Story by Deep Mukhopadhyay
[Translated by Cauvery Mukherjee]
Everyday around 2 pm one would find Shyamadas babu at Bose Café. He would come down at lunch break and have his lunch. There was a fixed table for him. The waiters would always be ready to oblige as he paid good tips which made them very happy. Whenever he ordered a meal, it would arrive in a few minutes at his marble -top table. The restaurant wore a traditional look of yesteryears. The dishes were so delicious that even film actors would make a trip there. ‘’The mutton kabiraji” a kind of mutton cutlet was a special item.
Shyamadas babu did not need a menu. The dishes were all known by heart. The head waiter Subimal could always serve a plate of sandwiches, chicken stew and a bowl of curd. He had been having the same lunch for the last 20 years. This loyal customer would always come in regularly without fail. He felt he was an important customer when came for lunch. One afternoon when he was about to take a spoonful of stew he heard a voice saying “Hey mister, be careful while eating, what are you doing? It seems you’ll gulp me down too!”
Shyamadas Babu was quite baffled and asked himself whose voice is this? He looked here and there and saw some customers enjoying their meal without looking anywhere. The waiters were busy serving. But he had distinctly heard the voice. He looked below his table and found no one. If there was someone hiding he would be thrashed by the waiters. Is he just imagining? Did he hear it right? Who can talk so insolently? Anyway, he decided to concentrate on his meal. Yet again he heard the same voice. Shyamadas Babu looked into his bowl of chicken stew. The voice seemed to be coming from the bowl. In a muted tone, it said “Here I am!” Shyamadas looked again into the bowl. The voice said “Look carefully you’ll be able to see me, I am here. Can’t you see? Will you crush me with your spoon? This time Shyamadas looked deeply into his bowl and truly a small insect was seen struggling to swim inside the bowl. A red-eyed insect he had seen before. These insects hover around cut fruits. The insect said “at last you can see me! Now listen carefully when I talk to you please concentrate on each and every word as it is very important.”
Shyamadas said “I understand you are an insect and keen to talk to me. Right?” Do you think you are a minimal sized elephant or a horse swimming in the ocean of a chicken stew? Almost drowning at times? I know you are a tiny insect who is devouring my food like a parasite. Do you know I have paid for my meal and I don’t intend to share it for free. Far from being thankful you are being rude to me.
The insect reprimanded Shyamadas and said,” don’t talk crap I came to this table much before you. I know you have paid, but I tell you insects like humans also feel hungry. Is it wrong to feel hungry? Do you want me to starve?” Shyamadas was taken aback. Hesitatingly he said in a meek voice,” yes you are right. Everyone feels hungry in this whole world.” The insect replied,” judging by your face, you seem to be a nice man but this meal is not enough for us to share. Please call he waiter and order a chicken omelet and a cold drink with ice cream.”
Shyamadas thought for a while. He had two choices. The first one was to leave the table and return to his office after paying the bill. The second was to call the waiter and show him the insect and tell him he couldn’t have the obnoxious stew.
But the way the tiny insect got over his mind, he knew it was impossible to adopt any option. Rather he called the waiter, and ordered the waiter more food as per the insect’s plea. The waiter looked quite perplexed as Shyamadas followed the same menu for twenty years. He said,” Ok sir, your choice I will place the order right away and it will be served at your table very soon.”
The waiter promptly took the order and told the Head waiter Subimal,” Shyamadas babu has ordered another dish. His appetite seems quite different today. I am quite confused. He has been ordering the same set lunch for twenty years and quite suddenly he desires some other dish? The twenty years’ choice has gone? Where did the sun rise today? Subimal laughed a little and thought a strange deviation! However, he told the waiter not to think much must have skipped his breakfast at home. Trying to appease his hunger now. Since he was their loyal patron, his desired dish needed to be served promptly.
The coffee and omelet arrived. Shyamadas babu divided the omelet into two. Very cautiously he held his fork and spoon and started to eat. He was still in a daze. He kept wondering how could a tiny insect have so much food? Yes, it was no ordinary insect but an Incredible one! Very astonishing! Suddenly a waiter noticed Shyamadas babu was murmuring something. He thought he had he turned crazy? Meanwhile some other waiters were taken aback and gathered around his table. Some commented, “it seems he is talking to himself look carefully!” Subimal remarked that he was talking to his plate. The other customers also got confused. The waiters stopped all their work and wanted to take a closer look at this unbelievable sight. Hearing low whispers Shyamasdas babu looked at them angrily. Seeing the anger in his eyes, the waiters dispersed and normalcy returned to Bose Café.
Shyamadas babu nonchalantly ignored everybody and started to have his omelet while chatting with the insect. It seemed nothing unusual had happened at Bose Café. Subimal called all the waiters and said,” the angry glow from his eyes has gone. Let him relish his food happily.” Shyamadas babu stretched his arms and got up to leave. The insect asked, “are you leaving?” Shyamadas replied “oh yes I have to get back to office.” The insect yelled, “you cannot leave me alone here. Do you even realize what will happen to me after you leave? The waiters will come and dump me in their awfully smelly dustbin. I never thought you are so unkind.”
