A Silver Lining
We packed all night, getting an hour’s sleep just before dawn. then left home on time for the train. Our group consisted of Bimal’s trusty manservant Ramhari and my dog Bagha. Two big bags, a suitcase and an Ikmik* cooker, Bimal didn’t allow us to carry anything other than these.
(Translator’s comment – *An Ikmik cooker was a precursor to the rice cooker; it had four compartments and steam cooked food over a coal fire – extremely popular in Bengali homes at the turn of the century.)
But the bags held everything we could possibly need – knives, scissors, a first aid kit, a camera for photographs, an electric torch, a flask, biscuits, fruits and cans of potted meat and fish, some books on Assam in English, exercise books, two small cushions, rugs and the two masks. Bimal felt we might need them later as well. Other than these, the bags held a multitude of other knickknacks that I cannot name. The suitcase held our clothes. Each of us carried a thick stick, ones that could split open a man’s head, if need be. Needless to say, Bimal didn’t forget his two guns.
I felt strangely melancholic as I left home. I was leaving for who knows which foreign place*, where tigers and wild animals and enemies might lie in wait, I didn’t even touch Ma’s feet before I left who knows if I’ll ever return and see her in this lifetime! At one time I thought I’d tell Bimal, ‘I won’t go!’ but I steeled myself instead, because I didn’t want him to think of me as a coward.
(*People travelled very little in those days – The railways were new and Assam was “foreign”.)
I think Bimal took a look at my face at understood what I was going through inside, for he suddenly asked me, ‘Kumar, are you feeling sad?’
I told the truth, ‘A little, of course.’
‘For your mother?’
‘Don’t worry. There is a high probability that you’ll meet your mother this very evening.’
Taken aback, I asked, ‘How’s that? We’re off to Assam.’
‘That’s true, we are,’ said Bimal and looked all around him with an anxious expression on his face. He must have been checking for any enemies who might be following us. But no one could be seen.
Bimal’s car was waiting to take us to the station. It set off once we had all boarded. Bimal was lost in his thoughts for the entire journey, only breaking his reverie for anxious looks outside the window to check if we were being followed.
We alighted from the car once we were at Sealdah station. I looked around carefully once and said, ‘Bimal, there’s nothing to fear for now. Karali’s men have not been able to follow us.’
Not replying to this, Bimal said, ‘You all wait here. I’ll buy the tickets.’
Once he returned with the tickets, Bimal entered the station with us, putting Bagha in the animal compartment. Bagha didn’t want to leave me at all, finally Bimal had to drag him by the leash and put him in there.
There was still some time left for the train to leave. Seeing the humid heat in the compartment, I stepped down on to the platform for some air. Strolling, I reached right at the end of the train. My gaze skimmed over a coach – and I had goose pimples all over. Karali was sitting inside the compartment! Two boot black goons were sitting with him and engrossed in saying something while gesturing with their hands – they couldn’t see me. I quickly boarded my compartment, running back as fast as I could.
Bimal saw me and said, ‘What’s the matter, Kumar? Why are you running with your eyes bulging out of your head?’
I said, ‘Bimal, disaster!’
Bimal smiled and said, ‘You’ve seen Karali, haven’t you? So what? That’s hardly a disaster. I knew he wouldn’t let go of us. Anyway, you just relax and sit down. Don’t be afraid.’
I couldn’t dismiss the whole thing as lightly as Bimal. I sat down on my seat quietly enough, but I felt really low. Bimal saw my body language and smiled. The train started.
Who knew what lay in store for us? It looked very likely that we would meet with an untimely death in the jungles finally. Who knew how many men Karali had with him? He won’t stop following us now that he’s come prepared like this. I thought of this and other myriad troubles, real and imagined, and shuddered.
But Bimal, unperturbed, rested his feet on the seat opposite and started reading some book or the other.
The train stopped at a station. Bimal stuck his head out of the window to check and said, ‘Kumar, get ready! The next station’s Ranaghat. We’re getting off there.’
What new madness was this? Taken aback, I said, ‘We’re getting off at Ranaghat? Why?’
‘From there to Shantipur, to your uncle’s place – we’re going there and meeting your mother.’
‘Why did you change your mind all of a sudden?’
‘I haven’t changed my mind, I just didn’t confide in you. I had planned all this yesterday. Here, look, the tickets are for Shantipur. Do you understand why?’
‘I knew perfectly well that Karali would follow us since his spy had heard us say yesterday that we were bound for Assam. Even at this moment, he thinks we are going to Assam and nowhere else. Let him assume that and sit tight in his compartment, while we alight at Ranaghat. We’ll stay at your uncle’s place for a few days, enjoy ourselves, whereas Karali will be completely lost once he learns we are not on the train! He’ll definitely think we’ve taken an alternate route. He will lose heart and return to Calcutta, whereas we, we will take your mother’s blessings and set out for Assam after a few days without anyone the wiser.’
Finally, some good news. Karali tricked and a meeting with my mother, just as I had wished for – killing two birds with one stone, indeed! I shook Bimal delightedly by the hand and said, ‘You are just so clever! I am completely in awe of your intelligence.’
As soon as the train reached Ranaghat we got off – no one spotted us.