The Singi Pukhuri was swarming with Sol1 fish. Many had returned with the plumpest of this variety merely by baiting.
Benu rushed to report it to it his mate Cheni.
Cheni, however, had come to know about it much earlier than Benu.
But both were helpless. None of them had a fishing-line.
Their elder brothers never let them touch theirs.
I've a little idea how to plait strings and make a twine. I'd slit a couple of fishing-rods some three months back.
A little bit of scraping, heating and straightening would do. Benu came up with a solution.
But where were they to find the thread? What was required was some muga2 yarn. Such plump bulky Sols -- the fishing-line would snap without flax or muga thread.
Cheni sketched in the air the forms and outlines of the SoIs with his hands and immediately Benu sighted the fish right in front of his eyes. Red and tapering towards the belly, the Sol, progressively thinning out to the tail -- a few black marks here and there, an elongated skull, approaches whipping its caudal fins under the water -- zipping through like an arrow. It pauses awhile to examine the object near the bait of the fish-hook. In a moment it will pounce upon it, straightaway the big hook will enter its wide mouth and reach its tummy. The Sol doesn't hold and suck the object but swallows it completely with a gulp. The float attached to the fishing-line will sink into the water deep down and instantly there will be bubbles near the float -- there -- there -- no, it's not possible to wait any longer. Benu thought of collecting the muga thread, his mother had some. Cheni, too, could have his share from it. Now the problem was it isn't easy to plait strings with muga thread. A slight slip in the twist might spoil everything. An extra twist, by chance, could make it too brittle.
Both began to ponder deeply.
There was only one way.
To go and fall on their knees before Haribol Koka3 who lived at the other end of their village. "Who's going to approach that terrible old wretch of a man ! Have you forgotten how foul-mouthed and vulgar he is !"
Benu twitched his nose.
“We've got to bear with him. Or else how do we reach our objective?”
All that was needed to be done was to go and make some tea for the old man and fix a good pipe of tobacco for him.
Both reached the oldster's place with the muga roll. Popularly known as Haribol Burha4, the youngsters' Haribol Koka lived all by himself at one end of the village. Rising from bed early at dawn, he bawled ‘Haribol’ which sailed across the entire length of the village to the other end and beyond. All got to know that the old man had woken up. It was daybreak. He had long cascading hair which was combed from all sides and knotted at the top of his head. Tucked to the hair-knot was a flower. His long beard reached his chest A red and white mark of paste shone on his forehead His utterance of the Lord's name was heard once in the morning and once in the evening. In his normal conversation he habitually ejaculated an obscenity after every couple of words. Peevish all the time, the oldster was teased and taunted from a distance by the village-boys -- at such times, after every single word two filthy words erupted from his mouth. Near at hand, however, the youngsters were forbearing. On noticing a slight inattention in the attires or the gaits of the village maidens and women on the road, he would crack such vulgarities that often they had to retrace their steps back home with eyes drenched in tears. Still nobody despised the old man ; in other words, none could afford to disregard him. It was he who made or taught how to make the articles of work-experience required for the children at school --bamboo tubes, rulers, school handyworks, baskets, sieves. The women's requirements for the loom ---- the flat bamboo rod for weaving figures, bamboo or wooden warp-holders, the handloom beam, spools, ropes and other finer works couldn't be put to use without the deft touches of the old man. When there were plays, the crown and necklaces of the actors, the maces of Bhima and others, bows, arrows, quivers for heros like Arjuna and others had to be made by him. When there was a religious function at some house-hold, it was he who had to wash and arrange the food-offerings, make plantain plates and what not. Further, providing potions of water or oil, spelling incantations on fishing implements and pens and pencils of school children during examination time were tagged on to his routine. In gratitude the villagers helped him with paddy or rice and other requirements. They would look after his cow in the general tendings of herds without a fuss.
