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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




   Rikta heard a deep, somber female voice and slowly opened her eyes. Sitting up her head felt heavy and foggy.  

"Pritha, Pritha…"  

   Quickly Rikta tried to stand up, "Yes, Your Honor."  

"You are awake now. You have been activated."  

"Yes, Your Honor." 

"What is your name?" 


"What is your number?" 

"Tree 109." 

"What is your name?" 


"What is your number?" 

"Tree 109." 

"What is your name?" 


"What is your number?" 

"Tree 109." 

"Who are you?" 

"I am a robot female." 

"What all are forbidden to you?" 

"I never eat or drink, never sleep, never feel lazy, never see my face in a mirror, never disobey my master." 

"How must you behave towards your master?"  

"Always polite, always obedient. Be prepared to offer any service, male or female." 

"If your master orders you to lick his shoes clean, what will you do?" 

"I will kneel, pick up the shoes in both hands, with great respect and with great care I will lick them completely clean."  

"Now look at the monitor. It is going to show what all duties are expected of a robot-woman. Watch carefully and act exactly as shown. This is your training and it will continue whole day."  

"Yes, Your Honor."  

   Rikta watched the monitor and cleaned the room with suction machines, made the bed, scrubbed the toilet, machine washed all the clothes, dried and ironed them.  

   In between there were questions, "Pritha, who are you?"  

   Rikta would reply, "I am a robot-woman."  

   A robot should not feel tired, but Rikta felt exhausted. Did a robot sweat? Why were there beads of sweat on her brow? 

   Orders came to rearrange the living room furniture in a new hexagonal form. Robots could easily lift heavy furniture but why couldn’t Rikta do the same? 

"What is that Pritha?  What are you doing?"  

"I…I…" Rikta was nervous. 

"If you act like this we will have to send you back to the shop". 

"I won't do it again." 

   Rikta kept doing one chore after another. She was sweating, feeling tired, hungry and thirsty. Her limbs felt weak and limp.  

"Pritha… Pritha…" 

"Yes. I am doing it, I am doing it all."   

"You have to complete all chores before your master arrives.  

"Yes, I know." 

"But you are not ready, there are mistakes in your work, you are too slow. We are not satisfied with your performance."  

"I will correct myself." 

   Rikta scrubbed the bathroom, cleaned the kitchen. She stayed up all night and followed various lessons in sexual conduct, learnt many cooking recipes by heart. Many times she dozed off in exhaustion, only to wake up startled. Once she forgot and sipped a drink and got a strong rebuke, "Pritha, what on earth are you doing? Robots do not drink. Don't you remember?" 

"Yes, yes. I know." 

   The night passed. Dawn arrived. But Rikta's work was not over. Orders after orders kept coming. Her master might arrive anytime. She had no rest.  

"Who are you? Tell me."  

"I am Pritha."  

"What is your number?"  

"Tree 109."  

"What are you?"  

"I am a robot."  

"Do you feel tired?"  


"Hungry or thirsty?"  




"What is the first thing you will do when your master arrives?"  

"I will greet him."  


"I'll kneel and take his shoes off."  


"I'll help him change his clothes."  


"I will adjust the oxygen and temperature of the room," 

"Next… Next…”  

   Rikta's brain felt empty, she couldn't remember anything.  


"Oh yes, I remember. Arrange for his bath, food, drinks, and…and…" 

"This is annoying! Pritha what are you doing?"   

   Rikta was dozing off again and again, getting up, again falling asleep.  

   Next day. Rikta felt as If she was carrying her own corpse. But she was a robot. This wasn't supposed to happen to her.   

   Perhaps the dawn had arrived. Rikta was seeing everything in a haze and wasn't sure. Was It morning? Or still night?  


"Here I am. I am Pritha, the robot. Please order me…"  

"Stand straight Pritha, wake up!"  

   "Yes, yes. See, my eyes are open. But there are tears in my eyes and sweat on my body…"  

   The door was slowly opening. Rikta couldn't see anything clearly. There was dim outline of a person. Was he her master?   

   The man came near her.  

"Pritha, do you recognize me?"  

"Yes. You are my master."  

"I am Pranam."  

"Pranam. Yes. Please order your servant."   

"Why are you so pale? And sweaty?"  

"No master, its nothing. Order…"  

   Rikta lost consciousness and crumpled on the floor.   

   Surprised, Pranam picked her up and gently laid her on the bed.  

   He noticed that Pritha's chest was moving with her breathing. There was a faint sound of her breaths too. Robots did not do this. He felt for her pulse and found it beating steadily. How was that possible? Was Pritha a real person then? Not a robot? 

   He sat stunned for a while. This girl was not Pritha. She was not even a robot. She was a real human being! She looked as if she had not eaten for days. She was so weak that she barely survived. 

  With a cold sponge he mopped her brows and dribbled some water in her mouth. The girl drank while still asleep. Pranam then sat and stared at her face. A beautiful, innocent face.  

   Pranam was at a loss as to what to do next. Looking around the room he noticed the framed picture on the wall. Strange! How did his drawing come here? Who brought it?  

   He carefully looked around but could not see any spy bugs. He sensed that the monitoring system in the room was out of order too.  

   The girl was slim and lightweight. Pranam went and checked that the discharge cylinder was ready.  

   He didn't think anymore. He held the girl fast and strapped himself to the jet cylinder. He was familiar with it, having driven it many times. So there was no trouble. He flew with the girl straight to his home in Low Town.     

   Rikta slept a whole day and night. Pranam could only feed her some milk during this period.  

