ஃபகீர் மோகன் சேனாபதி ஒரிய இலக்கியத்தின் தந்தை என்று கருதப்படுகிறார். ஒரிய மொழியின் முதல் நாவலான Chaa Maana Atha Guntha-வை (சரியான உச்சரிப்பு தெரியவில்லை. ஆங்கிலத்தில் Six Acres and a Third என்று தலைப்பு கொடுக்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறது.) எழுதியவர் இவரே.
ஒரிய மொழியின் முதல் சிறுகதையான “ரேபதி” (ரேபதி என்றால் ரேவதி – வங்காள, ஒரிய மொழிகளில் “வ” என்ற ஒலி “ப” என்று ஒலிக்கப்படுகிறது) இவர் எழுதியதே. சமீபத்தில் படிக்க முடிந்தது, அதனால்தான் இந்தப் பதிவை மீள்பதிக்கிறேன்.
ரேபதி நல்ல சிறுகதை. திறமை அற்ற எழுத்தாளர் எழுதி இருந்தால் செயற்கையான மெலோட்ராமா சிறுகதையாக வந்திருக்கும், இவர் மெய்நிகர் அனுபவத்தை, ஒரு காலகட்டத்தை, அருமையாகக் கொண்டு வந்திருக்கிறார். சிறுமி ரேபதிக்கும் கிராமத்து வாத்தியார் பாசுவுக்கும் நடுவில் ஏற்படும் ஈர்ப்பு, பெண்ணைப் படிக்க வைக்க நினைக்கும் அப்பா, படித்து என்ன கிழிக்கப் போகிறாய் என்று திட்டிக் கொண்டே இருக்கும் பாட்டி, ஓட்டைப் பாத்திரத்தை விற்று அரிசி பருப்பு வாங்கும் காட்சி, என்று மிகச் சிறப்பாக எழுதி இருக்கிறார். குளத்தங்கரை அரசமரம் சிறுகதையை படிக்கும் உணர்வு ஏற்பட்டது.
பதிவின் இறுதியில் சிறுகதையை தட்டச்சி இருக்கிறேன், தவறாமல் படியுங்கள்!
Chaamana Atha Guntha 1897, 98 வாக்கில் எழுதப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. ரொம்ப நாளாகத் தேடிக் கொண்டிருந்த புத்தகம். நாலு முறை தேனாம்பேட்டை சாஹித்ய அகாடெமி அலுவலகத்தில் தேடி இருக்கிறேன், எப்போதும் out of print-தான். இந்த வருஷம் படிக்க விரும்பும் புத்தகம் என்றும் குறிப்பிட்டிருந்தேன். அதிர்ஷ்டவசமாக சான் ஹோசே நூலகத்தில் கிடைத்தது. அவரது உறவினர்களே யாரோ மொழிபெயர்த்திருக்கிறார்கள்.
நாவல் ஒரு gem. மொழிபெயர்ப்பே இவ்வளவு அருமையாக இருந்தால் ஒரிய மொழியில் நிச்சயமாக வெகு பிரமாதமாக இருக்கும்.
கதை கிதை என்றெல்லாம் ஒன்றும் பிரமாதமில்லை. மங்கராஜ் எல்லாரையும் ஏமாற்றி ஜமீந்தார் ஆகிறான். ஒரிஜினல் ஜமீன்தாரை ஏமாற்றி நிலத்தை அபகரிக்கிறான். ஏழை நெசவாளி பகியா, அவன் மனைவி சரியா இருவரையும் ஏமாற்றி அவர்களுடைய 6.32 ஏக்கர் (நம்மூரில் காணி, குழி, மா என்றெல்லாம் இருந்தமாதிரி ஒரிஸ்ஸாவில் அவர்களுக்கான நில அளவுகோல்கள், அதை ஏக்கரில் மாற்றி புத்தகத்துக்கு பேர் வைத்திருக்கிறார்கள்.) நிலம், அவர்களுடைய பசு ஆகியவற்றை பிடுங்கிக் கொள்கிறான். அவனுடைய கூட்டாளி சம்பா மூலம் தன் விரோதி வீட்டில் தீ வைக்கிறான். ஆனால் சரியாவை கொலை செய்தான் என்று அவனை ஒரு கேசில் மாட்டிவிடுகிறார்கள். அவனுடைய வக்கீல் இவனிடமிருந்து நிலத்தைப் பிடுங்கிக் கொண்டு ஜமீந்தார் ஆகிவிடுகிறான். கொலை செய்யவில்லை என்று நீதிபதி சொன்னாலும் ஆறு மாதம் ஜெயில் தண்டனை கிடைக்கிறது. சம்பா இவன் பணத்தை எல்லாம் திருடிக் கொண்டு போகும்போது கொல்லப்படுகிறாள். கொலையாளியை முதலைகள் தின்கின்றன. மங்கராஜ் “Six Acres and a Third! Six Acres and a Third!” என்று புலம்பிக் கொண்டே இருக்கிறான்.
