|The mystery in itself was totally convoluted, and Feluda was making it more tortuous with his vague words. Finally, I decided to call it a day and not think about it anymore. But it is not easy to stop yourself from thinking, especially if the topic is appealing to you. My mind was full of queries. Why did Shyamlal babu have mud stains on his feet? Who sent the thuggee and the warning note? Whom did granny see when she cried out? What was in that hole in the garden? Why did Mr. Mallick refuse to show the message written by the spirit?
you have an acquaintance who lives in Gosaipur?’ Feluda asked Lalmohan Ganguly, alias Jatayu, the
After seeing the Victoria Memorial, we, the three
musketeers, had been walking and had reached the edge of the Ganga. We
now sat in that vaulted room that’s near the Princep Ghat munching on chanachur
and savoring the breeze of the Ganga. It was five in the evening
on the thirteenth of October. A buoy had been floating in the water before us
and after explaining Lalmohan babu its use Feluda posed the above question. ‘Of
course I have,’ said Lalmohan babu, ‘Tulsi babu… Tulsicharan Dasgupta. He used
to teach Mathematics and Geography at the Athenaeum. Tulsi babu used to live in
Raja Dinendra Street before moving to Gosaipur after his retirement. His
ancestral home is there. He had asked me more than once to visit him. He is one
of my ardent fans, you know? A composer of stories himself, he writes for
children mostly. A couple of them have been published in the Sandesh as
well – but why Gosaipur?’
‘I received a letter from there. The writer is
Jibanlal Mallick. Jibanlal is the son of Shyamlal Mallick. Upon opening the Bansha-parichaya
(Genealogical Identity), third edition, I saw that the Mallicks had been the zamindars
A ship whistled rather loudly and made Feluda
stop. I knew a letter from Gosaipur had come by the morning post. I had,
however, no idea about its contents. I had observed Feluda light a Charminar
cigarette and sit quietly for some time after reading that note.
‘What did the gentleman write?’asked Lalmohan
‘He wrote that somebody or some people threatened
to murder his father. He will be grateful and would award a suitable
remuneration if I could come and solve the matter.’
‘Let’s go, sir,’ said Lalmohan babu. ‘We are
almost free right now; my new book is out too. You don’t have anything on your
hands at the moment either. Besides, we have already been to various places
abroad, so visiting the countryside to change the palate doesn’t seem like a
bad proposition at all. I heard that in Segunhati, which is very close, they
have a fair at this time. Let’s go, sir.’
‘They may have problems if we stay in their
home. That’s why Jibanlal said he will arrange for our stay at a house of one
of his acquaintances, about three miles away in Sripur. We will have to commute by cycle rickshaw. However, I think it will be convenient if we stayed in Gosaipur. That’s why
I asked about your friend.’
‘My friend will be damn glad. And if he hears
you are coming along then he will be more than happy. He greatly admires you as
‘Let me know who else he admires.’
Lalmohan babu took this sarcastic question
rather seriously, ‘I heard him mention Jagadish Bose sometimes; he said that
there was not a man greater than him in the entire world; and I guess he learnt
wrestling from Gobor babu when he was young; and--’
‘Okay, that’s enough.’
To reach Gosaipur you need to get off at Katwa
Junction and take a bus. It is seven miles from Katwa and will take
at most half an hour. Feluda sent a note to Shyamlal’s son
Jibanlal informing him about our arrival and our arrangement to
stay in Gosaipur. Meanwhile, upon receiving Jatayu’s letter, Tulsi babu had
replied promptly. Not only was he happy, but he also wrote that ‘Gosaipur
Sahitya Sangha’ (Gosaipur literary club) wished to arrange joint felicitations
for Lalmohan babu and Feluda. Lalmohan babu had no problems; however, upon hearing
the news, Feluda turned all angry and said, ‘If crime stops in the country then
investigators lose their means of livelihood. Do you understand the conditions
under which I work? Why
do I need to be felicitated for that, sir? And please mention to your friend
that he must keep my identity a secret, otherwise the investigation will be
Lalmohan babu was compelled to do as instructed
by Feluda. In his note to his friend, however, he mentioned that he had no
problem in accepting the felicitation himself. In fact, the ceremony was
probably on his mind when he packed the satin Panjabi with blue chikan
threadwork in his luggage.
Tulsi babu had informed us that he would be
waiting for us at Yogesh’s grocery store, a hard-to-miss spot near the entrance
of the Gosaipur village. His home was only a ten-minute walk from there.
While on the bus from Katwa to Gosaipur, I was
pretty surprised to see a palki on the road. I observed Feluda and
Lalmohan babu turning their heads and staring at it as well. ‘Which century are
we in, sir?’ said Lalmohan babu. ‘Do you suppose electricity has reached here?
I didn’t consider the location to be this rustic.’
The bus conductor said that he knew Yogesh’s
grocery store. Upon reaching the destination, he shouted shrilly ‘Gosaipur,
Gosaipur!’ The bus stopped and we got off.
It went without saying that the
gentleman whom Lalmohan babu now approached with a big smile had been a school
master. The bespectacled gentleman held a patched-up umbrella in his hand, had
on a pair of brown Keds shoes, wore a half-panjabi and dhoti, and
under his armpit held a very old copy of the National Geographic magazine. On
being introduced to Feluda he smiled, winked and said, ‘I followed your
instruction—you needn’t worry anymore. You are a tourist. You’ve spent your
whole life in Canada, and now you’ve come to see the country out of sheer whim.
I thought that if you are here on some investigation you might have to move around here and there, that’s why it’s
better to be on the safe side and be a tourist rather than anything else.
Everybody is familiar with the strong inquisitiveness of tourists.’
‘I hope you have informative books on Canada at your home’ Feluda said with a smile.
‘You don’t worry about that too,’ said Tulsi babu.
Next he turned towards Lalmohan babu and said,
‘Ganguly bhaya, you do, however, need to suffer a bit of trouble. The
day after tomorrow is Friday, and I have arranged a function on that day at our
New Primary school. The lawyer Suresh Chakladar will be presiding. It’s
nothing—a little song and dance, a couple of recitations, a couple of speeches
and that’s about it. Baladev, the son of our postmaster Harihar, is a good
artist; he wrote the address of honor. The language, however, is mine.’
‘The formalities seem to be a bit excessive—’
Lalmohan babu tripped on something on the unpaved road and couldn’t finish his
sentence. However, Tulsi babu having understood the rest of his intended speech
said, ‘Well, there will be a bit of excess in such matters. There aren’t a lot
of successful authors like you around here. Parikshit Chatterjee was the last
who visited— and that was back in sixty seven.’
Feluda said, ‘We saw a palki on our way here.
Do people still use palki in this area?’
‘Just palki?’ Tulsi babu said, prodding
a calf that had ambled onto the road with his umbrella. ‘Name any artifact you
want from the bygone era. Footmen and other followers? Yes, sir. Hookah-holder?
Again yes. Lamp and lamp-stand? Yes—’
‘But I see you have electricity here.’
‘It’s everywhere, except for where it is most
‘Where, sir?’ Lalmohan babu enquired.
‘The Mallick house’
Surprised, all three of us stared at the
‘Mallick meaning Shyamlal Mallick?’ Feluda
‘They are the only Mallicks in Gosaipur. They
used to be the zamindars here, you know. Under Durlabh Mallick’s name even traditional antagonists behaved as friends.
Shyamlal is his son. After the demise of landownership, he started a business
of plastics and made a lot of money. One day he was groping in the dark to light a switch in his
room and he didn’t see the live wire that was on the switchboard.
Unfortunately, his hand came in contact with it. It was AC current, sir; there
was much uproar over his burnt hand. He was in the hospital for quite some time
too. After he was discharged, he transferred his business to his son and came
to Gosaipur. No sooner did he arrive than he disconnected the electricity
connection in his home. We could have understood if he had limited himself to
that. At the same time he rejected everything that belonged to the twentieth
century. He quit the cigar for the hubble-bubble; the toothbrush for the
tooth-twig. All the English books in his house were sold off; he sold off his
car as well and started using the palki. He restored an old broken palki
that they had at home and employed four palanquin-bearers. He discarded all
the imported medicines he had and now relies entirely on Ayurveda. This has
proved to be an accidental piece of luck for Tarak kobiraj. There isn’t
any count of such things he did. Now that you are here, you’ll doubtless be
introduced to him, you will see everything then.’
‘I cannot but be introduced,’ said Feluda. ‘I
was summoned by his son.’
