(This story is translated from the original Bengali “Birinchi Baba” by Parashuram — Raj Sekhar Basu. This is the second story in the series of his works that I’d like to translate. This project is inspired by a post by Justin Cox 🍩. Thank you, Justin!
In general, stories from one language to another are not exactly translatable. Nevertheless, some mappings of expressions are as follows:
Babu = Equivalent of “Mr”
ji = Equivalent of “Mr” or “Respectful Elder” in Hindi
Mama = Maternal uncle
Brahmo = A Hindu religious sect focused on principles of virtue, and scientific outlook; started in the nineteenth century in Bengal during the Bengal renaissance. )
There was this small yet clean men’s hostel at Habshibagan Lane in Calcutta. Nibaron — the manager of this hostel— was a jolly good fellow but otherwise, very particular about keeping the hostel in order. The hostel had five or six residents, all of them were relatively well-off. It had a living room with a large carpet spread on the floor, was well-stocked with musical instruments, chessboards, decks of cards, board games, and magazines.
The annual festive season of Bengal starts tomorrow; except for Nibaron and Paramartha, the two residents, most residents have left for their country houses. Both of them had nowhere else to go, as for both of them, their in-laws were visiting them in Calcutta.
Nibaron is a professor. Paramartha is an insurance agent, but he also practices Hatha Yoga and Theosophy. Today, these two gentlemen and their next door neighbour Nitai-babu gathered in the living room of the hostel and were chatting. Nitaibabu is a regular visitor; he is an elderly gentleman; younger members in this hostel hold him in high esteem.
Thus lamented Nitaibabu, “Tell you what brothers, I have lost all interest in my life. My house-maid has absconded, daughter is down with fever, wife keeps nagging, and these days I cannot even catch a nap at the office as this new supervisor keeps a sharp eye on us”
Paramartha said, “Why, I thought you had enough chances to nap at work, hadn’t you?”
Nitai: “Those times are over, brother! What a time we had when Mr Mackenzie was around! You of course know Uncle Barada! Barada Mukerjee from Shyamnagar. He used to take his shot of opium around half past two in the afternoon and would be sleeping at his desk till half past four. The rest of us would go to the tea-room to catch our naps, but our good old uncle would rather have it as his desk. So, it happened that one day he was ticking off a list in his books, when he felt asleep. He was so good at it you wouldn’t know a thing, no snoring, none of it; he would hold his pen exactly below the ledger total. Unbelievable if you ask me! Who would say he was asleep from a distance?
As he was sleeping at his desk, Mr Mackenzie walked into the office.
Everyone was on alert. Mr Mackenzie watched our grand old uncle for sometime. Then he pinched him on the shoulder. Uncle blinked for a while and then muttered, “Here is seven off thirty seven and then there’s three on three”. Mr Mackenzie laughed and said, “Have a cuppa tea, Babu!”
Those days are a thing of the past. I am fed up with my life and family. Only if I were to find a good sadhu, a religious master, I’d rather renounce everything and be on the road.”
Paramartha: Why I saw a sadhu today at the Jagannath bank by the river — quite an amazing sight really. People call him “Mirchai-baba” (“pepper-baba”). He thrives on nothing but green peppers. Not rice, no rotis, not even sattu, for that matter, just green chillies, and only green chillies. Tens of thousands people visit to receive medicine from him, and he casts a spell on chillies and gives his visitors one green chilly each— eat it and you will be cured of your illness. I have even heard that he has a guru who is more accomplished than him, thriving only on wood shavings.
Nitai: Hey, Master Nibaron, after all, you have passed Master of Arts in Philosophy — can you not tell us the spiritual significance of chillies and wood shavings? Please stop playing that annoying tabla of yours, will you?
Nibaron was reading a monthly magazine. It had five stories. Each of the stories had heroines who were virtuous sluts. After struggling with the stories, he threw out the magazine, picked up a tabla, and started playing. He listened to Nitai-babu, stopped playing and said, “Well those are the various ways of spiritual attainment; just as there are the so-called ways — the way of the knowledge, the way of Karma, the way of devotion, so are there these other ways — the way of the chillies, the way of the wood shaving, the way of salt, the way of the first day of the moon, the way of cowpat, the way of the lock of hair, the way of the beard, the way of the crystal, the way of the raven …”
Nitai: And what about the way of the raven?
Nibaron: Don’t you know? Last year I was in this fair in the fields of Hariharpur. There I saw a large bamboo cage, where they had a few hundred crows. A guy stood by the cage and shouted, “… a couple of dimes per crow!” I thought that these crows must be from Multan or Peshawar, surely these could read scriptures. I approached a large crow and whistled — read my mynah, in the banks of Chitrakot, recite Sitaram, Radhakishen. The crow instead jumped forward to peck on me. The seller told me, “Babu, a crow cannot read”. “Well”, I asked, “what good is this then? I get to hear that crow meat is bitter, what would people cook with these?” He said, “… it’s not about eating them. These crows are confined in these cages. You spend two dimes per crow and buy as many as you want and then set them free. If you set them free, you will earn good Karma to set yourself free from this life”. I thought what a peculiar idea about the way of freedom. Just because another person will be set free in some future time by doing good Karma, this seller of crows is wasting his present moment. If you will know, this is the law of conservation of virtue, one must commit a vice so that another will gain virtue.
