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The International Writers Magazine: Blood

Shomoy Duhshomoy (Time, Bad Times)
Subimal Misra
(Translated by V Ramaswamy, Calcutta.)

aking up, Adri’s eyes first went to the table top, and then to the letter in red print kept there. Mind blank, Adri gazed at it for a long while, and eventually realised how futile it was for him to just gaze like this.

Adri then turned his eyes and looked at the calendar. The picture swayed in the gentle breeze. Twenty-second of April, nineteen sixty seven swayed. How much time was left now? It must be seven, half past seven. It would begin at nine in the evening, some fourteen hours or so remained. In these fourteen hours he had to decide about the present - not a present, a gift of love.

Want a cigarette! He picked up the cigarette packet with his left hand and lit one. Adri didn’t feel like getting out of bed just yet. He puffed on the cigarette a few times and blew out the smoke into the room. Wasn’t everything of his slowly coming to an end: ambition, joy, health, poetry, Ramola …What remained other than just this Charminar cigarette? He looked at the cigarette and laughed. Adri laughs away. Holding the cigarette near his ear there’s a kind of hiss of the cigarette burning which he really likes to hear. It also strikes him that it’s like life itself was burning away with the sound.

Adri’s eyes wavered here and there searching for something all over the room, and not finding it wandered around restlessly. Bright sunlight outside, but he didn’t feel like getting up. Just lying, clinging to the bed. Adri realised he wasn’t in good shape nowadays. Long ago he used to worry about this, not so now. What was the use of worrying unnecessarily about oneself? As long as it was running let it run, after that, one day, pop, die without anyone knowing. No demands from anyone, no dues. But was it really so? Was the world really so resource-less for him? Adri tries to take his mind to another subject. Being exposed before oneself was a frightful thing.

The morning advanced. Adri was still lying in bed. And as he lay he kept thinking. Ramola had once said, look, this unworldly attitude of yours towards everything will be your destruction. He hadn’t thought about this so seriously then; now he understands. He realises how true this was, and how cruel. If someone had said that Adri had killed himself it wouldn’t be untrue. Yet there wasn’t really any reason behind this, it wasn’t inevitable.

Lying in bed and thinking – Adri was doing too much of that these days. Simply too much. Why was he winding up his life? Job! So many people couldn’t get jobs – but how many people wasted their lives like this?! Nobody had all their aspirations fulfilled, that wasn’t possible either. But no one left everything and idled because of that. Hadn’t Ramola spoken about this to him so many times? Look Adri, do something, how much longer can we go on like this?

He hadn’t replied to that. Eyes eager, Ramola had looked intently at him, waiting for some response. Say something Adri, at least say yes or no or anything. He had silently puffed away at a cigarette, only the lengthening shadows of twilight over the river Ganga’s bosom deepened. He had thought about it. Actually no reply was possible on such matters. He had certainly tried. If he didn’t get a job what could he do? If he got a job he was willing to marry Ramola. But if he didn’t, well then what more could he do? And as far as Ramola was concerned, well, he had never asked Ramola to come close to him; neither did he have a hand in her going away.

Perhaps each day had been insufferable for Ramola. He could understand that. She had said, you’re terribly cruel Adri, stone-hearted, there’s no life in you, no compassion, tenderness, love, affection, nothing whatsoever. Actually, maybe that was the truth. Every kind of human feeling in his being had been exhausted, was coming to an end. But what was Adri to do? He didn’t blame Ramola either. She had borne a lot. She had stood waiting patiently for him so many times. How many times had Adri failed to keep an appointment? So many times he hadn’t even spoken properly to her because he didn’t feel like it. How many times she had stood waiting and waiting in front of a cinema hall, looking repeatedly at her watch, and finally crushed the two tickets into a ball and thrown it away angrily and returned home, face smarting, and once home fallen to her bed and sobbed her heart out.

