If I’ve given you the idea that I had completely given up on my academic pursuit in Calcutta and had devoted myself to the medical profession, I ought to set right this scenario. My teaching in Calcutta was on in full swing. No one was as yet aware of Swarnaparnee in Calcutta because I had not spoken about it to anyone. However, I decided to keep some leaves with me in case I heard of someone known to me to be in the clutches of death.

I wasn’t too happy with this traditional method of mixing the powder of the leaves in milk. So I decided to create Swarnaparnee pills. Within a month, my mission turned into a reality. On my 25th birthday, while on summer vacation in Giridih, I was turning the handle of a machine and the tube attached to it was producing pill after pill which were gathering inside a bowl.

Right then, in a flash, a name for this pill came to my mind – Miracurall. That is, miracle to cure all complaints. A pill to destroy all illnesses. At this very time, an incident took place which became a turning point of my life.

I was in Calcutta at that point. Within a few months of taking up my job as lecturer, I had decided to subscribe to the renowned science-based English journal, Nature. One day, soon after my discovery of Miracurall, I read an excellent article on biology. It was written by someone called Jeremy Saunders. According to the list of contributors in the journal, Saunders had graduated in biology from Cambridge two years back. One could deduce he was about my age. I wrote a letter to Jeremy Saunders, at his London residence.

In those days, it took 18 days for a letter to reach London via ship and eight days via plane. I sent the letter by airmail. I received a reply from Saunders after 19 days. That is, he too replied by airmail. He was not just delighted to receive my letter but also, through my letter, he said he found the voice of a gifted and intelligent fellow scientist. In the last few lines of the letter, he mentioned that he was born in the city of Poona in India.

“My grandfather was part of the British Indian Army for 32 years. I came over to England with my parents at the age of seven; but the memories of India of that seven-year-old and my love and affection for India and Indians are still fresh.”

Our correspondence continued. In his third letter, Saunders wrote, “Though we both are 25 now, I don’t believe that we can’t become penfriends at this age. I shall wait to get your consent on this.”

Naturally I agreed to Saunders’s offer. We exchanged each other’s photographs and continued to write regularly to each other.

After eight months of this monthly correspondence, there was a gap of a month with no reply from Saunders.

I decided to send a telegram after waiting for another twoweeks. I knew Saunders didn’t have a regular job. He was still doing his research in life science.

On the seventh day, an airmail letter arrived from London. The handwriting on the envelope wasn’t Saunders’s. It looked very feminine. While opening the envelope I remembered Saunders had said he had got married last year and that his wife’s name was Dorothy. Yes, the letter was indeed from Dorothy. But such an unfortunate piece of news!

“I can’t tell you what state I’m in to inform you of this,” wrote Dorothy. “Because you’re such a close friend of Jerry, this duty becomes even more difficult.” After this preamble a thunder-strike. “Cancer has been detected in Jerry’s liver. According to doctors, he can survive for only another two months.”

The moment I read this, I decided on my plan of action. I put ten Miracurall pills in an envelope and addressed it to Dorothy, and sent it by immediate airmail. In the letter I enclosed with the pills, I made an earnest request. “The minute you receive this parcel please give two pills to your husband. If there’s no improvement in the first two days, give him two more. If need be please give all ten pills. The instant you feel it’s working, please send me a telegram.”

Days passed with no news from London. I waited a month – no news. Saunders had my addresses in both Giridih and Calcutta.

Still no news. I feared the worst. Did that mean Miracurall doesn’t work with cancer? In that case, I ought to change its name! A month and a half later, I was back in Giridih for the autumn break. A day before Diwali I’d drafted a telegram to Dorothy and was rereading it in a very saddened state before sending it when Dukhi appeared, excited. “A Sahib is alighting from a taxi.”

I heard the doorbell ring. The first room in my house is the drawing room. When I opened the door, I saw a handsome, golden-haired European standing before me, sporting a wide smile. Thanks to the exchange of our photographs, we were familiar with each other’s faces. Hence, without any hesitation, I embraced Saunders and in a choked voice blurted, “You’re alive!”

By now, we were both inside the room and Dukhi had taken away his suitcase. Saunders slapped me on the shoulders, dropped on the sofa and remarked, “That you can jolly well see for yourself. But tell me frankly – is this an Indian trick? This has created an uproar in the medical fraternity in London. What tablet did you send me?”

After asking Dukhi to make us coffee I recounted the entire story of the Swarnaparnee. Saunders said in an offended tone, “All this time you have kept such an incident from this penfriend of yours?”

I spoke the truth. “I was afraid that you may not be convinced by it which may result in an estrangement between us.”

“Nonsense. What reflects very clearly in your letters are your lucid thoughts and the profundity. How can I not believe in your findings? What’s the name of this remarkable medicine?”

“I’ve already disclosed the Sanskrit word to you; and the name which I’ve coined is Miracurall.”

“Bravo!” yelled Saunders. “Nothing can be nicer! But I hope you’ve taken the patent on this drug?”

When I said “no,” Saunders leapt up from the sofa. “Are you mad? Don’t you realise this medicine will turn you into a millionaire?”

With a sardonic smile I said, “That’s exactly what I want to avoid. I’ve no attraction for wealth. As long as I can lead a life with basic comforts I’m happy.”

Saunders slapped his hand on the arm of the sofa and said, “Damn it, Shonku! You may win a Nobel Prize for this, do you know?”

“No, Saunders; I can’t. You just heard, all I’ve done regarding this medicine is to locate this tree. That too was possible as I was given the direction by someone. And its virtues are nature’s contribution. Whom will you confer the prize on?”

“Very well, let’s forget about the prize; but there’s something in the name of reputation! Are you indifferent to this too? After all, you can’t deny that it’s only you who is in possession of Miracurall. As this cures cancer, you can imagine its true potential. You’re the sole copyright holder of this most powerful drug. Won’t people across the world want to know you?”

“But what do you want me to do?”

“I propose this – come along with me to London. The news of my miracle cure created a real stir not just within the medical profession but even amongst the scientific fraternity. They want to see you; they want to hear all about this medicine straight from you; and more importantly, what they are very curious to find out are the components of this drug – what does it contain so powerful and so strong which combats all diseases. Have you done its chemical analysis?”


“In that case we’ll do it in London. Once its ingredients get identified one can produce it artificially to release it in the market. You can imagine what confidence it can instill in an individual’s mind. Therefore, I request you to come to London with me. I’m sure you agree that the main centre for modern science is now in the West. Don’t you want to go in person as a scientist to England?”

Saunders’s proposal was too tempting to refuse. To be frank, I’d long nursed a desire to visit England, but I didn’t realise it would become a reality so soon.

I went to Calcutta to organise my trip.

Excerpted with permission from “The Tree with Golden Leaves” from The Best of Satyajit Ray: Volume 2, story translated from the Bengali by Indrani Majumdar, Penguin Books.