By Bhaskar Thakuria
Translated by Mrs. SaswatiKashyap
'Apne kaam se matlab rakhiye'
(Mind your own business)
The man was in distress, apparently. Laxman Prasad was sure he needed help, hence he offered himself, "You appear to be in need of help". And in response, he was greeted with those very words. Huh! Forget it! Why bother! His own life was coiled up in problems, anyway.
Making a varied range of noises, the pre-historic bus from Uttar Pradesh Public Transport department was moving ahead toward Saharanpur. The doors and windows were only nominal; most of the glasses and doorknobs were missing. Of course, there were hardly any passengers inside. This very road from Agra to Saharanpur is not a very good one. People do not prefer to travel, particularly at night, unless it's unavoidable. On the other hand, LaxmanPrasad needed to arrive at Saharanpur before dawn. From there, it was another two hours' journey home. Only God knew if his father would still be alive by the time he managed to reach the village from Saharanpur. Following a brain stroke, his father was paralysed and was almost invalid for quite some time now. Those people from Gupta properties were scheduled to arrive tomorrow to see and discuss about the plot of land. LaxmanPrasad needed money and he needed it right away or else he would lose hisshop and business. His father was already out of sorts and just yesterday he was informed over telephone that the old one'sdays are numbered. Hence,Laxman Prasad got on the very first bus he found for Saharanpur.
This particular road is infamous forstabbing and/or looting passengers of all sorts of valuables and so on. Laxman Prasad carried only a minimum amount of cash with him. Besides, if everything goes well accordingly and if the plot of land is sold to Gupta properties, hewouldn't need to worry about money anymore.
That man got in the bus as it passed by the city of Buland. His face and ears were all covered with a blanket. There was an unoccupied seat besides Laxman Prasad and he grabbed it instantly. Laxman Prasad was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he didn't even notice that man. Nonetheless, he was glad when someone sat beside him. It is good when there is a co-rider in a long and tiring journey. LaxmanPrasad was thinking about their father's plot of land. None of his brothers could think or bring up the issue of selling it till their father was alive.
'Jaruratparnesemerahaathhi kaatkele jana'—'Chop off my hand and take it if necessary, but do not dare to touch that plot of land.'
Laxman Prasad wanted to sell the land for his father's treatment. On the other hand, there was not enough income coming in from farming. In order to control the prices of sugar, the government has already decided the value of sugarcane. The farmers toil hard on the farms and take the produce to the mill but the money they receive from the mill at times is not even enough for the fuel for the tractors.
The concrete road in their village that was already under construction should be complete by next year. There has been a public school and a few flats on that road itself. Hence, there has been a drastic rise, say a ten-fifteen times rise in prices of land. Laxman Prasad and his bothers do not see any reason why one would waste money and time in farming in today's time. But their father was adamant. He had seen hardships in his own life, there had been times when he felt like starving for just two pieces of roti but then, he had established himself as one of the prosperous ones in the village, and all that by farming itself. Besides, he has properties in Agra, Saharanpur, and Meerut. Infact, all his sons have used that parental property as the capital in all their business ventures in the city, and now they have flourishing businesses all because of that property. Irony is, they want to sell it and their father is dead against the idea.
'No need to worry about my treatment. My days are numbered anyway but do not talk about selling the plot of land.'
'Why do you say so? Do you think we wouldn't do your treatment? Why don't you look at my situation? I have been investing lakhs of money but still I have not been able to complete the government contract! I still need another twenty lakhs of money to finish the contract. Not to mention about the commission to pass the bill after that. If Gupta properties give us forty lakhs for this property that would be in our stride—your treatment would be done and my…"
'I don't want to discuss anything about this.' In just a sentence, the old man dashed his hopes that day. Once his elder brother tried too, but with no effect at all. They do not understand why the old man was so adamant about that plot of land.
Meanwhile, Laxman Prasad noticed that the co-rider beside him was getting restless. His forehead was visibly sweating even though there was a cold breeze coming in. Laxman Prasad tried to study his face, but the man was stealing glances from the beginning. Just then, droplets of blood started dripping from under the blanket with which he covered himself!What might be the reason?
