WE ARE HAPPY - A Short Story By Dr Ratan Lal Basu | WBRi Online Magazine

WE ARE HAPPY

Dr Ratan Lal Basu

A short Story


I


‘Oh that’s the tree,’ gaunt Prabhu cried out in ecstasy. Fat Prabhu nodded to indicate that he too had seen it and they climbed down the slope of the embankment and made for the tree. The path was strewn with thorny thickets, titillating bushes and furthermore snakes could be lurking in the thick bushes. They battered down the bushes and thickets with the long bamboo clubs they had brought along and advanced slowly toward the tree and reaching at the bottom of the tall old sal tree they started to examine the trunk of the tree closely and were elated to find the red vermillion mark at a height of five feet. It was an asterisk drawn neatly by vermillion dissolved in oil so as to save the marking from being distorted by rain water. They removed the creepers from beneath the red marking and were reassured to find the x-markings edged out deeply in the trunk. Both of them smiled jubilantly.

‘Now we are to move straight to the twentieth tree and then take a right urn,’ gaunt Prabhu said.  

‘Wait a bit and let us examine the map and guidelines once again,’ Fat Prabhu said calmly. Fat Prabhu reached into his shirt pocket and took out the role of paper, worn yellow by time and carefully unfurled it so that the crisp sheet does not tear. They examined the paper carefully and thereafter moved forward, beating down the bushes and counting the trees they had passed.  

II

Notwithstanding the identity of the first name, the two Probhus were radically different in many respects. One was fat, short in stature, swarthy, and the other gaunt, tall and fair. The fat Prabhu was sober in temperament, had candid looks and his hair was snapped very small giving his head the look of the edges of a toot brush. The gaunt one, on the other hand, was emotional, looked smart and clever and got a hair cut imitating the film heroes. They had, however, similarities too. Both were around thirty, both had left home at Bihar in quest of job at their very childhood and the poor parents of both never tried to get them back to home. They, with many other siblings to feed, were relieved to be free from the burden of at least one child. The two Prabhus resided at a slum house near Ambari Falakata, only a few kilometers from the city of Siliguri and both were close friends. Fat Prabhu worked as a conductor at a private bus and gaunt Prabhu in a shop. Earnings of both were meager and they could barely make out the subsistence. But in spite of their financial stringency they were always jovial and optimistic.

Both were good at heart, cordial, helpful to others and they did not have any addiction except biri smoking. But one inclination of gaunt Prabhu occasionally put him to trouble. He could not keep his head if he happened to come across any sexy girl and very often they lured him to undertake risky adventures leading to trouble but in most of the cases he could extricate himself by sheer presence of mind. 

Once, gaunt Prabhu had gone alone to visit the Shivaratri mela, which is held for about a month in February every year at Jalpesh in the doors region of the Jalpaiguri district around a famous Shiva temple. Thousands of pilgrims and visitors congregate at the place during the festival and most of them spend night in the open field and for lighting, most of the families visiting the fair carry lanterns for the night as there’s provision of electricity only for the temple. They turn the lanterns low while sleeping.

Prabhu had his dinner from a cheap makeshift hotel and thereafter laying a blanket at the corner of the field lighted a biri and started looking around and found that everybody except him was in deep slumber after daylong toil. All of a sudden, his gaze fell on a sleeping young couple not far from him and he was agitated. He had earlier seen both the husband and the wife taking tabs of bhang and, therefore, Prabhu presumed that their sleep would not break easily. The wife, around twenty six, was healthy and sexy and the view of her heavy breast-line shown through the disheveled garments made Prabhu hot and crazy. He looked around and examined carefully and was reassured that everyone was in deep sleep and there was no other person within twenty yards of the sleeping couple. Prabhu crawled cautiously toward the couple and reaching near the wife turned the lantern off. He then carefully got on top of her and started his thrilling adventure. Her sleep was deep but the onslaught made her half awake and she thought it was her husband and started mumbling in sleepy tone,

‘Why are you doing the staff here in this mela, are not you aware of the people around? You did this twice last night and still cannot avoid doing it in this public place, so sex hungry you are!’ 

Her mumbling made the husband awake and he thought she was talking in sleep. He said, ‘What happened? Why are you hollering idiotically? What have I done to you here?’

‘If not you, who else has done it then?’ The wife said angrily. 

Finishing his job, Prabhu had already rolled back under his blanket. He cried out in a loud voice, ‘Who has done it? Apprehend the culprit.’ 

The noise had broken the sleep of many persons and they thought it was a theft case and started hollering, ‘Catch the thief. Catch the thief.’    