Meeting him after that she had fiercely asserted her right to demand a proper explanation, she wanted to know. And in reply Adri had merely affected a smile, I didn’t feel like it, didn’t go. Adri realises how such an explanation would’ve hurt a woman’s heart, but he was helpless, he had no options. He could have made up something, but what was the point in that? Rather, it was best that Ramola became acquainted with this character of his, which was best for both of them. How long could it continue after that? Adri had realised it wouldn’t last much longer like this, it couldn’t.

And it didn’t either. Ramola gradually stopped coming, stopped meeting him, and ultimately all contact was erased. And after so long, suddenly, yesterday evening, this letter, Ramola’s wedding invitation. Adri gazed for a long time at this colourful letter printed in red ink. His mind wandered again and again, but he didn’t want to be exposed in his own eyes. That would be a terrible thing.

It was getting late, must be half past eight or nine perhaps, he should get up now. But what’s to be achieved by getting up? Adri continues lying and brooding. Would be nice to get a cup of tea! But he was just as fine without it too. Adri lit another cigarette. Actually this laziness, this lying silently in bed was his only consolation. Puffing on his cigarette he saw the spider’s web on the wall. The walls of this room hadn’t been whitewashed in ages. In many places the plaster had broken leaving ugly gaping holes. But Adri was unable to focus his mind on such externals.

His eyes kept darting to yesterday’s letter. Had Ramola invited him in order to hurt him? Or just like that? She knew someone in this world called Adrikumar Roy, she had thought it fit to invite him, and so she had. Since yesterday evening he had been experiencing a great unease, hadn’t slept well at all at night. Adri realised he wasn’t being able to deal with this as easily as he should have. Somewhere, something was happening, was about to happen. However much he tried to be indifferent to everything, somehow he wasn’t quite able to.

All night long he’d had a bizarre dream. A dark-skinned man had signalled to him to come for coffee; he had descended, for a long time, down a stairway towards some underground chamber. Eventually they had reached a cold, dark chamber. He and that boy had been drinking coffee. Suddenly the room was filled with terrible smoke. Adri had tried to escape but couldn’t find the stairs. Smoke everywhere, he was choking in the smoke, and amidst that smoke he had been searching frantically for the stairs. Adri tried to remember the dream. Why did he have such a dream? Was this some repressed desire in his subconscious?

The plain truth was that howsoever indifferent he tried to be, he had felt just the opposite in the dream. In his bid to survive he had been searching frantically, like a madman, for the stairs. Adri didn’t want to think any more than this. He knew well enough there would be no way out if he was exposed before himself.
Even though Adri didn’t want to probe such matters too deeply, nevertheless he did understand a little. Since yesterday was he able to be as detached as before? And what was the use of being so? It was best to calmly admit to whatever shake-up was coming. Best in the sense that his true picture would thus be exposed, and whatever else might happen, it was after all a fact that a kind of apathy was at work inside him. Whatever might happen, that force would remain at the foundation of everything. So if he thought about Ramola today … if he sent a specific present for Ramola – he had been so preoccupied since yesterday precisely about what he’d give! So where did matters stand then? Adri shook himself. Matters didn’t stand anywhere; it was merely one day’s exception, and nothing else.

Puffing on another newly lit cigarette all of Adri’s enthusiasm subsided. He should give something. When she had invited him, reciprocating that was only a gesture of civility. But to think so much about that - what was there to be so excited about, as he’d been since last night? But yes, it was proper to give something, though that should not be like anyone else. Adri was unique in this world; there was only one Adrikumar Roy in this world. If he died, just this one person alone would die. The gift too should be just as unique.
But he might just as well not give anything; it was just as well not to worry about all this. Someone called Ramola, he had known her once, what was there to be civil about? Would anybody point their finger at him and say: despite being invited by Ramola Adri didn’t reciprocate? No one would say that, wouldn’t say anything. The matter was so trivial that after a couple of days he himself would forget about the whole incident. Hence there was no need to think so much about it.

