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As Kaka was a respectable elder, and I had not seen him for almost ten years, I just couldn't tell him that I was in a hurry to leave. I offered him tea, and for one long hour had to listen to his personal updates. At last I bade Mohit Kaka good bye, put my luggage in the car and was about to step into the vehicle when I saw Bhola Babu and his son, Pintu, returning from somewhere.
Bhola Babu rented a ground-floor flat of our building. He saw me and asked, Where are you heading all by yourself? Hearing my answer he said with a touch of apprehension, Driving alone on such a long trip; shouldn't you have arranged for a driver, at least for this journey? Best of luck, said Bhola babu and went inside holding his son's hand. Before starting the car, I looked at my watch—a quarter to eleven. Despite avoiding Howrah and taking Bali Bridge Road, it took me an hour and a half just to reach Chandannagore.
The first thirty miles were terribly hectic, the roads were so atrocious and unromantic that most of the excitement about the trip dissipated in no time. But the magic started as soon as the car emerged on the open road in the countryside—"This is the reason I have come!
Where was the clear blue sky unstained by the chimney smoke, all this time? Where was the sweet and pristine air dipped in the smell of the earth? I was hungry. Even though I had some oranges and hot tea in a flask in the car, I wanted to eat something else.
The railway station was right on the road. I stopped the car, went into a restaurant and had a couple of toasts, an omelet and a cup of coffee, and then got back to driving once again.
I had another one hundred and thirty miles to cover. Panagar is twenty five miles from Burdwan. Just when the military camps of Panagar were coming into view, I heard a loud noise, like the popping of a balloon, from the rear of the car, and the vehicle pitched sideways. The cause was obvious.
Stepping out, I found that the town was still a few miles away. I had to give up any hope of finding a car repair shop nearby.
It was not that I did not have a stepney with me, and jacking the car up and changing the punctured tire was not beyond my ability. Yet, I just did not have the mind for it.
Changing tire in the middle of the Grand Trunk Road, with other cars whizzing past me and looking at my pitiful situation— the very thought was irritating. But there was no other way. I looked around for ten minutes or so, walked up and down the road and then went to work. When I straightened up after storing the flat tire in the trunk, my shirt was sweat stained and sticking to my body. I looked at my watch; it was already half past two. The weather was humid. There was no trace of the mild breeze that was blowing an hour or so ago; from the car I had seen the drooping heads of the bamboo groves.
Now a creepy silence prevailed all around. As I entered the car, I noticed a nebulous blue-black streak under the western sky over the faraway treetops—clouds.
Was a storm coming? Never mind, I said to myself, I should speed up and get going. After gulping down some tea from the flask, I started again. The ominous storm arrived soon after I crossed Elaam Bazaar.
I had always enjoyed storms from the snug corner of my room—welcoming them with Tagores poems and songs with matching rhythms and moods—but never imagined how menacing the same storm appeared in a moving car in the open countryside. The thunderstorm must be one of the evil faces of nature. And its motive must be to tease a hapless man with its gargantuan strength. The sky lit up here and there with blinding lightnings followed by ear-splitting thunders.
At times I felt as if the lightning bolts were targeting my car, and a little extra concentration might just do the work. I somehow managed to get onto the road to Massanjore when, out of the blue, I heard another piercing sound from behind my car. I knew it was not another thunderclap. The second tire had resigned from its job. I gave up all hope.
It was almost half past five and still raining in torrents. I had to maintain the speed between fifteen and twenty five during the last twenty miles; otherwise, I could have passed Massanjore by this time. Where had I come? I could not recognize anything from looking at the road ahead. Rain fell like waterfall on the glass. The wipers struggled noisily, but in vain. Even though in April it wasn't time for sundown, the outside looked dark as night.
I cracked open the right side door. I thought I spotted couple of houses between the trees. But there was no way I could come out of the car to look around. Even then it was clear that there were no such thing as a shop or a bazaar within a mile or so. And I had no more spare tires with me.
As I was sitting inside the car, I noticed that there was not a vehicle or a person on the road. Had I then come a wrong way? I did have a road map with me. I had reached Siuri I knew, but maybe I had taken a wrong turn after that. That did not seem improbable, especially in the blinding rain. But even if I were going a wrong way, it wasnt Africa or the dense forests of South America that I would have to wander aimlessly around!
