The moment the news arrived that ‘He’ had come, a magical transformation occurred in the entire factory. The clerks in the section started running about swiftly but silently. As though an immensely terrible incident was going to happen and that the affair was something very secret. So there was suppressed anxiety in everybody’s eyes and faces. Nobody was even raising his voice to speak. Everybody was whispering, talking into each other’s ears.
Such terror and whispering all around can only continue in the palace when the death of the king is imminent. For then it is not just a question of death but the conspiracy to usurp the throne that goes on also in the midst of the grief stricken atmosphere.
But here, there is neither the death of a king, nor is it a palace. This is a factory. That too, not some engineering unit but a jute mill. It is here that such a dramatic incident is occurring.
To the different offices and sections, to the labourers, the clerks, the overseers and the labour officers - the news has reached everybody that ‘He’ has come.
Though all the workers had not been able to turn up wearing clean clothes according to yesterday’s notice, nor were all the clerks able to dress perfectly, even the overseers and officers had not been able to display ties of ‘choice’ colours, despite this everybody is trying to prove themselves smart and skilled employees.
There is no point considering the labourers however. These men have always been ‘callous’. And they invariably mutter at least some comments against ‘Him’ through upturned lips though none of them is moving from their machines. They are working with great concentration at the instructions of managers, officers and overseers. They too know that ‘He’ has come.
They also know that ‘He’ is himself the owner, that he has come from the potato warehouse of Calcutta - that is the head office. And work means a matter of ‘prestige’, which they would not want to lose under any circumstances. Though it is true that on ordinary days they are somewhat slow with their work. For the overseer watches them like a policeman. As though they were thieves, and would shirk work. Because of this distrust and suspicion, they protest quietly, just as much is unavoidable.
Each of them had been working today with an attitude of heroes. For they still held a feeble belief about the potato warehouse. Moreover, it had been said that if ‘He’ was pleased with anyone’s work, that is if anybody comes to ‘His’ notice, his future would indeed be bright.
They bear hope in their minds. Though they had had hopes like this many times in the past. ‘Hope’ has also been called by another name- mirage.
So, hope and despair, concentration in work and taunting comments against ‘Him’- both kinds of attitudes exist inside them.
The ‘baboos’ in the office were in the same condition. All the typewriters in the office never clatter in chorus together like this. Everybody was so busy that the old typist Hariharbabu was typing without fixing the paper in the machine and when he was discovered, ‘He’ was standing nearby.
Oh god, oh god.
But neither ‘He’ nor ‘they’ had noticed. Only this great mistake caused Hariharbabu’s heart disease to get greatly aggravated.
‘He’ had not come alone. An influential governmental representative had accompanied him also. Because the issue was actually the inquiry initiated by the government on the jute mills. Talks were going on about the questions of company profit, new machines and rationalisation. That is why the owner himself and the government representative were touring the jute mills at various places.
The programme is very tiring, and so, many thanks to Lord Buddha, the managers of the jute mills make fairly good arrangements for refreshment at their club hall after the inspection. Everybody perspires copiously. But beware. Everything has to be exactly done- not even a hair must be out of place. The overseers must remain sufficiently aware to explain the utility and readiness of the new machines, for, there lies the foundation of rationalisation in real terms. And the ‘Sale Master’, i.e., the person who is responsible for matters of trade, he must explain matters and convince the cap-wearing government representative, and extract his consent. He will succeed in this, because the government representative himself is a good businessman.
The men and women sweepers had been observing the ‘big folk’ by standing behind the general latrine, and discussing among themselves about who had swept the cleanest and speculating as to which area had been cleaned the best and so whose work was pleasing the sahibs the most…
Right at that moment, Banwari’s hand got chopped off.
The threat had been there for the last three months. The machine was out of order- its toothed wheel weighing about a maund (a traditional unit of measurement) could have fallen on his arm any moment. The machine was new, he did not know how to handle it properly. The overseer as well as the engineer were not properly conversant with the working of the machine and so without the American engineer who had installed it, they were not being able to repair it at all.
However, the company could understand the danger Banwari was in. But they were helpless. Banwari could leave the job- he himself could take leave after serving notice.
But in that case, Banwari will not be able to eat. He will be unemployed.
That is true no doubt. What will the company do then? Cannot pay him wages without work. And does a young labourer ever receive his wages without work? Let Banwari decide the point.
That’s true of course.
Then? He should in that event continue even though he knows the risk. An arrangement will materialise soon.
So Banwari carried on working.
And today, trying to pay maximum attention he lost control. When the teeth roller rose up, he put his hand inside the machine and was cleaning the oily sediments and jute fibres with a brush. At that very moment, the toothed wheel weighing nearly a maund came down on its shaft in the twinkling of an eye.
Banwari saw that his right hand after falling under the machine, rolled its grip once and then it opened up.
He made an effort to shout, but no sound emerged from his throat. He fell down on the ground and started groaning.
Realising what had happened, the ‘sardar’ rushed forward. Information was sent to the overseer, the manager and the labour officer. Then and there, everybody was in a fix what to do in this predicament.
‘They’ are proceeding in the same direction right at this moment.
The manager whispered into the overseer’s ears- Go immediately. Remove it.
The doctor said, Go quickly and see what is the matter.
The overseer and the chief doctor rushed to the spot and on reaching there saw that the employees of the entire section had crowded there.
Be off, be off quickly- go to your machines. ‘He’ is about to arrive. For god's sake please go.
The overseer and the ‘sardar’ hurried them up.
