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Barnali Saha : The Vacation (Fiction)

Landscape in yellow. Courtesy - Sotheby's, UK

(Original in Bengali by Tagore – Chhuti.
Translated by Barnali Saha)

Fatik Chakrobortti, the leader of the band of boys, just had a fabulous new idea, a huge shal tree was waiting by the riverbed to be crafted into the mast of a ship; it was decided that together they would roll it down. 

Apprehending the owner's astonishment, disgust and displeasure in his hour of need, the boys unanimously approved the given proposal. 

Just as the boys were concentrating their efforts on getting the job done, Fatik's younger brother, Makhanlal, sat glumly on the tree stump, the boys were rather discontented seeing his sudden sense of dejection. 

One of them came forward and stroked him gently, but he remained unperturbed; this judicious and erudite intellectual continued to brood on the worthlessness of all plays and pastimes. Sneering contemptuously, Fatik came and said, "I will hit you! Get up, now!" 

Hearing thus he shifted a little and then occupied his seat firmly. In such a circumstance for the purpose of protecting the honor of his kingdom in the eyes of the common 
Fatik should have given a tight slap across his brother's neck-- but he didn’t dare. He pretended that he could have taught him a lesson, but he didn’t on account of a newer and better idea that had struck him; this scheme was funnier too. It was proposed that they start turning the wood over with Makhan still sitting on it. 

Makhan thought such an act would bring him pride; but like several other mortal honours this one too was exposed to a certain amount of risk, that factor, however, never crossed his or the others' minds. The boys girded up the loins and started rolling the wood -- "Push hard heinyo, bravo men heinyo!" 

No sooner had the stock of the tree turned over than Makhan with his gravity and worldly wisdom was razed to the ground. On encountering such an unexpected result the boys were delighted, Fatik, however, was a tad anxious. Makhan raised himself from the ground, and began hitting Fatik blindly. He scratched up his face and then went blubbering homewards. Playtime was over. 

Fatik uprooted a couple of kash flowers, jumped on to the prow of the boat, and with half-closed eyes began chewing the ends of the kash flowers. At this time an exotic boat docked on the bank. A middle-aged man with partly black and partly grey hair and mustache walked out. Seeing the boy, he asked, "Where is the Chakrobortti house?" "Yonder," the boy replied still chewing the kash ends. But the way he indicated was beyond anybody's understanding. The gentleman asked him again, "Where." 

He said, "I don’t know," and then got back to extracting the juice from the saplings. Finding no other alternative at hand, the gentleman sought assistance of others and went looking for the Chakrobortti dwelling. 

Almost immediately Bagha Bagdi came looking for him, "Fatik-dada, Ma is calling you." 
Fatik said, "I am not going." 

Bagha lifted him with his strong arms; Fatik began throwing his limbs in fruitless rage. 
On seeing Fatik, mother assumed a furious appearance and said, "You hit Makhan once again!" 
Fatik said, "I did not hit him." 
"You are lying again!" 
"I never hit him. Ask Makhan."
On questioning Makhan, he supported his previous complaint and said, "Yes, he hit me." 
Fatik could not bear any longer. He went forward and casting a clamorous slap on Makhan said, "Lying again!"
Mother taking Makhan's side shook Fatik powerfully and struck a couple of strong blows on his back. Fatik shoved his mother. 

Mother screamed and said, "How dare you hit me!" 
At that time the grey and black haired gentleman walked in and said, "What are you doing!"
Fatik's mother, overcome with sudden unexpected happiness said, "Oh my God! Dada, when did you come?" Then bending down she touched his feet. 
For a really longtime dada had been working in the West; in the meanwhile, Fatik's mother had two children, they eventually grew up, her husband passed away, but she never heard from her brother. Today, after a longtime, Bishwambhar Babu had come to visit his dear sister. The éclat continued for a while. At last, a few days before bidding adieu, Bishwambhar Babu inquired about the academic education and intellectual growth of the boys. In reply he heard about Fatik's disobedience, lack of concentration in studies, and Makhan's well-behaved, studious nature. 
His sister said, "Fatik troubles me a lot."
On hearing such things, Bishwambhar Babu recommended that Fatik came along with him to Kolkata to study under his supervision. The widow readily agreed to the offer.
She asked Fatik, "Would you accompany Mama to Kolkata?" 
Fatik jumped and said, "Yes."