Wherever the place was, I realized it must be somewhere in Birbhum and should not be more than fifty miles from Shantiniketan. I thought everything would clear up after the rain stopped; maybe I could even manage to find a car repair shop within a mile or so. Taking out of my pocket the packet of Wills and matches, I lit a cigarette, and remembered Bhola babu's premonition. The gentleman must have been a sufferer himself—how could he have offered me such a great advice otherwise?
In future— Honk honk honk! I was dozing off when the sounds of a horn woke me up. I noticed that the rain had abated somewhat, but the darkness had become deeper. Honk honk honk! I turned around and saw a lorry parked behind my car. Why was it honking? Was I blocking the entire road? The lorry could not be blamed, I found out after stepping out of my car.
When the second tire went flat, my car had turned a bit and had blocked, if not the whole, at least half of the road—leaving no room for the lorry to pass.
What happened? Now the Punjabi driver's assistant came down from the lorry, and the three of us somehow managed to turn the steering wheel and move my car to the side of the road. I learnt from the lorry driver that it was not the road to Dumka. I had come a wrong way, but Dumka wasn't more than three miles. He also informed me that there wasnt any car repair shop around. The lorry left. When the rumble of the lorry faded away, an intense silence enveloped the surroundings.
I realized that I was in deep trouble. There was no chance of reaching Dumka that night. I had no idea how I would spend the night. I listened to the chorus of frogs coming from some nearby pond.
The rain had let up somewhat. At other times, I would have enjoyed the damp smell of the earth, but not in this situation. I stepped back inside the car; but what was the point?
Is there any other place on earth more uncomfortable than an Ambassador car to stretch ones arms and legs? I was about to light another cigarette, when suddenly I noticed a faint ray of light falling on the steering wheel. I craned my neck out of the car window and saw a square shape of light through the trees.
It looked like a window. If there was smoke, there must have been a fire, and if there was light from a kerosene lamp, then there must have been—human beings! I thought there must be a house nearby, a place where people lived.
Taking the flashlight, I got out of the car. The light wasnt far away.
I thought I should go ahead and see. A narrow path seemed to lead through a jungle towards the source of the light. I didnt care. After locking the car, I started walking. I somehow managed not to trip and fall. After sloshing through the puddles for some time I went past a tamarind tree and saw the house. It would be wrong to call that thing a house—it was a thin-walled brick hut with a tin roof. Through the half-open door I saw the squarish leg of a rope cot in the smoky room lit by a kerosene lamp.
Koi hyay—is anybody there? A short middle aged man with thick mustache came out and squinted as his eyes fell on my flashlight. I lowered the light. Where have you come from, Babu? I gave him a gist of my story and asked, Can you arrange for a place nearby to stay in the night? I will pay whatever it may take. Will you stay at the Dak Bungalow?
Dak Bungalow? Where is that? I realized my mistake as soon as the question arose in my mind. Due to staring at the glow of the flashlight and the lamp, I hadnt noticed the surroundings. Now, turning the light I saw a big old-fashioned, one-storied house on my left.
Pointing to it I asked, Is that the Dak Bungalow? Yes, Babu. But you wont get any bedding or food here. Pirate stories have a special and privileged place in adventure fiction and Treasure Island is a pure and unmatched example of the genre.
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard This is a wonderfully strange book. It reads like an extended, imperialistic fairy tale. Three Englishmen one an over-sized aristocrat go in search of the legendary mines with the help of an ancient map drawn in blood. They come across a lost kingdom, participate heroically in a brief and extraordinarily bloody civil war, then discover a hoard of untold riches in a hidden cave.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain In most adventure stories the land represents home, safety and security, and the water represents danger or at least the possibility of danger, but Twain brilliantly inverts those values. Laid over the more conventional and human gold-rush narrative, is the real story—the story of Buck, the initially domesticated dog, and his reversion to type.
The veteran travel writer Paul Theroux took it on in his A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta, which is a novel narrated by a blocked and despondent travel writer! Article continues after advertisement There is a long tradition of Bengali detective fiction stretching back over a century, although sadly hardly any of it has been translated into English. Much of it deftly intermingles Bengali society and traditional interactions with Sherlockian logical detection techniques an almost universal love of Holmes is one positive legacy of British imperialism in India.
Nihar Ranjan Gupta wrote an astounding 80 books featuring his detective Kiriti Roy. Bollywood has adapted several of the books, but unfortunately there are no English-language versions. Possibly the most widely translated Bengali crime writer of an older generation is the Calcutta-born Satyajit Ray. This is probably because he is the best-known Indian movie director internationally. Less well known is that Ray created the private eye character, Feluda.
The Sherlock Holmes-style detective stories are aimed at children.