Sunday, 5 April 2015

Subimal Basak's story DURUKSHI LANE - THE FINAL ART ( Translation of 'Durukkhi Goli - Sholo Kala' )

Autumn has passed, it is winter's end-- Durukshi Lane's condition has deteriorated. From the appearance of the shop it does not appear once it was full of customers. At present it is literally Dark Moon-- shop is not opened, just a little dusting. Short pray to god. Radio is on, news from dailies -- no way out. In Parliament, only discussions arguments, counter arguments-- external affairs, economy, internal condition of the country, discussion thereon. Same picture everyday, this way or that way, Nehru, Krishna Menon, Morarji Desai. Actually what is happening , workers can not make out head or tail of the issue. Other businesses are more or less going on, during war whatever dread was there---prices of rice lentils oil had increased, higher, at present calm. No money in pocket, moreover prices of essentials are quite high. Can't think of way out of the mess, totally bewildered.

Though war has stopped, crisis is not yet over. Emergency period. Deep crisis in goldsmith's trade, sword hanging from above. Discussions take place in Sitaram's shop as well, long after evening, a shawl over shoulder. From Chinese war to backwards Freedom struggle. Partition of country, refugees, culture-rituals-- everything destroyed. Invention of atomic bomb has made powerful countries spread their claws. Has development taken place in any race by partition of the country ? Internal feud for capturing power. Such discussions. Heads dance beneath dim lamps, sounds of hookah pipe.

In such a gathering, during an evening, 9th January 1963, Dangerous news broadcast from radio. Dangerously dangerous-- in a hoarse voice radio declares--Parliament has passed the Ordinance just now :
                                GOLD CONTROL
The news spreads like wild fire in winter night. Next day in news papers, Bengali Hindi English, headlines in bold big letters-- GOLD CONTROL. Ordinance issued, Bill passed. Mister Vaidya, Haripada Roy, Ramchandra Johri, Badri Prasad, Parvaticharan-- Patna District Gold and Silver Workers Society's members are moving around. The issue has to be clearly understood. Condition of goldsmiths had reached a low from the time of Gold Bond Scheme, Gold Control will devastate Shop-owners and Lenders as well. If lenders are in dire strait, there is no way out for workers. 

Government notification has been issued, from now on each shop will have to maintain record of each deal. Is it possible to run business of gold without maintain records ? Rules of the trade, details of dealings. There are three types of gold. 24 carat hard gold, 22 carat guinea gold and 14 carat mixed gold.Form Government's mint 22 carat gold is the rule. Workers have to maintain record of use and make of hundred grams gold. This has been notified by Government under Shops & Establishment Act. Inspectors may visit any time from their office. Maintenance of record is essential for all goldsmiths, otherwise cafes filed and fines imposed. Books, bill-receipt-inquiry. Difficult to run a business by opening a goldsmith shop. Purchaser's name, weight of gold, for what purpose--these are also supposed to be recorded ! Which truthful honest customer will order for work after all these difficulties ? Bills used to be given earlier also, but they were hand written. not on approved format. 

Being pulled from both sides--- no way to escape.

It did not take many days-- everything became upside down within seven days. With workers drowning owners and lenders faced difficulties in business. Badriprasad brought news, shops are closed in the city, many have closed and shifted to other business. Younger ones have started selling cakes in glass boxes, some have started carpentry, some have started learning driving of motor cars, some are helpers of masons. Epidemic all around. Devastating condition.

Arya Jewelers has bifurcated their shop for selling papers from other half. Reams of paper, paper boards, exercise book, pencils, etc. Stationary shop. Parvaticharan looks after them. Gold shop in other half. Hopes that days will change one day.

M K Roy's old shop has maintained half and started medicine shop in other half.

Raj Rajeshwari Jewelers has completely changed in to Raj Rajeshwari Sweet Shop. Front showcases contain various types of utensils containing sweets instead of gold jewelery. Beni oversees work. Narayan Pal spends time in his bed at home, most of the time is spent thinking of olden days. Cries intermittently. Neela soothes her Dad with her hand on his head, she sits by his side. She herself is pregnant, may have to be hospitalised any day any time. Mona Ghosh has stopped sitting at Braja's shop with sweetmeat items, sweet curd, sour curd.

