The International Writers
Dagger by Subimal Misra
Translated from Bengali by V Ramaswamy
called out from behind: Hooeey Sudas! Wherere you goin pal?
He didnt look back. The dead body still hung from that tree
branch, feet bound, head downwards.
Blood poured steadily from the nose and had dripped and wet the
place. He saw the wizened-old bird sitting in its cage. It tested
the iron mesh with its beak. Every once in a while it fluttered
its wings and screeched: Sudas! Hooeey Sudas! Wherere you
He had stolen the
dagger from his friends house. It belonged to an earlier age.
Sheathed in a purple muslin case, the daggers grip was of ivory,
shaped like a horses head. Every now and then, making sure no
one was around, he felt its sharp edge. Jackals howled from the clearings
between the trees and shrubs in the dark night. He heard his mother
say: Why do you look so worried Sudas? Startled, he replied: Where?
Not at all! He ran, with the dagger concealed in his pocket. He ran
through fields, banks, woods and forests, until he finally reached Kasim
Mias stable. He stood panting. The cage swayed with the birds
fluttering. It cried out: Sudas! Hooeey Sudas! Wherere you goin
Kasim Miyas stable was deserted. The horse carriage trade didnt
quite exist any more. Stroking his grey-streaked beard he said: The
city now wants motor cars, were done for, and together with us
this trade will come to an end
Do you know young master, what
a grand thing this double carriage used to be! It was a matter of pride
for the masters. Fluttering the pleats of their dhotis, fragrant with
attar, the masters and mistresses used to go out for a spin
Kasim Miya lamented, and absent-mindedly stroked his
beard. Strewn all around him were the parts, relics and broken wheels
of forsaken carriages. In one corner, like a lone symbol, a horse, blinkers
over its eyes, chewed grass from the mouth-bag hung on its neck. Every
now and then it stamped its feet on the wooden floor, every once in
a while it neighed, Aayn-han-han-han!, as if to register its protest
Blood dripped from the body hanging on the tree and wet the place. As
kids, some people used to kill tomcats like this. Theyd tie a
rope round its neck and hang it from a banana tree. It would cry and
mew all night as it tried to free itself. The cat would be dead the
next morning. A group of them would go in the morning to see the dead
cat. By mid-morning, thousands of big black ants would have trooped
in and devoured its eyes. At night fireflies could be seen glowing around
the dead body.
Sudas panted. Kasim Miya was saying something: Whats happened
to you little master, why are you panting like this? Pressing his hand
over his pocket he replied: No, nothings happened. He said: Do
you know Kasim uncle, a wild animals possessed me, and its
completely restless. Right here - and he pointed to the centre of his
chest. He continued: Beyond the road, on the creek-side, I saw a dark-skinned,
lanky man roaming around, creeping on all fours. He was going around
sniffing the dirty places at the creek-side. Kasim Miya replied: Whats
new about that little master, the people on the other side have declared
war, they say, we want means to work and survive, we want to live with
The stable-bound horse, ribs protruding, eyes blinkered, stamped its
hooves on the wooden floor. Every once in a while it neighed, Aayn-han-han-han!
An eerie sound, as if it was protesting against something. The sound
startled Sudas. He gripped the dagger concealed inside his pocket. Sudas
had no desire to steal the dagger. But as he stood amidst the old knives,
daggers and swords laid out inside the room, somehow something happened
to him. His heart beating fast, he was about to run from there when
he saw a huge buffalo head with the horns raised; and to his right,
a complete tiger-skin with the head frozen in a snarl. Kasim Miya was
an old man. He puffed at a bidi. Outside, the darkness thickened and
in that darkness Kasim gazed vacantly.
He felt very uneasy in the semi-darkness. Absent-mindedly, haphazardly,
he cleared woods and forests. He saw humans and dogs ferreting for food
from the same garbage bin. The bird called out. It fluttered its wings
and screeched: Whatll you do with this dagger Sudas? Return it!
Return it! He didnt know what hed do with it. He had kept
going, leaving behind all the people, settlements and trees. The weapon
was held firmly in his pocket. Every once in a while he took it out
and examined it. He gazed at its purple muslin case, embroidered over
in red and green. He drew it out with its ivory grip.
With the horses eerie neigh, Aayn-han-han-han!, the silence of
night was shattered. It almost fell out of his hand. He said: what will
I do with this? I didnt want things to turn out this way. He looked
in all directions to see if anyone caught him unawares, and then he
hurriedly concealed it inside his pocket.