Now he could lie in bed for a long time without thinking about anything, without worrying about anything. He could stare at the things at the room and smoke any number of cigarettes. But Adri couldn’t remain lying like this for very long. An uneasiness within kept pricking him. He puffed at the cigarette and threw it away to the corner of the room. That burnt away there for a while, smoke rose, and finally it extinguished and became a heap of ash.

Adri realised it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to find release from all this. It was this lying in bed that led to all kinds of thoughts crowding into his head. It was much safer to roam around. There would be no specific direction, just wandering around wherever his eyes went.

Despite wanting to get up Adri idled for some more time. Random images of Ramola’s face came to mind. A host of tiny memories came and crowded his thoughts. Finally Adri pulled himself up. Outside - the terrible April sun. The doors of those from the lodging who left for office at ten were locked. He went down the stairs. Where was he going? Lost in thought, Adri descended, turned to the left once to relieve himself, and then went directly to the road outside. He was still wearing the trousers from yesterday, he hadn’t changed. His face was unshaven. Adri had felt it with his hands but didn’t shave. What was the point, what was the point doing all this?

Coming out into the road he saw the sun was beating down. In the lane, kids were playing marbles. There was a bit of shade there. A crow flew down from somewhere and alighted on the broken wall, looked this way and that a few times and cawed loudly, and then flew away. Adri turned the corner and came to the tramline now.

Where was he going, in which direction? He could get by without thinking about that, after all he was moving in some direction. A tram, crammed with people, passed by, swayingly. The people hung from outside too, so skilfully. A double-decker bus went by clouding the whole place with black smoke. At the kerb a car’s horn was stuck, a black car of an old model. The horn blared unbearably, as if the place was falling apart in that incessant noise. People were crowding around, the curious public. Adri found it very amusing. The driver was frantically pressing this side and that side of the car, the noise just didn’t stop. The traffic policeman who had been standing at the kerb, umbrella in hand, moved forward. Adri didn’t wait there – heck, don’t like it!

He crossed the road. Quite a few people at the bus-stop, wearing freshly-laundered clothes, waiting anxious-faced for the bus. The whole world was really so busy, all engrossed in its duties, and in their midst he alone had no work … Amazing! He alone in this wide world would have no important work, he’d never have to be busy like them and rush around. Adri felt an ache somewhere. He could see it was good for him in a way. He had no debts in the world, no responsibilities. This wandering around aimlessly, this silent, unperturbed life-saga … life was just passing by, would come to an end too one day.

But from yesterday Ramola kept entering his thoughts. Amazing … Ramola was deeply embedded despite everything. He hadn’t been able to keep thoughts about Ramola at bay. Adri felt quite annoyed now.
Adri appeared really helpless then in that sunny pavement. How like a lifeless puppet he was being assailed by such thoughts. Angrily Adri searched his pockets for a cigarette. There weren’t any. Fortunately his wallet was in his pocket. The whole of last night he had felt a mild ache on his left side. Now he realised he hadn’t taken out his wallet last night and that had been under his chest all night. Amazing! Nothing seemed to have an impact on him nowadays. Life was moving along just fine.

He stood in front of a paan shop, held out a few coins and was about to ask for cigarettes when he saw his face floating in the mirror in front. What a sight he was! Whose image was this? Adri was quite unrecognizable. Just as well, what was the point in being in good health, what was the point in being of sound mind, what was the use of worrying about all this? He lit a cigarette and gustily blew out a mouthful of smoke towards the mirror. He heard someone calling his name.

Looking all around, he saw Abani waving out and calling him from across the street. Why Abani now, he’d simply bother him ... He had been an intimate friend once, how like a stranger he had become now.
He saw how Abani, fatigueless, scampered past the speeding cars like a nimble horse and came to him. He came and shook his shoulder – hey man, what have you done to yourself, can’t even recognise you. Adri observed him, well kempt appearance, as if health was overflowing from his body. Adri wondered why he didn’t feel jealous looking at Abani. Some time back, when Abani hadn’t got the job in the bank, how skinny he had been. It was evident he was really happy now.

