Eternal Exiles – Purabi Basu

Short Story
(Translated by Niaz Zaman)

Many, many years ago, there was a land called Tutki. The king of Tutki was as cruel as he was evil and false. As a result, the sufferings of the people knew no bounds. There were two groups of people who lived in Tutki: the Tutki and the Toytoy. The relationship between the two groups was very cordial. Their features, their food habits, their clothes, their language, their manners were very similar. The only way one could tell them apart was through their names. The name of every Toytoy ended with “y” and that of every Tutki with “ki.” However, in order to divert attention from his own failings and the ripple of dissatisfaction in the kingdom, the cruel king would point the finger at the Toytoy.

He would raise a thousand questions about the loyalties of the Toytoy. And their patriotism. In order to safeguard his own throne, he sowed seeds of suspicion in the minds of the people and succeeded in incensing the majority against the Toytoy. It was on one such occasion that an elderly Toytoy couple lost their lives. Before dying, they advised their three sons, Aloy, Niloy, and Somoy, to leave Tutki and go far away. They specially insisted that the three should go in three different directions: east, west, and north. In this way perhaps at least one of them would survive to continue the legacy of their parents.

Grieving for their departed parents, Aloy, Niloy, and Somoy swore that, no matter what, they had to survive. War, protest, justice, none of it was possible if they did not survive. According to advice their parents had given them, the three brothers set forth from their homes in the darkness of the night. They walked for hours in the deep forest until they came to an abandoned house. According to their parents this house was on the borders of the kingdom of Tutki. It was at this point that the three brothers had to part to go their separate ways. Slashing their way through the dense forest, they would go their separate ways. They would make sure, however, to mark the path they had taken, so that exactly a year later, at the time of the full moon in the month of Magh, in late winter, they would be able to find their way to the same spot to recount their adventures. Then they would decide whether they should return home to Tutki or leave permanently to settle elsewhere. Before dawn broke, the three brothers embraced each other and said farewell. Niloy went north, Somoy went west, and Aloy east.

The full moon shone in the vast expanse of the sky. It was not only their companion as they set forth on their solitary quest, but also their guardian.

A year later on the night of the Maghi Purnima, the full moon shone bright again in the midnight sky. One by one the three brothers arrived at the lonely house in the deep forest. Before dawn broke, they would each have to narrate his tale so that they could decide what to do, where to go. So, instead of wasting any time, each began to narrate the story of his adventure.

Niloy’s Story
After walking for three days and three nights, Niloy finally reached a kingdom which, form all appearances was no different from Tutki. So much so that the features of the people, their houses and dwelling places, their plants and trees were all similar to those of Tutki. When, hungry and tired, Niloy asked a passerby the name of the place, he learned that the name of the place was Toytoy. He felt relieved that no eyebrows were raised when he told people that his name was Niloy. Normally, the people of Tutki too did not show surprise. But the terrible dance of death that had taken away Niloy’s parents had made it impossible for any in Tutki to have remained indifferent to his name. That is why Niloy was relieved.

Aloy and Somoy: What did you like about the place?

Niloy: Though it wasn’t home, everything appeared similar to what it was back home. Even though the people spoke somewhat differently, I could understand what they said. And they could understand what I said. The people of Toytoy eat the same food that we do – though their way of cooking is slightly different. They also wear the same clothes that we do though here too their ways of wearing them are slightly different. What was best of all was that when I said that my name was Niloy no one showed any surprise. Because our features are similar, people didn’t realize that I was a stranger immediately.

Aloy and Somoy: What did you dislike?

Niloy: The lack of knowledge and the lack of interest of the king of Toytoy and his people to those who were not Toytoy. In many ways the miserable living conditions of the people of Toytoy was similar to that of the people of Tutki. What pained me most was that I was so near and yet so far from my motherland. Because things were so similar and yet so different, it was inevitable that I would be constantly reminded of Tutki.

Aloy and Somoy: Will you leave Toytoy and return to Tutki?

Niloy: No. All things considered, I am doing all right there. Why should I return to uncertainty?

Somoy’s Story
After walking for seven days and seven nights and occasionally taking a boat, Somoy finally reached the kingdom of Tuton. There was no similarity between the kingdom of Tuton and the kingdom of Tutki. Even the people were completely different. The clothes they wore, the food they ate, their likes and dislikes were completely different. And their language? At the beginning, Somoy could not understand a single word of what they said. However, he gradually started to understand their language. The houses were different, the plants and trees were different. Even the climate was completely different from that of Tutki’s.