கதை சில இடங்களில் ஜம்ப் ஆகிறது. மங்கராஜ் ஏமாற்றுவது, சம்பா எதிரிகளின் வீட்டுக்குத் தீ வைப்பது, மங்கராஜ் கைது செய்யப்படுவது ஆகிய இடங்களுக்கு நடுவே கொஞ்சம் கோர்வையாக இல்லை. இது மொழிபெயர்ப்பாளரின் தவறா, இல்லை சேனாபதியே அப்படித்தான் எழுதினாரா என்று தெரியவில்லை.
சேனாபதி வெகு சுலபமாக அந்தக் கால சமூகத்தை நம் கண்ணெதிரே கொண்டுவருகிறார். ஒரிஜினல் ஜமீன்தாரின் ஊதாரித்தனம், ராமன் ஆண்டாலும் ராவணன் ஆண்டாலும் நமக்கு விதித்தது கஷ்ட வாழ்க்கைதான் என்று உழலும் கிராமத்தார்கள், தகராறுகள், போலீஸ்காரர்களின் அராஜகம், வாழ்க்கை முறை மாறும்போது போலீஸ், வக்கீல், ரெஜிஸ்ட்ரார் அலுவலகம் ஆகியவை பற்றி தெரிந்தவன் சுலபமாக எல்லாரையும் ஏமாற்றுவது என்று சின்ன சின்ன சித்திரங்களைக் காட்டுகிறார்.
நாவலை மிக உயர்ந்த இடத்துக்கு கொண்டு போவது அவர் வாசகர்களிடம் நேரடியாக பேசுவதுதான். நூறு பக்கம் கதை என்றால் அதில் ஐம்பது பக்கம் நம்மிடம் நேரடியாகப் பேசுகிறார். அதில் satire, irony, அங்கதம் எல்லாம் இருக்கிறது. நேரடியாகப் பேசுவதை நான் ரசிப்பேன் என்று இந்தப் புத்தகத்தைப் படிப்பதற்கு முன் நினைத்ததில்லை.
கட்டாயமாகப் படியுங்கள் என்று பரிந்துரைக்கிறேன்.
ஹிந்து பத்திரிகையில் சில excerpts-களை பதித்திருக்கிறார்கள்.
Rebati – Fakirmohan Senapati
Translated by Kishori Charan Das
Source: Oriya Stories, edited by Vidya Das
Patpur was a village in the Hariharpur pargana in the district of Cuttack. At almost the end of the village stood a house. Four rooms, back and front, a walled courtyard with a well in the middle and a thatched shed that housed the dhenki, and a frontage. There was a sitting room at the entrance, which was also meant to receive people who came to pay the rent they owed to the Zamindar. Shyambandhu Mohanty, the owner of the house, represented the Zamindar as his scribe on a salary of two rupees per month apart from the extra he could get for doing some odd incidental work for the tenants. The average monthly total came to not less than four rupees, which was good enough for running the household. No, it was more than that. Sufficient, one would say. So there were hardly any complaints from the family about things that were wanting, or had remained undone. Vegetables were grown in the backyard, which also had two drumstick trees. Two cows provided them with a regular supply of milk and curd to go with their meals. The old woman prepared cowdung cakes mixed with husk that served as fuel, and so they did not have to spend much on firewood. The Zamindar had allowed Shyambandhu to till about three and a half acres of land for himself, and the yield was just enough to serve their requirements.
Shyambandhu was a simple and straightforward man, well liked by the tenants. He went around personally to their houses to collect rent. But while he coaxed them to pay their dues, he never asked for a single paisa more. The tenants didn’t bother asking him for rent receipts. He would himself scribble something on a palm-leaf and tuck it into the thatched roof of their houses.
