SUMAN DA, (If A Story Ever Gets To Be A Novel) - ZorbaBooks

SUMAN DA, (If A Story Ever Gets To Be A Novel)


My brother, Suman, has become quite different now. But there was a time I considered him to be one of a kind and one of the two best men on God’s earth. Well, instead of beating around the bushes, let me get on with his story….

My early recollection of Suman Da dates back to the days when I was a school student. He would sometimes ask me to get a cigar from my late Baba’s cane, side tool. Baba had something regal about him. He always craved for the best, be it the clothes he wore; the cigarettes he smoked or the lady he got married to.

In a silk gown presented to him by his eldest son from Australia, he would spend the mornings in the easy chair outside his baitak khana and many people would come to meet him. Another Mr. Bhattacharyya, the Head Master of a local school; a close friend, who happened to be a very popular Professor at Jaipuria College, Kolkata or Mukund Mama. The last named was also in the Education Sector and owned a Guest House at Digha, a sea resort not very far away from Kolkata. It was there during one lugubrious summer break, I lost my Bou. Bou actually in Bengali means a bride. As I was a school student at that time, I couldn’t have been married but she was actually my granny, mother’s mother and a very dear lady and I was taught to call her Bou.

Anyway this story that I later want to develop into a novel, God willing, is not about my late Baba or Bou. Otherwise, I would have named the story after one of them. The hero of the story is my elder brother, Suman Da.

“Bappa, get a cigar from Baba. Go, go, get it quick…” my brother would hasten me away. I didn’t have a clear idea that I was actually stealing from Baba’s cigarette packet. Baba initially was an avid Captain smoker. Later, much later, he switched his allegiance to Filter Wills. Both very expensive brands of cigars in those days.

I would get into Baba’s room from the door at the back, Baitak khana had two doors, the one near the staircase was the back door. Besides the white washed wall, Baba’s easy chair occupied the space between the two doors. People who wanted to go up to the first floor, had to go past Baba in order to access the staircase.

So, as I was telling you, I would step into Baba’s room from the backdoor, stealthily hide myself behind one of the wooden front doors, kneel down and stretch my hand forward towards the cigarette packet on the cane tool.

I would withdraw my hand once I got hold of the packet, pull one out hurriedly and keep it back on its place. Foolish me! I thought Baba would never find the theft of the cigar out. Baba was a very smart and intelligent man. He knew who was stealing and who actually the thief-maker was. But he was generous enough not to make a big issue out of these petty matters.

I would get out of the room through the back door as silently as I had entered it and feel like a little magician as I handed the cigarette to one of my most favourite brothers.

He would put a match stick to it within seconds, inhale deeply and let rings of smoke out from the nose, looking like a hero to his youngest brother. Oh! I forgot to tell you anything about his physical features till now. As the rings of smoke curled up, he would, with his eyes still closed, pat me on the back with his free hand.

Of all my brothers, he was the one least bothered about his looks. He hasn’t changed much over the years. In belle bottom or full pants, the latter, most probably discarded by one of our elder brothers with a shirt tucked in, he would strike anyone anywhere as a sweet bloke. He used to keep his hair long down to his shoulders like the hippies in the late 70’s, especially after the release of Dev Anand’s masterclass “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna” – the concept of hippies was being very popular in Kolkata. He was not handsome in the conventional sense of the term with one of his front teeth missing in a practice cricket match by a fast bowler from the neighbouring locality. Later, he had it replaced by a false tooth or something. But there was something about him that drew people towards him. The fairer sex, found him Irresistible. He had many friends from all strata of the society. That reminds me of a story. One of his very close friends was one Tambu Da. He was actually a relative. A dark, well-built, handsome young man with a pair of hauntingly charming eyes and someone who would render most of the songs of late Mukesh flawlessly. As I touch upon this great character of Deblane, I can hear him singing, sitting on the bed of my Maa’s room, this very popular Mukesh song :

Jaane kaha gaye wo din/Kahate the teri raah mein.

Nazron ko bichhayenge/

Chaahe kahi bhi tum raho,

Chaahenge tum ko umarbhar

Tum ko naa bhool paayenge

(Where are those days gone? Wherever you may happen to be, I’ll keep wanting you all my life. Forgetting you is impossible.)

But I will come back to this popular character later as I feel that any compilation of Suman Da’s doings is well neigh impossible, without something on Tambuda. He was a handsome, graceful lad with tantalizingly haunting eyes and with the penchant for breaking into those sad songs of Mukesh like a romantic. But he was anything but! If my description of Tambuda has led you to believe, dear reader, that Tambuda was a charmer, I am sorry for the wrong portrayal of him. He was a romantic youth no doubt, but he was a menace to the gundas in the nearby areas.

Tambuda was blessed with the punching power of a Cassius Clay. I heard so many stories from my brother about Tambuda’s physical strength that now they do not seem real any more. He was a modern Robin Hood without the forest bit, and someone who was born to help the needy and the week. Anyway, if this story ever gets to be a novel, I will, tell you more about Tambuda.

