Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Headless Torso (Chapter 2)

Read Chapter 1 : Inner Chamber, here
                                        Headless Torso  (translation of a novel by Shaibal Mitra) 
                                       Chapter ,2  : Pollen in the air

The food movement was over within a fortnight and along with hundreds of political prisoners, I too was released from jail. Next day I got a hero’s reception in the college. Girls from junior classes made a beeline to visit me. The whole day was spent in letting them to meet me. Two of my ex-leaders, Surjo Ghoshal and Uday Sen, also came and met me. Surjo patted me on my back. Uday of course was still singing paeans about Keshut leaves. Amidst all the commotion and praises around me , I wanted to know about Arindam. However I did not notice any posters or wall-writings promising to remember Arindam, the martyr, for eternity. A tad  relieved, I still had no news about Arindam.

Only a few of his class mates actually knew the taciturn Arindam. It was pretty hard to access  those who knew him. Even Bibhash, who was aware of Arindam’s mastery on the tabla , had left six months ago after completing his course. Piecing together small bits of information from a few , I found out that  his full name was Arindam Moulik. Not Sanyal or Bhowmik, his surname was actually Moulik. Out of the three Arindams, whose deaths were reported in the newspaper, I had guessed  that at least two were not our Arindam. I had doubts about the third who was reported dead in Medinipur & whose surname was not mentioned. Even knowing that his real name was Arindam Moulik didn’t help in clearing those doubts.  I tried to arrange the events logically. If the dead Arindam from Medinipur  was our Arindam Moulik then by this time news would definitely have reached the college. Since it hadn’t , it implied that our Arindam was not dead. He is alive.

During the tumultuous days of the food movement, many had noticed Arindam in several places though not in Calcutta. Descriptions from such eye witnesses started reaching me. It was not possible for me to figure out how much of those descriptions were confabulated. Along with the workers of the Hindmotor factory, Arindam had been sighted fighting the police after blocking the west-side level crossing at the Konnagar railway station. Possibly so. Later he had moved away from that place. Forty-eight hours later, he had been sighted again in Asansol. Although his address in Asansol wasn’t known, a few notified that he had stayed over the next night at a cheap hotel in Mahajantuli, a red light area of Bardhaman, alone. From Bardhaman, he had been to Medinipur. Arindam had been present  during sporadic  clashes of students against the police  that occurred for two consecutive evenings in Medinipur. The one to notice him in Medinipur was Noushad Ali. Noushad was Arindam’s schoolmate. After describing to me in detail about the clashes in Medinipur, Noushad said to me that the Arindam who was shot dead by the police in Medinipur didn’t have Moulik as his surname. After the movement had become subdued, Arindam along with Noushad had left Medinipur for Shalboni. Noushad had then put Arindam on a bus going towards Chandrakona and had himself started for Calcutta.

Although various bits of news made me completely directionless about Arindam’s whereabouts, I had half a feeling that he was still alive. Another week passed with my attending various meetings & gatherings commemorating my release from prison. Classes resumed in the college and students started drifting in.  Only Arindam remained absent. Each day before leaving for college, I would expect Arindam to arrive and hoped to meet him.

Arindam never came. Thoughts about meeting him would evaporate in thin air. Fresh doubts started creeping in my mind; whether Arindam was still alive. Seven days later , from among my stack of old papers, I fished out and dusted the unread Communist Manifesto & the other three books and placed them on my table. I hadn’t read the communist manifesto excepting for the first and the last lines. I had even forgotten the names of the other three books. I read them again. (1) The Origin of the  Family, Personal Property and the State by Frederick Engels . (2) The State & Revolution  by V.I. Lenin (3) From Opium war to Liberation  by Israel Epstein.

I was aware of the reason as to  why I wasn’t inclined  now to read the same books which, for ten times each day, I had planned to read during my fifteen days of imprisonment. During the prison days, the news of deaths of the three Arindams had strongly motivated me to plan to read the books. The inspiration emanating from the martyred Arindam had been considerably diluted when I became aware,after my release, that Arindam may have been alive. Yet, I couldn’t completely get rid of  the pressure to read. I planned to start with the one on the Opium war. There was a story in that book and also a riveting style . The last book that I planned to read was  the dry &  theoretical “The State & Revolution.” Arindam had meticulously read each book,  underlining sentences with a red pencil. He had made reading easy for me by highlighting important sentences. Just by reading those highlighted lines, I could read all the three books and spare myself a lot of effort. But since the book on the opium war appeared interesting, I guessed that I would read it from end to end.