And with this thought Adri wondered what it meant to be happy. How did one have to be to be considered happy? Wasn’t he happy? Was he unhappy? He didn’t feel that way. Abani was saying – Hey man, why aren’t you saying anything? You used to chat a little before! What’s up? Have you stopped even that now? Adri laughed. Laughingly he greets Abani, says what’s happening with you? As Abani pulls him by his hand Adri gazes at him. Abani says come on, let’s sit somewhere, good that we met, need to talk to you.
After they sat down at a teashop Abani lit an expensive cigarette and blew out smoke. Adri sees Abani’s eyes contracted in pleasure. Offered a cigarette, he too lit up. Looks, sees the folds on Abani’s neck, the immaculately shaven face. Abani was saying something. He lifts his face and looks towards Abani. He’s saying you’ve remained the vagabond you were Adri, you don’t feel sorrow, don’t feel any pain … Do you know Trilochan is now the chief of a top-class firm, a salary of something like two thousand rupees … Adri laughs, that’s great … Can you imagine Adri, this Trilochan once used to beg and smoke bidis from you, and you …

Adri sees that Abani gapes at his face and stops talking. Abani has realised that it was pointless telling him all this. Amazing! Why does Abani grasp everything so slowly…

And so what’s your news … Adri now has to say something like this. Abani says nothing at all’s happened to me pal, still stuck in that branch. Adri sees that Abani looks frightfully unhappy right now. Abani is not happy with his job. Abani now wants to be Trilochan. But Adri will never want to be like Abani. Adri realised how it troubled Abani to think about Trilochan. But Adri felt no pain. Adri didn’t want to be Abani. He didn’t want to be Trilochan. He didn’t feel troubled inside, felt no pain. No feelings.

On Abani’s ordering the waiter came and gave two cups of tea, hot tea. Adri watched the smoke rise. So Abani wasn’t happy either. Robust, brimming with youthful vigour, wonderful smart clothes, meticulously shaven face, expensive cigarettes – and yet Abani too wasn’t happy. But was he happy, or wasn’t he happy? What did the word "happy" mean? Adri hears Abani saying something again. He looked at Abani’s face. Why was Abani staring at him? What was he looking at? Hey pal, what news of Ramola? Hearing this Adri realised someone had rung a bell inside him, it rang ding dong! So he couldn’t forget about Ramola! A newspaper lay in front. Adri picked it up and began reading.

After all this time why Ramola again? Who was Ramola? He didn’t know any Ramola. Adri turned towards Abani and laughed. Why, what’s the matter? After all this time why Ramola again? Ramola is just a girl’s name, some girl’s name, no more than that … Abani was speaking again, saying something, do you know Ramola’s marrying a professor? But what did that matter to Adri? Let a girl called Ramola marry a professor or a businessman, how did that concern him? He should give her a present, that all, only so far … Abani wants to say something more. Adri saw that Abani was now feeling sad for him. Like a true friend Abani felt for him. But nothing in the world mattered at all to Adri. Why couldn’t Abani understand this? But yes, this Adri was alone in the world. No good, no bad, no grief, no sorrow, and just one responsibility, one duty ahead of him: to send a present of some sort tonight at the wedding festivities.

Having admitted this much, Adri feels relieved. Adri wonders how much more was left to be exposed before him. He looks at Abani who’s saying something now … you’re an amazing chap Adri, you don’t feel the slightest sadness… Abani stops midway, perhaps he thinks it’s futile telling him. Adri felt ill at ease. He pored over the newspaper. A plane crash somewhere reported in big, bold type. Finance minister’s speech … Plop, ssssss, glug glug. That’s all! … Great advertisement: a girl drops a sherbet tablet, plop into a glass of water, with an ssssss sound the tablet dissolves in the water and makes a sherbet, glug glug the girl drinks it all up. That’s all and all cold! More advertisements … donate blood at the blood bank to help the sick. Adri’s eyes were held there.

