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The Right To Die: English Translation of Manik Bandyopadhyay's story 'Atmahatyar Adhikaar'
by Lopa Banerjee (Prose - Short Story) | Published On: 19-Jul-2016

Note: The story ‘Atmahatyar Adhikar’ is part of acclaimed novelist and storyteller of Bengal, Manik Bandyopadhyay’s anthology of selected short stories, titled ‘Manik Bandyopadhyay Sreshtho Golpo’, published by ABOSAR in February 1998. Manik Bandyopadhyay (19 May 1908– 3 December 1956), has been considered one of the leading figures of modern Bengali fiction. This particular story had been published in 1933.

 

 

 

The roof of the hut had almost been ravaged this monsoon. He had somehow gathered a few coconut leaves and palm leaves, being as cautious as he could, to salvage the little sense of respect he still had. However much hard he had tried to protect the hut while spreading them over the roof, it bore little or no results. The torrential downpour seeped inside the nooks and crannies of the hut, drenching it completely.

 

They would need to think of folding the bed and removing it elsewhere. The already tattered boxes and belongings had to be shoved to another safer corner; the clothes hanging on the clothesline had to be removed and piled in a safer place.

 

Nilmoni’s young son started to wail, rudely woken up from his night’s sleep. The wailing doesn’t get any better with cuddling him, or pampering him, and if scolded, it grows manifold. His daughter, who is quite big now, doesn’t cry and whine any more. But right now, her demeanor seemed even more annoying to him, as she pressed herself against the wall in a sort of silent stubbornness, as if measuring her father with her eyes. He wished to give her a tight slap on her face for staring at him like that. It had only been an hour she was awake after a good night’s sleep; would it be reason enough for her to give him such a punishing stare? The roof of their hut hasn’t been repaired for seven years now, hence the leakage inside the room. The rain was threatening to tear apart the only shelter they had. Was it entirely his fault that she had to pour salt in his open wound thus, and continue to add silent insult to his injury?

 

Nibha, his wife held the crying baby boy close to her bosom, sauntering around the entire space. With a sudden impulse, she pleaded: “Please do hold the umbrella, can’t you see he is getting completely wet? Please, I beg of you…do you want him to catch pneumonia?”

 

Nilmani brushed her off, with a sarcastic smile. “He may get it, but he won’t die.”

 

Nibha’s heart skipped a beat. “God bless him. How can you talk like that? …Shyama, what happened to you? Even you can hold the umbrella for your baby brother.” Her eyes now turned towards her daughter.

 

Shyama came closer, and quietly held a broken umbrella over her mother’s head. The faint lamp in the room flickered in the wind. The oil was burning in the lamp for the whole night, a big waste, they knew, but they felt helpless. With the fierce downpour almost flooding the house, the lamp was their only savior, guiding them to drift towards safer directions, with their belongings.

 

“Shyama, give me a bowl of the hookah, will you?” Nilmani ordered.

 

“Hold the umbrella for me, then,” Shyama replied.

 

Anger struck him right at that moment, like a sudden flash of lightning. He roared: “Then throw away the umbrella, burn it in a pyre, I say! How miserable! I will need to hold the umbrella so that she can prepare my hookah….the stupid, worthless girl!”

 

The hookah was prepared and handed over to him without further delay. The rain water was leaking like a faucet from the corner to the extreme left, filling up a bucket. Shyama washed her hands with that water, and conveyed a bad news to her father.

 

“There is just a little more tobacco left for the hookah, Baba.”

 

How insufferable! Nilmani clenched his teeth, resisting the temptation to hurl one more round of abuse on the importunate bearer of such terrible news.  He flopped down on the wet floor, thinking hard of how to combat the onslaught of such a furious night without enough tobacco. The fateful night, with the shrill, piercing cries of his son, the painfully stinging stares of his daughter, the desperate battles of his wife Nibha with the invisible enemy of pneumonia seemed to crush his breath, suck the life out of him. Trembling, perplexed, he continued to think of living inside the wretched hut, an unnecessary pursuit every single moment.

