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  • Nehru and God: Translation of A Short Story By Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay [Parabaas Translation] : Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
    translated from Bengali to English by Palash Baran Pal




    Nehru and God

    Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay

    Translated from Bengali by Palash Baran Pal




    It was anticipated that Howrah Station would be very crowded on that day, right since the morning.

    The newspapers had announced, in huge letters on their first pages, that Jawaharlal Nehru would be arriving in Calcutta by the Bombay Mail. There was another piece of news which said that God himself would be arriving as well, from some place in the Himalayas, by Punjab Mail.

    That was all. I consulted the time-table for trains and found that the two trains would reach Howrah Station within two hours of each other. The Bombay Mail would arrive first, somewhere around seven to seven-thirty in the morning.

    When I got near the station, I realized that it would be almost impossible to reach it. From Strand Road, the Howrah Bridge looked absolutely unapproachable. I said to myself that such a crowd was certainly expected when both God and Nehru were coming to the city on the same day.

    I was not really surprised by the news of Nehru coming, because he had come to Calcutta before. But God never visits any place, he doesn't even have a body to travel in. As far as I knew, no one had ever seen him. I could not understand why he was coming to Calcutta by the Punjab Mail. I was not even sure about where he was coming from.

    In the crowd I saw a band of devotional singers. I guessed that they were there to welcome God. I wondered what these singers would do! Of course, during a religious ceremony or in a religious procession, one arranges for kirtan-singers. But since in this case God himself was supposed to be coming to Howrah Station, couldn't one think of something better?

    With great difficulty, I tried to push my way through the crowd on the platform.

    And at that instant, Nehru's train rushed into the platform.

    It was quite a ruckus after that, with slogans being shouted everywhere. Journalists and photographers immediately encircled Nehru. And then that huge crowd, with Nehru at the center, reached the road outside the station. That was as much as I could see. I could not see anything beyond that, because I did not participate in the procession. I stayed on at the station to see God.

    The crowd left.

    The platform was nearly empty.

    There was no one left there to welcome God except the band of carolers. A thin and clean-shaven man came up to me and asked, "Do you know whether God will come today, sir?"

    — That's what the newspapers have written.

    — Do you know which platform he will arrive at?

    — They mentioned the Punjab Mail. Why don't you ask at the inquiry office?

    — The crowd was incredible. You cannot imagine how I crossed the Howrah Bridge.

    — Which way did the procession go?

    — I saw Nehru's car moving on Strand Road towards the High Court. I don't know what happened after that. Anyway, why don't you stay here, and let me go to the inquiry office.

    He went and never returned. At least I never saw him afterwards.

     

    About twenty minutes later, the Punjab Mail thundered into the station. I did not see anyone rush towards the train, except that small band of singers who were quite passionately into their song by that time.

    There were torn pieces of flowers and garlands all over the platform. They were the remnants of the flower shower that Pandit Nehru had received a short while ago. I regretted not bringing a garland for God. In fact, I felt quite sorry for the poor chap. Did the singers bring any garland? I hoped they did.

    People poured out of the train and the train became empty. There were groups of Bengalis, Biharis, Madrasis, Punjabis and Pathans, all of whom beckoned to the porters to carry their heavy luggage and started walking towards the exit carrying only lighter items like tiffin-carriers and bags in their hands. At places, huge numbers of boxes and beddings were piled on the platform, with women and children flocked around them while the men were bargaining with the porters. It was a busy atmosphere all around.

    But ... where was God?

    I looked at the first class coaches, and then at the second class. A couple of Bengali families got down from the second class compartment and were cluttering around their baggage. There was a first and second class composite compartment right next to the engine, which was full of military people. They had a huge amount of luggage with them. The porters were loading their carts with the luggage. God should not have been here.

    The carol band had stopped their song. I went to them and asked, "Could you locate God?"

    One of them said, "No, we are still looking."

    — Did you see the compartments on the rear side of the train?

    — Oh yes, we have seen all sides.

    — How about the inter-class?

    — We have not left anything out. We could not see anyone who would fit the bill. By the way, we are from the Gourhiya Mission at Bagbajar.

    I waited for some more time, and then came out onto the street, quite disappointed. For some inexplicable reason, I did not take a tram, but rather started walking along the Howrah Bridge. Suddenly I caught sight of a person near the middle of the bridge, holding on to the banisters and gazing absent-mindedly at the flow of water on the Ganges.

    I was just about to pass him by when the person looked at me. There was something about him, a somewhat wistful look on his face and yet an immense depth and childlike innocence in his eyes. I was attracted by the purity and simplicity of his looks and asked, "Where do you want to go?"

    The person pointed at the Ganges and asked, "Is this a new bridge?"

    — Yes.

    — It's nice. The British are good at this sort of things.

    — Where do you want to go? Have you come to Calcutta after a long time?

