Original story in Bengali: By Ronty Kar
Translated into English: By Subodh Ranjan Das
Abanibabu is about fifty-seven years of age. He has a slim build without excess fat. He is a little more than five feet six inches tall, has a copper complexion. He is thin faced. Wears glasses. His only son Sukhen has taken up a job in the city of Banaras. Abanibabu and his wife Pratibha Devi live in their own double storied house.
Abanibabu is widely known to be a miser in his locality. His office is in Lake Market. He often walks down to his office. People say he does so to save money. He says walking keeps one in good health. Abanibabu does not take lunch. He says it is enough to eat twice a day, excessive eating increases fat in the body. Critics say differently behind his back. They make fun of him. Some of them even ridicule him in his presence. A few days back Abanibabu went to his son’s place in Banaras. When he went to his office after his return from there Bipinbabu made light remarks, “Hai Abanida! Have you walked home from Howrah Station?” Saumen , who was standing by his side said, “What a joke Bipinda! It is not enough for him to walk such a short distance. I have heard that he has walked back home straight from Banaras. Can’t you see what a sound health he has now.” Everyone laughed at this. Ajay Saha sits opposite to Abanida. He is both fat and dark complexioned. He is always found munching on something or the other. Prabir came running from his seat and said, “Why don’t you train this man sitting opposite you, don’t you see how the legs of his chair are bent. If he has a heart attack, I shall not lend my help in carrying the body – I tell you well in advance.” Again there was a wave of laughter.
Of course, Abanibabu does not care about these light remarks. He joins others in their laughter. If the pranks go beyond limits he just goes out on some pretext or the other.
Abanibabu never purchased a TV set. He says one wastes time watching TV. Wife Pratibha Devi says, “Why don’t you say without excuses that there will be increase in expenditure on electricity and other associated items”.
A few days ago Sukhen came home and presented a colour TV set. Abanibabu raised a row over this. At last Pratibha Devi said, “You will not have to pay on this account, I shall pay from the money Sukhen remits to me.” At this Abanibabu calmed down and went out of the house murmuring some unintelligible words.
Abanibabu donates just thirty rupees only on the occasion of Puja in the locality. When the boys insist for more he says, “Durga Puja is no Puja at all. This is business. Some people take this opportunity to convert their black money into white. The celebration disturbs common men etc. etc.” The government should ban the Pujas by enactment of law. The boys who come to collect donation know that if they talk any more in the matter Abanibabu will force them to sit for a few hours and deliver a long lecture. So they refrain from further argument. As a result the amount of donation has remained constant for the past ten years.
Abanibabu has not purchased a refrigerator. He says, “A refrigerator in the house leads to lots of unnecessary items getting accumulated in it. These are eaten when they become stale.” That is why he gets up in the morning and goes to the market. He purchases the exact quantity of items to be cooked for the day. He cannot tolerate waste. Of course in the holidays he goes to the market a little later when the prices of commodities are on the decline. This enables him to buy things cheaper. If anyone criticizes, he says cooking in the house starts after eleven in the morning. There is no sense in rushing to the crowded market place. It is one and the same thing to keep vegetables in the house or in the market. For many years there has been no change in this routine. Everyone in the locality from children to men and women know this. Those who have joined the locality recently also come to know about this soon. To those who like to speak a little politely, Abanibabu is very economical. But these people are very few. To most of the people Abanibabu is the most miserly person. In short, Abanibabu is cited as an example of being most economical or as miserly.
Of late Abanibabu is not in a good mood. His son is to get married soon. He is not excessively worried about the expenditure involved. He has already made a detailed budget for the entire expenditure on account of marriage. For many years he has been saving money in the bank for this occasion. Expenditure on Sarees, ornament for the bride, Dhuti-punjabi (dress for groom) for the son, wedding ‘tatya’ (wedding gifts from the bride’s side). Rent for the wedding venue, lighting, decoration, food for guests, payment for the priest –all these have been written in details in his notebook. He does not have to worry at all on account of this. The matter he never thought about is the expenditure on account of relatives. As soon as the news regarding the wedding reached them the relatives, particularly from the in-law side, poured like the invasion of locusts and filled up the double storied house. To make arrangements for them he has been spending money like water – he is not able to keep a balance despite his meticulous accounting.