   Early next morning the girl opened her eyes and in spite of her weakness, sat up startled. After looking around with wide eyes she stood up like an automaton and greeted Pranam, "Order me, my Lord."  

   Pranam said gently, "I am not your Lord or master. I am Pranam Dutta. Who are you?  

"I am Pritha. Number Tree 109."  

"No. You are not Pritha."  

"I am Pritha. Robot…"  

"Who am I?"  

"You are Pranam..."  

"How do you know me?"  

"I used to serve you in the soup kitchen. Because I loved you, they punished me. Very harsh punishment. They removed me from you."  

"But robots have no heartbeat. pulse or respirations. You do."   

   The girl looked scared. She checked her own pulse, put her hand below her nose and felt her respiration. She said in a scared voice, "Error, mechanical error. Please forgive me."   

   But I have searched your I.D. You are Rikta. The 8th generation descendant of the great Kahna.”  

   Suddenly Rikta frowned and tried to remember something, then spoke faintly, "Then who am I?"  

"You are Rikta."  

   Again the girl looked terrified. She stepped back from Pranam, "No. How could that be!”? 

"You are Rikta."  

   The girl seemed to sag. There were suspicion and uncertainty in her eyes, "The forest…an old man…Pigeons… Forest Goddess…PurnaTonkar…then who am I?" 

   Pranam saw that she was exhausted by this mental uncertainty. He said, “You are weak, you haven't eaten anything for three days."  

"Eating? No. Eating is forbidden to us."   

   Pranam smiled, "But doesn't your instruction manual say that if ordered by your owner, you must eat?"  

   Rikta immediately nodded, "Yes. Rule number four. I have a trash bag inside me. The food will go there. Later on I can discard it."  

"Good. See, you remember everything. Now eat this up." 

   Rikta hungrily ate the food and the fruits. Then she fell asleep again.  


   The forest was becoming gradually visible in the glow of the morning light. The fog was gradually disappearing. The forest was silently waiting for some great presence. Only Jagrata knew. The Great One came everyday. Jagrata felt his presence, heard his silent footsteps in his mind. He came every morning.  

   Even In this cold weather, Jagrata sat as usual, meditating on his favorite bench. His eyes were closed. But he could see many disconnected scenes in his mind. For last few days he had been watching a bunch of pigeons. They sat near Jagrata, walked around the bench, as if looking for someone. He knew the birds. Everyday he asked them, "Well? Where is your Goddess? Why isn't she here?"  

   The pigeons did not reply. They seemed to want to tell him something. Any bad news?   

   He felt anxiety, and sadness. So many events went on in this world. He did not keep track of most. His knowledge was so little, so insignificant. Still, he had lived so many years with that little knowledge. Now he felt perhaps there was hardly any difference between knowing a little and knowing a lot.  

   Even in his dozing, he heard the wing beat of the pigeons. They came from a great distance to look for their Goddess. He felt as they sat next to him. One of them jumped on his left shoulder as if asking, "Where is she?"  

   Half asleep, Jagrata said, "I don't know my dearest, I don't know."  

   A mild depression, needle sharp anxiety, a little nostalgia, they stay with him now all the time. Much like the pigeons.  

   Jagrata was falling into a deeper sleep. Suddenly he felt an excitement among the pigeons. Sharp coo-ing expressed their joy. Did the buzzing of the insect become sharper too? Did the flowers smell sweeter? Perhaps the breeze too rustled the leaves more joyously?   

   Jagrata opened his eyes. Right in front was a beautiful surprise! A little frown, a hesitant footstep. The five pigeons went and fluttered on her arms and shoulders.  

  Suddenly the Goddess remembered, looked around and recognized her forest.  

"Jagrata! You old man. Do you remember me?"   

"Welcome my Goddess. This forest and its old keeper have been waiting for you only." 

"Liar! I can bet you did not even remember me."  

   Jagrata smiled, "My Goddess, this old man now only has his memories, that is all I have to pass the time."  

   Rikta looked around. Right behind her was a tall handsome man standing. She didn’t recognize him. He had beautiful poetic eyes. Rikta sat beside Jagrata and looked at him.  

"Jagrata, who is he?"  

"That sad artist." Jagrata smiled, "He is the one who drew your picture. Remember?"  

"That beautiful portrait? Drawn with love?"   

"Yes, dear Goddess. Are you feeling shy? You are blushing!"  

"I don't know Jagrata. I am feeling a tremor, some kind of a tide rising inside."  

"May you be blessed Goddess. Today I feel like crying with joy!"  


"Bharudatta, I have a question for you."   

"Wait a sec Pranam. I feel like a huge burp coming. This morning's breakfast was a bit too heavy. A four-egg omelet, paratha, fried potato and …"  

   Pranam smiled at the telephone and patiently heard a few large burps from the other end.  

"OK. Now tell me…"  

"Can you tell me something about Rikta's dual personality?"  

"Forget about it! That is not even a problem! Here, take me for instance, Bharudatta. Do you know how many personalities I possess? When Bharudatta is angry he is of one personality, when he is deep in research, he is another. When he is planning a prank on his friends, I can't even recognize him. When he is entranced in music, he is a different person from all the others. And when he is asleep, then he just ceases to exist."  

"Then I want to tell you something." 

“Go ahead.” 

"I want to marry Rikta."  

   It seemed as if the telephone just burst into pieces. Because Bharudatta let out a loud ear-splitting roar!  






Chapter: 1| 2| 3| 4| 5

Published in Parabaas, September 16, 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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