    — I am God. I just arrived by train. No one came to greet me at the Howrah Station.

    What was he talking about, I thought. This is God? This person? He appeared to be quite a simpleton, although I had to admit that he was attractive in his own way.

    I bowed down and touched his feet. I said, "You are, really?"

    — Yes indeed. Tell me, why didn't anyone come to greet me at the station?

    — I assume it is because they went with Nehru.

    — And no one for me?

    I noticed that the person pouted his lips while speaking, very much like a child offended by the lack of attention. I felt pity for him, though at the same time I felt funny. God is so childlike!

    I tried to console him, "That's not quite true. I saw the people from the Gourhiya Mission there with their carol band. They probably did not recognize you. We have never seen your photograph in newspapers before, so it is not easy."

    God was immediately soothed by my words, again very much like a child, and said, "That must be it. They cannot be blamed if they could not recognize me. Well then, can you arrange to have a photograph of mine published in a newspaper?"

    — Well... I, er... I can have your photograph taken. But I don't know anyone at any newspaper office. I cannot ask the newspaper people to publish your photograph.

    God said, in a disappointed tone, "I see."

    I felt sorry for him again. I was moved by the "I see" that he said in a helpless childlike tone, and said to him, "Why don't we go to the Anandabajar Patrika office! It is very close, on Barman Street. I am sure they will publish your photograph with a lot of care if you introduce yourself. I can show you the way."

    God's face lit up in joy. He said enthusiastically, "Let's go, let's do it. If a photograph is published this time, a lot of people will come see me when I visit next time."

    And then, almost as if he was muttering to himself, he said, "How can they come, if they don't recognize..."

    I did not tell him what was in my mind. The point was not that he was not greeted because people did not recognize him. In fact, there was no one on the platform when he arrived.

    Suddenly a thought occurred to me and I asked him, "Have you decided where you are going to stay?"

    He said, "No one is taking me in with enthusiasm, so I don't know where I will stay."

    — I would like to suggest something if you don't mind. I have a spare room on the top floor of my house. I stay alone. If you want to stay in the spare room...

    — That's a good idea. I will come with you.

    — I wonder whether you will have trouble with food. I mean, I take fish and meat in my house. If you are bothered by that, I can arrange for vegetarian food for you.

    God smiled and said, "Why should it bother me? I will eat whatever you will give me to eat."

    I was embarrassed. I said, "Please excuse me. I was mentioning vegetarian food because the Baishnavs dedicate only such food to you."

    — And then there are others who give me fish and meat. They kill chicken, they slaughter cows and goats, and offer them to me: I eat that too. In one of my reincarnations, I fell ill by eating pork offered to me by a devotee, which brought an end to my human existence.

    — Yes, I am aware. It was you in your Buddha avatar.

    — You see, once I gave the primordial galaxy a spin, the universe has been evolving on its own. So I have nothing to do. For billions of years, I have been sitting and waiting, with nothing to do. I just wander around, see what's happening at different parts of the universe. I am only an observer now, or a witness. I realize that no one in the world cares about me. So I live a solitary existence. I am everywhere, and yet no one is interested in me. No one has faith in me any more. They all say that I am jobless. The world is evolving on its own, so they don't see why they need me.

    I felt bad for him. The way he spoke, I felt almost affectionate towards him.

    If we were talking of a jobless man, I probably could have tried to find a job for him. But how would I solve the unemployment problem of God?

    We reached Chitpur Road. There was a lot of traffic there.

    I looked back and said, "Here is Anandabajar office right here. Please come in, your photograph..."

    He said in a very flattered tone, "That's great, let's go in. Maybe you can introduce me to them."

    He sounded unbelievably simple and childlike. Why is God so much like a child? Poor thing! Why doesn't everyone listen to him and obey him? Why do people hurt him by not listening to his words?

    I crossed Chitpur Road, reached the sidewalk, and looked back to call him. But he was not there. Was he lost in the crowd? After all, he was not accustomed to walking on Calcutta streets!

    I looked for him all around, but could not find him.

    Did he just lose his way in the crowd? Or did he feel offended by the whole thing and went back to his own abode? I don't know the answer.

    Published in Parabaas, January 2016



    The original story Nehru and God (জওহরলাল ও গড্‌) by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay was first collected in the book titled Kushalpahari (কুশলপাহাড়ী) published posthumously by Mitra & Ghosh, Kolkata, in December 1950 (Pous 1357 BE).

    Translated by Palash Baran Pal. [পলাশ বরন পাল]. (b. 1955) is a physicist by profession. He mainly writes research articles in his field of research, but ... (more)

    Illustrated by Amitabha Sen. Amitabha has been a regular contributor of cartoons, sketches and articles (in English - which have been translated into Bengali) to Parabaas. He is the founder of...(more)

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