• Parabaas
    Parabaas : পরবাস : বাংলা ভাষা, সাহিত্য ও সংস্কৃতি
  • পরবাস | Translations | Novel
  • The Forest Goddess and Five Pigeons: Translation of A Science Fiction By Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay [Parabaas Translation] : Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay
    translated from Bengali to English by

    The Forest Goddess and Five Pigeons

    Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay

    Translated from the original Bangla novel
    Bonodebi o Panchti Payra (বনদেবী ও পাঁচটি পায়রা)

    Chhanda Chattopadhyay Bewtra

    Today was a holiday. So he had been drawing pictures since afternoon. Some sketches, some colorful landscapes. The flat lands in the south of the city were not in demand anymore. Slowly the jungle had taken over the empty lots. The old buildings had already been demolished into mounds of rubbles. Now even the mounds could barely be made out. Fungus, moss, new and old plants were grinding them into the earth. A yellow golden vine had covered a wide area and made a beautiful arbor. Hidden there was a broken rail cab. Nobody knew how old it was. Only some bare bones and wheels were still visible. Even those were covered by deep green moss and some mutinous arrogant plants. The cab was gradually disappearing into the nature. He loved this spot. Sitting on the soft grass, looking at the green cab he could see far away the outline of the new skyscrapers, and over everything he saw the arch like curve of the floating bridge. No pillars, no cables, just floating in space, defying all laws of gravity. He had found out that below the bridge was a strong anti gravity jet that was counteracting the gravity and keeping the bridge in air. That constant struggle of gravity and anti-gravity was of course not visible to general public. Every day, thousands of dollars were spent to keep the bridge afloat. But it was considered worthwhile as thousands of tourists came every day to see this magical bridge.

    Pranam first drew the bridge, and then added the vanishing rail cab, the demolished mounds. He drew the greenery all around him. He tried to draw the birdsongs, the smell of the forest, He even thought of drawing the touch, the feel, the warmth and coolness of the forest.

    Whole day he drew pages after pages in his sketchbook. At the end of the day he wiped them all out. Because there was no use of drawing anything anymore. No one would see them, praise them, buy or hang them on the wall.

    Drawing was his addiction. He could not live without drawing. So he drew on, picture after useless picture. When he went to the Arts school, the teachers had told him, “You want to learn? We will teach you. But know this; there is no profit in this. Those robots would always draw much better pictures.”

    Pranam knew that. But he was still surprised at his experience. Among the teachers were a few robots . They were talented like Picasso, DaVinci or Raphael. It was really impressive. Whether kids’ toys or large oils, ceramics or sculpture, they were superbly talented. Still Pranam learned only for his own pleasure. His talent would not be of any use to anyone.

    About five decades ago, the robotic musicians had arrived. They too were highly talented, in vocal as well as instruments, in classics as well as pop music. They won over sitar, sarod, violin, piano, everything. Robot Jahnu was one of the best. He could play sitar with search virtuosity that old, human sitarists just gave up playing. Young ones lost interest in learning. Those who really loved music just sing to themselves only.

    Literature had disappeared even before all this. Stories, novels, poetry, everything had been created by the robot writers and robot poets. Now people wrote for themselves and kept their writings locked up.

    Did this mean humans had lost to the robots? The scientists denied that. According to them, arts, music, literature etc were not necessary to the humans. There were many more important jobs for them. The robots were just telling them that it was useless to waste time in unnecessary tasks.

    Most buildings now had a huge monitoring system stuck on the outer wall. Sometimes they showed funny old movies on the screens. Pranam once saw a movie called ‘Village Life’, with Gregory Peck and Madhubala. Pranam never heard their names before. It was written in the footnote that they were actors and actresses of old times, now reanimated by the robots. Pranam also saw another movie called Mughal E Azm or something like that, the actor was someone named Amitabh Bachchan and the actress was Elizabeth Taylor.

    The day was ending. With a sponge like mop, Pranam wiped out all his drawings on the artificial paper.

