The Luxury of Imagination: by Banaphool

‘Dear?’

‘What?’

‘Hasn’t the tailor delivered my new suit?’

‘No. I’ve reminded him thrice.’

His wife was answering from her bed. Her tone held a hint of annoyance.

‘What a mess. What do I wear now?’

‘Wear the old one. No one will know.’

‘That’s what I do every day. I thought I’d put the new one on today. Why didn’t the tailor deliver?’

‘No idea. Apparently he’s taking part in a protest rally. It seems we don’t offer fair pay.’

His wife turned on her side.

‘Where’s my vest?’

‘There on the rack.’

‘Uh-oh! Two buttons missing from the coat. Do we have extra buttons?’

No answer.

‘Dear?’

‘Oh, you’ll drive me crazy! Not a wink of sleep all night . . .’

Grumbling, she got out of bed and took two buttons out of a tin, along with a needle and thread.

‘But the colours don’t match.’

‘Don’t have two of the same kind. Pass me the coat.’

‘Won’t it look terrible?’

‘No one will know.

‘Aren’t you making any tea?’

‘I put some in the thermos last night. I wasn’t planning on waking so early. But no such luck, thanks to you . . .’

‘Five fifteen! Quickly now, my tea.’

‘Don’t rush me. I don’t have ten hands like her, do I?’

Eventually the buttons were in place. The Sun put on his old suit, drank his stale tea and rose in Aquarius.

Sanjana, his wife, went back to bed.

Conjugal Dreams: by Banaphool

1

Sudhir arrived with a bouquet of flowers. A smile suffused his face. His heart seemed to want to spread its wings and fly.

“Hashi, I have some good news,” he said on entering. “What’ll you give me for it? I won’t tell you if you don’t.”

Hashi said, “Tell me.”

“What’ll you give me?”

“What can I possibly give you? All right, I’ll embroider your handkerchief. I’ve found a lovely pattern.”

“No, not acceptable.”

“Then what do you want? Chocolate? I have some.”

“Am I a child to be fobbed off with chocolate?”

Hashi smiled. “I don’t want to hear the news, then,” she said. “I offered to embroider your handkerchief, offered you chocolate, but since you’ll have none of it…”

“I’m off, then.”

“You simply will not tell me?” Hashi called after him.

“I can tell you if you give me what I had asked for the other day,” he said, smiling meaningfully at Hashi.

Hashi controlled herself in sudden confusion. “I’ve told you I can’t.”

But when she looked at Sudhir she was afraid. She heard him say, “I’d meant to laugh about it. But that was not possible. Forgive me. I’ve heard your wedding’s been arranged with that fellow from Santragachhi.”

Sudhir left.

“Just a minute, Sudhir-da.”

Sudhir didn’t return.

2

Alaka arrived.

The same Alaka for whose evening visit Ajay would wait all day, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.

“Ajay-da, is pate an English word?” Alaka was saying.

“Yes, it refers to the top of the head.”

“Really?”

“Check the dictionary. Pate means the head.”

“So Baruna-di was right.”

Ajay said, “Tell me another word for the brain.”

“Head?” Alaka blinked.

“The head is a part of the body.”

“So’s the brain.”

Ajay smiled and said, “So that’s how well you know the language. How can the head and the brain be the same?”

“What’s the difference?” Alaka smiled too.

“In that case there’s no difference between you and that stupid girl who washes clothes. Both are women, after all,” Ajay dead-panned.

“And who is this stupid girl who washes clothes?” asked Alaka.

“The washerman’s daughter at the end of your lane. A young girl – about your age.”

Alaka smiled obliquely.”Ajay-da seems to be observing things very closely these days. Even the washerman’s daughter has not been ignored.”

“Of course! Don’t you have to verify the quality of your belongings?”

“Who belongs to you?”

“There is someone.”

Alaka suddenly began arranging her desk, distractedly.

Ajay looked out the window for no apparent reason.

3

The two of them dreamt their separate dreams.

The two of them lay intimately entwined.

Hashi’s hand was on Ajay’s breast.

Ajay and Hashi. Husband and wife.

Inspiration: by Banaphool

That day, too, when Hariranjan-babu discovered on his return from the courts that his son Gopal had been flying kites instead of studying, he couldn’t control himself any longer, lunging at the boy with his umbrella. Gopal was about to escape, dodging the umbrella thrust at him, when Hariranjan-babu grabbed him. But in a couple of minutes, the new act in their domestic drama—featuring a dishevelled Hariranjan-babu and a tearful Gopal— was interrupted unexpectedly.

A car sounded its horn at the gate. Peeping out, Hariranjan-babu discovered it was his recently appointed boss, the young judge, who had arrived in his car. He worked as a clerk in the office of the judge, who had recently been transferred to this town. Although he was young, he was supposed to be brilliant—he had apparently stood first in his examination. A stern, remote personality, he did not venture out of his home too often, but he had made Hariranjan-babu’s acquaintance on his own initiative. This was the judge’s third visit to his house.

‘Good evening. Is that Gopal I hear crying? What’s the matter?’

‘Nothing, sir, nothing at all . . .’

‘Discipline time?’

The judge climbed the steps to the veranda.

