|The Visit 2|
These are just your apprehensions. Hell definitely remember you once youre with him, Shyama replied. Priyanaths daughter Bhooni was around. Covering her knees with her skirt, she asked, Which Mr H are you talking about, Ma? The one who makes the headlines in the newspapers?
Yes, him. Once upon a time your father knew him very well. And even though Mr H was older, he and your father were almost like friends Bhooni looked at Priyanath. In the yellow glow of the lantern her eyes shone with respect. Then she said, Why dont you bring him to our house one day, Baba? Not only would we see him, but wed also get others to see
Priyanath asked, How could we ever invite anyone to this dump?
A big person brings good luck to the household, Shyama urged. From then on, the idea of having a big person in their home reverberated inside their heads, within the dark corners of the two claustrophobic rooms. Bhooni and Shyama talked about him endlessly, while the son, Taaku, even pasted a photo of Mr H (cut from an old newspaper) on the wall. A big person is coming soon, the rumours spread fast, bringing along pregnant expectations and concealed excitement, much like that experienced before the Durga Puja. Though no one knew exactly how soon he would be coming.
One day, Priyanath went to Mr Hs residence. Standing outside the gates, he compared what he saw to what he remembered. Looking at the palatial house, he realised that lifes awards were proportional to how big a person got. A simple ladder couldnt have got Mr H this far it needed to be a stairway to heaven. Still, thinking of himself as a brick within that stairway, Priyanath felt good. Then, suddenly, he remembered. A long time ago, during a financial crunch, Mr H had borrowed fifty rupees from Priyanath and never got around to returning it. Fifty rupees back then would mean a lot more now. But he was certain that Mr H didnt look at it that way now that hed made his pile. Instead, Priyanath was certain that this unpaid loan was bound to embarrass Mr H now.
seeing the assortment of people in the large hall, Priyanath realised
they all wanted to see Mr H; many must have been waiting for a long time.
Maybe hed have to wait too.
Ganguli. Ive known him for a long time, hell remember my name.
About half an hour later, the man returned for Priyanath. He led him to a second-floor room where, reclining in an easy chair, was Mr H. The man asked Priyanath to sit on the sofa and went away. Priyanath faced Mr H.
the matter? Mr H began.
nothing much, sir. Have a couple of tuitions, write money orders and letters
at the post office for a fee. Nothing permanent! Im barely pulling
A sharp glance from Mr H silenced Priyanath before he
Priyanaths already bowed head like a blow. But he realised immediately
that anyone couldve made that mistake in appraising him from his
circumstances. Maybe people flocked to Mr Hs door for jobs. Mr H
couldnt have meant it in any other way. Then he looked up and said,
Not for that, sir. My children have this wish of seeing you. If
you could bless our house with you presence
Priyanath became nervous and muttered, Not that either. Nothing
changes a poor persons image.
cant say that now. But someday maybe any day. But Im
not promising anything
Thanks to his enthusiastic wife and children, the neighbourhood soon got wind of Mr Hs impending appearance at Priyanaths house. Many believed it and began making queries about the date and time. Others, who didnt take it seriously, sympathised with Priyanaths condition and discussed among themselves how it was all utter nonsense where would someone as important as Mr H find the time to pay them a visit? He was just being polite.
However, Bhooni and Shyama didnt let this discourage them. Though uncertain of the time and date of his visit, the possibility itself enthused Shyama, who went about cleaning up her home. Within a few days, Priyanath saw a change. Shyama had taken out all the money shed collected over the years in the traditional piggy bank, spending it on new curtains for the windows and on a new frame that replaced the old woodworm-infested one that held their wedding photograph. Looking at the rooms and the washed floor now, no one could say Priyanaths family was poor. Priyanath was happy, although not without feeling a pinch of dread.
he called his wife and said, I wish things would be just as they
were earlier. Will Mr Hs presence really change our lives?
of jealousy, Shyama cut in.
Thats right, Priyanath replied, death is pity itself. These days, I keep thinking that perhaps death alone can save us. The words dug deep, loaded with meaning. Looking at her husbands confused face, Shyama said sadly, What nonsense! Ominous thoughts all the time!
Right then, someone knocked loudly on the door. Priyanath rushed to see who it was. Unlocking the door, he saw Mr H, who took up almost the entire width of the doorway. Snapping out of a daze, he screamed, Shyama! Bhooni! Come see whos
a downpour! And look at all this mud! Mr H said, entering the room
after Priyanath had moved out of the way, I was in this neighbourhood.
Suddenly, I remembered. So, where are the children?
Leading him towards the cheap cot topped by an old bedspread, Priyanath couldnt help noticing how Mr Hs shoes were leaving muddy prints all over the floor that Shyama had spared no effort to clean. Where did all that mud come from, anyway? But before Priyanath could think any further, Shyama and the children crowded around.
My mistake! Shouldve left the shoes outside, Mr H said.
Priyanath explained, Were old tenants thats how weve managed to cling on His eyes met Shyamas, and she beckoned him over. Once he was closer she said, Look at all the ugly mud! Do you want me to wipe the floor?
no. Hell be embarrassed. Why dont you make some tea instead.
Priyanath was taken aback by the sight. Some of these people had earlier come around to invite them to some dinner or the other. But none of them had entered the house; he couldnt decide if he should invite them in now. Then he thought how none of them was prepared for this big persons visit today, and how nothing special had been organised. If he did call them in, where would he ask them to sit? Looking at Mr H, Priyanath wondered if his poor family really needed this big persons appearance. Getting no answers from within, he went up to Mr H, who suddenly became agitated.
are these people, Priyanath?
that will only fan their curiosity. Ive been here long enough
Ill make a move now And Mr H quickly walked out of
the house. Shyama, who hadnt been able to play the hostess yet,
rushed out at the sound of Mr Hs departure and said, What
sort of visit is this? It would be better if
mud. Wipe properly and itll go away.
Despite the subsequent wiping, washing and some more wiping, the footprints simply refused to be erased. Priyanaths whole household would inspect these prints closely. Soon, they noticed that others were also there to see the prints, with something more than just wonder and curiosity in their eyes. It didnt take long for the news to spread. Gradually, more and more people crowded around Priyanaths door. The neighbours offered their own remedies; some even tried a hand themselves. But when nothing worked, they all decided that it couldnt be a good omen.
Whatever it was, this weird event altered the familys life. Priyanath and his family werent invited to lunches and dinners any more. Not even a big persons visit to the neighbourhood resulted in an invitation. Though Priyanath and his wife never spoke about it, the children did they discussed the possible menus and conversation topics of different households in the area before falling asleep. Every knock on the door would mean more people to see the prints. Silently, theyd open it and stand aside. Once the viewing was over, they latched the door again, in silence.
Then one day they didnt open the door. The police came. And when they broke in, they saw the big persons footprints, and Priyanath and his family lying silent, unmoving, thin and skeleton-like, facing them. No one wanted to know how it had happened. But, as they say, a big persons appearance often does cause things like this to happen.
Dibyendu Palit, an award winning fiction writer, is also a respected novelist and poet of contemporary Bengal. An editor with Ananda Bazaar Patrika, he writes in Bengali
and lives in Calcutta