‘PROGRESS’ by SAYANTAN PAL CHOWDHURY

Short story selected for the 2013 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology

The morning was not so sunny that day unlike the three previous days. Rain started the last night. Thunders pealed. Stormy wind bent the heads of the coconut trees down. On the roof of Rohitesh’s cottage raindrops danced wildly throughout the night. Hails seemed to break the tiles of his outer premises. But all that happened without his knowledge as he was sleeping with his wife and their only son in his quiet bedroom. Last night was a very quarrelsome night. In their nuclear microcosmic family everything was expected to be happy unless his wife was not very demanding and restless. It was not possible for Rohitesh to meet all the demands of his wife by virtue of his job in a high school as a teacher. In his diary he wrote last night:

Sunday, 23rd August

I don’t know in my peaceful, conscious mind why I am often disturbed by my better-half and her demands. Both of you know my dear study room and my silent diary, every night I am growing more silent by the blows coming from the outer world. My little one is very dearest to me. But he is unknown of the consciousness of the outer world at this age. I don’t want to disturb him. He will learn all these things as soon as he grows old. I must thank literature, especially the scope that helped me to study English literature in college and university, which opened the closed windows of my mind slowly, silently to a new brighter world. Otherwise I might still be lost in the turmoil of this earthly life. I win every day even after my defeat in the regular battle with my wife. This is neither Plassey nor Panipath, but the victory of my sub-conscious. I was just reading Blake. “Without contraries there is no progression”—what a beautiful idea! Does my wife know this? No. I’ll not tell her. This is the arm that keeps my Satan out of my reach. Thanks to God that she keeps herself away from my study room. This diary can obviously hurl me down to hell as soon as it comes to her reach. Satan! Huh! Yes. Satan. I think she has slept. I must go by now.

Closing the diary and keeping the Complete Works of Blake upside down, he went to sleep that night with high-brows as if he had been the Babur after his victory in the Battle of Panipath. Entering stealthily in his bedroom (as if he is entering in the enemy’s ground), he sleeps at the extreme corner of his bed watching the smiling face of their only child sleeping peacefully separating its parents. Rain had started a few minutes after they slept.

When the daylight enters their bedroom, Rohitesh finds himself alone on the bed. He opens the torn leather cover of his mobile phone and discovers it is 7 O’clock in the morning. Oh, it is Monday! He jumps out of the bed. He has never got so late in working days. Where is Sonai? His son is always an early riser like his wife. Sometimes Sonai rises earlier than both of them. Rohitesh gives a jerk to his head and rushes to the kitchen. Yes, Jamini is there. She is busy doing her household chores. Turning to him she asks, “Oh, you are here?  You have to wait for tea. I have just set the pan on the oven. No one is to listen to me. Vegetables are short today. I have to manage everything. Only manage, manage and manage! From the first day in this house I have become the manager but without salary. A great job indeed!  Who is to listen to me? None. Sonai—Sonai? Where are you?”

“Where is Sonai?” asks Rohitesh.

“Don’t know. He was in the veranda. Playing with his toys.”

“Wait. I am going there. Sonai—Sonai?”

Sonai is playing with his toys silently. Rohitesh takes him in his lap, kisses his forehead and hugs him tightly. Sonai wants to get down. Leaving him with his toys Rohitesh goes back to the kitchen.

“He is there. Don’t worry.”

“Who am I to worry?”

“What are you cooking today?”

“Nothing. Only nothing. You want to eat it? Now just go and wash your mouth. I have made your tea. And I am not going to make it for you if this time it gets cold. Mind it!”

“Ok dear.”

He goes to the bathroom, washes his mouth, and comes out rubbing his face with his bluish towel. He drinks a glass of water. Taking the tea with two biscuits which his wife gives him forcefully, he goes to his study room. He takes the Complete Works of Blake and returns to the veranda. He sits at the corner of the veranda on the easy-chair, keeps the cup and plate on the table, and looks at Sonai busy with his playthings. He opens the book. He starts reading the poem ‘Infant Joy’:

‘I have no name;
I am but two days old.’
What shall I call thee?
‘I happy am,
Joy is my name.’
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy, but two days old.
Sweet joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while;
Sweet joy befall thee!

His face fills with the glory of joy. He looks at his child, smiles at him. Truly the song of innocence. Sonai has the joy which Rohitesh or his wife can never have again in this life. They are now in the sphere of experience. They are the tigers. They are galloping in the world of experience. Still he wants to preserve the innocence in him but he wonders how his wife has coped herself up with experience. She is truly up-to-date. She has no psychological unrest in leaving innocence. This is better although. The image of the tiger comes to his mind. Suddenly his wife calls,

“Are you not going to school today? It is 9-30 now.”

