That little incident now doesn’t seem as sharp and intense in memory’s blurred and sombre shadow. today, when I want to run away from this world of light, laughter and virtue to that ugly dark- ness in which I want to open my eyes with ebullience and insanity, I feel stifled. “Today” means my success, my courage; and the failure and cowardice of those innumerable men and women who competed against me in the race of life.

At least that’s the conclusion I reach when I analyse myself consciously. It is beyond my ability to examine whether this is the truth or not. Society respects me for having submitted unequivocally to its restrictions and pettiness. But once – yes, my heart trembles in saying this at the peak of my success – my soul had rebelled against society. However, now that’s just a story.

It was twenty years ago. I was staying at a small hill-station with a few of my doctor friends. we were all optimistic young men of similar age and carefree disposition. days and nights were spent laughing, playing cards and hiking. no one had yet stopped to look life in the eye. one evening, when we were busy playing round after round of cards, the curtain rose on this tragic story. One of my playful friends saw her enter through the gates and said: “Look, the queen of diamonds is finally here.” And that is how, with a careless and cruel joke, we welcomed her, she whose eyes bore the poignant pain of the whole world.

She wasn’t very old but time had not treated her gently. Her eyes were sunken, her lips were cracked, trying to contain a flood of emotions, like weak dams, in vain. She looked at us with her deep, bottomless eyes and said, “Doctor sahib?”

I felt as if an arrow had pierced my heart, and was immediately overcome with remorse.

She came closer and said, “My husband has a heart problem. I have arranged for conveyance, doctor sahib...” Neither could she say any more, nor was I waiting to listen to another word. I stood up, quickly put on my overcoat, stuffed all the essential equipment into my pockets and followed her out.

My friends must have thought I was mad, eccentric, who knows, but offering myself to that unknown woman made me feel a kind of masculine victory and pride. at some distance, a handsome youngster was waiting with two horses. He bowed in greeting. we mounted the horses and galloped swiftly down the path of darkness.

The difficulties of the route didn’t allow me to think much about this brief novel. And yet, the plots of many unpleasant detective stories swirled in my mind. It felt as if I was stuck in a fatal but simple trap. Occasionally, the woman on my left, sitting on the horse with that beautiful man, seemed illusory.

When I saw some fireflies glowing at a distance, behind a cluster of pine trees, I shone my torch at my watch. It was nine o’clock. after three hours, I found myself back in the solid world of reality. We had reached a small village, and now left the horses. That woman and I stood like spectres in front of a small stone house. She clanked the door chain and someone answered in a deep, dreamy voice. after five minutes, a young woman draped from head to toe in some faded colour, opened the door.

By the dim light of her lantern, I noticed that she was staring at me with distrust and doubt. I turned to look at the woman who had brought me there but she was nowhere to be found. I looked in every direction, full of fear and uncertainty, but it was as if she had been swallowed by the sombre soul of darkness. Standing there at the door, I narrated my strange and impossible tale to the young woman and asked her, “Is someone ill in your house?”

“There is no patient here,” she replied slightly sternly, “but you can come in and meet my father. He is lonely and bitter – but he has no other ailment.”

The house was small. only three rooms and a kitchen. Everything was lying around haphazardly. Broken furniture, chinaware, swamp-deer hides, everything strewn around carelessly. In one of the rooms, a middle aged man lay on a charpoy. The books and cigar butts all around him appeared strangely attractive to a visitor.

Just one look at his dull, sallow face, and I could tell he was sick and that the ailment was serious. In the blink of an eye, I finally understood the whole affair. For some reason, the woman, this man’s well-wisher, could not reveal herself. upon receiving my introduction, the man bade me sit on a chair drowning in dust, and after listening to my story, uttered a blank and gloomy laugh. ‘‘It’s crafted beautifully but no one’s going to buy it here.” I asked him repeatedly to let me examine him, but he refused.

He was a tough pessimist. He believed life to be a sin, a defeat, and said that a blind, cruel energy was running this polluted world. at the time, his words didn’t hold much meaning to me – I thought they were a symptom of his illness. The girl brought me a cup of hot milk and some sweets, and I couldn’t refuse her simple plea nor the man’s request. After dinner, I lit a cigar and again requested the man to consider medical treatment. Seeing my sincerity, he finally agreed to an examination the next morning.

After the end of the night worship in the distant temple of the goddess, I came to the village hotel to spend the night. It was the town barber’s house – he gave out some of the rooms on rent. I changed my clothes, sat in front of the fire in my room and had just begun to distractedly go over the evening’s events when I heard someone’s desperate voice outside. I thought: let’s see how the first night of the 100 nights of Alif Laila unfolds.

I came to the door and saw the girl, the second girl, holding a lamp, and staggering towards me. “yes?” I asked, both surprised and afraid.

“After you left, Father started coughing badly. He is quite critical now.”

I pulled on my overcoat and swiftly accompanied her. Behind us, there was a strange madness and agitation in the barking of the dogs that was disturbing my heart. when I got back to that house, I saw the man lying lifelessly on the charpoy. Beside him was a bent old servant, who had apparently just returned from somewhere and was now weeping. I examined the dead man and observed that, due to some sudden distress, his heart had failed. The girl understood immediately and, devastated, slumped on the broken table nearby. The old servant helped her up, and covered the dead body with a blue sheet.

After washing my hands, I suddenly noticed a large oil painting of a beautiful young woman hung near the corpse’s bedside. “This is the woman,” I screamed, “the one who brought me here.”

The girl as if fell from the sky, and looked at me with distrust and fear: “That is my mother, but she died 17 years ago, one year after my birth.”

At this, I should have been in an indescribable state but I wasn’t, because the old servant dragged me outside by the arm. and the gist of what he told me , in a choked and trembling voice, is this: her husband had been serving in the army for a long time. when he finally returned, he found his wife was in madly in love with a young and handsome sarangi-player. After some time, she eloped with that man, leaving behind her one-year-old girl. Only a few days ago they had learnt that she was turning tricks in a nearby town.

Beloved readers, this story is over, make what you will of it, learn what you want from it. I just remembered someone’s line – “Alas, the human heart!”

Excerpted from Wolves and Other Stories, Bhuwaneshwar, translated by Saudamini Deo, Seagull Books.