Even though Fatik's mother had no qualms to bidding him adieu, because she always feared that -- someday he might drown Makhan, or hit him in the head, create an accident of some sort, yet Fatik's fervent enthusiasm to leave somewhat hurt her. 
Fatik began pestering his mama with questions like "When are we leaving?" "At what time would we leave?" In excitement he lost his nightly slumber. Finally, in the delight of the impending journey, he kindheartedly gave away his fishing wheel, kites and kite reel, everything to Makhan, and granted him the right to possess those items in the successive generations.
On arriving at his mamarbari in Kolkata, Fatik was first introduced to his mami. It cannot be said if mami was at all pleased by this unnecessary extension of the family. She had been running her household with her own three children on her own rules, unleashing suddenly a thirteen something, strange, and uneducated village lad in such a household leads to a rebellious atmosphere. Bishwambhar Babu was such a matured man, yet he was so illogical. Especially, when there is no greater evil in this world than a thirteen or fourteen year old lad. He is unattractive and useless. He doesn’t evoke affection, nor is his kind companionship anticipated in any way. His half-spoken words seem affected, mature words seem cocky, and words, for that matter, coming from him seem impertinent. All of a sudden he begins to grow inappropriately disregarding the measure of clothes; people look upon this as an ugly gesture. He loses the suavity of his youth and the sweetness of his voice, for that reason people cannot help but inculpate him. One can pardon the misdeeds of youth and maturity, but at this age even an ordinary transgression seems unbearable. 

He can also understand in his mind that he is not fitting into the world in someway, that is why he is forever embarrassed and begs forgiveness for his being. Yet at this age the excessive yearn for adoration is borne. At this time if he succeeds in evoking affection or friendship in some kindhearted person, then he remains eternally beholden to that individual. But nobody dares to show him affection, because such an attitude is usually interpreted in the common eye as indulgence. Hence, his appearance and character at this stage resemble in several ways the nature of an ownerless stray dog.

Therefore, at this stage, any place but one's maternal home seems hellish to the boy. The four walls of affectionless displeasure hurt him like thorns. Generally speaking, at this age he begins to regard women as extraordinary creatures of some grand paradise, thus any negligence from this species seem downright unbearable. 

What hurt the most was his manifestation in mami's affectionless eyes as a bad omen. If by chance mami asked him to do something for her, he was elated to such an extent that he usually ended up doing much more than required -- finally when mami would come and say, "Enough , enough! You don’t have to do this anymore. Now go and do your work. Pray study a little." -- mami's excessive consideration for his intellectual development during such circumstances appeared as a cruel punishment to him. 

Added to such lovelessness at home, there weren’t any open space to breathe. Trapped in the labyrinth of walls, he always recalled his village. 

The field over which carrying his huge kite he would fly like the wind, that riverbank where screaming the self-composed melodies in his own musical prelude he would wander about like some incompetent, that narrow raging rivulet wherein he would dive and swim at anytime of the day, the gang, the nuisances, the freedom, and most importantly, the tyrannical, unjust mother perpetually attracted his helpless mind. 

A kind of uncompounded animal love -- a blind wish to go near, an unseeing, unspoken yearning, like the sincere "ma, ma" cry of a motherless child at dusk -- haunted the insides of that abashed, emaciated, tall and ugly boy. There was not another brainless and inattentive boy at school. If asked a question he would stare expressionlessly. When the master started thrashing him, he endured the blows like a weary overburdened donkey. At recess when the boys were given playtime, he stood near the window and scrutinized the roofs of the faraway buildings; and if he happened to see a couple of boy or girls bustling under the mid-afternoon sun, he got excited. 