“9-30! Oh my God! I am going to bathe.”

“I have almost prepared your food. I had to remind you only. Now the rest is your decision.”

Rohitesh closes the book, hurries towards his study room and keeps the books in his bag. He enters the bathroom and after about fifteen minutes he comes back wearing the towel as a lungi. It is 9-50 a.m. “Get my plate ready, dear”, he shouts while entering his bedroom. In the meantime Sonai comes to his mother seeking his sketch pencil. Jamini scolds him to stay aloof at that time of rush. She closes the cover of the pressure-cooker and sets it on the oven. Sonai still holds his mother’s saree and keeps on nagging. “Oh! I’ll commit suicide someday. I can’t bear all these things.”

Rohitesh goes to his bedroom, open the almirah and gets his white shirt and black pant out. Wearing the shirt and pant he brushes up his hair standing in front of the three-fold mirror which was given to him as a gift in his marriage. Takes the perfume in his hand and sprays it on his shirt a little that can keep him away from the foul smell in the buses.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes, coming.”

He goes to the dining table and gobbles his food. It is very late today. Jamini brings some cooked vegetables from the cooker and gives him to taste.

“Taste it. It is not cooked properly yet.”

“Ok.”

Sonai in all of these draws his sketch pencils out of his school bag which is not yet used for its purpose. Sonai will be admitted in school the next year. He sits on the sofa and draws some squiggles on a white page.

Rohitesh licks the last trace of food from the plate, and leaving the plate washes his hands in the basin. He rushes to his study room, takes his black bag, checks it once again and puts his pen on his book pocket. Coming to the drawing room he waves his hands to his son, kisses him and bids good bye to Jamini. It is 10-15. Jamini comes to the veranda to lock the gate after Rohitesh goes beyond her sight.

Coming out of his house, Rohitesh gets the bus soon. His school is not more than 10 minutes distance from his house by bus. He cannot secure a seat just like every day. In the crowded bus he holds the back of a seat and looks outside from the open window of the bus. He gives his fare to the disgusted conductor. It is not very easy to alight from a crowded bus, especially at this office hour. Getting down from the bus he walks towards his school. However, it is not very late yet. When he reaches the school, the guardians of the students of classes five, six and seven are standing on the outer premises of the school, almost closing the entrance. He sometimes wonders why the guardians are so much anxious about their children. As soon as he manages to enter through the gate, a little one from class five rushes towards him with a white rose in his hand.

“Sir, this is for you”, rushes the boy giving the rose to its teacher.

An extract from Blake comes vividly to Rohitesh’s mind.

“A flower was offered to me,
Such a flower as May never bore….”

He smiles at the little boy and paces towards the staff room. Last night’s rain has soaked the earth of the school. The balcony is still drenched. Keeping his bag on the long table of the staff room, he goes to sign in the attendance register in the Headmaster’s room. The bell rings for the prayer line. All the students and the teachers are present on the field. Some elder students give commands, and they all start singing the national anthem. When it ends the Headmaster orders them to go to the classrooms silently.

Rohitesh’s first period is with class twelve sciences. He checks the routine. At this time the routine very hard to notice. He seizes the register and takes two chalks and a duster. It is in the second floor. On seeing him his students enters the classroom. He enters and the class rises. He calls the roll numbers. Closing the register he opens the book and asks a few questions to the students. Though the answers are not satisfactory, he fills the answers himself. Suddenly he notices two students on the last bench creating some noise. He asks them to stand up. One of the two stands up but the other remains seated. He calls him twice but the boy is stout. Rohitesh goes towards him, holds the boy’s ears and gets him up.

“Why are you disturbing the class? Why don’t you obey my orders? What’s your problem?”

“I have not disturbed the class, sir. So I don’t think I should obey your orders.”

“Shut your mouth. You have disturbed the class. If you don’t want to communicate in the class, don’t disturb us at least. Now, keep your mouth shut. Keep silence.”

The bell rings. Rohitesh leaves the room angrily. He is very much disappointed by the rude behaviour of the boy. Is this the behaviour of member of an educated society? How do the guardians teach their children? Rohitesh loses his mood. Everything seems to be disgusting to him. In the staff room he sits with his head bent over his folded hands on the table. He thinks, yes. The experience; the experience is taking the innocence of these grown-up boys away from them. What a difference between the two boys of class five and class twelve! His Sonai will also be a victim of this experience one day. Oh god! Shakespeare echoes in his mind, “O fearful meditation! Where alack, shall times best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?” The bell rings again. He gets up to check the routine. He has to go to class eight. Seizing the chalk and duster he goes towards the class room.

