B o n r u i
(a short story)

by

Shyamal Bhattacharya
Asstt. Editor : Sakalbela (Agartala Edition), VIP Road, Gorkha Basti, P.O. Kunjaban, Agartala-799006 (Tripura)- India
Ph. 94367-67509, <shyamal1964@gmail.com>


I can never decide whether my dreams are the result of my thoughts, or my thoughts the result of my dreams (D.H.Lawrence)

He wakes up crying. Not howling but heartrending. It's yearning in his entire being. Shivering he stands up. The make shift bed is on the floor. Bratati and Riya are lying beside him on the floor. The bed has not yet been brought from the house of the elder brother in law. Transferable job has made him habituated to such inconvenience.

The dream keeps shaking him in the bathroom too. But Hiren for the last few days has not thought of Sweta even once. There are so many bad dreams associated with her. He still remembers her childhood face when he was returning to duty from his first leave after completing his Air Force training, she was crying holding on to his feet, "I will go with you Dada, take me with you!" What a desperate cry it was! Going back, Hiren had cried for days thinking about her!

After wiping his hands and face, he goes out into the balcony to find the early morning Sun rising from behind the Charlie Hanger. Rows and rows of fighter planes are waiting to be repaired, an AN 32, two Chetak helicopters and one Cheetah Helicopter owned by the Army. At the end of the row there is a MIG 21 with almost all its machine parts opened. The bodies of the helicopters are covered with tarpaulin except for the blade, tail blade, wheel and the skid. Since the AN 32 is not covered it is got wet due to the mist. The front screen is blurred. Vermillion coloured clouds cover one corner of the sky. The fog has cleared now. The wind has stopped. Is it going to rain? If it rains then the cold would become biting. He dresses listening to the chirpings of crows and mynah as well as other unknown birds on the Korui tree which reaches almost the fourth floor balcony.

He calls Bratati and tells her, I will be back after making a phone call. She opens her eyes, surprised. Frowning she asks, where?
Home- will come back and tell you.

His hands and legs are in a great hurry. Getting out of the house he climbs down the stairs with speed. He has been climbing this staircase for the last one and a half months but has never counted the stairs. It is not that he could not if he wanted to. Everybody gets that much of time. Actually the thought never struck him before.

Getting down he realize that he has forgotten his scooter keys. His cycle keys are in his pocket. But there is no time to go upstairs. It is already 5:45am. Telephone rates are going to change within the next fifteen minutes. So he rides the cycle and starts paddling. Faster and faster! The cycle runs on the 80ft wide taxi track. The air base was constructed by the Britishers. The concrete taxi track also belonged to the British era. Later on when the new war planes started arriving, after the Indo-China War of 1962, the road was widened, however, only with pitch-cover. In those places the cycle as well as the cyclist shakes. But it's a smooth ride on the old and original concrete.

A fox crosses the road. There is scorched grass on both the sides of the road. They were burnt, pouring oil, because of an inspection. Amidst the burnt yellow lifeless grass already green grass have started sprouting! Beside the lake around a freshly cut tree trunk a group of monkeys are doing something. Hiren paddles faster!

The STD Booth is beside the guard room. Two retired army men look after it. Once he enters the booth he finds it crowded with people from all over India. A Tamil on the phone was shouting happy New Year to someone. Two Sikh youths are sitting on a stool outside the glass room. Five-six people were waiting outside. Instead of waiting any longer Hiren paddles faster. But there are no booths open on both the sides of the National Highway. After traveling a long way he finds a booth, beside a plastic manufacturing factory, open. The factory has twenty-four hours shift duty so the adjacent booth also remains open twenty four hours. The boy's name was Imran. He calls his brother or his colleague Imtaaz, in Hiren's presence and tells him,-Come fast I need to go to the loo!

Hiren smiles! Everyone is helpless when nature calls. He dials the number. Doesn't get through! He dials, redials but the satellite betrays him. Hiren continues trying with renewed vigour. Imtaaz asks him to add a code after the number. He applies code before and after the number and creates a digital train but to no avail. When he redials the fourteen digits dance in front of him and then stops before his eyes.
Now it is 6:45am. Even after trying continuously for half an hour Hiren could not get through to Agartala. In the mean time two or three people have come into the booth to make phone calls. Occasionally Imtaaz has stopped him to let them make the calls. Everyone gets connected. Hiren is frustrated.

Finally at 6:58 the phone on the other end starts ringing. It continues to ring. He looks at the wall clock. Each ring lasts for two seconds. It's not an engaged ring. Then why isn't it being picked up? The excitement increases. The digital clock on the telephone monitor strikes seven. The wall clock is three seconds slow. He will be late for office. He looks at Imtaaz. Imtaaz too stares back at him with the receiver to his ears. He redials twice and says, bad luck Dada, the telephone at your home is not working. Hiren gets up. He has to go to work. Noisy bus-truck-auto-rickshaws on the National Highway emit smoke. Covering his nose with one hand and balancing the cycle with the other he covers the quarter of a mile, enters the road to the Air force base and inhales deeply.

