Translated by V. Ramaswamy
Today morning, suddenly, at exactly nine thirty, like a fool Subhendu got shot at the kerb of the crossing. After being shot he gazed vacantly in all directions and saw there was no one anywhere. Only the wayward bullet from the pipe-gun, that had shot out and got lodged inside his chest. Trying to fix the long lead-pipe with his hands, he thought, this was not supposed to happen. For some reason he couldn’t fix it. Raising his arm high towards the young woman walking briskly along the pavement ahead, he called out: ‘Excuse me, I’ve been shot’. The young woman suddenly became exasperated and stopped. ‘What the hell are you lot – can’t you see I’m going for love?’ As she said this she stared fixedly at Subhendu’s eyes and – who knows what she saw – she paused for a moment. ‘Alright, come along’. It was office time now. People were moving along very fast all around Subhendu. The wind blew on his face. In that situation, the young woman lifted up his bullet-pierced body to her chest, and without any sign of weariness, like an expert mother, crossed the road and put him down beside the lake, where the decapitated statue of a tonsured pandit stood. Just a few days ago, someone or some people broke the head of this statue in the dark dead of night. Blood gushed out from the hole on Subhendu’s chest and wet the base of the headless statue. Subhendu was about to sink into terror. He saw rain descend, illuminating the vicinity. The rain poured down and in that rain he – wounded – the young woman, the water of the lake, and the beheaded statue clad in dhoti-chadar, Taltala-slippers on feet – everything got wet. It got flooded quickly. The pavement was flooded, as was the road and every nook and corner between the buildings. Securing her clothes around herself, the young woman just about managed to protect the modesty of all her parts. The wind blew, a cold wind. Subhendu shivered, and forgot about his bullet-ridden chest and saw the floodwater rising all around him. In front of his very eyes the statue of the headless pandit was going under. He made to scream to warn the girl, but she was busy protecting her life and dignity from the lashing rain. She didn’t hear him. He lay there, bullet-pierced. After a while Subhendu saw the headless statue getting submerged under the water. It all happened so easily and so quickly. Subhendu’s mental anguish was such as to make him cry. He saw a boy, naked, float a paper boat on the water. Pushed on by the wind, the boat floated over the headless statue. It seemed no one knew, except for Subhendu, that the tonsured pandit’s headless statue had been submerged in the floodwater, and that the paper boat set down by the little boy had just floated over it. The girl was then still managing her clothes. The whole of Kolkata got soaked in the rain.
After a while Subhendu saw he was being carried on a stretcher in front of the emergency block of a hospital, towards the corridor going inside. A crowd had gathered in the lawn to see him. The stretcher was taken into a lift, he was brought to the first floor. When he was taken off the stretcher and laid on a bed, he reckoned he was going to be operated upon. Consequently, he prepared himself accordingly. He wanted to turn his neck this way and that way to see if there was anyone nearby. But as soon as he moved his head a little, a nurse appeared and scolded him: ‘What are you doing – you mustn’t move, just lie still!’ Subhendu was not used to being scolded. He thought once about protesting in some fashion, but for some reason he did not say anything. All he wanted was to know whether the girl from today morning was anywhere nearby. But he couldn’t turn his head. Subhendu lay silently. He thought as he lay. They were doing all this only for his well-being. If these people did dig out the bullet that got lodged in the corner of the left side of his chest today morning at half past nine – that was unequivocally good for him. He patted his chest and could hear the bullet rattling inside. He kept his left hand over the spot. That would be convenient, he could show it for the operation. The light in front of his eyes kept getting brighter. It became dazzlingly bright, and then it exploded right under his nose. For a long while a fly buzzed in that bright light. All around him he could hear the shuffle of people moving about. The clinking of knives and scissors. A gloved hand emerged over his chest. A body covered in white cloth bent down towards him. Subhendu lay still, as if under a spell. The whole place was enveloped in white light. He felt it must be like that even inside his chest. Within that whiteness a dot-like black fly buzzed and hovered, buzz-buzz. Why was there a black fly like this in all this white light here? Subhendu tried to think about that. But he didn’t get much of an opportunity to think. He saw a headless person clad in dhoti-chadar, his hands covered in gloves, about to cut open his chest with a surgical knife. Subhendu began to think that he knew this headless trunk, but he couldn’t exactly recall where he had seen him. The person wore a very ordinary white khaddar dhoti which didn’t extend below his knees, and a chadar wrapped around his bare chest. The Taltala-slippers on his feet looked extremely familiar to him. But there was no head. It wasn’t easy to recognize a man when the head was absent. He began to think – about where he had seen him before, and how. The man did not hesitate at all. He extended his gloved hand towards Subhendu. ‘Where’s your bullet-hole, Subhendu Mohan?’ At first Subhendu was assailed by doubts, thereafter, raising his hand, he showed the left side of his chest. The man examined the spot a bit with his hand, he knocked at it with his finger a couple of times, and then he said with a grave voice: ‘Very bad place – I hope we don’t have to cut out and remove the heart itself.’ At the mention of the word ‘heart’ Subhendu’s chest shuddered. He wondered what would remain once that was gone. His face turned pale. ‘Can’t you retain it and do something?’ In response, the man smiled a bit, ‘Why do you worry so much, young man!’ He knocked the reverse side of the knife over his chest. Subhendu saw that there was nothing to be gained from objecting now. Not having any option, he lay with his limbs sprawled, and right in front of his eyes, that dhoti-chadar clad, short, headless trunk pulled out his heart, the lodged bullet included, and began dangling it above the tip of his nose. Subhendu lay as if under a spell. He was so scared that he could hardly breathe. Could a man survive once his heart was removed? As he thought about that he was astonished: he was clearly alive wasn’t he? It was above his nose that the heart dangled, this blackish-red lump of flesh. Subhendu had to concede that the man was indeed heroic.