 

He was dying to ask why tobacco had not been bought, but resisted himself again. It was useless to ask this, as he had himself prepared the answer day before yesterday: he had no money, and that was the only truth. He could not bring puffed rice for his son worth a paisa, when he was crying of hunger in the evening. How could he manage the money for tobacco, then? For a moment, he thought if he could borrow some from the neighborhood store, but on second thoughts, he was happy to have an excuse.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me in the evening that tobacco was scarce?” He asked, sternly.

 

“I didn’t notice it, Baba.” Shyama replied.

 

“You didn’t? What made you not notice it, may I ask?” He mocked her. “Had you gone blind?”

 

“Because you prepared the hookah the last time, Baba, I didn’t do it for the whole day today.” Shyama tried to reason with him, in a tensed, shaken voice.

 

“Well, fantastic! Why would you, after all? It would ruin the golden temple of your body to make it for your father, wouldn’t it?” He said, with a sarcastic grin.

 

Nilmoni looked away, in a desperate bid to fight back his tears that rested in the corners of his eyes. No need for tobacco, let it be, he thought. What on earth did he have, anyway, that a bowl of hookah would be an antidote to all his miseries?

 

He felt an excruciating, stinging pain in his face, his eyes were burning lava. He felt the scorching, smoky air in the room, as if coming from the Sahara Mountains. The rain water was falling on his knees in giant drops for quite some time now; he cupped his palms, as if performing the ritual of an ‘anjali’, counting and collecting the drops. His chapped, parched lips uttered words, like bubbles on boiled skin; nobody else in the room could hear what he was saying. They did not notice his childish play with the raindrops pelting on his palms, either.

 

But he was caught, just when he was washing his face with the water on his palms. Both his wife and daughter were aghast. Shyama, his daughter cried out: “What are you doing, Baba?”

 

Nibha, his wife shouted at him. “How could you wash your face with this dirty water? Can’t you see it flowing from the rotten, stinky roof?”

 

“Let it stink. Tomorrow, even this dirty water may be elusive to us. You never know.”

 

Nilmoni replied, with a dry, ironic smile.

 

He laughed to himself with an inherent pride, amazed at his own ability at humor even under such dire circumstances. It solidified his faith in his own willpower. But then, his eyes focused on the crooked, dilapidated mess that the room was, and the moment he gazed at Nibha’s eyes, his smile evaporated. The unfathomable cruelty in her eyes wounded him. She was piercing him with her eyes, just the way Shyama did. The daily quandaries and anxieties of their life could not soften her gaze, they had only made her stare more silently rebuking, more reckless, helpless in their soundless grievances. Nilmani could not stand it. 

 

He was the only one to blame, perhaps. He had willfully damaged his health and his ability to work, be the cause of famine in his own household when the world outside was splurging with the bounty of food. He was the one who had created holes in the roof of their hut, and the untimely deluge outside at the wee hours of night was, after all, his own making. And that was not all. He was the one who could also wipe the excruciating torment of his family by the power of his mantras, any time. Just a spell whispered, and his broken, muddy hut would magically transform to the mansion of the Sarkar’s, their neighbor. Just a spell whispered, and the broken suitcase in the corner of the room would turn to a huge iron chest, millions of papered notes prancing and preening inside it. He was lost in the imagined sounds of money, overpowering the sounds of the rain gushing inside the room.

 

As if, he was just not uttering the mantra on his own will.

 

After a while, Nibha asked him: “Can you say what is the time now?”

 

“Who knows! Must be two or three o’clock.”

 

“Can’t you do something? How long would we sit and wait for the rain to end and drench ourselves like this?” She was impatient.

 

“If you find sitting uncomfortable, you can stand and get drenched.” He replied.