    Two hundred years ago, the crazy scientist Kahna was buying groceries one evening. Only three items. When the grocer was weighing the items and printing out their prices electronically, Kahna asked him, “My dear friend, can you compute the prices of these items in your head, without any calculator?”

    The grocer knew Kahna, as an old customer. He smiled shyly and said, “Yes. I think so. Though I am out of habit, so might make a few mistakes.”

    “Mistakes? Do you know how valuable mistakes are? Man has been making mistakes after mistakes from the dawn of civilization. The asses, cows, tigers, lions or pigs don’t make mistakes. Man does, and that’s why he is a man.”

    The poor grocer didn’t get such deep philosophy. He said hesitatingly, “Er… did I make a mistake by not making a mistake then?”

    Kahna said, “The day you forget to make mistakes will be the day you cease to be human.”

    The grocer didn’t understand that either.

    Kahna had written about this event in his diary, “A man makes mistakes and corrects himself. That is how his brain remains active and fresh. All the knowledge in this world is created through these mistakes and corrections. That is how the man experiences his environment. But if he gets obsessed with being mechanically perfect, he will never be able to experience the finer beauties of life. He will lose his eyes to see the natural beauty, hear the entrancing effect of music, when the rain clouds arrive after a long scorching summer, his heart will not be moved with joy. Today I felt sad looking at that unnecessary electronic calculator in my grocer’s shop. Perhaps it has given some rest to his brain but it also has silently staked his authority on him. Alas, the grocer does not feel it. The experts often say the human being is an instrument also. Correct. But I ask those experts, does a mechanical instrument feel the pain of childbirth? Does it cry it like a newborn human—‘where have you brought me? Let me go back’?. Does an instrument produce mother’s milk? Does it reproduce generations of expanding families? Does it have love? God? Does it get reborn or reincarnated?”

    Two hundred years ago, when man first reached Mars to look for intelligent life, the entire world had rejoiced. Some soil and stones were brought back to earth and analyzed. Some vague signs of life were found. All the best scientists gathered in Vienna to discuss the findings.

    Kahna gave a speech on the second day of the meeting, “My dear colleagues and respected experts, I don’t know if there is life on Mars or not. But do you know if life exists here in Ethiopia? Or Somalia? Have you searched in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh? If you have not, allow me to share with you the most amazing fact of life. I want to tell you, my friends, there IS life! In all those unlikely places, among all the famine, hunger, diseases and civil wars, life exists! Today in this meeting I want to tell you about those tenuous, barely flickering lives.”

    Kahna’s speech caused uproar in the meeting. Some protested, others clapped in support.

    Kahna ignored them and continued, “What would you get from spending millions of dollars in Mars? If you are lucky, you may perhaps find some kind of fungus or some unicellular bacterium? Is it more precious than all the children dying of hunger and diseases in our planet? Hungry, skin and bones babies are dying in their mother’s arms. They don’t have the strength to cry out even. People like you and me are scavenging for food like hungry dogs. Do you not consider these lives worth discovering? The universe will always be there. The planets and stars are not going to disappear soon. But these people do not have much time. A fraction of the Mars exploration budget could feed all the children in Ethiopia. Much less is needed to stop civil war in Africa, stop the unnecessary violence.”

    People called Kahna crazy, lunatic, egotistic, reactionary. But some were also inspired by his impassioned speech.

    One young scientist stood up to ask, “So, what do you advise us to do? Shall we stop all scientific studies? Sir, are you against science?”

    “No, my dear, I am against ignorance. I am against blindness, against deafness. You have Raphael’s fresco on your ceiling, and cockroach-snake-leeches are crawling on your floor. Beethoven’s symphony is drowning out the screams of dying humanity. Why do you not see that the earth is seriously ill? We urgently need to start treatment. The useless science is sucking up all the necessary resources. The warming of the climate you talk about is the fever temperature of our planet. The idiot Kalidas was cutting the tree limb he was sitting on. Are we not like him too? As far as we all know, this is the only habitable planet in our solar system. If we mess it up, we will have no other place to go to.”

