Nishikanta in the Rain
Translated from the original Bangla by Nilanjan Bhattacharya
It had been
raining like crazy for the past several days.
Raindrops were erupting out of the sky like thousands of millions of
bubbles – bubbles that pierced the earth and burst upon impact with the human
body. Nishikanta was finding the going
hard. The rain covered everything in a
gauzy white haze, like a winter fog, through which you couldn’t see far. Behind that white shroud, who knew what
massive turmoil was being wreaked upon the earth? The news of that cataclysm was being carried
to the ends of the world by the rain’s incessant whispering
and rumbling. Of course, the rain hadn’t
brought normal life to a complete standstill.
The sewing machines inside Mahendra’s tailor shop at Belpukur market
were clacking away vigorously. A few
crow-drenched people were buying provisions at the grocer’s shop. Bhupen was sitting in the shelter of an
awning with his piles of onions and potatoes.
Most of the shops at the market were conducting whatever business they
could, although the activity was not always apparent. Such was the force of the rain that it
sometimes appeared as if all human life had been wiped off the face of the
earth – as if there were no more human beings left.
Buses to and from Bagnan were still running, although they could
stop any moment now. Nishikanta
had just got off a bus at Belpukur in the darkening light of late afternoon. He was
wearing a short-sleeved kurta and a dhoti hitched almost all the way up to
his thighs. His umbrella was tucked
under his arm, as usual. He did not dare
to open it in this wind – the gale would almost certainly upturn the umbrella,
making the ancient spokes come apart.
Besides, nobody had ever seen him opening that umbrella.
difficult to see what lay ahead -- one of Nishikanta’s feet landed in a
pothole. The sky gods were flinging their
unworldly bubbles at the universe – like those water-filled balloons that kids
throw at people on the occasion of Holi. Huge drops of rain were popping against
Nishikanta’s skin. No sooner had he
stepped off the bus than a fresh downpour started and left him soaked to the
skin. He ran and found shelter under the
verandah of the nearest shop. He decided
to wait for the rain to subside. The bus
he had just gotten off of sailed off into the night like a ship.
had carefully wrapped a beedi and a
few matches in the folds of his dhoti
around his waist. Seating himself on a
bench, he loosened the knot and took them out.
The shop where he had taken shelter was a tea stall. The owner threw him a look of displeasure:
the water pouring off Nishikanta’s body was wetting the bench. The shopkeeper could tell that Nishikanta was
not a customer.
precautions, the beedi had gone
damp. Nishikanta blew on it from both
ends, straightened it, and then said to the shopkeeper casually, “Pass me some
fire, will you?”
With a fire
already burning in the stove, what kind of a fool would waste a
matchstick? The shopkeeper made no move,
however, so Nishikanta crouched beside the stove and stuck the beedi into the flame through a gap
underneath the kettle. After he had lit
the beedi, he sat back on the bench
and relaxed. He was supposed to pick up
half-a-bottle of chua essence –
sandalwood extract – from Mahendra the tailor, who had had it brought in from Calcutta yesterday. It was just like Boudi-moni to send Nishikanta on an errand in the middle of a
rainstorm – she couldn’t seem to bear the sight of him sitting around. Take this afternoon’s incident, for
example. Who in their right minds would
get a craving for green coconuts in such weather? Yet that was exactly what Boudi-moni found herself in the mood
for. Eating rice-and-lentil porridge for three days straight, she said, had
caused her body to heat up: she needed to cool down by drinking the water of
green coconuts. So Nishikanta had had to
climb a coconut tree in the pouring rain and a howling wind. He had slipped several feet down the
rain-slicked bark and scraped the skin off his chest – the wound still
hurt. Anyway, his movements had
dislodged two weak-stemmed coconuts, which had fallen to the ground. Nishikanta had surreptitiously sliced off
their tops, reached inside with his fingers and mashed the soft flesh into the
coconut water. After he had drunk the
sweet, milky liquid, he had thrown the shells into the large pond and stood
under the acacia tree watching the shells bob in the water like the heads of
two drowning men.
