The Bengali short-story Kachhimgala written in 1989 AD has become a myth before even completing a quarter century. Such myths are available in Bengali literature – this book of short-stories/poems is exceptionally ‘Good’, but not available in the bookstores! For this creative success of the publishers of Bengali Literature, we got the extended possibility to identify any rare work as ‘Good’. If we see the things in this way, circulating both English and Bangla versions of Kachhimgala is a mere try to put the myth into some challenges. But myths don’t die; we can only change the meaning. Pushing the myth of Kachhimgala, we can only create some different kind of possibilities of meaning. We welcome you to enter the myth of Kachhimgala and reinvent it.
Translated by: Ehsan Kabir Shoybal
Someday I came to know the tortoise, very familiar to me, lives for three centuries. It just stole my dream away and I lost my taste in food. I keep on thinking all day long – about what I don’t know. The only thing I know is that I’ve to contemplate more and more.
My wife always says, I’m aloof, which makes me laugh. My laughter is very humble in its way since my childhood. This type of people become very submissive to their wife. However, my wife doesn’t know much of this. She dreams of me while lying by me at night. She sometimes wails in fear, as she sees me being stabbed in her dream. She has a nightmare that I’m chopped into pieces and thrown into the water being stuffed in a bag. Sometimes she dreams of my swollen up body entangled with someone after a launch capsize. Then suddenly jumping up on the bed she asks, “who’s she you were dying with?” She assumes I always peep inside her. My eyes devour my wife, her naked arms out of the sleeveless blouse. She never feels exhausted. Always keeps on hurling questions without seeking for answer.
I’m lucky enough to meet a variety of people. Patting on my shoulder, once a blind man told me, “The time’s not for you”. I know these are just words. But who’s there to talk like him these days? I looked at his eyes. A kind of fluid was oozing out of the reddish eye-sockets. It looked moist and cool. Perhaps he used to rob once before the villagers gouged out his eyes.
“Know who’s my religious leader? The people of Patrail.”
“So many saints?”
“How come so many? There’s just one.”
“All the people are not saint. Look, I’ve got a number of eyes on my waist.”
“Would you give me one?”
“All are my tricks.”
I asked him about various unrealistic matters. But the blind man is very tactful in answering those. He said, “It’s a very bad and filthy time. It’d be wise to move cautiously. Everyone wants to be a saint. Be careful.”
I know some ordinary folks, who suddenly speak out some amazing things out of some impulse. On my trip to Jaflong, I was crossing the River Piyain by a boat, when the young boatman uttered, “It’s not surprising the boat sways, as we people are not stiff like stone.”
My wife is very fond of these trifles. She is a collector of words uttered by such people and she urges others to keep record of new quotes for her. It’s my duty to find out five such unique quotes every month. And in a sense I have to come upon many weird guys only for my wife.
I’ve some other tasks to do. I need to learn the perfect pronunciation of ‘অ’ (the first letter of Bangla alphabet), as someday I have to teach my hitherto unborn child the letters. As a responsible father, I shouldn’t rest on my wife to perform this elementary duty. The housewives usually don’t know many deeper ‘pronunciations’ of Life. I need preparations from now on that my child doesn’t face any unwelcoming world during birth.
The sound ‘অ’ has multiple colours. It’s not just a sound, it’s associated with so many mystic experiences of generation after generation. The ‘অ’ sound of the crow’s caw in the dead of night, expressing its amazement, is completely different from the ‘অ’ of the same crow shattering the roughness of the morning. I like to say, the ‘অ’ in a youth’s agony and that in the protest of a boy are not identical.
I want to search for the vowels of stars. When do the ever-journeying stars talk like men? Thousands of questions swarm in our head, when we two are tired of looking for a multi-dimensional alphabet book for our child. We don’t seek for the meanings, but the questions themselves give momentum. I love dusk, but have no compassion for the people whose inner-self is full of darkness, dismality and dampness. We try to allow as much as light to enter our tiny two-room house. We reserved a room for sleeping and love making, and the other is furnished with some of our favourite stuffs. On arrival of any guest, we keep the door ajar and tell them, “sorry dear, we’re a bit busy doing something.” Thus we try to avoid guests with all our efforts. At best we welcome them to enter the kitchen, where they have nothing but to sit on a spiky-surface stool. And we offer them to have some tea with much laxity, the meaning of which they unmistakably get and take instant leave.