There were four mouths to feed in Shyambandhu’s house. Husband and wife, the old mother, and a daughter aged ten. The daughter’s name was Rebati. Shyambandhu would sit on the verandah in the evenings and sing bhajans like Krupasindhu Badana or read the Bhagabata, with the light of an earthen lamp, while Rebati, sitting by his side, would listen to him. She had been able to memorise quite a few of those songs and it was so pleasing to hear them in her childish voice. Some people from the village would come at times just to listen to her singing by the side of her father. Rebati had learnt one particular song from her father, which gave him immense joy. He would ask her to sing that one for him everyday, which she would gladly do.
Two years back, the Deputy Inspector of Schools had stayed overnight at Patpur on his way to the countryside on an official tour. At the request of some prominent men of the village, he had set up an Upper Primary School there after his recommendations to that effect were accepted by the Inspector of the Orissa Division. The teacher was one Basudev, who had graduated from the training school at Cuttack. He was truly a Basudev. Handsome in every way. Never raised his head to look at anyone while walking through the village. About twenty years of age. And very good looking. Epileptic fits in his childhood had left a scar on his face, the imprint of the mouth of a heated bottle pressed on his forehead by his mother to ward off the evil spirits. But the scar seemed to suit him, setting off his handsome looks. Basudev had been brought up in the house of his maternal uncle, having lost both his parents when he was a child.
Basudev was a karan by caste. Shyambandhu also belonged to that caste. Shyambandhu would visit him at the school on festive days, when pitha and other specialities were prepared in his house, and say, “Basu dear, please come to our house this evening, your mausi remembers you.” These visits built up a pleasant and affectionate relationship between them. The mother of Rebati would often say when she saw him, “Ah, the poor orphan boy, who is there to look after his welfare!” Basu would spend about an hour almost every evening at their house. And Rebati would shout in joy on seeing him at a distance, “Basubhai is coming! Basubhai is coming!” Rebati would sing the old bhajans she had learnt by the side of her father to him, but to Basudev they seemed new every time.
Once, while talking about things in general, Shyambandhu came to know from him that there was a school for girls at Cuttack, where they could study and also learn household arts like sewing and stitching. It was from that day that he developed a desire to give some education to Rebati, and made it known one day to Basudev. Basu, who regarded Shyambandhu as his father, responded promptly to say, “Sir, I have been thinking of asking you about it for a long time.” So, it was settled between the two that Rebati would do some studies. Rebati overheard it all and ran excitedly to her mother and grandmother to announce, “I’ll study! I’ll study!” Her mother said, “Okay, okay, you will.” But the grandmother said, “Study? What’s that? She is a girl, what’ll she do with studies? Learn how to cook, prepare sweets and special dishes, paint the floor with jhoti, churn the Curd. What is studies?”
Shyambandhu was having his meal one day, seated on a low stool in the verandah. Rebati was also eating by his side. The old woman was seated in front and serving orders to her daughter-in-law, asking her to bring another fistful of rice, some more dal, another pinch of salt, for her son. Then she started saying in the course of their casual talk, “Well, Shyam, what is this I hear? Rebi is going to study? She is a girl, what will she do with studies?” To which Shyambandhu said, “Let it be. Let her study if she wants to.” Rebati was furious with her grandmother and said, “Get going, you old woman!” And then turned beseechingly to her father, “No Bapa, I’ll study.” “Yes, you will” said Shyambandhu, and the matter ended there on that day.
The next afternoon Rebati was overjoyed to get a copy of Sitanath babu’s Pratham Path from Basudev and kept turning the pages from the beginning to the end. The pictures of elephants, horses and cattle excited her. Princes are happy to be owners of elephants and horses, some are happy just riding horses, but merely the pictures were enough to gladden the heart of our Rebati. She was quick to show the pictures to her mother and then to her grandmother. “Okay, go away,” said the grandmother in a vexed tone. But Rebati talked back to her, mo gestures than words, to suggest that she couldn’t care less.
It was an auspicious day – Sri Panchami. The day meant for the worship of Saraswati. Rebati had taken a morning bath, and was hovering about, in and out of the house, waiting for Basubhai who would teach her how to read the book. Formal arrangements for the ceremony of Vidyarambha, the inauguration of learning, had not been made for fear of what the old woman would say. However, that was the idea. So Basu came in due time to teach her the first lessons, starting with the alphabets. And the teaching continued every evening from that day onwards. Rebati progressed fast with her studies in the next two years. So much so that she could read Madhu babu’s Chhandamala fluently, without a pause.
One night, during dinner time, a certain topic came to be discussed between mother and son. It seemed as if it had been rai earlier, and they were set to conclude it that day. “What do you say, Ma, wouldn’t it be a good thing?” asked Shyambandhu. To which the old woman said, “Yes, it will… but have you enquired about the caste?”