‘Yes, the son is here all right. What’s the
‘Did you hear any news about attempts to kill
Tulsi babu seemed rather surprised to hear
this. ‘No, I didn’t hear any such thing. By the way, if somebody wants to kill
him then why bring people from outside? His enemy is in his home.’
‘How is that?’
‘The person who summoned you doesn’t get along
with his father at all. They have altercations whenever he visits his father’s
home. Nevertheless, I do not blame Jibanlal for that. How can a son get along
with a father with such queer ideas? Whenever Jibanlal comes he has to live in
that house. It’s very difficult to keep your cool in that haunted house.’
Tulsi babu said that his brick house which
stood on an acre of land was nearly a hundred years old. He said it was built
by his grandfather who had been an attorney. Tulsi babu’s wife died in Kolkata.
His daughter was married to an iron and wood businessman in Ajimganj. Of his
two sons, one was employed in the sign-painting business in Kolkata; the other
was a medicine salesman. Tulsi babu lived in Gosaipur all by himself. ‘However,
you know, you don’t feel lonely in the village. Here everybody is aware of
everybody’s whereabouts; you see them every day, the intimacy is greater here.’
Upon reaching Tulsi babu’s house around four in
the evening and freshening up, the tea arrangements were made. Feluda being
rather finicky about his tea carried a packet of good tea along with him. We
all drank that with chira-narkel. Tulsi babu’s servant Ganga made all
Tulsi babu stayed in one of the rooms on the first floor. There was a
spacious room on the second floor. Three wooden-plank beds were placed in that
room for us. We learnt that Tulsi babu’s daughter and
son-in-law and their children came once every year and stayed in that room.
While sipping his tea Feluda said, ‘I need to
visit the house that doesn’t have electricity to meet Jiban babu. I wrote him
that I will be visiting him around five-thirty.’
Tulsi babu said, ‘Oh, very well, I will take
you there. The Mallick house is five to seven minutes from here. However, I am
not leaving dear Mr. Ganguly. A few people are coming over this evening. They
wish to have some amiable conversation with the literateur. Mr. Mitter, will you be
back in a couple of hours?’
‘Why would you ask?’
‘I want to take you to Atmaram babu’s place. He
is one of the attractions of Gosaipur.’
‘His real name is Mrigen Bhattacharya. He
practices summoning spirits, that’s why some people have named him Atmaram. I
didn’t name him though! I believe the gentleman does have something in him.’
We couldn’t ask Tulsi babu anything more about
Atmaram babu’s profession of summoning spirits because right at that moment we
saw that palki once again. We were sitting in the verandah and having
our tea and chira, the road ran just outside this porch, and the
palki was coming along that road. We now saw somebody sitting inside it.
‘Dear me, I guess Jiban babu is inside the palki!’
said Tulsi babu. We saw a gentleman peeping through the door. The palanquin
bearers, like the ones we read in stories, made their customary ‘heave-ho’
sound as they marched, and then, suddenly, both the sound and the palanquin
stopped before us.
No sooner had the palki been placed on the ground than with great
difficulty a man of about thirty-five emerged out of its cramped interior. With
greater difficulty, he subsequently managed to stand up. In
a smart Kolkata style bush-shirt and a pair of Terilyn trousers, he seemed totally
out of place in the old palanquin.
‘Mr. Mitter?’ said the gentleman approaching
Feluda with a big smile.
‘My name is Jibanlal Mallick.’
‘I guessed that. This is my friend Mr. Ganguly,
and this is my cousin Tapesh. I guess you are acquainted with Tulsi babu.’
Jiban babu asked the
palki to leave and said, ‘My house is five minutes walk from here. Will you
please come? I have something to discuss. Have you had your tea?’
Lalmohan babu stayed back, while Feluda and I
accompanied the gentleman and headed for the Mallick residence. We left the
road and took a route through the bamboo forest; I understood it was a
shortcut. Jiban babu said, ‘I needed to make a telephone call to Kolkata,
that’s why I had to go to the station.’
‘I guess there isn’t any other alternative save
for the palki?’
Jiban babu cast a sideways glance at Feluda and
said, ‘I understand Tulsi babu has told you about it already.’
‘Yes, he said it was the result of the electric
‘The result wasn’t so dangerous in the
beginning; the grudge was directed against only the electricity. But you can
understand the current situation when you reach our home.’
‘Are you a frequent visitor here?’
‘Once in every two
months. We have a business, and I supervise it now. I have come this time to
talk about that.’
‘So your father is still interested in the
at all. But I don’t want him to. I have been trying my best to return him to
his normal state.’
‘Do you see any hope?’
The Mallick house was a considerably old
structure; however, because of timely renovations, the establishment didn’t
look that dilapidated. One couldn’t perhaps call it a palace; nevertheless, it
surely qualified as a mansion. Walking through the main gate we observed a pond
on the right hand side. Through the gaps on both sides of the building trees and plants
in the back could be seen, suggesting the existence of a garden in that
direction. The surrounding wall hadn’t been renovated, it had crevices here and
there, with some sections in utter ruin.
The buckler and the spear held by the
gatekeeper we saw standing on the portico made me feel that he had been getting
ready to perform in some historical drama. A footman in equally ridiculous
outfit positioned next to the main entrance made an enormous gesture of
salutation as soon as he saw Jiban babu. It was highly amusing.
We sat on the mattress
on the floor of the living room on the first floor. There were no chairs. The
pictures hanging from the wall appeared to be either of Hindu gods and
goddesses or of some mythological scenes. The wall cabinet held about ten odd
Bengali books, the other shelves were empty.
‘Let me know if you need the fan, then I will
I had not noticed it before, but now I observed
a couple of fringed woven mats suspended from a wooden stick in the ceiling
attached to a couple of ringlets. The rope attached to the stick went over the
door on the left and piercing the wall above went into the verandah. This was a
hand-pulled fan; when the rope-attached to the device was pulled from the
verandah cold air circulated within the room. It was the month of October, and
in the evening it wasn’t that warm; we said we did not need the fan.
‘Do you know what this is?’
Jiban babu opened the cabinet and brought out a
square piece of checkered cloth. The interesting thing about it was that it had
a piece of stone attached to one of its corners by means of a string.
Feluda took the gamchha and frowned. He
held the fabric opposite the stone-attached side, whirled it a couple of times
in the air and said, ‘Topshe, get up.’
I got up. Feluda stood three arms length away.
Then like throwing a net he hurled the gamchha in my direction, and all
of a sudden the rock-attached side looped around my neck.
‘Thuggee!’ I said
Feluda had told me about the murdering band of robbers once prevalent in India. They used to strangle travellers by tossing a handkerchief or scarf around their
necks and tightening the noose.
Feluda, however, did not pull on the gamchha.
In no time he disentangled the noose and asked, ‘Where did you get it?’
‘Somebody threw it in my father’s room at
midnight,’ said Jiban babu.
‘A few days before I arrived.’
‘I wonder how that was possible with all these
guards on the premises.’
‘Guards?’ Jiban babu chuckled. ‘They are guards in their
fancy uniform only, in reality they are rustic do-nothings, totally lazy. They
do realize that babu is a bit zany. They hardly work. Thank god the robbers
didn’t attack the house; otherwise the strength of those guards would have been
tested that day.’
‘May I know
who else lives in the house?’
my father, my widow grandmother also lives here. She belongs to the ancient age
and is pretty well adjusted. And then there is Bholanath babu. He can be
called the domestic aid, the manager who runs errands for my father and takes
care of him. Calling the Ayurvedic physician when my father is ill is also a
part of his job. In case there is a need to visit the town, he does that for
him too. That’s all—there isn’t anybody else. Of course there are servants: a
cook, a couple of guards, a domestic helper—they all stay in the house. The
palanquin-bearers and the punkah-puller come from a nearby village.’
this Bholanath babu from? How long has he been here?’
‘He is from
this village. They had been our tenants. His ancestors were farmers. Bholanath
babu went to school, he was a bright lad. He is almost sixty years old now.’
‘Is he your
pointing at a picture in the wall. The portrait showed a man sporting a pair of
imperial moustaches sitting in a chair with his left hand on a marble-top table
and his right hand holding a silver inlay walking stick. His terrible might
could be judged by looking at him.
‘Yes, this is
‘The one who could
make even traditional antagonists like the tiger and the cow behave as
‘Yes, he was
a well-known zamindar; and shamefully torturous too.’