    The meeting broke up that day among much chaos.

    Pranam gathered his colors and books. It was getting cold.

    There was a tunnel like path in the jungle, just beyond that were a few houses made in the old style. The lifestyle of the people was also the old style, simple.

    A deep voice called, “Who goes there?”

    “Me, Pranam.”

    “Oh, the Artist.”


    “So, what did you draw today?”

    “The same things that I draw everyday. Meaningless stuff.”

    “Come, sit by me for awhile.”

    The fog was thickening among the plants and leaves. It was semi darkness. There was a cold wooden bench, and a man sat there alone. Jagrata must have been near ninety. He was a big man. Always alone and independent. It was his work to take care of all the deer, rabbits, foxes, mongooses and all the birds and insects of the jungle. They felt safe here only because of him. They all obeyed him too.

    Pranam sat down. Both were silent. Closeness did not mean chattering. Talking when there was nothing to talk about meant being scared of the silence.

    They sat silent for a long time. Dewdrops were dripping from the leaves overhead. The fog was thickening and the cold was increasing.

    Jagrata said very softly, “Does anyone draw for the blinds?”

    “Don’t know. Perhaps some do.” Pranam said, after some thinking.

    They stayed quiet for a beat. Then Jagrata said, “There is no picture for the blinds.”

    Pranam did not reply. Jagrata had not asked a question.

    Jagrata said, as if to himself, “Unappreciative ones are nothing but blind. There is no picture for them. Unintelligent ones are deaf; there is no music for them. And the unfeeling ones, there is no beauty for them in this world.”

    “Please explain.”

    “One day you should scatter all your drawings in the forest. Let the animals see them.”

    “What’s the point? They too won’t understand. Perhaps they will peck at them or chew them up.”

    “People too do that sometimes. Don’t they?”

    Pranam smiled, “Jagrata, its getting cold. You don’t have any woolens on you.”

    “I am waiting for someone.”


    “Don’t know.” Jagrata shook his head, “ I have been feeling him following me for last few days. He is very smart. I feel him but have never seen him yet.”

    “But is that worrisome Jagrata? Are you sure you are not mistaken?”

    “Well I’m almost ninety. I can make mistakes. But what is worrying me more is that some new insects are flying in the jungle. They are black, like beetles. They don’t sip nectars, don’t sit still anywhere. Just fly around in a pre determined way. And they are very difficult to catch. They must be those spy bugs. But I don’t know what or who are they spying on. That is why I am a little concerned.”

    Pranam sounded concerned,” But you are a harmless man.”

    “Yes. I live with my animals, birds and plants. Government provides for my lodging and food. I have no secret to hide. No rebellion, no protests. That’s why I am worried.”

    “You can inform the 5Ws.”

    “We live in the Low Town. 5Ws don’t care that much for us. Even then I do keep in touch with them. They only said that these bugs are harmless. They have checked the whole area with their sensors . Nobody is spying on me, the robot insects are just collecting routine data about other insects. But I don’t believe them.”

    “Are you scared Jagrata?”

    “As a matter of fact, yes, I am. I am 89. Because I live in Low Town, so I could not get the inoculation for eternal life. Still, because of the new medicines and all, we could easily live to be hundred or hundred and fifty. But living is enjoyable only if there is no worry or fear. So far, I have spent my time in my beloved forest with great pleasure. Now I feel that pleasure is gone.”

    “Can you guess any reason for these events?”

    “No point making imaginary guesses. Is there?”


    Jagrata tried to stand up, “It is getting colder. I’m tired too. And you are getting late. Can you pull me up? My right knee is giving me trouble lately.”

    Pranam held Jagrata’s strong right hand like a handshake. He had a stout stick on his left hand. Pranam had never noticed him with a stick. Was he then really getting old?

    Jagrata stood up but didn’t let go Pranam’s hand. He said kindly, “Art, music creativity, all these are a man’s self identifications. This forest waits every day for its only artist. Did you know that?”

