A tiny, dark, haunted little room. I was
lying on a cold metal stretcher. An old, hunchbacked, grey haired doctor with
heavy spectacles was busily walking back and forth, carrying a scalpel in his
hand. He went to another table in the opposite corner of the room and checked
something in a notebook. Then he came to me and bent over, “So what the hell
did you swallow, you mother fucker? Potassium cyanide?”
I recognized him. He was Mahim Sarker. Our
doctor who also cut dead bodies.
I pitifully pleaded, “Let me go Mahim uncle.
I’m scared of your scalpel.”
Mahim Sarkar mimicked me, “I’m scared! You
didn’t think of it while swallowing poison? Do you know what you’ve done? How
would I tell what you did without cutting into you?”
Suddenly he stabbed the scalpel deep inside
my body and started tearing my skin open. I moaned out in terrible pain.
Mahim Sarker scolded again, “Quiet, idiot.
Take a look inside your body. Can you see? It is the finest factory in the
entire creation. Head to foot every instrument is arranged perfectly. This is
called a celestial art form. Look at this brain, it can easily beat a million
computers. And these eyes, not even the
best camera in the world can hold a candle to it. The ears, world’s best
microphone. Heart, the generator for a lifetime. Look closely, this body of
yours, it’s a creation of an ethereal genius. Appreciate this perfection. You
will never want to neglect it again. Aren’t you a goalkeeper? What is the job
of a goalkeeper? Not to let the ball get in the four corners of the net. Your
body too has millions of such goalkeepers. They fight with the germs, block invasion of diseases. And these
genes? They carry all the messages of all your ancestors. All their victories, defeats,
happiness, sorrows consciousness and culture, all are archived in these genes.
You are not just Runu Bharadwaj, not just a goalkeeper. Not a solitary man,
alone by himself. You are part of a stream of people, one after another, like
teams in relay races.”
“Doctor! You are cutting up
Mahim Sarkar’s eyeglasses shone in the dark,
“Want to die again? Will you take cyanide again?”
“No, no, no…”
I woke up from an uneasy sleep and stared
in the darkness.
In our town, the morgue was right next to
the jail. Right outside the tall, wavy, red wall of the jail was a tiny little
plot with a small red colored room that was the morgue. Most of the time it
remained locked up. Sometimes a diener would come from the hospital. Perhaps
there was an unclaimed body. And then Mahim Sarkar would get a call. He had an
irritable, frowning, unsmiling face. He always wore full sleeve shirts and
loose pants, neither was ever ironed. He
was never very busy. Nobody was in any hurry about unclaimed corpses. Mahim
Sarker would write a report and the undertakers would carry the body away.
Occasionally our small town would be churned
up by some big events. One such was the dual suicide by Niloy and Mahua. They
jumped in front of the late night down train. Both loved each other but the
parents refused to let them get married. Another one was Sarit Sen. He always
called himself a poet. He fell in love with Binapani, the young wife of the
yardmaster Panchanan Biswas. Binapani got scared seeing her name in his love
poems and made such a scene that everyone came to know about it. This juicy
story was enjoyed by all for awhile, then it was found out that he also fell in
love with the new school teacher Rekha Ray, the contractor Sudhir Biswas’s
young daughter Saheli and the milkman Mukund Jadab’s wife Motia. At the end he
married a girl named Shipra from Shilchor. But right after marriage, there were
fights and quarrels. Ultimately to end it all poet Sarit Sen hung himself.
Mahim Sarkar came most reluctantly to do
the post mortem. The relatives didn’t want it and as suicide was quite
evident—there was a note too—Mahim Sarkar just did a preliminary exam and let
the body go.
Who knew how good a doctor Mahim Sarkar was.
But most people were scared to go to him because he ‘cut dead bodies’. Only
very poor, lower class people like the paan seller, rickshaw driver, street
sweepers and railway porters visited him.
Mahim Sarkar often repented that people
forgot that he too was a regular certified physician.
Seasons changed like fairy tales in our
little town. Autumn came like a dream; the winter arrived like magic, wrapped
in mysterious fog.