Two youths with serious faces emerged from somewhere and said: Whatll
you do with that Sudas? Give it to us. He held it firmly in his grip.
Gravefaced, they returned to the dark lake-side in the same way
they had emerged from the darkness. Only the fireflies glowed dimly.
Jackals howled from somewhere faraway. Blood dripped steadily from the
nose of that dead body hanging upside-down on the tree. Big black ants
The long country road snaked away past the creek in the dim moonlight.
Every now and then the muffled sound of someone crying floated by. And
sometimes the sound of someone laughing. As he went along the red-brick
road in twilights darkness, passing cyclists cried out: Wheres
it youre headed in this darkness towards the desolate ruins of
the fortress Sudas? Startled, Sudas said: No, nowhere at all.
Kasim Miya stroked his beard. His emaciated horse, blinkered, chewed
away at the grass from its mouth-bag. He said gravely: The times are
frightful young master
be careful where you go. Dont go
near the lake after dark. Why, whats happened there? Oh nothing
at all. Kasim Miya seemed to be withholding something, as if he wasnt
bold enough to say it. He saw his bird fluttering its wings in the cage.
It didnt eat the grains given it. He saw the old beggar woman
sitting at the station with her hands laid out in the hope of alms.
He saw the cunning jackal with the stolen hen swiftly slipping away
from the homestead light into the brown darkness.
As his throat was parched, he went towards the lakes ghat for
a drink of water. The moon rose in the east over the Radha-Govind temple.
He saw the reflection of the moon in the lakes water. Gazing at
this, he wondered whether he should throw the dagger away into the water
that would bring matters to a close, wont be troubled any
more. But he held on to it as if to dear life. He didnt throw
it away. That ancient engraved daggers blade gleamed in the moonlight.
He said: How can I throw this away when Im the one whos
brought it in the first place! But soon enough he began to wonder what
hed do with this.
At Romen Debs house, there were many daggers like this laid out
on the walls of the drawing-room, including several much larger than
this one. There were so many kinds of guns and pistols. Romens
father, twirling his moustache explained: All these are so old, had
been used in war. History, full of history!
Standing beside the lake and looking at the moonlit water, he wondered
why he took it. Why? Crickets chirped. The entire lake-bank was redolent
with the fragrance of mango and bel. The steps going down to the water
were old and completely run-down. Tramping over dry leaves he emerged.
From its cage, his pet bird kept calling from behind: Hooeey Sudas!
Wherere you goin pal? Hooeey Sudas! Mother asked: Whyre
you so late Sudas? Just like that, I was sitting at the lake-side. Do
you know Ma, nowadays some people come there, a band of them, to hear
the blue-throated cuckoos cry. They have dry blood on their hands,
red and blue feathers on their head. Youre full of trouble! Dont
be going there! Why Ma? After a pause, peering into his face and his
eyes, she said: You appear kind of strange today Sudas. He then replied:
Thats not surprising Ma, for I saw humans and dogs ferreting for
food from the same garbage-bin. He then showed his mother the place
wet with blood, where blood had been dripping endlessly through the
nose of the dead body.
The horse neighed in Kasim Miyas stable, Aayn-han-han-han! Kasim
just sat in the darkness, swatting mosquitoes, puffing a bidi once in
a while. He said: All those days are gone little master. Wont
come back! Used to gallop, clip-clop!, clip-clop! with the master and
mistress along the road going to the old fort, the people walking on
the road would step aside. Masters double-carriage! Stand aside!
Stand aside! Ill be gone, and with me everythingll be over.
Sudas just couldnt sleep at night. He heard someone whispering
at the window: Whatll you do with that Sudas? Give it, give it
to us! He had hidden it, buried it under the mango tree at the lakeside.
He thought, now Im at peace! No one will find it. In the middle
of the night he saw a few jackals digging up the place in search of
the dead body. He ran out, and screaming out he hurled stones and chased
away the jackals. Their eyes like burning coals, the jackals hovered
nearby, they didnt go away.
Sudas heart thumped. I shouldnt have taken it. His sleepless
eyes scanned the sky and he ran his hand through his dishevelled hair
as he roamed the lakeside all night like a madman. He kept seeing the
sight of humans and dogs together squabbling and eating bones and remains
from the same garbage bin. He heard his mothers voice from faraway:
Dont go there Sudas, dont go, Suuuu-daaaa-s! His pet caged
bird screeched: Hooeey Sudas!
Ill at ease, Sudas said: Do you know Kasim uncle, Ive stolen a
dagger. And do you know, I dont know what Ill do with that!