As he said this, a young man, in his twenties, dressed in a hat and suit, rushed into the room. He turned on the fan in the room at its highest setting, slammed his hat on the floor, and collapsed. He was Satyabrata; Satyabrata had just given up on his education and he was looking for a job. He panted, “I am in big trouble!”
Satyabrata often used to be in big trouble, so no one in the room evinced any concern about his troubles. Seeing that no one paid attention to him, he muttered to himself, “After sweating it out in the office all day, I cannot even hope to have some fun in the evenings! I was going to watch a movie in the matinee show, when my aunt said, ‘Satey, you are ruining yourself. You should come along with me and listen to this religious talk by Reverend Sanyal’. What could I do? I had to accompany my aunt to Reverend Sanyal’s talk. Tell you what, everything in life is a hoax. Reverend Sanyal was speaking about being compassionate to all beings, and I was thinking of cockroaches”.
Satya: Yes sir, three tonnes of them. We have a forward contract for shipment around November-December for about forty pounds and fifteen shilling tonnes of Cockroaches from CIF-Hong Kong. China will go to war we hear, so we have to stock beforehand. Our boss has ordered us to stock everything by next month. Can you tell me from where I am going to get all these cockroaches? I am indeed in great trouble!
Nitai: Satey, after all you are a Brahmo. You are not supposed to lie, should you?
Satya: Oh well, why not? As long as I do not lie to my aunt.
Nibaron: Satey, do you know of a good Babaji?
Satya: How many do you want?
Nitai: Come on, this is not a joke. You guys do not even believe in prayers and spells, what about Babajis?
Satya: Well, of course, we believe in spells. The other day my aunt had toothache, she could neither sleep nor eat, she also could not speak except for shouting at our uncle. All of us in the household were scared. Peppermint, aspirin, amulets, folk remedy — nothing worked for her. Then our uncle started such a strong spell of prayers that in three days, the tooth fell off.
Paramartha reprimanded — “Well Satya, do not joke about things you do not know. Prayers and spells are the same. Do you agree that prayers can generate tremendous cosmic energy?”
Satya: Of course, boy do I agree. In support of what you say, there is this priest, Taritananda from Rajshahi. College kids call him “Radio baba”. The babaji has two locks of hair, one is positive, and the other — negative. He sucks electricity from the sky. He flashes eighteen inch long sparks, who dares approach him? You have to wrap yourself in silk sheets even to go near him.
Nibaron: Alas! chillies, Vedanta, or electricity will not suit Nitai-da. Pray tell us if you know of any lesser babajis. But he needs to show something of his power, great talk alone will not work. What would you say Nitai-da?
Paramartha: Well then, why don’t you visit Gurupada-babu’s garden house in Dumdum. You will get to see Birinchi-baba there.
Nibaron: Gurupada-babu, who? Isn’t he the barrister at Alipore Court and the father-in-law of our Professor Noni? Now where did he get hold of a babaji again? Satya, pray tell us.
Satya: I heard from Noni-da that Gurupada-babu recently has come under the spell of a Babaji. His personality has changed after his wife passed away. Before her death, he used to be a non-believer.
Nibaron: He also has another daughter, hasn’t he?
Satya: Yes, she is Bunchki, sister-in-law of Noni-da.
Nibaron: Well, Paramartha, how is this Babaji?
Paramartha: Amazing I say! Some would say he is five hundred years old, others would claim his age five thousand, but he looks as old as Nitai-da. If you ask him, he’ll tell you with a wry smile that there is no such thing as age. Time does not change, nor does space. He who is the accomplished one remains forever in invariant time and space. Say, this is September of 1925 and you are in Habshibagan Lane. If Birinchi-baba so desires, he can drop you to the time of Emperor Akbar in Agra, or perhaps in the Fourth Century B.C. in Pataliputra.
Nibaron: Messing with the business of Einstein, eh?
Paramartha: Einstein, huh? Now where did Einstein learn all his theories you think? We hear that when Birinchi-baba used to meditate in the hills of Czechoslovakia, Einstein used to daily visit him for lessons. As it happened, Einstein could only go as far as relativity theory.
Nitai-babu was all ears to this conversation. He asked, “Well, what about this theory of Einstein?”
Paramartha: Tell you what, space, time and observers depend on each other. If space or time should change, the observer should change as well.
Satya: Not quite. Let me make it easy for you, listen. Say you are a fat man, and went to the building of the Indian Association, and you then weighed 100 kilograms. Then from there you went to Geratala Congress Party Committee meeting — you will weigh just about 25 kilos — you will get blown by the wind.
Nibaron: Right. Our cook buys two and half kilos of potatoes from the market, but by the time he reaches our hostel, the potatoes weigh nine hundred grams.
Nitai: OK Paramartha, looks like Birinchi-baba himself is eternal. But does he make life profitable for his disciples, do you know?
