Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Prediction

(Tr.) Burra V. Subrahmanyam (A Telugu Story by Burra V. Subrahanyam)

THE PREDICTION
(A Story)

By BURRA V. SUBRAHMANYAM
(Translated by the author from the original story,
entitled VRAATA1, in Telugu)

I

When I saw him walking in, that day, after he got down from a tonga, I did not watch him too closely. My Bengali friend, his sister and I were sitting on the verandah, talking. He climbed the steps, wet with the rain that was pouring. His ‘upper cloth’, with which he was wiping his hair and his face, partly hid him for my view. He was obviously the type that would not care to use an umbrella in any weather. Promode saw him and got up in a flash, saying, “I’ll be in a moment,” and went with his visitor to his room inside. Amiya’s attention and Amiya’s eyes were concentrated on the moving figure of that man, as he and Promode walked in. I, however, was only watching Amiya’s face. It did not tire me to go on watching that beloved face!

“Did you notice him carefully?” asked Amiya.

“I didn’t,” I replied.

That was a time when I could stand no company except Amiya’s cheerfully. From the moment I met the brother and the sister in Darjeeling, to which place fancy and a happy accident took me from Madras that summer, ordinary men and ordinary problems ceased to have any meaning for me. There was only one thought in my mind and only one wish in my heart. And, the way the sister persisted in treating me, life seemed to hold out but one long despair for me……

“Watch him with particular care at least when he is leaving the place,” urged Amiya.

“Why do I have to bother about him?…..Amiya!..…Please!….Won’t you change your mind about marrying me?” I pleaded.

Amiya did not reply.

She was silent for a while; looking around in a distracted way. That look of hers kindled hope in me. Staying these few days in Midnapore has been of some use, and has not been altogether useless,’ thought I: reading what I wished into the confused expression on her face.

She changed suddenly, to look on me with a steady gaze, and said, “This man, I’m afraid, is dragging Promode into some big conspiracy.”
For a puzzled while I could not make out what she was trying to tell me. I took time to adjust my thought to hers, and then I asked her, “What sort of a conspiracy do you think it is?”

“He says he is an astrologer, outwardly, but…..

“An astrologer?”

“…I somehow feel he is scheming to induce Promode into membership of some secret society..….”

“Secret society?…..You mean a terrorist group?”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t notice that the man was wearing khaddar.”

“These terrorists and home-spun khaddar have nothing in common. You know they are not Gandhiji’s followers.”

“But, why are you so suspicious about him?”

“Whenever he comes visiting here, Promode and he invariably talk in whispers, and in signs. When he first came, Promode introduced him to the members of the household. Thereafter, each time he comes, Promode does not look at us or think of us. Promode quietly goes in with him, and then there is a secret conference. Promode doesn’t even talk to us about him later. When I sometimes persist, and ask Promode about him, Promode brushes me aside, with words like, ‘Oh, leave him alone! He predicts mad things!’–and quickly changes the topic, and pretends to ignore the man!….Honestly, when I think of it, I am more than a wee bit afraid what’ll happen to Promode!”

I was about to say, “You women have no end of fears, and for no earthly reason,” when Promode stepped out of his room with that man, and carne on to the verandah. I wanted to take a good look this time at this intriguing recruiter of the terrorist gang! But he turned his face the other way, talking to Promode, and escaped my scrutiny.

He was saying to Promode, “Remember, you promised not to open that envelope, and not to see the writing inside it, till the hour of the day I mentioned!”

“Certainly,” answered Promode, “I shall not open it till the time comes. That’s a promise. Why do you doubt me?”

When the man pressed his hands together to bid farewell, Promode said, “It’s still raining, Wait, I’ll get you an umbrella,” and turned to go in to fetch it.

“Please, don’t. It doesn’t matter at all. There’s the tango round the corner,” replied the man, and he walked out into the rain, without waiting for Promode, clumsily throwing his ‘upper cloth’ over his head.

In the end, I had no chance to observe the man’s face.

Promode came and sat with us. For a while, the brother and the sister looked deeply into each other’s eyes, without exchanging a word.

Promode then turned to me, and asked me, “Do you believe in astrology as a science?”

I replied, “I have some slight faith in astrology as a science, but, frankly, I have no faith at all in our astrologers as scientists.”

Promode laughed. He said, “I too have no faith in astrologers. Or, for that matter, even in astrology. But the friend who just left is determined to make me believe in astrology as a hardened science.……I must see what happens.”