Then, absent-mindedly running his fingers through his hair, he said:
I didnt really want to steal it you know. Dont know what
happened all of a sudden
Do you know, in Romen Debs house
there are fabulous daggers, swords, guns, tiger skins, buffalo horns,
just like in a museum
He felt an ache inside his chest. He turned
blue in the face in agony. His muttered words were muffled by the sound
of the horses neighing, Aayn-han-han-han!, that emanated from
Kasim Miyas stable. Just that one skinny horse in Kasim Miyas
stable, it silently champed on the grass from the mouth-bag. Every now
and then it swished its tail, every once in a while it stamped its hooves,
thok! thok!, on the wooden floor, every now and then it neighed, Aayn-han-han-han!,
as if it wished to convey something. Kasim Miya said: Its time, Ill
go, my horsell go too. He threw away the bidi, rose and stroked
the protruding ribs on the horses flank. He said: Be very careful
little master, terrible times now, dont stray from the road and
go to the lakeside!
When he felt the ache in his chest becoming more acute, Sudas stepped
out to the road and walked distractedly. A cool breeze blew in the nights
darkness, bringing with it the gentle fragrance of mango and bel. Their
eyes glowing like torches, a few jackals hovered around him constantly.
They had soaked in the blood dripping from that dead body and returned
blood-crazed. He felt awful. And occasionally he felt pleased. Every
once in a while he thought he hadnt wanted all this to happen.
Every now and then he remembered those people who had come to hear the
cuckoos cry. Stale blood staining their hands, they had come to
hear a beautiful birdsong.
The whole place was desolate. The moonlight lit up the ruins of the
crumbling ancient fort and the undulating, once-royal, red-earth road.
He was not at all afraid. He walked along, the dagger pressed in his
Agitated, absent-minded, he trudged on. Every once in a while he heard
the faint cry of his mother, O Sudas! He then tried to bring to mind
the following sight: beside the same garbage bin, humans and dogs were
fighting over food. Every now and then his pet bird fluttered its wings
inside the cage, Hooeey Sudas! Wherere you goin pal? Hooeey Sudas!
He wondered where hed go to ease the pain inside him, where could
he go? Every once in a while he remembered Romens fathers
words: Do you know Sudas, all these knives and daggers, guns and pistols
that you see displayed on the wall here had made history at one time.
History, full of history!
In Kasim Miyas stable that solitary symbol-like, emaciated horse,
eyes blinkered, occasionally stamped its hooves on the wooden floor
and occasionally swished its tail to drive away flies. But nowadays
it neighed frequently, Aayn-han-han-han!, as if to declare its protest
against something. Puffing on his bidi, Kasim Miya said: Along with
you all, our times are also coming to an end little master! Be very
careful! Dont you be going to the lakeside after dark!
After walking for a long time Sudas eventually began to tire. He saw
himself walking through an unending confinement of moonlight. Ahead
of him lay the ruins of the old fort. He advanced mechanically in that
direction. He then remembered the corpse. He felt a constant unbearable
pain inside his chest. He decided he would get rid of the troublesome
weapon in this desolate moonlight, in the ghostly precincts of this
old fort, and leave. After I leave I shall join that band of people,
those with dry blood staining their hands, who had come to hear the
Tired, he sat down in the majestic environs of that ancient fort. He
recalled Romens father saying: History, full of history! He recalled
Kasim Miyas lament: Itll all end with me, Ill be dead,
and this old horse of mine will be dead too! Tears streamed down from
the blinkered eyes of the horse. Kasim stroked its bony side and comforted
All the tears and blood came together and became one. Clouds shrouded
the moon briefly. Darkness enveloped the stone walls of that ancient
fort. Tearing his hair out with his two hands, Sudas screamed out like
a madman: I didnt want this! I didnt want this! He feebly
took out the dagger. As he was about to hurl it into the darkness of
the fort, he saw countless hands on the stone walls of that ancient
fort. Countless agitated hands had left their individual palm imprints,
in syllables of blood.
This is a translation of the original Bengali short story "Chhuri"
by Subimal Misra, a critically acclaimed Bengali writer of India. The
story is anthologised in Subimal Misras Chottrish bochorer rograragri
(36 years scuffle), published by the author, Kolkata (Calcutta),
© V Ramaswamy April 2007
Money Tree by Subimal Misra
Translated by V Ramaswamy
Beggars come across a dead white donkey...
The Winged Ones by
Translated from Urdu by V Ramaswamy
Alls well here. Best wishes for your honours well being.
Writing a letter to his old friend Fazaldin
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