Translated Fiction: Document

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Translated from Bengali by Amit Sarkar.

At present, the only companion of the old man is the TV set and lots of old cover files. Now his lifeline lies inside those cover files. For quite some days he has been searching for his papers. Paper means document. And documents mean evidence. He has a dire need for that. Otherwise, he may have to face danger. Actually, he is not so old, but because of this certificate problem, he seems to be aging a lot. Even a few days ago the man was quite young. He and his wife and their only son. Throughout his life, he saved every single penny he managed. How angry was his old lady because of that! If everything he saves is in the bank, how could their wishes and hobbies be fulfilled?
The service he was engaged with, was quite insignificant. Some people are born to be clerks. While pursuing his B.A. he cleared the clerkship entrance exam and got this job. As long as he is employed, he will live and work in Kolkata, what more can one expect? While continuing as a clerk, he got a few promotions and ended up as an Assistant Secretary in the department. Quite a rise by his standards. But his luck was favourable. Just two years before retirement when his colleague Dwijadas Mondal died suddenly of a heart attack, he managed his last promotion in his chair. It was also wintertime.

The old man heard that you need to be very careful in the winter. During this season the blood pressure normally remains high. All of a sudden something odd can happen. Dwijadas Mandal ate richly prepared mutton on his last night. That man used to take bribes also. But our old man was very nervous. Once a colleague forcibly put money in his pocket, but he threw that in the waste paper basket just out of fear. Yes, it also happened once. After that, no one approached him with money. Rumours spread that he does not accept bribes but helps people. But again, he does not do anything against the rule. But also he could not refuse if his superiors ordered or requested something from him.
After that, he was transferred to a department where there was no scope. But his colleague Dwijadas used to accept bribes regularly. Whenever he managed some money, he would buy fresh mutton from the “Bangalir panthar Dokan” (Bengali goat meat shop) in Bow Bazar. And cook it that night itself. Dwijadas himself was a brilliant cook. His house was in ‘Ghatal’ of Medinipur district. But he bought a flat near Eastern Bypass long back. At that time, our old man used to live on the first floor of the ‘Dutta Bari’ at Bagbazar. Once upon a time this old man’s father, Chandidas Roy, came to the rented house at No. 25 K. Mallik Lane, with his own parents and family. He was not even born at that time. About thirty years back, they left house No. 25. He got this land from a co-operative in this ‘Panchanna Gram’ area and built the house. Dwijadas also purchased land here. But later he sold it at a much higher price. He also advised him to sell his land. There were customers ready to offer double the price. He also advised him not to release the tenanted house at Bagbazar. But the old man’s wife wanted her own house. How long will they live as a tenant? Her dream was to own a House. It was transmitted inside the old man also. So, though Dwijadas advised, he did not sell it to the customer even for three times the price. But Dwijadas sold his own land and built another co-operative flat in Newtown. He managed the money from that flat by renting the same. He was successful and proficient. Dwijadas had only one son. The boy was educated in a reputed English medium school. Probably he is a big shot in Delhi now. Sometimes his wife calls the old man’s wife Shima, ‘Their flat in Newtown is lying empty. It was rented for a long time. No more rentals now after the tenant has moved out. How big was the flat next to the bypass? Now she lives alone. Her daughter-in-law doesn’t like her. The son also does not speak against his wife.’ All these types of things.
Dwijadas used to travel three times a year, all over India. Especially all the pilgrimage sites. Varanasi, Haridwar, Mathura, Vrindavan, Gaya, Somnath Temple in Gujarat, Mahakal Temple in Ujjain…all. After coming back, he used to tell the stories and bring Prasad for him.
Our old man went to Puri only once, just after their marriage. They stayed in a holiday home there. It was quite dark & gloomy even during the daytime. That was their only Puri trip. But before his retirement, he travelled to Andaman with his family. The old lady cherishes him a lot about that memory. He also extremely liked that Andaman tour. The place was full of East Bengalese or Bangladeshis. Many from Faridpur, Khulna, Barisal. His ancestral home was in the Bagerhat subdivision of Khulna district. His Mother used to say, the river ‘Bhairav’ was near their house. There are two rivers in Khulna town. ‘Bhairav’ & ‘Rupsa’. Bagerhat is on the foreshore of Bhairav. The name of their village was ‘Nadir Kool’. What a beautiful name. Both of them were quite astounded when they were in Andaman. The old lady was not actually from Bangladesh, and that was the first time she had seen somebody from her in-law’s village. They are all refugees. And everyone speaks in the dialect of Bangladesh. It was really sweet. At Havlok island he found somebody from Bagerhat. That man owns a hotel near the sea beach. He was entertained there by a very large Salmon fry. He can remember his name, ‘Shaktisadhan Mridha’. He knows the village ‘Nadir Kool’ very well. That man was a little older than him. He said that his uncle’s house was in the village ‘Nadir Kool’.