Let’s talk about the first room, before moving on to the second one. It is furnished with various lights around it, as we use it only at night. My wife is very knowledgeable about the six seasons. Heard that in her childhood she had intimacy with some aged women, who enriched her knowledge of the seasons. However, she doesn’t like to talk about the moment when she first learnt them. These days, she can at ease affirm what type of bulbs of how many watts will illuminate from which corner of the wall on the first fifteen days of the month. The bulbs are decorated with different shades that my talented wife made out of waste materials. But I don’t have any interest in it. I am rather obsessed with antique oil lamps. I collected an archaic petromax lantern to kindle our wedding anniversary night. The problem with them is you have to put some extra effort in repairing and making them functional again. I don’t find much interest in electronics, though I possess toolbox, soldering iron, drills, hacksaw, chisel, hammer, hand plane, screw driver, multimeter and whatnot. On the other hand my wife don’t have any fondness for gardening. But I’m very happy with this. After the industrial revolution, the focus of mankind has either widened or been narrowed down. Against this backdrop, gardening doesn’t fall in either of them. It appears to me a kind of luxury.
My ‘season specialist’ wife furnished the bedroom in such a way that the 12’x14’ space incites a transcendental feeling inside me. A 1.5-feet-high movable raised floor is set up on the structural floor. My wife shifts the position of the false floor on an indefinite date every month. The floor is coated with carpet and 1-inch-thick layer of foam, which is again covered sometimes with mat. Anyways, my wife, matching the years of her age, leaves 25 cushions of different sizes, shapes and colours lying on the bed. At times, I try to sleep on top of my wife covering her with pillows. Sometimes, we violently hurl pillows at each other engaging ourselves in pillow fight. Often in the wee hours I find her curled up hugging the bolsters in her sleep – not like a young girl – but akin to the female characters of ‘Mahabharat’ with the expectation of having hundreds of sons. Her face reflects the sight of drowsy clouds hovering over green fields.
By dint of her embellishing touch, the two doors of the house have turned into something like my wife’s pair of adorable lips. I feel the boiling urge inside me to frequently pass through the doors, kiss them and enliven the thoughts of all nonexistence. Basically, to me the meaning of ‘home’ is the effort of adopting the ideas of nonbeing and materialize them in the pragmatic life of human being.
In the bedroom, we have a vacuum cube of glass, the plate of its one side can be slid aside. We are planning to place something very significant in the beautifully transparant cube. Many keep fish in stuffs like this, but we don’t like to make it an aquarium. We want to do something fundamental with it. We like to keep something very intimate in the precious glass cube.
My wife performs office work from 9:00 till 17:00. But I couldn’t find any name for her. ‘Name’ poses very mysterious to me. I believe in giving multiple names for an individual. The more verbose and mellifluous, the better. I love giving newer names, but I’m still not satisfied with the names I preferred for her. Well, I can call her ‘Tia’. But the ‘Ta’ sound, though being prominent, seems very worn out for excessive use. And I don’t feel any interest in overused things.
‘Nihi’ or ‘Kish’ would be my son’s name, and ‘Nripa’ for the daughter. It can also be ‘Pipi’. With these thoughts, I lost myself amidst the tincture of family life drawing composition after composition on the family-canvas with water colour as the kids do.
In the beginning, I thought of placing a brass statue of Tia in the glass cube. I would have done the molding myself, if I had the furnace facility. However, I got some candles. I made some coarse structures melting used ball-pens with the heat of candle light. Some of those turned out to be ‘Nataraj’ having sex, some other looked like coiled up snake. As though I created some three-dimensional trap to capture the space in between. Anyway, it’s not Tia that captivates my mind these days, but the multifaceted glass cube. Wherever I go, it continues prodding me, “Fill me up, fill me up”.