Wife here is very happy. She is going around and asking everyone, “What do you want?” Hearing her asking like this Abanibabu is getting angry to the hilt. When he found her alone in the night he tried to ask her to refrain from being so generous. No sooner had he started than there was a big explosion. Soon tears started rolling down like flood-water. “ Whole life you have behaved like this, am I not entitled to a little merriment on the occasion of the wedding of our only son?” At last Abanibabu himself had to compromise – “Alright, I shall do whatever you want”, saying this he turned round on the bed and went to sleep. From that moment on he has been in a bad mood.
Seven days left for the wedding ceremony. Sukhen is expected to arrive in another couple days. The house is full of activities. To keep the budget intact after meeting the expenses due to the relatives, Abanibabu had to sit with his account book. He more or less completed his budgetary provisions. He had to reduce a few items from the food menu, had to reduce the glamour of lighting and decoration. From “tatya” (wedding gifts from bride’s side) he had to reallocate items marked “highly expensive” items to “expensive” and “expensive” items to “cheap” items. Now Abanibabu is quite relaxed.
It has been raining for the past few days. It rained the whole night yesterday. Abanibabu lay down in bed and listened to the sound of rain-drops. The bad mood has disappeared. With great difficulty he managed to bring all his accounting of expenses under control. This has pleased him. Soon the musical sound of rain made him fall asleep.
In the morning when he got up he remembered that he had to go to the bank. He has to make payments to many people. It was still drizzling. He looked out and saw that the roads were full of water. The first step to the house was under water. After breakfast Abanibabu rolled the bottom of his pant. The moment he took his umbrella his wife said, ”Hey, where are you going along the mud-filled road?” Abanibabu replied, “I have some work, I have to go the bank.” The wife said, “ Dear, must you go today.” Someone else in his place would have said, “OK, I shall rather go tomorrow” or “I shall go out after the rain stops”. But Abanibabu is very much attracted by this rain. Particularly, when the roads, rivers drainages, ponds are all full of water. He becomes very sad. He tries to search a long-lost picture.
It is raining heavily. A mother with her two sons is walking along the streets of Kolkata. They are all drenched from head to toe. A few days back her husband had died. House rents for several months have fallen due, that is why they have to leave the house. They are walking along the road – straight ahead – there is nowhere to go backwards. Eldest son Abani, who is seven years old is holding his mother’s hand, the two and half year old younger son Triveni is embraced in her lap. There is water all around.
Suddenly, while walking, Abani felt that some one was pulling him from behind with great force. An open drain in Kolkata. He got detached from his mother. The mother cried out loud. Triveni shouted out of fear. Then everything went blank. Abani does not remember anything more. When he regained conciousness he saw he was lying on a mattress in the ground floor of someone’s house. A lady was sitting by his side. He quickly got up and started looking for his mother. When he could not find her anywhere he started crying. The lady consoled him and said, “Do not cry my child. We shall find your mother for you.”
That hope kept him going year after year. He had worked sometimes in a teashop, sometimes in a garage or in some one’s house. When he was twelve years old one childless Jagannathbabu picked him up from a teashop, adopted him as his son. Mother, Parul Devi, too took him as her son. Who knows where he would have been without them.
He joined school at a pretty old age. He had a clear brain, due to which he had no difficulty in securing a government job after graduation. It was Jagannathbabu who taught him to be frugal. This training went so deep in his mind that after joining service he never had to borrow money from anyone.
That childhood memory hounded Abanibabu for a long time.
He quietly advertised in the newspaper many a times but to no avail. Then in course of time everything was forgotten. Jagannathbabu and his wife expired long ago. He had shaken off the nightmarish memory of that childhood tragedy and he got busy with the worldly affairs. Abanibabu has never told anyone about that day, not even to his wife or his son. He considered it wise not to mention the past events, the memory of which he had been trying to wipe out. Only when there is heavy rain that he gets disturbed. He sets out on the street hoping to see in his imagination the long lost series of events.
That eventful day too he disregarded his wife’s request and went out. He withdrew money from the bank and was returning home. If it had not been for his son’s wedding he would have liked to roam about in the city. Abanibabu was wading through water-logged pavement. He was a little unmindful. Suddenly he stopped walking and stood still. From the opposite direction a lady, holding her seven-year-old son’s hand, was walking. She was wearing a traditional widow’s dress. She was holding a two-and-a-half year old child in her lap. All of them were thoroughly wet. Abanibabu could see the events which took place fifty years ago. On so many occasions he has walked ignoring the water-logged Kolkata just to see such a scene. He could not imagine that he would see this in such a manner. For a few moments he stared at the scene as if in a hypnotic condition. Seeing Abanibabu standing still the lady also stopped along with her sons. Abanibabu was the first to come out of the stupor and he went forward towards the lady. Stooping down over her a little he asked, “Where are you going drenched in rain?” – as though she was known for a long time. The lady was unable to decide how to respond. Abanibabu understood her predicament and said, “ Please do not worry I am not going to harm you. Where are you going?” Thus encouraged the lady said muttering almost to herself “ I am running away”.
