Copyright 2015 by Shivaji K. Moitra
2015 General Nonfiction Winner
Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash
seaside town of Digha on the
Bay of Bengal drew thousands of middle-class and budget tourists
during the summer and winter months who descended upon the popular
holiday destination every weekend for some unrestrained fun and
been posted at the
idyllic place on government service I considered myself fortunate to
be on a paid holiday. I was young and single and I loved the sea.
evening I strolled into
the beach-side park and occupied a corner bench from where I got a
fine view of the rolling waves, the frolicking children, the men and
women in queer dresses and of course the beautiful ladies on the
I shared their pleasures
and their laughter and dreamt about finding a graceful beauty for
But it was
here that one winter
afternoon I noticed for the first time an elderly gentleman who was
dancing in the middle of a small crowd of bare feet and untidy street
recognized some of the
children. They were the children of fishermen, hawkers and small
shopkeepers who looked towards the sea and the tourists for their
livelihood. They had no schools to go and no playgrounds to play. The
seashore was their playground and they loitered along the sea beach
while their parents went about their work.
curiosity about him was
roused when I happened to meet him at least twice a month on weekends
at the beach.
I found him
dancing, singing and
entertaining the poor children with chocolates and other gifts. The
children made quite a din as they chased him over the beach and in
the parks and he seemed to enjoy it too.
He was a
tall man of medium
build and fair and he donned a French-cut beard on his sharp chin
that was dyed red. He had a somewhat long face with bushy eyebrows
and he dressed up in a pair of neatly pressed white trousers and a
striped T-shirt. A red cotton cap with a flat top covered his
somewhat balding head while white sneakers protected his feet from
the sand. I presumed he was in the middle of his fifties.
following time the
children told me that their ‘Pagla Dadu’ or mad
as he loved himself to be called, had been coming to them for more
than five years or so.
As we met
each other more often,
I allowed my curiosity to turn our acquaintance into something of a
teacher-and-student relationship because he spoke like a man of
profound education and refined tastes who mixed his philosophy and
advice with a cool sense of humour.
I began to venerate
the man as a fatherly figure who could give me the lessons on life
that none of my young friends could.
did not reveal much
about himself at first except that his name was Paritosh Paul and
that he was a professional from Calcutta. He added that he enjoyed
showering affection upon those poor children who were being denied
the joys and the basic needs of their childhood for no fault of
“Paritosh uncle, you
really have a soft corner for these poor kids,” I observed
day taking advantage of our growing acquaintance.
“Son, happiness is a
commodity. One must pursue it everywhere. These children of the sea
may be underprivileged but their minds are fresh as the sea-breeze
and their love for me is sublime like the sea. Small things make them
immensely happy and they never fail to thank their benefactors. They
understand the price of everything. You can contrast it with the
obnoxious behaviour of the children from well-to-do families.”
There was a
tinge of satire in
when I ambled into the
hotel where he usually stayed I found him examining some children and
dispensing medicines at a corner of the garden.
asked him if he was a
doctor by profession, he just smiled and nodded his head but did not
noticed scratches and
bruises on his hands that were in various stages of healing and many
a time I found him limping mildly and straining his back.
seemed to hurt him he
would sit down to rest on the hull of some fishing boat lying on the
sand for repairs and ask the kids to shower mild blows on his back to
relieve the pain.
afternoon in April
dark Norwester clouds suddenly arrived from the sea and a strong gale
chased us into the lobby of his hotel.
waited for the
thunderstorm to end he sat down beside me on the sofa and reflected,
“Brother, some people are destined to suffer for no fault of
their own and no amount of good nature or dutifulness helps to get
them peace and happiness.”
“What is the cause
observation uncle?” I inquired sheepishly.
“I have spent my
and my youth battling the odds and studying hard to lift myself up
from the quagmire of poverty. I craved for a decent life and
happiness and wanted to travel around the world. I succeeded on the
back of my tenacity.
you don’t get
the time to chase girls if you spend much of the time studying you
tend to do mistakes in later life.” He laughed.