My eyes caught a red-pencilled line from the “The Origin of the Family, Personal property and the State” .  “There isn’t any need to criminalise  women who trade their bodies for livelihood. On the contrary, they have put the entire male fraternity on the stands  of a criminal court.”

Reading this line, I was reminded of an evening at the world famous brothel at Sonagachi. A few months after taking admission in the college, I had been to Sonagachi along with two friends to fulfill the desires of our youth. We were walking along a road named Durgacharan Mitra street. It was slightly beyond dusk. The street lights were coming on. Some of the double storied  and triple storied houses on both sides of the street were dark while some had lights  inside. Along with my two friends, Adhir and Deepak, we kept  walking as if the we knew the entire area by heart. Our hearts were beating fast and we could barely make eye contact.  At the crossing, a well-lit Paan shop caught my attention. I had never seen a Paan shop so well arranged with mirrors on each of its walls. Apart from the mirrors, the walls of the Paan shop had pictures of  Radha-Krishna deities, of  Netaji Subhash Bose & that of the actress Vaijayantimala ; fixed on polished wooden frames. Fat  garlands made from fresh flowers, similar to those seen in garland-exchange ceremony in weddings, were hanging from the pictures. On both sides of the Paan deck, were dozens of half-bloomed Rajanigandha sticks. It was unimaginable to see so much of flowers in a Paan shop. Inspite of our earnest desire, we couldn’t even lift our heads and look at the women standing at the doorways on both sides of the street. Noticing our immaturity, they were giggling and falling over each other. Our ears went crimson red in shame. Dipak muttered a sniggering “whore” under his breadth. That word just got embedded in my psyche. After nearly three years, while reading a few lines from the book “ The Origin of the Family, Personal property and the State,”  the obscenity  “whore” reappeared in my head.  I felt extremely uneasy. If Arindam had been present, I would have discussed the very next day,the acceptability of the word “Whore” in line with the opinion of Engels. Will Arindam be coming tomorrow to College?

 While unmindfully turning over the pages,  a letter encased in an envelope slipped out from the end part  in my hands. The letter was pressed uneven , having stayed for more than a  year under a stack of text books and papers. I didn’t realize that there was a letter inside the book even when I had held the book. If I had not turned over the pages, the letter would have remained invisible.  On the envelope, it was written “Arindam.”

Only “Arindam” was written without the surname. Neither was there any address nor any postage mark. Obviously the letter hadn’t been posted. I realized that someone had handed over the letter to Arindam. After reading the letter, Arindam would have kept it inside the book.  While giving me the book , Arindam would’ve forgotten about the letter. And so the letter had stayed inside the book. Although I wasn’t sure if I would ever get a chance to return his book to Arindam ; I couldn’t resist the temptation to read the letter only because the name  “Arindam” was written on the envelope. While taking out & opening the once-folded , two-page letter  from the yellowish envelope, I noticed  at first the womanly handwriting. Although the envelope had the name Arindam, the letter started without any name or salutation. Only a hyphen mark and then a blank line. The letter started from the next line. I became  more curious to know the name of the letter’s writer than its content. At the middle of the fourth page, where the letter ended, my gaze was fixed at the name of the sender. I looked at it for a few moments. Kalpalata had written the letter. It was a love letter, without any doubt. I didn’t have the faintest idea that Kalpalata could write love-letters. As a matter of fact, she had penned the letter immediately the day after she had been with me to Dakshineswar. The date at the top of the page indicated so. It was a touchy letter, written by someone who felt offended. Kalpalata had written that she had felt insulted after receiving a seven-line reply to her three long letters. The language of the letter vividly indicated that Kalpalata felt more hurt than insulted. Alongside, she had written certain things , after reading  which  I felt like sinking underground  in shame. Kalpalata had written , “excepting for you, there isn’t a single boy in the class with whom I can converse. The majority are greedy and fake while the rest are idiots. It pains me to observe that most  boys are not even decent human beings.”