'You seem to be in need of help, there is a pharmacy in the village ahead. Go and check yourself up there.' Laxman Prasad suggested in a hurry. Perhaps, the poor fellow got hurt while working in the factory. But the response of the man seemed rather harsh—'Apnekaam se matlabrakho'.
All right, man, you do your work, I do mine. By the way, Laxman Prasad was someone who always answers back no matter what or else he utters those mother-sister related slang words and shuts everyone's mouth in an instant. But now, he didn't feel like talking to the man. Who knows he may belong to some notorious gangs! Otherwise, why he would avoid any means of conversation like this! Whatever it is, why should I bother anyway!Laxman Prasad mumbles and engrosses himself in his own problems that has come up in the business - he got a contract to supply some electrical goods to the government offices, he did the calculations and put the tender, but once he got the contract, the prices of his goods soared almost three times higher. He would stillbe in profit but since a huge amount went in the investment, he had to take a lot of loans. Besides, he received another two big contracts within a couple of days. If his father agrees to sell the property, then he would earn three times more than what he needs for his business right away.
Ram Prasad was also on the same boat. He needs to marry off his daughter and his son was already admitted to a private college…now he was gearing up to go to Canada, and for that he needs a bulk of money. But nothing was moving so to saybecause the old man didn't agree to sell the property.
'Gosh! This blood! Where has it come from…?Bhai sahib!Bhai sahib!There is blood dripping from under your seat…'
There were two young boys sitting in the front seat. From their conversation, they are apparently coming home from hostel. On seeing the blood, they shook Laxman Prasad. Maybe he was slightly dozing off amidst all those thoughts! The two boys shook him up but before they could even answer anything, the smell of liquor greeted Laxman Prasad right away. How old they might be—seventeen, eighteen?
'You all don't worry, the hand was cut, now it's alright.'
'You could have covered the cut with a bandage, looking at the bleeding, you could have died before we reached town.' Expecting some sort of adventure, the college kids became rather excited. One of them in fact, went ahead and started looking though the first-aid box in the bus. Besides some screwdrivers and an empty bottle of rum, there were hardly anything there. Till then, the bus conductor was nowhere around, but then he came forward to see what was the matter. The man sitting next to Laxman Prasad was quiet all along, but was enraged by the reactions of the people all around, and he screamed on top of his voice, 'Kahanakuchnahihai, apnekaam se matlabrakho.'
There waspindrop silence in the bus following this. Perhaps, the college kids wanted to say something but the bus conductor gestured them not to. Perhaps, he got a signal of some sort of impending danger. The place was ill-feted and on top of that, it was two o'clock at night. That man got up and went on to sit on the last seat of the bus. It was strange that he preferred to sit on the last seat considering the pot holes on the road.
Again, the bus started moving ahead with heavy jolts. The road was completely dark, only the headlight of the bus was throwing some light on the road. Besides some empty paddy fields, and some brick factories scattered in places, there was hardly any population visible there. And since the roads were under construction, dirt and dust were blowing inside the bus. After a few miles ahead, there was a stinky odour coming in through the open window, perhaps there are some local liquour factories in that place. Laxman Prasad had travelled manytimes on that road, and the bus was also moving fast, but still Laxman Prasad felt like the bus would never reach Saharanpur. Gosh! When did he get in the bus! If he doesn't get a few lakhs of money in the next few days, then he would have to go and beg on the streets, he is pretty much sure about that. He has already sold the car, and put the house on hypothecation under pressure from the office and the lenders. But even after all these, his father remained adamant—he wouldn't sell that property by any means.
He himself has witnessed rather gloomy days in his own life, but never for a moment had thought about selling that property or giving up farming either. He has always strived to do everything with his own hands and he has proved himself right. However, there is an enormous difference between today and those days gone by, and he cannot see that. Kirorimal from their village is now a millionaire, he gave up farming and is into property business now. He has his office in Delhi these days. Amidst these strings of thoughts, he got a phone call from his elder brother in the evening – their father is preparing to leave.
'Chai naastakar lo'.The bus stopped suddenly with a thud.
Chai naasta? At 3.30 pm at night? They would reach Meerut after a while. The young boys disagreed.'Arey, you are sleeping all through the evening and we are driving, we too need a break.' The driver insisted.
Some went to the toilet to relieve themselves, others just took advantage of the dark corners under the trees. The toilets wereonly in name, anyway. Even the tea stall for chai naasta was pathetic.