The account of gaunt Prabhu’s intrepid adventure made Fat double up in laughter and he said jokingly, ‘So you’re going to be father soon.’ Then he turned serious, ‘You ought not to take such risks any more. If caught, it would be grave for you.’

‘You may rest assured, nothing like that would happen. I’d come out safe for sure,’ gaunt laughed. 

But next time his presence of mind failed to rescue him and the warning of fat came true. While attempting to kiss a school girl in the paddy fiend, the shriek of the girl made the peasants rush and gaunt was beaten severely and sent to hospital. Thereafter he eschewed his adventure in spite of his strong desires. 

Fat was shy and sober in nature but whenever he came across any beautiful girl in the bus he got elated and forgot to ask for the fare and taking advantage of the weakness of him clever school girls used to travel free. 

Gaunt had got a good job with a road contractor and the payment was good and regular; but the work at that place was completed in a few months and the contractor took another assignment at a place about two hundred kilometers away. He, however, had asked gaunt to accompany him to the new place but gaunt did not like to leave his dwelling and above all, the friend. So he once again resumed his lowly paid job at the shop.

In the bus, favor of the trade union leaders was necessary to get assignments regularly and fat was too shy to contact the leaders and therefore his duty was curtailed to four days a weak slashing down his income drastically. 

The two Prabhus used to talk after dinner about their miserable lives and could not find out how to extricate themselves from this beggar like life. 

‘This life of slavery and indigence is insufferable,’ Fat said glumly.

‘You’re right,’ Gaunt said. ‘We must get out of it, but how I don’t know. Business requires capital and we don’t have it and nobody would lend us.’

‘Then are we to rot ourselves like this?’

‘I’m still hopeful some opportunity should come our way.’

And the opportunity came all of a sudden, as though dropped from heaven. There was none to look after Tarapada Saha, an unmarried and miser money lender, at his death bed. Because of their philanthropic disposition, the two Prabhus served him as though he’s their father and in the morning before death Saha told,

‘I cannot repay the indebtedness I owe you. I’m going to die soon I feel now. But I can repay you at least to some extent. All my money is hidden in an old steel trunk tacked in a hole in a water course inside the forest. I’ve no successor to claim it.’

‘But how can we find out the cave?’ Gaunt asked.

‘Here’s the map and paper giving guideline to the cave.’

He gave them the key of the drawer attached to his cot and opening it they found the role of paper. In the evening Saha died. 

A week after cremation of Saha, the two friends took their lunch early. Fat Prabhu had a off day and Gaunt took leave from the shop under the ruse of going to Siliguri to meet a relative. They hired two cycles from a cycle shop known to them and proceeded for the treasure trove. They cycled first to Gajaldoba Tista barrage and depositing their cycle in the house of a known person near the barrage, they proceeded on foot along the bank of the Tista-Mahananda canal towards their target spot indicated in the map.

III


They counted the trees they had passed and stopped at the twentieth tree. Now they were to turn right and move straight toward the Karala River. The place was noisy with continued chatters of birds, screeches of monkeys and bell like monotonous sound of crickets. The thickly foliaged tops of the sal trees had leaned over one another preventing sun rays to enter the place and the resultant semi-darkness had given the place an eerie ambience. The two friends said to each other that this was the ideal milieu for treasure troves. They waded ahead beating down the thick bushes fearlessly with keen eyes for the opening of the water course. 

‘Oh, there’s the water course!’ Both the friends shrieked out in excitement simultaneously. So their days of misery were going to end soon. They could do many things with such vast money. 

‘We may buy a car for hire,’ Fat said and looked up questioningly at Gaunt for his approval. 

Gaunt laughed gently and said shrugging his shoulder, ‘You won’t get adequate customers as very few tourists visit this place now-a-days and if hired by local people they won’t pay the tariff. Better we may set up a shop of electrical goods somewhere at Siliguri town.’  

Fat said admiringly, ‘you’re right. There is high demand for these goods and profit margin too is lucrative.’ 

The water course had dived steeply to a flat place about the size of a small room and then sloped gently down to the river. Rains being far off the course was now completely dry. 

‘Take out the candle and match box, the place is pitch dark,’ Gaunt said.

‘I feel fear and shaky,’ Fat said in a trembling voice.

‘What for?’

‘If the spook of Saha uncle guards the money?’

‘So what? He has given us the money; I don’t believe in your spook and if there be any he would hand the money over to us gladly for the salvation of his soul from spook life,’ Gaunt said assuredly. 

They climbed down the steep mouth of the water course catching hold of the hanging creepers and dropped down to the flat spot. The place was clean and free from bushes may be because of want of sun light. 