Every word was piercing me like a needle. My heart was burning. I was feeling afraid to even guess as to how much of myself was exposed to Kalpalata. The fact that  it was only Kalpalata who had stubbornly hung on to her introduction to Arindam on that cultural evening ; was evident from reading the letter. Although, her relationship with Arindam may not have been one sided. As per Kalpalata’s letter; Arindam had mesmerized everyone when he had played Kalpalata’s  sister, Indulekha’s violin during one evening when he had visited her house. When did all this happen? I had never come to know. Kalpalata had written , “ While reading your letter, I came to know that you are a fan of Netaji Subhash and you also want to become a communist. You have written , I want to become a communist. In order to stress on the last line , you’ve underlined it with a red pencil. Is it possible to ride two boats at once?  My maternal uncle , who is a Subhash-fan is always at loggerheads with my paternal uncle, who is a communist. Both of them are idealist and honest. I love both of them , equally. Why does it have to be so? I believe you can be simultaneously  a Subhash-fan as well as a communist. Its not easy. But you can do it. And no one else can. At our house that evening, when you had played Indulekha’s violin ; you made such an impression on  everybody that none has forgotten it ever since. I too was surprised. A person who can play with equal dexterity two diverse instruments such as  a violin and a tabla , can he not  merge two ideologically different positions? Surely he can. Can’t we talk for a longer duration one day?”  

While reading the letter, a recollection of an evening appeared before my eyes. From College street to Dakshineswar, the ringing of bells during the evening-prayer at the Dakshineswar temple, riding a boat over the Ganga in the evening twilight to go to Belurmath, back to Dakshineswar, the temple-top in semi-darkness, prayer-bells ringing inside, a small-but-neat restaurant outside the temple complex, two people facing each other in a cubicle guarded with green curtains, Kalpalata and I, every moment, every spoken word reappeared vividly in my mind. Kalpalata was talking. Since Kalpalata could speak better, I had passed that role to her and remained silent myself. I was listening to her.

I didn’t have any dreams surrounding  Kalpalata. I had still not learned to dream then. I didn’t know even how to dream. She was in one class junior to me.  At the time of her admission, I had been present at the admission office. With one look towards her, I had understood that one of the top five beautiful girls  of the college was getting admitted. I had still not realized that she was actually the most beautiful when looked at from all angles, literal and metaphorical. Later, I had come to know that she was not a dumb beauty. She had more talent than her looks. She was truly intelligent. An easy beauty. I had helped her fill up the admission form. She didn’t seek my help. She didn’t need my help. I hadn’t realized then her reason for taking my help. I realized it later. She was pretending to take my help in order to know the extent of my stupidity. I had this idea even before reading Arindam’s letter. While reading her letter to Arindam, I realized once again the pain of being an idiot.  

I was trying to  analyze every moment  of that evening-trip to Dakshineswar. I couldn’t remember any stupid act of mine. While walking alongside I had been careful to avoid body contact, I had talked freely and there hadn’t been any indication of extra-friendliness in my behavior. While alighting from the shaky  boat at the Belurghat, Kalpalata had  extended her hand. I had held it and left it the moment she found her feet on solid ground at the ghat. Inside the curtained cubicle, I hadn’t uttered a single romantic word. Did I boast about myself? No, I didn’t.  There wasn’t anything to boast about me, anyway. Maybe since I hadn’t learnt to dream yet, I had nothing much to boast about. I was like a Lilliput besides the convent-educated Kalpalata. Kalpalata could speak English as good as an English lady. Further, she wouldn’t utter a single English word when conversing in Bengali.  Hidden beneath her friendly nature, there was an element of haughtiness. When she would recount funny encounters between his uncles (one of whom was a Subhash fan and later became a Central cabinet minister and the other was a top communist leader), I could distinctly feel a strong undercurrent of  pride. Even while sitting inside the green-curtained cubicle, I would feel the heat of her haughtiness. I was in loss for words. There was so much distance between us that I didn’t have any opportunity to do anything downright stupid.

End of Chapter 2.
To be continued.

Chapter 1: Inner Chamber

Copyright of translation : JAS 2013

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