Translated Story : The Sky Or The Earth : A View From Afar


Translated Story : The Sky Or The Earth : A View From Afar
( দূৰৈৰ পৰা আকাশ অথবা পৃথিবী )

Origin :
Devabrata Das
Translated by the author


PC- Achyut Hatimuria
                                                                
The teenager and the pilot :
The teenager was absorbed in his fishing. Sitting on the banks of the small rivulet he was gazing intently at the fishing rod. Any sign of fish biting the bait would mean good news for his family’s dinner. He is from a very very poor family. They cannot even dream of buying fish from the market. The fish sells at an exorbitantly high price. What to talk of fish, even simple dal and rice are so dear now. But he is very fond of fish. As are other members of his family. That is why today, all throughout the day, he would be sitting on the sand by the river. Looking for fish.

Suddenly there was a strange noise, breaking the silence of the environment. Taking his eyes off the fishing rod, the boy looked up. A small plane is crossing the sky. The pilot was flying the plane very low. So low, that all the details of the plane could be seen clearly. Even the pilot could be seen clearly. What a happy and a content face the pilot has, the boy thought. The pilot must be leading a very happy life. The pilot’s job is a good job, must be a job with a very healthy salary. Must be having many other perquisites also. And look at us, the boy thought, every day the same old drudgery. Search for food, a few morsels of rice, so that at least the hunger could be satiated somehow. The teenager started dreaming a fond dream. He thought: if at all someday I could become a pilot of a plane, like the one I just saw, I would possibly be the happiest person on earth.


The poet and his environment :
The words surround me. The words are my companions. It is with words that I move around. It is words that I play with. My world is filled with words. Often they would jostle with one another, force their way out of my heart. They would bribe my emotions, and my head will bid me to place the words on a blank paper. The words, like pearls, will then get themselves arranged in a perfect stanza of some poems. In front of my own eyes they would transform themselves, bind themselves into a string of pearls. A perfect poem would then get born. And, I will be filled with joy of creativity. Ah, such bliss! The feeling of having just then completed  writing a poem, is simply beyond words.

Often, in such circumstances, I forget that there is a world outside my poetry also. There is this bitter reality. A stark, real, frill less world of poverty. The problems. The crises. The, problems of existence. The search for shelter. The search for food. Any way, I thought the problems will remain. For an average Indian young man, problems are no strangers. Poverty is nothing alien. One has to learn to live with them. But I have a world of my own. Besides these problems, besides these crises, I live in comparative happiness. In a blissful world of my own creativity. With my poems.
--Bhaiti, will you go this morning to market ? There are no vegetables in the kitchen.
That was Ma, my mother. Her reminders escort me back to reality. Ma’s meagre income is all that is sustaining us. Our small family. She wants me to go to the market. The market to me means asking for credit in the grocery shop. The market means a stroll in the fish market, among the pieces of high priced, blood smeared pieces of freshly cut pieces of fish. The market also means returning home without buying a piece. The market to me means buying a few pieces of cheap vegetables, potatoes, onions, and possibly a few brinjals.

Everyday when I have to leave my secluded exquisite world of words and poetry and come down to the bitter reality of onions and potatoes. I turn into a lowly creature even in my own eyes. But there is no escape from reality. The stark harsh truth of this world of want. One has no other option but to compromise with reality. One has to live in one’s own environment. Though I was half inclined to give up my studies and become a full time political worker, working for the upliftment of the poor in my region of the country and continue my pursuits in poetry side by side. But I always had to compromise and revise my decision sometime later.

My youth was a world of want : ------ Ma’s meagre income from her job as a school teacher, ---------The loans she had to take for my sister’s marriage, -------My indecision regarding continuance of my college studies. ------- capping it all, my maternal uncle and his wife’s constant subtle and blatant reminders that we should leave their house and start living elsewhere.

Father died when I was only a few months old. Grandfather brought us to his house. Since then we had been living there. But when grandfather died, uncle made it clear that we are no more welcome at the house. But where to go? We had no other shelter.
Ma had a teacher’s job with a small salary. Somehow the sister could be got married to another town. Only Ma and me, we remained in the family. We were staying in a two and a half room part in our uncle’s house. All was well in the world. At least it seemed to be for the time being. But then, suddenly I met a girl just after I got admitted in a local college. She was the girl who introduced poetry to me. And I immediately got myself immersed in the vast generous and refreshing ocean of poetry. I would then dive day in and day out in poems written by the great poets of the past and come out discovering pearls and gems from the ocean of poetry. After some time, it so happened that I became myself more enamoured of poetry than even the company of that girl. In my search of good poetry and through the poems, in my search for the reality, I would first discover the power of poetry. How even poems could be your friend, your guide, your torch bearer. Some poems showed how the earth is so beautiful.Some showed how the earth could be made more beautiful. How earth could be turned into a place where everybody could live in peace and harmony. That was the time when Neruda, Lorca, Mayakovosky, Sri Sri, Sukanta, Subhash, Bishnu and  Jyoti were encouraging me to fight against the ills of the society. That was also the time when my uncle provoked by his newly married wife was trying his level best to throw us out of our house.