As I tried
to figure out if he
really meant what I surmised, he began to elaborate.
minds and since my experience about them in my youth was too little
to be discerning I too made a mistake when I married a police
officer’s daughter whose father happened to be an
of my father with the intention of setting up the home of my dreams
where love and happiness could reign supreme.
father-in-law had been a
reasonably wealthy man and he had raised his family in style, giving
them the warmth and comfort of which I could not even dream of in
We had a
fine honeymoon at Goa
and I still vividly remember even four decades later what we had for
dinner and how we danced late into the night.
her a snug apartment
with a small garden in the city with a home-loan from my bank. It
cost me enough to make me worry about meeting my repayment targets
for quite some time.
my expectations began
to crumble when I found her totally incapable of respecting my humble
wishes and my sentiments. She had an entirely different view of life
and her mentality happened to be just the opposite of my
own,” he sighed.
“I understand uncle,
come from humble surroundings,” I squeaked, not sure how to
gazed at the rolling waves
philosophically, rubbed his eyes and continued, “She loves to
party and all the comforts and luxuries that money can buy. She is
extravagant and hot-tempered. She doesn’t care a fig for my
likes and dislikes and if that is not bad enough she is incorrigible
and heartless. Her impetuous behaviour has been responsible for the
waywardness of my two grown up sons. They too have also belied my
expectations. They cannot even appreciate the pains I took in my
school and college days to study and come to the point where I am
today and the work I do to earn enough to keep them safe and
“Do they worry you
“Oh yes, they failed
take the benefit of their education and have lost a fortune on the
pretext of doing business and they never stop pestering me for more
money to squander away. And their mother is stupid enough to support
their preposterous proposals and demands.”
“It is a bitter
a hard-working and pragmatic person has to sustain a reckless
family”, I said in a barely audible voice.
sadly and said,
“Brother, if you marry, find a humble girl who loves the
words I understood that
he looked much younger for his age. When I knew how he was being
treated by his own family I could not but wonder how he might have
got those bruises and scratches and speculated about who could be
responsible for his frequent backache.
felt ashamed for my
summers passed and it was
winter again. The sea breeze had begun to grow cool and pleasant.
after bathing in the cold
sea for two consecutive weekends I caught a fever.
I saw the
local doctor and took
some medicines but the fever showed no sign of subsiding throughout
the week and the next.
So on the
next Sunday afternoon
I sat on a wooden chair in the veranda of the old rented house which
had been converted to a mess where I stayed along with five other
young and middle-aged men who worked in the various government
departments but had left their families back in their ancestral
lingering headache did not
let me sleep for long. So I sat gazing at the coconut groves and the
seashore from afar and also thinking about going home if the fever
continued for another couple of days.
saw Paritosh uncle
approaching our gate. One of the teenage boys, the son of a fisherman
who knew my place had shown him the way.
up to me with a smile
and said, “You’ve not been to the park since last
Saturday. So I came to find out what is wrong with you.”
He heard me
examined me like a doctor and frowned.
“Brother, it is
Bring me a paper.”
scribbled some medicines and
added, “Your physician failed to read the symptoms.
worry, you will get well if you take these medicines regularly as
sure I began to take
the prescribed medicines hesitatingly and went home to be treated at
the district hospital.
some blood and other
tests, the doctor at the hospital confirmed my disease and patted me
for taking the right drugs at the onset. I was pleasantly surprised
at the diagnosis made by Paritosh uncle.
A month and
a half later I
returned to Digha feeling almost fit to join my job.
thing in my head was
to thank Paritosh uncle. I understood that he was an experienced
weekends elapsed and
there was no sign of him. The children seemed anxious but had not a
clue for his extended absence.
never before been absent
for such a long period of time; I began to have ominous thoughts
about his well being.
Sunday I spotted the
familiar crowd of children on a half-submerged rock at a distance.
And there he was in the middle of them.'
As I looked
keenly I could
discern his silhouette against the setting sun. But when I got closer
I saw him holding something white on his lap. The children were
crouching around him in a circle listening to something, perhaps a
white thing became
clear to me I was horrified; his left hand was in a plaster which he
cradled on his lap.
“Uncle, how did this
happen?” I asked in a concerned tone.
