‘The Pomelo Tree’ by Rudra Kinshuk

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

They bore his grandpa away from his cottage with the straw thatch, covered with lush green pumpkin- creepers and a big chalta-tree hovering over it. It being a bright winter morning, dewdrops on the lily leaves were looking like glass-beads. Ducks, waddling in the nearby pond were in a deep meditation of a distant home. Hemango was then hardly fourteen.

A decade and a half have elapsed. The old man has gone forever. The dinner table, which he was very fond of, is still standing on the same place. Now at the time of taking lunch, his old father Kiranshankarbabu takes his deceased grandpa’s seat. His father’s place is taken by Hemango himself, and tiny Jayanta takes Hemango’s place. Incidentally, in his childhood, Hemango never allowed anybody to occupy this favourite seat of his. But things have changed now. The old man is dead. And the past is well buried. Only his aged mother though very rarely on some festival days, gives herself over to recollection of the bygone days.

For a couple of weeks, Hemango hasn’t been keeping well. He is down with high fever. It is Dipa who takes charge of the domestic affairs. She is a good mother. She does everything for Jayanta to grow up. Hemango doesn’t have to worry. He gets enough time to pursue Manik, Sandipan and Utpalkumar Basu – his favourite authors.

Another facet of her personality which if Hemango would not have fallen ill would never have revealed itself, is that she is a good nurse with all the professional skill and efficiency. She has also proved beyond doubt that Goddess Durga is a Bengali mother.

Hemango is on the way to recovery. He is seated on a chair on the porch. He looks at the blurred horizon. From here one can get a glimpse of tall trees, the azure sky with wisps of clouds floating in it. The tamarind tree at the corner of their farmhouse looks like a lighthouse under the blue.

“Do the clouds have any home?” murmurs Hemango to himself, “Who knows? Perhaps, Vyasdeva knew, did he do truly?”

Hemango feels a shiver in his body. He wraps himself up with the fur- blanket. The old pomelo-tree on the other side of the road looks like an old man tired of struggles of life. Sometimes it looks like an enigmatic question. The dry leaves which cover the ground look like a thick carpet of greyish colour. The pomelo tree, full of flowers looks like an exclamation mark in the home yard Hemango’s naval root is buried under this tree.

Hemango wakes up from the thread-cot and comes into the yard. The rainy morning has fully bloomed on the drenched pomelo tree. Hemango draws near the branches of the tree and tastes the washed barks of the tree. Hemango feels himself floating in a huge womb of a dark woman.

Last night Hemango dreamt a strange dream. In his dream, he saw that some people shot a man dead. And they threw the dead body into a pond nearby. In the morning people were looking for the body. Suddenly they got it caught in a fishing-net. They brought the body on the bank. The corpse looked like a huge fish with a human face which had much similarity with Hemango’s.

In his childhood, Hemango was very shy and timid. He never stood up spontaneously to respond to any questions, asked by his teachers in secondary school. One day a teacher taught them to translate the sentence —-aakasher rang nil.

While going to bed, he asked

–       “Why is the sky blue, Ma?”

–       For the sky is blue.

–       Why are flowers so beautiful?

–       Because they are so.

Hemango, not satisfied with her answers, tried to open his lips again. But she stopped him.

“It’s time for sleep. No foolish questions any more. Close your eyes.”

But the old questions continue to chase his feverish mind now. The calendar, hanging from a nail on the wall, is swaying to and fro in the evening breeze.

A lonely star is twinkling. It looks like a shining dot on the sky. Stars seem very enigmatic to Hemango. From his very childhood, he has been obsessed with them. Nasser Ali, the old man who came from a village of the Murshidabad district to his Grandpa and was appointed to look after their cultivation, was a very wise man. He knew many things about stars and rivers and jungles. He had so many interesting stories to narrate about ghosts, fairies, kings and nawabs. Once he took Hemango to other bank of the Khari with a tiny boat which he managed to get from a village fisherman.

“If I were not a fool, I would have leant solutions to all the riddles of the sky and the stars from him”. Hemango mutters.

Hemango waits silently for the pomelo tree, blooming into fairy tales. Existence is a fairy tale untold and un-smelt. Hemango is looking at his image in the mirror. A mirror often becomes a slaughterer. In the very moment he discovers in him the man whom he sees every day while going to office, his head being buried at the Samudragarh Railway Station and people throwing coins at him. Hemango can feel himself shivering now. A small lotora – bird is found sitting on a branch of the pomelo-tree visible through the window. Hemango writes down his dream of the last night on a white sheet of paper. And a story starts getting a formless form. It is a story of the pomelo tree which is standing on his naval-root.

 ***

About the Author:

Rudra Kinshuk (Born 1971), a poet transcreator and critic has to his credit a number of publications in English, including Footprints on the Sands (1996), Portrait of a Dog as Buddha (1998), Marginal Tales of the Galloping Horses (2002), Meditations on Matricide (2012) and Fragrant Anchors (2013). His poems have been translated into French and German. A collection of his poems translated into French is in print with the title Ancres Odorantes (2013).

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

 

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