A servant in
the meanwhile brought something in a cup and a couple of glasses placed on a
your father hasn’t totally discarded the practice of drinking tea.’
he has. This is not tea though, it’s coffee. I get a cup for myself and a tin
of Nescafe whenever I come. I drink it twice daily. The glasses are for you,
please don’t mind.’
‘Why would we
mind? This is like the Madrasi system. I was served coffee in the same
fashion in a bell-metal utensil at Kamala Villa.’
We heard an
intermittent dry-wooden sound from upstairs. I understood from Feluda’s query
where the sound came from.
father wear khadam?’
smiled and said, ‘Isn’t that natural?’
the thuggee napkin what else gave you the idea that your father’s life
is in danger?’
brought a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it over to Feluda. The
note written in pencil in block letters declared—
avenge the atrocities committed by your ancestors, you have been given the
death sentence. Be ready to die!’
on the fifth of October, a day before my arrival. It was mailed from Katwa.
Anybody from here could have dropped it in the post.’
mind my asking—it would be a great help if you could throw some light on the
kind of sins committed by your ancestors.’
‘I guess you understand,’ said Jiban babu, ‘that in the
history of a zamindar family there could be several examples of
indiscretions. I really don’t know which sin to talk about. My grandfather had
committed many atrocities on his subjects.’
you talk to the police after receiving it?’
‘There are a
couple of reasons,’ Jiban babu said after pausing to think for a bit. ‘First, I
thought people wouldn’t recognize detective Prodosh Mitter in these parts; so,
naturally those who are dispensing the warnings wouldn’t adopt any safeguarding
measures. Second, if the police arrive, I will be their prime suspect.’
looked at him questioningly. Jiban babu continued, ‘Since the strange
transformation of my father he and I do not get along very well. I could not
throw out the modern conveniences quite so easily, sir. It’s true that the
mental blow he experienced as a result of the electric shock had been severe.
The incident took place five years ago. My father and I went inside the living
room together. While switching on the light in the dark my father’s hand
touched the exposed wires. The main switch was outside; I rushed immediately to
turn it off. Yet, I don’t know why my father considers that I wasn’t fast
enough. Anyway, we quarrel every time I visit. Once I was so angry that I threw
away a burning kerosene lamp. The mattress on the floor caught fire; there was
much uproar because of this. The news spread in our close community. Everybody
knows that Shyamlal Mallick and his son do not get along. So, I guess you
understand why I didn’t call the police. Of course, one of the reasons for
summoning you is your reputation as a private investigator. Also, I believe a
modern urban person like you will better understand the problem.’
A lantern was
brought in even before we finished our Nescafe. The melody upstairs had ceased
by now. Jiban babu said, ‘Do you want to see my father?’
surprised to see the light of the few lamps and lanterns failing to illumine
the corners of the spacious Mallick residence. While climbing the stairs Jiban
babu got a small torch out of his pocket and said, ‘I sneaked in this one as
With his back
resting on a cushion and his hand holding the tube of his hubble-bubble,
Shyamlal Mallick sat on the mattress spread on the floor. The gentleman’s
appearance bore marked resemblance with both Jiban babu and the picture of
Durlabh Singha downstairs. If Durlabh Singha’s moustache could be added to his
appearance then he too would probably look pretty ferocious. Seeing him like
this would scarcely evoke any fear in one; however, when he spoke in his grim
tone it seemed that he could become dangerous when annoyed.
leave now’ Shyamlal babu said grimly. The one who was spoken to had been
sitting in one of the corners of the floor-mattress. Jiban babu introduced him
as the Kobiraj Tarak Chakravarty. Skinny to the bones, the gentleman had
a thick moustache and a pair of thick eyeglasses hanging from his nose under
his bushy eyebrows. The gentleman greeted us and left.
‘What did you
want a detective for?’ Shyamlal Mallick asked with irritation upon being
introduced to Feluda. ‘This conspiracy cannot be solved by some detective.
Durlabh Mallick’s spirit confirmed that my enemy resides in my own home. He
wrote the words on a piece of paper. The spirit has eternal knowledge. How can
a mortal by merely studying some English texts know more than the
seemed perplexed. I understood that he wasn’t aware of the incident.
visit Mriganka Bhattacharya?’
‘Why would I
go? He came to me. I called him. I needed to know who had been harassing me
like this. Now I do.’
‘When did he
come?’ Jiban babu asked grimly.
before you arrived here.’
you tell me?’
didn’t reply. He kept on smoking his hubble-bubble between conversations.
Feluda said, ‘Can we have a look at what Durlabh Singha’s spirit wrote?’
put the tube of his hubble-bubble away and looked at Feluda.
‘How old are
him his age.
‘How can you
be so impudent at this young age? Are you not aware of the spiritual
significance of that document? Is it a thing to be revealed to just about
‘I beg your
pardon,’ Feluda said calmly, ‘I just wanted to know if your dead father has
provided any solution for your problem.’
‘Why do you
need the paper for that? You can ask me the question. There is just one
solution—get rid of the enemy.’
quiet for a moment. Then Jiban babu calmly asked,, ‘Are you asking me to leave?’
‘Did I ever
ask you to come?’
didn’t seem like a person who would give up easily.
He said, ‘Baba,
you seem to trust Bholanath babu more than me, I guess you are forgetting his
family history. When Bholanath babu’s father failed to pay the revenue on time,
Durlabh Mallick’s people burnt his house. And—’
said Mr. Mallick with a sneer. ‘Bholanath was just a child back then. Why would
he take vengeance now after sixty years of the incident? Can’t you understand
that people would laugh at you if you go about saying such things?’
After that we
didn’t stay any longer. ‘Let’s go, I will take you back,’ said Jiban babu after
coming out. ‘You wouldn’t know the shortcut.’
exited through the main gate he said, ‘I didn’t mean to humiliate you. I am
extremely embarrassed that you had to face such an insult.’
need to be immune to such things, Jiban babu,’ said Feluda. ‘I am not
displeased about coming here at all. Please don’t think about that. I am just
worried about you. You need to understand one thing— that you are becoming the
prime suspect because the warning note explicitly points at Bholanath babu.’
‘But when the
gamchha and the letter arrived I was in Kolkata, Mr. Mitter.’
and said, ‘How are we to know that you didn’t have an attendant in Gosaipur,
‘You too are
suspecting me?’ Jiban babu said in a dry overwhelmed voice.
suspect anybody right now; I don’t, however, consider anybody innocent either.
But I do want to ask you something. What sort of a person is Bholanath babu?’
babu was silent for a moment, and then he said, ‘Extremely reliable. I cannot
but agree with that. But then why am I the suspect?’ he asked rather
helplessly. Feluda said, ‘Jiban babu, I need to be completely unbiased while
judging the situation. There isn’t any other way. And you need to be patient.
There isn’t any other option for you. I don’t know how to save a criminal, but
I will surely protect the innocent.’
hard to tell in the dark if Jiban babu felt reassured by Feluda’s last words or
As we reached
towards the end of the bamboo forest, Feluda asked Jiban babu, ‘I see your
father wears khadam; does he ever walk about without them—outside I
walks about without them even in the house, let alone outside! But this isn’t
new practice, it’s an old one.’
‘I guess I
saw mud under his feet. That’s why I am asking. Oh, by the way—does he use
course; everybody does here. We have to. But why do you ask?’
‘I guess you
didn’t notice in the light of the lantern that your father’s entire body was
covered with innumerable mosquito bites.’
I understood Jiban babu didn’t notice it at all. To be honest, I
didn’t notice it either. ‘But my father uses mosquito net. Mosquito net doesn’t
belong to the sahibs, why say no to that?’
‘Then I guess
there is a hole in the net, just have a look at it sometime.’
and Jatayu had been waiting for us. We felt relieved in the presence of the
electric light. Lalmohan babu said, ‘Can you imagine that even in this rustic
joint I found around twenty people who have read more than fifty percent of my
works? However, they didn’t all buy the books; sixty-five percent of them
borrowed them from the school library. Those who had bought the books got them
autographed by me.’
said to Feluda, 'We have been waiting for you. Let’s now pay a visit to Atmaram
babu. You can see Badure-Kali tomorrow.’
‘It’s another attraction of Gosaipur. It is
located inside that bamboo forest you walked through. It’s an
old derelict temple that’s nearly two hundred years old. There isn’t any idol.
The bats have been nesting there for quite some time now. At one time the
temple had pomp and grandeur.’
question, is this Atmaram babu a native of this village?’
‘No, but he
has been living here for a long time. It’s been two years since the gentleman
discovered his unique gift of communicating with the spirit world. Other than
that, he knows astrology. He is pretty well known actually. Even people from
Kolkata come for consultation with him.’