    Pranam smiled, “Even a sweet lie is sweet to hear indeed.”

    Jagrata let go of his hand. Suddenly Pranam realized that there is something crackly on his palm. He was going to raise his hand to see but in stead became wary. He went with Jagrata a little distance. His house was not too far. Jagrata turned to his house and Pranam walked on towards the rental car stand. The flying cars were all lined up, with their destinations written on top. Birati, Dakshineshwar, Sunderban, Bardwan. There were also a few low flying hovercrafts.

    The young driver opened the door of his rental hovercraft, “Please don’t mind Sir, but can I touch you?”

    “But why?” Pranam was surprised.

    “Oh, it is a ghost story.

    “Ghost story?”

    “Yes Sir. Day before, in the evening, an old man got in my cab, saying he wanted to go to Bantala. Then he fell asleep in the cab. I wasn’t concerned. Old people do fall asleep here and there. But after reaching Bantala, I saw that he had disappeared!”

    “But how could that happen?”

    “That is the question. Sealed airtight doors. Only would open if I press the remote. But he still disappeared. Since then I have been very scared of ghosts.”

    “Ghosts? But nobody is scared of ghosts anymore.”

    “Why not Sir? Even Kahna himself believed in ghosts.”

    “Kahna was a bit crazy.”

    “That he was, but he never talked nonsense. Whatever he said was absolute truth. I do believe in ghosts.”

    He was talking while driving. Suddenly he glanced back, “Where do you work, Sir?”

    “The main weather office.”

    “Oooh!”The driver whistled, “Oh my! The Main Observatory! You must live in the New Creation then!”

    “No, I just work there.”

    “But why? Why would you leave a place like New Creation and live in this dirty old Low Town?”

    “But many people do just that.” Pranam was amused.

    “No Sir, those who stay, do so because they have no other choice. If they got half a chance to move to New Creation, they would all leave. In the last one year, seven of my friends left for the New Creation. They say it is like a dreamland. I have been trying for so long. But still have had no luck. Could you please give me a reference Sir? I am PhD in Physics. But these people don’t care for old school degrees. Their science is so much more advanced.”

    Pranam said slowly, “But aren’t you Kahna’s disciple? He never liked pseudo-science or over-science.”

    “Forget about Kahna, Sir. He was a great man. We can’t all live like him. He talked about renunciation. But we haven’t even started to taste the life, what shall we give up? Sir, have you taken the I.M. vaccine?”

    “Immortality vaccine? No, why would I?”

    The boy shouted in surprise, “You haven’t? And you work in the New Creation? Hurry up and get it done, Sir, sooner the better. What could be better than immortality? You could remain young for thousands of years and keep on having fun. No?”

    Pranam was smiling, “Just living for a few thousand years is not immortality. Nothing is immortal in this universe. Even the earth, the Sun, all will die some time.”

    “Those are negative thoughts. Big Bab the scientist already said, “The new developments in science could even postpone death of the Universe.”

    “Hope you are right.” Pranam sighed.

    ”Of course I am right. I believe science is God. Do you know that we now worship ‘Science God’ in our houses? Science worship is also very popular in the community”

    “Science worship? How’s that?” Pranam was very surprised.

    “We bring an idol of Science, from Kumortuli and call a priest and worship.”

    “Idol of Science? Is it a male or female?”

    “Those are old ideas Sir , haven’t you seen Sofi? Unisex. Neither male, nor female. The biologist Namrata Kumar had already declared that there would be no male or female in future. Everything will blend into one. God wants that too.”

    “God does? Then why did He create men and women?”

    “I am talking about the non-existent God. Our God is Science.”

    “Pranam paid up the cab and got off near his house. He was feeling the beginning of a slight headache.

    Earlier, sitting in the hovercraft, he had put away in his pocket the crackly thing that was glued to his hand. Now he put his hand in the pocket and felt it. It felt like a leaf or a piece of paper. Perhaps it was accidentally stuck to Jagrata’s hand. If not, then Jagrata must be trying to tell him something.