In the rainy season the world
appeared to withdraw into itself, become smaller and closer. Yet at the same time, all kinds of mysterious
spaces seemed to open up under the dark rain clouds. From the overflowing pond, koi and other kinds of fish had flopped
ashore. A bunch of crows were cawing on
the wet branches of the acacia tree.
There was something about the scene that seemed about to jog some memory
inside Nishikanta’s head…but as usual, nothing happened – and that was the crux
of Nishikanta’s problem.
Nishikanta’s mind worked was akin to someone walking along a dark path by the
beam of a flashlight: that small circle of light pretty much defined what you
could see. Everything else – both
forward and behind – lay in impenetrable darkness. Somebody had sent Nishikanta into the world
holding a weak flashlight – he could neither look too far back into the past
nor ahead into the future. Whenever he
tried to think, the haziness of a gray, cloudy day seemed to descend upon his
mind – as on a rainy day, his world appeared to contract and draw closer. Beyond this foreclosed horizon he could not
see. He did not know who his ancestors
were, nor where he had come from, nor his caste or creed. People said he was mentally retarded. Perhaps they were right. Still, Nishikanta liked to think – it was his
favorite activity, actually. Like this
afternoon, when he had stood on the banks of the pond, watching and wondering
as the two coconut shells bobbed away in the current like the heads of a couple
of drowning men. Where in this vast
world would they end up?
always carried a few stolen coins in his waist-knot. He sniffed the sweet smell of brewing tea as
a wave of heat from the coal stove warmed his body. Sitting up straight, he turned to the
shopkeeper and said with a nonchalant air, “Here, give me a cup of your tea. Let’s see if it’s any good.”
shopkeeper was stoking the flames.
Beside him lay a pot filled with sliced potatoes and onions – he was
probably about to take the kettle off and start cooking his evening meal. At Nishikanta’s voice, he started to pour tea
into an earthenware cup through a sieve lined with a brown rag.
got off the bench and squatted directly in front of the warm stove. He sipped the tea slowly, holding the warm
cup against his cold cheeks occasionally.
He remembered nothing of the past, yet even such a simple action as this
always seemed about to remind him of something else.
The fact that he had had to hike a
mile-and-a-half from Paltabere in pelting rain to catch a bus bound for
Shibganj-Bagnan just to fetch a bottle of chua
did not bother him too much. Had he been
home at this hour, Boudi-moni would
doubtless have sent him to go fish with Toka or prepare feed for the cows. She would certainly have put him to some task. The reason Boudi-moni had sent him on this trip was that she had run out of
her zarda chewing tobacco during this
spell of bad weather. Dried tobacco
leaves had been roasted this afternoon, along with coriander and fennel
seeds. Bipinbihari had then sat down
with a mortar and pestle to pound the stuff into a powder. Once she had the bottle of chua, Boudi-moni was going to add it to the mix and chew on the fresh
batch of zarda. The strong, heady scent of roasted spices had
wafted through the house and covered up the dank smell of moisture and
certain smells that made one happy – the fragrance of roses, for instance, or
the smell of freshly fried bakphul
flowers, or the aroma of damp earth.
Then there were smells that were intoxicating – the scent of keya flowers, for instance, or the musk
of a young woman’s sweat, or the tang of roasted tobacco leaves. Some smells reminded you of God, such as
sacred tulsi leaves and sandalwood
paste. Old books carried a wistful smell
of times gone by. And the scent of rain
– for some reason, it seemed to evoke a mysterious, reasonless sadness in
left their homes in this kind of weather were usually in a hurry. A man, bent low under his umbrella, rushed
into the shop across from the tea stall.
