A Non-sense Novelette
Proud and victorious, Chandu returned to his lair for further conquests in the literary world. Paharida had assigned to him a full page story for the Sunday edition of the Market Daily, the only page assessed to be read by the largest number of Bengalis all over the world. It was the landmark of success and Chandu prepared for the battle.
The story duly appeared and most readers after glancing across the first few lines ignored it in the morning. There was not enough kick in these lines to stimulate the salivary secretions so necessary for the Sunday morning wakefulness.
After a repeat critical review of all available news and views related to uncensored lusty affairs in the human and animal kingdoms and lapping up the few interesting photographs in the advertisements of 303 Bullet Capsules, many turned back to Srirup’s story preparing themselves for the pre-lunch siesta.
And then they sat up. It was a minefield ready for explosion and they had ignored it.
It was an unusual love story with the most intricate twists and knots from which neither the writer nor the readers could ever think of dis-entangling themselves. It had enough scandal and amorous adventures that the readers would love and publicly denounce.
In a moment of fatalistic inspiration Srirup had named the heroine Menoka, and to his immense satisfaction, Menoka was the first person to send him a congratulatory note.
The heroine was described as a classless, casteless woman of immense beauty—.
Telephones started ringing and spontaneous group meetings were happening around tea stalls, some turning violent.
Those inclined to the left demonstrated against the concept of a classless woman and re-theorized the class concept. Those on the right were more vocal and demanded an immediate burial of the casteless woman.
Copies of the issue had already gone underground and the next day appeared in the black market at ten times the original price.
Artificial hairs, it was rumoured, were on great demand, as all effigy artists had to do was to stick a great profusion of hairs around an indeterminate face, and a Srirup look alike was ready to be burnt at the stake.
Enclosed in his room, Srirup trembled like a leaf. He was scared to go out for fear of being recognized. He had no appetite, no sleep and apprehended that he was suffering from his old companion the poetic anorexia nervosa or, worse still, a bout of typhoid.
The third day another bomb exploded. A rival daily in their literary supplement came out with the headline “Maupassant Necklace makes a comeback in Srirup’s Menoka, unabridged and unaltered. There were rumours of sue, court case and jail, which did not boost Srirup’s morale at all. He badly needed to meet his mentor and get his advice. But how?
It is well said that poets and detective story writers are brilliant schemers and that they can never be put down.
The idea flashed through Chandu’s mind when he was down to his fourteenth cigarette at the dead of the night.
A conspiracy was hatched and the boarding house manager was roped in. The manager was already ecstatic at the turn of events—his boarding house was the talk of the town and the boarding charges had already doubled.
The resident barber was sneaked in at the dead of the night and with a vow of silence and extra remuneration Chandu had a haircut. Srirup must have been devastated as Samson had a century ago, but it never showed on his face. In a mirror he was relieved to see the disappearance of Srirup and the reappearance of the old Chandu.
Of course he looked more of a scarecrow—a balding scarecrow of the more rural type. But it was a satisfying disguise. And the next day Chandu ventured to walk the streets in search of his mentor for some solace.
He took some further precautions, however. Wrapping himself in a grey shawl, he unfurled a large, battered, sun worn umbrella of the traditional variety belonging to his newfound benefactor, the boarding house manager, and sauntered along. This later armament had the dual advantage of eclipsing his face and shooing away the boisterous street dogs, which seemed to have recognized an old foe in spite of the changed profile.
Alas! All this was in vain. Chandu might not have bothered as the weather had completely changed and a new storm was brewing up.
In a candid interview in one of the popular dailies, the ageing Don of Indian cinema and a member of the Rajya Sabha had confessed to his culinary preferences. As per the interviewer there was an ecstatic glow in the Don’s eyes when he described his daily dose of bacon, pork pie and beef steak (rare) and all hell broke loose.
Hindus and Muslims were both righteously aggrieved, but the most indignant were the vegetarians who threatened to raise the issue in the Rajya Sabha. Street corner were already debating the chances of the fall of the ministry and Srirup had shifted to the background.
So it was an uneventful journey to the Chung Wah, where Chandu found Paharida in his usual stance with a mist over his eyes.
Chandu stumbled over to Paharida’s chair, sat down at his feet, umbrella and all, and embraced his mentor’s legs.
Paharida, wide awake in a jiffy, and in a rare show of alertness hurriedly looked down. The umbrella had done the trick. Assured that it was not an anaconda, he reverted to his stance, gave half a glance at the prostrate Chandu and articulated, “Do I know you? Are you a poet? What would the name be?”
Paharida was wide awake now, “Srirup? Where have you been and what happened to your hair? You have made me proud, my boy!”
Chandu broke down and refused to budge from his legs. “They are burning my effigy and are talking about court cases and jails.”
Paharida gave a hearty laugh. “Sit up and order a whisky. No, order a double. This calls for a celebration. You have attained at your tender age what poets yearn for throughout their lives—burning effigies and court cases. The hue and cry will subdue in a week but not the rage for Srirup. Do you know that the publisher of the Market Daily is planning to approach you for the rights of the book he wants to publish on your story? I am sure film directors will shortly be bidding for the film rights. You are truly my heir apparent, my boy.”
Though mellowed down by the double dose and Paharida’s reassurances, Chandu was still having his doubts. “And what about the press conference?” he asked.