Amiya took the lead to ask, “Was it in that context that you promised not to open the envelope given to you, and not to read the writing inside?”

“Yes.”

“What is the writing supposed to be about?”

“I too know nothing yet.”

“After how many days can you open it and read it?”

“After exactly ten days. On the evening of the nineteenth, after 6 p.m. As soon as I read what is written inside, I am supposed to gain faith in the ancient science of Indian astrology!”

“Then, why not read it even today?” asked Amiya.

“The way you women think!...Amiya, you heard me promise my friend just now that I shall not open the envelope till then!”

“Don’t worry. The two of us here shall not breathe a word of it to him, or to any one else!...Come, let us see what is written inside!”

“It’s not just that either. What is predicted is something unexpected that is to happen hereafter. Within these ten days. All the fun is lost if we read it prematurely.”

Amiya looked dissatisfied.

I asked Promode, “Is your friend a really good astrologer?”

Promode hesitated before he gave an answer. Finally, he said, “He does predict, but I myself cannot swear that he is a true diviner of the future. However, many people in this town have faith in his power of prediction. Not only, Bengalis. Some Englishmen too…..Six months , there was an English officer here. In the Police. His wife and he didn’t care for each other. The officer sent for Romesh, that is, for my friend, and asked him to predict whether he would be obtaining a divorce soon, and whether he would be marrying again. Romesh predicted, so I am told, that there would be no divorce, that the officer’s wife would die unexpectedly on a particular day, and that the officer would soon thereafter be resigning his job and marrying a girl he was already in love with. Romesh tells me that it all happened as he predicted. To the day. The officer’s wife committed suicide, there was some talk that it was murder, and the officer resigned, and married the daughter of a missionary, of whom he was already fond, and left for England…..Our new District Collector also has faith in Romesh’s predictions. And quite a bit of faith too! …..I know that he sent for Romesh a week . Romesh fixed his horoscope and made a study of it.”

“I wonder why these poor western folk too fall for such blind beliefs!” exclaimed Amiya.

Promode hit , “They have even more blind faith than we, poor eastern folk!”

I said, “Whether one has faith in astrology or not, one has a sense of curiosity about it, because it too is a branch of human knowledge.”……….

The three of us sat and talked thereafter, till it grew dark. About ever so many things. But not about the subject of astrology that day again. Though the topic recurred on all subsequent days. Nor did I, that evening, repeat to Amiya my usual question to her: “Why are you so determined not to marry me?” On all subsequent days, that question recurred too. Many times.

II

A week after this conversation took place, I met another friend of Promode in promode’s house. Several friends of his kept coming, but they roused in me no special interest or thought. This one was different. I cannot say why, but I took an instant dislike to this particular friend of Promode the very moment I saw him. His name was Nolin Das Gupta. The more I saw his peculiar behaviour that day, the more I got confirmed in my dislike of him. He would cut cheap and stale jokes, and first laugh himself. Whereas the others invariably talked in English, because I, a stranger, was among them, he would deliberately talk in Bengali all the time, and say in the end, looking at me sarcastically, “Oh, I keep forgetting that our Madrasseefriend is here!” He would play silly pranks with Amiya, pulling her hair till she screamed, or dealing blows with a thud on her till she objected, unperturbed by the presence of Amiya’s mother. Amiya would look at him fiercely, and sometimes abuse him. But, by and large, she seemed not to resent his being so familiar with her. At first I thought he was a near relation of theirs. But I soon came to know that he wasn’t. He was a friend of the family from his youngest years. It was an incomplete education that he had. He passed no examination that was worth mentioning. He had no job. But he was always in love with Amiya! From their childhood! Two years , he had the courage solemnly to propose marriage to her. Seeing that Nolin had no education, no property and no job, Amiya’s reply was that she saw no objection at all, oh, none, except it be that, in all fairness to her, Nolin was also bound to suggest, simultaneously, the name of a person who was to be approached by her to maintain her after she married Nolin! These matters were mentioned to me even within an hour of my meeting him, and without a special effort on my part to get to know more about him. Amiya felt not a bit shy or hesitant to inform me of this chapter of her personal history. Nor did he appear to me to belong to a type that could have been worried when Amiya refused to marry him. ‘He is the gay, irresponsible kind’–I thought. ‘He will always be joking and laughing. He will always be playing childish pranks. He has no purpose in life, no determination, no will to achieve.’