Once I went to the office with a shopping bag in my hand. I proposed Tia to open the second room for all. But she didn’t agree. I am fed up thinking of the 25 things in the second room. 25-7=18; 18/2=9; 9-3=6. Among the stuffs in the room, six are exclusively mine. Seven are common property, six other solely belong to Tia, while three stuffs of each are associated to the first room. I’ve got just six and I crave for the seventh one. But there’s nothing new to add there.
One day I received a letter from Mymensingh relating the whereabouts of a person I once met.
I never spend a single night leaving Tia in the past one and a half years and every night we jolted the false floor in the bedroom. I learnt the sexual spirit of women is extremely lavish. Sometimes, it appears they are very easy to conquer, again they become hard nuts to crack at times. They need to be mastered with intricacies. Tia never loses her stamina. Her physique is gifted, grandiose and the articulacy of her innermost part is just awesome. If I drive my boat crazy on her lake, she responds twenty times more vigorously and yields herself completely to me. She reveals to me the art of her aroused pair of breasts and I act like the Prince Shahriar of the ‘Arabian Nights’ listening to her story of ecstasy that begins with the cup brimful with hot espresso coffee. She becomes frenzied with passionate feelings. She calls her lower abdomen a bridge. The toll collector is very strict there and obligates the scuba diver to offer a marine kiss and have the permission to unfold the juicy oyster lying on the seabed.
In one evening roughly five years back, I met the man mentioned in the letter from Mymensingh. Rice was boiling in a pot aboard a boat. Fog just began to spread out like a net over the river. The boat was so ordinary and dull that it’s enough to make someone upset in a minute.
I was a student then and used to roam around in group along the piled up bank of Brahmaputra River in the evening and try to figure out our fortunes gazing at the starry sky during dark moon. The Brahmaputra reflects the image of ‘Bipradas’ from this particular site. Some kind of light circles keep dancing till the dead of night over the surface of the river on the opposite side. The number of them are variable each time you count them. I have a habit of sitting in a relaxed way facing the north at the plastered quay on the river bank. I see bright meteors shooting in the sky from one end to another and then disappear. The sight of their burning is very spectacular. I experienced the situation right after meteor impacts – it makes the air heavy with smoky smell. It tastes like sea salt. The sky looks gigantic from the strand of a dead river.
I met the guy while smoking once along the river bank. Rice was boiling in the pot placed on a stove. Teta (a locally-made fishing tool), spear, net and rope were scattered on the hoodless portion of the boat’s deck. I also found something kept upside down in rows. I didn’t get at first what they could be. But later it amazed me. I recalled the popular fable of Aesop: “The Tortoise and the Hare”. Who won the race in the end? I never wanted to know. But why? Where lies the actual taste of the tale, if not in the ‘End’ of it? Does it point to mankind’s eternal tendency to fancy the slow as fast, the victor as loser, the easy as difficult, the natural as odd? The flipped over tortoises stirred up these thoughts in my mind.
The colours of their belly range from deep yellow to greenish yellow. You can imagine each of them a living brass plate, if it is overturned. I stared at them dumbfounded. The sight of them triggered lots of thoughts. The nerves of the brain began pulsating. I felt like a remote faculty of my imagination was stoking the center point of my mind. I wish I could turn my brain inside out and know right away what’s happening there.
I started to feel normal again knowing the man was looking at me. But the anxiety still remained there. He was staring at me – silently. Seems like he wants to say something, but looking for ways to initiate. He looked very musing and quivering against the shimmering flame of the stove.
“Can I have some fire?”
Silence prevailed for a while, except the crack and snap of some bamboos charring inside the cooker. Suddenly a tortoise brought out its head of the shell, perhaps with the intention of listening to me. The aged man asked, “Wanna light the cigarette?” reaching out to my mouth the flame on top of a jute stalk.
“What do you cook?”
“Boiling the rice”, said he before yawing. A young boy was doing something inside the boat’s hood.
“Uncle, where do you come from?”
The man drew my attention intensely. I’ve got to know about him somehow.
