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Forest Goddess and Five Pigeons

Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay

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

Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra

Chapter: 1| 2| 3| 4| 5



   That night he had a nightmare. Twice he woke up with anxious and uneasy feelings. Sitting on his bed in the middle of the night, he felt alone for the first time.  

   He had walked alone through the winter, the fog, the darkness for a long, long time. It seemed as if an unending emptiness stretched before him. At early morning, he turned on the light and tried to draw. He couldn't draw anything but while doodling, he started a conversation with himself, but without any sense in it. As if he was talking to a Greek.  

   The sad light of early morning looked like the day's end.  

   Today was another unbearable holiday. Pranam wished there was some work for him to do.  

   Today he walked far deep into the forest. He had never been here before. There was a pond with lotus leaves and a few blooms. All around him were tall grasses, green trees and shrubs.   

   How long could he go on drawing the forest?   

   There was no drawing for the blind. Who said it? Jagrata. Pranam was amused. He sat quietly and tried to think the picture. Waves of color and lines flowed by in front of his eyes. A colorful parade. Picture for the blind. Was that even possible?  Perhaps picture of music? Picture of smell? Picture of silence?   

   He had lost all tracks of time. He didn't even realize when the day had ended. Suddenly he realized that he had not drawn a single thing whole day.  

   He sighed and got up to return home.   

   Agreeing to that crazy Jagrata, he had scattered his drawings in the forest. Now he was curious to see how the drawings survived. He saw most of them were lying where he had dropped them, as expected.  

   But one picture was missing. It was behind a bunch of lotus flowers.  It was not there anymore.  

   Strange! Who would take his picture?  

   A somber voice replied, "The owner."  

   Pranam turned to Jagrata in surprise, "Who took it?"  

"Whose picture was it?"  


"Then it must be her." Jagrata said hesitatingly.   

"But that’s impossible. She is in a shop, for correction."   

"Come, let’s sit on that bench." Jagrata sighed.  

   They sat in silence. Then Jagrata said, "The picture is with its rightful owner."  

"Yes." Pranam answered absently.  

"Do you still miss Pritha?"  

   Pranam did not answer. Instead he asked, "Can you tell me the difference between a woman and a robot?"  

"I'm not a wise man Pranam. Little do I know of robotics or human physiology."  

"Pritha left this one puzzle for me."  

"I know. And it is an important question. I feel the difference is gradually diminishing."  

"How will it end Jagrata?"  

   Jagrata again remained silent for a long time. Then said, "Fortunately, I will not be alive to see it."  

"That wasn't an answer. But then perhaps there is no answer."  

"Yes Pranam. Many questions do not have answers yet. That is the law of the world. The questions come in a hurry, but the answers often take a long time."  

"Can love happen to a robot?"  

   Jagrata again went into silence. Then said, "Who knows the secrets of love? I am an ordinary man. But I think technology can make very realistic copies."  


"Robots are only copies of humans. Perhaps It is possible to copy emotions, love. But I am only guessing."   

“Possible. But the puzzle remains. And I don't feel good about it."  

"I know. You are feeling guilty. Pritha is being punished for loving you. But Robots don't die. They get recycled. They come alive in another name, another form, with another program. They are luckier than most humans."  

   Pranam said jokingly, "That means next time Pritha sees me, she may not even recognize me." His loud laugh sounded hollow and lost.  

   Both stayed silent and listened to the forest. Pranam sighed, "What a funny business!"  

   After a beat of silence, Jagrata said, "Funny? Yes, the fun is endless. The entire world looks funny to me. A big joke. There is nothing funnier than this useless, meaningless, ceaseless and endless joke! Yet, even amongst all this, we mortals feel so much love. Where does it come from? Why? Even after reaching ninety why do I want to hang on to this life? You talk of funny? I've not seen anything else but funny my entire life."  

The birdcalls, buzzing insects, rustling of the leaves in cold northern wind, all added to the loneliness of the forest. Time was passing. The setting sun got its tomato color again.   

   Jagrata heaved a big sigh, "There is no end to this eternal fun, Pranam. Big Bab and his minions think Kahna would be reincarnated, and then he would stop the progress of science. That’s why there are secret directives sent out all around. "Destroy the genetic offshoots". Note, they don't say 'kill'. Killing is old fashioned. There is no need of it anymore. Just destroy them, make them forget, transform them."  

   Jagrata pulled out something from under his robe, "Look at this!"  

   Pranam was stunned to see an old fashioned revolver!   

"What is that?"  

"Nine mm pistol."  

"Why? For self defense?"  

"No. You think this is enough for those guys following me day and night like my shadow? They are not stupid. These weapons are like toys to them."  


"I have created this forest over many years. I am the only trusty keeper of this forest. That is my only identity. And I am proud of it. It is most precious to me. If they take that away and make me forget my own identity, that will be the biggest loss. That’s why I got this from Bharudatta. This is the ticket to my freedom. I am telling you Pranam, this keeper of the forest would keep his identity till death."  