‘Does he take
‘I guess he
does. But I haven’t heard him taking any from people around here. He calls the
spirits on Friday; today we will just pay a visit.’
for Feluda’s not objecting to the visit was clear: he understood that Mrigen
babu is linked to the mystery. Soon we left the house.
outside seemed pretty dense even though we saw glimmers of electric light here
and there. The moon wasn’t up in the sky yet. The sound of crickets, the
hooting of owls and the baying of jackals suggested the appropriateness of
Shyam Mallick’s palki and kerosene lamp in this environment. Lalmohan
babu said that he had never experienced a more mysterious and thrilling
atmosphere ever before. ‘I had chosen Guatemala as the setting for my new novel
that I am planning at the moment, but I now feel Gosaipur is gradually becoming
more attractive than the former as a befitting background for my work.’
‘If you had
seen the noose in the thuggee, then you would have understood the
meaning of thrilling,’ I said.
Lalmohan babu a gist of the whole incident. He even mentioned the warning
letter. Tulsi babu made a remark, ‘If Mrigen Bhattacharya could bring the
spirit to say that Shyam Mallick’s enemy is a resident of the Mallick house,
then you must accept it. There is no need to go about the village in that
I thought to
myself that we found another person whom Tulsi babu admired—Atmaram Mrigen
that Mrigen babu’s residence didn’t have electricity either. It occurred to me
that possibly it might be easier to summon spirits in the darkness. The
gentleman’s appearance was remarkable. His age couldn’t be ascertained from his
appearance. Even though there were wrinkles underneath his eyes and under his
chin, his thin hair hadn’t turned grey. His whole appearance resembled the
pundits of the Sanskrit schools in Kashi. He was what you call a marked
Brahmin. His calves suggested that he used to walk a lot at one time.
the house did not have electric light, there were ample sitting arrangements.
Apart from the two benches on either side of the wooden bed on which Mr.
Bhattacharya sat there stood three tin chairs and one wooden chair in the
front. A young man of about twenty-five sat on the bench to the right turning
pages of an old panjika. We later learnt that he was Mrigen babu’s
nephew, who also helped him in summoning the spirits.
Mrigen babu, Tulsi babu touched his feet, and pointing in our direction said,
‘My friends, they have come from Kolkata. I thought I should bring them here. I
thought they should see for themselves the person whom we consider the pride of
gestured for us to settle down. We all sat down, except for Tulsi babu who
Mrigen babu stretched, closed his eyes, and sat in the Padmasana (lotus
posture) position silently for a few moments. Afterward, while still in that
position he said, ‘Which one is the sandhya-sashi- bondhu (evening -moon
remained silent. Feluda frowned. Lalmohan babu said, ‘There isn’t anybody with
put his finger on his lips to silence him.
Chandra Mitra is my name,’ Feluda said abruptly.
certainly! –Prodosh meant evening (sandhya), Chandra meant the moon
(soshi), and Mitra meant a friend (bondhu)!
Bhattacharya opened his eyes and turned towards Feluda. I observed Tulsi babu
looking at Feluda with a sense of pride.
Tulsicharan, after a few days I won’t need any spirits at all. I can feel the
power of eternal knowledge generating within me. But it will take some more
‘Can you tell
his profession?’ Tulsi babu asked while looking at Feluda. In the meantime, we
observed somebody else had entered the room, and it wouldn’t be good if the
news that Feluda was a detective were released in front of him.
go without saying,’ said Feluda. Tulsi babu seemed embarrassed about his
carelessness and changed the subject. ‘I will bring them once again on Friday.
Today I brought them for a visit only.’
was still eyeing Feluda. He smiled a bit and said, ‘If I say that you have come
to sukkha-shal-sashya (tiny-year-grain) then would anybody apart from
you understand? You are becoming uncomfortable for no reason at all, my dear.’
After we took
leave of the gentleman Feluda said, ‘That was a shrewd man; if he won’t make
money then who will?’
(tiny-year-grain), sir?’ Lalmohan babu asked.
understand evening-moon-friend after much difficulty—that too because you said
is anu (an atom/minute), shal being sana (year),
and sashya is dhan (grain). And together the three means—‘
(investigation)!’ Lalmohan babu clapped and said, ‘The person doesn’t just
foretell future, he knows riddles too. That’s fascinating!’
coming in our direction. The lantern he held swayed from side to side such that
it seemed his shadow was sweeping its way up the street.
babu raised his torch and focused on the person’s face, ‘Going to Mr.
Bhattacharya’s place, I presume. What’s the matter, why these frequent visits?’
laughed and went his way without answering.
babu,’ said Tulsi babu, ‘Bhattacharya’s latest follower. He went to his house
sometime and summoned somebody’s spirit.’
At night we
sat on Tulsi babu’s verandah and had a delicious meal with three vegetable dishes,
mung daal, and egg curry. Tulsi babu said the water from the tube wells here increases
our meal we sat in the verandah listening to Tulsi babu’s stories as a teacher.
It was only nine o’clock when we went to bed, yet it seemed like midnight. We
had brought bedspreads and mosquito nets along with us; Feluda said he would
apply Odomos and wouldn’t need the mosquito net. I
noticed that in the last one and half hours Feluda hadn’t talked much about
anything except praising Ganga’s cooking skills. I never saw him so deep in
thoughts like this before. Lalmohan babu needed to prepare his felicitation
speech, so he asked for a lantern. But he feared the lights might disturb our
as I lay on the bed, I had to ask Feluda one question, ‘How did he manage to tell your name and your
‘That is one
of the questions among the innumerable others in my mind, Topshe. However, a
lot of people do have peculiar powers which escape explanation.’
said, ‘Why did he ignore me like that?’
village is about to give you a reception, and you are depressed because just
one person didn’t make a riddle out of your name?’
seems that my name cannot be made into a riddle.’
exhaled a couple of smoke rings and said, ‘Raktobaran (red complexion) mugdhakaran
(enchanting) nadi pase jaha (that exists beside the river) bindhile
(pricked) maran (death).’
‘How is that,
how is that?’ Lalmohan babu asked excitedly. Feluda said the verse so quickly
that neither of us could grasp its full meaning. Feluda repeated himself, ‘Raktobaran
mugdhakaran nadi pashe jaha bindhle maran.’
wait….Raktabaran is lal (red) and mugdhakaran—’
(charming),’ I shouted.
Lalmohan—but Ganguly?—okay, okay, yes, nadi (river) is gang
and a bullet (guli) pierce causes death—brilliant, sir! I have no idea
how such things occur to you. With you being here, there is no meaning in
felicitating me. Oh yes, will you take a look at the speech once it’s ready?’
morning we went to the Jagarani Club to watch the rehearsal of the play
Sirajuddaulla. Feluda introduced himself to the actors and gave a brief lecture
on Canadian theater. It was here that we met Gosaipur’s sole mime artist
Benimadhab. He said he would visit us on Friday and give a demonstration of his
art. ‘You will see, sir, how I would climb stairs on a flat terrace, how people
express themselves in the middle of a storm, how through six easy changes of
expressions sad could become happy, I will show all that.’
evening we went to the Segunhati fair. We took a Ferris wheel ride, ate chicken
cutlet and rajbhog, watched the dangerous conjuring tricks of the Spider
Lady and spent thirteen rupees fifty paisa on knickknacks. It was six o’clock
when we returned to Gosaipur.
wasn’t dark yet Feluda said he wanted to visit the Mallick house again to see
Jiban babu. Tulsi babu decided to wait for us in his home.
babu saw us approaching and came out even before we reached the main entrance.
To Feluda’s question about any new development he just shook his head.. ‘Can I
take a tour of your garden?’ Feluda asked.
said Jiban babu, ‘please come with me.’
wasn’t a flower garden, for most of the trees we saw were large stout trees and
fruit trees. I had no idea why Feluda wanted to inspect the gardens! Once he
just stood and observed the ground for a little while. In the meantime, we
heard a voice from the second floor verandah. ‘Who’s there, who’s there?’ Jiban
babu’s grandmother was shouting. Jiban babu had to shout back in reply, ‘Nobody,
grandmother—just us.’ ‘Oh, you,’ said the grandmother, ‘I have been seeing
people roaming around here every day.’
‘How good is
your grandmother’s vision?’ Feluda asked.
bad,’ Jiban babu said, ‘and her hearing matches her vision too!’
garden lacks maintenance, I see.’
maintenance, Bholanath babu does it.’
people live on the premises at night?’
night? Are you out of your mind? Do you think they will be on the vigil in this
garden at night?’
the main entrance is locked at night, I presume?’