Paramartha: Depends on the disciple of course. Just the other day he turned around the fate of one Mekiram Agarwala. He took him to 1914 for three days, just before the beginning of the first world war. Mekiram bought five thousand tonnes of iron scraps at throwaway price. Baba then immediately dropped Mekiram into 1919, right after the war was over. Mekiram sold his scraps at a huge profit. He then brought him back to the present time. He is a millionaire now. If you do not believe me, you can check for yourself.
At this, Nitai-babu firmly grasped both hands of Paramartha and became emotional. He said, “Brother Paramartha, please take me to Birinchibaba as soon as you can! I will do whatever it takes, I will sell everything if that will work — if only I can, by the grace of the Babaji, be in 1914 for a week, if only it were possible. I will not forget you of course, Paramartha. You will get ten percent of the profit. Oh my God! Oh my iron scrap!”
Nibaron: Could Gurupadababu himself make some money?
Paramartha: He is not worried about his present. I have heard that he is going to gift all his property to Birinchi-baba, his guru.
Nibaron: So it has gone that far? What’s the matter, Satya? Your Noni-da, and your sister-in-law, why are they silent about this?
Satya: As you know, Noni-da is an absent-minded scientist busy with his experiments. My sister-in-law is a nice woman. They will not be able to do anything. If anyone would be able to do something about it, that would have to be you and me. As such we cannot waste time.
Nibaron: Then let’s go to Noni’s house now. We need to learn more about this before we go to Dumdum.
Nitaibabu was busy with paper and pencil estimating his profits from iron scrap trade. As soon as he heard that Nibaron and Satya were about to go to Dumdum, he said, “Are you going to visit the Baba as well? If too many people visit him, he may get irritated. Besides Satya is a non-believer atheist, and a trouble-maker at that, he does not need to go there. After all, you all are Brahmos; why aren’t you be busy with your own gods and goddesses whoever they are? I suggest that before anyone else, let me and Paramartha visit him. You can visit him after us, one of these days, of course.
Nibaron: Nitai-babu, you have nothing to worry. We will not demand anything of the Babaji, we will just talk about scriptures with him. If it works for you, let us all go together tomorrow evening.
Professor Noni had never been a real professor in his life, although he passed several examinations and had quite a few university degrees. His friends call him professor as he mucks around doing experiments in his house all day. He earns a princely sum from renting out his ancestral properties and as a result, he does not have to worry about money or income. Noni is the son-in-law of Gurupada-babu, he is also a distant cousin of Satyabrata, and a class-friend of Nibaron.
Nibaron and Satyabrata reached Noni’s house around eight in the evening. No one was present in their living room and their servant informed them that his master and mistress were in the courtyard inside the house. Nibaron and Satya went inside. Inside the courtyard they found a large pot on a stove. A green coloured gunk was boiling in that pot, and Nirupama — Noni’s wife — was stirring the mixture with a stick. On the deck in the courtyard was placed a harmonium. A rubber pipe connected the harmonium with the pot. Professor Noni stood on the side inspecting this apparatus.
Nibaron said, “Well, Nirupama, for whom are you cooking so much mashed leaves?”
Nirupama said, “These are not mashed leaves, we are boiling grass here. You of course know he has many ideas in his head, this is one of them.”
Nibaron said, “Oh, so you are boiling grass? Why, can our Noni not digest raw grass anymore these days?”
Noni said, “Nibaron, do not make light of this serious issue! We will solve the problem of hunger in the world!”
Nibaron: Oh well, not everyone is a ruminant animal like our Professor Noni that they can subsist on grass!”
Noni: Oh my! This is not going to remain grass anymore. We are synthesising protein here you see, grass is getting hydrolysed to generate carbohydrate. All you have to do is to add a couple of amino groups and you get hexa-hydroxy-diamino …
Nibaron: Enough of it. What is this harmonium doing here?
Noni: Didn’t you understand? The harmonium is here to supply oxygen to oxidise the grass. Niru, will you please play the harmonium?
Nirupama pressed the pedal on the harmonium. No music came out of it: instead there were bubbles in the pot carried by the rubber tube.
Nibaron: Just bubbles? I thought there would be music as well, mingled with the grass to create green melody. Anyway, Bou-di, what happened to your father?
Nirupama sighed in embarrassment, “Haven’t you heard anything? He is behaving strangely since mum’s passing. Then there is this Ganesh-mama, and he found a guru from somewhere. Ever since my father found this guru, he is lost in a different world. He does not have any care for the world at all, all day he keeps on chanting the name of the guru. We have pleaded much with him, with no result. We have heard he is going to gift his property to his guru. I’d have gone to his house, but my mother-in-law is so ill, I cannot leave home now.
Satya said, “Noni-da, after all, you can try to reason with him, can you not?”
Noni said, “How dare I do that? My father-in-law will think that I am greedy for his property.”
Satya: Then why don’t we give them a good thrashing.
Nirupama: No don’t do that. If you take to violence, it will hurt my father. Instead, see if you can reason with him.
Satya: That would not be very easy. Well, bou-di, can you tell us what’s the matter with this Baba-ji?
