• Parabaas
    Parabaas : পরবাস : বাংলা ভাষা, সাহিত্য ও সংস্কৃতি
  • পরবাস | Translation | Essay
  • Tiger-Savant Long-Tail (Byaghracharya Brihallangul) (Article II) : Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay
    translated from Bengali to English by Sudeshna Kar Barua

    Article I Synopsis

    Once upon a time, in the dense jungle of the Sunderbans, scores of Herculean tigers and tigresses assembled to listen to a presidential address by Amitodar. After the completion of his speech, he informed the assemblage of the pressing need for a Tiger Association for the uplift, both educational and cultural, of the tiger community. Quite naturally, the motion was passed unanimously with terrifying howls and growls. Thereafter, Amitodar announced that the assembly would soon have the rare privilege of listening to the vastly experienced and erudite Byaghracharya Brihallangul, Tiger-savant Long-tail, who would be sharing with them his knowledge of the human kind which he had gathered owing to his proximity to the two-legged animals during his own captivity. To the delight of the tigers and tigresses present, Tiger-savant Long-tail spoke of the superiority of tigers and of his firm conviction that the weak human race was worthless and had been created only for the gastronomic satisfaction of tigers. He openly stated that human beings were a mystery to him for, in spite of his keen observation, he still had serious doubts about human customs and practices and about human nature itself. In response to the interesting talk, questions were asked and comments made for further verification and clarifications. To prove his point Tiger-savant Long-tail explained that despite having spent considerable time inside a cage in a human locality, he did not quiet understand why human beings constructed colossal buildings or whether or not they consumed grass. It was not quite clear to him whether human beings would one day turn into monkeys or whether their fondness for cow’s milk indicated that they themselves had once been calves. He was most intrigued by human activities in general and marriage in particular. Unfortunately, the discussion on marriage came to a sudden and unannounced end as the hungry President and the listeners just failed to control themselves at the sight of a wandering fawn. The chase began and Brihallangul joined enthusiastically promising to continue with his treatise on marriage in a post-lunch session in the near future. Article II has documented the proceedings of the second meeting attended once again by tigers, all full-bellied on this occasion. The session was so timed so as to rule out the possibility of a repeat performance of the chase for food that had brought about such an unceremonious end to the earlier interactive session.

    Article II

    “Mr. President Sir, Tigresses and Honourable Tigers!

    In my first speech I had made a commitment that I would be speaking to you about the human matrimonial system and on some other topics as well. Keeping one’s promise is the primary duty of the civilized. So I am coming to the subject at once and without further ado.

    You are all aware of what a marriage means. All and sundry, now and then, at their own leisure, do get married. But there is some peculiarity in human weddings. Taking of partners by tigers and other cultured beasts is only for sheer necessity but it is not so with human beasts because quite a few amongst them marry only once and that’s forever.

    A human wedding is of two kinds—the regular and everlasting and the irregular and casual. Of the two it is the regular marriage solemnized by a priest that is accepted. The knot that is tied with a priest as an intermediary is a priest-sanctioned marriage.”

    Mahadangstra “(Sharp-toothed): “What is a priest?”

    Brihallangul: “It’s written in the lexicon that a priest is a herbivore fed on rice and plantains and engaged in the business of cheating. But this definition is incorrect because all priests are not eaters of rice and plantains. A number of priests are quite used to consuming both liquor and flesh. Many priests are omnivores. On the other hand it is not so that by eating rice and plantains alone one becomes a priest. In a city called Varanasi there are a number of oxen ---they do eat rice and plantains. However, they are not priests because they are not swindlers. Only when the treacherous eat rice and plantains do they become priests.