One day after incessant promises, he finally had the nerves to ask his mama," Mama, when am I going home to ma?" 
Mama said, "Let the puja holidays start." The puja holiday would be starting in October, that's a long time. 

One day Fatik lost his textbook. As it is he could not finish his schoolwork easily, and to top it he lost his book and was rendered helpless. The master began beating and insulting him everyday. Such was his situation at school that his cousins were embarrassed to acknowledge their relation with him. When he was slighted they appeared to be much more pleased at his situation than the other boys in his class. 

Despite feeling intolerable in the given situation Fatik approached his mami almost like a delinquent, "I lost my book."
Mami quivered the sides of her mouth in irritation and said, "Well done, I cannot buy you books five times a month." 
Fatik left the place without saying another word. On realizing the fact that he was wasting somebody else's money, he was highly offended towards his mother; his inferiority and distress rooted him to the ground.
After returning from school that night his head began aching and he shivered. He realized he was having a fever. He understood that if he developed a disease that would be a grave and senseless harassment for his mami. He perceived clearly how mami would look at his ailment as an unnecessary, unforeseen irritant. He was ashamed to even expect that at the time of his illness this hopeless, strange, foolish lad could be nursed by any person other than his mother. 

The next morning Fatik was nowhere to be seen. In spite of searching the neighbors' houses, Fatik still remained missing. Added to that, at night that day the monsoon rain came down in torrents. Hence the people who were searching for Fatik had to be bedraggled without any reason. Ultimately, when still there was no sign of Fatik, Biswambhar Babu decided to call the police. 

After the whole day, around evening, a car stopped outside Biswambhar Babu's home. It was still raining unremittingly. A couple of police people men holding Fatik by the arm took him down the vehicle and presented him before Biswambhar Babu. His whole body was wet and soiled with mud, his face and eyes were spinel-red, he was trembling. Biswambhar Babu almost lifted him and took him inside. 

On seeing him mami cried, "Why do we need to suffer for somebody else's child. Send him home, I say." Truly, because of the distressing situation, she had not eaten well the whole day, and had also peevishly scolded her children for no good reason. 
Fatik cried out saying, "I was going to my mother, they brought me back."

The boy's temperature increased intensely. He muttered delirium throughout the night. Biswambhar Babu called the physician. 
For once Fatik opened his bloodshot eyes and staring bewilderedly at the ceiling said, "Mama, did I have my vacation yet?"
Wiping his teary eyes Biswambhar Babu affectionately held Fatik's thin, warm hand and sat beside him. 
Fatik began raving incoherently once again, "Ma don’t beat me, ma. I tell you the truth, I didn't do anything wrong."
The following morning, Fatik gaining his consciousness for a short while, began looking for somebody confusedly in the room. Dejected, he then silently turned on his side facing the wall. 

On understanding the state of Fatik's mind, Biswambhar Babu went closer to him and bending down whispered into his ears, "Fatik, your mother is being brought over."
The next day passed too. The doctor said in an anxious, distressed tone that Fatik's situation had become worse. Sitting beside the sick-bed, in the dying light of the lamp, Biswambhar Babu waited for her sister's arrival. 
Just like the shipmates, Fatik began to modulate his voice as if singing and said "Ek banyo mele na. Do banyo"

On his way to Kolkata, Fatik had to travel a while by a steamer; the sailors dropped their hawser in the water and measured its depth in a singsong voice. In his delirium Fatik imitated their singsong intonation and measured the depth of water in a plaintive voice, and even after dropping the rope into the water, the kid failed to touch the bottom of the profound and abysmal ocean onto which he was journeying.