Nirupama: This is going on for a month. He is in our garden house in Dumdum. He has his junior disciple, Kebolananda, with him. Ganesh-mama runs his errands. My father is in that house these days. Every day two to three hundred people visit him. These people go there to listen to the strange sermons of Birinchi-baba. Every Sunday they do the fire-ritual. From the fire, they bring out one or another deity. Sometimes it is Lord Rama, another time it would be Lord Brahma, yet another day it would be Jesus Christ, or Sri Chaitanya. Not that just anyone will be let in that sanctum; only those who are great devotees are allowed there. I was present on the day Lord Brahma emerged from the fire pit.
Satya: What did you see?
Nirupama: Well, I was not able to see much. The room was dark, and behind the fire-pit was a huge image that had four heads and a large beard. I nearly fainted. Ganesh-mama dragged me out of the room. Bunchki has more courage, she has been watching this for some time now. Tomorrow, they are going to see Lord Shiva.
Nibaron: Why don’t we go tomorrow to meet Birinchi-baba, and who knows, if he is kind with us, we may even get a glimpse of Lord Shiva as well.
Nirupama: You will have to curry favour with Ganesh-mama first. Unless he agrees to it, you will not be able to enter the sanctum sanctorum.
Nibaron: I will take care of that. But Satey, I do not know what to do with you. You may not be able to control yourself, and will start laughing at all this.
Satya shook his body in protest and said, “Not at all. You will see who the “F” is .. ouch!”
Nibaron: What happened, why do you stick out your tongue.
Satya: Beg your pardon Bou-di, I have just managed not to say the F word. Had I uttered this in front of my aunt, it’d be a disaster.
Nibaron: So we are going back to our hostel today. By the way, Noni, can you suggest us something that will make a lot of smoke?
None: What kind of smoke do you want? If you want red smoke, add copper to nitric acid, if you want purple smoke, use iodine vapour, if you want green vapour, then ..
Nibaron: No, we want plain white smoke.
Noni: Then, tri-nitro-di-methyl
Nibaron pressed his hands to his ears, and said, “There you go again. Bou-di, how do you handle this guy, really?”
Nirupama laughed and said, “I have seen that when they burn wet hay at the cattle shed in my uncle’s country house, it generates a lot of smoke”
Nibaron: Eureka! Bou-di, you are going to win the Nobel Prize, Noney will get none of it!
Nirupama: What will you do with the smoke?
Nibaron: We have much trouble with vermin at our place, let’s see if smoke helps.
Gurupada-babu’s country house in Dumdum was once nice and flashy. Since his wife died, it has fallen into disrepair. After the arrival of Birinchi-baba, the house was repaired. The growth in the lawn around the house was also cleaned. Despite these, the house did not regain its earlier appearance. Gurupada-babu cared nothing about his house or family. His brother-in-law Ganesh now stayed in this house and controlled the household.
Nibaron, Satyabrata, Paramartha, and Nitai-babu reached there at around five in the evening. The house had a large room in the ground floor where a carpet was spread. The disciples sat on the carpet. At one end of the carpet was a cushion on a tiger-print rug. Birinchi-baba would sit on that cushion. Women devotees would sit in an adjacent room. Baba-ji had not yet emerged from his prayer room. The disciples were eagerly waiting for the Baba-ji and were discussing his greatness in hushed voice. A middle-aged man in European attire managed to sit cross-legged with great trouble. He was O.K. Sen, bar-at-law. He recently turned to religion after suffering major financial losses of his investments at a coal mine.
Leaving Paramartha and Nitai-babu in the room, Nibaron and Satyabrata came out, walked around the house, and stopped by the main gate. Next to the main gate was a room with tiles on the roof. It had a stable, and living quarters for the coachman, the gatekeeper, and the gardener.
In front of the stable, Maulvi Bachhiruddi the clek, Jhonti Mian the coachman, and Feku Pandey the gatekeeper were busy gossipping. The maulvi was from Faridpur and he was a clerk to Gurupada-babu. Since Gurupada-babu had given up on his practice, he had lost his income. In any case, he still visits his master to collect monthly payment and as such is a regular visitor here.
The maulvi was describing the current state of the world in his Faridpur Urdu dialect; the coachman and the gatekeeper were vigorously exhibiting their agreements with him. A syce was patting a horse nearby and was shouting now and then, “ठहर या उललु” (“hang on there, dolt!”). A large-faced cat hung about in the field in front of the house — he was fed on the fish head that Birinchi-baba would throw away after his meals.
Satyabrata said, “Salaam Maulvi sahib. All’s well? Pranam Pandeji! Is our coachman-ji well? Don’t you know this gentleman? He is Nibaron — friend of Noni-babu. He got some money for you — Maulvi sahib, ten rupees for you, and five rupees for each of the rest of you.
The Maulvi was overwhelmed. Bachhiruddi, Feku, and Jhoti smiled and expressed their gratitude.
Maulvi said, “Babu, the happy days are over. Since our memsahib ascended to Behest, our master has lost his heart. I pleaded with him not to give up his law practice but he did not listen to me. Everything is the wish of the Khuda.