“What else was I enquiring about till now? Yes, he is a good karan. A poor boy, but high caste.”
Rebati was also eating her meal nearby, and the words reached her ears. And God knows what she understood of what was said, but there was a noticeable change in her behaviour from that day onwards. She was visibly embarrassed when Basubhai taught her in the presence of her father. And was prone to giggle at times, for no good reason, though she would try to suppress it by putting her head down and pressing her lips together. She would read silently and just say “yes” when some response was called for. And run away laughingly at the end of the session, trying in vain to close her lips.
Every evening she would be at the front door, looking outside, as if she was waiting for somebody. But she would promptly get inside at the sight of Basu, and would not reappear till after repeated calls. The old woman got furious though, if she found Rebati setting foot outside the house.
About two years had passed since that Sri Panchami day. But the days are never smooth and even all the time for anyone. Such are the ways of Providence. It was a spring day of Phalgun when the village was suddenly struck by a cholera epidemic. And the news spread in the morning that Shyambandhu Mohanty was one of the victims. It was usual for all doors to be closed when the epidemic was on. As the story goes, the dread disease, in the form of an old woman, would then be picking up dead bodies to put in the basket held in her arms. So, no one was expected to come to Shyambandhu’s house during that time. The two women were helpless, not knowing what to do. The child Rebati was crying her heart out, and pacing up and down. But Basudev lost no time in going over, regardless of the consequences, when he got the news. He sat at the feet of Shyambandhu and stroked them gently, and put drops of water in his mouth from time to time. It was afternoon when Shyambandhu looked at Basu’s face, and stammered a few words in a choked voice. Words that seemed to implore Basu to take charge. Basu burst out crying. Rebati was rolling disconsolate on the floor. The house was all noise and confusion. And it was all over by the evening.
What to do now? Basu was an immature boy after all, for matters such as these, and the others were womenfolk. The village dhobi Bana Sethi, about sixty years of age or more, was a man of experience. He was ready to oblige on occasions such as this, apart from the lure of a new pair of clothes. He presented himself for duty immediately.
But that was the only karan house in the village, and so they somehow or the other managed the obsequies, between the three of them – the mother, the widow, and Basudev. The morning star had appeared on the horizon by the time they returned from the cremation ground. Rebati’s mother felt the urge, immediately after, to go out and ease herself. And the news was all over the village, by the afternoon, that Rebati’s mother was no more.
Time and tide wait for no one. Though there are those whose thrones acquire a canopy over them, some others are whipped even as they remain handcuffed. Three months had passed since Shyambandhu’s death, and quite a few things had happened to the family during that time. There were two cows in his cowshed. The Zamindar’s agents took them away by force, towards the arrears of land revenue due from him. It was a well known fact that Shyambandhu regarded the money payable to the Zamindar as sacrosanct. Even as one rupee was collected, he would not rest in peace till that was delivered at the Zamindar’s office. Nevertheless, the question of arrears due from Shyambandhu was of little relevance. The important fact was that the cows yielded large amounts of milk, and that was known to the Zamindar. He had also taken back the three and half acres of land that he had allowed Shyambandhu to cultivate for himself. The field-labourer who was staying with the family to help them out, also left the house on the Dol Purnima day. There was no use for him anymore when the land was gone. The two bullocks had been sold for seventeen and a half rupees to meet the expenses of the funeral rites, and that left a margin for household expenses for about a month. They could carry on for another month, somehow, by selling or pawning a pot today and a pan tomorrow.
Basu visited them everyday and stayed till late evening, when Rebati and her grandmother were ready to go to bed. But neither of them would accept the money he offered them. He noticed that if he insisted they take some money, it would just lie on an open rack, untouched. So, he gave up trying to help them in that way. He would take a few copper coins from the old woman and buy them vegetables, which would last them for about eight to ten days. The gaping roof was badly in need of re-thatching, and Basu had stacked two rupees worth of straw for the purpose in the backyard. But the job was yet to be done because the period was not considered propitious.
The old woman was not seen crying all day long, as she used to. She would now do so only in the evening. Eventually she would throw herself down on the floor and fall asleep in the process of crying. She was not able to see well anymore, and seemed to have almost lost her senses. And though she was crying less, she had started abusing Rebati. She had concluded that all their sorrows and misfortune were due to Rebati. Because she had dared to study. That was why the son had to die, and then the daughter-in-law, why the field hand had left them, and the bullocks had to be sold,and why the Zamindar’s men took away the cows by force. Rebati was an accursed girl of ill omen and evil ways. She had also lost her own eyesight because of Rebati’s studies. Tears would stream from Rebati’s eyes when she was reviled by her grandmother. She dreaded then to stand by her side. She would go to the backyard or to some corner of the house and keep sitting there, as though petrified, covering her face with both hands.