Abani was saying something but nothing registered. Got it, got the present! Adri hadn’t imagined it would come to him so easily. He wanted to jump up! Giving a gift for Ramola’s wedding was no longer a problem for him: he’d give her a bottle of blood as a gift, his own blood! He only had to get the blood out of himself and put it into a bottle, and then deliver it at the marriage hall. Not a sari, not a pressure cooker, not an iron, nor even a book – but blood, his own fresh warm blood! What better thing than this could he give Ramola!

Adri realised he felt a tremendous excitement within himself now, or at least he wanted to be excited. It would be something original and elemental, everyone would be stunned! If it had been an earlier age he would have cut open his breast with a sword and taken out his blood. But times were different now, it was only proper for everything to be in keeping with the times.

Adri was thinking. He couldn’t remain sitting there any more. He put down the newspaper. What was that Abani was saying, what did he want to say? But he couldn’t sit here any longer. I’m off Abani, I need to … He saw Abani gaping at him in astonishment. He came out of the tea-shop.
It was certainly past noon, and he hadn’t bathed or eaten. So what, he didn’t like all that. Terribly hot sun. As if the whole world was replete. Very few people were out on the road now. A fire engine went by clanging dang dang!. Two people were waiting for a bus at the bus-stop. Someone was purposefully setting up his shoe-shop on the pavement. He was looking, walking, taking in everything blankly. A ringing inside his head – I’ll present my own blood for Ramola’s marriage, I’ll give a blood-gift, blood … blood … blood …

A fire-engine went by again. All the cars suddenly came to a halt, made way. Some fire nearby, or it could be something else. He walked on. As he walked he looked, and as he looked he walked.
Adri was walking along extremely absentmindedly, in no particular direction, without any aim. Finally he realised his legs ached, his head felt heavy. He felt he had walked for a long time, almost an age. Where had he come to now? Looking around he saw he had left the tramline far behind, left behind the major thoroughfare. This was probably near the city fringe, dust in the air. He wondered why he’d come here. Wondering, he looked all around, and then he discovered to his great surprise that he had indeed come a long, long way, and this was the way to Ramola’s house!

Standing under the shade of a shop there Adri thought how despite being so indifferent he hadn’t been able to chase away Ramola from his mind. How helpless Adri was before this thing called the mind. He thought now about giving blood. He thought about all that he had done since morning. Thinking thus he realised nothing was that easy, there was no escaping from oneself. Or from one’s mind. Overwhelmed, Adri stood there for a long time. He looked extremely helpless and pathetic now, like wan sunlight. He was smoking a cigarette disinterestedly, smoking just for the sake of smoking, standing there as he had nothing to do.

Coming back to his own after that, he called out to a pedestrian and asked what time it was, because he felt he had walked for a very long time and was extremely tired. Hearing the time he recalled that he hadn’t bathed today, hadn’t eaten, he had got out of bed and straightaway gone out to the road. And it was late afternoon now. After this the afternoon too would pass, it would be evening, evening would turn to night, night to midnight. Yet time or bad times wouldn’t produce any feeling in him, he’d be standing just like this, or would be walking, or thinking, just thinking and thinking. There would be no end to such thought. The busy world would eventually tire and slump but Adrikumar Roy would be thinking, because Adri’s thought had neither beginning nor end. And with that Adri stirred somewhat and told himself he would do something for today. He forced himself to think about doing something to get the blood now, because it would soon be evening … meaning, it was time.

A lorry went by making a frightful noise; the road ahead was filled with dust. A boy screamed his lungs out from some house. The sun fell on the opposite pavement, producing a kind of melancholy colour. Adri, true to habit, felt nothing at all. He just walked on with his feet along that pavement in shadow. After a while suddenly coming upon a doctor’s chamber Adri came to a halt with a start.