Nibaron said, “That baba-ji is the root of all evil”
Feku Pandey found a support to his ideas and expressed his opinions. “Birinchibaba is hardly a Baba-ji. He does neither sport a beard, nor does he keep long hair that are hallmarks of Hindu sages. He eats fish and meat. He cannot do without his daily cups of tea and biscuits. These bengalee Baba-jis are impostors. Then there is this minion Babaji who is like a scorpion — he can even bite Feku Pandey. But he does not know that the said Feku Pandey played sword in the sepoy mutiny (though Feku had not born during the Sepoy Mutiny in India in 1857); if once his master would allow him, Feku would break the bones of these fake Babajis.”
Maulvi said that he too had to tolerate humiliation. He was not prepared to be bossed over by Ganesh-babu. After all, he was an aristocrat, the Royal Mughal blood flowed in his veins. Even though most people would call him Bachhiruddi, his real name was Medram Khan, his father’s name was Jahan Baaz Khan, his forefather was Abdul Jabbar, and he never belonged to Faridpur — his real country was in Arabia, that Arabia otherwise known as Turkh. Everyone wears lungi there, and they all speak Urdu in that land. He too would do the same but for his job, he had to learn Bengali. In the middle of that Arabia is Istanbul, and to the left of Istanbul was Baghdad. This city of Calcutta is nothing compared with Baghdad. To the south of Baghdad is Mecca, and that, he possessed a bottle of holy water from Mecca — Aab e Zamzam. If his master would command him, he would sprinkle the holy water on the two satans, and he would dispatch the two sons of satans and Ganesh-mama beyond the seven seas to the gateway of hell.
Nibaron said, “Look Maulvi sahib, we will drive away the two Babajis, if we can, today. But we won’t be able to do it all by ourselves. We need your and gatekeeper-ji’s help”
Feku: Do we have to fight?
Nibaron: No no. You do not have to worry about anything. All you have to do is to shout and raise your voices, that’s all. Can you do that?
Feku and Others: Of course. We shall put our heart to it. But what if our master gets upset?
Nibaron explained that their master would have no reason to get upset. After a while he would return and explain what they would have to do.
Nibaron and Satyabrata set off to the court of Birinchi-baba. They met Ganesh-mama on the way. He was busy arranging the fire-pit ritual. As he saw Nibaron and Satyabrata, he said, “Good to see that you too have come. Heh heh. How have you been? Nibaron, heh heh, how is your father? How is your sister? Satyabrata, how is your uncle? Your aunt?
Everyone in Nibaron’s family were well thank you, as was the case with Satyabrata. This assured Ganesh-mama as he seemed to have lost sleep over the well-being of everyone.
Satya said, “Mama, did your son-in-law get a job? If not, why don’t you send him over to our office after the vacation? We have an opening.”
Ganesh: May you live long, my son. After all, you are my own folk, if you will not look after us, who will? I will ask him to meet you as soon as the office reopens.
Nibaron: Mama-babu, may we ask for a favour? We seek to have a divine encounter.
Ganesh: Well, why don’t you go to see him. Everyone else has been there, you know.
Nibaron: Of course we are going to see him. But we definitely want to see the real God — in the fire-pit room.
Ganesh-mama bit his tongue in reverential awe and said, “My goodness, how can that be? You have to plead and do a lot of good karma to be privileged enough to enter that room. Besides, our Satya is — well — as we say, — er “
Nibaron: Bloody Brahmo, isn’t he? But he has not yet that much of a Brahmo in him after all. He is, what Hindus would say, the Prahlad among the demons, he has maintained his Hindu traditions. He recites the Gita, he watches plays, he enjoys food from the temples. After all, you are a senior man, else you’d see how well versed he is with religious scripture if he were to argue with you.
Ganesh: Anyway, once you give up your Hindu ways, you cannot get it back you know. Besides, I have also heard that you, Nibaron, eat beef, the forbidden food.
Nibaron: Oh well, everyone does, don’t they? Even our Gurupada-babu has consumed plenty of beef in his life. So, shall we take it that you will not let us in? So, do you not give us any hope? Well then, let’s go Satya.
Satya: Bye Mama-babu. By the by, I suggest your son-in-law learn typewriting for a few months more — there is no point in suggesting him for a job, he is too much of a novice for our office. I can try for him in our next vacancy if that ever comes up.
Ganesh: Oh no no, boys. Please do not deny him the job — by the way, Satya, as you mentioned that you read the Gita and all. This is just fine for you to enter the fire-ceremony room. Remember to sprinkle some Ganges water before you enter the room. But please do not forget my son-in-law’s case.
After Ganesh-mama was out of sight, Nibaron told Satya, “Everything seems to be in order so far. Have the other boys come?”
Satya: Yes, they are in the court of his highness already. They will be here right on time. Well, Nibaron-da, do you think Ganesh-mama gets a cut from the money that Birinchi-baba and his accomplice make here?
Nibaron: God only knows. Ganesh-mama will continue to profit as long as Gurupada-babu remains detached from his household.