He rushed out again, still bent over, carrying a packet of puffed
rice. From his haste it seemed as if the
moment he got home, he was going to slam the door shut and bolt it from
inside. Why were
people in such a hurry, Nishikanta often wondered. He himself never hurried, which was why Boudi-moni was constantly yelling at
him. Nishikanta liked nothing better
than to sit someplace quietly and lose himself in
thought. He had noticed that thoughts
came to him more easily when he tickled his ears with a feather. Of course, the few times he had sat down
under the madar tree to think, a
feather tucked inside his ear, he had eventually felt a tug on the invisible
string held in Boudi-moni’s
hands. A voice would call out in his
mind, “Nishi-iiiiii.” Floating in
the ether of thought, Nishikanta would feel himself being yanked back to
earth. His thoughts would tumble and
Because he could never keep a proper account
whenever he was sent shopping, Boudi-moni
had started insisting lately that Nishikanta learn arithmetic. Bipinbihari had taken it upon himself to
teach him to count every night. He would
ask, “How much is left if you take one rupee and eighty paise out of two rupees and forty-five paise?” At such times,
Nishikanta’s mind would grow dark and cloudy, as if on a rainy day. How much was left, indeed? Probably a lot. Probably nothing at all. If ten beedis
cost ten paise,
and a box of matches another ten paise,
how much did they cost in all? It was
hopeless. Nishikanta would grow frazzled
in the effort to add and subtract. Bipin
would clobber him on the head and say, “Do you know how old you are?”
Nishikanta would reply. “I’m a
score-and-a-half years old.”
“Stupid. Toka’s age is a full score: you’re even older
than me. At least fifty, I would say.”
Who was to
say Bipin was wrong? If Nishikanta could
remember his correct age, why would he be in this situation? Not that his situation was so bad,
really. What was so bad about
forgetting? It felt fine to him. He had become used to making his way by the
dim glow of a flashlight. He could
remember events or incidents for at most a week – beyond that a white, hazy
drizzle would obscure the scenery.
Amnesia was like the darkness that lay just beyond the small circle of
light thrown off by a torch; or to put it differently, it was like a dark,
got to his feet after finishing the tea.
People thought he was shiftless and slow-moving – a dullard. Little did they know that it was impossible
for him to just sit around, even if he wanted to. He was a mere kite – and the reel was held
firmly in Boudi-moni’s hands. No matter how far from home, he would
suddenly feel a tug on that string – as if Boudi-moni
was calling out his name: “Nishi-iiiii.”
umbrella unopened, he stepped out into the slushy, unpaved road. The wind was very strong. Had he opened the umbrella, it would
certainly have been blown out of his hands.
The soil here was sandy, so the path wasn’t too slippery; still,
Nishikanta came close to losing his balance a couple of times. The rain was whipping his body, as if
drilling holes into it. The raindrops
blinded his eyes, and his ears felt stuffed.
All he could make out were the hazy outlines of shops and the occasional
person. The world appeared to have come
to a standstill – like a clock that had stopped running.
looked up at Nishikanta as he approached the shop. Nishikanta stood outside the door and
squeezed the water out of his clothes.
He took his shirt off, wrung it dry, and then used it to wipe his
body. The umbrella, too, was dripping
wet, even though it had not been opened once.
Mahendra bellowed in a loud voice, “Leave the umbrella outside. And don’t come in right away – stand under
that tree until you’ve got rid of all the water. If you wet the floor in this weather, it
won’t dry in ages.” Nishikanta did as he
was told. After drying
himself as best as he could, he came inside.
sewing machine, Mahendra said, “I always see you holding that umbrella under
your arm. Do you ever open it?”
“Sometimes – when I let it out to dry.”
chuckled and said, “Well, seems to me you never really use the umbrella. Why do you carry it around, then?”
“It has its
uses,” Nishikanta replied briefly.
apprentice, Gupe, was sitting on a mat sewing a collar on a shirt. He took a needle out of his mouth and said,
with me. That’s use enough.”
and Gupe exchanged glances.
remained standing while they went on with their work. Waiting was almost a habit of his: lacking a
sense of time, he never knew how long to wait.
He tried to light a beedi, but
the rain had dampened all the matches; whenever he tried to strike one, the
powder would fall off the tip. Finally
succeeding after several tries, he said in a meek voice, “Give me my stuff so I
can get back before it gets too late.”
working the sewing machine, Mahendra said, “What’s the hurry? Sit for a while. Maybe the rain will let off – you never
did as he was told. He squatted on the
floor near the door and said, “Doesn’t look like this rain is going to let up
about all the conversation he could muster.
He couldn’t think of anything else to say. On the bus, two merchants sitting in the seat
ahead of him had talked all way here – about buying and selling, about profit
and loss, about religion. How people
found so much to talk about, Nishikanta did not know: he hardly ever had much
to say. Whenever he did want to talk,
however, there was nobody to listen to him.
