climbed down the stairs. He jumped down two to three steps at a time. In the end the sandal ripped open so wide that it seemed to grimace with all its teeth out. The moment he jumped over the last three, the ground underneath his feet slid away and his torn shoes whisked him across the sky to an unknown land.
When the sandals finally stopped, Jatin saw that he had reached a strange place. There were many cobblers sitting around. When they saw Jatin they approached him, took off his shoes and started brushing off the dust carefully. One amongst them, a kind of leader, said to Jatin, “I hear that you are very naughty. Look what you’ve done to your pair of shoes. Look at them, they are nearly dead.” Having regained his nerve by then, Jatin rejoined, “Does a shoe have a life for it to be nearly dead?” The cobblers said “What else? What do you think? When you run with your shoes on, aren’t they hurt? They are. That is why they squeak. When you were rushing up and down your stairs, the pressure of your legs had sliced his sides. That is exactly why he has brought you to us. We are in charge of the things that belong to all the boys nearby. When they do not take proper care of their belongings, we give them the necessary lessons.” The cobbler handed him back his shoes and said, “Take it! Start mending.” Jatin was furious, he retorted, “I do not mend shoes, cobblers do that.” The cobbler smiled and said, “Is this your country? Do you think that if you say you won't, you are excused? Here is the needle, the thread— start stitching.”
Jatin’s anger had subsided by then and he was afraid. He said, “I do not know how to stitch.” The cobbler replied, “I will show you how to do it.” Jatin, now scared, sat to stitch his shoes. The needle pricked his fingers; the nape of his neck ached from bending over the shoes too long. After a day-long struggle he completed only one from the pair. Then he pleaded with the cobbler, “I shall do the other one tomorrow, I am hungry.” The cobbler said, “What do you mean? Unless you complete your work you will neither get food nor will be allowed to sleep. The other one is still left. Once you finish that you’ll have to learn how to walk properly so that you don’t torture shoes again. Then you have to go to the tailors to stitch your clothes. Then we shall see to the other things that you have broken.”
By then tears were rolling down Jatin’s eyes. He somehow managed to stitch the second one. Thank God! This one wasn’t so badly torn. Now the cobblers took him to a five-storied building. A staircase ran from the ground to the topmost floor. They made Jatin stand below the staircase and said, “Go, climb the five floors up and come down. Mark our words, only one stair at a time.” Jatin climbed up the five floors and climbed down. They said, “Not satisfactory! You have leaped over two steps thrice, you have jumped five times and you have leaped over three steps twice. Climb again. Remember! No jumping. No leaping over steps.” After having climbed up and down so many steps, Jatin’s legs were in pain. He tried no more tricks. He slowly climbed up and down the stairs. They said, “Not bad. Let’s go to the tailors.”
Then they took him to an open field where there were only tailors sitting and stitching clothes. When they saw Jatin they asked, “What have you torn?” They looked at his dhoti and said, “Look, you’ve torn a good portion of this.” The tailors shook their heads in disapproval. “Sheer injustice. Sheer injustice. Start stitching. Quick.” Jatin had no courage to refuse. He took the needle and thread and began to stitch. He had pierced through the cloth only twice when the tailors shouted, “What? Is this what you call stitching? Start over, start over.” Every time he pierced the cloth with his needle they shouted, “Start over, start over.” In the end Jatin began to cry; he said, “I am very hungry, take me home; I shall never tear clothes or break umbrellas.” At his words they started laughing; they said, “Are you hungry? We have many of your edible items.” They brought him some of their pencils that they used to mark on their clothes. “You like to chew pencils, eat these, we have nothing else.”
They left him and went back to their work. Tired and exhausted, Jatin lay on the ground crying. Just then something buzzed in the sky. The kite that Jatin had patched landed headlong on his lap. It whispered, “You have taken good care of me, that is why I have come to help you. Hold on to my tail. Quick.” Jatin held on to the tail quickly. The kite took him up with a swish. Hearing the noise the tailors came running and conspired to cut the thread of the kite. All of a sudden Jatin and his kite, holding on to each other began falling out of the sky.
Down, down— just when the ground banged against his head, Jatin woke up with a jolt. God knows what had happened to the kite, but Jatin saw that he was lying beneath his staircase with a terrible pain in his head.
After a few days of suffering, Jatin recovered. His mother would say, “After falling from the staircase my son has become very weak. He is no longer so energetic. He doesn’t rush or leap any longer; how else can his pair of shoes last for four months?”
The truth is—Jatin has not yet forgotten the cobblers and the tailors.
Published in Parabaas, July 2, 2005
The original story
[Jatiner Juto] by Sukumar Ray
is included in Pagla Dashu first published by M. C. Sarkar & Sons., Kolkata, in November, 1940.
অলংকরণ (Artwork) : Nilanjana Basu