'How can a tea stall run like this? How can people come here?' a passenger said.
'Then why did you come in the first place?' the conductor asked.
'Why did you stop here?'
'Because this one is the only tea stall that's open on this road at night, so grab whatever you can get.' Everyone got down except Laxman Prasad's co-passenger, he was still sitting inside.
Almost everything was inedible. Even the water bottles were unsealed and stinky, for sure they were selling pump water in high prices. Biscuits were given respectable names as Parle Ji while drinks were named as Koka Kola or Peepsee. Laxman Prasad borrowed a bidi from the conductor and lit it up.
As he took a puff, the conductor started blurting out those mother-sister related slangs. Laxman Prasad repeated after him too. The adda was increasingly getting lively.The college boys also joined them.
In an instant, they started discussing everything under the sun – right from the road to current weather conditions, sugarcane farming to brothel rooms on the road, meant especially for entertaining the truck drivers. They were exchanging bidi and cigarettes throughout. And since the addawas getting interesting, one of them opened a bottle of rum and offered everyone. The conductor took a few pegs down and drenched his throat. The rest just smiled and rejected it.
'Who's that man?' One of the college boys asked. Everyone was bothered about that.
'Who knows, sir'… 'It's better to know less on this road.'
'Is he a gangstar?' Laxman Prasad asked.
'Who knows?Maybe a gangstar, or a politician, or a real estate businessman…' again those mother-sister slangs… perhaps he was already feeling dizzy. The college boys, however, did not like what he said.
'Perhaps he got hurt in the factory, we need to help him actually.'
'But he never asked for help… apnekaam se matlabrakhe— that's all he said and wanted from us,' Laxman Prasad pointed out.
'And if he turns out to be a gangstar, what would you do?'the conductor asked.
'And what would you do if he dies inside your bus? Forget reaching Saharanpur, you'll have to be in the police station all day. Not to mention about all those repeated visits to courts and offices thereafter. By the way, do you have all your papers and license in place?'
Laxman Prasad didn't want any more trouble. He was worried and there were visible lines on his forehead. Tomorrow those people from Gupta properties are scheduled to arrive from Delhi and if everything goes well, he would receive the money by evening. But if Kirorimal comes in the way, he would lecture them about all the legal hassles attached to the property and would turn everything topsy-turvy, Laxman Prasad was sure.
The driver was worried at hearing about the police station. He went running towards the bus to check if the man was still alive. The group followed him too.
The man was restless but was sitting on his seat. There were droplets of blood scattered all over the bus. Perhaps he was moving from one seat to the other all the while. But he was still tightly covered in the blanket. The passengers went ahead and then stopped suddenly… Who knows what's there under the blanket? It could be a pistol or a rifle!
'Kya huwa, chalochaloapnarastanaapo'-- perhaps he was very well familiar with moments like these, there were hardly any signs of fear in his eyes.
The college boys were also like him, fearless—they were adamant to bring the cat out of the bag, at any cost. And on top of that, they were in a drunken stupor. One of them voiced out that national slang and dragged out the blanket at one go. Perhaps, the goon couldn't even imagine what happened right away. The blanket was already in the boy's hand.
There was a sound as if something had dropped down.
That man's hand and his upper body was perfectly alright. There were no visible cuts or injuries, but the shirt he was wearing was soaked in blood.
'What did you drop under the seat?' The man wanted to run like a mad bull crushing everyone even before the boy could ask him. But the crowd outside grabbed and held him tightly, restricting his movements. Just then, both Laxman Prasad and the driver looked under the seat and remained dumbstruck.
That wasa hand, rather a cut hand… While the precious stones on the rings on the fingers were glittering in the flash of the torch light, there was blood dripping down from the other end of the very hand.
Laxman Prasad couldn'thelp but puked then and there.
A popular Assamese writer and novelist, BhaskarThakuria is a medical doctor by profession and is currently working as a clinical microbiologist and professor in Subharti Medical College Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. He is a recipient of the prestigious MuninBorotokyLitatrary award 2016 for his novel, Singhadwar. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Translator: Mrs. SaswatiKashyap is a post graduate in English Literature from Cotton College and hails from Bongaigaon. She lives in Delhi and can be reached at email@example.com