Unwilling to remain a silent spectator all the time, I asked him, more to make conversation with him than out of any innate curiosity about him, “What are you doing now?” He threw a furious, wordless glance at me in reply. I must have looked very guilty and embarrassed after he so refused to reply. Amiya understood my confusion, and, as if to relieve me of my being the sole culprit, she asked him, “Nolin, is your present occupation something to be kept secret from all of us?”

Nolin replied, “You know quite well that I do not have a job. Then why hurt me with such questions?”

Amiya had a ready answer: “When we ask you what you are doing, we are not asking you what your job is, or what your salary is. You are stupid to think so. When one is born human, one can do so many things in line with the dignity of man. Not just a job in an office. One can be a painter, a sculptor, a musician, a poet!...Why, one can even be a conspirator in a gang of terrorists!.…We are asking you, quite politely, and no offence meant, ‘Are you any of these?’ ”

“What do you know about terrorists to suggest that I could be one of them?” asked Nolin, seeming to be quite amused at this turn of the conversation.

“Why are you so sure I know nothing about them?..Actually, I know all that there is to know about them!…And I also know you recently joined a terrorist group!”

At that stage, Amiya’s mother asked to be told what exactly what these secret terrorist organisations were. Promode explained to her for some time. His explanation was far too political for her understanding. Then, Amiya took up the explanation. She suddenly stopped in the middle, and looked at Nolin, and asked him, “Isn’t that so, Nolin?”

Nolin said, “You are not altogether wrong, Amiya, but, then, you are not quite right, either...For instance, you were saying…..But, what do I know to correct you?”

“There! There!” shouted Amiya, “Don’t eat your words! You have joined a secret society!’

‘What madness of Amiya’s is this,’ thought I :‘her imagining that everyone is joining a terrorist society!’

“You are perfectly right, Amiya! I did join a secret gang!” said Nolin, with affected laughter.

“Don’t try to laugh it away!” put in Amiya. “And don’t think that I cannot judge the trend of your recent conduct! I have been watching you carefully for some time now. You keep leaving the town every now and then, quietly, without a word. You keep begging Promode, whenever he knows, not to let any one else know that you are not in town. You keep taking away my Chemistry text books without ever telling me, and you put them among my books equally stealthily...I have been watching you very closely, Nolin!...Beware!…

“It’s all very well for you to watch me, Amiya! But, for heavens’ sake, don’t give my secret away to the Police! That would be the end of me!” said Nolin, still in a mood to laugh it all away.

Suddenly, Promode started talking to Nolin about astrology. I do not remember how this turn in the conversation came about. I thought to myself: ‘Here is the sister, mad about terrorist societies! And here is the brother, mad about astrology!’...Day after day, I had to lend a patient ear to the same old talk, about astrologers and their science, from the brother of the woman I loved–and I had to tolerate it, all because I loved the sister! I was bored beyond forbearance!

Promode was saying “Doyou know, Nolin, Ramesh is determined to create in me a lasting faith in astrology?”

“How?”

“He gave me a closed envelope. I am to open it on the nineteenth. On reading what is written inside, I start believing in astrology!”

“Where is that envelope?” asked Nolin.

“Why?..You know I cannot open it now. I promised Romesh not to open it till after 6 P. M. on the nineteenth,” replied Promode.

“Look here,” said Nolin, “I don’t want to open it. I just want to see it...That’s all!…How do I know that you are speaking the truth about its existence?”

Amiya said, “Nolin, it is quite true that his friend gave an envelope to Promode.”

“Did Promode show it to you, Amiya?”

“No.”

“There you are!” jeered Nolin.

He looked at Promode, and said, “Bring the envelope, Promode!......That is, if you really have it!”

Promode felt insulted by the challenge. He very reluctantly got up, and brought the envelope. All of us saw it. Amiya went near Promode, and suggested that it should be opened immediately. Promode answered with an emphatic ‘No,’ holding the envelope away from the eager Amiya. But, in doing this, be reckoned without Nolin who snatched it from Promode, ran to a distance, opened the flap dexterously in a split second, took out the paper inside, and read the writing on it: all these before Promode could gather his wits and protest! There was a glow of surprise on Nolin’s face as he read the writing inside the envelope. Promode’s face grew crimson, with a rage he could scarcely control. Looking at his eyes, I was afraid for a moment that he might jump on Nolin and kill him. Meanwhile, Amiya nestled close to Nolin, and implored of him to pass the piece of writing to her. Nolin refused.

