Posted by on Nov 7, 2014 in Short Story Translation | 0 comments

English translation of a Bengali Short Story written by Dibyendu Palit

“Are you done with it, Moni?” asked Renubala, noting that the sun was about to decline. “Hurry up, my dear, we don’t have much time,” she said.

Monica had opened the mynah’s cage. She was filling the earthen bowl with grams. “Why are you in such a hurry, Ma?” she said. “It’s not even four.”

condolence meeting_2
Renubala sat on the cot, her legs hanging. She tried to guess the time. There had been a light shower earlier in the afternoon. The sky was clear now, but the light had grown pale. The afternoon sun was overspread with shadows. The leaves of the coconut tree by the window stirred slightly in the gliding moist wind.

There was no clock in the house. No way to know the time. But it didn’t matter. So long as there was light, Renubala could tell the time observing the shifting sunlight. After all, she had been doing this for the last thirty odd years. Renubala had to rely on her instincts to know if it was time for Kamalaksha to get ready for the office or for Monica to go to school. She had to get the rice cooked accordingly. As such one of Kamalaksha’s stock jokes was, “Having a wife like you will save a man the cost of a watch.” Renubala used to reply with a blush, “A man doesn’t look like a man without a watch.”

In fact Renubala was secretly proud of Kamalaksha’s watch. A man of limited means, Renubala’s father did manage to make a wedding gift of a gold watch to his son-in-law. And after Kamalksha’s return in the evening, when there was no sunlight, that old wristwatch was Renubala’s only guide.

Renubala took a long breath as she remembered all these. She felt a heavy lump in her throat. And as it happened at such moments, the pain of sciatica shot through from the waist to the heels.

Kamalaksha was no more, so was the watch. Even at the age of fifty-five, he was young and healthy, indeed quite stout. It was difficult to believe how such a man could be run over by a bus. When Renubala finally reached the Calcutta hospital holding Monica’s hands, everything was finished. After the last rites at the crematorium, when they were waiting for the train at the station, Monica did whisper in her mother’s ears, “Where’s father’s watch, Ma?”

Renubala, then, was not in a mood to think about the watch. In fact, she could almost feel her heartbeat stopping like a watch that had ceased to tick. How could the man get off without telling anyone? Didn’t he want to see his wife and daughter for the last time?”

Renubala wiped her eyes with the edge of the white fabric she wore. That was fifteen days ago. Now her only thought was of the future. Her only stay was their daughter, Monica. She had a son younger than Monica. He too died of pneumonia at the age of ten. Now she had Monica alone. When their son died, Kamalksha said out of grief, “We won’t marry Moni off. She’ll be like our son. She’ll look after us in old age.”

Renubala, however, was not thinking of herself. She was concerned about her daughter. They have many relatives. Suppose she didn’t think of Moni’s marriage, but if she too died, who would look after her spinster daughter?
Renubala couldn’t arrive at a solution. As Monica entered the room, she tried to gather herself.

“If we can catch the 4.55 train, we’ll be on time,” said Monica. As she ran the comb through her hair, she watched her mother. “Do you feel sick again, Ma?”
“No, my dear. I’m alright,” Renubala smiled. “Will you pass me my medicine?”
Monica picked up the strip of tablets from the table at the corner of the room, handed it to Renubala and brought water in a glass from the pitcher.
“Will you have to go, Ma?” she enquired. “It’s a long way from here. Let me go alone.”
“Silly girl!” said Renubala. “Where will you go alone?”
Monica realized her mother won’t let her go out alone. She didn’t say anything more.

A condolence meeting was to be held at Kamalaksha’s office that day. His colleagues came the previous day to see Renubala with the request to be present at the meeting. Renubala did not want to go. But people from the office said her presence was necessary. Kamalaksha might be no more, but Renubala and Monica were there. There was concern for the future too. They were trying to provide Monica with a job in their office. If it could be done, maintenance for the two would be ensured. They also said that they had raised funds through subscription to help Kamalksha’s family at their hour of distress. They wanted to hand over the fund to Renubala on that day.