The old man had come to the village at the prime of his youth. It was four decades earlier. From the forty-year olds to the month-old infants there was none during whose hours of birth his or her mother hadn't sought from the oldster a strand of string or a sip of his mixture of mud and water. People carried chunks of earth to him held between their teeth after an earthquake over which he showered incantations. Such earth mingled with water eased deliveries of mothers. He himself hadn't entered into wedlock and remained a celibate. He had been implored by the villagers to quite an extent, there were proposals for him. Once, on finding this pressure mounting, he had almost prepared to leave the village for good. He said that he solicited an ascetic's life. The old man had no enemies. Had there been any, none could have pointed a finger at his disposition. He didn't visit anyone without an invitation or some cause. He didn't let any personal relationship develop to a point of intimacy. He was outspoken without concern for anyone. young or old. He was already an established half-wit after all. On the whole, the oldster's early background and his life from his youth to his sixty-fifth year remained a mystery to all. Even if he had any background of significance, it was buried in the past for none could, or had ever tried to, bait it out as a Sol from the waters.
Rising early in the morning he would sweep and mop his house, weed his frontyard, milk his cow and tether it by the roadside. He released her at the time of tendings. Even the cow-shed was so spick-and-span that anyone could dine in the place simply by blowing off the thin accumulation of dust on the surface. After having his bath he paid obeisance before the altar-like set-up hung on the reeded wall and sat before the tea-pan. Tea happened to be the chief inducement for the old man. He missed its taste in other's preparations.
The little brass-pot had been serving as a tea-kettle for the past four decades. After boiling a glass of water in it he added the right proportion of molasses. After some time he removed the froth. Putting into it a bay-leaf and a pint of salt, he would finally sprinkle the tea-leaves over the mixture. At last, adding two spoonsful of milk, boiled thick in the iron-pan, and filtering it through a bamboo strainer onto a brass glass, the old man got his much desired glass of tea. After uttering the Lord's name he was just about to have a sip at his glass when Benu and Cheni were at his doorway. ''Haribol Koka" -- the soft words made the oldster stare at them with a frown.
"Oh hell, you ugly brats, how you arrive just at the nick of time when food is ready. When there's a little work not an ant is in sight."
Cheni hastily laid the bundle of twigs near the fire-place. Benu had with him about two rounds of sweetened tobacco. He inserted it in the time-worn bamboo tube. The old man had his lips on the glass of tea as he silently observed the situation. The odour of sweetened tobacco had already reached his nostrils.
"Hey you filthy bastards, couldn't you have brought a little more tobacco? Could you collect only those few twigs in the name of firewood ? There's some tea in that pot, share it between you."
The old man pushed the pot forward with his hand. Even in such normal conversations, words non-existent in the dictionary prevailed in casual ease.
Benu and Cheni exchanged glances. Then they poured the tea from the pot into their glasses and had it with supreme contentment ; next, one of them lighted the tobacco, the other washed the utensils.
The pleasant influence of the tea on the old man was still there. They would have to plait two strings for the fish-hooks, scrape a couple of fishing-rods, search for baits and cover the mile-long distance for the Singi Pukhuri. Besides they had also to complete the dull routine jobs like having lunch and taking bath. Finding the old man basking in his seventh heaven, the two boys were infuriated and began to murmur heaps of silent abuses.
At last, when he had taken some good puffs at the tobacco-pipe, they pleaded before him for two rolls of muga thread and a spool.
The front of the pipe flared up. "Sons of lousy parasites, never to be seen at other times ... Your visit had me guessing of your selfish intent. I never bait, nor do I touch fish with my hands. Don't you know?" he growled.
"Grandpa, earlier you used to tell us about baiting ! About catching carps, turtles with baits at your Dighali Beel when you were young."
Both spoke sharing parts of the statements. Probably they had rehearsed the lines.
"Well, you offsprings of apes. these days you're learning to have your hand just on muddy-water fish. At your age I'd been grabbing the best of carps. Porters had to be engaged to bring my haul of baited fish." The oldster's pipe glowed intermittently as though it were the blacksmith's furnace. Cheni placed the two rolls, the spools and a knife besides the old man. The oldster fired about two rounds of raw abuses and pushed the knife towards Benu -- "Go and fetch three stakes.”
