Voice

Buddhadeva Bose (1908–1974) was a major Bengali writer, translator, editor and critic. His novella My Kind of Girl, translated by Arunava Sinha, is published by Penguin India, Archipelago Books and Hesperus Press.
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And how are you?

Sometimes I want to know how you are.

When I go to sleep, when I wake up, when I drive at ninety miles an hour, when the weight of time suddenly drops after a few quick vodkas or brandies.

Dawn breaks, night falls; dawn again, night again. The same way, day after day. Sometimes it feels as though something will happen. Nothing does. Day after day.

Believe it or not, I look at myself in the mirror at times. When I shave? No, I think of other things then. But sometimes, alone in the room, after a bath, or before eventually going to bed, I stand face to face with myself, eyeball to eyeball. Just me, without adornment; a lump of flesh, flab and filth. Completely bald, blunt nose, bags under the eyes, a broad hairy chest, the spitting image of a powerful, aged baboon after removing the glittering false teeth. I enjoy taking out my dentures and making faces, balling up my fists – like two wild beasts poised for battle. When I open my mouth wide the darkness seems to be the road to hell.

How you are? I don't even know where you are.

Come, let me complete the introductions – this aged baboon you see is Abanish Ghoshal, with engineering degrees from Glasgow and Berlin, learnt the ropes at Ford's factory in Detroit, now engaged in making steel at Pippalgarh. His monthly income is five thousand rupees, more or less, he has been around the entire world three times at his company's expense, he has to visit Japan or Germany or Sweden or Russia or America once a year. In other words, this aged baboon is a very important person.

But actually I am someone else.

Alas, there's so much ugliness that the tailor can hide, so much pus that formidable degrees can blandly conceal. Fame, honour, riches, influence – all of it may have been achieved, but after that? What lies behind, covered, within?

Was there really a ritual in Athens where young women would emerge naked after bathing in the sea for the ancients to select the most beautiful among them that year? But how else can beauty be judged? All we consider are the adornments. Degrees, learning, "qualifications". Everyone wants to know what I can do, no one knows what I am.

You know. Do you?

The population of Pippalgarh is fifty thousand, everyone's livelihood is this steel factory, their lives too, in fact. We are building the new India; creating wealth for the people, earning foreign exchange for the country, with four hundred million by our side, we are marching ahead, marching ahead. Can we ever say that the people involved in such a gigantic endeavour are not successful?

But I remember you from time to time.

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Translated by Arunava Sinha

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