"Now you have gotten me worried, Jagrata. Please remove it. And don't carry it around with you."   

“There is nothing to worry about Pranam. I am ninety years old. I have nothing to lose besides this forest."   

   Pranam sighed and got up.  





   Bharudatta had been calling him again and again, "Hey, want to go to the party?"  

Pranam had forgotten about parties, "What party? When?"  

"Oh, there is an occasion. But that is not the main reason. It is the feast!"  

"Bharudatta, I can't eat like you."  

"I know. But it is such a grand menu! I bet you will be licking your plate too. Is there anything as enjoyable as good food? You tell me! Be ready my friend. I will pick you up on Friday evening, from your place."  

"I really don't feel like a party Bharudatta. I just don't want to go anywhere." Pranam tried one last time.  

"That’s all the more reason to go!" Said  Bharudatta.  

   Today was that Friday. Bharudatta arrived at seven pm sharp in a dazzling bright Mercedes. He had gotten an old model from somewhere and revamped it himself. Now this was a flying car.  

   Bharudatta always drove himself. He never trusted the autopilot. While driving he explained, "You see my friend, the cooking in this feast is not by your garden variety robo-cooks. Those machines cook everything in exactly the same way. There is never a variation of tastes, never too much or too little salt or seasonings. But humans, because they are erratic, do show some variations in their cooking. And that’s what makes food interesting, that’s what gives cooking its life. Today the cook, who is in charge, apparently knows a lot of old and forgotten recipes. Pulao of Tulaipanji rice, Kalbos fish curry, Shrimp malaicurry, roasted chicken, golden moong daal, cottage cheese kofta…"  

"Stop. Please. Bharudatta, who is going to eat all these in one seating?"  

"Don't you worry. If the cooking is superb, even you won't be able to stop."  

"But what is the occasion?" Pranam asked.   

"Its nothing Important, I told you, the feast is the main event."  

"But still, its good to know the occasion."   

"Well, er… it 's a wedding." Blurted Bharudatta.   

   Pranam was taken aback. "Wedding? Am I hearing it right? A wedding?"

"Yes, yes. It’s a wedding."  

"But, weddings have been outlawed fifty years ago!"  

"To hell with your law. In Low Town no one cares for those laws. You will find hundreds of people getting married in secret. They are just not registering officially, that’s all."   

"What are you saying?"  

   Bharudatta heaved a sigh, "See, It is hard to let a thousand year old custom go just because of a law. Nobody can. You will find lots of old rites and rituals are still alive and well, only gone underground."  

"Seems like you are quite fond of these rituals yourself." Pranam smiled.  

"To tell the truth, I do like these old rituals, specially the feast part. Partaking at wedding feasts is my hobby."   

"So, who is getting married? And to whom?"   

"Oh, you don't know them. Tonkar and Purna."   

   Pranam frowned, "Purna sounds vaguely familiar?"

"I mentioned her before. She is one of the descendants of Kahna" 

"Who had that dual personality problem, right?"  


"But, I thought she was under strict watch!"

"Nope. It is exactly the opposite. They have discarded her like a useless rag. But getting her out was difficult. Tonkar came to me for help."  

"You helped him?"  

"I did. In the same apartment complex, there was another girl who delivered a message to Purna. Tonkar was ready with his car this time. I gave him a gadget to neutralize the spy bug on Purna. It also made all the monitors erratic in her apartment. We also picked up Purna's maid with her. She is now sitting in my museum and sending away wrong messages about Purna--"My mistress is ill, she is not going out anywhere…"  

"But how long can you continue this Bharudatta? Sooner or later they will figure it out."  

"Perhaps, but by then we would have completely erased all signs of old Purna from their monitors and records. She can live her life with new identity. I too know a few tricks, my friend!"   

"But why marriage?"  

"Tonkar is a green man, an active one. He wants to return many old cultures. He believes in love, monogamy, forever."   

"But is that possible? Haven't we seen, even in the past, too many break ups, divorces, infidelity, bitterness. There were so many divorce cases in the courts that they had to outlaw the marriage system altogether. "  

"True. But because man is a dynamic animal, it changes itself constantly. Change has happened in past and will happen many times over, in future."  

   Below them they could see the Ganges. With many sparkling bridges spanning its length, the river looked like an arm with many bangles. The flying cars have reduced the traffic congestion on the bridges. Now few cars use them. Pedestrians were rare too.  There were no train lines, houses or factories. The whole area was an endless green. Occasionally they could see a lake or a farm. Otherwise everything was solid green.  