The three stakes were nailed a few inches to the ground in the courtyard staight across the doorway ten feet away from where the old man was sitting. To every stake three strands of muga yarn were attached knotted to the spool which was was to be held by Benu so that the windings didn't slip. After twisting them up, the three ends were tied to a hook in the spool. Now only could the actual string be plaited. As directed by the oldman, Cheni held the three lengths of the thread between his index and middle fingers in such a way that the threads made no contact at all. Placing the fingers in this manner, a foot away from the spool, he pressed the three threads with the nails of the index finger and the thumb of his left hand a few inches away towards the spool so that the plaited windings of the strings did not advance across that point. The old man kept winding the spool. The windings of the string, at the beginning, stretched tight right on the spot where the strings were pressed with the finger nails. Following a hint after the oldman tugged the spool towards him, Cheni released the pressure of his finger-nails with a pull upwards. Instantly, the winding struck the right-hand finger with a twang. Again, pressing this point with the left-hand fingers, the fingers of the other hand were kept a few inches away. The same procedure followed along the entire length of the string. If somehow the pressure were to slip or not released on the dot, or the sound didn't click when released, then the plaiting of the string was done! The Sol baiter had had it ! Without ample grit in the heart he wouldn't ever near the oldster at least for plaiting fish-hook strings !
"The strings that I plait remain at all times frisky over the hook. When it gets hold of a huge carp, people half a mile away get the sensation of a lute being played. The flax string remains ever taut."
As he went on rolling the spool, the old man simultaneously rolled his tongue. Once some hair above his shaggy thigh clogged the rolling spool. From then on he began to roll it on the palm of his hand.
"Grandpa, then while catching carps one shouldn't tug the fishing-line upwards?" inquired Cheni. Cheni knew well about it but put the question just to appease the oldster.
"Yeah" snorted the oldman, continuing with his spinning of the spool with a sullen look in his face. They knew that he would now spill the beans. He wouldn't, of course, direct his words at them but to some invisible third person. “Throw the main hook to the Mohkhuti Beel, and with a 'Tarnsing' hook bait along the sides. Sols, Kharias5, Pabhas6 that you have for a catch would suffice for a meal. After some time you'll notice a jerk in the main hook. That's it — raise the fishing-rod and keep loosening the string. The fish will go on pulling it away. Lug it towards the bank occasionally. When a tug is made from the other end, loosen it again. Pull it again. The flax thread will get stretched as though it would snap any moment. People in the adjacent fields will know by the sound that a fish has been baited, they'll come forward on their own to lend a hand. Sometimes the strings, along with the people holding it, may be dragged to the middle of the waters. But whatsoever, it's a fish after all, how long can it hold off what is ordained? The main hook has caught it by the gills. It’s sure to be afloat lifeless at one time."
"But if it happens to be a turtle, then there's danger. If somehow it gets to the bottom and anchors itself, hauling it up would give a hell of a time. The string has to remain taut ; if the turtle finds it loose, it'll rend it as under with its teeth."
Benu had been sitting besides the old man and listening to him with an intent gaze on his face.The oldster suddenly flew into a rage. "There you breed of numskulls, where's the Sunbariyal7 ?"
Benu sprang to his feet and bolted off.
The plaiting of the first string was almost complete. Benu returned with a Sunbariyal plant. It was of the larger variety. The oldster again flared up. "Didn't you get the smaller variety of the plant, you breed of leeches ? Get to your feet, there, you offspring of goats." This time the offspring of goats, Cheni, darted off The plaiting of the string had been completed. So Benu, too, followed behind. Minutes later, both of them appeared with two smaller varieties of Sunbariyal plants in their hands.
The string had already been tied to the spool. The oldman held it tightly.Cheni took some leaves and began to rub them on the string from one end to the other. Benu disengaged the ends of the strings from the three stakes, attached them to the stake in the middle, and winding them as in a pirn, reached the oldster.