“You have seen it, anyhow. Why then shouldn’t I see it? pleaded Amiya.

“That’s different!” said Nolin. “When Promode promised not to see the writing till the nineteenth, it was impliedly a promise, Amiya, that you too, being his sister, wouldn’t be seeing it till then. No one promised for me, even by implication, that I wouldn’t be seeing it before the nineteenth!”

The man’s meanness, first in action, then in talk, jarred on me.

Amiya was still begging of him to show the writing. Nolin roundly refused. On the other hand, he almost ordered Amiya to fetch a bottle of gum. She went in, obediently, and brought the bottle. Nolin smeared gum on the flap, and stuck it hard to close the envelope again. Sporting a smile, which was leavened with regret and apology, he walked towards Promode, and offered the re-made envelope to him. Promode would not take it at first. But there was no point in asking Nolin to keep it. Besides, Promode was not as angry now as he was at the beginning.

Nolin asked, in a penitent voice, “Won’t you forgive me, Promode?”

Promode took the envelope, saying, “Nolin, what you did was utterly wrong!”

Nolin answered, “Every thing I do is utterly wrong, Promode! Why this alone?….Every thing I do!......But, tell me, have you forgiven me?”

Promode was silent. Only for a while. He then said, “I forgive you, Nolin,” and took the extended hand of Nolin in his.

Amiya butted in again.

“Nolin, won’t you tell me what was written inside?….You needn’t tell the others. Tell only me. I am under no promise not to know that from you!”

“Don’t tell her, Nolin!…..Beware!” warned Promode.

“Don’t worry, Promode! I won’t tell her!…..Amiya, all the fun is lost for you too, if I tell you now. Even I should never have seen it myself.”

Amiya could not be altogether suppressed.

“Nolin,” she asked, “tell me at least this: has what was written there created in you a faith in astrology?”

“I suppose even I have to wait till the nineteenth to answer your question!” replied Nolin.

Then the conversation turned to the subject of Romesh.

Nolin said, “I am told that not only our Bengalis but also the Englishmen over here believe in Romesh’s predictions.”

“They do,” replied Promode. “Many of them invite him to examine their horoscopes. There was that Superintendent of Police, I mean the previous one. He had no end of faith in Romesh….Not he alone. The new District Collector recently called Romesh to read the stars and predict his future.”

“Indeed!” exclaimed Nolin, withdrawing towards the door which led to the street. He added, “I’ll be here again on the evening of the nineteenth.”

Promode and Amiya walked in, he with the envelope, and she with the bottle of gum.

Nolin looked at me before he crossed the door-step, and asked, “Are you here till the nineteenth?”

I replied that I was thinking of leaving on the twentieth or the twenty-first day of the month.

III

At 4.30 p.m. on the nineteenth, Amiya and I were having our tea. Promode had gone out, and had not yet returned. As the day of departure was nearing, I was feeling desperately miserable. For the time, that evening, I again urged my mournful plea of love. She begged of me, tenderly, not to reopen that subject.

“Amiya, can’t you see how deeply I love you?…You mean everything to me!...And you told me yourself that you are quite fond of me!”

“Yes, but where does it all lead us? We belong to different areas of the world. Our languages are different. Our ways are different. Our aunts and our cousios are different. Our….”

“If you cared for me, Amiya, you wouldn’t see these as differences that mattered.”

“What’s the use of closing one’s eyes to the realities of life?…..If I marry you, I have to spend the rest of my life among strangers!”

“If you were also in love with some Bengali young man, and had to decide which of the two of us you should marry, I could understand your stating these differences to yourself...But, you and I are both Indians. We are both Hindus. We even belong to the same caste. And, above all, here you are, born to culture and affluence, and widely travelled, to whom the whole world should be one, not even just India. I cannot approve of your meaningless linguistic loyalty which makes you proclaim that the young women of Bengal, who are adorable, are meant only for the young men of Bengal, whether they are adorable or not.”

“One of my cousins married an English girl in London, and brought her to Bengal. Poor girl, she was one of the finest of God’s creatures. But it didn’t work. They fell out.”

“Something must have gone wrong–in their case...But, do you honestly compare our situation with theirs, Amiya?”

“Why not? It’s just the same!”

“That means you are in love with some Bengali young man!”

