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The International Writers Magazine: Indian Dreamscapes

The Camel
Subimal Misra
Translated by V Ramaswamy

I dream every night. I don’t like it at all if I don’t dream. When I can’t, the next day feels utterly empty. I feel hollow inside. All day long I roam the streets. After dreaming again at night - I am at peace.

All my dreams are strange. Sometimes I dream I’m gnawing and gorging on human bones. Fresh warm blood trickles down the two sides of my mouth. Slung around my waist is a golden stone, the heel bone firmly gripped in my hands. I chew away at the bone to my heart’s content. With practiced ease, I eat with my eyes shut. As I feed it strikes me I’ve been gnawing away at these bones for ages on end and yet my hunger does not subside. As soon as I realise this I am filled with grief. To take my mind off that sorrow I try fiddling with the golden stone slung around my waist.

At other times I dream my face has changed. No one can recognise me. Acquaintances pass me by when I am near. In those dreams my eyes burst with tears. I feel humiliated by my friends and relatives.
Sometimes I dream I’m blind in one eye. Lame. Face covered with pock-marks. I wear a dirty shirt over a lungi. I limp around at the bus-stop, staff in hand. I beg people for money. My eight-year old daughter accompanies me. People treat with me pity. Or they are disdainful.

Every now and then I have a nice dream. I see a tiny stream, a tiny dinghy there. I’m sitting on it. The tide comes in. The waves splash against the banks. The boat rocks and sways. I rock too. The water, the boat, the little waves, all rocking forever, rock-a-bye baby ...

Sometimes I see I’ve climbed to the top of a tall building. From there the people below appear midget-like. How tiny the buses, the trams and the roads have all become! I see them in an entirely different perspective. I really enjoy this dream. This one is quite different from the ones I usually see. That’s why I like such dreams.

But some dreams terrify me. I might dream that there’s been a conspiracy whereby all my organs and body-parts are removed and all kinds of other things are stuffed in their place. All these dreams appear to go on forever. I dream that plans are afoot to somehow transform me overnight. The exterior remains unchanged. Only all the inner organs are removed. I really dread such dreams. In terror, my whole body turns icy.
When I awaken, I stay lying in bed for a long time. I press and feel my joints and ribs. I feel as if someone has indeed metamorphosed my inner parts. Standing in front of the mirror, I examine my face. A kind of suspicion seizes me. I go out to the street. My mind is constantly crowded with gruesome thoughts. I can’t think about anything else for even a moment. Cigarettes feel tasteless. I don’t feel like looking at the women on the street. I don’t like reading the newspaper. I have no enthusiasm to shave. I don’t go to work. I just roam the streets, the sun beating down on my head. When I spot friends I hurriedly cross the street to the other pavement. Roaming around thus all day, legs weary, I return home in the evening and lie waiting in bed for a nice dream.

But it’s very hard to have a nice dream. After all this time, having dreamt so many dreams I’ve realised it’s not easy to dream a pleasant one. Yet I lie waiting in bed for at least a passable kind of dream. But the worst of dreams crowd into my head. The dream where I’m munching human bones appears. The changed-face dream comes. I dream I’ve become the blind, lame, pock-marked beggar. I lie in bed, sometimes motionless, sometimes restless. Sometimes I try my best to think about something else. But nothing ever works.

The sounds of railway shunting from the station far away float by. The clock tower strikes, dong! dong! into two, three at night. The eerie silence of night collects and gathers around me. I lie there eyes shut. Sometimes I open my eyes.

Motionless darkness surrounds me. Cockroaches walk over my arms. Rats scurry around near me. A few crows wait to peck out my eyes. My body begins to decompose in the sun’s sweltering heat and raw darkness. And crows, jackals and vultures wait nearby to tear, dig into and devour it. I see vultures circling in the sky above casting their shadows on my body. I see a crow staring at me from the stump of a dead tree. A pack of jackals lie in wait for the kill. Their teeth are sharp, the taste of fetid blood on the tongues.
Everything goes haywire! I feel nauseous. Nevertheless I still wait for some nice dream. I pour out water from the earthen pitcher and drink. From out of the darkness a maroon flower and the golden stone simultaneously float into view. The bloody fragrance of the maroon flower emanates from my lower limbs. My reflection appears on the golden stone. A half-eaten horse’s skeleton is laid on my right side.
A camel advances, crossing a river. A naked woman sits atop that camel. My mouth turns dry at the sight. No sound leaves my lungs. I minutely study the camel’s ashen colour, its ugly, large belly, its curved neck, hump and face. I try to identify the woman’s face. But I fail to recognise her. I see only her bare golden legs dangling on either side of the camel.

From the south, the grey camel treads the river’s water and advances steadily towards me, the nude woman on its back. Like a spill of blood, the maroon flower petals float away into the distance in the stream’s water. The golden stone turns pale. On the dead tree stump nearby the fiendish crow lies in wait. The vultures circle the sky casting their shadows on my body. My body rots in the heat of the sun. I try to reach out and cling to whatever I can, but my arms are paralysed. I try to leave everything and escape. But my legs won’t move. Lying helpless, utterly bereft, I wait for some good to befall me. But my eyes burst with tears. My face drifts away in the tears and in a trice that water rains down on this rocky earth. My heart is heavy with grief.

Like inevitable fate, treading steadily, the camel crosses the river and advances towards me. On it’s back the unclothed woman. The woman’s face is unrecognisable, it’s blurred. I see only her lovely golden legs and the camel’s ashen belly. Its long legs are knee-deep in the mountain steam’s clear water. It tramps over yellow flowers and green vines.

The heat is stifling. Sunlight and darkness accumulate together. The crows and vultures fix their sight on their target. From close to my left ear an extremely loud Ka! Ka! cry emanates. On the right side the half-eaten horse’s skeleton lies conspicuously.

The grey camel advances with the nude woman on its back. It crosses the river in the south. I can hear the tread of its hooves. I see its unmoving eyes. The crows, jackals and vultures all call out in unison. The shadows of the three creatures troop in procession over my body. The sunlight and the heat hasten the decomposition of my body. The maroon flowers become invisible in the distant stream. The golden stone turns ashen.

I am enveloped in silence. No more tears flow out of my eyes. All my grief and sorrow reaches a point that is beyond perturbation. There’s nothing for me to see, nothing more to think about. In vain had I waited here, under this sun, for some pleasant dream.
© S Misra (1972) and V Ramaswamy June 2006

This is a translation of the original Bengali short story "Uth" by Subimal Misra, a critically acclaimed Bengali writer of India. The story is anthologised in Subimal Misra’s Chottrish bochorer rograragri (36 years’ scuffle), published by the author, Kolkata (Calcutta), 2004.

See also The Money Tree

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. Misra’s 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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