It was a moonlit December night, sad and
somber, wrapped in moonlight and fog. The shehnai was playing Basantbahar under
the decorated tent. I was off playing a match far away and counting the
remaining days of my life sitting alone on the dew drenched grass. Alone. Very
Sati and Nadan got married without any
Shyamdas Lahiri took a loan from his
provident fund and paid for the wedding expenses as best as he could. I heard
that the feast was great. The bride and the groom looked lovely together.
Everybody was saying the matched each other perfectly. As if they were truly
born for each other. Our entire town went to the wedding and many women were
envious of Sati’s good fortune.
Mothers could sense these things. Only they
can feel the deep pain in their sons’ hearts. On the day of the wedding
reception, mom asked me, “You aren’t going?”
I just nodded, no.
She lay her hand softly on my back, “Then go
to some friend’s place. Don’t stay alone. Loneliness breeds evil thoughts.”
I looked at her face. Soon this great lady
would suffer the loss of her son. How would she look then?
Mahim Sarkar’s wife had run away with a
young and smart medical representative. We heard many juicy gossips about how
they got together. She left behind a two-year-old son. Police was involved and
ultimately they were found after a couple of years, living in Patna as husband
and wife. Mahim Sarkar didn’t try to get her back. He said, “What’s the point.
I could get her body but not her heart. Let her be where she is. Life is short.
Let her enjoy herself.”
Mahim Sarkar’s son Sujit was my friend, so I
visited his house many times. There was no order in his house. Everything was
scattered haphazardly. Dirty dishes piled up on the table, beds were never
Mahim Sarkar used to say, “You know, from
the beginning of time, man has had five basic questions, who, what, why, when
and where. That’s all. However you may try you can’t go beyond that.”
He used to have a bike, dusty, old,
tottering thing that he rode very slowly. He was never in a hurry to reach
People would say, “There goes the corpse
I remember well the evening of the wedding
reception. Mom had told me not to be alone, to go visit a friend, but I had no
such desire. I had to be alone that night. My heart was arid and cracked up
like the earth in summer. There was only an endless twilight in front of me.
Only thinking of death brought me some solace. Yes, I had the means. Any day I
could end it all.
At that age, thinking of death caused a
powerful frisson of mystery. I had pilfered a bottle of poison from the science
lab. It was used to kill insects in the entomology class. At the bottom of the
bottle, in a separate chamber were a few crystals of potassium cyanide. All I
had to do was break the bottle and get those granules. Instant death.
That night was Sati’s reception. It was
stone cold in our town. The fog had covered up everything around. Even the moon
looked ghostly through the fog.
I had always loved open fields. I loved the
smell of grass. I always felt centered in a field. That night too I was sitting
in the football field of our college. The dew was soaking in my clothes. The
north wind was making me shiver in cold. But I did not sense any of these. All
I could hear was a call of distress “Take me away.” No, Sati didn’t speak it
aloud, just sent her call in a torn piece of paper. I read that piece of paper
countless times. That silent sentence was the loudest I ever heard.
It was a wintry night. Most guests had left
by eleven. All sated and smiling. Outside the street dogs were fighting amongst
the trash heaps. The shehnai had stopped, the halogen lamps were turned off.
Only the bridal couple and close relatives were at home. A mountain of gift boxes
had not yet been sorted. Someone asked, “Say, where is Sati? She left awhile
ago for the bathroom, but she isn’t there.” Someone else replied, “She left the
bathroom long ago, she was washing her face and I said not to take off the
sandalwood paste, she said it made her skin feel dry.” Another person said,
“The bride? She was looking for somebody, I think she went that way.”
The whole affair still hadn’t reached the
point of panic. Everyone thought she must be somewhere. After all she was new,
where could she go.
But gradually a worried strain crept in.
Where could she go? Oh my God! Brand new bride is missing! The formal smile on
Nandan’s handsome face disappeared. He ran around like crazy looking for her
from attic to the basement, including all the toilets. Someone suggested
perhaps she had left with the bride’s party; after all she was a young girl,
perhaps she felt homesick. It was patently impossible; still they sent
messengers to the bride’s house. Hearing the news, they were stunned and soon came
Ultimately, the inevitable suspicion was
given a voice. Did she run away with someone?