Shyamadas babu reiterated that he had to go back to office. He said, “what else can I do for you? I can’t take you to my office. It’s insane!” Suddenly his attitude changed without any reason. He took out a match box emptied the match sticks and put the insect inside it. He then slid the box into his pocket. After paying his bill, he began to walk towards his office. The irritating insect continued uttering something but he took no notice.
He sat down at his desk and began his work. He had almost forgotten about the insect. Soon it was 5 pm time to leave – end of the day! Again, he heard the insect pleading, “please do something I am suffocating inside.” Shyamadas babu replied, “what can I do?’’ I have never
seen a leech like you clinging to me so adamantly.” He took out the match box halfway. The insect was relieved to get some fresh air.
The insect asked,” when will we go to eat again? Or take a light snack? Don’t you think it’s time for it? Shyamadas babu replied, No! I don’t have any appetite today. Let’s have some Puffed rice with nuts and spices.” The insect insolently remarked puffed rice was not worth it. Cheap snacks wouldn’t do. Shyamadas babu said, “I have dinner at 8 pm.” The insect asked,” What dinner at home? The food must be utterly tasteless.” Shyamadas babu explained that his cook prepares tasty fish dishes and there was prawn with gourd for dinner. The insect cribbed,” No, no they are not palatable. I will not have any dish at your home Can’t we go to a restaurant like we did this afternoon?”
Shyamadas babu a little irritated said,” Why should I waste my home cooked food and dine with you elsewhere? Are you my special guest? Why should I pamper you?” he told the insect That his wife and son Rangam were waiting at home. They always had dinner together. He asked the insect to shake off the idea of eating out from his head. The insect unhappy with the proposal said,” Oh! I have to fast to night. I didn’t know you are so heartless.”
Shyamadas babu was not cruel at all. Rather he was tender hearted. Whenever anybody approached him in distress, he never hesitated to help him. Exactly that happened. He took pity on the insect and he decided to go to Bose Café with the insect in the match box. When he entered Bose Café, the scene was completely different. It seemed like an unknown café. He was surprised to see so many teenagers sitting at different tables and enjoying their dose of gossip and of course the tasty snacks. Shyamadas called the Head waiter and asked him to arrange a table at a quiet corner away from the din. Subimal quite perplexed told him he was quite surprised to see him during evening time. He was quite un prepared to meet him. He said he would arrange one for him. He checked the tables and took Shyamadas to a cozy corner. Shyamadas babu sat comfortably on the chair. He asked Subimal to serve him quickly. “You know my menu, “he said. Subimal hesitatingly uttered our lunch menu and dinner menu are completely different. “Shyamadas glanced at the menu and ordered a plate of prawn chowmein and chilly chicken. He asked them to be quick as he did not have the patience while sitting at a dining table.
Shyamadas had forgotten about the insect totally. The aroma of the Chinese dishes stimulated the insect’s olfactory senses. It jumped out of the box and asked,” have you ordered the same menu?’’ “No! No!” said Shyamadas “it’s entirely different. It’s Chinese! Now let’s get eating. “The insect looked at the quantity and said,” This much only? will it be enough?’’
Next to Shyamadas’s table, a family was seated with their little son. They had watched him for a long time. They were baffled to see a man talking to his plate. Why? Is he out of his mind? They started giggling amongst themselves. Subimal noticed this and came forward to salvage the situation. He kept on saying,” Sir shall I say something?” Shyamadas was totally oblivious of what was happening around him. After sometime Shyamadas stirred from his daze and asked for the bill as it was time to go. Subimal was confounded. He thought how could a man, who was a regular patron behave in such a bewildering manner? The incident kept encircling in his mind. He had never seen such a thing in his entire career.
Shyamadas paid his bill along with tips and stepped out to return home. But soon he realized that he couldn’t leave the insect behind. He took out the match box, kept the insect inside it and put it in his pocket. He looked at his wrist watch and saw it was 10 pm. He never returned so late at home.
He opened the main door and saw his son Rangam’s grumpy face. His wife didn’t speak either. His son said,” we finished our dinner long back. You had your dinner outside? Right? “Shyamadas could give no reply. With a guilty look, he stared at Rangam. He gathered some courage and said,” perhaps you don’t know what I went through the whole day! It is an unbelievable experience!” Rangam showed no interest. Shyamadas told them about the incident in minute details.
Seeing no excitement in Rangam’s eyes he knew he had to prove his point. He put his hand inside his pocket and pulled out the match box. He wanted to show the insect as the undeniable evidence of his story. But to his dismay, Rangam’s expression showed, his father was fabricating a fantasy! Not a true story but with a figment of his imagination he was telling him a fantastic story that would surpass any fairytale! Seeing the insect in the box, his son laughed and said,” you brought this insect to make your story credible? You have told me this incredible story, but do not tell mom about this absurd incident. She will get furious instantly. This house will turn into a battle field!”
Suddenly Shyamadas noticed that the tiny insect was stealthily creeping out of the box and slowly crawling towards the door. In a low whispering voice the insect said “good night Shyamadas babu. See you tomorrow afternoon at Bose Café.