The day is not very soothing. Chatting with colleagues cannot give him mental peace. He thinks to discuss the matter with the Headmaster. But will it bring any fruit? No. Today everyone is over-sensitive. The guardians may create some new menace if they are called. No. Guardian call will not bring result. The best way is to forget it and accept the fact that experience destroys. Experience is destroying his family, his peace and his students also. It is doubtful whether contraries can bring progress.

However, the school closes at 4-30p.m. Rohitesh takes his bag and after bidding good-bye to his colleagues and the Headmaster, he paces towards the school gate hurriedly to get the first bus. He wants to go home as early as possible. He doesn’t know why he longs to see Sonai early today. A paternal love is leaping in his mind. But in a corner of his mind the rude behaviour is hurting him. As he comes out of the school gate, he notices in a few yards’ distance that boy of class twelve walking in front of him. But he is not alone. Who is it with him? A little boy with a school bag on his back? Is it not the boy of class five who gave Rohitesh the white rose that morning? Yes, it is he. Hot blood rises in Rohitesh’s head. He can never leave the little boy with the rude one. He will certainly destroy his innocence. No. Rohitesh walks fast to catch hold of them. Yes. He is near now. Gasping and panting desperately in anger and disgust, he catches hold of the right hand of the little one. The two boys stop walking seeing their teacher with them.

“Leave his hand. Leave him”, he orders the elder rude boy of class twelve.

Suddenly the boy leaves the hands of the little one in surprise. His mouth is wide open.

“Sir, this is my elder brother. We come to school and return home together. I wait for him till his classes finish”, says the boy of class five with his smiling face.

Rohitesh looks at the elder boy, eyes wide open, silent. He leaves the hand of the little one.

“May we go, sir?” asks the little boy.

Rohitesh nods. The two boys walk ahead, leaving Rohitesh alone standing on the road. He looks at them from behind. Two boys are going holding each other’s hands. It happens regularly. They go side by side daily. Innocence and experience go side by side daily.  Someone echoes in his mind, “Without contraries there is no progression”. This is life. This is the philosophy of life.  Both of these are necessary. Innocence holds the hands of experience. Lamb and tiger go side by side. A mild breeze blows over the head of Rohitesh.

*********

At night he writes on his diary:

Monday, 24th August

Without contraries is no progression. Yes. I have understood this philosophy. Today I have no question in my mind. No quarrel we had today. I have nothing to share with you my dear diary. I would like to be silent tonight. Good-bye.

He closes the diary and keeps it under the Complete Works of Blake. Coming out of his study room, he goes towards the bedroom. Looks at his wife and their son. Silently takes Sonai in his lap and lays him gently at the corner of the bed. Makes a little room for him by the side of his wife. Sonai is in deep slumber. Jamini wakes. “What are you doing now at midnight?” she asks. Rohitesh shuts her mouth with his right hand. He lies down by her side, and hugs her as tightly as possible. Innocence and experience lying side by side. Rain comes pouring down again.

The end

***

SAYANTAN PAL CHOWDHURYSAYANTAN PAL CHOWDHURY is an Assistant Teacher in English at Siliguri Baradakanta Vidyapith (HS). He has worked in Maynaguri College as a part time lecturer for four years. Many of his papers have been published in national and international journals like “Gender Identity and the Subject Position in Gitanjali song offerings”, “Love, lust andfrustration in the poetry of Kamala Das and R. Parthasarathy”, “Naga Mandala: A Product of Psychosis, delusion and Thought Disorder”, etc. He has attended many national and international conferences and seminars. His debut paper has been published in the anthology Indian Poetry in English critical essays edited by Zinia Mitra. Some of his accepted papers will be published soon in anthologies.

 

 

Glossary:

Plassey and Panipath: two historical places in India; known for the battles fought in these places.

Lungi: a cloth which is wrapped in the lower portion as a wear.

Almirah: wardrobe.

Quotations: the extracts and quotations have been taken from Blake’s poems, Shakespeare’s sonnet (sonnet no. 65) and The Romantic Imagination by Bowra. I am indebted to these great people for their poems and works.

Illustration by Alan Van Every (Featured image on the front page)

Are you a short story writer?
Why don’t you submit your best short story to the
New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology?

Related posts:

2 comments for “‘PROGRESS’ by SAYANTAN PAL CHOWDHURY

  1. SATARUPA SENGUPTA
    24/07/2013 at 12:10 am

    Awsome story…..its a good messege .

  2. Johnlock
    06/08/2013 at 2:44 am

    Wonderful story!

Leave a Reply