It was earlier decided that Radhika-babu, their long-time neighbour and Kamalaksha’s friend would accompany Monica. But that was not to be. Radhika-babu had been bedridden since last night. He had influenza. So, finding no alternative, Renubala decided to go on her own. That city, those roads and their sick hurry took away Kamalaksha. How could she let Monica go alone?

A little later Renubala got ready and set out with her daughter.

The station was quite near. Five minutes’ walk. Rainwater had filled the potholes on the road. As they moved by the side of the pond, Renubala could smell the wet soil. She breathed easily. For the first time after Kamalaksha’s death, she stepped out to see that nothing had changed anywhere. Everything remained as it was. Only a single soul had removed itself from these fine surroundings.

A few concrete constructions had, of late, come up in the neighbourhood. The rest of the houses had tinned or tiled roofs. It was good for them that her husband could provide them with two rooms where to take shelter. Otherwise, in these hard times, they would have been without a shelter. Kamalaksha had the dream to make the house two-storeyed so they could let out the ground floor to tenants. A big chunk of Kamalaksha’s provident fund savings went into the land and the structure on it. Being frugal and cautious, Kamalaksha managed all these somehow.

Today, venturing out of her house after such a long time, Renubala felt that the burden in her heart had lightened a little bit. She felt proud of her husband. Kamalaksha was devoted to his family — as long as he lived, he did his utmost for his family and with a smiling face. Only the other day Kamalaksha’s colleague Rasamay-babu was telling her that while she saw Kamalaksha, the family man, the people in the office knew a very different man. “Such a man will be hard to find,” said a grieving Rasamay-babu. “We worked together for such a long time. His death was a great loss to us.”

coloured pencil sketch - short story illustration

Such things, besides bringing tears to Renubala’s eyes, had also made her proud. She wished to know the complete man. That she wanted to go and attend the condolence meeting was not merely to accompany Monica. She could not keep home, for she was eager to hear about her husband from his colleagues.

“Moni, will you be able to spot your father’s office?” a diffident Renubala asked her daughter.
“Why Ma? I went there so many times. Previously the office was at a different place, quite far. Two years back it was shifted to this new building. How nice father’s new office looks, Ma! You can see the Ganges from the fifth floor roof!” said Monica.
“Your father told me so,” added Renubala as soon as Monica had finished. Today she felt like talking. “He promised to take me once to a theatre staged by the office people. He was a good actor. In ‘Karnarjun’ he played Bhim. But then…..”

Renubala was a little shy. She paused and took a deep breath. Then she went on: “However, I couldn’t go with your father that time. You were the culprit. That day you had a temperature from the morning. You were so small then.” Monica smiled, tightening her lips. She didn’t reply.

“The top officers in your father’s office had great respect for him. In the new building, he was given the honour of sitting in an air-conditioned room. ”
“How was that Ma, where?” Monica stared at Renubala in disbelief. “When did father sit in an air-conditioned room? He always had his table in the midst of a crowd! There used to be noise all around. Father’s boss Bannerjee-babu too used to be there.”
“You don’t know the truth,” said Renubala. She didn’t let Monica know that she was playing false. But she couldn’t guess Monica’s reply either. She said with a pale face,” Do you know better than me, Moni? Now that you’re going to his office, you’ll have a chance to listen to what people say about your father. If he wasn’t popular, do you think his colleagues would have called a condolence meeting?”

Monica kept mum. She let her mother say whatever she wanted to say. Perhaps her burden would be lightened a bit by saying these things. It was no use arguing with her and destroying her dream. If it was not so, Monica knew well enough what her father was, how much respect he had from his colleagues, how much honour he enjoyed.

She remembered that once she had to go to her father’s office. An officer threw a file to Kamalaksha’s face in front of her saying:” You’re incorrigible. You make mistakes in everything. If you can’t carry on, you should retire.”

Kamalaksha then lowered his head and sat quietly for a long time. On his way back to the station from office, he told Monica in a sad voice:”Dear Moni, when you’ll grow up and get a job, I’ll leave mine. I can’t stand these insults any more.”