In the meanwhile, Fatik's mother stormed into the room and began mourning aloud. With great difficulty, Biswambhar managed to pacify her outburst of grief; she threw herself on the bed and said, loudly, "Fatik, dear-boy, my precious jewel."
It seemed that Fatik answered her quite easily, "Aah." 
Mother cried out once again, "Oh Fatik, my dear son!"
Fatik turned on his side noiselessly, and without noticing anybody gently said, "Ma, I have my vacation, I am going home."

Glossary of Non-English Words: 

Shal: A kind of tree. 
Kash Ful: Fluffy grass plumes; Pampas-grass 
Mama: Maternal Uncle. 
Mami: Maternal Aunt. 
Dada: Brother, endearing term. 
Mamarbari: Maternal Uncle's home, Grandparents' house. 
Heinyo: An expression of bravado. 
Puja: Durga Puja. 
"Ek banyo mele na. Do banyo": The singsong rhyme sailors use when measuring the water depth.


Focus – "Reading Across Time": Tagore Today

  Amrit Sen : Editorial

Lead Article
  Udaya Narayana Singh : Redrawing the Boundaries

Critical Essays

  Nation, History, Cultural Exchange
    Avijit Banerjee : Tagore’s Visit to China
    Bijoy Mukherjee : Rabindranath and Indian History
    Biswanath Banerjee : Tagore and Acharya PC Ray
    Sagarika Chakraborty : Tagore the Diplomat
    Soumitra Roy : Tagore’s Ghare Baire

  Responses to Caste and Gender
    Dhriti Ray Dalai/ Panchanan Dalai : Tagore’s ‘Chandalika’
    Dipankar Roy : Women in Tagore’s ‘Domestic Novels’
    Sanjukta Dasgupta : “Streer Patra” - A Feminist Text?
    Swati Ganguly : Gender, Sexuality and Conjugality in Samapti

  Translation and Reception
    Anindya Sen : Tagore’s Self-Translations
    Jayati Gupta : Whose Gitanjali is it Anyway?
    Sushobhan Adhikary : Cartoons on Tagore
    Usha Kishore : The Auto-translations of Rabindranath

  Rural Reconstruction and Ecopoetic
    Bipasha Raha : Experiments with Village Welfare
    Debotosh Sinha : Tagore and Rural Reconstruction
    Falguni Piyush Desai : Floriography in Tagore’s Poetry
    Marie Josephine Aruna : ‘Letters’ and Ecopoetics

  Aesthetics, Paintings and Dance Dramas
    Aju Mukhopadhyay : The Poet of Sublime Love
    Raghupathi K V : Aesthetics of Tagore and Sri Aurobindo
    Sudeshna Majumdar : Paintings of Tagore
    Sutapa Chaudhuri : Dance Dramas of Tagore

  Tagore and the Short Story
    Dominic K V : Tagore’s Short Stories
    Mausumi Sen Bhattacharjee : ‘The Hunger of Stones’

  Tagore and Visva-Bharati
    Anindita Chongdar : Anecdotes of Santiniketan
    Debmalya Das : The Visva-Bharati Quarterly
    Subodh Gopal Nandi : The Visva-Bharati Library

Creative Responses

    Sanjukta Dasgupta : Remembering Rabindranath

    Frank Joussen : Tagore and Walt Whitman
    Nuggehalli Pankaja : The Voice of Tagore
    Sanjukta Dasgupta : To Rabindranath
    Shambhobi Ghosh : Yet

  Ahmed A H S : Birthday and other poems
  Anup Maharatna : From ‘The Last Writings’
  Ashoka Sen : Africa
  Barnali Saha : The Vacation (Fiction)
  Naina Dey : Chance Meeting
  Parantap Chakraborty : The Son of Man
  Suranjima Saha : Preamble to a Journey
  Swapna Dutta : The Editor

  Amrit Sen:Behind the Veil & Tagore and Modernity
  Kumaran S : Pathos in the Short Stories of Tagore

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