Ramjivan Dutta has gone back to Bardhaman after observing the situation for few days. Will look after cultivation land crops. Dutta Company has pulled down their board. Have sold off seat stools weighing scale show case instruments. 

Wazed Ali Bux, his son Dalilur has also gone back to Bardhaman. Where gold work itself is closed, where is the question of polish ? Really, what benefit is there in glazing burned face ? 

One day Ramkanai along with Krishna statue has gone back to Ara taking along Sarvamangala, his son Subal and daughter. Probably would open some shop there.  

Haripada Ray has started grocery shop in one portion. Has done no other work other than goldcraft  in his life, does not have knowledge about other business,but what is the way out ? Living has become very difficult. From gold shop to grocery shop-- what else than downfall ! Will the customers of Jewelery shop be seen in these shops ? Hole sale items arrive from city, he deposits money in advance. Goods are supplied. At the time of taking down goods, Haripada Ray might be shouting around, but his heart weeps.

Gobinda Saha has opened workshop near Mahendru-- iron bucket, pans, spades, iron rods, window etc are manufactured. Elder son Gokul looks after these activities. It is heard he will open a cloth shop for his second son. They do not seem to have much problem.

Lenders of gold shops loiter around, one day meeting with that minister, the other day discussion with another minister. Empty results from such meetings ; Badray Prasad waves his head, no way has been found out. At Sitaram's house people gather during evening, discussions are carried on. He says, we do not find any political party taking interest in this problem, do they not have any role to mitigate ?

They are busy with detailed discussion about China-India war. Looking the other way. Doubtful whether they are bothered about goldcraft workers.

Suddenly atmosphere becomes tense.

Condition of ordinary workers is pitiable. Young boys, workers, have suddenly disappeared from Durukshi Lane. Two three days passes away, their absence is noticed-- hey, we do not see Goura, has joined somewhere or what ? Has Nitai left this place ? Young workers wherever they could-- they have joined. Gopal goes to various places but does not get work. Nobody dares. Majaffarpur, Samastipur, Chhapra. Once had had worked for them, but the owners have refused immediately after meeting him. Let some days pass. Meeting family expenses has become very difficult. Owners push a few bank notes in his hand. A rich man from Majaffarpur, owner of a cinema hall at Patna, allows Gopal's son in law Balaram to sell snacks in cinema hall. At least would not die hungry. Balaram's problem gets settled-- what about the old man and his wife's night and day ? Purnalakshmi weeps morning and evening. At a biscuit factory in Sabjibagh makes two kilo sugar powder for which he is paid-- eight annas or half rupee. Had begged for a work and got it. Is it possible to work physically at this age ? Father looks after Khagen's tobacco shop. Gets food. What else could he do! Most of the time he is out of senses with folded hands on his knees.

Makhan Babu's son had entered gold work, after arrangement with Badya Babu, has no work now. So, back to tailoring business. He is a worker at his father's shop now, tailor's job.

Other young men are helper of lorry truck in New Market, shabby with dirt, with the driver right from morning, in New Market there is Swadeshi Sweetmeat Shop, sweets are served in plates on tables. Some spread mattresses on footpath in front of B N College and sell children dresses, some with vegetables in Nayatola-- brought at whole sale price from Musallahpur market, here they sell in retail. Gold colouring expert Pranballabh, joins a Marathi painter's shop for drawing on walls as well as painting signboards. Climbs up on bamboo scaffold and applies brush strokes on walls.

People do not have time to talk to each other, when they meet in Durukshi Lane, just how are you ? One who is asked points towards sky indicating fate. In Durukkhi Lane morning arrives as usual, sounds of weeping, but no sign of billowing smoke from ovens. Even children seem to be aware of the situation, suddenly their sixth sense has become sharp. They know, when rice lentil oil comes from the market ovens will be lighted. Govardhan has difficulty in moving around, has erected a wooden room at Muradpur for selling tea.  Bhogi has taken Jabra's two baby daughters. What work they would be given, only he knows, at least they would not die of hunger. Radharaman carries towels on his bac and ferries in Patna's lanes, in Bengali areas, shouts, towels are for sale, towels ! Botha's son has stopped jumping around, face and eyes have shrunk, goes out with a bag on his shoulder-- snacks, peanuts for sale. At Gandhi maidan.