The tortoise is an interesting animal – ‘the marine goat’. It can fold in its neck – resembling to the shaft of an adult man’s penis – to the shell in a second. It looks mysterious to me. The Muslims are deprived of tasting its flesh, as they couldn’t find the way to slaughter it. There’s no other animal with such body armour like astronaut’s suit. In spite of apparent shyness, a tortoise is very methodical in its sexual life. It’s really amazing the way it hatches eggs with the help of heated sand of shoal. Like a prostrating devout person, the posture of a tortoise evokes an unworldly experience in the water, sky and the horizon.
The old tortoise hunter carried on telling the long story beginning from his previous dwelling in Kansat, on the bank of Padma River near Chapainawabganj. “I arrived here in Kantonagar leaving the native village with a view to survival.”
Kantonagar is located in Dinajpur on the strand of Morakanchon. He often sets sail for hunting tortoises, moving from place to place. He catches them throughout the winter on this part of the narrowed down Brahmaputra River, and leaves the area when it becomes completely dried up.
I already befriended the poacher. I need to know what tortoises do in the water – how they lay eggs and where they sleep.
“You think of water as very simple, eh?”
It’s quite late into the night and they finished their dinner. I am sitting on the boat’s deck beneath the wintry sky covering myself with a shawl. The eyes of the reptiles were twinkling in the flickering light of the hurricane lamp. Up in the sky, a flock of migratory birds just flew away swishing through the air like some demons. The man was brooding over something gazing at the sky for a while. Our topic of discussion centered on the spirit of the water, the saint of the shoal, well-wishers of tortoises, etc.
He whispered to me, “Ever saw them?”
“The spirits whose name should not be uttered at night.”
Did I get scared indeed? Did I really hear some cracking sound from a nearby tree?
“Last year I saw six white-bearded men playing kabadi under the rail bridge in a moonlit night. Wrapping their lungi around the waist, they were playing intensely being divided into two sides. Feeling no slumber to my eyelids, I went forward with the spear in hand to see what’s actually going on there. I was astounded to see them all two-feet tall with their beard grown down to the navel. On top of all, no one’s feet was touching the ground!”
A chill ran down my spin in spite of the shawl covering. The old man continued his story whispering into my ear:
“I think some of them are moving around us right now. Get closer to me.”
I felt dryness on my lips and grew pale in fear. I asked him mumbling, “What to do now?”
“Don’t worry. Sit where you are. I’m taking care of it. Know what they do? They release all my tortoises into the water. You see? The turtles sensed something I guess.”
Indeed, all the reptiles were looking at something bringing out their neck. They were swaying their heads side to side as if watching a tennis match.
“Now, if I talk about their virtues, they’ll forget all.”
“It happened four to five years ago. I’ve been hunting tortoise for years, but never experienced such an incident. The other night, I was roaming around along the river bank armed with a spear. I was never so timid. It was very late into the night, but I am yet to be blessed with any prey. I was almost sure that it was not my day. Suddenly I spotted bubbles of water at a particular area of the river. And it was growing up. I gripped the spear hard. The turbulence of water intensified several times and a kind of unworldly beam was coming out from beneath the water. In seconds, the whole surrounding became luminous as in daylight. The tumult of water escalated with the growing brightness of light. The spot soon changed its colour to the hue of red hot chilli. And then, something jumped up in the air. I was about to jab it with my spear. But I saw a snake with reddish glow coming down from the sky. And its eyes, don’t know what to say about it. The spear remained glued to my palm. I failed to strike it. The demonic creature started laughing at me. The red glow turned into the colour of glittering silver. I got confused. I took up the weapon again, this time determined to kill it. Upon my move, it stopped laughing and again the gleam around its body turned into red. I felt like a hallucination gripped me. I put down the spear again in confusion. I failed to strike it. The same courses of action occurred repeatedly. I couldn’t take it anymore and started running along the shoal for escape. But it did not spare me. No matter wherever I move to, I see the same things – turbulence in water, red glow, tortoise, snake and the extremely annoying guffaw. Have I gone mad? Felt like it squeezed out all my energy and I was in a dream.