 

Nibha was dumbfounded. She shielded the baby boy in her arms as much as she could, with the torn woolen wrapper, and lifted the veil hovering over her disheveled hair. Her daughter, Shyama had been holding the umbrella with her tired hands for quite long; she flopped down on the floor, brushing against her mother’s body. Nibha could feel her shivering, at close intervals.

 

“Are you feeling cold, Shyama? Why are you shivering?”

 

Shyama silently shook her head.

 

“Then hold the umbrella close to Khoka (baby), see, he is getting wet already.”

 

She wiped the baby’s face with the corner of her sari, and whispered to herself: “What a misery! What punishment! Must be the sin of our many previous births!” Her words reached Nilmani, but he did not react. His mind was conscious, soaking this banal reality, but he closed his eyes voluntarily, to create an illusion of dozing off. He was actually soaking in everything, the twisted creases in Nibha’s face, the flickering flame of the lamp, and the swirling shadows on the silhouetted darkness of the wall. With his closed eyes, he could feel his baby son Nimu lying prostrate in the bundled up bed in an unassuming nook of the room, fast asleep, as if mocking his plight. It was an insufferable sight, the little boy spreading his legs in the miniature cascade of the floor, sleeping with the rhythm of the pelting raindrops. His monotonous nasal wails which irked him on other days seemed far tolerable now, compared to this scene. He was hungry and sick the entire evening, irritating his mother to quench his hunger; finally succumbing to sleep in the midst of his tears, though the fire in his stomach still burned. Perhaps he was anguished that the pet cat of his fairytale world could not steal food for him from the King’s palace amid the heavy rain. The tears flowing from his eyes dried in their tracks, and enlivened, yet again. How could he keep sleeping when his own little unceremonious world was being swept away by the flood of misery? Nilmoni wondered.

 

“Shyama, wake up Nimu, now.” He ordered.

 

“But why do you have to wake him up? Let him sleep!” Nibha protested.

 

“Ah, he is just feigning to sleep, I am sure.”

 

“Oh, well, now he is feigning! How could you even say that? God only knows how happy you have kept him, so he can feign!” Nibha shouted.

 

Nilmoni closed his eyes again. Let them do whatever they want to; he would not be involved.

 

After a while Nibha came close to him. “Listen, how long are we going to get drenched like this? Let us go to the Sarkar’s house and ask for shelter for the night.” She pleaded.

 

“No!” Nilmoni retorted, with eyes closed.

 

“Then don’t go! Wait and rot here! I am going out with the children.” She said, resentfully.

 

At this, Nilmoni opened his eyes. “No, you won’t go there. They are mean-minded. Have you forgotten what they told us last time?” His eyes brimmed with anger.

 

“But that is nothing. People say such things when irritated at night.” Nibha shushed him.

 

Nilmoni got more furious. “What do you mean, people say such things? And that too, to helpless people in the wee hours of the night, desperately looking for a roof to take shelter in? Do they call it a ‘nuisance’, loud and clear? Do they even reject the simple request for a dry cloth for a baby; tell on the face that all their clothes are wet? Do they replace their clean carpet with a torn, old one for their guests, for the fear of getting stains on it? We will not go there, and it is final.”

 

Nibha had stayed silent for long, but now her tolerance failed. “And who is saying all this?” She replied, with a fire in her eyes. “He who doesn’t even have the ability to provide shelter for his family, his children in a calamity like this? Where is all this sense of insult coming from? Won’t we have to beg on the streets in a few days’ time?”

 

“Shut up!” Nilmoni shouted back, in disgust.

 

“Yes, all these years, I have been doing just that. Somebody else in my place would….”

 

Nilmoni picked up a water-pot lying close to him, and hurled it at her. “Keep your mouth shut. Just another word from your mouth, and I will kill you,” he howled.

 

Everybody went silent after this. Nibha sat down, the fire of her eyes diminished. Shyama was shaken off her trance to hear her father roaring at her complacence. There was a strange sound at the door, one that seemed familiar to her. “Mother, Bhulu, the dog is scratching at the door,” she said.