When Subhendu was discharged from the hospital, his heart, packed in a paper box, was given over to him. Stepping outside, he saw the evening’s wan light everywhere, and under that stood the girl. She stepped forward with a smiling face. ‘My God, was I scared!’ After that, pointing at the paper box she asked: ‘What’s that?’ Like someone who has suffered a great loss, Subhendu said, his face pale, as if the blood had drained away: ‘My heart. They operated on me and removed it.’ Hearing this, the girl laughed heartily. ‘That’s really hilarious!’ Subhendu did not laugh. He just kept staring at the girl’s face. What was he to do with the box now! The girl said: ‘Come, let’s go and sit in a bar. I like you a lot.’ ‘But that lover of yours …’, Subhendu muttered, dejectedly. The girl laughed. ‘Oh, he was my lover at half past nine this morning, it’s been six and a half hours since then. Now it’s you who are my lover.’ After saying such things the girl took Subhendu’s hand. But despite the brilliant evening atmosphere, Subhendu did not feel any enthusiasm to hold the hand of this pretty woman with jutting-out breasts. He felt terribly confused. He just could not figure out what to do with the paper box in his hands. Looking at his face, the girl perhaps read his thoughts. ‘Thinking about the box are you? Throw it away on the street!’ Subhendu felt an ache somewhere. ‘My heart, my own … how can I throw it away just like that?’ ‘You are a complete idiot – you get nothing from hearts and such like nowadays. No one bothers about all that!’ As she said that, the girl dipped her hand inside her hand-bag. She took out a brownish thing wrapped in cellophane paper and dangled it in front of his eyes. ‘Here, see my heart. I had an operation and took it out. I put it on again every now and then, as and when necessary. But nowadays, I don’t really need to have it on. Nor do I think I’d ever need it in future!’ Subhendu saw how the girl held her own heart in her hand, pressed between two fingers, and dangled it like a pendulum to show it to him. Perhaps he too should do the same. But Subhendu just couldn’t find the courage for that. As if to console him, the girl said; ‘In the beginning it feels a bit strange. After that everything will be fine, just you watch.’ Seeing Subhendu still staring, she said indifferently: ‘It’s alright, you needn’t throw it away, put it under your arm and come along.’ Saying so, she pulled him by the hand. Subhendu saw that he couldn’t avoid going. This girl, who’d had an operation and had her heart removed, wrapped it in cellophane paper and kept it in her hand-bag, and used it from time to time when necessary – here she was, pulling him, pinching his cheeks. Consequently, he just had to go. Subhendu began walking along with the girl. The paper box was held under his arm. With his heart inside. For a moment he thought, what’s the point in keeping this, it’s best to throw it away. Then he thought, let it be – after all, one couldn’t get it back once it was thrown away. Walking along together they arrived at a bar. A dim blue light burned in the room, waiters wearing white uniforms and white caps hovered around, there were lots of men and women seated, with food and drink spread out in front of them. In the rear, music played to a fast beat. A girl wearing a satin brassiere swayed her hips and danced away to the beat of the music. His girl pointed in that direction. ‘How do you like it?’ Subhendu saw the satin-veiled buttocks and the flesh of the ample breasts of the dancing girl swaying animatedly. It was as if the bright red colour of her lips would leap out and spread all over the room. He slowly put the paper box down on the table and took a deep breath. No one understood his grief. He was about to pat the box out of emotional warmth when the girl pushed his shoulder. ‘What happened? Why are you sitting like an asshole?’ Turning his face, Subhendu looked at his companion’s breasts and saw her cleavage spilling out from the junction between her blouse and sari. Sipping from his glass, he forgot about all that had happened and took everything in. As he looked, that old sphere of light returned. That zone of white light dazzled the eyes, and a dot-like black fly hovered around within that. Subhendu tried to think. Why was there a black fly here in the dazzling white light? But he couldn’t figure it out. He saw: under the terrific rain, a statue of a dhoti-clad pandit, erected in front of a huge house; it was sinking. It was submerged right in front of his eyes. Little boys floated a paper boat, the boat floated away rapidly over the statue’s head. Subhendu wanted to cry now. But he didn’t, thinking that it would not be proper to cry as he was with the girl. His whole body was perspiring profusely now. He wanted to run away from that atmosphere. He wanted to run away and go somewhere and be able to heave a sigh of relief. He stood up to get away, box in hand. The girl pulled him and sat him down again. ‘Where do you think you are going, leaving me behind?’ Subhendu had no option but to sit down and keep looking at the wall, at the pictures of nude nymphs in the blue light. The musical ensemble kept playing to a fast beat, the swaying hips of the girl clad in the satin panty became ever more animated. Lacking any other recourse, Subhendu said plaintively: ‘I must go.’ The girl then stared at his face. ‘Fine, let’s go. Settle the bill.’ Subhendu suddenly came to his senses. He realized he had nothing more than some loose change in his pocket. When he looked at the girl’s face and tried to explain his pathetic situation, the girl retorted in anger: ‘If you didn’t have money why didn’t you say so earlier? Do you think you can make love for free in this market? Pawn your watch or something, or whatever, just do something!’ Subhendu couldn’t figure out what he’d do. The girl suddenly stood up and removed the watch from his wrist. She began tugging at his shirt. In front of Subhendu’s eyes, the sphere of white light exploded in a thousand streams and the black dot-like fly hovered around inside that. He stepped out of the bar – he was bare-bodied, no watch on his wrist. Subhendu began walking slowly, the paper box pressed on his side, under his arm. He didn’t have the slightest inclination to turn around and look. Evening had descended on the city. There were crowds of people in every direction. And among all of them, Subhendu alone, like a lost soul, started walking with his own heart tucked under his arm. So he was all alone in this world – there was no one anywhere near him. All around him were people, shops and establishments, light as well as darkness. People streamed out of the cinema hall after a show. Yet he was alone, impossibly alone. He walked along like this, and as he walked after some time he had left everything behind. On the wall on the right he read, ‘Power flows out of the barrel of a gun’. On the wall on the left he read, ‘Motherfucking masses, so many revolutionary opportunities, yet you didn’t revolt – get rammed by the police now, bastards!’ He heard Rabindrasangeet playing from a paan-shop. A grey coloured tram passed by and on it was written in yellow letters: ‘Destruction is senseless – disavow violence’. He read ‘Baba Naam Kevalam’ written in letters of tar on the house in front, and right above that, the faded broken lines of the stenciled sketch of Chairman Mao. If it had been another day, he’d have stopped, he’d have thought about it. But today he just did not have the inclination. Walking on and on in a world full of people, walking under the light, he reached the huge house and the bank of the lake. There were comparatively fewer people here. The dazzle of neon lights was absent. Although it was night, a few people were bathing in the water. On an enclosed podium sat an enlightened elder with a shaven head, holding forth on The Mahabharata. Around him were a few elderly men and women. A man lay stretched out on a bench in one corner. A youth in blue trousers stood in the concealment of bushes, pissing gushingly. Two boys passed by, whistling at a girl in a frock. Raising his head up, he saw the massive university building standing tall across the road. A tram trundled along the road making a clanging noise. As he gazed on all this, Subhendu’s eyes fell upon the statue, like an image of a poor man amidst all the immense wealth – it stood facing the huge building, abandoned amid a dense thicket. Earlier crows shat on his tonsured head, recently the head had been broken. As soon as he saw the image it occurred to him that it was this man who had operated on him in the hospital and removed his heart. He recalled he had been laid down under this statue after he was wounded in the morning. In amazement and disbelief Subhendu began wondering why he had not been able to recognize him earlier. His eyes almost popped out. The sphere of white light was breaking up in front of his eyes. The black dot of a fly was hovering around inside that sphere. Just a tiny black spot on an immense white canvas. Subhendu couldn’t remain standing anymore. All his emotions surged out from inside him. Bending down, he saw the statue had been submerged in the floodwater after the morning’s rain. After some time the water had receded and the headless body had re-emerged. Peering down, Subhendu could even now see beneath it the stain of the dried-up blood from his pierced chest. He couldn’t remain standing anymore. Trembling with emotion, he put the paper box down under the statue. He just wanted to run for his life and escape from that obscene place to save himself.