Author : Bhaskar Thakuria (Original in Assamese)
Translator : Mrs .Saswati Kasyap
The flapping wings of the butterfly brought a smile to Lumumba's face. How he wished he could catch it and bring it home. And 'home' is a makeshift place made with sack bags in the forest. He has a glass bottle where he stores all his precious belongings. He wanted to catch the butterfly, and keep it in that bottle. He has an exquisite collection of marbles-- and a few empty candy wrappers.. He cannot believe that he ate all of those at some point. It's only for those memories that he has carefully kept the bottle. When he gets back 'home' tired, after two days' of mad work, he looks at the bottle and goes to sleep. But now is the time to go inside the mine! If a guard finds him outside, chasing butterflies, they would break his head with the rifle stoke. And even if he is alive, there is no assurance that he would return home safe because the forest is lurking with danger. Anyone who possesses ammunition here is on the look out for owning the secret coal mines. Here, people greet each other not with words but with bullets. So, Lumumba distracts his mind from the butterfly and stands in the queue that would lead him into the mine. It's wise to live inside the dark pit of the mine than to be mistaken as a spy working for some democratic force and getting riddled by someone's bullets ! For the next two days then, their job would be to search for coltan amidst mud and stones.
Lumumba is new to this coal mine. He has gone inside the mine only three times. The last time he went inside, a boy named Gazhi slipped and fell down in the dark pit, no one found him again. There is no time to waste looking for people, they could only look for Coltan, and that's it.
'Hey go away…'
The guards take away the mineral stones collected and move ahead in their jeeps through the serpentine road in the forest. The jeep runsover the tree on which that butterfly was sitting quietly. Under the pressure of its rugged tyres, the butterfly got up from its slumber and flapped its wings.
Lumumba was watching it... and just as he was about to move away from the queue, an armed guard pushed him really hard —
'You f****** dog! Where're you running?'
Lumumba falls down on the ground as he getspushed by the armed man, and bowing down his head, start sto brush off the dirt and the dust from his clothes. One thing he has learnt here is that one should not look in the eyes of the people who possess arms. The guard pushes him again towards the queue in which all teenagers are standing. Lumumba couldn't master the courage again to turn and see what had happened to the butterfly.
Loaded with all those minerals, the jeep moved towards the bordering village Kilambo and the stones filled with coltan were to reach Goma from there. The distance is a mere forty miles through the forest but because of the lurking danger, it would take almost two days to reach there. They make their journey first in the jeep, followed by a small chopper, truck, and finally in the ship. As those mineral stones reach Uganda, Mombasa and South-east Asia from those illegal mines where Lumumba works in Congo, they have already been converted into tantalum. They are heat resistant and are specifically used in gadgets.
Perhaps, there is not a single manufacturing company in the world today that can claim their mobile phones or laptops do not bear any trace of these coltans that have been stained by blood. These coltans have been the sole reason for the loss of three billion lives in Congo alone in the last fifteen years. But of course, such discourses are not to be brought up for now. Our intentis to find out the possible effect of the flutter of the butterfly that Lumumba was watching closely.
Longhusa factory, China:
The jeep carrying coltan moving over Lumumba's butterfly had turned into tantalum chips and reached China's China's Longhusa factory. Dinbung is unaware that there are traces of blood from Africa on his working table . Dinbung is on the verge of losing his mind due to the work pressure; he hardly has time for anything. His job is to transform those tantalum chips into circuits; and not just him, a thousand others do the same job interminably.
Dinbung has secretly brought his mobile phone in his pocket but, he cannot use it. In fact, even using the loo is not allowed during work hours, forget eating or using the phone for that matter. It's only work, work, and more work… And the moment they get inside their dormitory beds and fall asleep, it's already time for the next day's work. He is a techno surf. His job is to put breaks into the chips, to test the quality of the circuits, and then to put the stamp 'okay, tested' on them. Once they are exported all over the world, they are assembled together in laptops and iPods. When he had managed to get a job in that factory, Dinbung believed that the positive change he had beenlooking for, hadfinally arrived but, the last three months had taken a toll on him. And, the pastseven days werepathetic. Every night, his roommate Wing would comein his dreams and would whisper , 'Your end is near',.