Fat lighted the candle and everything around became distinctly visible now. Now they would have to look for the crevice on the wall of the cave and it must be at a high place so that it is out of the reach of flows of water during the rains. The mouth of the opening was visible where the cave has taken a downward slope toward the river. They hurried to the spot with fluttering hearts. Then they encountered the shock. They found beneath the crevice a broken rusty trunk and the inside of the crevice was empty. This is the trunk Saha had mentioned. Somebody must have got the map and direction from some source and taken away the money. 

They sat down right at the spot in utter frustration. ‘We’ve missed the god-gifted opportunity for our own folly; we should have come right after Saha uncle’s death,’ Fat blubbered out.

‘But we have nothing to do now’ Gaunt said nonchalantly.

They put out the candle and remain seated in darkness in perfect silence. After an hour Gaunt nudged at Fat and said, ‘Let’s go back. We would gain nothing by bemoaning here in this darkness. Evening is not far off. We are to think anew.’ 

Fat aid glumly, ‘What new things we could conceive of? I won’t return, you may go back if you like.’

‘Come to senses, don’t be crazy’ Gaunt said angrily. 

Suddenly, a panicked shriek in a female voice alerted them and they hurried out of the cave and ran in the direction of the scream. Turning corner they noticed a thinly-dressed modern young lady running recklessly in panic with a packet of food in her hand and a troop of monkeys chasing her. The two friends rushed ahead and chased away the monkeys to the tops of the trees by brandishing their sticks. The lady was out of breath and panted out, ‘Thank you.’ 

Looking closely both the friends were awfully surprised. ‘Oh my god, she looks exactly like the “brave lady” we’ve seen in a T. V. program,’ Fat whispered in the ear of Gaunt and the latter said in agreement, ‘You’re right, but how come she’s here?’ 

In a T. V. contest of bravery in the deep jungle of Brazil, this Bengali girl (or someone looking exactly like her) had defeated all her male and female rivals performing breath taking deeds of courage and prowess. While watching the program in the T. V. at the local club, the two friends used to horripilate. Calcutta news papers described her as the Glory of West Bengal. But how could she be here? The two friends thought. They might have made some mistake and it’s not unnatural that two persons may at times look exactly the same.

To dispel his doubt, Gaunt said politely, ‘Madam, may I ask you a personal question?’

‘Oh, sure,’ the lady replied briskly.

‘You look like the T.V…’

The lady did not let him finish and said smiling, ‘Yes, you have guessed right. I’m the “bravest lady”, Mira Das, of the T. V. contest. I wanted to have an experience in jungle alone in the absence of T. V. men and the other contestants and what a danger I had run into! I can’t imagine what could have happened if you did not intervene in time. Where would you go now? My car is on the embankment and I may give you a lift if you like.’

‘No need. We’ve our cycles at a house close to the Tista barrage and we may get that far on foot’ Gaunt said unambiguously.

‘To keep my request, please go up to the barrage in my car. Besides, I’ve some important talks with you.’ 

The two friends got into the car to keep the request of the lady and alighting at the barrage they got off to bring their cycles. Returning to the barrage where the lady with the car was waiting for them, Gaunt asked, ‘tell us now madam what you want to say.’ The lady unraveled a charming smile and said, ‘Please put down your names and addresses in my diary.’ She picked out a small diary from her vanity bag, held an open page before the two friends and said, ‘I’ll mail checks as rewards to your address. I don’t have check book with me right now.’

‘Rewards for what?’ gaunt asked in astonishment.

‘What else! The reward for rescuing me from a grave danger. I’ll send a check of two lakh rupees to each of you.’ 

‘Two lakhs, so much?’ Both said in utter astonishment and thought that the lady was simply joking with them. 

The lady once again displayed a sweet smile and said, ‘It’s nothing. I have won fifty lakhs from the contest and much from subsequent ads. Better I’ll pay you five lakhs each.’ 

The lady advanced the pen and the diary to Gaunt, ‘please put down your names and addresses.’

‘We cannot accept the reward,’ Gaunt said forthright.

‘Why?’ the lady looked bewildered.

‘It’s a grave sin to accept reward in exchange for saving someone from danger.’

He however said to himself, ‘If we touch your money, we would instantly become coward-heroes of the T. V. contests.’ 

He looked at Fat seeking his opinion and the later said in assent, ‘you’re right, we can’t .’

The climbed their cycles promptly, said good bye to the befuddled lady and pedaled fast for home. On their way Fat said, ‘notwithstanding our poverty, we are far more happy, aren’t we?’ 

Gaunt nodded assent.


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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