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International Writers Magazine: Stories from India
Translated by V Ramaswamy
vulnerable humans reached the shelter of the red light on Park
Street after walking long. Pointing excitedly at the red neon
advertisement that hung like an icon over their heads, the girl
exclaimed to the man: Look! Look how tis suckt up hearts
blood! The baby began to cry. Springs breeze wafted down
from the Maidan and floated by, touching the two-and-a-half humans.
On that smooth-surfaced
road, they saw a donkey, white in colour, lying dead. That very white
donkey, against the black tarmac, four legs splayed high, was visible
from far away. But despite seeing it no one looked at it. The cars skirted
it and passed by. The people walked by, handkerchiefs pressed to faces.
Those without handkerchiefs held their noses with their hands and went
by that place.
They went close to the donkey. They saw a stream of red blood that had
flowed from its ear, wetting the road. Now that had dried up and the
bloods colour couldnt be discerned any more. They saw the
pupils of the upturned eyes of the donkey. They saw a fly sitting near
its belly. The stomach was horribly bloated. They wondered how the donkey
came to be here on this road. But their hunger-crazed heads didnt
worry about such things for long.
The man grabbed the infant from the womans bosom and started begging
near the cars stopped at the red light: babu, justapenny!
man then had to undertake various acts using his vocal chords and limbs,
like hunching up his whole body and bringing his voice to a whining
cry, and that utterance had to be relentless because until the "babu
justapenny" cry drove the people in the cars to despair theyd
not fling one or two coins. Sometimes he would have to hit his empty
belly. This circus act was vital to prove that hed really not
eaten, or wasnt being able to eat, and thanks to that some people
would be moved to pity, or assailed by this sound, and throw out some
Instead of doing all this, those two-and-a-half humans also did other
things, or could. Like the woman would lay the baby on the pavement
and lie down beside; and the man would shriek and try to grab the attention
of the pedestrians, havent eaten, here babu, twopennies! Performing
all this, on and on, theyd get a few coins. People still indulged
in charity in order to achieve pious merit.
Since the evening was advancing a cool breeze from the Maidan wafted
down and passed by, touching them. The baby began whimpering in hunger.
The woman pressed the infant to her bosom and gazed blank-eyed at the
darkness of the Maidan, at the people on the road, at the trams and
buses, at the few youths walking along who looked furtively at her exposed
bosom out of the corner of their eyes. She just gazed on.
After a while their eyes settled upon the white donkey. A few dirty,
skinny boys wearing loin-cloths came and cut out flesh from that dead
donkeys carcass. The girl pointed this out to the man and the
two of them gaped at that sight. Soon there was a crowd of such greedy
humans. All of them came and cut away meat from that carcass, quickly
finishing off the white donkey. They too were tempted. They said something
People r eatin white donkeys meat!
I can see people r eatin!
Mussay white donkeys amazin dear.
Jostling and pushing through the crowd they tried to get in, and once
in they saw the donkey was almost laid bare. They thought: we shouldnt
delay any more, everyones eating it, why not try some ourselves.
They somehow cut off a bit of the leg and came away.
The man took a bite. The woman took a bite. Biting into the white donkeys
leg, there was blood around their mouths. They said to each other:
Kilt n ate crow once!
Hey tis sweety!
Nah, tis bitter!
Tis bitter then!
Muss be sweety then!
Whatevrs eaten with the hungry mouths sweety!
As the girl, hunger-crazed, chewed and ate the flesh and bones, two
people from across the Maidan crept up like foxes. They stopped under
a tree, and closely observed their behaviour and movements, and especially
the girls youthful body. And because they were standing concealed
in the relative darkness under the canopy of the tree, hence one couldnt
guess whether they were decent-folk or lowly-folk, loafers or pimps.
Treading warily, they gradually advanced, looked all around, and then
gestured to them to come towards the darkness.
Though they were somewhat startled at first, eventually they went up
to the two men. Their eyes gleaming like foxes, the men studied them.
They looked more at the girl. After that they asked where their village
was. They replied. They wanted to know how long they had been beggars.
They replied. Then, pausing somewhat, and affecting a cough, they finally
asked whether they desired pots and pots of money.
Hearing this, that couple just gaped agog. One of the men then lightly
patted the girls bare back, and pointing to the region of darkness
in the Maidan said: Theres a money tree there! Shake it and it
rains down! If youd like to gather some come along!
They were scared. They wanted to, but werent brave enough. The
two men then emboldened them: Dont be afraid! Youll come
to no harm!
All this money
a money tree! Seeing that the
man and woman were still frightened, the men put up an act in front
of the girl: All this money! Pots of money! A money tree! And when youve
got money you wont have to beg! You wont have to eat the
rotten flesh of a dead donkey! You can eat two square meals a day!
Going on like this, when the men saw the girls eyes lit bright
with desire, they knew it was time. They thrust the infant into the
mans arms, caught hold of the girls arm and pulled her along.
Hey boy, you stand here with the baby, Ill show your wife the
money tree and be back. Without waiting for any response they dragged
the girl by her arm into the fold of the darkness. The man simply stared,
benumbed, and looked agog at the dark clump in the Maidan.
Like foxes, the two men swift-footedly reached the centre of the darkness.
The girl realised she was almost entirely enveloped by the darkness.
There were so many lights and people all around. She could see all of
them, but no one could see her. The men said: You ate the white donkeys
flesh, theres still some blood on your lips, wipe it off! And
saying this one of them took out a silk handkerchief from his pocket
and wiped her mouth. The girl gazed vacantly. The men cleared their
throats, and fluttering their eyes affecting pious demureness, said:
The money tree is a precious resource! You cant touch it at just
any odd time or in just any way you please. You can only touch it when
youre entirely bare. Take off your sari girl!
The girl just stared at them. She didnt quite understand what
was happening. The men then started taking off their clothes. They said:
Here, look, were taking it off too! The girl hadnt quite
understood what was happening. Then, unable to control themselves any
longer, the two men didnt bother about courtesies any more. They
tugged at the girls torn, dirty sari.
The girl was completely naked under that undifferentiated darkness.
Of course, she didnt really feel anything, because she had lost
all sensation besides hunger. She had long ago lost even the sense of
shame at being naked in front of men.
The red neon continued to glow in the heart of the metropolis. The radiance
of that colour spread far. Perhaps that glow would light up her face
as well. She just stared into the red hue. Maybe she thought about something.
Maybe she didnt. Or maybe she didnt think like this.
The southern breeze came and touched her body. The nocturnal chill floated
by her uncovered body. Indifferent to everything, she peered into the
faces of the two men to find a trace of the money tree.
This is a translation
of the original Bengali short story "Moydaney takar gach" by
Subimal Misra, a critically acclaimed Bengali writer of India. The story
is anthologised in Subimal Misras Anti-golpo songroho (Anti-stories
collection), Bitorko, Calcutta, 1999.
See also The Camel
Subimal Misra (born 1943) has been writing since 1967. He has written
only for small, non-commercial literary publications (or "little
magazines"). Misra is regarded as the leading anti-establishment
and experimental writer in the Bengali language. His first collection
of stories, titled Haran majhir bidhoba bou-er moda ba shonar gandhimurti
(Haran Majhi's widowed wife's corpse or the Gandhi statue of gold), was
published in 1971. Over 20 volumes of his stories (or anti-stories),
novellas, novels (or anti-novels), plays and essays have been
published. Most of these have been published and distributed by the author
himself. Misras most recent book of stories and essays, Kika Cutout
was published in 2006. Now a retired school-teacher, he lives in Calcutta.
Translated by V Ramaswamy June 2006
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