    Pranam’s house was tiny and double storied. It was made up of some very light alloy. Their old house was destroyed in the earthquake nineteen years ago. A clever architect made this house for them. The special feature of the house was that in the event of an earthquake, within three seconds, gas inserted in a huge chamber below the roof will raise the house twenty feet above ground. So no earthquake could damage it.

    His biological father had given him this house. Perhaps one could call a biological father ‘dad’, or perhaps not. Pranam never knew him. He had always seen another man living with his mother. After him, she got together with a third man and left for Italy. His bio-dad too lived with many women. This house belonged to him. Now he lived in Iceland. Pranam became alone in the ripe old age of sixteen. Of course he did not lack for anything. Free school, free food, government scholarship etc took good care of him. Because he was extremely bright, the schoolteachers in the Low Town school got him admitted in the advanced school in the New Creation. He had to pass a very difficult admission test first. At that time a huge, pirate like man came to see him. He had huge moustache, tattoos of anchors on his chest and a cruel look in his eyes. But actually the guy wasn’t too bad. He said, “I am your biological father. My name is Parantap. I heard you are very bright? I’m proud of you. I have two more children, but you are the best of all. This house is mine and I am giving it to you to live. And don’t stay in Low Town any longer. As soon as possible, move to New Creation. There will always be room for you there. Don’t you wish to better your situation?”

    That was the end of his relationship with his bio-dad. But not with his house. Out of sheer habit he had stayed on in the house for 27 years almost. Never got around to move to New Creation. Many influential people there had invited him to move up. Perhaps they sent his bio-dad to talk him into moving also.

    The entire world, everywhere was divided between the Low Towns and the New Creations. The names might be different but everything else was similar. It was not the difference between rich and the poor any more, it was now a matter of knowledge and intelligence. Without them, one could never be in the New Creation. Being in New Creation meant being on the top of the society. Ultramodern housing, Life cocooned in layers of safety. Friendly insects hovering 24/7 to fix any problem one might have, obedient, intelligent robots to do all the daily chores and the access to immortality.

    In comparison, the Low Town was too ordinary. But Pranam still stayed on here. He got along well with the people of Low Town. He could stop by and visit any one, they all cared for him, and looked after his welfare. This was the only place where one could still meet hobos and idlers. This was where they still had plays on stage, magicians still came to show their tricks. In the temples, mosques and churches people still gathered to sing God’s name. This was where there still were plants and animals, birds still sang and fireflies still glowed.

    Pranam sat in his tiny library and examined the paper like object from his pocket. It looked like a dried leaf. Its smooth surface was scratched by some needle like sharp point and tiny letters were written on it. Pranam read them through a magnifying glass, “Kahna’s biography, chapter 5, page 271.”At the bottom of the leaf, in tiny letters—“Bharudatta”. Yes, Jagrata was trying to tell him something, in secret.

    Books had become obsolete. Everything was available on line. But surprisingly, only last week a publisher had mailed him a copy of Kahna’s Biography printed on artificial paper. He hadn’t yet had time to read it. But because he was a fan of Kahna, he had kept the book carefully.

    Now he opened the book at page 271. There was no new information there. Pranam had read an earlier print of this book. It was written 126 years ago. This chapter dealt with Kahna’s private life. His wedded wife had two daughters. But he also had two illegitimate sons by two other women. The sons’ names were Shashwata and Abineshwar. The writer had searched a lot for the mothers and found that one woman had left for Brazil and the other one ran away to the Seychelles islands.

