The Mysterious Drinker - A Short Story By Dr Ratan Lal Basu | WBRi Online Magazine

THE MYSTERIOUS DRINKER

Dr Ratan Lal Basu

A Short Stoty


All on a sudden the storm lashed down with overwhelming vehemence, the sky was torn apart by relentless thrusts of lightning and the ear-rending rumble shook the world. The compounder had already gone home to close the open windows as his wife along with children had gone to her parents house. The patients who had started lining up had all fled with the onset of the storm. This pre-monsoon storm often turns violent and runs for hours. I realized there would be no patients today and I could not go home right now either. Seated close to the window at the far end of the chamber at the ground floor of the building that houses a bank at the upper floor, I watched through the glass the merciless onslaught of the storm on the trees. The building was isolated from the shops and dwellings by its large compound with a high wall and lines of tall trees. I watched the torrents lashing at the window panes and the tree tops that swayed recklessly and the yellow swords spitting apart the sky incessantly. Electricity went off to protect the naked transformers being hit by thunder. In the emergency light the chamber looked eerie and my mind drifted to Dracula stories Id read a few days ago and a queer sensation of fear coursed through me. I was amazed to think that even at this age ghost stories raises fear from the subconscious not withstanding my scientific bent of mind. This is the innate presentiment of fear reared in the inner depth of mind I thought.

The storm subsided and electricity was restored and now it was drizzling gently. I locked up the chamber and got down to the car. It was drenched thoroughly but the inside was okay as the doors and windows were locked. I set the car to gear and ran the wipers to clean the windscreen. The road was desolate and strewn with leaves and twigs torn by the storm from the trees. Shutters of all the roadside shops were still down and signboards of many shops were demolished by the storm. The red star in front indicated that the Monarch bar ahead was still open and as soon as I reached near the bar I was amazed to notice a well dressed young man lying prostrate on the graveled driveway of the bar. I slowed down my car and getting closer I was astonished to discover that the man was Mr. Dey, a bank officer who resides in a gorgeous house close to my residence. He is not personally known to me but his wife comes to my chamber now and then to treat ailments of her child and her chronic bronchial problems. The man was in stupor, thoroughly drenched in rainwater and mud and I had to call the gate keeper of the bar to help me pick him up into my car. He lay on the back seat in stupor and my mind drifted back to an acquaintance with a German psychiatrist in course of a medical conference. He mentioned about one of his patiently who was exactly like this person. That patient was a university professor and he was a teetotaler. He had no problems and he was happy and jovial. But occasionally he became depressed and drank heavily; but the feat did not last more than a day. Thereafter he was quite normal and completely forgot about his fit. I was very much curious about the case and listened attentively how the psychiatrist had cured that patient in course of two years. He had first made friendship with him without letting him know that he was a doctor. Then he started accompanying him in his drinking venture and discovered from his incoherent talks after getting drunk that he had experienced a ghastly car accident in his childhood. Although, nothing had happened to him except minor injuries, the drivers head was crushed and brains scattered around. By querying on the basis of his delirious talks the psychiatrist discovered that the accident had taken place on the first Sunday of the month and his fit also used to seize him on the first Sunday of every month. Thereafter he psychiatrist could easily cure the professor through auto suggestions.

The road was now free from vehicles and all the way to his house I thought that it could be novel experience, treating my first psychic patient. But first the apparent similarity between the two cases is to be substantiated. There might as well be some different cause of the fit of this man  unhappiness in the family, some problem in the office or any other real cause. May be he is a regular drinker and the statement of his wife that her husband is not a regular drinker may not be true. So, I should first enquire with his wife, other family members and his office colleagues to be confirmed that this drinking bout has no apparent cause as in the case of the patient of the German psychiatrist. In any case, I was elated to find some new type of activity as a respite from the boredom of routine treatment of ordinary ailments in the chamber.    

I rang the doorbell and his wife opened the door and was a bit puzzled to find me and thereafter when I told her that her hubby is dead drunk in my car, she was extremely embarrassed. She called her brother in law who helped me to carry the person to his bed. The other family members  his widowed mother, younger bother and his wife, the wife of the man and his three year old child assembled around me and the wife requested me to have tea. Over tea I asked them if he is a regular drinker. At this the wife said that he does not drink at all in normal conditions and drinks heavily on certain occasions, may be once a month and thereafter forgets everything and becomes normal again. All the family members earnestly requested me if I could do anything about this mysterious ailment. I was already confident to find the similarity confirmed considerably and assured them that I would take up the case and could cure him, but it would take time. But before starting treatment I must first take exclusive interview of the family members except the man and the child and this should be without the knowledge of the person. I would talk with the wife first and requested the wife to call on my chamber after morning session at about one p.m.

