The Punishment (part I)

The story below is the first of a three-part translation of a short story by Rabindranath Tagore, called "Shasti", which means 'punishment'. And as even embark upon this project, I find the English language simply too impoverished to capture the magic he weaved through his Bengali. But, here is my feeble attempt nonetheless, using a thousand consultations of the thesaurus. Read on.
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When the brothers Dukhiram and Chhidaam Rui started from their household that morning for their daily wage work, sickle in hand, their wives were already shouting and screaming at each other. But like so many other noises in nature, their neighbourhood had gotten used to this daily clamour. Whenever one of the shrill voices would begin to echo around the locality, people would roll their heads at one another and remark, "Here we go again"; meaning things are going exactly as one would expect them to: nothing exceptional today. The way no-one ever asks questions when the Sun rises in the East, a quarrel between the housewives of the Kuri (Rui) household never evoked any surprise or questions. Nobody ever needed to know a reason as to why they were fighting.

Of course this unending fracas touched their husbands a lot more than their neighbours, but it never bothered them so much. It seemed as if the two brothers were traversing their journey of life on a cart, and the ceaseless ruckus of two rusty wheels on either side had become an inescapable part of the voyage that they just had to live with.

Actually, on the days when there was no brawl, the iron curtain of silence reeked of impending doom in the household: nobody could ever presage what was about to happen on that day.

The day the events in our story begin, the two brothers returned home from work to find a house repressed with a potent thunder.

And the day was stuffy outside as well. It had rained scantily that afternoon, and the sky was still cloudy. The humid feeling of the dusk hung around noiselessly in the stagnant motionless air. The heavy shrubbery and boscage around the place had grown tall this rainy season. And the dank smell of bamboo soaked in the stale water from the surrounding blackish fields stood around them like an endless wall in dull sublimity. There were frogs croaking in the fetid puddles in cow dung from the back barn, and an endless chatter of crickets had rendered the evening distressed in a discordant chaos.

The grand Padma river nearby had taken on an unnerving potent quiescence at this time. Past the furrows in the rice paddies, the river had crawled up to the courtyards of many outlying households. Even the roots of some of the sturdy mango and jack-fruit trees had been bared, as if their knuckled hopeless fingers  were clenching on to whatever last refuge they could grab.

Dukhiram and Chhidaam had gone to labour at the local zamindar's office that day. The vast paddy fields on the other side of the river were ripe by this time: the rice had to be harvested before the river eroded away the land. For most poor folk in the countryside, this was the season when they would either work on their own fields or go to work at someone else's fields and get paid in return. Everyone around the brothers' house had gone to earn money that day. Except for these two. They were drafted into service at the zamindar's house by force when the sepoys showed up that morning and forced them to tag along. They spent their day fixing the thatched roof of the zamindar's office where it was leaking at places, and putting up some other bamboo huts. They couldn't come home for lunch, and were given some trifling snacks once in the day. They spent most of the day getting drenched in the sluggish rain, were paid a pittance which was far too little compared to what they would've earned in the field. And to make up for that, the kind of unpleasantries they had had to put up with during the day amounted to far more than their daily share.

After trudging through the mud and chilling water when the brothers returned home in the evening, they found the younger wife Chandara lying silently on her saree on one side of the courtyard. Like the cloudy day today, she had spent most of her afternoon shedding tears and had finally given up and quieted down into a morose silence at dusk. The elder one, Radha, also sat on the steps with a sulking face. Her one-and-half-year old son was weeping and when the two brothers came back home, he was lying naked at a corner of the courtyard, fast asleep from his own exhaustions.

The famished Dukhiram didn't waste a moment before ordering his wife, "Give me food".

This set the spark in the elder sister's powder keg. She leaped up and shouted piercing the evening air, "And where do I get the food from, huh? Did you give me rice before you left home? And how do I get the rice, do I also earn something?"

After the damning exhaustions of the whole day, amidst the dark gloomy evening and with the raging hunger inside him, the raucous words of his wife and especially the sly reference in the last question snapped something inside Dukhiram. He simply couldn't take it any more. He picked up the sickle at hand, stood up and bellowed like a wounded bull, "What did you just say?". Saying thus, he struck on his wife's head with its handle. Radha collapsed near her sister-in-law's feet and died almost instantly.

Chandara jumped from the spot with her blood-soaked clothes and shrieked "Oh my God!" while Chhidam quickly tried to clasp her mouth and muffle the scream. Dukhiram went numb, dropped his sickle and sat down on the courtyard in a halfwitted stupor. The little boy woke up and started wailing in some dark fear.

The evening outside was perfectly silent at this time. The shepherds were returning home with their cattle after the dusk. Those who had gone to the other side of the river for help in the fields were returning home content after a good day's work and sacks full of rice as their reward. Inside, the remaining family sat in silent despair.

Comments

  1. Nice job on this part
    eagerly waiting for the next one...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous, guess you have visited before? :) So thanks for the encouragement.. will post it soon.

    ReplyDelete
  3. where are the other parts?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ok - point noted. Needed this motivation.

      Delete

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