    The book also quoted from Kahna’s private diary and there were his studies about afterlife, spirits etc. In one place he had written, “It is impossible to penetrate the mystery of life without being reborn. Just as it is impossible to explain the earth without the knowledge of gravity. I believe in reincarnation. There is only one problem. I want to be reborn with the entire memory of my current life intact. Otherwise who could take on my unfinished work after me? I must be born with this very sharp intellect, this vast memory, and this endless life force. My identity will be my improved gene. That’s why I have produced children. I will arrive through them. When men will feel tortured by the machines created by them, when men will worship the machines, instead of being in control over them, when the machines of false science and harmful science would be ready to destroy humankind, that is when I shall arrive. I will stand against those machines. I will teach man how to use science for the good of all plants and animals, for the entire planet. May God help me…”

    All this was nothing new. It was well known that Kahna was an egomaniac. But Pranam could not understand what Jagrata was trying to tell him. And why did the publisher send him the book in the first place? Then there was the mystery of Bharudatta.

    Bharudatta had a shop in the Thieves’ Bazaar. It was a shop of old things. Thieves’ market was not a posh, glittering place. Suspicious looking people came there to secretly buy, sell or trade odd merchandise. Numerous addictive drugs, cheap liquors, and much unhealthy food could be found there. They customers crowd in the evenings or late nights. It was mostly a place for sad and depressed people and losers. Most of these people wanted to move out of Low Town but could not manage in spite of trying day after day and wasting time. Of course everyone wanted unending happiness, immortality and safe, comfortable life.

    But Pranam knew that the New Creation was not as happy a place as people dreamt it to be. Still these Low Town people hung around New Creation, around the ultra modern laboratories, offices and workshops in a slim hope of admission. Even though no one cared or bothered about them.

    Strangely, Bharudatta was one big exception to the above. Bharu was extremely bright, smart and a daredevil. Long ago he used to work in the most advanced division of genetics in the largest Science University in the New Creation. He also was the head of their media division. He lived in a dreamy beautiful house, took the immortality vaccine at age 32. There wasn’t much else he could have wished for. But suddenly he left everything and came back to Low Town. Bharu was always full of energy, loud voice and laughter. He loved to wear bright colors and loved rich food. Every time he gained too much weight, he went to a spa for a few days, slimmed down and came back to happily start his eating binge again.

    Many suspected Bharu to be a spy of the New Creation. Perhaps he was sending everybody’s secrets to the high office there.

    Bharu had once told Pranam, “You must know, in old days, there was a Theory of Economics, “Law of Diminishing Utility”. Say some one gives you an orange. You will eat it and love it. Then you get one more, you like it too but not as much, then another, and another, soon you are sick of orange and wanting to throw up. Understood?”

    “Is over-happiness the cause?”

    “The main cause, yes. Too much happiness. Another cause is love for old things.”

    “Do you sell a lot of this old stuff?”

    “Not at all.” Bharu laughed, “Whole day, whole week, whole month even a whole year may go by and I sell not one thing. Who would buy all this trash? The antique lovers of old days bought them because these were unique, one of a kind at that time. Now robots can make anything old or new. See that old Rolex watch? It is 300 years old. It’s technology is outdated now. Nobody wears wristwatch anymore. But just stick it into that copying machine and you can get as many identical watches as you want. And they will be even more authentic than my original. Why would anybody buy mine?

    “But, then why have you opened this shop?”

    “There is a reason. In old days, people really loved the things they used. One man wore the same Rolex watch for years perhaps, or wrote with the same Parker pen or used the same snuffbox. People loved their possessions. So much so that the objects almost became a part of their identities. My theory is that even after their deaths, parts of their beings still remained in their beloved objects.

    “Can you prove this?”

    “I once picked up that Rolex watch, closed my eyes and tried to imagine what kind of a person the owner was, I was almost in a trance, and that’s when I heard a cough.”


    “It was about ten at night. I had closed the shop and sat alone. At the sound of the cough I opened my eyes and saw a vague human form in front of me. Looked like an old man. He was wearing a dhoti and had a coat on top. He had deep set eyes. He stared at me for some time and then disappeared.”

    “Is this a ghost story, Bharu?”