Basu was also found guilty by the old woman because it was he who had taught Rebati the first lessons. But she was not in a position to tell him anything, as the household would get totally paralysed without him. More so, when the demands of the Zamindar had not yet ceased.
Rebati was not a child anymore. No one had heard her speaking nor seen her moving outside the house, since the day she had lost her parents. For some days she had been crying loudly, but now there was only a silent and incessant flow of tears. That tiny little heart of hers, and the soft and delicate mind that went with it, had suffered a breakdown. Now there was little difference for her between day and night. She could not make herself believe that her father and mother were indeed dead and would never come back. She had lost her appetite, and spent sleepless nights with the image of her parents always in her mind. She sat down to eat, only for fear of her grandmother. She would hardly ever get up from the floor, and had been reduced to skin and bones. It was only when Basu came to the house that she would fix her large eyes on him, but would lower them instantly, with a sigh, when he looked at her.
Five months had passed since Shyambandhu’s death. It was the summer month of Jyestha at midday, when Basu visited them. He hardly ever came at that time of the day. The old woman opened the door for him, grudgingly. Then Basu said, “Grandmother, the Deputy Inspector will be talking to children of primary schools in this area about their studies at the Hariharpur police station. The children of all the schools will have to be there. I have also been informed. I have to take our children there tomorrow morning. I’ll be away for five days.”
Rebati, who was standing behind a door and listening to him, felt like she was struck down. She saved herself from falling, and managed to sit down on the floor, holding on to the door. Basu bought rice, salt, cooking oil, and brinjals which would last them for about five days, unloaded it all in the courtyard, bowed down to the grandmother, and bade them goodbye the next Saturday, just before the evening had set in. “Look my son, don’t go wandering about in the sun, take care of your health, and don’t forget to eat something in due time” said the old woman and heaved a sigh. Rebati kept staring at Basu. It was different from the way she used to look at him earlier, when she would lower her eyes as Basu looked back at her. But she was not inclined to do so now. Basu’s eyes were also not behaving the same as before. When he wanted to keep looking at her, and still more, but couldn’t. There was no pulling back now. Their eyes met, and it was not possible for either to withdraw them. However, Basu left eventually, and the evening grew dark. But Rebati was still there, looking unblinkingly at the void. She gave a start when she heard her grandmother calling her. And then she realised that it was darkness all over, both inside and outside.
Rebati was counting the days. It was the sixth day since the departure of Basu. She had not stepped out of the house since the death of her parents, but she had already been twice around the front door, going out and coming in, within the morning hours of that day. It was about six in the evening when the school boys had started to come back from Hariharpur that the news came that the teacher was struck by the dread disease on his way back, at the foot of a banyan tree, near Gopalpur. He had to go out four times, successively, to ease himself, and passed away towards midnight. The villagers were vocal in condoling his untimely death, while the children and womenfolk could not help crying aloud. Some said, “Ah! How handsome he was!” while some others said, “Such a sweet and gentle soul, wouldn’t even hurt a fly!”
Rebati heard about it, and so did the grandmother. The old woman kept crying till she choked and could not cry any more. And she said, “Poor boy, did you have to lose your life like this in a foreign land, and due to your own fault?” Which meant that he had committed the sinful act of teaching Rebati and that is why he had to go. Rebati was lying prostrate somewhere in the house after getting the news, with not a sound from her lips. The day passed, and the next day the grandmother shouted when she could not find her anywhere – “You Rebati! You Rebi, you rotten miserable wretch!” Not being able to see well, she was groping around for Rebati. But when she found her and felt her body, she realised that the girl had a high fever and had lost consciousness. She pondered over the situation for a long time. About what she could do, and whom she could ask for help. But she could not think of a way out. So she flew into a rage and said, “You have brought all this on yourself and so what’s the remedy?” Rebati had fallen ill because of her studies, so what could she do?