Last week, Wing had committed suicide.
Basically, there has been no proper record regarding how many amongst them had died There is only one breaking news flashing repeatedly as the worst nightmare in every techno surf's mind. But, no one can talk openly about it to anyone. Neither can they take leave or go anywhere after work.
It is absolutely insane and Dinbung has a feeling as if his every move and gesture is being monitored. Dinbung has started having weird thoughts that he would be fined fifty Yuan for bringing a mobile phone to work.
'Gosh! This is the limit…' Just as he is mumbling to himself, there is a brouhaha in the other room. It soundsstrange because usually there is hardly any noise in the factory. But the last few days have been an exception. There have been unexpected noises even during work hours. As it turns out, it is yet another case of suicide. Two techno surfs have jumped from the terrace of the main building. One is dead and the other one has been shifted to the hospital, 'Li Wung, Li Wung'…Li Wung is the latest victim of this rampant suicidal epidemic. Dinbung feels suffocated.
He comes forward and wants to open the door—he swipes his punched card but,the door does not open.
'You want anything?' A security guard enquires.
'I need to go outside, I'm not feeling well.'
'Your movement is restricted, sir, you need to go to your table. A physician will do the necessary health check-up.'
Dinbung is helpless. And as he returns to his table, shattered from within,heseeshis roommate Wing in the mirror.
Ramlila Ground, New Delhi:
And this is where I step in. I'm a virtual man without feeling! My only concern is to trace out the coltan moving over Lumumba's butterfly.
Yes, I know that my laptop bears the trace of blood of Dinbung. That day, he sat restlessly at his table, moved a blade over his left hand…. and no one knows, if Dinbung was dead or alive after that. It was made sure that another techno surf finished the remaining task that Dinbung had left midway. Those blood smeared chips that Dinbung had been working on, were assembled and became a laptop,reached India and now, here I am-- it's sole owner. Since the day I bought it, this laptop has been my constant companion but, I don't know what happened to it after that episode last night.
Well, I was here last night standing with other twenty-six thousand people in the protest area—you might think that I'm an ardent supporter of this protest. No, not at all! I know that such a momentary fusses cannot bring about any change. In fact, I doubt the motives of these protesters. Wait a minute, no need to pelt stones at me. I'm not a pro-government propagandist at all.
'Then you must be an intellectual', you may ask.
'There you go, I'm a virtual intellectual.'
I am always concerned about others' feelings but only in the electronic world. For me, the picture of a dying man is far more important than his death in reality! Then, might ask what was I doing here standing in person amidst a thousand other people at the protest ?
Basically, I'm suffering from identity crisis to be precise. I may go on preaching in the e- world but the fact is, there's not a single gigabyte in the e-world that's in my name. And, I'm so much cut off from the real world that it doesn't concern anybody if I'm alive or deadWith chaos in my mind, I raised a question — 'what is the theory of chaos?'
A thousand windows opened in the blood smeared monitor ..
Yes, there is a theory of chaos too. Each and every action in this world has a reaction.And if this theory is credible by any means at all then, possibly my identity has some significance in this world! My mind is restlessly wandering in my house and I come up to the terrace. It is very hot … in the distance, I seea sea of people going towards the Ramlila Ground, I too want to go and be one with them. Moreover, that's the reason I came here-- to look for my identity! Forget others, maybe I would find and discover who I am actually! And, to make people aware in the e-world about my presence live from the Ramlila Ground, I carried the laptop along with me. I don't believe the man sitting on the stage criticizing the government for mass applause, but at the same time, I don't think there is anything called 'governance' in the country. The protesters sitting next to me are busy singing bhajans; some are gorging on halwa-puris at a distance. Most of the protesters are trying to catch up on their sleep. The journalists on the other hand, are constantly alert. But, I'm not at all curious about anything. Anyway I was there moving around and then, all of a sudden, I felt like I was inside a ghetto of the Nazi forces—mobbed by police, journalists, and emotional protesters from all the sides. I saw some commandos getting on the stage, and talking to the leader who was still addressing the masses. Just then, started a kind of hurly-burly…
Leading to indiscipline…
Then hullabaloo… unrest, turbulence, and mayhem…
Followed by stampede…
Uff…In short, a total chaos!!