 

Nibha had been rendered a spineless human by now, with all the poverty and daily squalor that she had been surrounded by, since long, yet she pounced upon the girl in rage. Her tolerance had reached its limits.

 

“So what do I do now? Go and pick him up in your arms and do a happy dance….Hold the umbrella properly, you stupid girl, or else you will get the beating of your life, I say!” She screamed.

 

“Where is my stick, Shyama?” Nilmoni asked, suddenly. His eyes burned in mad rage.

 

“Baba, don’t beat him. He will go away on his own if you don’t open the door.” Shyama pleaded to him, her face pale, color-drained.

 

“Nobody asked for your opinion; keep your mouth shut,” he shouted. He felt his left foot partly crippled. He lifted his body somehow, supported by his hands. Limping all the way to the corner of the room, he picked up a fat bamboo stick. Nobody could gauge what made him so furious about the destitute dog taking temporary shelter in their open courtyard. The poor dog would go hungry most of the days, and received a blow every now and then, still he chose to lie on the courtyard and ward off the foxes. If not for the kindness of Shyama, he would have made his place in heaven quite some time back. Nilmoni could not stand the thin, destitute dog. Perhaps the feeble travails of the creature even as he was kicked and thrashed every day, his shameful, piteous struggles with death repulsed him.

 

“Don’t beat him, Baba, I am chasing him away,” Shyama repeated.

 

Nilmoni clenched his teeth in an inexplicable wrath. “Do you think I am only going to beat him? I will make sure that he leaves the earth today.”

 

Shyama’s heart sunk to hear this. A cry had escaped her lips as her stomach rumbled in hunger.  She had shivered, crumpled in shame, looking at her torn clothes. Yet, all the quandaries of her life could not drain away the hopes she had still fostered, in the inner core of her being. The tolerance of her misery had endowed her with more grit, more power to stand against the odds, to suck off whatever juice of life had still remained. She could not imagine the killing of Bhulu, it pained her immensely, however insignificant his life might be.

 

She sprang up, throwing away the umbrella, and held the stick firmly in her hands. She pleaded again, with teary eyes. “Baba, don’t kill him, I beg of you!”

 

Nilmoni roared. “Get off, Shyama, leave the stick, I say. Or else, I will kill you in no time.”

 

Shyama was adamant. She refused to let go of the stick. She fell off at her father’s feet repeatedly, begging for his mercy, holding the stick fiercely all the time. Nibha came to her rescue. “My God, what a stubborn girl you are! Let go of the stick, and you will be saved, please!” She said.

 

“Let me see that her stubbornness vanishes, once and for all,” Nilmoni trembled in rage.

 

He had to leave the stick to her daughter’s hands, but there were many loose, thin bamboo strips that the hut was made up off. He approached his headstrong daughter with one such strip.

 

 **********************************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

He had beaten up his daughter in a sudden bout of anger, and after a while, the realization pained him intensely. His anger was always prompted by a sudden impulse, and he knew he would never have a control over it in his life. But then, he tried to fathom the true reason behind his pain. Who knows how he battled with the impulse to die, from time to time! There was no dearth of misery, shame, maladies, death and grief in this life, after all, which he was reminded of, every single moment in his conscious state. They even wafted in his subconscious, in his dreadful nightmares.

 

The rain had been reduced to trickling drops a few minutes back, but resumed again, even more forcefully. The facade of dignity, which Nilmoni had fiercely held on to, all this while, was finally beginning to crumble. “Is there any more oil in the lantern, Shyama?” He asked.

 

Shyama wanted to remain silent and exhibit her anger to her father for the time being, but she did not dare to. “There is just some, Baba,” she replied, quietly.

 

“Light it, then.” He ordered.

 

“But what do you need the lantern for?” Nibha asked. 

 

“We will be going to the Sarkar’s house. Can’t you see the rain coming back, yet again?” He sounded as if it was Nibha who was reluctant to go to the Sarkar’s house, in the first place.