The DSC guard at the entrance asks for the identity card. Hiren bites his tongue. Rushing out he forgot to bring his card. He realize with a sorry face. He once again has to apologise before the Warrant Officer of the Air Force Police. The officer gives him a familiar smile; alright you may go but remember the next time.

Hiren nods like an obedient boy. Embarrassment makes his ears hot. He was that anxious! He continues feeling uncomfortable within. He controls himself.

Rows of scooter, motorcycle and gypsys stand on the taxi track. Hiren presses on the paddle. A few people are staring at something towards the lake. Two Central School students are also there. One of them shouts, crocodile!

Crocodile here? He gets down from his cycle and spots a one and half feet long crocodile like scaly animal. This is Bonrui! Although it looks like a crocodile its mouth is comparatively shorter - almost like a mongoose. Its body and tail are scaly like that of a rahu fish. During his childhood he had seen such a Bonrui in the forests of Tripura. He had got lost in the jungles of Jatanbari- he had screamed looking at it. Like the Lord of the jungle the old Jatankumar had picked him up on his lap. Later on, he came to know that Jatanbari was named after this legendary forester. Today throughout the world environmentalists are fighting against dams on rivers. Their agitation has resulted in the destruction of dams in many parts of the world including America. In India too people like Medha Patekar, Baba Amte had been fighting against such projects and have managed to gather public opinion against them. But that day Jatankumar alone had protested against the Dombur Dam Project. No one listened to him. Re-naming a region after him the clever government has fooled this Adivaasi leader. Hiren sighs!

A fox sniffing the grass goes near the Bonrui, licks it and that makes the Bonrui go into the water. The fox too gets scared and starts growling like a dog. Everyone starts laughing. Just at that moment the siren starts blowing making everyone conscious and they get going with a start. Hiren too. The red cloud turning black is covering half of the sky. Wind is blowing hard. It seems that this taxi track is a deck of a huge ship and the siren a warning of an impending storm.

Counting and climbing up forty eight stairs in totality Hiren sees that Riya is ready for school. Bratati is putting her tiffin box in her bag. Both of them at once ask him in unison, what happened?
- It was ringing but no one is picking up the phone. Got to write a letter!
- Try once again at night. Don't you want to go to the office?
- Of course I will! I will write a letter in the office.
- You will write a letter in the office? Bratati gives a crooked smile.
Embarrassed, Hiren smiles,- I have to write the letter today.
- Tell me what's wrong.
- I dreamt
Bratati is taken aback,- a bad dream? You are moved by a dream? But you never believed in them.
Hiren says,- I dreamt we are going somewhere. You people are there, so is Sweta. The train slows down and we get in. Sweta is carrying a bag, Ria has a camper, you have a suitcase and I too have something.

Sweta opens the door and gets down once the train stops. Moving forward through the window I see it's a deserted station. It's not our destination. Listen don't get down, the moment I say this train starts moving. We keep calling, -Sweta get in, Pishima get in! I rush to pull the chain but it's very hard. I hang on to the chain and its comes out. I fall on a seat and looking through the window I see that it's almost the end of the platform, and Sweta is running with all her might. The train does not stop. It leaves the Platform. Then it was water all around till the horizon. The fields are submerged in water-or is it darkness? I let out an incomprehensible beastly cry and wake up.

For a while everyone is quite. Then the sound of the school bus is heard from below. Going out of the door Riya says, don't worry we will be getting down at the next station. So we will wait there and you can go-

Bratati says, it's not that easy baby, you never know what will happen. You won't understand. This is India! She goes downstairs to see Riya off. The balcony door bangs shut by the strong wind. Hiren locks it and starts shaving. There is no point getting so emotional. He has been running after his dream since dawn. At that moment he is reminded of the bonrui. It went into the water scared. But since it is not an aquatic it has to get back to the land.

Hiren has not seen a bonrui after he grew up. He has seen scales and bones of the animals being sold on the pavements of Agartala by herbal quacks. Since it lives on tiny insects, ant holes and termites it has no armour on its body to protect itself. That's why maybe it's on the verge of extinction. Where did it come from out here? There are factories and settlements all around. That means in this artificial sanctuary the animal has been there for ages. Because of the inspection since the grass was burnt it has been forced to come out, then goes into the water when the fox licks it. Once all the animals rose out of water adding limbs to themselves. Man is its outcome. But man himself is trying to destroy the natural balance continuously. Has the bonrui added any organ suitable to live in water? What if? Ouch! A sudden careless stoke of the razor results in a nick on the chin. He tries to concentrate looking into the mirror. Bratati has not returned yet. Wind blows with a sound. The storm has come. How will he go for his duty today? The bonrui with its easy swim in the lake makes Hiren optimistic. He wishes that if he could go back into the past through the time machine train he would have seen Sweta reigning as an empress in that deserted station covered in moss but with illuminated features. The grip of the winner over time is strong.
Written and published in Bangla in 1997 (Sambad Pratidin). Translated into english by

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(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Jan-April 2013)