A long-standing desire, for a ceiling fan, in the bedroom. But there’s never any money left at the end of every month. Finally, when I couldn’t take it any more, I bought it a fortnight ago. In today’s newspaper, the same fan company has advertised that a 15 per cent discount is being offered on their fans. That means the fan bought for 360 rupees is now cheaper by more than 50 rupees. After seeing that, I felt terribly annoyed. Rs 50! I don’t like the boring drone of talk about literature. Instead let me now tell the story of a mosquito. This is the mosquito that at some time, unknown to me, sat on my left lung and punctured it, and finally took my all –
This mosquito now flies over Victoria Memorial. It’s shadow falls on Victoria’s head. The colour of the fairy atop the Memorial changes, the shadow keeps spreading in the direction of the Maidan, leaving behind the vast human settlement in the south it began to steadily encircle the Maidan. The last of the day’s sunlight there now, sticking to the leaves on trees. Moloy Bhattacharjee lies with his head on Chandana Sen’s lap. This is the Moloy Bhattacharjee who stuffs Number Ten cigarettes in a Wills Navy Cut packet and lights it carefully in front of his lover to show that it’s Wills. And the rubbing of face and neck with a half-wet gamcha the whole evening. To get a reddish tinge. On the cheeks.
And this is the Chandana Sen who, even at the age of thirty one, seeing the lack of effort from home towards getting her married, willingly or unwillingly, regularly fed honey to the Moloy Bhattacharjees when darkness descended beneath the tree, but she wasn’t able to hook anyone. Now the mosquito goes and sits on Moloy Bhattacharjee’s cheek. It lowers its proboscis and sucks it up, yes, that’s right, blood. Then it flies off after some time. Chandana Sen looks at Moloy Bhattacharjee lying with his head on her lap, here, but despite the proximity he was not quite there, from the corner of his eye, again and again, he was looking intently at a buxom young woman walking with her blue sari blowing in the wind – the mosquito now flies northwards, further north, and it then goes and sits on the elbow of a middle-aged conjurer who was performing for a thousand people beneath Shahid Minar. This was the conjurer wearing a black achkan over a jet-black silk lungi, who speaks in a fabricated language made up of an amalgam of Bangla and Hindi, he makes a skull speak and tells simple-minded folk the way to reach Ramrajya.
The mosquito sits on the conjurer ‘s elbow and keeps sucking blood as the people stand encircling him, after a while, looking at the conjurer’s face, they sense something, and then each one goes his own way, they keep leaving.
The mosquito flies off, and with it goes its shadow.
It goes and sits on the fleshy thigh of Jagmohan of Burrabazar. Now he, Jagmohan, with two telephones in his two hands, is engaged in discussion about the share market, this is the Jagmohan who can discern at a glance gold and silver buried under ash, who buys the government’s goats from the government and sells it back to the same government with a 1 per cent margin. The mosquito merrily sucks Jagmohan’s blood through its proboscis, when its belly is full it flies off – the mosquito flies away, taking the large shadow along. It comes and sits on Jhantu Kayal’s shoulder in Baghbazar. Jhantu Kayal has then fallen asleep after a whole’s day’s back-breaking labour in the stifling heat in the course of trying in vain to cool himself with a hand-fan. This is the Jhantu Kayal who works twelve hours in a lathe-machine workshop in Bantra, at the end of the month he receives a salary of 347 rupees, returning at night with grease-blackened hands, he tears off pieces of roti and stuffs them into his mouth, fatigued, his eyes close, the eyelids.
The mosquito goes and sits on his elbow, but there’s no blood to suck there. It sits on his back, which is hard and bony, with leathery skin, it can’t prick and insert its proboscis. It sits on the forehead, there’s no flesh there, only protruding solid bone and forehead, Jhantu Kayal is fortunate. The mosquito then flies off. Again. Jet propellers on its wings. Sound. Speed. In the wings. Its body becomes heavy. The shadow keeps spreading. Of the jet propeller. The mosquito’s shadow spreads across the entire Maidan, the martyr’s pillar is in shadow, as is Gandhi on Park Street and the stone fairy atop Victoria Memorial. A gust of wind blows, clouds gather, the symbolic size of the sun becomes small. No one can see or sense when it goes and sits with a quiet plop on the barrel of the pipe-gun held in the eighteen-year-old boy’s hands.
—- xxx —-
Excerpted from the Bengali anti-novel, When Colour is a Warning Sign (1984), by Subimal Misra. Translated by V. Ramaswamy. The translator gratefully acknowledges Robert Karjel, for enabling the translation, and Anubha Daripa, for her kind assistance.
V. Ramaswamy lives in Kolkata. His translations of the short fiction of Subimal Misra include The Golden Gandhi Statue from America (2010) and Wild Animals Prohibited(2015). He was awarded the Sarai Fellowship for Non-fiction Writing in 2013.