Birinchi-baba was holding court. He was fair, well-built, and clean-shaven. His pair of bright eyes shone through the thickness of his well-fed cheeks on each side. His nose was as large as a samosa, and he hung a gentle smile on his large, broad lips; beneath the lips, layers of fat rolled down his chin. His appearance was fit for a Swami-ji. He wore saffron coloured robe, a saffron coloured cap perched over his head, its sleeves rolled over his ears. You wouldn’t guess his age to be five thousand years, rather, you’d think he was between fifty and fifty-five. Below his pedestal to the right, his disciple, Kebolananda Maharaj, was seated. No one could figure out how many centuries old he might be, although he appeared quite a strong man. He too wore a similar attire as his Guru, but you would see his clothing was of cheap quality. Left side of the pedestal, you would see the slight and pale Gurupada-babu, his head resting on the pedestal. He appeared half-asleep, but you wouldn’t know if he were sleeping. In the side room for the women, seated in the front row was a girl, about 18 years. She let her unkempt hair over a red saree she draped. Now and again she cast a sad eye on her father. This girl was Bunchki, she was the younger daughter of Gurupadababu. Some disciplines prostrated with folded hands in front of the pedestal. Other disciples in the room waited there with folded hands waiting to drink the nectar of Babaji’s speech.
Satya prostrated before the Babaji and found a seat among the disciples. Nibaron went past the objections from the disciple Kebolananda, and firmly grabbed both feet of Birinchi Baba. With a wry smile, Babaji asked, “How do I know you my son?”
Nibaron: Nibaron-chandra is the name of this prodigal soul, my master!
Birinchi: Nibaron? Is this what you call yourself these days? Where have I seen you before? In Nepal? No, wait. Ah I recall now, I have seen you before in Murshidabad. You of course would not remember. I saw you in the palace of Jagat Seth, on the day of his mother’s wake. Quite a large gathering there — King Krishna Chandra, Rayrayan Janki Prasad, the Army commander of the Nabab — Khan Khanan Mahabbat Jung, Amirchand from Sutanuti, he is known in history as Umichand. You were an accountant with the Sethji. Your name as — wait, I remember now — Motiram. Seth-ji arranged for a grand feast on that occasion, everyone marvelled at it, except for the Babus of Sutanuti. They were upset that they had fewer sweets than what they would like to have. Oh well, Motiram, er, Nibaronchandra — you should learn how to recite the Dhurjati-mantra. This will serve you well. Everyday, after getting up from bed in the morning you should rapidly recite “Dhurjati, Dhurjati, Dhurjati”; well then, take a sit there.
Nibaron touched his feet once more and pretended to lick the dust off the Babaji’s feet. Then he went to sit in the middle of the disciples.
Nitaibabu whispered in the ears of Paramartha, “Did you see? As soon as Nibaron entered the room, he caught the attention of the Baba-ji, and look at me! I have been waiting here for an hour and a half, to no effect. This is luck, I tell you. I am going to grab his feet, whatever it takes.”
A few people prostrated on the ground. One of them was a portly elderly gentleman. He wore a starched ironed fine clothing, and you could see his gold chain dangling around his neck through the dress. He was the famous broker Gobardhan Mullick, recently he married a third time. Gobardhan-babu slowly arose from his position, folded his hands and respectfully asked Birinchi-baba, “Baba-ji, which, among the ways of habitual desire and of cessation, is the preferred one?”
The baba-ji wryly smiled, “Tulsidas asked me this exact question. We eat. Why do we eat? Because we are hungry. What do we eat? Rice, cooked food, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and so on. What happens when we eat? The cessation of hunger. Hunger is a desire and eating leads to its cessation. So, at the root of material merriment is desire and the result of material merriment is cessation of desire. Tulsi was a recluse hermit. I said, Tulsi, unless you are materially merry, you won’t achieve cessation. After he completed writing the Ramayana, I made him King Mansingh. Mansingh acquired much property, but none of it lasted. His son married a Bengali girl and wasted it all. Bankim did not write these things in his books.
Exclaimed the Barrister O.K. Sen, “W-o-n-derful!”
Nitaibabu could not resist himself any longer. He rushed in front of the Baba-ji and pleaded, “Please have mercy on me, Master!”
The baba-ji furrowed his eyebrows and asked, “What do you want my son?”
Nitaibabu stuttered at this and replied, “Nineteen Fourteen.”
This is Satyabrata’s great problem — he cannot control himself from laughing out loud. He can crack jokes with a straight face when he wants, but when he hears funny words from others, it becomes difficult for him to control himself. He uses a trope to control laughter. If a situation arises where he is in front of his elders that provokes laughter, he imagines something dreadful. Not that it helps always.
Birinchibaba asked, “Nineteen Fourteen? What about then?”
Nibaron whispered, “One nine one four, Calcutta. No reply? Try again miss!”
Satyabrata imagined a carpenter was hacking his back. Shreds of his skin kept coming apart. Oh but for the unbearable pain!
Nitai-babu pleaded with Birinchi-baba, “Please take me back for seven days to the days before the great war. I want to buy cheap iron scraps; Babaji, I beseech you!”
Birinchi: What do you do for a living my son?