 

“Where are the matches, Ma?” Shyama asked her.

 

“What will you do with matches? Can’t you light the lantern with the lamp, burning right in front of your eyes? Have you gone blind?” Nibha scolded her.

 

“The girl is out of her mind, it seems!” Nilmoni shouted.

 

As he criticized the small lapses of his own daughter, the words stung his own soul. He felt as if the words came out like a parrot’s mimicking, befitting his wretched status. As if the words had to be uttered, but did not serve any purpose.

 

And so, the old lantern, which had been of no use for these seven years, had finally been lit.

 

Nibha nodded her hair in disapproval. “The umbrella would not be enough, I need to wrap myself with another piece of cloth,” she said to herself. She ordered Shyama to bundle up a set of extra clothes. “Don’t we all have to change our clothes once we can enter their house?” She asked, with an air of confidence now. “And don’t forget my casket of tobacco leaves.”

 

Nilmani’s good humor prevailed. “Can you also take my hookah, dear Shyama? Please? You can empty the water out of it, we can refill once we reach their house, isn’t it? There is no lack of water there, after all. And don’t forget the tobacco, too!”

 

After all arrangements were done, they set out on their expedition. The poor little boy Nimu wailed on top of his voice, but they ignored his cries, made him stand up and mercilessly hauled him, burdening his back with a torn jute sack.

 

They came down to the open courtyard. The hut to their north had been intact till last year, but had collapsed on the forth Nor’wester of the season. Perhaps the dog Bhulu had taken refuge somewhere in the debris; he came out as soon as he heard human voices. They were locking the door. Bhulu kept scratching the door in desperation, as if pleading them to open the door. They ignored his constant pleas and set out, deserting him.

 

Just as they stepped out of the courtyard, they stumbled on the mud, covering all the way to their knees. They crossed it somehow, and immediately after, encountered another stretch of slippery soil. With the baby boy in her arms, Nibha was seconds away from tumbling down in it, cursing the Gods for her fate. As for Nilmoni, he would limp with his left feet even on the dry soil. Now, both his stick and his partly crippled leg stuck deep into the mud, and he didn’t know how he could proceed even a step further. Just as he tried to pull away his stick from the mud, his feet got buried even a few inches more, and as he managed to pull away his feet with great effort, his stick got buried deep. His ordeal was his own, as both Nibha and his daughter Shyama had their own challenges. Shyama, on her part, was burdened with the bundle of clothes, the hookah, the lantern and baby Nimu. But still, she came to her father’s rescue.

 

The Sarkar’s house, their destination was not too far now. They would only have to circle the bend around the pond of the Ghosh’s, and then they could reach there. The water of the pond was overflowing due to the deluge, all the way to its banks. It had created a miniature cascade beneath the tamarind tree. Their hearts skipped betas, looking at it in the dead hours of the night. The lantern held in Shyama’s hands burnt, creating slivers of golden light in the river’s bosom. The raindrops fell on them every single moment, breaking the light in a zillion splinters and shards. 

 

Nilmoni stood, transfixed. “Shyama, how shall we cross this?” He asked, helpless.

 

Shyama seemed confident. “Baba, you can do it. The water isn’t that deep; it hasn’t even reached till Nimu’s knees.”

 

Fortunately, the mud and dirt had been swept away by the torrents, and Nilmoni could walk a bit more easily. He was no more embarrassed by his feet or his stick getting stuck in the mud, but his eyes got moist, looking at his wet clothes which clung to his body. He shivered in the brutal wind, sighing to think of his ill fate and his crippled body, at the moment when the millions of others were in deep, satisfying slumber in their warm beds. Anger resurfaced in him, thinking of the harsh cruelty of Mother Nature. It was her whims which pushed him out of his own house in search of a safer shelter; because of her whims, the Sarkar family might not be ready to open the door and let them in. They might pretend being fast asleep in their cozy beds, he shuddered to think.