Everybody moved away. A terribly important matter is in the offing. Let it come to an end and they will take care of Banwari then, though none of them can concentrate on their work now. Terror and grief make their eyes freeze up in hate and fear.
But where is Banwari to be removed? The overseer and the doctor were totally at their wit’s end. The overseer noticed that the doctor’s face had become almost bloodless.
Why? Is Banwari dead?
But whatever it is, ‘They’ were just about to reach there.
It flashed before the eyes of the overseer that his ensuing trip to England at the behest of his company and the latest model Chevrolet car from his would-be father-in-law as ‘dowry’ would all be reduced to ashes.
He almost screamed out in a suppressed voice- Be quick, you ‘sardar’.
Suddenly it came to his notice that a ten feet high packing box is stored in a corner of the section. He could be removed there, behind the cover of the box.
Some of them lifted Banwari up with their hands and placed him behind the packing box. A piece of jute sacking was thrown over his body. If they arrive to make a visit to the site, it was sure that they would not remove the jute covering.
But what a blunder it is. Sardar, Banwari’s hand is lying by the side of the railing.
Sardar brought the hand and pushed it beneath the sacking .
‘They’ came, moved around, and saw.
What machine is this? I see. - reported the governmental representative.
What is the growing capacity of the machine? Show me the sample for a bit, eh? Oh, its nicely finished- commented the big boss.
They noticed that nobody was in the section. Everybody had become so absorbed with their machines that man and machine could not be differentiated.
The new India has really improved. These people can also work at these machines with such discipline.
-Well, what is this? This reddish stuff?
The manager shivered, the overseer’s face became pale and the doctor started coughing in fear and excitement.
The big boss asked again - What is this red stuff on the floor?
Ugh! What’ll happen? That red liquid on the floor is Banwari’s blood. Nobody remembered to mop it up.
And it’s a lot of blood. Deep, dark red. Just like one of nature’s whimsically shaped land masses, that is, a kind of irregular spot- like a map. It has stopped after flowing a little.
Like India? No, perhaps like the map of Australia. Hmm, not exactly that either, quite broad, not too long. Perhaps like England? Is it like China then? The manager smiled a little and pointing at it with his shoe, said, Oh, this - I mean- this is colour.
-Yes, colour. You know, these people. They like some colour. Perhaps they were throwing some at each other for the sake of fun. I mean, there’s nothing more, you know. The people of this country are somewhat fun-loving you see. They like to enjoy their little jokes even in the midst of work. Of course, only if you do not take it otherwise, sir.
-Oh, is this colour? - the governmental representative said.
-It's manufactured by a reputed factory isn’t it?- commented the big boss.
-Yes, a good factory.
-Is it from a local factory? asked the governmental representative.
-Hm, very good quality colour. Very deep - said the big boss.
-And the colour is fast of course, and so bright- stated the governmental representative.
The big boss looked at the machine. Why is it inoperative?
-The machine is slightly out of order. It may cause an accident, if operated. There may be a physical injury, so we’ve left it inoperative.
-You’ve done very well. You have not put anybody in danger. Though your production is being hampered. This special trait of yours, I must say, is the munificence of modern industrial development. So said the governmental representative.
The big boss replied, I believe so.
Saying this he put his hand on the wheel of the machine and took out a piece of charred flesh with his finger.
-What is this?
-This? I mean, you know, this was cleaned with lard, though that was a big mistake. I mean, though we do not normally operate the machine like that. This must be a fragment of that- I mean, lard.
-Hm, I see- the big boss said.
-Nothing is wasted on this earth- said the governmental representative.
And then this august body moved to other sites. The overseer, manager, and others moved along with them.
The ‘memsahibs’ and others had kept arrangements for the reception ready in the clubroom. They arrived, being excessively fatigued after their roaming.
The ‘memsahibs’ laughed profusely with their red painted lips - all the Indian and foreign ‘memsahibs’ They could not expose their entire breasts and so covered the tips of their breasts with fine fabric. So, keeping a balance between covering and exhibiting skillfully as far as possible they had dressed themselves up with a view to tormenting the hearts of men. They are engaged at the club-bar. They have been serving the honourable guests themselves.
They themselves have fixed the programme and accordingly the concert starts. The programme of western dancing is scheduled at the beginning.
It was not necessary however to remove the jute cover on Banwari - He was dead by then. He was put into a packet after placing his hand on his belly. How would it be disposed of?
This query was passed on to the club-hall.
The verdict will be given later on- came the reply.
The jute mill was closed an hour early today. Such incidents do occur in the history of the jute mill. Because ‘they’ had come today - and this was of course the result of the good fortune of the workers themselves.
The workers waited with the dead body. The angry manager had sent them a message to stay on as long as ‘they’ stayed there.
Having seen the swelling of the Indian dancer’s skirt, the gyrations and the titillating twists and turns of her body the government representative told the boss, ‘You see, the Buddhist mendicant used to see only the skeleton, even upon looking at a beautiful young woman. I too can see a certain something of this dancer, and thanks to the blessings of the Buddha, I must say that is an amazing thing.’
-Is it the skeleton- asked the boss.
-No.-said the government representative.
The big boss then said coyly, I know, it must be flesh?
The government representative said, Amazing! How did you understand?
· Seeing the machine.
· Which machine?
· The machine which cuts flesh. I mean, (whispering) your lust.
The government representative felt a tremendous urge to laugh. His eyes were red already. He poked the big boss’s belly and said, ‘Naughty!’
Seeing the various gestures of the disciple of Lord Buddha- the skeleton, they all started to move their hands about and fidget restlessly in order to attain supreme bliss.
Translated from the Bengali by Somnath Sarkar
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