    “No Pranam. Not a ghost story. This is a story of different statuses of one’s spirit. Life is strange. Why else do you think a man like Kahna got into such paranormal phenomena? This Parker pen for example. It belonged to a long forgotten writer. I don’t know his name, nor have I read any of his writings. But I hold the pen everyday and try to imagine the man. At last, one rainy night, someone sat in front of me and stared at the pen. He had unkempt hair, thick moustaches and smelled of cigars.”

    “But proof?”

    “Who cares! I don’t need proof for myself.”

    It was getting late. Pranam put away Kanha’s biography. About a stone’s throw from his house was a government sponsored dining place, a posh soup kitchen. It was all mechanized, clean and tasteful, and served by a bevy of robot beauties. They were always smiling, always perfect hostesses.

    Pranam was picking up the food on his tray from a slow moving conveyer belt. A beautiful, slim robot named Pritha stood in front. She had thick,long hair and always put a fresh flower in it.

    Suddenly Pritha said, “Do you need a bed partner tonight?”

    “No, thanks.” Pranam shook his head.

    He remembered Pritha occasionally asked him this question. Perhaps this was a part of her hostess programming. Even the robot women were expert sex partners nowadays.

    Pritha said again, “I can really please you. I am an expert in sex acts.”

    Pranam smiled, “No Pritha. But thanks. I am sure you will find a willing partner soon.”

    “Are you thinking this is a routine question I ask everyone?”

    Pranam was surprised, “Isn’t it supposed to be just that?”

    “Not at all.” Pritha shook her head.

    “What then?”

    “It is my personal question, only for you.”

    “For me, Pritha? Only for me?”

    “My sensors get excited only at your proximity. It could be an error. Day before I dropped a bowl of soup. Last week I missed a step and fell. My knee joint was broken.”

    “Pritha, you are only a robot.” Pranam frowned, “ How can you react like that to a man?”

    “I don’t know. You have to ask that to my creator. Pranam, but Pritha really craves your company. Pritha waits for you whole day. She thinks about you all the time.”

    Worrying about her, Pranam could not enjoy his food. Pritha was staring at him all the time. A drunken man was coming in with the tray, she sharply rebuked him, “Drinking is not allowed here, please go outside.”

    The poor guy almost ran out.

    Pranam quickly finished his food and went back home. That night he could not sleep well.

    Next evening, when Pranam came to visit Bharu, he was tinkering with an old camera, “Come, come, have a seat. Haven’t seen you for ages.”

    Before saying anything, Pranam thoughtfully looked at the obligatory insect hovering over Bharu’s head. Bharu was still a guy from New Creation. So the insect was supposed to be with him all the time. Insect signified safety, trusty friend, and bodyguard. If it sensed any danger to Bharu, It would go all out on attack. But the insect was also a spy.

    Bharu kept working at his camera, “Don’t worry about the insect. I can do many things. I have already neutralized it. Now he is blind, deaf and mute.”

    “Are you a mind reader?” Pranam was amazed.

    “No, just common sense. I can tell from your face that something is bothering you.”

    “Look at this.” Pranam showed him the piece of the leaf.

    Bharu frowned and studied it very carefully. Then he looked up, “Who gave you this?”

    Pranam smiled, “Try to guess. You said you could visualize the owner of any object.”

    Bharu held the leaf and closed his eyes for a couple of minutes. Then he looked again at Pranam, “Jagrata wants to tell you something. Tell me what is on that page of the book?”

    “Jagrata has named you. You should know.”

    Bharu again closed his eyes and stayed still. Then he opened his eyes and said, “My expertise is in genetics. According to genetics theories, Jagrata is related to Kahna.”

    “That is possible, of course, but why should that worry him?”

    “Once I was given the job of making a family tree of all the relations of Kahna. That was when I worked in the University. It was a difficult job. Counting legitimates and illegitimates, Kahna had two sons and two daughters. But after eight generation and two hundred years, it was impossible to keep track of all the offspring. I did my best. I know two of them are living at present. Jagrata and a girl named Rikta. There is also another girl, but I don’t know her. Her name is Purna.”

    “Who is Rikta?”