Also read: Translated Fiction: Freedom (Part I)

They are well-placed in Andaman now. And no, he doesn’t really think about that place anymore. In Andaman, the old man was only trying to find his Bagerhat people. Though he had never been to Bagerhat in his life. Saktisadhan said that the ‘Nadir Kool’ village has gone inside the river Bhairav now. He knows the information, because his uncle’s house was there. Those uncles are now living in Maslandpur. They have received such information. The old man took his uncle’s address. But that piece of paper is lost. It has been five years since his retirement. Bagerhat, river Bhairav, ‘Nadir Kool’ village everything got erased from the old man again.

After so long, the old man said, ‘I don’t think the Andaman man told me the truth.’
‘How does it matter, if it is true or not?’
‘I could go there once.’
‘What would you do there? You were even born in India.’
‘Still, my roots are there.’
The old lady said, ‘Your brain got defunct because of age. You messed up our Andaman tour just by chattering about ‘Bagerhat’ and ‘ Nadir Kool’ only. Did you know before that there were people from your village there?’
The old man nodded. then said, ‘They all came after 1947. But I don’t know when we came here. My father didn’t leave any documents. If there was a deed of land or a copy of those…’.
‘So, what will happen now?’

The old man remained silent. He does not know really what will happen, but he feels the need. Everyone is gathering documents now. Avinash Raha of Plot No. 22 said that he has a citizenship certificate of his father, which he got in 1948. He kept it very carefully. Did his father Chandidas Roy have a citizenship certificate too? Surely he had, but not kept with care. Maybe they thought it was garbage.
The old lady said, ‘Who keeps those papers? We are from Mangalkot in Burdwan. Once there was a dearth of food, in the time of famine of 1943. We moved to Howrah, then from Howrah to Baranagar. Again see, my mother was born in Bhagalpur in Bihar, she must have had the secondary exam certificate. But my brother said ‘No certificate’. Mother is no more. But in fact, we are people of India.’
‘But you will need some documents.’
‘I asked my brother about that. Once My father had a hotel license, he found the renewal paper for that. That’s all.’
‘Renewed in which year?’
The old lady said, ‘I think it was in 1960-62.’
‘Is it in your father’s name?’
‘Nope, in the name of Rajalakshmi Hotel.’
‘It seems that the hotel is no longer there.’
‘No, how could it be?’
‘So, what is the value of that license now?’ said the old man in a worried voice.

In fact, he also does not know well, which one is acceptable and which one is not. Hearing this, the old lady remains silent. Both are silent now. They are the only two living in this house. Their Son lives in ‘Koch Bihar’, North Bengal, and works in a cement company. The old man is thinking of getting him married. But the boy does not want to marry now. Now it seems he will not consider anybody for marriage without a native person. But how could they know who has come crossing the border and when? What will happen in the future is also not understood. 12 lakh people have been imprisoned in Assam already. Even sometimes the mother was taken away, but the sons and daughters remained. The father is taken, but the mother remains. Lots of news is spreading. Even a soldier, who once fought for the country, was also taken away. You need documents, only documents, nothing can be proved without a document.