It was this desire – the desire to talk to somebody, to let loose a
flood of words – that had once impelled Nishikanta toward thoughts of
marriage. Of course, there was a
pleasant mystery about the act of marriage itself – exchanging garlands of
flowers with a pretty woman in the light of a hurricane lamp…that could be
His umbrella was associated with
one episode during that marriage-crazy phase.
Once, while attending the festival of the warrior-god Bhima at the village of Mayachar, he had made the acquaintance
of a trickster. Although he forgot most things immediately, this particular
incident, like a few others, had somehow stayed in his memory, like the
lingering scent of perfume on a bit of cotton wool. Nishikanta had been staring open-mouthed at
the idol of Bhima killing the evil Jarasandha by pulling his legs apart and
tearing him into two. Sizing him up
quickly, the trickster had befriended Nishikanta and treated him to tea and
cigarettes. At a certain point during
their conversation, Nishikanta had let slip his thirst for marriage. The stranger had said, “A man doesn’t need to
worry about finding someone to marry.
Whether you’re a servant or a day-laborer or a beggar – everybody can
find himself a wife.”
Bhima Puja site, the man had made him walk more than three kos, ostensibly to show him a
marriageable girl he knew of. During the
long walk, he had helped himself to Nishikanta’s stock of stolen money. Hoping to get married at last, Nishikanta had
not been able to say no. The man would
stop at various shops to buy food, cigarettes, sundry grocery items –
Nishikanta was getting tired of these detours.
The man even borrowed some money from Nishikanta under the pretext of a
loan. Finally, when they were in an
unfamiliar village, he had pointed to a building and said to Nishikanta,
“That’s my house – consider it your own.
Go into the sitting room and make yourself comfortable. I’ll just swing by the market and get a kilo
of meat – I heard they slaughtered a goat at the butcher shop today. By the way, do you like fried goat fat?”
nodded his head happily. It was past
noon – he was feeling quite hungry. The
man said, “You’ll probably have to stay here a few hours. I’ll take you over to see the girl later this
afternoon. You can propose to them and
then head back.”
It was all to Nishikanta's liking. After the man left, he walked into the house
and entered the sitting room -- it was nicely furnished. Nishikanta sat down on a chair and started to
relax. A little while later, an
unpleasant-looking old man appeared and began to ask him questions like
"Who are you?" and "What do you want?" He was unstoppable. Nishikanta had not bothered to remember the
trickster’s name. He kept saying,
"The owner of this house asked me to wait here, believe me." The old man laughed a harsh jackal-like laugh
and said, "The owner of the house?
That would be me – Nityahari Goswami." Nishikanta said, "Oh, it must have been
your son, then. He asked me to wait here
while he went to the market to buy some goat meat. He said we were going to have fried goat fat
at lunch." The old man almost
exploded in anger. "We're
Vaishnavas -- strict vegetarians,” he screamed.
“How dare you mention meat in this house? Get out, get out right now."
Feeling totally confused, Nishikanta
had walked out without bothering to make sense of the situation. On his way out, he had noticed an umbrella
leaning against the veranda wall. Being
habitually used to swiping things, he had picked up the umbrella without a
second thought and walked out of the house.
Since then, this umbrella had become
his most valued possession. He watched
over the umbrella with an eagle eye and carried it everywhere -- not for
protection against sun or rain, but for the sheer style of it. There was nothing like an umbrella to raise a
man's standing in the village.
"I hear you even talk to your
umbrella at night," said Mahendra as he sewed the leg of a pajama.
Nishikanta said in an abashed tone,
"Bipin-da makes up all these stories."
"It's not a made-up story at
all. Bipin swears he's heard it with his
own ears. He says you wake up in the
middle of the night and sit in bed talking to your umbrella -- you talk to it
about your joys and sorrows, about whatever's bothering you. And wonder of wonders, apparently the
umbrella talks back! Bipin says the
umbrella speaks in a nasal kind of a voice, but the words are quite
Gupe held the needle between his
fingers as he flattened the collar with his hands. "So, Nishi-da, is your
umbrella a man or a woman?"