‘He’s not at all interested in studies, sir. All he does is fly his kites. Our maid has a son too—the two of them just roam around all day. Not a moment does he spend with his books.’

‘Indeed.’

His head lowered, Gopal was furiously rubbing his eyes with his fists. Ruffling his hair, the judge said affectionately, ‘And what do you use to give your kite string the sharpest edge?’

Still rubbing his eyes, Gopal answered in a voice tremulous with tears, ‘Glue and ground glass.’

‘I’m going to teach you another trick . . .’

After a quick glance at the judge from the corner of his eyes, Gopal chuckled and disappeared inside the house in a flash. ‘Ma! The judge is here in his car, Ma. What a lovely car, Ma . . .’

‘I saw.’

‘Will you do me the honour of having a cup of tea, sir?’ Hariranjan-babu inquired deferentially. ‘May I ask for a cup of tea to be made for you?’

‘I’ve had my tea already. But all right, I don’t mind another cup . . .’

Hariranjan-babu quickly offered him a chair with a broken armrest. ‘Please take a seat, sir. I’ll have the tea ready in a minute.’

Bustling, he disappeared inside the house. ‘Minu, a cup of tea for the judge! Can you make him a cup quickly? Serve it in the new teapot I bought the other day, all right? Gopal, go borrow a tea-cup from Goju-babu. Use the back door, he mustn’t see you.’

2

Tea was over.

The discussion veered round to Gopal’s reluctance to study. Hariranjan-babu said he would have engaged a private tutor for Gopal if he could have afforded it. That may have helped. ‘You can’t assume anything,’ said the judge with a smile. ‘Let me tell you a story. It’s a true story, actually. There was a man with two sons. They seemed to have vowed never to study. Their father kept engaging new tutors, kept putting them into new schools, but to no avail. They used to skip classes every day. They’d vanish from sight the moment the subject of private tutors came up. Since their mother spoilt them, their tutors were not allowed to spank them either. Even so, one particular tutor, having reached the end of his tether, had done just that, but without any effect. Their father didn’t lack for money. Eventually, he advertised in the newspapers, offering a reward of a hundred rupees—over and above the salary—to anyone who could persuade his sons to study. A young tutor applied. He didn’t even bring up the subject of studies at first, keeping the boys occupied with marbles, kites, paper boats and so on. Some time went by. Then the tutor took the boys out for a walk. Evening had just set in. There were one or two stars in the sky. Pointing to one of them, the tutor said, “There’s a star.”

‘“There’s another . . .” said the elder of the two boys.

‘“How many is that?”

‘“Two . . .”

‘“And look, there’s another. How many now?”

‘“Three. Another one over there, sir.”

‘“How many in all?”

‘“Four . . .” ‘“There’s another one above the tree. So that’s four plus one equal to five, right?”

‘“Yes sir.”

‘The younger one hadn’t said a word all this while.

‘“Dada, he’s teaching us sums . . .” he finally alerted his brother.

‘He raced off homewards at once. His brother followed him. The tutor left straight away. He was convinced these boys would never amount to anything.’

The judge paused.

‘And then?’

‘And then the elder son died of cholera a few days later. The younger son became even more spoilt as a result. He didn’t even bother to think of studies.’

The judge paused again.

‘How will a spoilt child study, sir?’ Hariranjan-babu observed, assuming the judge was giving an example of the ill effects of over-indulgence.

‘But the spoilt child did start studying seriously one fine day. And began to sail through his examinations one by one.’

‘Really!’

‘Yes! You never can tell.’

‘Oh yes sir, you’re right, of course.’

‘All right, I’d better be going now. I was just passing by. All well at home, I hope?’

‘Yes sir, thank you.’

The judge left. He had deliberately left his story incomplete. In the rest of the story, the boy had become friends with the nine-year-old girl next door. ‘It would be wonderful if you married me, Minu,’ he had said to her, away from prying eyes.

‘Will you?’

‘Why on earth should I marry an ignorant boy like you?’

Minu had answered. ‘My husband will be a very well-educated man.’

Apparently the boy started studying at once.

The judge hadn’t revealed the identity of the boy either.

About What Really Happened

What Really Happened and Other Stories
by Banaphool
Published in Bengali 1925 – 1972
Published in English translation by Penguin India, 2010

From the jacket
Classic tales from the O. Henry of Bengali literature

Translated into English for the first time, these stories by legendary writer Banaphool cleverly explore how life’s absurdities are negotiated through human relationships—whether between friends or family, lovers or strangers.

In the title story, a lovelorn boy waits earnestly in his hostel room for the arrival of his beloved, only to be greeted by a rude shock. In ‘Conjugal Dreams’, the fickle nature of love is at the centre of the story, as two newlyweds confront their respective old loves. In ‘The Homecoming’, an insurance agent travelling home by train for Durga Puja encounters a most unexpected co-passenger. In ‘The Corpse’, a harmless wager leads to very dramatic consequences. Moulded out of everyday occurrences and happenings, these sparkling vignettes range from poignant and tragic to whimsical and satirical.

In these tales, Banaphool invokes a host of enduring characters even as he makes sharp observations about the human condition.

Reviews

Deccan Herald

BusinessWorld