I don't know where I am or what happened to my laptop…
I can only remember that I fell down when the man next to me pushed me and my laptop slipped down from my hand. In a second, some ten or so people ran over it and smashed it right before my eyes. But still, I tried to rescue it and in the process, my hand got badly injured and now, there is blood dripping from my hands. A few drops of my blood staining the tantalum chips .
There is not much of a difference between the stories of Rashid and Lumumba. Both are of the same age—Lumumba digs up dirt and mud looking for minerals in the dark pit of the earth, and Rashid picks up rags to comfort his hungry stomach! Lumumba liked butterflies and Rashid also likes a kind that fly. Anyway, now the authorities are cleaning up the ground following the episode at the Ramlila Grounds and that's good news for Rashid. Glasses, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, sandals and what not? You name it, and lo! It's just there! Rashid, Harish and others are collectingand selling them. They can make a huge profit but they are being monitored.. They would toil all day and collect rags, but most of their income is taken away by that Samsad. And so today, when Rashid sees those policemen throwing away the small broken computer in the trash bin, he grabs it as if it's his prey and runs away with it before Samsad and others can get any inkling. He knows there's money in it.
'Hey you! Son of a … where are you running?'
These are the words of Samsad, the leader of the rag pickers. Now, he is running after Rashid but, Rashid is an expert in running. Within a fraction of a second, he gets lost somewhere in those alleys.
Rashid knows where to sell that valuable thing. A lot of people in chor bazar are experts, so they know how to reuse things. Wiping all the possible traces of blood and dirt, Rashid bringsit to the chor bazaar.
'A hundred rupees, not a penny more than that'. The lala tells Rashid after closely checking all its parts.
'Alright, but I need the money right away'.
Holding the hundred rupee note in his hand, Rashid is lost in his thoughts. If the money lands in his father's hand, he willspend it on liquor and possibly, coming home late at night would beat his mother. And, if he goes to work tomorrow with the note in his pocket, then for sure, Samsad would search him and would keep the money with him.
' Chicken tikka --full Rs.180/- half Rs.100/- ' Rashid notices the signboard in the street.
Chicken-- Rashid's favourite bird.
He cant wait anymore. Without any inhibition, he goes straight inside the stall and hands over the hundred rupee note to the manager and orders with an air common to those in power—
'Ek plate chicken tikka dena jaldi!'.
The translated version appeared in museindia a prominent literary journal
Government Medical College, Bharatpur, Rajasthan , India
Author Bhaskar Thakuria is a medical doctor by profession and currently working as professor and Head of Microbiology in Government Medical College, Bhartpur Rajasthan. In Profession he is a passionate microbe hunter and has parallel identity as creative writer in Assamese.
He started his creative journey as playwright and director in amateur theater circle in Guwahati, way back in 90's as a young medical student.
Since 2000, he is a regular in all the prominent Assamese literary journals, news paper with his unconventional short stories, and columns on social issues.
He has three books to his credit (in Assamese), Jatra : a collection of creative fiction (Akhor Prakash, Guwahati 2009) and Singhdwar (A collection of parallel stories knitted into a novel , Bhabani Books ,2015) and Satyanusandhan (2017) a collection of Assamese plays.He is also recipient of prestigious Munin Borotoky Litatrary award,2016 for his second book Singhdwar .
Translator : Mrs .Saswati Kasyap , (email@example.com ) has done her Masters in English literature from Gauhati University Currently living in New Delhi.