Rebati seemed to have sunk into the earth. Eyes closed and no response when you called her, not even a whimper. So it went on for six days. The next day Rebati called out a few times, when the old woman heard her. When she found her and felt the body, it was cold to the touch. The girl would give a grunt when called. She also fixed her eyes on her grandmother, and then started saying things that did not make sense. Any kaviraj would then have said, citing a sloka or two, that this was truly the last stage. Given to terrible thirst and delirium. But the old woman thought that there was reason to be happy. Rebati was now speaking after all, while she was totally silent earlier. She had opened her eyes, and was asking for water. The body was also not hot any more. She thought that the poor girl had not had even a drop of water in the last six days, and should get well with some food inside her. So she went out saying, “You keep sleeping, I’ll get something for you to eat.” But she could not lay her hands on even a few grains of rice in all the pots, pans, bags, and baskets she ransacked frantically. She sat down for a long while with a long-drawn sigh, not knowing what to do. She could perhaps have understood, if her eyesight had not been affected, the mystery of how the groceries that were meant for five days had already lasted them for about ten. Anyway, she sat thinking about it, and eventually, a leaking pot, used normally for carrying water, came to her hands, all the rest having already been disposed of. She set out with that one to the grocery shop of Hari Sa, to see if she could get something for it in exchange.
Hari Sa could very well guess the situation when he saw the pot in her hands. And when she told him about her intentions, he took the pot in his own, examined it all over, and
said, “No, no, there is no rice left in my house. That apart, who’ll give you any rice for this leaking pot?” It was not as if he had no rice to spare. He was only trying to drive a hard bargain. But the old woman was thunderstruck when she was told that she couldn’t get any rice. She kept sitting inert and speechless. How do I feed the girl, now that her fever is gone and she is ready to eat? she wondered. It was getting dark. She looked again at Hari twice over, and got up to leave with the pot in her hands, saying, “Well, let me go and see what the girl is doing.” That was when Hari said, “Give it to me, let me see what is there.” He gave her four measures of rice, half a measure of pulses and some salt in exchange for the pot. The old woman came rushing back to the house. She had not applied even a twig to her mouth in the morning to clean her teeth, and so you can imagine the state she was in. She called Rebati the moment she reached the house. She thought that the girl would have recovered from her illness by now, and would be in a position to draw water and cook the rice. So she got terribly angry when there was no response from the girl, and started shouting again – “You Rebati, you Rebi, you rotten miserable wretch!”
Meanwhile, Rebati was getting deeper into a state of unconsciousness. She felt an intense pain all over her body, which was getting more and more cold, and a terrible thirst seemed to thrust her tongue inwards. She felt like going to some cooler place. She came rolling along from inside the house to the front verandah. But it did not relieve her. She moved back all the way to the verandah that over-looked the backyard. The day had passed. Strong winds were blowing. Rebati surveyed the backyard – This is where Bapa had planted the plantain tree, the flower stalks have started coming up, and soon it will bear fruit. Some two years back Ma had planted a guava tree, and how I had run instantly to the well to fetch water for the plant! The tree has grown and has started flowering too… Then she remembered her mother.
Darkness had covered all the trees and plants by now, and she could not make them out any more. But she could see the sky, and found the evening star twinkling with an incessant glow. Rebati could not take her eyes off from the star. It seemed the star was growing in shape, it was like a disc now, and was getting brighter and brighter… Ah! What a beautiful image in there! It was her dear mother, all love and joy and peace, who stretched out her hands, to take her in her arms. She was touched by the two outstretched hands, rays of silver light, in her eyes, and on to her heart. No more sounds could be heard in the darkness, except for the intake of her breath. The breath grew intense and then a prolonged sigh, and two indistinct sounds – “Ma! Ma!” And then it was still and silent.
The old woman had, by now, dragged herself to the place where Rebati had been sleeping, but she could not find her there. Nor did she find her anywhere else — inside the rooms, in the courtyard, outside the house and not even in the shed used for husking rice. She thought that Rebati was cured of the fever by now, and must be loitering about in the backyard. And she screamed again those same words — “You Rebati, you Rebi, you rotten miserable wretch!” She scoured the backyard, and then raised herself onto the verandah which was higher than ground level by about three feet and was only about one and a half foot deep. There she found her, and said, “Well, you were sitting here all the time!” But she was shocked when she touched her. She touched her all over, from top to toe, and made a terrible sound with a hand at her nose. And then there was the sound of a mighty crash, of something falling off the verandah, to the ground below.
No one who belonged to the household of Shyambandhu was seen again by anyone in the world. But in the deepening night of that day those last words had been heard by neighbours — “You Rebati, you Rebi, you rotten miserable wretch!”
தொகுக்கப்பட்ட பக்கம்: இந்தியப் புனைவுகள்