They had to fly a long way to the west. Then Bharu brought his car down in what looked like a dense forest, but there was a narrow road, and at the end of the road was a wide area decorated with lights and flowers. Wedding music played on. There were scattered seating areas and lots of happy, well-dressed people. There was also an ancient Kali temple in one end. Smoke was still rising from the holy fire. The smell of burnt ghee mixed with aromas of fresh flowers and many delectable foods reached them. Bharudatta took a deep breath, " Yes,  haven’t told you about the sweet pea kachauri. Come, here are the bride and the groom.”   

   Pranam heard the words ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ after a very long time. There was a nice ring to them.  

   Tonkar was a tall, well built man; next to him Purna appeared demurely shy and beautiful. He had the usual wedding crown on his head, she had a delicate tiara.  

   Pranam had never seen a wedding before. He was gaping at the bride and groom and all the well-dressed guests, lights, flowers and decorations. It was as if he had traveled back in time, hundreds of years ago.   

   The bride and the groom were smiling and greeting all the guests. There was an air of joy and love all around.  

   Bharudatta however did not waste any time and went straight to the dining table. His eyes were alight with glee. He piled up all the different items on his plate.   

“You are going to eat all that?” Pranam stared at his plate.   

“Don’t worry. I have the immortal vaccine.”   

   Pranam quit trying to stop Bharudatta. He knew Bharu would be seen in the gym next week, he would be fasting, taking vapors, or having liposuction done.  

   On their way home, Bharudatta asked, “So, How did you like the wedding?”   

“Strange! It will take me a while to figure out if it was good or bad.” Said Pranam.   

“Human beings are erratic. Their behaviors can cause problems, often they can’t control themselves. Yet, at one time, they did manage to build a marriage centered social structure. Now there is nothing of it left. Total rejection.”   

“Can I ask you something?”   

“Why not?”   

“I saw Jagrata with a gun. Did you sell it to him?”    

“No. Why would I sell? He can’t afford to buy an antique.”   

“Then did you gift it to him?”   

“ No, no. You might say I lent it to him. He said he wanted to commit suicide and needed a gun. I said, why a gun? There are many effective pills available that can give you a nice painless death, but he said he wanted to die like a hero, loudly, and letting everyone know about it. Poisoning was too feminine for him. So I lent him the 9 mm pistol and told him to return it after he was done with it. Why? Did he tell you something?”   

“He said he would kill himself before they can catch him and change him.”   

“Hmm. It will be rather difficult to kill him with that gun. I put all empty cartridges in it. Now if the old guy die of a heart attack at the sound of the gun, that could be considered a suicide of sorts.”   

“Bharudatta, you are utterly impossible!”    

“I know. I know. In the office, everyone used to call me a clown.”     

   Bharudatta dropped off Pranam and drove away whistling to himself.  




   Occasionally a day turns out so strange that nothing can explain it.  

   Today was just such a day.  

   On Saturday night, Pranam went to the soup kitchen after a long time. As usual, beautiful doll like robots were lined up next to the conveyor belt of food. One of them greeted Pranam, “Good evening. I am Uki, ready to serve you.”   

“Thank you Uki. I don’t need any special help.”   

Pranam took his plate and sat near an uncrowded corner. He was absently eating his food, when suddenly Uki stood in front of him, “May I sit here please”  

Pranam wasn’t keen on company, but for the sake of politeness, said, “Sure, please do. Do you want to tell me something?”   

“I am sorry for having to replace your favorite waitress Pritha.”   

“No need. One’s vacancy has to be filled by another.”    

“I know you will reject me but according to the rules I must ask you if you want me as your bed partner?”   

“No Uki, thanks.”   

“I hope my face or appearance isn’t too displeasing for you?”   

“No. You are quite attractive.”   

“Do you still miss Pritha?”   

“Yes, I do. Because I am responsible for her punishment and death. She never did me any harm.”   

“Pranam, Pritha has been removed, true. But she is not dead. And she still remembers you.”   

“Really?” Pranam was surprised.    

“She is a house maid in Peace Cottage now. She has been reprogrammed and is waiting her new master.”   

“Are you sure?” Pranam felt much relieved.    

“Yes. We never give wrong information.”    

“I’m really glad to hear that Uki.”   

“Goodnight Pranam.”   

   Uki left.   

   Pranam sat quietly for a long while, after his dinner. Should he try to meet Pritha? Or would that cause even more problem for her. Perhaps it was better to leave things as they were.  

   Uki was still staring at him. Meeting Pranam’s eyes, she smiled a little.   

That night Pranam slept well. Pritha’s good news had relieved much of his guilt.  

Next night he met Uki again. After greeting him, she said, “Pritha sends you her best wishes.”  


“She still cares for you deeply.”   

Its OK, Uki.”   

“She has never forgotten you, here is her address, and if ever you feel like….”  




Chapter: 1| 2| 3| 4| 5

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.

Translated by Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra. Chhanda (Chatterjee) Bewtra was born in Purulia, West Bengal but... (more)

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

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