Nitai: Sir, I am a ledger-keeper for the Vulture Brothers, earn a hundred and fifty rupees a month, hardly can make both ends meet
Birinchi: You can not acquire God-like wealth cheaply my son, you have to go the hardest way of penance. You will have to push the Muladhar cycle and bring Kundalini to the cycle of control, then you will have to elevate it to the Thousand bloomed lotus. The thousand bloom is the Sun. You will then have to push back the Sun. Unless you are well versed in the Solar Science, you will not be able to control the tower of time. This is very expensive — you will not be able to afford. You might as well try reciting the Martanda-mantra for a few days. Stare at the mid-day sun and recite 108 times “martanda-martanda-martanda” everyday, but very rapidly. Yet be careful, you should not blink, nor should you stutter, for if you do, it will not work and could be dangerous for you. You could even die.”
At this, Nitai-babu was crestfallen as he returned to his seat.
Birinchi-baba continued, “Everyone is after fame and fortune these days, but money and fame need to get into the hands of the right kind of person. I used to argue with Jesus about this. Jesus used to say that the rich cannot go to heaven. I said, why do you say that? If the rich were to make good use of their money, they would certainly be able to go to heaven. How sad that he met his end the way he did.”
Mister Sen could not believe his ears and asked, “Excuse me my Master, did you actually know Jesus Christ?”
Birinchi: Ha Ha, Jesus was but just an young fella.
Mister Sen: My Gawd!
Satya imagined he had swarms of locust in his ears, and bugs in his nostrils were tearing at them. Mister Sen asked Nibaron, “So, he would probably know Goutoma Booddha, wouldn’t he?”
Nibaron: Of course. Let alone Gautam Buddha, our Master used to hang out smoking weed with the Creator Manu-Parasar. He knew everyone. He even knew Bhagirath, Tutankhamen, Nebuchadnezzar, Hammurabi, Neolithic Man, Pithecanthropus Erectus, including even the Missing Link.
Mister Sen was so impressed at this, he exclaimed, “Oh my!”
A group of seven tigers were chasing Satya. Ahead of him were three bears with claws drawn about to strike him.
Birinchi-baba continued with his sermon, “Once, after the great flood, Baibabswat Manu told me — wait, when was that? Was that during Nillohit Period — the Period of the Great Blue-Red Giant? No, I suppose it was when the Period of the Great White Boar had just about started. So there was this Manu the Creator and he asks me, “You see Birinchi, now that I have created Man, where are these creatures going to stand? What are they going to eat? There is water everywhere, isn’t it?”
I said, “What are you worrying about Bibu, I am there for you. I know the Science of the Sun like the back of my hand. Then I raised the power of Sun, it sucked out all the water around, leaving once more earth, full of plants and life. After all, I am the one who controls the motion of the Sun and Moon.
Mister Sen could only manage a grimace in amazement.
Satya imagined he died in a collision of two fast moving trains — the Punjab Mail Train with the Darjeeling Express train. The whole thing was a bloody mess — his aunt was devastated …
His pent up laughter was about to burst open though his eyes, nose, and mouth! In his desperate attempt to restrain himself, he covered his face in both his hands and converted the power of laughter to shriek and started wailing loudly.
Birinchibaba asked, “What happened again? Let him come to me.”
Satya went near him and said, “Deliver me, my Master, for I have started hating my life as a human being. Please convert me to a deer and release me in the hermitage of Sage Kanwa in the great age of Treta. I want nothing — I do not aspire to go to Heaven, I do not want fame, nor do I want wealth. All I am after are a bunch of freshly cut grass, Shakuntala would have to cut them herself and feed me with her own hands. And also give me a pair of horns so that I can ram into King Dushyant!”
Nibaron said, “Master, it seems that this child has gone mad. After all, he has suffered a lot in his life!”
The clock struck seven. Following his daily routine, Birinchibaba suddenly attained a state of transcendental bliss. He closed both his eyes and sat immovable. Only his lips quivered a little. Mama-babu, the disciple, and two other disciples in the room lifted his body and took him inside his meditation room. The session ended today. The devotees started leaving.
Nitaibabu said, “The bugger looks like a cobra with no venom! Such a Baba-ji is of no use for me. Why don’t you show us some samples of what you are capable of? Rather than fibbing about what he did in the prehistoric times! Well Paramartha, let’s go now. We might as well be able to catch the Seven Thirty express to Calcutta. We do not have to worry about Nibaron and Satey. They will look after themselves. Well, let’s try the Pepper-Baba tomorrow.
Satyabrata found out Bunchki and asked her, “Can you please give me a cup of tea? Nibaron-da will be here anytime now. As you see, my voice has become very hoarse.”
Bunchki said, “The way you were shouting, no wonder your voice has become hoarse. What a scene did you create before my father. What might he be thinking about you?”
Satya said to himself your father was unconscious anyway. He said, “I am so sorry for the show. I promise that I will never ever do this again, please forgive me. I will seek your father’s forgiveness and will please him before I return home today.”
Bunchki: Sigh! My father has lost all his senses of pleasure these days. He is barely alive. He does not know, nor does he care, as to who is saying what before him.
Satya: This will end soon, mark my words. There comes Nibaron-da.