Hearing this Shyamdas fell on the ground,
“It would be better for her to die than this.”
this rumor grew any further, they did find Sati. She was lying face down, under
the jamrul tree in the backyard. She was still wearing all the jewelry and make
up of the new bride though some of it had washed away in tears. Who knows how
long she had cried. But she wasn’t crying anymore when they found her. There
was a little froth at the corner of her mouth. Other than that she looked
perfectly normal. Even when she was carried to the bed, everyone was calling
her by name, trying to wake her up. Someone said, “Poor thing, must be tired
after all the stress of the wedding.” Another person said, “Perhaps an
epileptic fit. She is so thin.”
Mahim Sarkar had just left the party after
giving the wedding gift of a set of earrings. He was brought back right away,
this time bringing his stethoscope. He felt for the pulse, and then looked up
It was beyond midnight. I had returned home
and mom was forcing me to eat something. I just sat there playing with the food
when someone called from outside, “Runu. Hey, Runu.”
I came out to see some of my friends and
some college kids. “Come quick. There is a disaster in Sir Nandan’s house.”
I don’t remember how I walked the distance.
I was in a trance. I can’t remember if I walked at all.
Mahim Sarkar looked up in surprise and said,
“But she died quite some time ago!”
It took a few seconds for the words to sink
in. Then there were shouts, cries, screams, and Sati’s mother fainting away.
Shyamdas couldn’t believe it. He kept saying again and again, “It just can’t
be. Just throw some water on her. She will come by. Look closely, her eyelids
are moving, just feel her forehead, it is still warm. It is nothing serious,
I’m telling you…”
Mahim Sarkar said gravely, “You need to
call the police, it is a case of poisoning.”
Nandan was stunned for a second. Then he
held Sati’s body close, “No, that is impossible. Poisoning? Why, a minute ago
she was smiling, talking to us all. How can it happen? How…”
Mahim Sarkar was leaving when I arrived,
“Mahim uncle, what happened?”
Mahim said most bitterly, “What was the
purpose of this suicide? Total waste! The birth of a human body takes so much
preparation, care, so much time, long waiting, then growing up over all these
years… and now destroying it like this? Meaningless!”
I stood there like a statue, “What
He said, still bitterly, “Go see if you can
find any suicide note, and the bottle of the poison. Just got married, and now
have to go through police investigations, post mortem…”
A bottle of Tik20 was found under the jamrul
tree, but there wasn’t any suicide note.
Through all the confusion, commotion and
crying, Priti had sobbed, “I knew she would die.”
“You knew? How did you know?”
“Because she loved someone else.”
“Who? Who did she love?”
“I don’t know. She never told me his name.”
Nandan was most hurt by Priti’s statement.
He obviously considered himself to be the most desirable man in that rural
town. He had asked, “Are you sure Priti? Or are you just guessing?”
“I am sure. She pleaded with mom not to get
her married, she kept saying ‘give me some time. I am not ready yet.’ But mom
didn’t listen. My sister was a coward, so couldn’t speak openly.”
“But she is your sister, didn’t you guess
whom she loved?”
“No. How could I?”
“Perhaps you do know but don’t want to say
Priti shook her heard, “No, I really don’t
“Then why didn’t she say something before
“She did? When? To whom?”
“She said, ‘Why a simple girl like me? There
are so many more suitable girls. I should marry only a simple boy like myself.’”
“That is just saying for the sake of it.”
“I don’t know all that. But I know she used
to cry all the time. We slept together. I could tell.”
“Strange! You too could have told me. We
could have averted this tragedy. My God! Now there will be police, questioning,
scandal all over the town.”
Nandan took the blow hard. Perhaps partly
missing Sati, partly for spoiling his image in the community.
I kept thinking that Sati might sit up for
me and say, “Take me away.”
Of course that didn’t happen.