“The tortoise walked up to the river bank followed right by the snake that emerged from somewhere. The tortoise looked like a setting sun and its eyes – as if they were a couple of honey drops. The feet resembled that of a crazy princess. I kept watching. Felt like a series of waves are splashing in my chest. I saw them dancing. I can’t tell you how was it! The shimmering glow also changed its colours with their dance. And I kept on watching in amazement.
“The snake started laughing at me and then both of them turned into a pair of light balls and disappeared in the mid river.”
Here the tortoise hunter drew the curtain of his story, when it was 3:00 in the early morning. The boat was too tiny to accommodate me for sleeping. Whatever, I had no bit of slumber on my eyes. When I was about to jump out of the boat, the old man said, “It’s the nature of Satan to jump”. I sensed he was very closely observing me through the fog.
The edge of the river is like a steep cliff. However, I manage to get up on the mainland. Looking back at the boat, it seems like the flickering light of the boat’s hurricane lamp is monitoring me like the hawk-eye of the old tortoise poacher. I moved ahead leaving behind the faint line of the river. At times, I heard the sound of some animal’s movement – may be some kind of fish or some phantom being. I looked back at the boat again. In the meantime, the light of the hurricane is totally lost in darkness. But I feel that the dark eyes of the aged man is still watching me.
Since then I got addicted to roaming around along the bank of Brahmaputra at night. In the beginning, I got some friends with me for the sake of adventure. But soon they lost their interest, they got tired of it. I began moving to newly emerged shoals all alone. Sometimes into the knee-deep water, sometimes crossing the rugged cove where water starts dancing under the starlit sky feeling my presence. The nocturnal birds come down upon the shoal. Detached from the flock, one or two of them cry out drifting down the Death itself to the dune. The entire neighbourhood suddenly wakes up amid deep agonies. The wailing comes out also from the tamarisk shrubs. I hear the splash of water with the movement of fish or something else. Scared I lie down on the wet sand. But nothing can check my prying soul. With my twitching eyes, I see a migratory bird passing me elegantly like a stork. I chase it crawling on the ground and hear the tweet of two other birds from far away.
I see a Huttiri bird lying down on its back and lifting up the legs to the sky. While laying eggs, the female Huttiri chooses this position perhaps assuming that her mighty egg can possibly cause the earth break into pieces. I observe the bird with eagerness. It continues chirping in a shrill tone – ti…ti…huttiti…huttiti. Tearing the bond with infinity, the horizon seems to be drawn at my arm’s length. A celestial luster from the brightest source has come down on this sand, in the water, even on the leaves of tamarisks. Everything is radiating, every entity reviving.
Sometimes I walk far across the neighbourhood at night. The makeshift thatched houses look like bushes in the dark. I keep moving further beyond all these. The strip of river comes to my view once again, the birds’ chirping soothes my ear – I meet the lonely sky. Sitting at the high edge of the river, I stare at the shoals dotting the water like playing fields. On such a night, I witnessed a gang of three killing another guy. They were unaware of my presence. Even the birds were startled at the dying agony of the victim with his mouth gagged. His growl slashed through the air. But I remained glued to the spot. The killers decapitated the body and left the scene taking away the head in a bag. I planned to identify the victim after the departure of the killers, but I was left with no option.
I spent night after night wandering like this, but never experienced any happening like that of the huntsman.
I need to head for Mymensigh again and meet the tortoise poacher. There lies an earthly immortality. If the long living creature have mercy upon us, we can resolve the problem with our bedroom’s glass cube. I already talked about the plan to my wife. But Tia discarded it instantly, “I can’t be. I thought… I thought…” She wants me to forget about my plan sketching a frown on her face. But I know Tia has not yet reached any decision. I told her, “What about a baby tortoise, a golden one?” She shakes her head, “No, no”. Her negative reply sounds like lamentation. I try to persuade her, “Come on Tia… our life is very short, but it will live for long… none of the city will be able to witness its end… try to understand… it’ll be amazing… besides, we can assume ourselves to be hunters, tortoise hunters… and if that happens really ever again…”
Tia tends to faint, even though there is no river near at hand. I can’t gain her consent anyhow. Yet, I’ll get to the tortoise hunter, I must.
Book: Kachhimgala (Short Stories)