Carped at by the oldster, Benu placed the tea-pan on the fire. He also lighted a pipe of tobacco. The preparation for plaiting the second string went on as the previous one.
Cheni took the opportunity of poking the turtle with the hook. “If the turtle were to get to the bottom and anchor itself ?”
The toothless oldman laughed heartily for quite some time. “Yes, yes, there's a way for tackling this problem too.” He handed the pipe to Benu indicating him to hang it on the wall. Winding thread round a spool, he began to work on the second string.
“Is there any magic or incantation, Grandpa?” Benu enquired after putting the pipe at its place. “Sure, there're incantations, too. You people of today, after learning English, would you believe in spells? You have become Englishmen. There’re magic words to make fish catch the bait.” The old man examined the winding to see if it was alright. Then he began to spin the spool between his palms. “Pull -- hold it -- release -- twang.” The windings began to lurch forward as a serpent.
“Then there're spells to catch turtles too. Isn’t it?” Benu asked again. “You need to take along the neck of an earthen pot or a circular bamboo-rest. If you drop it around the fishing-rod, it'll descend and fall on the body of the turtle making it release its grip on the water-bed. That's the incantation. The time I caught the giant turtle, it’d rendered three of us, all adults, out of breath. From about two in the afternoon till, say, ten at night, the tussle went on. Neither of the sides would give up.”
“That turtle was brought home by the three of us who were totally humped by its weight. A whole village feasted on it. Now, you sons of apes, have you brought fish-hooks and sinkers?”
The boys had taken the last words of the oldster to be a part of the turtle-catching narrative. Within seconds they had their grasp on reality with a start. Benu brought out a matchbox from his pocket containing hooks and sinkers and handed it to the old man.
The fastening of fish-hooks is equally tough as the plaiting of strings. The technique, however, is simpler. The knot is easy but if one isn't careful enough, the hook might pierce the fingers when twisted for a firm knot in the string. After the hook had been fastened along with the head sinkers, Cheni asked the old man, “Grandpa, please come along with us today.”
“It’s almost two decades now since I gave up fishing........”
Finding the tone of Grandpa softening a bit, both of them cried, “No, Grandpa, you've only got to sit down beside us, we'll be providing you with timely betel and tobacco. You can keep recounting before us the fishing exploits of your time.”
“If you talk while baiting, do you expect fish to come for the bite? They can easily perceive the human voice. They get alarmed.”
Actually, they had a strong belief that Grandpa knew well the magic for alluring fish. Further, just even if he were to spell incantations over the string, fish would be drawn to it. If they could take this man along, they would be aided by his magic powers to have a rich haul of Sols ----- this was what they had in mind.
The oldster silently completed fixing the fish-hooks and lead. At the time of tying the two floats to the fishing-line, he had only asked, “What should be the length of the portion of the fishing-line hanging below the float -- one or one and a half feet? At what depth are you going to fish?”
This length is the gap between the point of fixation of the float from the hook. Deep waters require longer gaps.
“Then you're going, Grandpa?”
“It’s been a pretty long time since I’d been with hooks and baits.”
Grandpa’s voice was on the verge of being detected of a melancholic tone.They had never seen the man in this state He looked a way different from his usual self with a peevish disposition and a frown etched permanently on his face. He didn't mouth any curse or obscenity. He didn't rebuke them. They dreaded to ask him anything lest he returned to his original form. Benu had, in the meantime, boiled the water. As indicated by the old man, tea was prepared with the desired proportion of molasses and tea-leaf, and the three sat down to have it. “What have you taken as baits? Wasps?” Grandpa questioned as he took sips of his tea.
“We’ll take a few chunks of ant-egg clusters too. There's a hive of wasps at Benu's place in their cowshed. That should fulfil our needs.”
“Prepare about four clearings. At a place with sufficient depth. Sprinkle the ant-egg cluster under the water. If you muddle the place, Magurs8 might appear there.” The old man went on narrating with a sip or two at his tea in midst.