Nandan saw us, his students, and wiped his
tears, “I can’t understand how this disaster happened!”
I stared at Sati still beautifully clad in
her wedding sari. Then I asked Nandan, “I need to have a word with you, Sir.”
He took me to the next room, “Yes?”
“Have you called the police yet?”
“No. But the doctor said…”
“Don’t do it.”
“There will be no need to call the police if
we can get a certificate for natural death.”
“How’s that possible?”
“If you want, I can try.”
“I do want it. Police will cause more
“ Be calm. Let me see.”
Before leaving, I looked at Sati once more.
How could such a sad princess survive in this cruel world? I told her silently,
“You asked me to take you away? Now I’m telling you the same, take me away from
I felt I shouldn’t delay anymore. Perhaps
Sati was still waiting for me on the bank of Dungri.
Mahim Sarkar was dozing. He got up seeing
me, “What’s up?”
“Uncle, I have a request.”
“What is it?”
“A death certificate. For Sati.”
“Are you crazy?”
“It is clearly an unnatural death. Everybody
has come to know already.”
“You can do this uncle. I plead you.”
“No, I can’t. If I get caught I may lose my
license, my job, at this old age, I may not even get a pension. You want me to
“Please save Sati, uncle.”
“Can’t save a dead person!”
“Not physically, but at least her good
“What good name? A person who can destroy
her own body like that is a sinner!”
“Please don’t say that. There are many weak
persons in this world.”
“Go ask. She must have had an affair with
one of those louts hanging around.”
“Please do this small favor, for me.”
Mahim Sarkar stared at me for awhile, then
said suddenly, “Is it you? Tell me the truth Runu, is it because of you?”
“Let it be uncle, it’s in the past now.”
“Then promise me one thing.”
“You look like you too are hatching some
plan. I may be a cadaver cutter but I can tell who is planning death. You
promise me you won’t do anything stupid?”
“I promise, uncle.”
He faced loss of his job, pension and
reputation. Yet in spite of all that he took the risk and wrote in the death
certificate, “Death due to convulsion.”
“Where are you taking her? Where?” Sati’s
mother clutched Sati and wailed. This too was very conventional. One saw this
kind of moaning at all deaths.
I suppressed tremendous bitterness, “Let me
take her auntie. At least now there shouldn’t be any caste restrictions.”
There were anger, despair, bitterness and
sorrow raging inside me. But everything melted away as I carried Sati to the
crematorium. That late night, under a
clear sky, in an unworldly eerie darkness, sad cluster of stars and keen north
wind were undoing all her shackles. Sati didn’t belong to anybody anymore. She
was no one’s daughter or wife, nor a Brahmin or lower caste. She had shaken off
everything to go with me on this last eternal journey. She had asked, “Take me
away.” I was doing just that.
I was packing to return to Kolkata, when
Nandan Sanyal dropped in. He looked strange and had a wild stare in his eyes.
He sat looking at me for sometime, as if he
had never seen me before.
“Would you tell me something, honestly?”
“What is it, Sir?”
“Did Sati ever…ever love you?”
“Let it be Sir. No point hashing up those
“But I want to know Runu, please.”
“I really don’t have anything to say.”
“But it is extremely important for me to
understand the entire story. I can’t still believe it. Otherwise it will remain
an unsolved riddle for me, all my life.”
“I don’t know anything. Why are you asking
He sat still for a while, “Are you crying?”
“Couldn’t help it Sir. Tears just came to
“Your tears are telling me the whole story.
Do you know?”
“Love is a useless thing, Sir.”
Nandan Sanyal sighed, “Right. But that
useless thing never lets us go.”
I don’t subscribe to newspapers. But I
wanted to see today’s paper. I finished my morning run, my workout, and shower.
Standing in my balcony I was enjoying my breakfast of toast, egg and milk and
tossing pieces of the toast to the crows. Those crows were grabbing them from
air! They had to be extremely fit.
Yesterday we played against the champions
from last year. It was a hard game. I had to save three, all dangerous shots.