Bholanath babu’s duty. And if I am here I lock it myself, the key remains with
been introduced to Bholanath babu yet; can you please call him now?’
babu’s appearance resembled his ancestors despite his wearing modern dhoti
and shirt. He wouldn’t have looked out of place working bare-chested in a
field with a plough in his hand. We sat on the stepped embankment leading to
the pond and began to talk. The monsoon rains had filled the pond to the
brim. The whole pond was filled with water-lilies. Jiban babu summoned a
servant called Nabin and asked him to bring lemon sherbet. The atmosphere was
eerily silent except for the low creaking sound of a transistor which came from
somewhere afar. If it hadn’t been for that then we would have truly felt that
we were sitting in some bygone era.
Mriganka babu came just once to your residence?’ Feluda asked Bholanath babu.
‘A few times.
When Madan Gosai’s group came in August it was Mriganka babu himself who
brought them here to chant kirtan for kortababu. Apart from that,
I saw him coming here once or twice by himself; I guess korta asked him
to make a horoscope.’
‘Has that horoscope
for this latest visit of his?’
wanted it—and his physician also wanted him to come, and yes, I too wanted the
‘I guess you
are a frequent visitor to the Bhattacharya residence?’
‘Do you feel
babu’s head bowed.
know what to say. My daughter’s name was Lokkhi (Goddess of wealth); she lived
up to her name. But when she was eleven she died of cholera. Mriganka babu
asked if I wanted to know how she was in her own words.’
babu rubbed his tearful eyes with the corner of his dhoti. Then he
controlled himself and said, ‘Bhattacharya mosai summoned the spirit of
my daughter. She said she is happy in the lap of the Lord and that she doesn’t
have any pains. However, she didn’t actually say all that, it was written on
paper. From that time onwards…’
babu’s voice choked once again. To stop the matter from getting any worse,
Feluda said, ‘Were you there when they were summoning the spirits in this
‘Yes I was,
but not inside the room. I was outside the door. Apart from kortamosai,
Nityananda and Mr. Bhattacharya there wasn’t anybody else in the
room. Kortamosai had asked me to make sure that his mother didn’t know
about it. So, I had to be on the lookout at the door.’
didn’t hear anything?’
ten minutes when a group of jackals started baying from Madhu Sardar’s bamboo
forest I thought I heard kortamosai say—Has anybody come, has anybody
come?’ After that, I heard nothing. When everything was done I took
Bhattacharya-mosai back to his home.’
finishing the sherbet, Feluda lit one of his Charminar cigarettes and said, ‘Do
you recall the incident of Durlabh Mallick burning your house?’
babu said a few short words in reply.
‘Yes, I do.’
bear any grudges?’
I have heard
Feluda ask such frank questions before. He felt that peoples’ reactions to such
queries were very informative. Bholathanath babu bowed his head in abashment.
After a few seconds of pause he said, ‘May be he isn’t totally sane now;
however, in normal circumstances you would be hard-pressed to find any other
person as good as our kortamosai.’
ask Bholanath babu any more questions. Bholanath babu waited silently for a few
moments and then said, ‘If you kindly permit me, I would like to visit
As Feluda had
no problems, Bholanath babu left. Seeing Jiban babu getting restless Feluda
said, ‘Do you want to say anything?’
‘I am eager
to know if you have progressed any further in your investigation.’
that he was sufficiently worried about his position.
‘I quite liked Bholanath babu.’
turned pale. ‘So you want to say—’
don’t want to say that I don’t like you. I just want to mean that you cannot
adequately progress based on a doubt or two—especially if those doubts can
hardly be related to the main incident. What we now need is another incident
stopped because of granny’s shout. This time the sound came from the back
of the house. The grounds being utterly still, we heard her voice rather
Feluda was up and running towards the garden. We followed him. All this while
Lalmohan babu had been looking at the pond and humming some tune. He too joined
managed to reach the garden with the help of three torch lights. Feluda was
ahead of us; he stood aiming his torch at a spot adjacent to the ruined side of
the western wall. ‘Did you see anybody?’ Jiban babu asked.
saw somebody, but not too clearly to discern.’
garden in the next half hour, amidst the buzzing and the biting of the
mosquitoes and the deafening noise of the crickets, we located a mysterious
fresh hole dug up next to the base of a tree at the back of the north side of
the garden. Jiban babu could not guess as to what could have or had existed in
that hole. Lalmohan babu opined about hidden treasure; however Jiban babu
denied any such legend in his family. Under the circumstances, Feluda’s words
totally mystified me.
babu, I believe we had been waiting for this incident.’
finishing the evening meal, we sat in our room for some time. We were all
pretty tired; I realized that it was not an easy task scouring the jungles and
forests. Lalmohan babu and I had to apply Dettol at several spots on our legs. There
were thorny bushes among the weed.
Feluda seemed totally unconcerned. Having applied Odomos, he lay on his stomach
with his upper body resting on a pillow, scribbling in his notebook. Lalmohan
babu stopped in the middle of a yawn, because Feluda had just asked Tulsi babu
a question. The gentleman had just walked in with paan for us.
babu, tell me, if you tell a great man a scheme of swindling another, and if
that person uses that strategy, would you call that person a great man
babu seemed puzzled when he replied, ’Oh dear! I am not an expert in riddles.
But, would a great man ever stoop to such a level? He most definitely won’t.’
said Feluda, ‘I am glad to know and you and I share the same opinion.’
in itself was totally convoluted, and Feluda was making it more tortuous with
his vague words. Finally, I decided to call it a day and not think about it
anymore. But it is not easy to stop yourself from thinking, especially if the
topic is appealing to you. My mind was full of queries. Why did Shyamlal babu
have mud stains on his feet? Who sent the thuggee and the warning note?
Whom did granny see when she cried out? What was in that hole in the garden?
Why did Mr. Mallick refuse to show the message written by the spirit? Unlike
the previous night when I fell asleep as soon as I lay in bed, tonight I found
it difficult to sleep. Nevertheless, I did manage to sleep after a while only
to wake up in the middle of the night with a start.
woke up because of a cry. And I guess Lalmohan babu was responsible for it,
because he sat wide awake on his bed. The moonlight trickling in through the
bars of the open window lit his face, and I could clearly see his goggle-eyed
‘Oh, my god,
what a dream, what a dream!’ Lalmohan babu exclaimed.
‘What did you
see?’ I asked.
‘I saw my
grandfather Harimohan Ganguly …in a felicitation program where he delivered a
speech, and then he put a garland around my neck and said, see what a
beautiful garland I have given you—And I saw that the garland wasn’t any
ordinary flowery version, Tapesh, that was—oh my god—it was strung with little
red human heads!’
‘How can you
see such a weird dream in this gorgeous pre-dawn moment?’
surprised that I hadn’t noticed it before now that Feluda wasn’t in his bed. He
walked into the room through the door that led to the terrace; I understood he
had been doing yoga exercises there. Anyway, I was relieved to find that it was
morning after all.
‘What do you
expect me to do?’ said Lalmohan babu. ‘Your allusion to red-complexion and
Atmaram babu together with the felicitation ceremony all became a total
hodgepodge in my head.’
up wondering if Tulsi babu was still asleep. When I went out to the terrace I
observed that the moon was looking dull in the sky as the eastern horizon was just
beginning to lighten up. A few stars were still twinkling; however, their term
seemed limited as well. I had wanted to experiment with the teeth cleaning twig
and had broken a few neem twigs for that purpose—Feluda
said that these twigs for tooth-brushing were far better than any store bought
brush and paste—and as I was just getting one of the twigs ready for brushing
by chewing the end I heard a helpless cry for assistance.
Mitter, Mr. Mitter!’
Bholanath babu’s voice. We rushed downstairs. ‘Something terrible has
light of the early dawn Bholanath babu’s already pale face looked even paler.
‘What happened?’ Feluda asked as he rushed in.
house was broken into by the robbers last night. The safe is empty! They tied
up kortamosai. I was tied-up too; chhoto-babu untied me this
morning. Please come, fast!’
Mallick was not physically hurt, but being tied up for a couple of hours made
him look pretty miserable. He sat on his floor-mattress looking confused. We
heard him muttering, ‘Why didn’t you kill me when you tied me up?’ I wondered
if he had any idea that his safe was empty.
scoured Shyamlal babu’s room. Except for the safe, everything else in the room
seemed undisturbed. The gentleman used to place the key under his pillow.