“How about Sols?” Both of them cried out at the same time. "It's good to use Sols and frogs as baits. That's why we need two hooks. For the Kawois9 and Magurs you should place a small fish-hook in the clearing. For Sols you’ll need the bigger hook.”
But they didn’t have two types of fish-hooks with them. Their minds got somewhat dampened. Somehow if they each could just have a Sol atleast ! Grandpa had never before conversed with anyone with such an open mind. He spelt incantations on both the fish-strings and blowed air on them with his mouth thrice. The boys once again entreated Grandpa to accompany them.
The old man almost broke down this time. With a subdued voice he said, "From that day onwards I haven't ever touched a fishing-rod. Years before. at the prime of my youth, I too, had once set out like you now for Sols. I entered an old farm-stead for ant-egg clusters From then on I haven't set my eyes on a fishing-rod.”
“What happened Grandpa? What happened after that?” both cried out anxiously and earnestly. But Grandpa froze momentarily staring transfixed into the distance -- through a chink in the reeded wall.
“What happened out there, Grandpa? What did you see there?” Benu questioned panting. Slowly in a rueful tone he narrated, "Out there I saw scores of black ants. Those king sized ants, you know? They had shrouded up something. I drew myself near to it. Possibly someone had it buried in the pre-dawn hours. The jackals must have scooped it out and fled seeing me approach. But the village had no information of births publicly at any household. Work of some scoundrel, nasty hypocrite.”
At first they couldn’t grasp any meaning of what Grandpa had said. Slowly they gained access to the situation. When they finally reached the point of comprehension, their minds grew uneasy and agitated at the thought that an aged one had disclosed before them the most embarassing of taboos.
“The eye-balls stuck out of the sockets with a glare of flinty stiffness. I quit fishing, and after a couple of days quit the village. Now, my sons, get moving, it's going to be late”
Once they could leave, they would be most relieved. They moved off hurriedly. They were supposed to collect clusters of ant-eggs on the way, but now neither of them had the inclination for it. While attempting to get hold of wasps at Benu's cowshed, both of them landed up with a nodule each. At last, they set off at a trot. When they reached the Singi Pukhuri they found that two men were already in the act. Familiar faces from the neighbouring villages. Benu and Cheni's presence drained out their spirit. The lake and the fish in it were public property, but someone already engaged in fishing eyed a newcomer with absolute rivalry. Their aquaintance was stubbed out by their indifference.
Finding no alternative, one of the boys himself broke the taciturnity, “How're you doing, any luck?”
The two men simply exhibited a sort of uneasiness with a slight contortion of their faces as if the boy's sound had made two Sols turn round and flee just when they were about to take the baits.”
Benu and Cheni didn't ask anything else and simply gloated over one of their creels. The two men flared up with rage. The fish could be affected by the evil eye ! Suddenly noticing the baits of wasps in the boy's hands, they altered the tone of their growl. "So you've come with wasps I Then we can hope for something!" one approached somewhat endearingly.
His companion took this opportunity to voice his grievance. “Different people with varieties of baits have turned the fish here insane. Earlier, here at this Singi Pukhuri itself we got to fill our creels with Magurs and Kawois merely with baits of earthworms.”
The first man didn't give any verbal support to his associate but asked the boys for a few baits. They, too, happily handed over a dozen of baits. Their intention was to prepare a few fresh clearings. If they couldn't win the two men over with such trifles. they wouldn't be allowed to make clearings lest bubbles rose in the water ! The other man, too. was handed about a dozen wasp-baits without him asking for one. They had ant-egg clusters with them. The two of them accepted small portions. From then on their conversation flexed to a comfortable level of ease.
“Today, the fish won’t be going for the baits perhaps. They're roving too much at the surface,” observed the first man. The second added. “Moreover, the day is Saturday. It’s implicit that in the Singi Pukhuri fish don't take the bait on this day. Today that's been proved once again.”