“You have been here for some days. Did you find any young man visiting the house specially for me?”

“So many friends of Promode kept coming, didn’t they?”

“Who?....Remember, I said. ‘For me’!”

“Yes...” And I added.

“There were so many of them...Nolin, for instance, came only for you!”

“But you know I told Nolin that I couldn’t marry him!”

“You may not risk marriage with him, because he is not educated, and because he has no job. You could still be in love with him, couldn’t you be?….Why are you looking so thoughtful?…..Have I struck the truth?”

“Not love, really. But, if Nolin had been very rich, I might not have refused him as promptly as I did two years when he asked for my hand in marriage...At any rate, several of my friends wouldn’t have refused him.”

“There! What did I tell you!”

Just then Promode stepped into the house. I hadn’t even heard the coming in of his car.

“Amiya, we face a loss of forty thousand rupees,” he said, gloomily, dragging a chair to sit in.

“What happened, Promode?”

“Shankar sent a telegram from Calcutta, which reached me just now. One of our debtors, Basantlal, has gone bankrupt overnight!”

“Forty thousand!” I exclaimed, with unsought sympathy. I corrected myself quickly, and said, “You deal in lakhs. What is a mere forty thousand to the likes of you?”

“Forty thousand is not a small loss,” put in Promode.

Amiya started abusing the Calcutta agent. She said they should be on the search for another agent, if he was given to be so careless.

Anger made her look more handsome to me!

But there was a complete change in the expression on her face when she said, “Promode, this was perhaps what your astrologer friend predicted on that piece of paper!”

“It could be,” was all that Promode was prepared to say.

“Why don’t you bring the paper out now?” asked Amiya.

Promode looked at the clock on the wall.

“It is not yet five,” he said, “and we who waited till five could surely wait till six.”

Amiya did not relish such cool precision.

“Please yourself,” she said. resignedly.

Suddenly, one of Promode’s many friends, whom I had seen before, rushed breathlessly into the house.

“What’s the matter, Basu? Sit down,” said Promode.

“Haven’t you heard yet?”

“Heard what?”

“Some one shot the District Collector dead! With a revolver!”

“What!” “When?”

“Just now! Not quite half an hour ago!”

Amiya stood up, utterly agitated.

“Who fired the revolver?” she asked.

“The name is not known yet. The Collector was in his office. The man shot him. Through the window.”

“Did they catch the murderer?”

“A policeman shot him as he was running away. The shot pierced him through the , and he fell. He is in the hospital now, unconscious.”

I said, “They must be knowing who he is.”

Promode’s friend said, “I came rushing to tell Promode, even before I could gather other details.”

The commotion brought Amiya’s mother to where we were. Promode explained the situation to her.

“How terrible a thing to happen!….How terrible!” she said. And, musing for a while, she added, “How sad and heart-broken that Englishman’s wife must be today!”

“And what about the wife of the Bengali who murdered the Englishman, and is either dying or dead himself?” asked Amiya.

“She too!...She too, poor lady!” answered Amiya’s mother.

Promode’s friend said, “The murderer couldn’t be a married man. The Bengalis who perpetrate such crimes are not elderly persons. They are all raw Bengali youth.”

Promode said, “Nolin knows quite a lot of them. If Nolin comes this evening, he in fact promised to, he’ll be able to give us more details”.

Amiya at once asked Promode go to Nolin’s room and bring him over even now.

Amiya’s mother saw me rising to go; and, asking me to sit down, she said, “Nolin’s room is at the other end of the town. There is no need to be in such a hurry. We’ll know everything in good time. It is not worth the risk of leaving the house now. There is danger in going out. Let them remain here, Amiya.”

The brother and the sister began to argue whether we should fetch Nolin or not. I told Amiya that I was prepared to go, but I was new to Midnapore, and Promode said I wouldn’t be able to locate Nolin’s place. He also said his mother was right, and he himself should not leave the house.

Meanwhile, large units of the Police Force started marching through the streets. All of us came on to the verandah, to watch the patrols. There was a proclamation that no one should set foot on the streets. Promode’s friend who tried to go home, taking the route of a alley, promptly returned when a policeman chased him gun in hand. He pleaded with the policeman that his house was not far off, that there were only ladies in his house, that they might be frightened, and that they needed him there. It was useless to plead with the policeman. He walked in morosely, and stood with us again on the verandah. We stood and watched for quite a long time. We got tired. Despairing of obtaining any further news for the evening, we went in and sat down. After a while, the clock struck six. None of us noticed the hour that was struck. We were speculating, each in his or her way, on the details of the murder which were yet to be known.