    In weddings solemnized by priests, one such sits right between the bride and the groom. He sits and prattles for a while. Such a lecture is called chanting. What that means I am not quite certain. However, because of the kind of scholar that I am, I have been able to make some kind of meaning out of those chantings. Perhaps, the priest says, ‘O bride and groom! I command you to tie the knot. If you get united, I too shall get my rice and plantains regularly…so do get married. On the occasions of the bride’s conceiving, receiving the Hindu sacrament during pregnancy, entering the delivery room, I shall be getting my regular supply of food –so do get married. On the occasion of the shasti puja of the child born, his rice ceremony, piercing of the earlobe, tonsuring, thread ceremony, I shall be getting lots of edibles, therefore do get married. Once you make an entry into family life, you will always be engaged in rites and rituals, in worship and religious ceremonies, sacrifices etc. As a result I shall be getting my rice and plantains, so do get married. Do get married, do not ever abolish marriage. If you get this annulled then there will be some difficulty in my getting my rice and plantains. If so, I’ll just strike your heads off with tight slaps one after another. This is the command given to us by our ancestors.’ Perhaps, because of such strictures these priest-guided weddings are never abolished.”

    “The wedding system that is prevalent amongst us may be termed casual. Amongst human beings too marriage of this kind is usually in practice. Many men and women indulge in both kinds of matrimony quite regularly. But the main difference between the regular and the irregular marriages is that no one conceals a regular marriage but people go all out to keep the casual wedlock a secret. If one man comes to know about the secret marriage of another, then he does, now and then, catch hold of him and beat him up. In my opinion, priests are the root cause of this problem. They do not get their tit bits in the secret marriages—hence their mission is to suppress this practice. Following their instructions people thrash the partners of these irregular marriages. But the strangest of things is that there are many who themselves get married secretly but on discovering others getting into an irregular wedlock they just catch them and give them a good thrashing.”

    “From this I can deduce that a large number of human beings approve of such secret unions but out of sheer fear of the priests etc they cannot utter a word. During my stay in a human locality I came to learn that people belonging to the upper class have a special liking for these irregular unions. Those who are as civilized as we are, hence bestial, are the ones who follow and imitate us. I do have this confidence that in future when mankind will become as cultured as we are such clandestine relationships will be socially accepted. Many human scholars are writing books etc. in favour of initiating such practices. They are undoubtedly well-wishers of their own race. In my opinion, to felicitate them we can make them honorary members of this Tiger Community and I hope that when they attend a meeting none of you will make a meal of them because like us they are versed in ethics and are benevolent.”

    “There is a special kind of casual marriage prevalent amongst human beings. It may be termed monetary matrimony. For solemnizing such a union a man touches a woman’s palm with a coin. With this alone a coin-marriage is completed.”

    Mahadangstra: “What is a coin?”

    Brihallangul : “A coin is a kind of deity worshipped by men. If you have the curiosity to know more, I can elaborately sing the praises of that great goddess. Of all the deities worshipped by human beings, it is she who is most revered. She has a physical entity. Her idol is made of metals like gold, silver and copper. Her temple is constructed with iron, tin and wood. Silk, wool, cotton, leather etc. are used to make her throne. Day and night, men and women are absorbed in her thought and all the while they wander about frantically devising ways and means to catch a glimpse of this deity. Day in and day out men pay visits to those homes where there is money. Such is their attachment and devotion that they do not leave those houses even if they are thrashed. The man who is the priest of this goddess or the one in whose house she has her seat, is considered chief amongst men. Other men, all the while, sing his praises with folded hands. Men consider themselves to be privileged if an owner of the Coin-Goddess so much as casts a glance at them.

    The deity is very powerful. There is nothing that cannot be achieved with the help of this Devi. There is no such object on earth that cannot be acquired with the blessing of this Goddess. There is no vice that does not get hidden by the mercy of this deity. There is no virtue that can be considered a virtue in human society without her favour. There is no virtue in a home that does not house this goddess. Can there be any vice in any one in whose house this deity resides? In human society it is the favourite of the Goddess of Wealth who alone is hailed as pious and absence of wealth is considered irreligious. The one who has wealth is a learned man. According to human scriptures, the one without wealth is designated a fool even if he is scholar. If we use the term ‘big tiger’, we refer to Herculean tigers like Amitodar, Mahadangstra etc. But in the human domain ‘big man’ does not mean the same. It does not refer to a twelve or fifteen-footer. The man in whose house this deity dwells is labelled a “big man”. But if she has not been accommodated in a house, then the owner, even if a seven-footer, is referred to as a ‘small man’.”

