The other day, we were chatting till late at night. We were discussing djinns, paris (fairies), and ghosts. Someone claimed to have seen a white-bearded djinn at namaz, another had seen a fairy in a white dress and one had seen a ghost eating fried fish.
Miss Nonibala Dutta fell asleep; I kept sitting on the sofa. Zahida Begum asked me to go to sleep, switched off the lamp and went off to her room. Shireen Begum lay down next to me instead of going to her room. Even without the lamp, the room was quite visible by the light of the candle in the corner. I can’t say if I dozed off or not, but I believe I was awake.
A few minutes later there was a terrible sound. Nonibala (Noni) startled awake, and asked, “What is that noise?”
“I can’t say. A few days ago, I saw a picture in a newspaper of an aeroplane with a damaged engine falling on the roof of a house. The passenger, completely unhurt, dropped onto the bed inside the room through the hole in the roof. What if some plane has dropped on our worm-eaten roof? Why don’t you open the window and check?”
As usual, Binapani Ghosh was fast asleep on her bed. I woke her, saying, “Out of your bed. Hurry.”
Before my words were out she stumbled out of her bed asking, “What is the matter?”
I repeated what I’d said to Noni. Noni demurred, “How can I open the window in all this heavy rain? Besides, I am scared. All those ghost stories you have been telling.”
“All right. I’ll open the window,” said Binapani, and unlatched the shutters.
As soon as the window was opened, a gust of wind and rainwater soaked all of us, accompanied by a huge, flaming meteor, which fell into the room. The sight transfixed us. The noise had woken Shireen and Afsar Dulhan, who rushed in from her room and was struck dumb. Unable to decide if we should awaken the household with our screams or escape swiftly, we kept staring with shocked eyes at the fiery pile.
The burning sphere transformed into an incandescent figure. I felt as though I had seen this supernatural being somewhere else, but couldn’t identify him properly. It is not my habit to remember people’s faces, which gets me into trouble often.
Our fiery visitor spoke up then, and said, “Girls! You’ve got a big fright. Let me assure you there is no cause for fear.”
Shireen: The other day a spy came here in the guise of a dumb fakir. Are you one of them?
Noni: You people have taken a house near the Maulana’s residence. That is why you are being bothered by these informers.
Fiery figure (forcefully): No, my dear! I am not anyone like that. I am Twosti, the creator of the world.
Upon hearing the name Twosti, Bina and Noni prostrated themselves at his feet.
It was then that I remembered that I had been blessed with a vision of this great spirit, this shape of light, while composing “Narishristi”. Reverently, we requested Twosti to seat himself.
Bina spoke: May we know the reason why, unseasonably, you have stepped on the dust of this earth? (“Mud” is what one should really say in this rainy season.)
Twosti (pointing at me): This girl is the cause.
Surprised and fearful, I enquired humbly, “I, my lord? What is this you are saying?”
Twosti: Yes. You. Your Bengali translation of my account of the creation of woman has created a huge furore. Well, why should I blame you? Part of the blame goes to the office of Saugat.
Noni: How is that, sir?
Twosti: Well, she had submitted her “Narishristi” to the Saugat monthly magazine. The editor was absent then from Calcutta. The illiterate fellows in the office published the article without two of her footnotes. Without the footnotes, the article was incomprehensible. Intelligent readers felt discontented. Then they declared, “Call that Twosti. Let him come and explain these lacunae in this article.” So, whenever they feel like it, they call me by planchette and drag me from heaven to bother me.
Listen to what happened today. Some young men here have got tremendously excited by the Satyagraha movement. Our rulers say, “Abandon Satyagraha, adopt Mithyagraha.” But these simple youngsters won’t listen to such kind suggestions. Two lawyers, who wouldn’t accept Mithyagraha, were chased by the police and have escaped to Ranchi. Their house is quite close to your residence.
But you know that “the devil doesn’t listen to scriptures.” They refuse to be at peace even in all this rain and mud of Ranchi.
Covered from top to toe in sand, gravel, mud, and water – all afternoon long, they disturb the peace of the countryside, leaving no stone unturned to preach against Mithyagraha and expose the truth.
