How Fast Man Adapts to Changes, How Fast he Forgets his Past

Aju Mukhopadhyay

Fiction by Aju Mukhopadhyay

Brief Bio
Among the books the author has published three books of short stories are in Bengali and two are in English. Though his stories have been published in many distinguished magazines, translated and anthologised in Indo-Australian Anthology, Book of Indian Short Stories in German language and other anthologies, he once edited a short story magazine and one of his stories was prized, he doesn’t often write stories.

Written over a period of nearly nine years, there are 13 short stories in this volume covering different genres and topics like social including ethnic and ethical, eerie and a story with animals among the subjects. They have different hues sometimes with branches spreading to other countries as the writer is an ever traveller, interested in human stories across the Nations. Different as they are, each story draws reader’s attention towards something new, often piquant.

He lay on a bed, charpai as they call it, a woven bedstead on four legs made of bamboo poles but there was a wooden backrest with some design. A tribal girl was massaging his hands and legs. A lady came to serve some liquid. He sat up and took the metal tumbler from her hand. As Alok entered through the open door with courtyard and sort of boundary walls at the end, everyone looked at him. 
      Without delay Alokprasad addressed the house owner, “Kaisa hai up Nandgopalji?” (“How are you Nandagopalji?”)
     “I had some fever for a few days, now recovering, but I can’t exactly recognize you though it seems that I have seen you somewhere.”
      The tribal lady who came to serve the liquid said, “He’s Alokprasad.”
      Alok looked at her with astonishment as to how she could know him without even a speck of doubt!
     “It’s I who looked after you and fed you for three days,” she said confidently.
     “Oh, now I understand. You came from my aunt’s district but it was a long while,” said Nandgopal.
     “It was at least 25 years ago. There was no Jharkhand then; this state which was part of South Bihar was created in 2000. How beautiful was the climate and what healthy was the mineral water of this Singhbhum! I came and many of my Bengali friends used not only to visit but were owning houses here and in the neighbouhood. How nice was Ranchi, Netarhat, Chaibasa, Madhupur, Giridi, Simultala and Ghatshila where sometimes lived the writer, Bibhutibhushan.
All countryside with considerable forest cover; nature lovers found their paradise here. But what has happened now! I am wondering, verily a desert!” Alok replied.
     Almost over-riding Alokprasad Nandgopal said, “You actually came to my daughter’s house where my son fled as I sent my emissary to catch him and fetch here.”
     “I remember that he was a very daring and uncontrollable boy who loved to move through jungles sitting in the pillions of his friend’s motor bike, telling that his friend was such a driver that no tiger would ever dare to race with him or challenge him. And you always tried to dissuade him from such ventures.”
     “I knew instances when a leopard took out its pray from such pillion and none could save!
My son was hardly 17 or 18 then. I was quite worried for I heard that he had already two, three times, moved through the adjacent jungles with his friend, even driving the bike himself sometimes,” Nandgopal said, as if still worried.
     “And what beautiful forest cover was here linking with bigger forests. There were wildfowl  and hens, domestic chickens abundant near your house. Many other birds, even migrating birds would come for wintering; Siberian ducks, bar headed ducks and cranes, besides various other ducks and water birds would come in the nearby jhils,” said Alok.
     “I had my firewood business where these people and many others were working, they have lived with me, most of them have been uprooted from their ancestral lands as the mine mafias, coal and iron mongers are exploring their chance of becoming billionaire at the cost of the common people, nature and animal world like hawks in modern India. Is it development, denuding all forest resources and uprooting native people, killing flora and fauna? Everything is done by a few miners, legal and illegal, and their supporters in the Government. Colonial period was marked by loss of freedom and exploitation by foreigners but achieving National freedom has been a curse for some as they have become more slaves than before. More exploitation by our so called countrymen is witnessed now than by the foreigners in the past!” Nandgopal seemed little agitated and relieved by being able to tell his heart felt woes to a like minded person. 
     Alok rejoined, “Actually before entering here I was wandering through the concrete jungle; the market place, multipurpose shops, display of fashion at various shop windows. How the men and women have changed gradually. And they have, it seems, forgotten their past!”
     After a pause when all of them were swimming through the corridors of their memories, Alok resumed again, “And what about your son and daughter?”
     “I was bewildered thinking how to give protection to my son; it was really a difficult situation. Once I managed him to go to Ranchi, the big town, with me, alluring him with many assurances. My wife supported me. She too came with me accompanying my son. There we stayed in a hotel and by utmost efforts got my son, Abhijit, admitted to a Christian Missionary Educational Institution, famous for good education and discipline,” after a pause Nandgopal laughed frankly, “It really worked. The boy was changed in three, four years. Now he is a software Engineer in Switzerland, as a contrast to my life spent with firewood, a living hardware.”
     “Does he come sometimes? Your daughter? And . . .” asked Alok with some hesitation.
     “My daughter’s family now lives in their new home at Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. Yes, she comes to see her old father sometimes. My son last came two years ago. And you can understand that my wife is no longer on earth. I am looked after by these people as it was before my marriage. There may be my children among them. Neither can I identify nor I’m sure of that,” Nandgopal said as if by the way with a kind of chortle. And the lady who brought drink for him felt joyous shame while going out chuckling.
     Alokprasad didn’t stay for long. But he had bag-full questions so he stayed for the night with them and the next morning he reserved for further visit to the areas nearby, wondering how fast man adapts to his changed surroundings and how fast he forgets his past.

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