    “On listening to the eulogies of this Deity I had at first decided that I would bring her from the human locality and establish her in the Tiger world. But from what I heard later, I desisted from doing it. I heard that money is the root cause of all mankind’s problems. First-grade beasts like tigers are never envious of their own kind but men are always jealous of fellow-beings. Lucre worship is the sole cause of this hostility. It is for their avarice that men are all the while attempting to harm one another. In my first lecture I had mentioned that men gathered in thousands on vast fields to slaughter one another. Money is responsible for this. For the excitement of acquiring wealth men are always killing, injuring, tormenting, insulting and slighting each other. There is perhaps no disaster in the human world that has not been brought about by the grace of this goddess. On coming to know about this I sent a prayer up to the Goddess and gave up the intention of worshipping her.”

    “Unfortunately, human beings do not realize this. In my first lecture itself I had stated that men are lacking in foresight and are trying to harm one another all the time. Consequently, like a potter’s wheel they go round and round continuously in their attempt to collect silver coins and copper coins.”

    “The human marriage system is queer and so are some other practices. But, lest my long-drawn lecture once again brings you close to your hunting time, I shall conclude here this day. In future, if time permits, I shall speak on other topics.” In this manner, after concluding his speech, Tiger-savant Brihallangul resumed his seat amidst a thunderous clap clap of tails. Then a well-educated young tiger named Dirgha Nokh or Long-Nail raised himself up and growled into an argument.

    At the end of a roar Dirgha Nokh Esquire said, “All you honourable Tigers, now I propose to thank the Speaker for his kind address. But it is also my duty to point out that the lecture was sub-standard, full of lies and that the speaker is an ignorant idiot”.

    Amitodar: “Please, I request you to quieten down. The civilized do not abuse so openly. Indirectly, of course, you may abuse even more strongly.”

    Long-Nail: “As you say. The speaker is very truthful. Even though the major portion of all that he has said is false, there are one or two true statements. He is a great scholar. Many here may feel that there was no substance whatsoever in his address but we must be grateful for whatever we have received. However, I cannot agree with all that he has included in his lecture. Actually, the speaker has no knowledge of what marriage in human society really means. If, for the sake of procreation, any tiger chooses any tigress as his partner (a fellow-wanderer) we call it marriage. Human weddings are not like this. Man is by nature weak and quite devoted to his master. As a result each male requires an overlord and all men appoint women as their masters. It is this that they call a marriage. When they accept a master calling upon a witness, the marriage may be termed a priest-approved matrimony. The name of the witness is Priest. The explanation that Brihallangul Esquire has offered with regard to matrimonial chanting is not accurate. The mantra is as follows:

    Priest: Come on tell me what should I be a witness to?

    Groom: Be a witness. I am accepting this woman as my master for the rest of my life.

    Groom: And I pledge myself as her most obedient servant for life. The responsibility of supplying food is mine and that of eating is hers.

    Priest: (Addressing the Bride) What do you have to say?

    Bride: I willingly accept this slave. As long as I shall desire it, I shall allow him to be at my feet. The day I won’t feel like it, I’ll kick him out of my service.

    Priest Amen.”

    “There are many more errors of this nature. For example, a coin or money has been described as a man-revered deity by the speaker but actually it is not a goddess. Money is a kind of poison. Men are extraordinarily fond of venom, hence are so particular about collecting coins. Learning that man is devoted to coins I once thought, ‘Wonder how delicious or nutritious a coin is. I shall have to taste it one day.’ Once while devouring a man I had killed on the bank of the Vidyadhari river, I found some coins inside his garments. I gobbled them all up without delay. The next day I experienced a bellyache. Hence, is there any doubt that coin is a kind of poison?”