I was talking about Sumanda’s one thousand and one friends, from all strata of the society. In addition to his para friends, he had myriad of friends from the Law College. He could mingle with anyone with utter freedom and innocence. One such friend was Saquat Ali. A hefty, handsome man with a French beard and moustache. Like Tambuda, he also possessed very kind eyes. But he was a notorious man known for his anti-social activities.

I will never forget that afternoon when one of our relatives, came running into our ancestral home, in tears. After she had quietened down a bit, what was learnt was that while she was travelling by bus, her handbag, containing not only some important documents but a lot of cash and a pair of gold ear-rings, was pickpocketed. She was devastated not knowing what to do, how to get back to her parents and what to tell them and that’s why she had sought refuge in our house. She started sobbing once again after making her plight clear to one and all. Fortunately, Sumanda was nearby. He told that relative that he would try to see if he could do anything about the pickpocketed, sorry, snatched away bag. And then he was gone.

An hour or so later, Suman Da was back with a smile hovering across his face like Charlie Chaplin in black and white and the bag in his hand. It so transpired that Sumanda went to seek Saquat Ali near the dhobi shop opposite Padmapukur Park. He was in luck as Saquat was there with a couple of his disciples. Sumanda must have presented the picture of the hapless relative in such a poor plight that Saquat Mia, visibly disturbed by the description, asked Sumanda not to worry.

“Where exactly was the bag lost?” He is said to have asked my brother in the end.

The exact location would let him guess the pickpocket working there. Sumanda must have told him the exact location as he had heard from the relative.

Once the pickpocket learnt that the loser of the handbag happened to be a relative of a close friend of Saquat Ali, he returned the bag with everything inside in tact. The pickpocket even refused to take the money my brother wanted to pay him later. Sumanda, after all, couldn’t be an ordinary mortal as he was Saquat Ali, The Terror’s friend! But I will tell you more about the kind of friends my brother, Suman Da had, if this story ever turns out to be a novel later. 

Saquat Ali asked him for an hour’s time. He was back to the dhobi shop early though as he could trace the culprit within no time.

Let me tell you about the amorous side of my brother.l now. He was luckily born in an era when life, despite all its hassles, was quite pristine and beautiful, when people believed in true love and once they had found their love, they stayed away from all other earthly distractions. It was just beyond me that someone like Sumanda, a person who reminds me of the mendicant in Tagore’s “Rajar Asukh” a lot, had an amorous side to his character as well. When the ailing King couldn’t be cured by anyone or anything, another physician dropped in. He suggested a simple cure. If a man without any earthly possessions yet happy could be found and if something could be brought from him and the King made to wear it, the King would be all right again.

So the Ministers put their heads together and decided to give this doctor one last chance. Consequently, sentries were sent near and far in search of such a beggar. Luckily, one sentry bumped into one such character ( there was a nice picture of the skeletal man sitting under a tree in our Bengali Textbook).

The conversation that followed between the beggar and the sentry was equally enlightening.

“ You said you have nothing! How do you manage to get by then?” The sentry asked.

“I eat when there is something to eat. Most other days, I don’t have nothing to eat at all.” The beggar replied nonchalantly.

Despite all this, the beggar seemed quite happy. So the sentry asked for one of his earthly possessions. He had a shirt lying on a branch of the tree. He didn’t mind parting with it. And as soon as the King wore his shirt, I don’t know if you will believe me, dear reader, but so the story goes – when the King wore the wrinkly shirt, he got cured again!

My brother was someone like that poor man. I heard it from his own mouth that he lived on others’ left-over foods as most of the days he would get back home quite late. He would be late either playing cricket at Padmapukur Park or accompanying a dead body to the crematorium ( He told me once that he had been to the cremation ghat more than one hundred fifty times, sometimes accompanying the corpses of people he hardly knew by their names!)

So, when Cupid strikes, He doesn’t spare anyone. Sumanda didn’t have to go far in search of his lady love. The lady turned out to be a next door neighbour. I realised more about his amorous nature from others including a nephew, much later.

He would stand on the corridor of the passage in front of what happened to be our ranna ghar (kitchen) in those days. Standing there, he would bend his head to fix his eyes on one of the missing glasses just above our front gate. He would then look out through the hole to glimpse the window of the opposite house of his beloved. The Romeo would start singing at the top of his voice then, oblivious of everything else in the house. He would sing one of those parodies of a popular Hindi tune those days called “ (Badan pe sitare lapete hue,/O jaan-e-tamanna kidhar ja rahi ho/Zara paas aao to chain aa jaaye)

Desher je dike takai, sei dik lal

Laal CPM ar laal Naxal,

Tar cheyeo beshi lal

Amar priyar gaal…(Wherever I happen to look across my country, I find the colour red [ mind you, dear reader, it was the late 60’s or early 70’s in Bengal in those days and the Left Front was beginning to get very popular. As was the Naxalite Movement for a short time], but redder than everything else are the cheeks of my beloved.)

To be continued ..

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