 

But no, he couldn’t take it any further. His strength was diminishing fast, and the attacks were too severe to bear. The hunger in his stomach, the cravings in his body, the onslaught of the severe weather, the inevitability of disease, the Almighty’s infallible diktats since human birth came together to pierce him like darts-- which one of these could he take care of? All around, he felt the madness, the daily grind of the ruthless, reckless race to survive. He did not know how to survive amid such a colossal mess.

 

Shyama, on the other hand, had crossed over the water, and stood waiting for him, holding the lantern high. The pond beside him was full, brimming with the rain waters. Nilmoni sensed grave danger. He didn’t know how to swim, and also feared that he would slip into the pond at any moment. The part of the bank, where he stood, was immensely steep.

 

Nibha was calling out to him. Shyama asked: “Why did you stop there, Baba? Keep walking.”

 

Nilmoni proceeded towards her, his feet staggering. Suddenly, she let out a shrill cry: “O God, there is a snake!”

 

But then, seconds later, she screamed delightedly: “It’s not a snake, it’s not a snake, but a big fish. Thank God I caught it. It’s so slippery here!”

 

Nilmoni was ecstatic. He shouted, while trying to walk towards Shyama. “Hold it tight with both hands, don’t let it slip away, or else I will kill you!”

 

 

 

The Sarkar’s house was a newly built one. Since the three years that they moved in the house, the family could not stop raving about it.  “Isn’t it nice? And how grand will it look when the upstairs will be complete!” They would often discuss.

 

They reached their front door, and called out the Sarkar’s for a long time. Just when they had lost hopes, the eldest son of the family opened the door.

 

“What is the matter? Are there any robbers in our village?” He enquired.

 

“It’s just us. Couldn’t stay in our house, brother, the room is flooded. We just thought of taking shelter in your sitting-room for the night; nobody sleeps there, isn’t it?” Nilmoni begged.

 

“But couldn’t you come in the evening?” The man asked, annoyed.

 

“But there was no rain in the evening, brother. The sky was so clear, with so sign of the storm then. Who would have imagined such heavy rain in the wee hours of the night?” Nilmoni replied, with a fake grin.

 

Nibha was listening to the conversation from under her veil, her umbrella folded in her hand. Shyama, fully drenched, clutched her mother’s body, the bloody stains of her periods paining her with shame. Nibha was embarrassed too, but stayed silent in front of the outsider.

 

The man ultimately relented. “Okay, you can stay. But you won’t get a bed, my uncle is sleeping there right now. You all have to sleep on the floor.”

 

“But that is okay, brother. We can adjust. So much better than getting wet all over the night. Can we get a blanket or something to….?” Nilmani stuttered.

 

“There, you see the sack on the corner…” The man left, brusquely.

 

Nilmoni laughed wildly, as if in a fit. “Did you see how he spoke? I had warned you before, hadn’t I?” He said.

 

“But aren’t we lucky enough that we are at least allowed to stay here?” Nibha replied.

 

“Yes, that is right, after all,” he complied.

 

They looked into the room, and the bedstead, occupying more than half of the living space, with a stranger lying in it, his whole body and face covered with a bed sheet. In the faint light of their lantern, they could feel that the man, one of their near relatives, had been lying on an old, worn carpet spread negligently over the bedstead. A sense of shock seeped through Nilmani’s being. If the Sarkar family did this to one of their own clan, it was astonishing that they had not been driven out of the house.

 

As he looked around the room, he was filled with a heightened sense of satisfaction. Hadn’t it been enough that they had managed a safe, pleasing shelter in the deadly night? He looked at Nibha, bolting the only window of the room, the thunderous night and the horrors that accompanied them coming to a cessation now. His mood was uplifted at this thought, magically. In a soft, soothing voice, he asked his daughter Shyama:

 

“Shyama dear, please spread the sack on the floor, will you? Want to lie down. And change your wet clothes now. It is just a matter of a few more hours, you see….”