    After Long-Nail concluded his argument in this manner, other honourable tigers got up and delivered lectures. Later President Amitodar Esquire began to speak:

    “It’s quite late in the night and it is time for earning our livelihood. Who knows when a herd of deer will arrive! Hence it is not desirable to waste time by delivering long lectures. The talk was brilliant and we are much obliged to Brihallangul Esquire. The one thing that I want to say is that from the two lectures that you have all heard, you must have realized that man is an extremely uncivilized animal. We are the most civilized beasts. So it becomes our duty to make men as cultured as we are. It seems that God Almighty has sent us to the forests of the Sunderbans to civilize human beings because if men are more polished their flesh may taste better and they may be caught more easily for, once educated, they will understand that it is every man’s bounden duty to offer his body as food to the tigers. This is the kind of culture that we wish to inculcate in them. Hence, do pay attention to this matter in particular. It is a tiger’s noble duty to first civilize human beings and eat them up thereafter.”

    Ending his talk in this manner, the Hon’ble President took his seat amidst loud clap clap of tails. The important meeting of the tigers came to an end after a vote of thanks to the President. Thereafter, each one went which ever way he chose to earn his livelihood.

    All around the ground on which the meeting was being held, were some big and tall trees. Climbing them up and concealing themselves in the midst of leaves, some monkeys had been listening to the lecturers of the tigers. After the tigers vacated the meeting ground one monkey peeped out and called out, “Hey mate, are you on the branch?”

    The second monkey replied, “Yes Sir. I’m here.”

    First Monkey: “Come on, let us begin a criticism of the discussion of the tigers.”

    Second Monkey : Why?

    F M.: These tigers are our sworn enemies. Let us show our animosity by discrediting them.

    S. M.: Obligatory. It is the proper duty of our race.

    F.M. : Right. But just see, is any tiger near about?

    S. M.: No. Still, tell me without coming out in the open.

    F.M. : That’s right. Or else who knows on which day I may land in front of which tiger and he may make a meal of me.

    S.M.: Please tell me. What are the errors?

    F.M. : Firstly, bad grammar. We monkeys are experts in grammar. Their grammar is not like our monkey-ish grammar.

    S. M.: What else?

    F. M. : Their language is too impure.

    S.M. : Yes. They do not converse in our monkey tongue.

    F.M. That Amitodar said, “It is the duty of the tigers to first civilize human beings and then eat them up”. But, instead of that if he had said, ‘ First devour human beings and then polish them up’, it would have been more reasonable.

    S.M.: Undoubtedly. Or else why should they call us monkeys?

    F.M. : They have no idea whatsoever how a lecture is to be delivered.. During a lecture one has to indulge in a little chatter, has to jump and leap, make faces once or twice, feed on bananas once or twice ; it is their duty to take a few lessons from us.

    S.M. : Had they received some training from us they would have been monkeys and not tigers.

    At that time, plucking up courage, some more monkeys got up. One monkey said, “In my opinion , the greatest of errors in the lecture is that Brihallangul has said quite a few new things which he has discovered with the help of his own knowledge and intelligence. Such statements are not to be found in any book. Whatever has not been discussed repeatedly by earlier writers is absolutely unacceptable. We, the monkey brotherhood, have all through brought about the prosperity of the monkey domain through aping and imitation. That the tiger-savant has not done this, is his greatest failing.

    Then a ruddy-faced monkey spoke, “I can, from these lectures, bring out a list of more than a thousand errors. I have not been able to understand thousands of things. Can all that which is beyond my knowledge and understanding, be anything but a very serious shortcoming?

    Another monkey opined, “I shall not be able to point out any defect but I can make fifty-two kinds of faces and display my own culture and sense of humour by abusing indecently.

    In this manner, the monkeys remained engaged in vilifying the tigers. Observing this a plump monkey said, “The way we have criticized, Brihallangul will surely return to his den and fall dead. Come, let us feast on bananas.”

    © 2008 by Sudeshna Kar Barua

    Published December, 2008

    Illustrations by Banbhatta. "Banbhatta," based in Kolkata, is a researcher and consultant in Civil Engineering. His hobby includes writing, photography, arts.

    অলংকরণ (Artwork) : Banbhatta
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