    “A worker in the space research lab. Lives in the Peaceful Nest in New Creation. Leaving aside all the remote relations of Kahna, these two, Jagrata and Rikta are Kahna’s direct descendants. And the third one is Purna. That is where the danger is.”

    “Danger? What kind of danger?”

    “That I don’t know” Bharu shook his head, “Do you believe in sixth sense?”

    “ Something like a gut feeling?”

    “ Yes, somewhat. When I was working on the family tree, I somehow felt that all this respect and prestige bestowed upon Kahna was somehow fake, a façade only. Deep down people are very afraid of him. And that fear is rising. The main reason is that book.”

    “But what is so fearsome in that book?”

    “It has Kahna’s threat that he will return and…”

    “But all that re-birth stuff was his crazy ranting.”

    “ Who knows. Perhaps not. After many years of studying science I am feeling doubtful. Nowadays, this is what I argue about with myself, all the time.”

    “But, what shall I tell Jagrata? He is really very worried.”

    “Worse than worried, Jagrata is in danger.” Bharu said

    “Why? Why aren’t you telling me everything?”

    “There is danger in that too.”

    Bharu put the camera away and stayed silent. Pranam too waited quietly for a while then got up, “I better leave then.”

    “See you.” Bharu said softly.

    When Pranam was at the door, Bharu suddenly said,

    “Do you know something?”


    “The ones who took the vaccine for immortality? There is a high rate of suicide seen amongst them.”

    “Why Bharudatta?”

    “You know the word ‘vessel’?”

    “Like a pot, container?”

    “Yes. In this vessel of human body, is there enough space for immortality? What can a human being do with so much time?”

    Pranam stared at Bharudatta for a while, and then went out.

    He took his boat shaped tiny air-car and flew around aimlessly for a while. Was he getting pulled into some kind of a cycle of events? Four names buzzed in his brain, Jagrata, Rikta, Purna, and Kahna.

    That night in the dining hall, he did not see Pritha. In her place Li stood there. Li was plump and looked pampered. She smiled at Pranam, “Welcome, Pranam.”

    “Where is Pritha, Li?”

    “Gone.” Li said, shaking her head.

    “Gone? Where?”

    “ Means she is gone. She is removed from here.”

    “Why? What did she do?”

    “She misbehaved with a guest.”

    “Pritha never misbehaves!” Pranam was very surprised.

    “She did. We are not programmed to irritate or annoy a guest. She did that.” Li said.

    “But what did she do to annoy? Tell me.”

    “Against our rules she told a guest that she loved him.”

    Pranam's ears had become red. He said sharply, “But all of you offer yourselves as bed mates, don’t you?”

    “Sure. That is included in our program.”

    “Then what wrong did Pritha do?”

    “You surprised me Pranam. Offering sex is not breaking the rule, that is part of our routine.”

    “Then Pritha did nothing more than that!”

    “She did Pranam, you are forgetting.”


    “We offer sex politely, if denied we immediately accept it. But Pritha didn’t. Even after being turned down she expressed and said such things that are against our rules.”

    “I want to know, where is she now?”

    “She was fired this morning. Now they are investigating why she behaved like that.”

    Pranam said in despair, “That means I am the one responsible for her punishment?”

    “No Pranam, Pritha’s actions are responsible for her punishment.”

    Pranam had lost his appetite by then. He just toyed with the food for a bit and then got up.

    He kept remembering Pritha. She was a doll, only a mechanical, life size doll. But yesterday, for the first time she acted like a human. Her words were still humming in his mind. Some inexplicable depression overwhelmed him.

    Published in Parabaas, February 26, 2014

    The original novel "Bonodebi o Pnachti Payra" (বনদেবী ও পাঁচটি পায়রা) by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay was first pubished in the festival issue of Desh (Sharodiya Desh, শারদীয়া দেশ) in 2012 and later as a book in January 2013 by Ananda, Kolkata.

    Illustrated by Ananya Das. Author of several books and an illustrator, Ananya Das is based in Pennsylvania.

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