Next day the wife revealed that shes very much perturbed about the mysterious illness and had tried many things like special prayers to gods, visiting some sacred places of pilgrimage, treatment by specter specialists but nothing had worked and she had now resigned to fate. Theirs is a happy family and he loves her, the child and all other members of the family. He is always in jovial mood except on the day of the attack. I talked with his widow mother and younger brother later on about the matter and they too could not explain his occasional puzzling behavior. Now I felt thrill coursing through me as I got the opportunity to launch upon a novel arena of medical venture and I bought a few books on psychiatry along with case histories and started reading them between the lines. I closed the morning session of treating patients and devoted the entire time till evening for diagnosing the case of the man. Going through the case histories of similar patients I found that most of the cases had some past incident suppressed in the subconscious of the patient resembling the case of the patient of the German psychiatrist and got reassured that here too, there must be similar repressed past incident, but to unravel it I should now first make friendship with the man under some ruse and without letting him having any hint about my purpose. He knows that Im a doctor and so unlike the German, I cannot meet him under the guise of some other profession. While I was deeply absorbed in thought at night my wife asked me what had happened to make me ever cogitating and unmindful. I related to her the story of the man and the thrilling venture I had decided to launch upon and also mentioned about the initial problem of getting intimate with him. At this she suggested me to open a savings account in the bank and take advantage of this to come close to the man. I was astonished why this simple solution had not occurred to me earlier. My wife displayed a triumphant smile and said that I could have got many intricate problems solved if I had given up my ego and consulted over the matters with her. I assured her I would henceforth do this and wanted to reward her for the help, but the lady guessing my design quickly drew herself away from my reach and said in an admonishing voice, The boy is in the next room and dont forget your age.  

Entering the bank premises I went right to the chamber of the branch manager and Mr. Dey greeted me cordially and he was overwhelmingly delighted to learn that a renowned physician like me was going to open accounts in his branch. He sent for a clerk who made all papers ready and I had to simply sign at proper places and give him two copies of my passport size photograph. He told me that a busy physician like me need not come again to collect the passbook and check book and he himself would deliver these to my house on his way home. Thereafter I pretended not to know the ABC of banking and finance and asked him many questions pertaining to this discipline. He avidly and elaborately explained many aspects some of which were really unknown to me. However, my object was not to have lessons on banking but to be intimate with him without letting him have any hint of my real purpose. In course of the talks of the first meeting I was assured that he had not remembered anything of the stormy night.

Thereafter we became good friends and queried each other about the respective subjects. We soon discovered an affinity between circulation of money through the financial system and blood circulation in human body  the central bank resembling the heart, money resembling blood, banks resembling plexuses and non-bank financial intermediaries resembling the lymphatic circulation. I showed keen interest in all other aspects of financial system including stock-market, speculation, hawla, insurance etc. and he too asked me many questions on causes and preventive measures of many common ailments. We also talked in length on cinema, politics, sports and literature. In course of our discussion I had been always alert to trace out anything hinting at his drinking fit but could not find any and he appeared to me to be an overwhelmingly optimistic person.

I waited patiently for the next full moon night. On the morning of the full moon, I contacted his wife and was assured of his desired change of mood indicating his drinking venture in the evening. At first, I had decided to encounter him at the gate of the Monarch bar but changed mind apprehending that he may this time get into some other bar. Therefore I waited near his house with my car in the evening and after half an hours wait I saw him coming out deeply absorbed in thought. He gave a start as I called him aloud from my car and then dredged out a pale smile. I beckoned him to my car and as he came close I asked him about his destination and expressed my willingness to give him a lift. He was hesitant about the lift and told me that I would not like the place he was now going to. I promptly said that I felt desire to have a drink and he may accompany me to the Monarch bar if he likes. At this he said ebulliently that he too was making for the bar and thought I did not drink. I told him that Im a social light drinker and this was fact.
Entering the bar I kept strict watch on all his movements and was amazed to discover rapid changes in him under the dim reddish glow of the lounge. We entered the bar and he ordered for two pegs of whisky for himself and one for me as Id already told him that I dont drink beyond that. After clinking of our glasses I started pouring out soda water to my glass while he finished the two pegs raw and ordered for a third. He finished the third in a moment and thereafter became sullen and I noticed intricately the changes in his demeanor. He looked a different person now and it seemed that I had never seen this man before. He did not drink any more and waited for me to finish the peg. Then he smiled feebly and said in a spooky tone, I wont drink anymore today as Ive found someone to talk with. We may gossip for a while if you can afford sometime. Anyway, you look like a professor. Am I right?