Aloy and Niloy: What did you like about that kingdom?

Somoy: There is no end to the things one can like in the kingdom of Tuton.There is plenty of food there, beautiful clothes, plenty of money, and well designed houses for everyone. The people eat healthy food, their smiles are cheerful, and their faces calm and content. There are no hungry, ragged beggars on the streets. There is little disease. And even if people do fall ill, good medical care is readily available. People do not look suspiciously at someone named “Somoy.” The king of that place is not cruel as is the king of Tutki. He is always concerned about the welfare of his subjects.

Aloy and Niloy: Isn’t there anything you dislike about that kingdom?

Somoy: There is. Even after getting everything, there are some things one cannot get there. Even though there is plenty of food there, the foods I had back home in Tutki are not available for love or money. I cannot speak in my mother tongue to express my innermost thoughts. I cannot wear the clothes I was used to wearing at home. Most of all, one cannot be happy all alone. One cannot be happy unless one can share one’s happiness with someone close. But I do not have a single intimate friend, a single relation in that kingdom. The people there are so different, that even if one wants to, it is impossible to forget that one is a foreigner, in a foreign land.

Aloy and Niloy: Will you return, leaving that place?

Somoy: No. No I am quite comfortable there. Why should I return to a life of uncertainty?

Aloy’s Story
The place that Aloy reached after walking eastwards for a whole day and night was not at all similar to Tutki. There was nothing of Tutki’s flat plain here. The place was mountainous. Aloy was famished after walking for such a long time. Thinking that perhaps the road on the left led to some habitation, he started walking in that direction. After walking for some time, he had the strange feeling that he had visited the place earlier. He tried to shake off that thought, telling himself that in all his life he had never left the kingdom of Tutki. But he could not get rid of that uncanny feeling. It was almost dawn. People had not awoken yet. After a little while he came to a crossroad. On the right was a huge banyan tree. Aloy suddenly had the thought that if he took the road on the right he would soon come to a double-storeyed building, and that after that there would be a large pond. Across the pond there would be a building of white marble. Full of curiosity, Aloy took the road on the right and started to walk along it. What a surprise! There stood the red brick building — except that it was three-storeyed not two. Beyond it was a large pond on the banks of which stood the huge building made of white marble. Was he dreaming? Aloy pinched himself. No, he was truly awake. But his heart was pounding in his excitement.

Holding his breath, Aloy ran towards the ghat. Four, five, six, seven steps. He quickly ran down the steps till he was standing on the lowest step, washed by the water of the pond. He looked at each step to see whether he could discern any distinguishing marks. Failing to see any, he started to scrub way the moss-covered step washed by the water. He seemed to be looking for some invaluable treasure. When he did discover what he was looking for, his hands and feet grew cold and numb. Below the moss were written the letters “A” and “N.” There was no room for further doubt. The mists of memory cleared away. Aloy realized that he had really visited the place before. Once as children he and Niloy had gone to visit a maternal uncle. The maternal uncle had taken them to a mela. On their way to the mela, they had stopped in this village. The pond ghat was being repaired at the time. The concrete plaster had just been smoothed out. Unknown to their uncle, the two brothers had scratched their initials on the soft plaster. Dumbfounded, Aloy realized that, though he had walked for such a long time, he was still in Tutki. And it was there that Aloy had spent the entire year.

Niloy and Somoy: What do you like there?

Aloy: I like everything. I am in my own land, with my own people. I still do what I did before. I talk the way I always have, I see what I have seen before, I wear what I’ve always worn. Everywhere there are friends and acquaintances. What more do I need?

Niloy and Somoy: Were our parents wrong then? Was it not necessary to leave Tutki at all? Unlike us haven’t you lost anything?

Aloy: I have.

Niloy and Somoy: What is it?

Aloy: My name. No one knows me as Aloy there. To them I am Alki.

Niloy and Somoy: Do you want to go back there? Or do you want to come somewhere else?

Aloy: No. I will return there. Why should I leave my hearth and home for some uncertain place?

It was not long before dawn would break. The three brothers embraced each other and set off in their separate directions.

Somoy went west.

Niloy went north.

Aloy went east.

The full moon of Magh was once more their solitary companion and only witness.

Purabi Basu is a noted Bengali writer. Niaz Zaman is an academic, writer and translator. The above story is included in the forthcoming book of translated stories, Radha Will Not Cook Today, publishers, Dhaka

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