Translated from the original Bengali by
There was a master craftsman who made dolls as playthings for little girls of the royal family.
Every year, a doll fair was held in the palace courtyard. All other artisans accorded the master the highest honour at the fair.
When he was nearly eighty years old, there came a new craftsman. Youthful in age and fresh in his style, he was called Kishanlal.
Of the dolls he made, some he would finish, others he would leave incomplete. Some he would colour, others he wouldn’t. It appeared the dolls hadn’t been finished yet and never would be.
Young people said, “This man is brave.”
The old-timers said, “You call it courage? This is impudence.”
However, new times meant new demands. Today’s princesses say, “We want these dolls.”
The followers of old times said, “Arre! What bad taste!”
This made the younger lot more determined.
Crowds didn’t flock the old man’s stall this year. His dolls sat inside the basket and kept gazing wistfully like people waiting for a boat to reach the other shore.
A year passed by, then two; everyone forgot the old man’s name. Kishanlal became the master craftsman at the royal doll fair.
His son-in-law said, “Eat hearty, rest well, and keep an eye on our vegetable patch to chase away the cattle trying to enter it.”
The old man’s daughter would forever be busy with housework. His son-in-law made earthen lamps, which he ferried to the town.
Just like he didn’t understand that times had changed, the old man seemed oblivious to the fact that his granddaughter was now a girl of sixteen.
Sitting under a tree, as the old man guarded the vegetable patch, often dozing off, his granddaughter would come and put her arms around his neck from behind. This made the old man very happy. He would say, “What is it, Dadi, what do you want?”
The granddaughter would say, “Make me a doll; I will play with it.”
The old man would ask, “Now, why would you like my doll?”
“Does anyone make better dolls than you?” the granddaughter would reply.
The old man would say, “Why, Kishanlal does.”
“Not a chance!” the girl would say.
After countless rounds of this same argument, the old man would take out his raw materials from his cloth bag and fix his thick, round glasses to his eyes.
To his granddaughter he would say, “But, Dadi, the crow would eat up the corn.”
She would reply, “Dada, I shall chase the crow away.”
The days went by like this; the sound of oxen drawing water from the well reached them; the granddaughter chased the crows away, and the old man made dolls.
Today, engrossed in his doll making, the old man didn’t realise his daughter was approaching him from behind, flailing her arms.
As she called out to him, he took off his glasses and kept staring at her like an innocent child.
His daughter said, “The cow is yet to be milked and here you are, wasting time with Subhadra. Is it her age to play with dolls?”
The old man babbled, “Why should Subhadra play with it? I will sell these dolls at the palace. The day my Dadi gets married, she has to have a gold necklace. I want to save money for that.”
Annoyed, the daughter snapped, “At the palace who would buy such dolls?”
The old man hung his head in shame and became quiet.
Subhadra shook her head and said, “Let me see how anyone can stop herself from buying Dada’s dolls at the palace.”
Mother asked, “Where did you get this?”
The daughter said, “I sold the doll at the palace.”
The old man said with a chuckle, “Dadi, if only your Dada could see better and his hands wouldn’t shake so much.”
Delighted, her mother said, “If we have just sixteen of these mohurs, we can get a necklace for Subhadra.”
“No worries then,” assured the old man.
Subhadra embraced her grandfather and said, “Dadabhai, no worries for finding my husband.”
The old man started laughing as he wiped a drop of tear off his eyes.
One by one, the sixteen mohurs were in place, now strung into a beautiful necklace.
The mother said, “Only the groom is missing.”
Subhadra whispered into the old man’s ears, “Dadabhai, my groom is ready.”
Grandfather asked, “Tell me, Dadi, where did you find him?”
Subhadra said, “The day I went to the palace, the guard asked me what was I there for. I told him I wanted to sell dolls to the princesses. He said these dolls won’t sell and turned me away. A man who saw me crying said, ‘Here, give me your dolls; if I alter the dresses a bit, they will sell very well.’ If you like this man, Dada, I shall be happy to put the garland around his neck”
The old man asked, “Where is he?”
“There, under the Piyal tree,” replied the granddaughter.
The groom-to-be entered the room; the old man said, “Arre! This is Kishanlal!”
Kishanlal touched the old man’s feet and said, “Yes, I am Kishanlal.”
The old man embraced him tight and said, “My dear, one day you had snatched the dolls I'd made, now you are taking away the doll of my life.
The granddaughter put her arms around the old man’s neck and whispered to him, “Dada, with you in tow.”
Published in Parabaas, May 9, 2011. Edited May 31 2017.
The original story 'notun putul' (নতুন পুতুল) was first published in Prabasi (প্রবাসী; ভাদ্র, ১৩২৮), and later collected in Lipika published in 1922 (BE 1329; লিপিকা, ১৩২৯).
Bhaswati Ghosh. Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction and non-fiction. Her first work of translation,.....(more)
Illustration by Ananya Das. An author of several books and an illustrator, Ananya Das is based in Pennsylvania.
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