Exactly, but how did you guess? I was amazed that he had entered into a new world and was completely oblivious of his normal existence.  
From your looks, he said with some inner satisfaction.
Do I look like a professor?
Certainly. What do you teach by the way?
Philosophy, I said with confidence.
Thats grand. Now lets better go to the field at the back of this building. The place is free from electric light and we may talk under the moon and a philosopher would like this I hope.
It would be marvelous, I said avidly. Lets go then.
He was changed now but not at all tipsy. He paid the bill and we proceeded for the car at the parking lot of the bar. Now I was very much elated that in course of our talks I would be able to pick out the past incident hidden in his subconscious and surreptitiously goads him to this fit of drinking.  

I turned the car off into the narrow path leading to the bushy ground behind the bar. The field sloped gently into a swamp and houses are yet to be constructed in this area. Therefore, electric poles had not yet been set up here and soon we came under the uncanny glow of the full moon. The field was strewn with dwarf bushes and some isolated trees that had painted chiaroscuro against the moon which had now risen half way up the mid sky.

I picked out two polythene sheets from the luggage boot of the car and spreading them at the near corner of the field we got seated comfortably. There were other regular visitors engrossed in their routine jobs  a group of persons drinking country liquor, some men and women seated under the cover of the bushes with fishy business. They were busy wit their own business and did not pay any heed to us the new comers. I always carry with me the licensed pistol and so I did not feel unsafe at this fishy ambience.

We remained seated in perfect silence for a while and I enjoyed the enchanting ambience under the full moon.
You see how beautiful is the field bathed in moon light, I said casually to initiate conversation which was so important for me to unravel the mystery of his syndrome.

Yes, but this is just an illusion like all our idiocy about happiness, he said gravely like a wizened philosopher.
What makes you think so? I asked keeping strict watch on the minute details of his countenance in course of his pouring out feelings of his heart.

Having the insight to see the stark reality. This moon lit field is beautiful youve said now, but youve missed because of your illusion the stinking dirt besmirching the grand view  the call girls with their preys behind the bushes, the nasty criminals planning over country liquor to commit heinous crimes, and many more dirt we cannot espy because of our myopic vision.
Is it not better to ignore the dirt and enjoy the charming night.
We always try to befool ourselves that way but our illusions lead us absolutely in to nothingness he chuckled. Suppose youre savoring some delicious food and a garbage-van passes by. Would your illusion and disposition to ignore the dirt help?

He laughed and looked at my puzzled countenance. Come on Mr. Philosopher. You seem to be an optimist and befooling yourself that way. I was almost bowled over but tried to brace myself up and get into the track that may lead on to the clue I had so keenly been looking for.  I said abruptly, Have you always been this pessimistic or become so since some specific incident.

Whos pessimistic? his voice revealed that he was a bit piqued. I simply hate self deception unlike you and many others of your school. The self-deceiving fools alone call a rational man, with sights to see the truth, pessimistic. Im surprised how a philosopher cannot see things as they really are. I had now lost all power to argue and felt with dismay that I could not but play the second fiddle. Mr. they went on talking incessantly and I remained a silent listener.

Lets take up our glorified things one by one, he went on. More he spoke more philosophical did he become and started demolishing all the edifices of our hopes, aspirations and sources of optimism as though a devastating cyclone is scourging through a flower garden and rooting out the beautiful plants mercilessly. I felt being swept by the torrid winds and loosing my identity and my power to think independently. Still I tried to keep my hope alive that once he finishes off I would once again be able to get him back to the track.