“Further, clouds are appearing on the horizon. The smell of clouds also makes them flinch. The same thing happens during the period of the new moon and full moon. Once I came by mistake during full moon and wasted the whole day. A weeny one would have done, just for medicine.”
The first man placed a hook at a clearing and stepped out from the water onto the bank. He removed a large water-leech stuck to his knee by using his saliva and tossed it to the middle of the lake. There was a light thud upon the aquatic grass. He washed his hands and lit a bidi; he passed one to his companion. Benu and Cheni took out their packet of betel-nuts. While the two men were smoking, the boys descended to the lake and prepared two clearings. They removed about a square feet of aquatic grass and muddled the spot with their hands. Breaking some ant-egg clusters they tapped their fingers a few times under the water. A sound could be heard akin to that of approaching fish. They placed a couple of fishing-lines, removed the leeches clinging to their legs, came up and sat on the bank. There was a peepul behind them. It provided them with shade. A branch of the tree jutted out above the water.
At some corner of the lake, near the cane-brake, there was a slapping sound. Sols. They were munching grasshoppers and other insects that they found upon the aquatic grass. Benu and Cheni had the sensation of Sols stirring within their hearts. They quivered with excitement. Come, come, swallow the bait in a flash. In the name of Haribol Koka's incantations.......... won't his power work?
In the meantime, three or four more baiters had set their fishing-lines at the other end of the lake. The actual time for biting on the baits was nearing. All took care not to let out the mildest of a cough. The eyes of Benu and Cheni were pinned on the floats attached to the fishing-lines. Wrinkles had clustered up on their foreheads. Their veins grew prominent. Their eyes didn't wink.
There were occasional sounds of sudden jerks of fishing-rods here and there. A few Kawois had caught the baits There had been a peck or two at their hooks but the baits remained dangling. As a matter of fact, it was not possible to bait fish other than Sols with a large hook in a lake. The size of the hook didn't allow other fish to swallow it. Drawing out a little bristle from the sides by constant pulling, they tear apart the bait and disappear.
When the man, close by, jerked up his fishing-rod, he had the string spiralling in the air for some time before it fell to the ground. This was the gill-slashing jerk. It was said to get hold of the gills of the fish. Whatever the jerk may be, the gills of any small ordinary variety of fish would be flung into the distance.
The other man had a different technique altogether. Bending his waist he would pull his string in such a ricocheting manner as if he had baited a whale of a fish. At best it would be a tiny Kawoi or the naked hook. But Cheni's method was completely different. It sufficed for his float to stir thrice or so. He would move his rod with such a twist that its slender end stirred a number of times. Immediately the hook below it under the water would begin to quiver in such a way that not a single fish escaped. He often boasted that he had once hauled up a fish stitched through its belly by his fish-hook. He didn't need to jerk, but merely lift the hook. Meanwhile, he had already caught a few Kawois. But Benu was wearied down after his long series of jerks. Having had to descend to the waters, he further was besieged by a number of leeches. Ired by all this, he laid a few baits in the clearings, came up to the bank and dropped down prostrate upon the grass. He took out his packet of betel-nuts which drew all of them around him one by one. After tucking the betel into their mouths the elderly duo lighted bidis. Disillusionment and frustration were writ large on their faces. They began to discuss about returning home early.
Just at that moment suddenly Benu noticed that his string was quivering without the float. All eyes were riveted upon it. "Quick, quick, jerk it up," the three cried out together.
In the very position he was lying Benu lunged a few yards, fell and rolled over, and straightaway tugged up his fishing-line. The front end of his rod bent and the new muga string became taut. A full-grown Sol's red and spotted bosom passed across everyone in a flash. But the fish didn't land on the ground.
The ten-feet long string at the end of the ten-feet long fishing-rod wound up on the branch of a peepul. The Sol was tossing about dangling from the branch.