"I don’t know anything about
any of this. You guys are teasing
me. Just give me the stuff and I'll be
on my way."
"You're trying to avoid the
subject, but everybody between Paltabere and Bagnan knows your umbrella is a
"Leave me alone."
"I swear. Maybe you don't want to tell us your secret,
but love is like perfume -- you can't hide it.
It spreads in the air."
Mahendra set aside the pajama leg he
was working on and started sewing the hem on the other leg. "There's more," he said. "I've heard you're about to get married
to the umbrella."
"Don't forget to invite us to
the wedding," said Gupe.
Nishikanta got irritated and said,
"If you guys are going to give me a hard time, I’m going to leave. I'll send Bipin–da to fetch the stuff
Mahendra gave Gupe a mock
scolding. "Don't be impertinent,
you oaf. Sit down Nishi. Don't get mad."
Nishikanta sat and yawned. It was getting late. He liked looking at Mahendra's workshop. Machines were so amazing. You couldn't tell what was going on -- all
you saw was the foot pedal moving, and yet, up on the platform, the needle rose
and fell like a raindrop and left stitches in its wake.
It was wonderful -- whenever he saw
the sewing machine, some long-lost memory seemed about to surface, but it never
did. What could he do? That was how his mind was -- like a
rain-darkened day. Or like a circle of
light given off by a flashlight -- it illuminated certain things, but left much
else hidden in the dark shadows of forgetfulness, in the inky blackness of
He started dozing as he sat and
waited. Finally, Gupe called him awake.
Handing him the bottle of chua, he
said, "Find an auspicious day and get married. Sitting up night after night with a female
umbrella – it’s not good for your reputation.
What will other umbrellas say?
Umbrellas have their own customs and traditions, you know."
Nishikanta got up to leave. But when he reached for his umbrella in the
dark crevice behind the door, his hand came back empty.
Mahendra looked up at him and said,
"Is it not there?"
"No. You guys have hidden
"We?" Gupe widened his eyes in surprise and said,
"Do we look the kind of people who would kidnap other folks' women?"
"What happened to the umbrella,
Gupe?" Mahendra asked with apparent sincerity.
"A bunch of Lodha tribeswomen
came to the shop a few minutes ago -- they must have taken it with them. Nishi-da was dozing at the time, maybe he
Nishikanta was furious. He started cursing, "You two are the
spawn of thieves...the discharge of a cunt...."
Gupe said gravely, "Why call us
names? People say you're an umbrella
thief. They say you eloped with that
umbrella from a house in Mayachar."
Nishikanta's head felt as if it was
about to explode. He muttered,
"Which son of a whore says that....Which..." and on and on.
Mahendra said, "Hey, watch your
language. Gupe, give him his
umbrella. Who wants to listen to all
Nishikanta got this way when he was
angry. At such times, he would try to
recall some of the curse-words he had heard in the market -- these were his
sole weapons. When people gave him
grief, he had to do something in return, after all.
Gupe pulled the umbrella out from
under a footstool. He gave Nishikanta a
sudden kick in the buttocks and said, "Get out of here, you bastard."
Nishikanta somehow caught hold of
the doorframe before he could fall.
"Hey..y..y," Mahendra yelled.
"Don't hit him, Gupe -- you're going to smash the bottle."
"The bastard has a filthy
mouth," Gupe retorted.
Nishikanta uttered a few more curses
involving Gupe's mother and father and walked out of the shop. Gupe didn't let him have the last word,
though. He ran after him and hit
Nishikanta on the head with something hard.
Nishikanta's head ached from the impact, but he didn't lose his grip on
the bottle. If something happened to the
precious chua, Bipin and Boudi-moni were not going to come down
here to settle scores with Gupe -- they were going to take it out on poor
Nishikanta. In a blind rage, he stood
outside the shop and screamed at Gupe, "Eat shit, you son of a
out again. This time he threw something
at Nishikanta -- an earthenware jug perhaps.
It hit him on the chest.
Nishikanta stood outside the shop and started yelling, “Eat my foot, eat
my left hand, eat my shit…”
shouting for several more minutes, Nishikanta felt lighter. To tell the truth, by this time he no longer
remembered who he was cursing, or why.