Nandadulal was on way back on Station Road, had gone to Secretariat Office to inquire about progress, now that war has stopped, postwar condition. When walking on Patna Junction Road, applies sudden break to his cycle-- find Sribas ! At a Punjabi fried food shop--- samosa, ghugni, potato chop etc. Small wooden tables and chairs-- Sribas serves water in glass tumblers, places plates on tables. Would you think of it ? Used to sit on goldsmith's mat, that arse is now being rubbed on wooden stool. It is not sure how long he will stay there. 

Brajagopal has left home, with his wife and daughter. House rent is due, no work at hand, food is not available--- has left Durukshi Lane. Where he has gone, no one knows, has not informed any one. Even Nakuleshwar does not know. If inquired, says, I do not know, came at night and took twentyfive rupees loan. Required for something. Other friends, who used to gather for playing cards, are no more seen in Durukshi Lane-- they also are not aware of his whereabouts. 

Brick and mortar shop, medicine shop, job of servants-- even that would do. Some work must be done, one can't sit idle. How can one run his family without money !

It is visible from the entrance of Durikshi Lane-- peoples gathering, crowd. Niranjan Babu's courtyard, there the gathering is more. Lungi, shirt, shawl. Many people are returning, anxiety on face, uneasy behaviour. What has happened ? What has happened ?

--Cal a rickshaw. Take him to hospital. Shouts all around. 

--Has drunk acid.

--What ? Who ?

Many persons at the entrance door, some inside in portico, whisper, controled voices. Ramhari's body is lying in portico, a mattress beneath him, body covered with torn lungi, burn marks on mouth and cheeks. Rickshaw is waiting outside. Someone waived his hand-- go. Not required. Raises his hand upwards to stir the air-- he is no more. Everything is finished.

Ramhari's wife falls down on the floor, with two hands she embraces the man, a few women go forward and separate her from him. Acid drops on face, howling cry, distorted voice. Wobbles on the floor as if someone is beating her with a broomstick. Where have you left me all alone dear, o o o o o. Oh God. Hair disheveled. Four children around her, father, look at us, at least once. Elder daughter soothes her father feet with care, does it with his hands, pulls his hair. Dad, Dad, dear Dad, open your eyes and look at us. They cry loudly.

Hearing at the Lane entrance Nandadulal comes running.

--Who knew he would do such a thing. There is scarcity and hunger in all families. Bits of last gold has gone, even nose ring. Yesterday night he had sold to a Bihari person and brought a little money. Today he went to market, food were cooked, all sat together to eat. Who knew that in that bag he has brought a bottle of acid from market.

--You had planned everything in advance, that is why you ate with every member of family. Oh oh oh. Had I known, I would not have slept outside. Such good food after a long time. My eyes were drooping in sleep. Applied coconut oil on head after so many days.

Ramhari bolts his room to take rest. Wife wanted to know a few times-- why did you purchase so many food items ? You could have done afterwards. But you could not wait. Oh oh oh. Faints.

This took place at three. Oh oh. The moment acid went into mouth, topsy turvy body, could not gulp entirely. Starts burning, shouts, howls, oh mother, oh father, I am going going. Himself somehow opens the door and comes out. Falters at door frame. Wife, children around him, Ramhari falls down on the portico and takes rounds on floor. Like fish out of water. Waxing flesh out of mouth-- driblets, black-maroon, now visible on the cloth mattress beneath. Ramhari stays still, in peace with himself.

Nandadulal's eyes bulge out due to constant crying. Such an unexpected scene, oh, how heart rending, as if he has lost his ability to move. Raises his eyes listening to Ramhari's wife's distressed wailing--- to whom have you left me here ? Nandadulal's power to see becomes unbearable, blurred to further blurred, seated around Ramhari his wife sons and daughters in the descending darkness of the portico, helpless, anxious, brooding, faces of people gathered have turned in to black stone. Nandadulal closes his eyes. His consciousness suddenly gives him a sharp jerk and disturbs him to the core. What is this signal for ? The heart beats violently in his breast. A long sigh sneaks out and spreads in to the dreadful surroundings.

( This is the last chapter of Subimal Basak's acclaimed novel DURUKSHI LANE on the plight of goldcraft workers and gold bullion businessmen during the ill conceived Gold Control order of the then Government which destroyed hundreds of families in India at that time )

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