 

“Are you listening?” He asked his wife. “Let Nimu lie down on one side of the bedstead, and go and change your clothes.” He lowered his voice and whispered: “Why are you feeling so shy? The man is fast asleep, isn’t it? Or else, go back to the verandah and soak yourself wet again!”

 

They could hear the thunder roaring outside, the shrill, muffled cry of the wind. Mother Nature was grumbling in rage, now that Nilmoni, his wife and children were out of her grip. It seemed like a consistent ongoing threat. As if the five elements of nature threw a merciless challenge to them. “Good, you are saved today. But what will you do tomorrow? The day after? The endless days to follow?”

 

Shyama was irked as she was spreading the sack on the floor. “What a foul smell!” She cringed.

 

“Ah, don’t be a snob, do it quickly,” Nibha said.

 

“Shake it well before you spread it,” Nilmoni said.

 

Nibha protested. “No, don’t. The dust will make all of us sick.” She was nursing Baby Nimu, sitting with her back to the bedstead.

 

Suddenly, Nilmoni noticed the man springing up from his sleep, throwing away the bedsheet. In the silhouetted darkness of the room, his emaciated frame startled him. With his bald head, his eyes sunken inside the sockets, his cheekbones rising high beneath his sagged facial skin, he sat on the bed, corpse-like. Nilmoni could feel the surge of his rib-cage, the faint stir of his heartbeats to the left side of his chest, as he gasped for breath, almost choking.

 

With a feeble voice, he uttered: “Can you please open the window?”

 

Nilmoni was scared. He requested Shyama to open the window. But Shyama was petrified. “But can’t you feel the storm outside, Baba?”

 

“Let it be, open it,” he ordered.

 

She opened a small window, facing the west. The thunderous winds were gushing into the room from the east, accompanied with droplets of rain. It was not alarming, but Nibha wrapped her baby boy with another layer of her sari.

 

The man let out a deep sigh. “I had accidentally covered my face with the bedsheet, while in sleep. Good Lord, I was just about to be choked to death!”

 

“Are you sick, brother?” Nilmani asked, innocently.

 

The man looked at him with rebuking eyes. “So are you seeing me healthy and fine? Can’t you see how terrible I look, for all these four years, dying every day, every single moment of this life? It would be so much better to just die; I would not even wish this to my enemy—“

 

Nilmoni stared at him, in shock. The man continued angered: “Can’t you feel the pain? Can’t you feel it when I draw my breath? No, you won’t feel it, nor would you understand. Only one who experiences it feels it.

 

Nilmoni wanted to console him. “It will be cured, brother, it will be okay with good treatment.”

 

The man mocked his assuring voice. “Ah well, it will be okay, in my funeral pyre. What do you think, didn’t I try to treat it? I went to so many doctors, tried ayurveda treatment, even remedies of quacks, but none of them could make it any better. It feels unbearable, like a fish writhing in the land.”

 

The man gasped at short intervals, his breath erratic as his eyes bulged out of his sockets. Nilmoni shivered at the sight. Is there any dearth of air around us? He wondered. Why were the lungs deprived of air, then? He felt the deep, conspiring layers of the air strangling him.

 

“How do you know, may I ask, that I will be cured? Tell me! All of them emptied my pockets, assuring good treatment, and do you know what they all said in the end? That it is incurable, that there is no hope. All thieves, plunderers, worthless scums! Why didn’t you kill me if you couldn’t cure me? Why?” The man cried out, panting.

 

Nilmoni could not utter a word. He squinted at him, blinking his red, sleep-deprived eyes. The oil of the lantern was about to diminish. Nibha was sleeping in the stinking, worn out sack, using her hand as a pillow, while she wrapped her baby boy in her bosom. Shyama was dozing off, while still sitting on the floor. He saw his hookah at the window. Just before the light of the lantern extinguished, he prepared it, using the existing tobacco. He reclined on the wall indulgently, and started blowing the dry hookah, just as the man on the bedstead held on to the remnants of his own breath.

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