He recalled he didn’t know much about giving blood, he’d merely heard about this. Doctors would surely be able to help him in this regard. Pondering about such things he paused a bit, and then stepped right in. Inside, the doctor sat wearing rectangular-frame spectacles. A ray of light from outside seemed to be fixed on the spectacle lens. Seeing Adri he nodded his rectangular-spectacle wearing head and said, sit down.
Adri sat down and was about to explain his predicament, but he saw the doctor trying to examine him, putting the stethoscope to his chest, pulling up his eyelids, looking at his tongue, his face becoming increasingly grave, and before he could say anything rectangular-face began speaking, very bad … any fever every now and then? … Adri interrupted the doctor. What was the use of worrying unnecessarily about one’s health? My matter’s something else.

Interrupted, the doctor stared at him. He tried as much as he could to explain to the doctor. He needed a bottle of blood, he wanted to give his own blood and this should be filled in a bottle, sealed and portable. After explaining everything he realised the doctor hadn’t grasped it. The doctor was staring in astonishment at his face, gaping at something.
Blood … I mean … but like this … Adri listened and after trying to explain the whole thing afresh to the doctor he noticed the doctor’s forehead was too creased, his lips were moving, and he delivered some long sermon in doctor’s jargon. Not understanding a thing Adri gazed on, he looked at the brown tube of the stethoscope lying on the table top, he saw Dr Probir Roychoudhary, M.B.B.S. written on the note pad, he saw the curtain of the doctor’s chamber swaying in the breeze, he saw the lengthy shadow of the doctor fixed on the wall, and after seeing all this and once again trying to find Dr Probir’s eyes behind the spectacles on his brow, he heard the doctor again going on about something. He was about to ask him, Doctor … The doctor was now looking directly at his face and laughing.

The reflected light from his spectacles puzzled Adri’s eyes. The doctor spoke, Adri heard the doctor speaking … this can’t be done … Adri made an effort to speak, he wanted to explain that he needed a bottle of blood, it was very important; after all he wanted to give his own blood. In great despair Adri wanted to say all this, he wanted to explain he needed it badly.

As the doctor now lowered his face very close to Adri’s face, Adri was somewhat embarrassed. The light reflecting like a searchlight from his spectacles searched for his face. Are you crazy mister … how can blood … like this! Realising it was hopeless Adri shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers, clenched his fists there, opened them, clenched again, opened again, and thus emerged outside.

Outside, he saw it was a brilliant evening. What did it matter whether he got the blood or not? He turned his back to the sunlight and walked ahead. Adri could feel the acute weakness in his body. Nowadays he became breathless after just a little effort. So let it, Adri consoled himself. He wouldn’t worry too much about such things, let things be, as long as he was ticking he’d tick on, when it became difficult to tick he’d die. The plop! sound when a fruit fell from a tree, a gentle sound like that, and then everything would be over. No one to grieve over him, nobody would be concerned.

Shuffling along Adri now stood over an old, abandoned culvert. From there, the station in the distance appeared desolate. There was gentle sunlight now on the station’s tin roof and over the houses in the distance. A person swift-footedly crossed the rail-tracks and advanced towards the station. It would be twilight soon. There was soft sunlight in the sky, and a pleasant breeze was blowing. Adri thought surely one train or the other comes to this station sometime in the evening. And so he waited upon that ancient culvert to see the evening train.
(April 1968)

This is a translation of the original Bengali short story "Shomoy Duhshomoy" by Subimal Misra, a critically acclaimed Bengali writer of India. The story is anthologised in Subimal Misra’s Anti-golpo songroho (Anti-stories collection), Bitorko, Calcutta, 1999.
Translated by V Ramaswamy, Calcutta.
V Ramaswamy
The Camel
Subimal Misra (translated by V Ramaswamy)
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