Uncle had a job of frequent transfers. He had then just been transferred to the town from elsewhere. Though he was a moneyed person, though he had a good prestigious government job, though he could easily have found a residential quarters elsewhere, he chose to come and stay in the same house where we were staying. Bitterness prevailed after that. Everyday his wife would come up with unique excuses to pick a right with our family. Ma and she were always at loggerheads.
One evening on my return, I found that Ma is not at house. The uncle’s wife did not seem to  know where she had gone. There must have been a bitter quarrel between them in my absence. Otherwise Ma would not have left the house. My uncle’s wife was still fuming when I returned. On my enquiries about my Mother’s whereabouts, she started cursing my mother. She did not even spare me. Finally she declared that I and my mother would have to leave the house immediately. Otherwise she would kill herself first rather than having to live with us. She would thus force her husband to throw us out.

I did not respond to her outbursts. I simply came out of the house silently with my head bent out of shame. I stared looking for Ma in the neighbourhood. I did not have to search for a long time. Ma was sitting in a distant relative’s house. The relative was a respected person of the locality. Also a lawyer. We used to call him lawyer uncle. Uncle and several other members of his big family were all sitting with Ma discussing the quarrel. They all asked me what had happened when I returned home. I told them everything, including my uncle’s wife’s threats to throw us out of our shelter. Lawyer uncle asked me – did the wife really threaten as you had just now described? is it the truth?

I confirmed. Lawyer uncle then spoke slowly – They have no moral right to threaten you like they did. After your own maternal grandfather brought you to stay there. Your uncle’s own father gave you the right to stay there. His wife cannot cail that you have to leave the house now. Both of you stay in our house today. Tomorrow morning I shall see what can be done.

The next day he gathered a few more respected and elderly persons of the neighbourhood and discussed the whole matter. Then he took us all to our house. There, the whole group confronted my uncle and his wife.

Lawyer uncle asked – “ What do you want ? Do you really want to drive these two out of their shelter? These two – one your own sister who is an unfortunate widow and this young fellow who is yet to graduate from college? Are they not your own relatives? Are they not the ones whom your own dead father brought home for giving them a shelter after your sister’s husband’s untimely death? Tell us frankly, what you really want?

The uncle and his wife immediately changed their stance. They immediately hid their ill motives with their sweet tongue. They admitted to none of the lawyer uncle’s allegations. Lawyer uncle once again asked then -- If you really do not want these two to leave home then what prompted the mother to come to my house seeking shelter yesterday? Why the young man was threatened by your wife that unless they left she would commit suicide?

One of assembled persons asked me -- Did she really threaten in such a manner?
I said - - yes, she did.
It was now left to the uncle’s wife to start telling lies. Clutching her baby to her chest, she said – No. No. It’s a lie. It’s a fabrication. I never told anybody any such thing. Don’t you ever believe it. I swear upon God. I swear upon the head of my newborn child, I never - - - -
She started weeping, and I stood amazed at the ease in which she made me look like a liar, or a criminal in front of all the respectable persons of the locality. I could not believe my own ears.

Anyway, confronted by the collected dismay of the neighbourhood, my uncle and his wife decided to go stay in a Govt. Quarters allotted to them. My mother became more worried after the quarrel. She started aging fast. One day I overheard her relating her tale of woes to one of her friends - -  You know my plight. This is my home. Still I can’t stay here much longer. My own brother wants me out. Whatever savings I had, everything got exhausted after the daughter’s marriage. The only son I have is also not attentive to his studies. Day in and day out he is absorbed in poetry. Doesn’t care at all about our condition. God only knows what is in store for us in future.

I was relaxing on my bed when she was with her friend. I would hear all her words. I started to think, how lucky my uncle is. How fortunate they are. The morning will see his official car enter his house. The driver comes of the car and salutes my uncle. Uncle tells him to wait. He goes in to change into his office attire. His wife comes out holding a bag. Handing  him the bag and a written list, she tells the driver - - Nandkishore, please take this bag. On your return, please bring these items for market.
In the evening uncle will return with his briefcase filled with currency notes. He will tell his wife - - keep the money in the locker of the wardrobe. These amounts are to be kept secret. Cannot be deposited in Banks.