Bholanath babu slept on the second floor; the robbers attacked him in his sleep
and tied him up. He thought there were at least two of them. The servant Nabin
slept soundly throughout the night. Of the two footmen, one went to see a show
in Segunhati. The other footman who was on duty received a hard blow on his
head which impaired his movements for a few hours. The main entrance was locked
which meant that the miscreants came through the back door, climbed up the wall
and entered through the verandah in the back of the house. We thought it was
needless to disturb granny as she slept in the northern side of the verandah
next to three unused rooms.
couldn’t find Jiban babu. ‘Has Jiban babu gone to the police?’ Feluda asked
nodded his head confusedly and said, ‘Well, he did tell me he was leaving, but
babu and I followed Feluda who now rushed towards the stairs. Crossing the
courtyard we entered the garden through the backdoor. The sun wasn’t up yet.
There was a fog, or a layer of the smoke from the cooking ovens. The leaves on
the trees and the grass under our feet were drenched in dew. The birds were
calling—crows, the Indian Mynah, and others whose names I didn’t know.
the garden we suddenly came to a stop.
was a man in blue kurta and pajama lying on the ground near a jackfruit
tree. I knew the clothes; I knew the pair of slippers too.
towards the body and having inspected it moaned in frustration.
mister!’ Lalmohan babu called pointing at the ground near the body.
know. I have seen it,’ said Feluda, ‘don’t touch it. Jiban babu was killed with
that.’ A checkered towel with a piece of stone tied to one end lay in the
corner of a bush.
babu had arrived by then, and saw what had happened. ‘What a disaster,’ and slapping
his head he staggered backwards as if about to faint.
mustn’t fall apart now, Bholanath babu; I suggest you go inform the police. If necessary,
an inspector from the city must be summoned. Make sure nobody touches the dead
body or the towel. It must have happened only a few moments ago. I guess the murderer
is still somewhere in the vicinity. And yes—please make sure Mr. Mallick
doesn’t know about this.’
rushed to the garden wall. I too followed him.
the wall had collapsed creating an entrance to the garden. We climbed over it.
Feluda’s eagle eyes inspected the surroundings, and even scrutinized the
ground. There was no house within a hundred yards, as the place was the
shortcut connecting the bamboo forest. But what was that? A ruined temple! It
must be the bat infested Kali temple.
was walking towards us from the temple. It was the Ayurvedic physician Tarak
Chakravarty. ‘What’s the matter? So early in the morning?’
you get the news?’
The physician was flabbergasted.
not what you are suspecting. Mr. Mallick is alive and well; however, his home
was raided by robbers. And Jiban babu was murdered—but please don’t share this
news with Mr. Mallick.’
babu rushed back with us. But the murderer had escaped.
down the wall we experienced the third shock of the day. I felt dizzy. Was it a
dream or reality? The ground near the jackfruit tree was now empty.
babu’s dead body was missing.
near the bush had disappeared as well. Lalmohan babu stood trembling near a
Golancha tree. He somehow managed to open his mouth.
babu went to call the po…police and I was searching for you two and when I
reached here I saw…’
the dead body had vanished from the spot?’ Feluda filled in.
ran to the opposite end of the garden.
wasn’t any crack in the wall on this side, but on the northern side was the
hole under a tree that we had seen the previous evening,—which I saw was a
mango tree— the hole was just behind it. It was a large opening; it could
almost be called a gateway. Feluda and I stepped to the other side.
was a pond within a few yards, and it was full to the brim. Obviously the body
had been dumped in it.
back to the house and took the stairs at the back to the second floor.
Jiban, o dear Jiban!’ called granny. ‘I thought I just saw Jiban, where did the
octogenarian with hollow-cheeks, close-cropped hair, wearing nearly opaque
glasses and wearing a plain white sari stepped out in the verandah. We had
heard her voice before, but today we saw her for the first time. Feluda stepped
forward. ‘Jiban babu is out for a bit. My name is Prodosh Mitra. Do tell me if
you need anything.’
Jiban babu’s friend.’
think I have seen you before.’
from Kolkata a couple of days ago.’
live in Kolkata too?’
Did you want to say something to us?’
woman suddenly seemed to have lost the trail. Craning her neck she observed the
surrounding for a bit and then said, ‘I totally forgot what I wanted to say,
dear boy, I have terrible memory!’
spending any more time with her, we ran to Shyamlal babu’s room.
babu was already present there; he was checking Shyamlal babu’s pulse.
Jiban?’ The patient asked anxiously. I understood Rasik babu didn’t give him
the news of Jiban babu’s death.
wanted him to return to Kolkata,’ said Feluda.
back? How did he go? Did he take the palki?’
cannot travel the whole distance in a palki? There isn’t any other way but to
take the train from Katwa. I hope you understand that nowadays traveling by
bullock-cart or by the mail-coach isn’t a valid option.’
mocking me?’ Shyamlal babu’s voice seemed a touch offended.
not just me,’ said Feluda, ‘everybody in the village does so. What you are
doing isn’t benefitting you or anybody else. You have seen what happened to
you. Had there been a well-armed guard instead of a man with an old spear this
wouldn’t have happened. Is this shock any less in comparison to your electric
shock Mr. Mallick?
thought that the man would flare up in anger, but surprisingly he didn’t speak
a single word but just sighed and remained silent.
notice the condition of my face?’
babu remarked as he sat on his bed and looked at his face in his shaving
mirror. It was not just he but all of us had the same facial condition.
one of Gosaipur’s drawbacks,’ Tulsi babu said, ‘I should have warned you
Gosaipur, but I think it’s the garden in the Mallick residence,’ said Lalmohan
babu, ‘that’s the mosquito breeding depot.’
to our room upstairs after lunch. The police had already begun their
investigation. I had no idea why Feluda looked so glum. Perhaps Jiban babu’s
death was so unexpected that all his previous calculations were now disordered.
And if the robbers had really committed the murder, then was there any fun left
in our investigation? The police knew more about capturing the robbers, so what
could a private investigator do?
meantime, inspector Sudhakar Pramanik came to have a word with Feluda. He had
heard Feluda’s name before but didn’t seem to have been completely convinced of
Feluda’s abilities. He was particularly vexed about the disappearance of Jiban
babu’s dead body.
of leisure,’ said inspector Sudhakar, ‘never work systematically. I’ve seen
another one like you, Ganesh Duttagupta—I had disagreements with him about a
case. When there’s need for action, he sits thinking with his eyes closed. Only
Ma Ganga knows what he thinks about. And when working, he acts without
any thought or plan. When you saw the dead body, couldn’t you have put somebody
on guard when you left? Now we have to throw a fishing net in the backyard
pond. And if that doesn’t get the body… then just think—this village has eleven
more ponds, and one of them is big enough to be called a lake. And if that too
doesn’t help then…all this is because of your negligence.’
digested the reproach and then put forward an outlandish query thus vexing the
believe in spirits?’
inspector stared at Feluda for some time and then nodding his head said, ‘I
thought you had the reputation of being serious, now I see that’s incorrect as
said, ‘I asked you the question because in case you people fail to apprehend
the murderer we may have to ask Mrigen Bhattacharya for help. He can summon
spirits. I think it’s only Jibanlal’s spirit who can give the correct
information about his murderer.’
too feel hopeless now?’ asked the inspector.
accept that the investigation of the murder is beyond my reach,’ said Feluda,
‘I do, however, believe that I will be able to put handcuffs on the dacoit.’
Sudhakar babu had little faith in Feluda was evident by his next question.
you understand the difference between a living and a dead body? Do you have any
idea as to the changes that occur in a person’ body who had been strangled
using a thuggee?’
babu, since I have no desire whatsoever to seek employment in the police, you
can understand that my reply to your queries would be solely based on my own
whim. As I am referring to the spirits without depending on the police, you can
readily understand that my method of investigation is a little different.’
don’t have any questions in your mind as to Bholanath babu’s whereabouts?’
indeed. But I suspect that without any evidence, you people are ready to put
the cuffs on him, only because you may have heard that his ancestors were once
persecuted by Jiban babu’s forefathers.’
Sudhakar smiled and got up from the settee, ‘You know what the problem is, you
guys are complicating the situation by over thinking it. The case is as clear
clear as the water of the pond where you’d throw the fishing net?’
