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Finding Feynman in Kolkata’s Red-light Area

Humanity always wins. Pandemic changed all existing myths and game plans. Even the police are doing their best, breaking all mistaken notions about them.
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Translated from Bengali by Dr Mousumi Duttaray

“Come on, sir. Wait, it’s too dark. Let me turn on the flashlight on my cell phone.”

Ajitesh is astounded. Can people climb such a narrow staircase?

What else! When it comes to cheap housing for the sex workers, the clients must walk through these dark alleys. Although Ajitesh was there with a different purpose, he came here with his wife. They are both doctors. It was heart-wrenching for Payal when he was discussing social distancing.

“How are they surviving here?”

Ajitesh is a reputable endocrinologist of the city. He can quickly diagnose all the complications of his patients and possibly find a solution to cure them. Albeit, at the moment, he was searching and still could not find an answer to his wife’s simple question.

Everyone is in panic mode, washing hands thousands of times a day, spraying sanitizers every few minutes, maniacally trying to dodge the virus away, and living life in fear of death.

And, now, no one will dare to visit the sex workers for business. All are scared of their life and have major concern for transmission of infection. These workers have no income, no food to feed their mouths, and will slowly die of starvation.  A haunting silence prevailed. And it’s baffling for Ajitesh, which is more dangerous, the virus or this extreme hunger?

Payal is stubborn. Once she is determined, she will make it happen.

“Just forget it! It’s worthless to donate to these Non-profits. Let’s do it our way. We will go and purchase rice, lentils, potatoes, get some essential medicines and masks. Then, we can make relief packages, which will barely cost about five thousand rupees, and distribute it ourselves.”

All Payal’s friends who stereotyped and labeled her as ‘feminist’ immediately joined hands in the mission. The local police officer Mr. Abhik Mukherjee agreed to escort the six-member medical team. 


Humanity always wins. Pandemic changed all existing myths and game plans. Even the police are doing their best, breaking all mistaken notions about them.

No, they didn’t take selfies. Jesus had said, “when you donate, you give with your right hand, and don’t even let the left hand know of your giving.”

Whom will you show your generosity to?

The team taught the women how to wear the mask properly. Gave them advice on how to stay healthy and safeguard from this killing virus.

As they were exiting, everyone stopped and stared at the spectacle—it was a heartfelt scene to observe.

The sun was shining on the open square shaped terrace. A teenage girl was waving her hands and in a raised voice, reading from a book while enacting out to a group of kids. Aged between thirteen and fourteen years, the kids were engrossed listening to her and intermittently burst into laughter—a beautiful moment to savor.

Police officer, Abhik, smiled softly.

“Their kids. Where will they go during the lockdown? Their school is closed. They have created a little fun time for themselves.”

Ajitesh gestured to Abhik to stop talking. He was curious and wanted to hear what the kid was reading from and caught only a few words. They were interesting, ‘Feynman,’ ‘Manhattan.’


Ajitesh strolled and approached the group of youngsters.

The girl wearing the blue floral print dress noticed him and fell silent.

“Why did you stop?”

The girl kept silent, looking down.

“Story Books?”

The girl looked halfway up, nodded her head with a sweet smile.

“Today is Richard Feynman’s birthday.”

Now Ajitesh fell silent. He lost his words and stood amazed for a minute.


From the group, one response came in instantaneously, “Yes, the Man of Magic.”

“You stupid, he’s a scientist.”

“Eeew! You’re the one who said he could unlock all the hard locks with magic.”

“You blockhead! I meant he was smart enough to crack all locked codes.”

“Like the great magician Houdini, he could open all locks by uttering his magic mantra abracadabra?”

The girl was giggling with a big grin.

“Scientists can do everything,” Feynman said, “there is only one key in the hands of science. With that, just as the gates of heaven are opened, so are the gates of hell. And people still don’t know which door leads to heaven and which one to hell.”

“Then?” Ajitesh was amused and amazed by the conversation.

“The question is, are we going to throw this key away and block the way to heaven at all? Or are we going to try harder to make the best use of this key? That’s what Feynman asked.”

“We have to find this key to science,” Payal said.

The girl chuckled and cackled.

“We’ve decided to go out and look for it after this lockdown is over and the school reopens.” Now the school is closed. “Aunty, will you buy a computer for us? Even an old one will do. Please, Aunty.”

Image courtesy: Soumik Chatterjee

Dolonchampa is a medical practitioner based in Kolkata. She writes fiction in Bengali for adults and children. Her works have been published in leading Bengali periodicals. She is an avid traveler.

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