He couldn’t even recall what had happened. With this realization, Nishikanta’s rants
gave way to a kind of astonished silence. Try as he would, he simply could not
remember who he was angry at or why he was screaming at the top of his voice.
had stopped; the moon was rising in a clearing sky. The shops were closing their shutters one
after another. Nishikanta felt the tug
of a string within himself; the invisible reel was pulling him in. Nishikanta stumbled and almost lose his
balance. Boudi-moni must be calling his name by now: “Nishi-iiii.”
Nishikanta stepped off the bus at the Kharubere crossroads, the evening wore an
eerie look. A ghostly moon had risen in
the sky – its pale gleam seeped through black-smeared clouds. Thunderclouds were still growling now and
then with the rumbling sound of stone grinding against stone. This was the first time in three days that
the rain had let up. Although it was not
winter, the sky gods had unfurled a curtain of chill on the world. The waterlogged earth looked white and bare
in the light of that ominous moon.
was almost as afraid of Boudi-moni
and Bipin as he was of ghosts and goblins.
He walked as fast as he could on the slippery path by the side of the
stream. His head was aching; as was his
back. He couldn’t remember where or how
he had hurt himself.
entire days, the sky had relentlessly kneaded the earth with a million
hands. The kneaded, pummeled, mangled
earth lay supine and tired in the ghostly moonlight. Bipin Bihari kneaded Boudi-moni in the same way.
Work was slow in the rainy season.
Boudi-moni had decided not to
dirty any dishes other than the cooking pots and pans. So for the past several days, they had been
eating a semi-liquid diet of rice-and-lentil khichri served on plantain leaves.
There was no washing and cleaning to be done at the pond, no laundry, no
drying of vegetables and fruits in the sun: even the floors did not have to be
mopped. Boudi-moni spent entire days in her bed. After working the fields for a while, Bipin
would be back at the house and bolt Boudi-moni’s
door from the inside. Nishikanta had a
certain idea of what was going on behind those closed doors – it, too, had to
do with kneading and tangling. Come
evening, Bipin would eat a bowl of puffed rice tossed with mango-oil and green
chilies. Then he would go off to the
musicians’ den and listen to hymns until suppertime.
But there were other goings-on before and
after the hymn-singing. The rain and the
wind carried the news of those activities all over the village with the avidity
of scandal. There were whispers and
murmurings all around him: Nishikanta would listen and smile to himself.
built a large fire on the bank of the stream.
Several dark shadows were moving around the edges of the fire. Nishikanta stopped to watch. As he gazed at the fire, his nostrils caught
the smell of burning ghee. Then he became aware of the burnt-leather
smell of scorched flesh.
shook his head and walked toward the fire.
Looked like Netai’s grandmother had finally passed
away. There was no proper
cremation ground in this village – people burnt corpses wherever they
could. These folks had lit their pyre on
a raised embankment on the side of the stream.
yelling drunkenly. One of his pals had
apparently pulled a log from the pyre to light his beedi – and Netai was getting all worked up about it. He was shouting: “None of you bastards can
light your beedis from the funeral
pyre, I’m warning you. It’s my
grandmother’s funeral, not your father’s.”
One of his
friends tried to pacify him: “It’s not a beedi;
it’s a cigarette.”
he be lighting even a cigarette? Is it
his father’s funeral, bastard?”
up and urinated at the edge of the embankment.
He continued to yell: “Look at my old grandma’s good karma – even the
rain stopped so the pyre wouldn’t get wet.
Have you guys ever seen anything like this, bastards? And you’re lighting beedis from that fire? Doesn’t
my grandma deserve some respect?”
were laughing raucously.
noticed that Netai’s grandmother’s face was still visible – the fire had not
yet reached it. Each eyelid was covered
with sandalwood paste and a tulsi
leaf. Nishikanta wondered for a moment
how it must feel to get burned. He took
a few steps forward and stood near the fire, clutching his umbrella and the
bottle of chua. Nobody said anything to him. They were all too drunk anyway.