Feluda’s sarcasm the inspector said, ‘Had you thought a bit you would’ve
understood why I am talking about Bholanath babu. He is responsible for both
the murder and the robbery. It’s implicit that the robbery was committed by a
member of the household. If it had been a real robber then he would have broken
the safe, not open it with a key. Bholanath babu was fleeing through the garden
with the money; he had no intention of committing the murder at the time. But Jiban
babu woke up and took after him; hence Bholanath babu was forced to kill him.
And in order to avoid suspicion, he came back here to summon you. Bholanath
babu said that the robbers tied him up and that he was untied by Jiban babu
later. How do we know he was speaking the truth, there is no evidence. There
isn’t any witness either.’
where did the money from the safe go, Sudhakar babu?’ Feluda asked innocently.
to search for the money as well,’ said Sudhakar babu. ‘After we manage to
locate the body, we would cross-examine Bholanath babu. Then everything would
be easily revealed.’
of agreed with Sudhakar babu’s ideas, but I couldn’t say why Feluda remained
unconvinced. I don’t know why he called after the inspector as he was leaving,
‘This evening Jibanlal’s spirit will be summoned at Mriganka babu’s house. You
won’t be disappointed if you come.’
babu seemed all worried about the reception ceremony planned for the day after.
If the mystery remained unsolved and if the murderer was not apprehended, the
village people would not be interested in the program. Lalmohan babu was already
resigned to the fact that his letter of honor and garland were a lost cause,
and that his speech a waste. As a way to console himself he said, ‘Sir, we sell
mystery for our living; and being part of a real-life mystery counts as the
true reward for us.’
I frequently found him muttering the lines from his speech under his breath,
and then checking himself from going on further.
know where Mriganka babu lives?’
question came from somebody outside the entrance.
starts,’ said Tulsi babu. ‘From Monday to Friday they would bother me like
this. And as mine is the first house on the road, I naturally have to endure
Then he looked
out the window and told the stranger, ‘On the right after the next three
said, ‘It would be better if Mriganka babu is informed about our visit. And
please mention that we will not stand in a queue. Our spirit must be given
probably now that Tulsi babu understood that Feluda was truely serious. After
scrutinizing his face Feluda said, ‘I am done with the investigation from my
side. Now I cannot go any further without Mr. Bhattacharya’s help.’
always felt that one should keep his mind open, especially in today’s times
when we daily encounter incidents that defy scientific explanations, and yet they
couldn’t be summarily discarded because of science’s inability to explain them.
Just the other day I read in the papers about an Anglo-Indian youth named Uri
Geller who with his gaze could twist a fork held by a scientist sitting five
arms length away. And another reputed scientist became a witness to this
incident, and together they could neither explain with reason nor disregard the
incident completely. I wondered if Mriganka babu’s power was something
babu said, ‘It’s five-thirty now; let us go together and request him, that
would add to the strength of our plea.’
got up and looked at us, ‘why don’t you two go somewhere.’
bored of sitting in the same room all day long, and Lalmohan babu had been
talking about the beauty of the autumn evenings in Gosaipur. So, soon as Feluda
left, we too went out as well.
came to Gosaipur only a couple of days ago, the village seemed different from
how it appeared to me now. The reason of course was the thought of a strangled
dead body hidden somewhere in that beautiful village. What if we suddenly saw —!
decided to abstain from thinking such things or else the outing would be
dark while passing through the bamboo forest and I observed my courage starting
to wane. However, our meeting with the mime artist Benimadhab raised its level
going to your house,’ he said. ‘Didn’t I tell you the other day that I would
come and present a show for you?’
friend, what can we do?’ Lalmohan babu said. ‘We had no idea that such a
disaster would occur. Can one still be in the mood for show? You tell me.’
sir. You are here for some more days, right?’
are certainly here for at least three more days.’
where are you going now?’
tell us where we could go.’
see Badure-Kali, sir? It’s a seventeenth century temple. Some remnants
of the handiwork still exist on the walls. Let me take you there.’
mention that we had seen the temple in the morning. To tell the truth, it
was impossible to judge any artwork in the state of mind that I was in at the
reached the temple in about three minutes. It was a bit eerie in the evening.
There was a Banyan tree next to the temple. An aerial root hanging from the
tree had actually crushed the diadem of the temple in its embrace. ‘It’s in
this spot that sacrifices were once conducted,’ Benimadhab said pointing to a
spot adjacent to the stem of the tree.
Lalmohan babu asked in a quivering tone.
sacrifice, sir. Didn’t you read the history of the world famous Nedo dacoit
from Gosaipur? That in itself could suffice as a plot for one of your
mystery-thriller novels. Do you want to see the inside? Do you have a torch
interior was dark already.
Lalmohan babu said in a choked-up voice, ‘No I didn’t bring a torch with me, my
friend. Besides, I heard it’s infested with bats…’
are out on their evening excursion now, sir. Of course, if you want to see them
I don’t want to see them. In fact, it’s better not to encounter them at all,
sir,’ said the mime artist. ‘ I am lighting a bidi, I hope you won’t
brother, we won’t mind if you light five bidis all at once.’
lit his bidi and held the matchstick near the entrance of the temple,
and my heart suddenly did a somersault and relocated itself near my throat.
Lalmohan babu said ‘Ji-Ji-Ji-Ji’ four times and then stopped.
babu’s dead body! We could see his blue kurta and white pajama peeping
from behind a pillar inside! He had his watch on his wrist in the morning, now
it was missing.
somebody must have left his clothes.’
was walking ahead, perhaps to return the clothes to its owner, when Lalmohan
babu clutched the corner of his shirt and stammered, ‘That’s a…corpse! It’s a
po-po police matter!’
artist turned speechless at the word corpse—it was then we saw his acting
prowess. He showed how to turn from surprise to alarm in a single step and
immediately follow it by fleeing from the spot with great agility. We too did
not want to linger there anymore and followed suit. We met Feluda back in the
house. ‘Why do you look so pale?’ he asked. ‘Get ready fast. The spirit will be
summoned within fifteen minutes.’
babu had returned to his usual self as soon as he saw Feluda. He said,
‘We made an important discovery. Not just me, but the two of us together. Jiban
babu’s dead body is lying inside the Badure-Kali temple. Do you want to
inform the police or let them find it themselves?’
Lalmohan babu didn’t like inspector Sudhakar, and that was why he wanted him to
find the body by himself. Feluda said, ‘Did you go inside the temple?’
We are not supposed to touch a dead body, so we didn’t enter. But it is Jiban
Mallick, without a doubt!’
Sudhakar babu arrived here a few moments ago. I guess he will be coming to Mr.
Bhattacharya’s place also. We can give him the news then.’
within ten minutes. Tulsi babu needed to go on a quick visit to his lawyer friend to
inform him that the next-day program might be cancelled.
way Feluda told us that not only had Mriganka babu agreed to summon Jibanlal’s
spirit, but had also shown great excitement about the matter. He had a few
visitors but he asked them to sit and wait until after we were done.
found a wooden table in place of the plank bed in Mriganka babu’s room. A set
of five chairs, both tin and wooden, surrounded the table, and Mriganka
Bhattacharya sat in one of the chairs. There was a lamp in the middle of the
table and next to it a piece of paper and a pencil. Apart from these, there
were a couple of settees and a single bench instead of the two. Nephew
Nityananda was sitting on the bench.
three of us seated ourselves in three chairs; one was left for Tulsi babu.
we wait for Tulsicharan?’ Mriganka babu asked.
could wait for five minutes,’ said Feluda.
it. I could feel it the day I first saw you that you would have to come back.’
Mriganka babu’s voice resounded in the dark room. ‘Bigyan (Science)
means special knowledge. Connecting with a spirit on the other side is the
highest form of special knowledge. Therefore the real men of science don’t
despise this special knowledge.’
like this needless prattle about knowledge and wished he would start the
you have seen Jibanlal, who had just died. I’ll tell you why I expect exceptional
success in today’s meeting. Jibanlal’s spirit hasn’t yet left the mortal world.
It needs to be liberated from all the earthly bonds before ascending to the
world beyond. His spirit is close to us. He is waiting for our call. He knows
that if I call him he would have to come, and I know that he will come if I
summon him. Jibanlal’s spirit is eternal, immortal. Land, water and the sky are
all in his reach. My writing would become his writing. His knowledge, his
experience, his belief will find expression in his own words with the help of
now opened his mouth to speak. Only he could speak in such situations. My own
voice had dried up, and I assumed Lalmohan babu’s too.
would be curious to learn what you are writing. And since I’ll be sitting next
to you, and consequently would be able to read what you write, I wonder if you
have any problem if I read the text aloud for the benefit of the others.’
no problem,’ said Mriganka babu, ‘You can read the writing. You have only one
robber’s identity, the murderer’s identity, and how at what time did the murder
well,’ said Mriganka babu.