It was about nine in the evening. The fire-ritual had just about begun. The disciples have already left the gathering. Only Birinchibaba, Gurupada-babu, Bunchki, Mama-babu, Nibaron, Satyabrata, and Gobardhan-babu remained in the fire-pit room. Gobardhan-babu was a special disciple of the Babaji, he promised he would build a three-storey Ashram (Hermitage) for Birinchi-baba. The fire-pit room was small, the doors and windows were almost closed, Mama-babu was guarding the door of entry. Baba-ji’s disciple Kebolananda was busy elsewhere preparing the food and drinks for Babaji’s dinner. A butter-filled lamp was flickering in the room. Birinchibaba was deep in meditation in yogic posture; in front of him was the fire-pit. Behind Birinchibaba sat Gurupadababu and Bunchki. On one side of Gurupadababu and Bunchki was Gobardhanbabu, and on the other side were seated Nibaron and Satya.
Birinchibaba meditated for a long time. Then he sprinkled water from a small ladle all over the room. The small butter-lamp was extinguished. There was no flame in the fire-pit, except for a few pieces of fiery-red embers. Birinchibaba put his hands over his mouth and made an eerie vibrating noise with his mouth and hands. The small room was shaking from this deep, bu-bu-bu sound.
Satyabrata whispered in the ears of Bunchki, “Are you scared, Bunchki?” Bunchki said, “No.”
Suddenly, blue flames leaped up from the fire-pit. In that faint light from the flames, everyone could see — it was indeed Lord Shiva! Behind the fire pit a white figure with tiger skin, wearing a garland of bones and skull, and carrying hand drums — it was unmistakably Lord Shiva.
Gurupadababu did not speak nor move. Gobardhan Mullick was pleading in an earnest voice about his business and his wife from the third marriage to Lord Shiva. Ganesh-mama was fervently reciting a prayer of Lord Shiva. He learned that prayer from his younger daughter who learned it in her religious school.
Nibaron quietly told Satya, “Do it now.”
Satyabrata cried, “Bom Baba Mahadev!”
A while later there was a commotion outside. Somebody shouted, “Fire, fire!”
Birinchibaba stopped making his vibrating sound. He looked restless and looked around him. Mama-babu stepped outside in a rush.
“Fire broke out— please come out as soon as you can!”
A thick smoke swirled and started filling the room. Birinchibaba jumped out. Gobardhan-babu followed the Babaji as he kept shouting. Bunchki tugged her father’s arm and said, “Wake up, father”. Nibaron said, “Do not leave now, there is nothing to worry.”
Lord Shiva now became aware of what was going on. He started fidgeting. Nibaron lighted a candle. Lord Shiva tried to escape through the back-door. As he tried to escape, Satya grabbed him.
Shiva said, “Eh — please let me go — I do not like this joke by jove, there is fire everywhere, please let me go, I warn you again”
Satyabrata said, “Where’s the rush? Let’s get to know each other a little. After all, Kebolram, since when have you started acting as God?”
A few people entered the fire-pit room from outside. Nibaron and Satya left Kebolananda with Feku Pandey; then helped Gurupadababu and his daughter outside the room.
There was no fire in the house. Someone lit up wet hay in an adjacent room; the gatekeeper, Maulvi sahib, the coachman and a few of Satyabrata’s friends raised a false ruckus about fire.
Birinchibaba did not give up. He said, “Well Gurupada, did you get in the end what you wanted? How can an atheist achieve divine sight? This is why even if you had the sighting of the God, he did not stay. He mocked you with the appearance of human.”
Satyabrata said, “Mockery indeed! From the soiled Mahadeva out came Kebolananda! Birinchibaba turned out to be a master con-man!”
Gobardhanbabu said, “You tried to pull a fast one on us, didn’t you? Gobardhan Mullick is a merchant with five business houses, he deals with the top Englishmen of the land, and you tried to cheat him? Thrash him a couple of good ones”
Gurupadababu had regained his composure by now. He said, “No no, let them go. Satya, please arrange a stage coach and see them off to the train station. No one should insult them anymore.”
After Birinchibaba and his accomplice had packed their belongings, Satya saw them through to the coach. As they were leaving, Satya told Birinchibaba, “Master, you are finally leaving, are you? Please take care of the Sun and Moon, after all, they are now under your custody. See to it that they function properly. Regulate them from time to time, and do not forget to oil them every now and then.”
The crowd thinned out. Gurupadababu said, “Nibaron and Satya, you have saved me. I will not forget how much you meant for me. It’s already quite late now, please stay tonight and have your food here. There, Satya, why do you have blood on your hand?”
Satya: Nothing much, during the tussle, Lord Shiva bit me on the hand.
Gurupada: Come with me, Bunchki will nurse your wound with a tincture of iodine.
After they had dinner, Satya said, “What a big trouble!”
Nibaron said, “What happened again?”
Nibaron: Pray tell me.
Nibaron: Come again, Satya. What’s the matter?
Satya: I am going to marry Bunchki.
Nibaron: I get it. What if Gurupadababu does not agree?
Satya: Of course he will.
Nibaron: Even if he does, what does Bunchki say?
Satya: She is making strange noises.
Nibaron: What did she say?
Satya: When I proposed, she said, “No way”
Nibaron: Stupid, don’t you know that “No way” is “Yes way”.