-Why? Unpaid rent has piled up?
The lady was surprised. Then she gave an affirmative response by slow movement of her head.
– How long ago has your husband expired?
The lady now looked at Anilbabu. The eyes were filled with tears. She said, “ten days”.
– “What is the amount of rent due?”
The lady paused a little and said. “That is a large amount – two thousand rupees.”
– “Let us go back, I shall pay it.”
The lady could not believe it. Her eyes were flooded with tears out of gratitude. Then like an obedient child she held her child’s hand and started walking towards her house, which she had left.
After having walked for about half an hour they came to a house not very far from Abanibabu’s house. But it was quite away from the wide main road. Abanibabu had never come this side. The lady took the key untying it from the corner of her sari and opened the door of her house. She pointed towards a broken stool and asked Abanibabu to sit. The house consists of a small room, a kitchen and a bathroom. Abanibabu did not sit, said, “ Better call the house owner – let us first pay the rent due” The lady twisted her sari-end to squeeze out water, took the younger son in her lap went to get the house owner. The elder son was standing in the room. Abanibabu was intently watching the boy – he looked like a mirror image of himself fifty years past.
– What a surprise! You!
The house owner’s exclamation brought him back to the present.
He turned around and saw that the owner was known to him. He often saw him in the market place. But they do not know each other’s name. Abanibabu smiled and said, “What a shame! We see each other in the market place but we do not know each other’s name. I am Abani Sen. The mother and children are my relatives. I did not know that they live so close to us. All of a sudden we met on the road. They have been subject to such misery! With a smiling face the house owner told his name as Shiv Mallick. The man was not bad at all – he expressed sorrow and said, “Yes, they have been passing through very bad days.”
Abanibabu did not say anymore. He took out two thousand rupees from his pocket and said. “ Here is your house rent” Seeing that the gentleman was hesitating he said. “Some day they would have to pay the amount, it is good that you have not pressed for money for so many days.”
The house owner happily took the money and went out. Abanibabu kept another two thousand on the stool and said, “Keep this money for the time being.” The lady was weeping covering her eyes with her sari. Abanibabu assured her and said, “ You do not worry at all. I am here to help you. He took out a piece of paper and a pen from his pocket and he drew the location of his house very clearly and explained to the lady, he asked her to see him after about ten days.”
After coming out of the lady’s house Abanibabu started walking towards his house. The rain had stopped. Water had receded from the road to a great extent. He felt very light at heart. He started singing a song in low tune while walking.
When Abanibabu reached home he found his wife Pratibha Devi waiting at the door with a worried look. On seeing him she cried out, “Hello dear! Where have you been for such a long time? I sent Khokon to the bank. He did not find you there. Everyone here are so worried” Abanibabu smiled. His wife is always worried without a valid reason that some mishap was going to happen. He said, “Today I have met a very close relative. I am coming straight from there.” With a surprised look his wife asked, “ Who are they?” “I shall tell you later”, saying this Abanibabu removed his shoes and walked towards his room. Pratibha Devi went after him. Women cannot suppress their curiosity for long.
Night has cast its shadow. Abanibabu came to his room and switched on the light. Rain has begun again, and with this a gust of wind. Today Abanibabu’s mind is as directionless as the wind. All day he has been spending money. He took out his account book from the table drawer. The book is full of various accounts, but he is not able to grasp any of those. On every page of the book he could see only one scene. It is raining constantly. In this rain a recently widowed mother is walking along the road along with her two sons. All the three are thoroughly wet. There is rainwater everywhere.
Abanibabu unmindfully turns the pages of his account book. Today he has incurred an unplanned expenditure, how is he going to adjust this in his account???……..
More posts by this author:
- Abanibabus Unplanned Expenditure
- Earth Day 2008
- Oil Crisis and the Media
- The Night Visitor (an excerpt from The Conch Bearer by Chitra Divakaruni)