Even the Sol wasn't prepared for such a misfortune. Everyone began to laugh aloud. Each of them made an effort one after the other. "It's beyond our ability to climb up the tree and get to the end of the branch. The only alternative is to rend the string asunder and go back home with the empty rod. The mere imagination of the fish during dinner would do,” one of them shouted in jest from the other end. It was getting late, everyone went for their individual hooks. Benu went to collect some missiles. He targeted them at the fish. Once, a direct hit had the string unwind a circle. As a result, the string was disentangled from the peepul branch by a turn. Immediately the fish stopped tossing about. As there was only a single loop of the string round the branch, the string tended to slip down from the weight of the fish. Now, if the string could be disentangled once more or severed from the fishing-rod, the fish would be in their hands.
Benu called Cheni and explained to him about the tactic. With the trunk of his fishing-rod Cheni began to whip the string at the tip of Benu's rod. The string grew taut. At one time it snapped with a twang. The fish dropped on the ground with a thud in no time. It was lifeless. The missile had landed on the head. Its mouth had to be slit and the hook removed from its tummy. Everyone remarked — It's a ripe Sol after all ; it would taste like meat. In the meantime, all of them had packed up and were ready to leave.
Suddenly Benu felt his enthusiasm stiffening to a state of sombreness. He fastened the string to the hook again, washed his hands and feet, and preparing to leave said, “If you like you can take the fish, Cheni. I don't need it.”
“How strange ? Everyone turned to look at him. “Hell l are you crazy?”
“If you aren't taking it. give it to someone else.”
Finding himself in utter helplessness, Cheni stitched the fish onto a small strip of bamboo. They advanced along the way without a word. Evening was descending upon Grandpa's gateway. The old man was standing by the road. Cheni showed him the fish and narrated everything that had happened. Benu simply stood still when Grandpa, after learning that he had handed the fish to Cheni, eyed him intently.
“I just don't seem to feel alright,” Benu worded his reply to Grandpa's questioning gaze.
“Well why?” Grandpa asked moving a step forward towards Benu as he looked straight at his eyes.
Benu shifted his gaze. He bent a little and said, “I don't like it. How stiff and stony those eyes are !.............”
In the darkness of the evening Grandpa seemed to have transformed into an illusion. Only his transfixed eyes glittered white as the Barali10. The eyes lacked vision. Benu couldn't look into those eyes.
Both of them returned home. They tried to speak but the words just vibrated near their hearts and evaporated. Cheni held the fish and flung it to the bamboo grove.
Within their limited experience a number of questions encircled them as wasps and began to sting........ “Whose eyes were those ? What's their bond with Grandpa?”
1. Sol a species of muddy-water fish
2. Muga silk worm (Antheraea Assama) producing light brown yarn
3. Koka :The Assamese equivalent for grandfather or Grandpa
4. Burha : old man
5. Kharia : a species of flat fish
6. Pabha :a species of fresh-water fish
7. Sunbariyal :a medicinal plant with round leaves and yellow flowers
8. Magur : a species of muddy-water fish
9. Kawoi : a species of muddy-water fish
10. Borali : a fleshy white variety of fish with a large head and a long, flat body without scales
Translated from Assamese by Krishna Dulal Barua
About the author:
Eminent Assamese litterateur Mahim Bora (July6, 1924-- August 5, 2016) is a renowned short story writer and poet. A recipient of Sahitya Akademy award for his novel Edhani Mahir Hanhi in 2001, Bora ‘s short story collections include Kathanibari Ghat (1961),Bohubhuji Tribhuj(1967),Eai Nadir Sonte(1975),Mai Pippali Aru Puja(1967),Rati Phula Phul(1977),and Barayatri (1980). His chief anthology of poems is Rangajivya (The Red Dragon-fly;1978). A former president of Asam Sahitya Sabha, Bora was conferred the Padm Shri in 2011.
About the translator:
Krishna Dulal Barua, a teacher of English language and music, translates both fiction and non-fiction from Assamese to English. His published works include ‘Selected Poems of Nilmani Phookan’ and ‘The sword of Birgosri’ (novel) published by the Sahitya Akademi , ‘Select poems of Lakshminath Bezbaroa’ published by the National Book Trust of India etc.