The old lady said, ‘None of us have ever been to Pakistan or Bangladesh.’
‘Your word of mouth proves nothing.’
‘But really, we are the people from Burdwan.’
‘It is ok, only if you have land tenure papers of Burdwan.’
‘It was a story about 76 years ago. One of the elders of our family was working at Raja’s office in Burdwan. I have heard that he requested my father too to join there. But he didn’t. My grandfather’s hotel was running in a boom at that time.’

The old man remained silent. He does not know really what will happen, but he feels the need. Everyone is gathering documents now. Avinash Raha of Plot No. 22 said that he has a citizenship certificate of his father, which he got in 1948. He kept it very carefully. Did his father Chandidas Roy have a citizenship certificate too? Surely he had, but not kept with care. Maybe they thought it was garbage.

The old lady was speaking slowly. She felt that if her father had worked in Burdwan Rajbari, a document could have been found. But there is a university in that palace now, and also some government offices. Can there be documents of the Raja’s office till date? The old lady was thinking about her father. She just knew the name ‘Mangalkot’, but did not know the actual name of her village. She doesn’t even know the name of her grandfather’s father. She thought after all they were the people of India. In fact, the people of India. What maximum could happen to them? She was feeling cold.
After a gap of a few days, the northern wind started blowing again today. The television is saying that it is snowing in Kashmir. The shawl seller Rahim of Kashmir came again, but the man kept numb. Four people were killed while working in the apple orchard there. And those who went to work, all came back. ‘When will this stop?’
‘What will stop?’ asked the old man.
‘All this?’
The old man said, ‘It will not. You need to link your Aadhaar card with your mobile phone, PAN card, voter card, ration card… everything has to be linked. Very very long queue, it starts early in the morning, people are just rushing.’
‘If you do not?’
‘These are documents, citizens of the country will have to do all these.’
The old lady said, ‘But we didn’t do it before, we didn’t have to.’
‘Now it is an order, if not, everything will be cancelled?’
‘What will be cancelled?’
‘All credentials, cancellation may even lead to bank account closure.’
‘It must be a rumour,’ said the old lady.
‘They will update a maximum of Ten people’s papers in a day. But one hundred are standing there in the queue. By the way, are our Aadhaar and voter cards okay?’
‘It is you, who kept them in the file. Well, is everyone in Andaman a refugee?’
‘Who is a refugee?’
‘Asking about Andaman people.’
‘Oh yes. They are.’
‘Do they have everything?’

Also read: Translated Fiction: Freedom (Part II)

The old man remains silent. He didn’t know it, but hearing about his own village from Shaktisadhan Mridha was very helpful. His father was a student of ‘Nadir Kool High School’. He persuaded Matriculation from Bangladesh, after that worked as a primary teacher. Then a grocer after coming to India. His shop was just in front of their Bagbazar house. Definitely he had to take a license from the corporation to open the shop. But no, there is no document. The old man felt that everything happened for this house only. He didn’t intend to make the house. Bagbazar was going well for them. The son would buy a flat himself when he needed it. He likes North Bengal. Now it’s very cold there. After the winter is over, they will go for a tour there. He could have listened to Dwijadas. But his wife was having a dream of her own house. She herself was grown up in a rented house. Her mother was also dreaming of their own house. Your Own house means you will have a rooftop. A sunny rooftop on the cold winter days. In summer there will be southerly wind after dusk. And on the full moon night filled up with moonshines. You can gaze at the stars of the sky. How long should one stay in other people’s houses with an inferiority complex? What do I own if I don’t have my own house? The house remains immovable but everything else does not last long. Everything- money, jewellery…all. The old lady had blossomed some flowers in her small backyard. Marigolds, China rose, Frangipani, and even a Night Jasmine tree are also there. When the night jasmines bloom on her tree in ‘Bhadra mas’(autumn season), how jubilant she feels. It brings the news of Autumn with the cold wind.. says Durga puja is approaching. The old lady performs puja every day with her own house flowers. But what is the real use of these flowers, trees, moonshine, southerly wind, etc? They are not documents. How many documents have they lost while doing this?