Tulsi babu didn’t arrive in five minutes, Mriganka babu decided to start the
proceedings. I knew that Tulsi babu had already seen such séances many times
before; he could go without seeing the whole episode.
each one of you kindly stretch out your fingers and place your palms on the
as we placed our hands on the table a rapping noise made itself heard. It was
nothing but Lalmohan babu’s trembling fingers drumming like a tabla on
the table. Lalmohan babu gritted his teeth to steady his hand.
babu sat with his eyes closed, his lips were moving. It being totally silent, I
gathered that he was muttering a chant under his breath.
minute that too stopped. As we say in English, a ‘deathly silence’ prevailed.
Three moths circled the lamp. Our shadows cast on the wall trembled. Mriganka
babu sat still like a stone statuette. I hadn’t noticed when he had lifted the
pencil. He held it over the notebook; the tip of the pencil was touching the
Mriganka babu’s lips started to quiver. Droplets of sweat appeared on his
temples. Beside me the tabla drumming had started once again. It was
horrifying how people’s hands could tremble in such circumstances. I too
experienced a shiver in my chest.
was uttered slowly three times. I couldn’t clearly see if Mriganka babu’s lips
moved or not.
you come? Have you come?’
the questions were posed from behind us. Now, I understood Nityananda’s part.
Mriganka babu didn’t reply. I supposed it was probably impossible to talk. ‘I
Feluda’s voice. He read out the writing that had appeared on the notebook.
were glued to Mriganka babu’s hands. A question was asked from the background.
‘Where are you?’
answer a few questions that we have?’
can,’ read Feluda.
opened the safe and stole the money?’
person who killed you, did you see him?’
couldn’t, however, learn how the murder was committed because right at that moment
Feluda said, ‘This will be sufficient,’ and got up. He then looked at me and
said, ‘Topshe, bring that lantern—the one placed outside the door. It’s awfully
dark in here.’
I brought the lantern and placed it on the table.
picked up the piece of paper Mriganka babu was writing on. He glanced at the
replies once and said, ‘Mriganka babu, I believe your spirit hasn’t yet gained
eternal knowledge, because the answers seem a little inconsistent.’
babu gave Feluda a sinister look, as if he was about to turn him into ashes
with his glance. Ignoring this, Feluda continued—‘See, in reply to the
question ‘who opened the safe and stole the money,’ he says –‘I did’. But there
wasn’t any money in the safe, Mriganka babu.’
like magic the angry look on Mriganka babu’s face gave way to a look of
suspicion. Feluda said, ‘I am saying there wasn’t any money because the safe
wasn’t opened by Jibanlal at all; it was opened by Prodosh Chandra Mitra. Of
course, Jiban babu helped me perform the task. It was he who opened the door
for me at midnight and informed me that the keys to the safe were kept under
his father’s pillow; he also helped me tie up Bholanath babu and Shyamlal babu.
Anyway, what existed in the safe in place of money was—’
Feluda brought out a piece of paper
from his pocket. It was also a page torn from a notebook, and it too had words
written on it in pencil.
‘It is precisely this piece of paper
which Shyamlal babu declined to show me when I asked him. I needed it because I
had already developed a suspicion regarding Mriganka babu’s honesty. And that
happened right after our first meeting. As soon as he saw me he feigned that he
had come to know about my name and my profession by some spiritual method, when
in reality he was already told by Tulsi babu. Isn’t it, Tulsi babu?’
know when Tulsi babu had stepped in and had seated himself in one of the
seemed exceedingly embarrassed by Feluda’s words and stammered, ‘I mean to say…
to…develop some devoutness... in your mind.’
stopped him, ‘I am not blaming you, by the way. You are not pretending to be a
great man. But he is. Anyway, as soon as I smelled phoniness, I was determined
to get that paper from Shyamlal babu. I believed that I would get some answers
from it.’ In the lamp light I could see beads of sweat on Mriganka babu’s
held the paper near the lamp and continued to speak, ‘In this piece of
paper Durlabh Mallick’s spirit gave a few replies to his son’s queries. The
questions were spoken; hence they are not in writing. Nevertheless, we can
easily guess them from the replies provided. I have written each one down
before their respective reply, I will read them in that order. Mriganka babu
will correct me if I am wrong!’
flame of the lamp quivered by Mriganka babu’s heavy breathing. Feluda started—
number one—who’s my enemy? Answer—he is a resident.
want me to die?—No. Then what does he want?—Money. How to protect the money?—
Don’t keep it in the safe.
should I keep it then? —Underground. Wherein? — In the garden.
the garden? — In the Northern side. Where in the Northern side? — Under the
mango tree. Which mango tree? — The one at the corner of the cracked wall.’
now placed the paper on the table, ‘I suspected this when I observed mud stains
on Shymlal babu’s feet and mosquito bites on his body. I thought that for some
reason he had spent some time in the garden. Today I learned that he went there
to follow these orders—meaning, you see, Mriganka babu’s orders—written in this
paper and buried his cash box underground. Mriganka babu had wanted the money
for a long time; however, as long as reliable Bholanath was there, he couldn’t
get to the safe. At first he tried to remove Bholanath babu by introducing
suspicion in Shyamlal babu’s mind. That scheme, however, did not succeed. But,
right then an amazing opportunity came up when Shyamlal babu himself asked
Mriganka babu to come to summon up the spirits. With that incredible
intelligence of his, Mriganka babu killed two birds with one stone, if I may
use that expression. He made a member of Shyamlal’s household his enemy, and
then he brought the cash case out of the house into the garden. And yesterday
evening that box—’
made me turn around. I saw the nephew leave his bench and jump in the direction
of the door. But he didn’t manage to leave the room as a couple of strong arms
barred his movements. Then the owner of the arms came inside. Egad—it was
inspector Sudhakar! The inspector said, ‘Found the case, Mr. Mitter. It was in
a trunk under a pile of clothes. Manish—bring it here!’
constable walked in with a steel box and placed it on the table.
the lid is broken,’ Feluda said.
lid was removed, I saw several stacks of hundred rupee notes crammed in the
box. At that moment, it occurred to me that I had never seen so much money
before in my life!
murder?’ Mriganka babu suddenly cried. ‘I didn’t commit any murder!’
one person has committed the murder, Mriganka babu’—Feluda’s voice was sharp
like a scimitar—‘and his name is also Prodosh Chandra Mitra. It’s your
hypocrisy, your devilishness, your greed that is killed. Never would they raise
their heads again because everybody would know that today you with your amazing
prowess managed to summon the dead spirit of a living person in this room—come,
Mallick entered the room not through the back door but the front. The words
Mriganka babu cried out when he saw him was— according to Lalmohan babu, ‘I am
undone!’ however, I thought I heard ‘Oh, oh, handcuffs!’
handcuffed all right. Sudhakar babu had just one complain for Feluda—‘You made
us pitch fishing nets in a couple of ponds for no reason at all!’
are you saying, Sudhakar babu?’ Feluda said. ‘If the idea that Jiban babu is
dead were not instilled in people’s minds, how was I to catch Mriganka babu’s
charlatanism in the act?’
matter of Jiban babu’s death was just an act intended to teach Mriganka babu a
lesson. It was a planned deception. Once Feluda and I and then Lalmohan babu
and Bholanath babu left the scene, Jiban babu got up, went upstairs through the
back stairs and hid in a storeroom on the second floor. The granny saw him in
his flight, but Feluda managed that all right. Today evening he got out of the
house to witness Mriganka babu’s séance. When he saw us in the bamboo forest, he had
to hide in the Badure-Kali temple and lay on the floor pretending to be
dinner Tulsi babu wore a shrunken expression on his face when he asked Feluda,
‘You are not displeased with me, I hope?’
Feluda said. ‘Do you know how much you have helped me? If Mriganka babu hadn’t
spun that riddle with my name that day I would never have suspected him in the
first place! I feel I should thank you.’
babu was dining with us that evening. He said, ‘Before leaving the house I went
to my father and touched his feet.’
did you think of him?’ Feluda asked.
surprised,’ Jiban babu said. ‘Placing his hand on my head he asked me how the
business was going.’
babu couldn’t speak before now as he was busy chewing the fish-head. He now
looked at Tulsi babu and said, ‘The thing tomorrow then—?’
course it’s happening. There isn’t any constraint now.’
good. That thing of mine is also ready.’