Even at night the two friends shake up the peace of the abode of the gods. From 12 pm to 1 pm, we have to be on our toes since these lawyers keep calling us up.
On earth, at least you have the CID to punish these young spoilers of peace. But in heaven we have no provision for keeping them in check!
That is how, late at night, on my way back from the lawyer’s home, my steam vehicle got entangled with the dome of your house. My fall was noisy but I survived. Can’t stand getting wet at my age. So as soon as brave Bina opened the window, I entered your room.
Noni: But lord! Our window has iron bars!
Twosti: Arre! Forget your worm-eaten bars! Besides, who can stop me!
Noni: Lord, we are very curious to learn what elements you used to create man.
Twosti: No, my child. I have no time now. Let me leave. Go to sleep.
But all of us prevailed upon him strongly to stay. We were determined to not let him leave before he revealed the mystery of the creation of man.
Shireen: You’ve stayed soaked from the rain for a long time. Would you like a cup of tea? Begin your account, sir. I’ll just order tea. Maro!
Twosti (gives a start): Who is she going to beat?
Shireen hid her laughter with the end of her sari and left quickly.
Twosti: Did she leave to call a guard?
Bina (trying not to laugh): No. She left to call her maid. The girl is called Maro. Please begin your story now. Look, Shireen is back.
Twosti: Since you are not going to spare me, what can I do? I see that you women are as tough as these lawyers. They at least have laws and statutes in their favour. But you do not observe even that. But what will you learn if you only listen? So, Noni, go fetch some paper and a pen. You must write down quickly as I describe. Now, you must write fast.
While Noni went to find the paper and pen, Bina advanced with paper and a pencil and said, “Lord, don’t worry about time being short. Speak and I’ll take it down in shorthand. I can take down three hundred words a minute in shorthand.” Lord Twosti was very pleased to hear this. So he spoke, Bina wrote, and we listened.
I could see poor Twosti-dev felt very sleepy. Sometimes he yawned and, drowsy-eyed, spoke softly; then, suddenly, he would rub his eyes, speak up loudly and check Bina’s writing. If he found a mistake he would make her write again. All this was to show that he was not sleepy.
At one point he roared, “You know, girls? At the time of creating women, I had nothing left in my hands. Therefore, I had to collect the fragrance from some things, the taste from some things and just vapour from some element.
“But I didn’t have to worry while creating man. I had everything available in large quantities in my store. Effortlessly I reached out and picked up whatever fell into my hands. For instance, to fashion their teeth I used the serpent’s fangs in entirety; hands, feet, nails were made out of all the claws of the tiger. To complete the cells of the brain, I used up the brains of the donkey. To create women, I used up the warmth of the fire, but for men I used the burning coal itself. Now child, do write all this down.”
Bina wrote: “Burning coal.”
Twosti: Now girls, listen carefully. For women I used only the coolness of snow, for men whole pieces of ice. I even made use of the entire Kanchenjunga Mountain. Have you written that, Bina?
Bina showed her paper, where she had written: “Ice, Kanchenjunga.”
Shireen: It is doubtless that Vesuvius and Kanchenjunga have been placed next to each other within the male. This is confirmed in the words of men themselves, described in this manner:
From his forehead arose pointed flames,
Fire flooded that barren countryside,
Byomkesh Rudra assumed his destructive aspect.
With a roar he grabbed his death spear
And the next moment,
At Parvati’s appeal, abandoning his aggression,
Smiling he addressed Indra,
“It will be unjust of me to slay Britro.”
The dictation being over, Twosti said, “Listen child. When you transcribe this in normal language, be very careful. Not a single word or full stop must be misplaced.”
Bina: I’ll do that. Please don’t worry. I will write with great care. Or else you, prabhu, may suffer greatly. At the moment it is men who keep calling you up. Women might also begin to trouble you.
Finally, Twosti having departed, we took to our beds. Somehow, as I began to lie down, I fell. The fall shocked me. Opening my eyes, I found myself still sitting on the sofa, the candle burning in the corner, Shireen and Bina sleeping the sleep of the dead. Faraway, the cock crowed. The night had ended.
Had I been dreaming all this while?
Excerpted with permission from Freedom Fables: Satires and Political Writings, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, translated from the Bengali by Kalyani Dutta.