They were living in a house for 50-55 years. All the documents were in that house. While transferring from their many things they have been thrown away with a feeling of unnecessary. Their grocery store was closed long back. What will they do with the license? He can’t find his Higher Secondary certificate, but he has mark sheets of B.A. He had not taken his B.A. certificate from the college. What could be the purpose? H.S. Certificate is a necessary thing. It is an age proof. Now I could not find it. It would be nice to find it now. Otherwise, the question may arise, where did he pass his H.S.? In March 1971, just after his H.S, the India-Pakistan war broke out.
Documentation is very crucial. Can anybody guarantee that a document which is not needed today, will not be required tomorrow? You do not know actually, what you could get from the name and addresses of people of Maslandpur, given by Shaktisadhan Mridha. They have also migrated, in the same way as his father and grandfather did.
A group of them went to Andaman, a group stayed in Maslandpur and one family stayed in Bagbazar. The old man has a habit of not throwing anything away. He puts everything in a file. It must be in some file in this house. They went on Andaman tour from here only. So here, it must be in this house. If he could find that, he would have gone to Maslandpur one day.

The old man remains silent. He didn’t know it, but hearing about his own village from Shaktisadhan Mridha was very helpful. His father was a student of ‘Nadir Kool High School’. He persuaded Matriculation from Bangladesh, after that worked as a primary teacher. Then a grocer after coming to India. His shop was just in front of their Bagbazar house. Definitely he had to take a license from the corporation to open the shop. But no, there is no document. The old man felt that everything happened for this house only. He didn’t intend to make the house. Bagbazar was going well for them.

I am from the village of ‘Nadir Kul’. My Father’s name is Chandidas. My Grandfather’s name is Ramdas. My name is Shivdas. I need documents. What do you people have? They have information about the village sunk inside Bhairav. It has no existence at present. So, what will happen now? Because it had sunk, they migrated to India. No police case. Their village, their own motherland sunk inside the river, so they had to come here.

The old lady does not agree with the words of the old man. He must have lost his head. This is word of mouth, but where is the document? But the 1943 famine is a historical fact. Why didn’t you migrate at the time of famine? The old man is searching the files. The death certificate of his parents came out. This is the proof that they died here. A valid document. In 2002 and 2004. This house was constructed afterward. The address on the death certificate is 25 K, Mallik Lane, Bagbazar. This proves that once they lived in house no. 25. But that house on that street is no longer there. Nowadays there is a seven-storey flat building. Mr. Paritosh Dutta, the owner of the house, has moved to Newtown. No one in the seven-storey flat knows his Newtown address. Even they did not know the name of Paritosh Dutta. They have purchased it from the promoter. Did my father have any agreement with Paritosh Dutta? If he could find that paper, it could have served the purpose to some extent. After all, it’s a document.
The old man heard on TV and read in the newspaper that they can ask for any document. All the documents will be combined with other documents to settle something. Such as Aadhaar, PAN, voter, ration card… It will be the same for ‘Nadir Kool’ to Bagbazar at Ganga riverside, from there to ‘Panchanna Gram’. He saw some paper in the morning, but now he could not find it. Yes, he has all the house-building documents here. Brick, sand, cement, rod, window, door, grill…, every purchase receipt. All hardware store bills. But there is no house deed. Where could it be? Their co-operative prepared that deed. Again, there is one more deed issued by the co-operatives from whom they have purchased the land. He is having one but the other is not. But if you do not have all the documents, the old man saw in the newspaper a few days ago, detention camp. He saw there was an old man sitting with his neck bent. The old man shuddered. The winter wind is again blowing hard. He told his wife to give him the blanket and the monkey cap.

The old lady was sitting silent. Her old man still has something, but she has nothing. They had never been to Pakistan or Bangladesh even in their dreams. Winter approached the old lady too. Cold & dry air is coming inside the room through the gaps of the window. Whipping inside the room. ‘Please give me a blanket. I have nothing on, It’s too cold!’ The old lady said.

Winter has entered into this deserted ‘Panchanna Gram’. Inside a blanket, an old man with his old lady is sitting with various dirty and torn papers. When you grow old, you feel more cold. They could hear somebody knocking at the door. Who is it? Winter? More cold?

 

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