One almost cracked my ribs; it was still sore on my left side. In the last
minute the referee gave them a penalty. It was not illegal. If a defense player
fell in the penalty box and caused obstruction then a call could be made. But
the referees from Kolkata usually didn’t care about such fine points. Yesterday
they made an exception. The kid who came to make the kick was Tapan Das. I knew
him. Good kicker. But I thought he usually kicked high. Accordingly I was ready
for a high shot. He did kick high, on right; I jumped up and deflected the ball
with my right palm over the bars. The match was a draw. The whole team rushed
to carry me on their shoulders. Usually my name was not mentioned in the sports
pages, at the most in a small column.
At eight thirty in the morning Yogeshda rang
the bell loudly. He was wearing sweat stained white t-shirt, shorts, a pair of
Nike and carried a newspaper under his arm.
“What have you done, brother! It was an
impossible feat yesterday! Look at this heading.”
He opened the page. In large letters,
“Bharadwaj defines the champions”. Pretty big headline. I didn’t need to read
“It calls for a celebration. Come to our
apartment. Have a nice cup of cappuccino. Oops, you don’t drink coffee. Still,
you must come. Mrs. has specifically asked me to drag you out.”
I got a bunch of calls. Ghanashyamdasji, my
friends, leader of a big club, a teenager named Sarika.
“Finish your calls. I’ll go change.” Said
When I went to their place, there was
already a party atmosphere. Households were like fine cobwebs. Husband, wife,
kids, TV, fridge, furniture everything is stuck in that invisible web. The ties
are fragile, but true.
“Hello, come in, come in!” It was nice to
receive a hearty welcome.
Bandana was smiling. Her eyes caressed me,
“Today I’ve made something special for you.”
“But, Ma’am, I’ve already had breakfast.”
“So what? It’s a holiday, no harm in having
a little heavy meal. Besides, people who exercise like you must get hungry more
“That’s true, Ma’am.”
Richa came quietly and sat by me, placing a
thin hand on my knee.
She looked up at me in surprise, “Were you
shaking hands with a dog on the street?”
I was embarrassed, “Who told you?”
“Shambhu saw, Paramadidi saw, even the
sweeper Guppu saw you. Tell me, did you?”
“Ah, don’t mention it. That dog sat by the
road, raising his paws in such a way that I thought perhaps he wanted to make
friends with me. So I shook his right paw and said ‘good morning’. He looked
“Hehehe! And Shambhuda says you talk to the
crows when you feed them pieces of bread in your balcony?”
“Yes. And they talk back too. There was a
strike the other day, they all cawed, ‘Strike, strike’!”
“Tell me more!”
“Shall I? But you may not believe it. One
day the fridge in my kitchen scolded me, you know. I took out the packet of
milk and turned away and heard someone say, “Hey!” I turned back in surprise to
see that I didn’t close the door of the fridge properly. It was ajar. As I
quickly said ‘Sorry’ and shut the door, I heard the fridge say, ‘Thank you.’”
“He he! More, please!”
“Wait, let me finish these meat patties
“No, tell me while eating.”
“Well, one day I was putting on my socks and
found my socks were smelly. I pursed my nose and said, ‘Phew, you smell awful!’
Immediately the sock started crying noisily. Poor thing. It wasn’t his fault. I
should have washed him. So I did. When I took it outside to dry in the sun, a
crow came and snatched it away, thinking it was food. Then he got so mad. He
kept glaring at me, saying, ‘Shame, shame!’”
Behind me I heard Bandana say to herself,
“What a crazy man!” Then louder, “Richa, please let uncle eat. You are really
Crazy? Perhaps I am. There is something
full of light and shadow, like the eternal twilight, inside me. Real and unreal
mixes up easily, animate and inanimate blend into one. Just before falling
asleep, I can hear so many voices, see so many dead faces, so many unseen and
unheard of places. Logic and intellect loosen up. I can’t tell living from
non-living anymore. Something strange goes on inside me. So many messages come
at me from all directions, so many silent sounds fly in. Perhaps they are
memories of another life, or something else unknown.