“Don’t worry, my boy. I will be there with you. Remember, when you don’t want to answer any question, just smile. But what you need is a wig. Your public appearance without your trade mark crow’s nest would be disastrous,” Paharida guffawed.
Another crisis ensued. With the puja festivals round the corner, wigs were in short supply. The only look alike was a lion’s mane from the deity makers. Dyed dusty black and a few straws thrown in and was a perfect fit.
But the press meet did not go well. An unnervingly large crowd had gathered and for all purposes they appeared to be a rowdy lot.
The first question that was bombarded was: Who was Menoka? When Srirup responded with his well rehearsed mystic smile, he found to his dismay that all eyes were directed not at him, but at a prominent figure sitting among the audience, taller than the rest, with a serene smile endorsing the prominent cheek bones and the canines, with a wig thrown in, probably Ma Durga’s. It was Menoka in the flesh enjoying the limelight.
When the next question spinning around Maupassant’s Necklace volleyed across, Paharida buffered in with the famous lines “When you enjoy the sweet taste of honey, do you waste your time on the bees that collect the nectar from unsuspecting flowers,” to be quoted again and again in Bengali literary circles.
The audience’s reaction at this juncture was totally uncalled for. Someone giggled and in a shrill voice started a dialogue on birds and bees. Paharida, they announced, knew more about birds and bees than anybody around and all hell broke loose.
A makeshift paper plane zoomed in imitating an angry wasp and when Srirup dodged it expertly with a flick of his head, his eyes were directed at another corner of the auditorium, where sat her beloved Nanibala with a crimson face and ears, trying to burn down the whole gathering with the fires sparkling dangerously in her eyes.
Paharida was nowhere to be seen. The “see” had presumably escorted him out to safer pastures. This was the time to sneak out before Nanibala, Menoka or any other hungry wolf in the audience could get hold of him.
The great schemer faltered if only for a moment. A visit to the toilet, discarding the wig, gathering the shawl and the battered umbrella and slipping out through the audience unobserved was only a child’s play.
Why a proud lion had shaved off its mane and blocked the sewerage by flushing it down the toilet would remain a mystery for a long time to come till another enterprising detective story writer came up with the best seller “The forlorn demon eater of Kailash.”
Veiled and safe for the time being, Chandu walked down the well known lanes leading to his boarding lodge, pondering deeply about his future. Being a poet was having its tolls and what he longed for at the moment was the safe haven of Nischindapur away from the turmoil of the city. Nanibala was there of course, but she would, he hoped, take him back in her folds if only he vowed to discard his literary adventures.
When he rounded the corner near his boarding lodge, he decided to have a cup of tea in the shadowy corner of the desolate tea shop and have a discreet lookout for would-be assassins lurking around the corners, before venturing inside.
Drowned in his own miseries and pondering deeply about the vagaries of human life, he started hallucinating and thought he heard rumbling sounds caused by marching boots of an overweight elephant. He inserted his little finger of his left hand into the auditory holes to give a shake. But the rumblings persisted and he looked up to see that he was mistaken. It was not an elephant, but a gorilla of enormous proportions, which did not appear to be in a friendly mood.
“I am an officer of the law,” thundered the gorilla twirling his moustache, the ends of which had proudly peaked up to caress the sideburns.
It was obvious from the full battle dress. “Do you board at that lodge yonder?”
“No. I mean yes.” Shivering violently, hairs or what was left of it stuck up, Chandu waited for the inevitable—the court summons and jail, and schemed furiously to appease the gods, “Have some tea?”
“Name?” The offered tea was ignored. The constabulary in Bengal was not easily bribed.
“Rupchand Goyala!” His guardian angel again saved Chandu in the crisis situation.
The officer relaxed, deposited himself in a protesting chair and conceded to the tea.
“Do you know one Srirup staying in that lodge?” inquired the officer brandishing his baton in a sweeping arc.
“The poet, my foot! He is a gutless, spineless, lantern jawed, hairy son of a rat. See what I do to him when I lay my hands on him.”
“Have some toast and butter. You must be hungry.” Still shivering inwardly, Chandu thought of his lucky escape and tried his best to appease the law. “What has the poet done?”
“You are a good fellow. Let’s have the buttered toast. And an omelette. Double. You know what? That stinking louse is after my wife and is the cause for foul rumours.”
“Who would your wife be?” Chandu already suspected, “Is she also a poet?”
“My wife Menoka. She is an adorable woman and a beauty.” Chandu had never supposed that a gorilla could look so shy, but there it was. “She is at college and moves about in literary circles.” The proud husband elaborated. “But people take advantage of simple unsuspecting girls. And now there are gossips most obscene. But don’t you fret my boy. I am there to protect her honour and see how I reduce the height of the louse by six inches.”
“How?” This was clearly beyond Chandu.
“From upstairs.” With a slashing flick of his baton over his throat the officer made his intentions very clear. He obviously enjoyed this rehearsal as his whole torso rumbled with a hearty laugh.
In a split second Chandu altered his future course of action. His earlier plan to sneak into the boarding lodge and gather his reading and writing material was abandoned.
He thanked the officer for his enterprise and zeal, offered his ever vigilant services and trudged along to the railway station, still bridled with the hired umbrella. He was off to Nischindapur, his abode of peace, away from the literary world for good and emitted a hearty sigh of relief.
(To be continued…)