while nobody was watching, Netai’s grandmother opened her eyes and appeared to
look directly at Nishikanta. His mind
could not hold onto anything…he forgot too easily. Yet, watching Netai’s dead grandmother
looking at him with a normal gaze, Nishikanta suddenly remembered that one time
a few years ago, the old woman was lying on her bed, writhing in pain from a
stomach-ache. Nishikanta had ground up
some young acacia leaves and fed her the paste – the pain had gradually
subsided. Earlier today, Nishikanta had stood under the same tree from which he
had plucked those leaves. Netai’s
grandmother’s half-burnt corpse lay smoldering in front of him. When her eyes met his, there appeared to be a
question in them. “Do you remember, son?” she seemed to be asking.
remember? Do you remember? A shaft of clear moonlight appeared to cut
through the thick clouds inside Nishinkanta’s brain. Yes, he could remember! He could suddenly remember all kinds of
things. Nishikanta felt as if a flood of
memory was about to overwhelm the banks of his mind. He gripped the umbrella and the bottle of chua tightly. With a muffled, frightened cry, he turned and
quickly walked back to the path.
flood of memory would not stop.
Raindrops of remembrance fell on his body from the gloomy sky…and kept
falling. One of Netai’s pals came up to
him and said drunkenly, “What’s in the bottle?
Where are you taking that stuff, Nishi?”
alone,” said Nishikanta and jerked himself away. That jerk seemed to dislodge the flashlight
dimly lighting the present. The rainy
haze suddenly appeared to lift, and he could see all the way to the
horizon. Everything was clear,
everything was visible. All the memories
were coming back to him.
was not Nishikanta. He was not from
around here. His family had lived in a
small house next to a large mansion. His
mother’s name was Manorama, his father’s name Chandranath. They had been a happy family. What was the name of the place? It was on the tip of his tongue. He could remember the orchards of short,
stout lychee trees, bearing clusters
of juicy fruit. There was a schoolhouse
on a paved road. Its bell used to ring
loudly, calling Nishikanta by name. It
was coming back. It was all coming
But along with re-awakened memory,
he could feel a sharp pain rising in his chest.
A lamentation-filled wind had begun to blow through his mind. What had happened to him? Scenes from the past were beginning to
flicker and swoon drunkenly around him.
Very dimly, he saw images of riots, fires, bearded
people with blackened faces, burning torches in hand. He and his parents were hiding in the filth
under the latrine and shaking with fear.
There were faint memories of railway tracks, a train station, a refugee
stifled scream Nishikanta lost his footing and fell. He was on the wrong path. Where was he going? In which direction? He stared dumbly around in the pale
moonlight. Where was he?
the middle of a field with the umbrella and the bottle clutched close to his body,
Nishikanta looked around at the world, as if for the first time. What a frightening vastness! He was lost.
He was alone.
As far as
he could see, the ghostly moonlight stretched away into the night like a silent
scream. He had no home, no family – he
a wordless cry burst out of Nishikanta’s throat. Eyes filled with tears of terror, he waded
into a flooded field until the water reached up to his waist. He clutched his head in panic and muttered
over and over, “Make it all go away.
Make me forget, please.”
he felt a tug within himself, as if someone somewhere had just started to reel
in a wayward kite. The kite jerked
upward. Boudi-moni was calling his name: “Nishi-iiiii.”
coming,” he said aloud and clambered out of the water. He pressed the umbrella and the bottle close
to his chest and wiped his eyes on the sleeves of his shirt. Boudi-moni
was rapidly reeling in her kite. There
was no way he could ignore that pull. He
might be a servant, a mere laborer, but that invisible tug was all he had.
the way I am,” Nishikanta said to himself.
His world had once again contracted into the grey closeness of a rainy
day, a dim sphere of clarity illuminated by a small flashlight. Nothing was visible ahead, nothing
behind. This was exactly where he wanted
to be. With a profound sense of relief,
Nishikanta resumed walking homeward.
Published in Parabaas, April, 2008
The original story "Brishtite Nishikanta" by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay
is included in the collection Galpo-Samagro (Vol.2) published by the Dey's Publishing, Kolkata.
Nilanjan Bhattacharya. Nilanjan grew up in Rajasthan and Assam and developed an early interest in ....
Illustrations by Rajarshi Debnath. Rajarshi has been regularly illustrating for Parabaas. He is currently based in Athens, Georgia.
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