I keep on thinking. My uncle is so happy. He has such a comfortable job. On top of his fat salary he receives so many ‘presents’ from interested businessmen. If I also could get such a job . . . . . . .  I kept on thinking. I thought I was being a very foolish person all along. Instead of trying wholeheartedly to establish myself as a selfish and a capable worldly person, I was keeping myself immersed in poetry. I was dreaming foolish dreams of making the world a better place to live in, through literature and poetry.

From then on, my priorities in life changed drastically, I delved wholeheartedly into my studies. I graduated with honours marks. I sat for a competitive examination also. And came out successful too. Now I am a senior officer in the Police department. I left uncle’s house a long time ago. I have now built a small house of my own in the suburban area of the same town. Because of my present standing, interested people have found out that I once dabbled in poetry during my college days. May persons connected with literature now often frequent my house seeking my blessings. Often I am invited to recite poems in poets’ get-togethers. But I could sense that more than listening to my poetry the people are more awed by my official designation. My poems invariably get the largest applause and I get myself lost in public adulation. I often tend to forget that this poet whose ordinary poems are so well admired is none other than the same unscrupulous Govt. Officer who does not think twice in performing the dirtiest of duties if instructed by his seniors. He is the same person who does not feel even the slightest pang in his conscience if some black marketeer comes and offers a bribe. What is this dishonest person doing in a pure and sacrosanct world of poetry?
Once on official duty I had to go and visit a town where my sister and her family stay. I went to meet them. On my sister’s request I decided to stay the night with them. Theirs was a small house. I was given their only son’s room to stay. My nephew is still studying. My sister told me that more than his studies he is interested in the current agitation. The agitation was against the rising prices in the market.

The prices had risen possibly because of the govt.’s wrong policies. My sister said – your nephew is one of the organisers. He is always out of the house. Rarely does he come home for dinner.

I was relaxing in my nephew’s room. By his bed side, a heap of books was lying in disorder. I cast a glance through them. All are books of poetry. A few half written poems were also lying among the sheaf of papers. I started to read them, slowly. One sheaf of papers after another I felt as if my nephew is reliving my own past which  I had once forsaken in my selfish pursuit of success. Suddenly I felt very jealous of my nephew. Jealous of his sincerity. Jealous of his innocence. Jealous of his pure and uncompromising youth.

That day the agitation took a worse turn in the town. In some areas protesting people turned violent. There were stray cases of stone throwing, two police firings, and the civil authorities clamped curfew during the night hours as a precaution. That night I was returning to my sister’s house in a police jeep, after an official dinner elsewhere Suddenly in the harsh rays of the jeep’s headlights we could see a few young boys writing  graffitis of protest slogan on the walls of a building. On seeing our approaching jeep, they fled away quickly taking advantage of the darkness. I looked at the half finished written slogan. It was not a slogan in the strict sense. It was a piece of poetry. “Desh Bulile Adesh Nelage” (if it is for the motherland, no one’s bidding is required). A poem written in protest. I tried to remember the faces of the boys running away leaving the slogan half written. Was my nephew also among them?


The Pilot and the fisherman
The pilot was flying the plane very low. He looked down from his window. A person was sitting on the banks of a small rivulet. He had a fishing rod in front of him. He was a fisherman. He was totally absorbed waiting for a fish to swallow his bait.
The pilot thought – how contented the fisherman looks. As if no worldly worry can even touch   him. The river, the  shade  of the trees, the grasses, the still of the noon, and the pleasure of fishing in idleness. Ah! What a blissful life the fisherman enjoys! And look at me. Day after day locked inside in this small cockpit. I have been going from place to place without any worthwhile company. I don’t even know how my children are growing. In comparison, this fisherman – How happy he looks! How contented is he!

About the author:  Devabrat das was born in the year of 1950. Devabrat das is one of the most powerful authors of modern Assamese literature. Arpitar Erati ( Arpita's One Night),  Arpitar Anyo Arati (Arpita's Another One Night), Nirbasita Galpa ( Selected stories), Ratipuwaloi (Till The Morning), Nirmalir Sapon, ( Nirmali's Dream), etc. are his story collections. He got the Sahitya Academy award in 2010 for 'Nirbasita Galpa'. He was an engineer by profession. Later he got retired from doing a job as an officer of state bank of India. Now he lives in Uzanbazar, Guwahati. The social consciousness and environment of 70 century's Assamese people have emerged among his stories.



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