“Police and the rest being like this, I can’t see how Nolin can manage to go over here this evening!” said Amiya….

About half an hour later out on the verandah, appeared four police hats. Four Anglo-Indian policemen gave way to an officer, an Englishman, who walked in. We all got up from our chairs. Promode went forward.

“Is this the house of Promode Bannerjea?” asked the officer.

“It is,” replied Promode.

“Are you Promode Bannerjea?”

“I am.”

Two policemen, who followed the officer in, caught Promode’s two hands. He tried to release himself from their grip. The officer took out a pair of handcuffs from his pocket, and bound Promode prisoner. Promode’s mother collapsed to the ground, with a cry that rent the air. Amiya bent to the floor, and took the wailing mother in her arms. She rested the mother’s head on her lap, and looked helplessly, through her tears, now at the officer, now at Promode.

“What have you done, Promode? What have you done?” she cried, again and again.

Promode ignored Amiya and her mother.

“Will you please tell me how you can arrest me?” demanded Promode of the officer.

“Here’s the warrant for your arrest!…..And here’s the warrant to search your house! You’ll know the rest in the Police Head Quarters. Now, permit us to search your house.”

“What for?” demanded Promode again.

“We want your personal files. We want the correspondence between your friends and you. We want anything that is a clue to your part in the conspiracy to murder the District Collector….You have a friend called Romesh, haven’t you?”

“I have.”

“We want the correspondence that passed between him and you. Will you show us where his letters to you are hidden?”

“We never wrote letters to each other .”

“Give us your keys, and leave us to satisfy ourselves!….Which is your room?”

Promode, even with the handcuffs on, produced his keys fromhis pocket, and handed them over to the officer. He also pointed to where his room was.

The officer took one of the policemen inside with him. The three remaining policemen stood guard on us, to prevent our making any move.

After examining the other rooms for a time, the officer entered Promode’s room.

Amiya, unable to contain herself, started abusing the policemen. One of them, a talkative but very understanding and tactful member of Force, said to her, “Little mother, it is not the policemen’s fault, really. If you start killing Englishmen, will the Englishmen keep quiet?”

“Our Promode knows nothing about this killing,” said Amiya.

Promode himself looked too confused to wish to talk even to his grief-stricken mother. The poor lady got up, and was now leaning on her daughter, and was gazing blankly at her son like a demented woman.

I tried to make conversation, very hesitantly, with the sympathetic-looking policeman.

I asked him, “Have they found the man who killed the District Collector?”

Found him? Why, he was shot! And he died of the wound! In the hospital!”

“What’s his name?”

“That I can’t tell….He is dead. That’s all I know.”

“Did you arrest any others in this context before arresting Promode?”

“I can’t tell you that either…But, at the very moment that the murderer fell to the shot, we found a man, who said his name was Romesh, within a short distance of the culprit. He said he was coming to see the District Collector. We found that he was carrying an un-licensed pistol in his pocket. When we asked him how he happened to be carrying it, he answered that he was an astrologer, and a personal friend of District Collector, and of many other Englishmen, and that he always carried the weapon in his fear of revolutionary young Bengalis who did not like his association with Englishmen. When asked about the license which he didn’t have, he answered that he feared to rouse the police suspicion by seeking a license. The pistol and the bullets, he said, were in his house from his childhood–but the make of the instrument, marked on it, was of the year before! He is now in the Police Head Quarters, being questioned.”

After some time, the officer came out of Promode’s room carrying quite a sheaf of papers. He gave Amiya a paper containing a list of them. He had prepared the list in the room.

“The search is only half done,” he said, “And I am coming . And when the search is over, there will be a report by mediators. Meanwhile, keep this list. It bears my signature and seal and authority. One policeman will remain here, technically continuing the search. This gentleman will be escorted by me meanwhile to the Head Quarters.”

He the turned towards Promode, smiled viciously at him, and said, “And so, my dear man, you know nothing about this murder?”

“Indeed, I know nothing!” replied Promode, emphatically.

The officer picked out, from among many papers, one paper in particular.

It was the paper which bore Romesh’s handwriting, and which had been given to Promode to be seen only after 6 P.M. on the nineteenth. It was nineteenth, and it was nearly 8 P.M. now.