Family is our most sacred institution and we being enchanted by illusion dream of eternal happiness in the family but get befuddled as soon as the reality behind the veil of illusion zooms in on us all of a sudden and gets us unawares, he went on. My friend Mr. X had a happy family with a docile loving wife and two children the elder studying in the USA. He always talked about his pious and faithful wife and the happiness she has brought forth in his life. Id seen his wife and was pleased at her down to earth behaviour, hospitality and devotion to her husband. Then the veil of illusion was lifted all of a sudden. He had gone with his wife and children to attend the wedding of a relative and staying in the large house for some days for the ceremony. One night he woke at midnight and to get some respite from the stuffiness of the room went out the door to the long balcony. It was pitch-dark and the gentle bridge gave him reprieve. Suddenly he heard hushed voices and advancing to the far end of the balcony looked into the cellar for damaged furniture from where the noise came. The cleared area behind a stack of broken chairs was lighted with the rays invading through the open window at the corner and through the gaps of the stacked up chairs he saw his wife, a woman of forty five, making wild love with her teenager nephew. Many of us who are indulging in self deception about our sacred families would sooner or later have to encounter some such truth. Philosopher, have you ever browsed through the escort or friendship websites?
Finding me speechless, he said forcefully, Ive asked you.
No, I replied sadly.
Try tonight and youll find wives and girl students from respectable (!) families advertising their bodies mentioning he charges for different hours or whole nights. They come from all sorts of esteemed families  professors, high level officials in government or private sectors, judges and businessmen. The hubbies of many such wives and guardians of many such girls are well aware of this and they dont mind as this inflates family income. Females from the poor families generally line up in the red-light areas and many of them are forced into the profession because of adverse circumstances, but we cannot say so about the website escorts. He looked very tired and opted to have some more drink and after his second drinking session I took him to his house in the same condition as at the stormy night. Now I thought that the clue must lie in some sad family incident  through his wife, children or some other family members  and I hoped that I would be able to get closer to the hidden clue in subsequent ext sessions.

He, however, disappointed me in the next session as he did not at all touch upon anything relating to the sacred family and he abruptly took up politics and the gloomy future of our hailed democratic governance and whatever he said had truth in it and I did not find any lacunae or exaggeration to argue against. In the following two sessions he took up new institutions held sacred by us and with his logic shattered the edifice of glorification we make of them. I realized that he was cleverly distracting me away from the track leading to the clue and I suspected he must have guessed my ulterior design. I thought I must approach in some different way and cogitated over the possible device which may lead on to the correct path. I thought of sending E-mail to the German psychiatrist and seeking his advice. After all, Im not a professional psychiatrist and am ignorant of many methods of psycho analysis they resort to according to the specificity of the cases. I immediately wrote an E-mail to the psychiatrist attaching the detail of Mr. Deys ailment and my experience since Id first encountered him. I immediately got an auto-reply stating that hes in USA and would reply upon his return. In the mean time I thought of trying for the last time on my own during the next full moon.  

On that specific day I went out early and started driving along road that runs alongside the bank of the Ganges. This road is free from congestion of traffic and passers by and would give me opportunity to think deeply about the alternative method I may try on Mr. Dey. I parked my car near a desolate jetty and seated on the jetty started recollecting everything since Id met him for the first time. Soon I started analyzing his accounts of our sacred institutions. An uncanny feeling coursed through me and I felt my sensations bobbing up and down the fathomless iconoclastic ocean he had depicted so meticulously. The feelings embodying his accounts started piercing deep into me and taking possession of my soul. I looked at the watch and realized it was high time to return and meet the man. I got into the car and set it to gear right away and sped up along the desolate road, not to look for Mr. Dey but to find another bar where I could drink to my hearts content incognito and in perfect privacy.


Dr.Ratan Lal BasuRatan Lal Basu, Ph.D. (Economics) is an ex-Reader in Economics and Teacher-in-Charge, Bhairab Ganguly College, Kolkata, India. Dr. Basu has written & edited several books on Economics.

Check out WBRi Online Bookstore Recommendatiuons on books by Dr. Ratan Lal Basu: CLICK HERE >

Apart from his passion for the field of Economics, Dr. Basu's other interests are Boxing & Small Game Hunting (gave up the nasty games during college life); Swimming in Turbulent Rivers (physically impossible now); Himalayan Treks, Adventure in Dense Forests, Singing Tagore Songs and also writing travelogues and fiction in Bengali and English.

Dr. Ratan Lal Basu can be reached at rlbasu [at] rediffmail.com.


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