Monica could feel her father’s sorrow. She replied in a choked voice:” Why don’t you give a little attention to your work, father?”
“My dear, I always try to apply myself,” replied Kamalaksha. “After all, I did manage to stay here for twenty-five years. But now times have changed. There are new faces in the office. These youngsters, their ways, their conduct, everything is different. How can I satisfy them with my work?”

Monica used to avoid her father’s office after that. That day’s insult hurt Kamalaksha because it all happened in his daughter’s presence. Perhaps it was the usual day-to-day occurrence. But Kamalaksha took them in his stride. Renubala had no way of knowing these things.
She and her daughter were waiting at the platform for the 4.55 train. Soon it was five. Renubala got impatient.
“When is the meeting, Moni?” she asked.
“They said it would be held at half-past-five,” Monica felt perturbed. “You wait here, Ma. Let me get the information about the train,” she said.

dibyendu palit-short-story-translation-illustration

As Monica left, Renubala began to count the minutes. It will take twenty minutes to reach Calcutta by train. Then another five to seven minutes by bus. That makes it half-an-hour. Even if the train comes now, they will be on time.
Monica returned. “There’s no information about the train, Ma. Some people have picketed on the line at the previous station. The train can’t move.”
Renubala was confused. She stared at her daughter. “What does picketing mean, Moni?” she asked.
“People suffer in so many different ways. That is why they stall trains to register their protest, what else?” said Monica.
“Is this the time to block trains?” Renubala muttered. “I did tell you then, Moni, to hurry up. If ever you pay heed to my words,” she grumbled.
“What good would that have been? The last train had left long ago, at half-past-three.” Renubala pulled a long face. Clouds began to gather in the distant sky. She stood silently watching it.

The train arrived at around half-past-five. Monica knew they were late. The light, as the day waned, was getting dimmer and dimmer. Added to it was concern for Renubala’s failing health. It was foolish to set out at such an odd hour, she thought. In any case Kamalaksha would not return, and what is the use of listening to lectures on him? But Renubala would not agree to that.

Though hesitatingly, Monica did, in the end, dare to raise her point. “Shall we still go, Ma? You’ve not been keeping well.”
“My dear, I’m not having any difficulty.” Renubala was adamant. “Being late for half-an-hour is not much, I hope. They’ll surely wait for us.”

Monica felt no urge to proceed. She became restless sitting beside her mother inside the compartment. For Renubala too this journey was not easy. Kamalaksha passed away only a few days ago. Everyone in Kamalaksha’s office still retained fresh impression of the man. At such a time Renubala’s presence at the meeting would make everyone feel uneasy. But Renubala had been rather obstinate. She would be hurt if anyone tried to dissuade her now.

Almost the whole of the journey Monica sat still looking outside through the window. She remembered her father. The sad face of Kamalaksha after he was insulted, appeared in her mind’s eye again and again. Nobody tried to find out in these intervening fifteen days why and how Kamalaksha was crushed under the wheels of the bus. But, even knowing that would not have helped. There was no truth bigger than death. Even then, in the middle of such an awkward situation, Monica could discern a different meaning of her father’s death. Perhaps, her father’s wasn’t an easy death. There was, perhaps a more serious reason behind it. If it so happened, that as soon as they reached the meeting, someone declared before the audience that this man Kamalaksha, who spent his life amidst sorrow, insult and pain, had found peace in death? Then? Could Renubala bear such pronouncements?

Monica saw, in helpless awkwardness, that one station after another passed by.
When the train reached the Howrah station, it was six already. There was a drizzle. Renubala fidgeted as she watched the time in the big clock at the station. She began to move making her way through the crowd. She remained restless even as they boarded a bus.
“You don’t have the good qualities of your father. He was such an active man. He didn’t mind the scorching sun, rain or storm. He would never fail to go to the office. Even such a man……”
“Ah, Ma, will you keep quiet?” Monica was feeling uneasy for quite some time. Now, as all the passengers in the bus listened to Renubala, Monica couldn’t endure it any more.
This sudden reproof from Monica stupefied Renubala. She looked at her daughter once with a helpless expression in her face. Then she shut her mouth completely.