The officer held the paper under the light, and showed it to all of us, Amiya also stood up and read it. The officer was watching Promode with eyes that looked like daggers.

The matter was in English. This was how it read:

“On the nineteenth, at about half past four in the evening, the District Collector will fall dead in his chair, in his office.”

We who read it stood aghast, and looked at each other in speechless amazement.

So this was what Romesh wote and gave!….

And this was what Nolin opened and read!…..

Promode wanted to say something. The officer stopped him.

“You are under no obligation to tell me nothing. You can think before you talk. You can wait to weave as convincing a lie as you can tell!”

“I need weave nothing.” Promode answered . “This piece of paper, enclosed in an envelope, was given to me ten days ago by my friend Romesh…”

“Romesh, did you say?…Is this his writing?”

“Yes. Romesh’s…He gave it to me with the exhortation that, if I opened it after 6 P.M. on the nineteenth and read it, I would begin to have faith in the power of astrology. I didn’t think of this piece of paper when you asked me if I had with me any correspondence between Romesh and me.”

“Of course, you didn’t!”

“You needn’t sneer! I couldn’t, because this wasn’t correspondence!… I am speaking the truth! I am!….These are my witnesses! My sister, here,…and he, my friend from Madras, were both there when Romesh left the envelope with me, They know that I am speaking the truth!

“They are your witnesses, all right! They heard you recite the story which you want them to recite!”

“They won’t tell lies!…You are wickedly suspicious!…Yes, come to think of it, there is one friend of mine who knows about the envelope. We, the others, only saw the envelope from the outside. He even opened it and read the writing inside.”

“Yes, he did. He did,” echoed Amiya.

Promode continued, “We did not see the wiriting. He saw…..This one, my other friend, saw it and gave me the envelope, sticking the flap with gum. He will assure you what you now refuse to believe is the truth!….Yes, he is my witness!”

“Who is he?

“His name is Nolin Das Gupta. He may be here any minute now!”
“The officer smiled his vicious smile again. This time, he also broke out into a wisp of vicious laughter.

“Nolin Das Gupta!...Fine witness, indeed!...That takes you all the more surely into the conspiracy!.....It was he who killed the District Collector!”

“Nolin?” “Nolin!”

“Yes, he. In his delirium, which preceded his death, while under drug, he kept mumbling, ‘Tell Prornode that what Romesh wrote to him came true!’….Your friend Romesh told us who Promode was. Now I know!.…You are the very man I want, and no mistake about it.”

The officer took Promode with him. Promode merely glanced at his mother and sister when leaving, and left without a word of farewell. I followed him to the gate, but he did not even look at me. One policeman was left behind to keep guard on us. Amiya was weeping without a break. It was one continuous flow of tears from her eyes. And that poor mother of hers, struck low by grief, remained Unconscious, a mere log of wood, without movement, without feeling.

I too was struck dumb with sorrow. For a long time, words refused to come to my lips, even to comfort Amiya and her mother. My eyes were blurred with tears. I had a feeling as if there was a deep pit gaping at me from under faltering feet, and as if I was about to fall, fall, fall...immeasurably down!

Poor Promode!.…What made him get involved like this?….Was he really of the gang?…No, it could not be!...And yet!...What was going to be his fate?...

I had totalk. I had to console Amiya. I sat down beside her, and took her tender little hand in mine. I started caressing it, first with my fingers, then with my lips. She did not take her hand, as she was wont to on other occasions which I remembered well.

I said: “Amiya, dearest, please do not be worried about Promode. He’ll come to no harm. He is not guilty at all. We all know it. They won’t hurt him. They can’t hurt him. He’ll be here. Tonight itself...When you are all right, and when you can take care of your mother, I’ll go out and consult a lawyer, and bring Promode!...Tonight!...Trust me, Amiya!...Be brave, darling…I am here to see that Promode comes to us safe!”

She would not look at me. She would not stop crying. She clung closer to me. She rested her lovely head on my shoulder. Like a baby. I touched her dear forehead, and brushed her disarranged hair.

She was still clinging to me, and still weeping, as she murmured, struggling for breath for every word spoken: “I am not….really.....worried….about Promode!…..He could have done…..nothing!…..They’ll release him in the end!…He’ll….come ! It’s…..Nolin’s face......that I can never hope......to see again......in this life!”

And I–had almost forgotten Nolin!

1 Means both ‘Writing’ and ‘Fate’.

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