Monica, holding her mother’s hand, got down from the bus near the GPO. Kamalaksha’s office was only a short distance away inside a lane. They would have to walk. It still drizzled. The footpath was bare. A handful of people returning from office strayed here and there. Some took shelter under a covered porch. Renubala stumbled walking over the slippery footpath but recovered her balance by holding her daughter’s hand. She asked with a silent smile:” How far is it still, Moni?”

“Still quite a distance.” Monica covered her mother’s head with the edge of her sari. “What a mess; I told you again and again not to come, but you didn’t care. What’ll happen if you fall ill?”



“Moni, don’t you want me to go?” Renubala’s face bore a hard, sad expression. “This is the last time. Shall I be able to come again? I wanted to listen to what they say about your father. Is that my fault, Moni?” she asked. “I was saying all that for the sake of your health, Ma,” Monica said. “I had no other motive.”

But Renubala’s words disturbed Monica. She wouldn’t have spoken had she known that her mother would misunderstand her. Whatever a bewildered Renuka was doing today, could only be explained as sheer puerility. It seemed as if the late Kamalaksha was drawing her like some old addiction. She seemed to be beyond any reason now. Monica felt pity for her mother at this moment.

The two remained silent the rest of the distance. Renubala was not used to take such long walks. Besides, Monica felt that the pain from sciatica was troubling her mother. Monica had to walk slowly to keep pace with her mother.

When they reached Kamalaksha’s office, Monica observed that the lift was locked. This untimely rain had enveloped the entrance of the building in a misty gloom so the light from the electric lamp appeared dim. Monica began to go up the stairs but soon stopped. Doubts crept in her mind. “Father’s office is on the third floor, Ma. Can you go up?”

Renubala was nonplussed. For a few moments she became thoughtful as she kept looking at her daughter’s face. Then she said:”Moni, if you hold my hand, I can go up slowly.”
Renubala was panting at the first floor itself. She sat on the edge of the stairs and said: “Did your father have to go up all the way every day?”
“Why?” asked Monica. “Father used to take the lift. Now, the office is closed. So the lift is locked.”
“What’s to be done? Let me go up like this.” Renubala took a deep breath. “We are very late, indeed,” she said.
Monica didn’t know what to say. As they reached the last step to the second floor, they found someone coming down with a ring of keys in his hand. Seeing them the man stopped. “Where will you go?” Renubala looked at Monica’s direction. “To the office on the third floor. Isn’t there a meeting going on?”
“The meeting ended long ago.” The man looked at the mother and her daughter from head to toe. “There’s no one upstairs. The office is closed.”

Renubala couldn’t stand on her feet any longer. Bending to sit down she said, “Moni, ask him how many people there were in the meeting.”
“How many will it be, madam?” The man began to speak before Monica could say anything,” There were twenty odd people.”
“Moni, let’s return then.”

As Renubala tried to stand up, Monica caught hold of her hands. She could feel Renubala’s wet, trembling hands within her grip. Renubala came down the stairs unusually fast. “How self-centred are these people, Moni!” she said. “None felt like being a bit kind to the man who passed away. Did you hear…..only twenty people?”
Monica saw that her mother was crying. A drop of tear rolled down the side of her nose, settled on the tip for a moment and fell. Monica strengthened her grip.

“Nobody in this world feels for anybody else, Ma,” Monica consoled. “Don’t be sad for nothing. I told you, didn’t I, it’s of no use coming here.”
Renubala didn’t reply. She wiped her tears with her sari, then came out on to the footpath outside Kamalaksha’s office.

Monica knew she could not give solace to her mother. Her mother now moved with a great complaint in her heart against everything in the world. She would now try to identify herself with her dead husband with whatever little she knew of him. Her sorrow would grow more acute even as the injury to her vanity would be deeper.
Whatever happened was for the best, thought Monica. Sad and overwhelmed with grief, she finally was at peace. After all, Renubala was going back with Kamalaksha’s memory intact. There, at least, she had nothing to complain about.

Translator: Subhamay Ray