“Oh! I just slipped
staircase,” he said dismissively and asked, “Are
at his wan face in
disbelief and shifted my gaze at the children. But as I readied my
response our eyes met again and his moist eyes conveyed to me
something that his words tried to hide.
correct and your medicines did wonders for me. I had been waiting
impatiently to thank you. I am so grateful to you,” I crooned.
you’re like my son,” he remarked before the
mobbed him to complete the story.
I looked at
his plastered hand
and asked, “I hope it isn’t very serious.”
“No, just a crack in
Ulna”. He invited me to dinner at his hotel.
up in my best shirt
and trousers and knocked on his door.
me into the drawing
room and lit a cigar. I had never seen him smoking before and I
looked at the smoking thick brown rod with surprise.
about the changing
weather and the children. He told me who among them was intelligent
and who was naughty and so on. He asked me about my ongoing
preparations for job examinations and interviews and encouraged me to
go for a better job.
paused for a minute,
drew on his cigar deeply, expelled a stream of thick smoke and said,
“We may not meet again for a while; I am going to London, for
may be a year or two. Would you kindly do me a favour?”
confusion I asked, “What
favour am I capable of, Paritosh uncle?”
He opened a
drawer and thrust a
couple of bundles of currency notes into my hand.
trembled as I looked
at it and there were in my hand two bundles of notes of a thousand
denomination each. I had not seen so much money in my life and I felt
could respond he said,
“I hope you can take a little care of their small needs
think I can step in your shoes and moreover the children would not
accept me. Moreover, I do not know where I would be transferred after
a couple of years,” I blurted out, somewhat worried about the
them as long as you can. They like you as much as they like me, they
know where love and affection come from,” he said and
my hand and almost dragged me into the restaurant.
elaborate dinner of
rice, dal fry, three choicest dishes of sea fish and chicken curry he
reiterated that the task of entertaining poor kids was a very easy
one since they could be happy with small and cheap things. Then, he
had planned to return to the Glasgow Hospital where he used to work
earlier as a specialist doctor a decade ago.
“Are you taking your
“It is them that I
get rid of for some time. I am fed up with their tantrums. They have
squandered a lot of my hard-earned money; now let them suffer for a
while,” he said with a derisive chuckle.
“Sir, I had long
that you are no ordinary person. But now I understand that you are a
doctor of repute,” I said shyly.
“Yes, I do not deny
I’m well known as a Gynecologist. But I am afraid I still
only a limited knowledge of my subject,” he said in the
tone of a wise man.
early next morning.
Sunday morning I bought
a bagful of chocolates, pancakes, pens and colour pencils and walked
up gingerly to the street corner behind the market where the children
But I could
notice none of the
known faces and wondered how to begin my new role while being wary of
the suspicious eyes around following my forced movements and
of the grown up boys
noticed me and called out the others. They flocked me and asked the
questions that I expected them to ask.
When I told
them the hard truth
and struggled to explain my position, they sat down on the rocks to
cry quietly, or may be not. The sound of their crying was swept under
the moaning of the sea-breeze and the noise of the crashing waves.
they accepted me as a
workable substitute and tried to forget their grief.
following time I tried my
best to do the humble work that Paritosh uncle had entrusted me with
and I derived a certain sublime pleasure out of it. I got the
children admitted to a school built months later by a reputed
charitable organization for the children of poor families.
ups and downs in my
life too. My father left this earth and some of my near and dear ones
drifted away. But I got a promotion in my job and was transferred to
another part of the state.
considerable amount of money
had still remained from the sum Paritosh uncle had given me, which I
donated to the charitable organization.
The day I
left Digha, the
distraught boys and girls trooped along with me to the Bus Station
carrying my luggage on their heads and shoulders to the utter
amazement of the idling tourists and the local people alike. The
arranged my dented boxes, bundles and bulging canvas bags in the
luggage-hold of the bus with tender care as if those were some
expensive pieces of luggage carrying some valuable property. There
was heavenly love in every touch of their tender hands and every drop
of tears in their eyes. I tried hard to keep my eyes dry but failed
when they waved their hands and bade me the most precious goodbye of
my life. The bus slowly rent us apart.
had gone by when one
morning a newspaper headline caught my attention. It read,
‘Calcutta’s eminent Gynecologist shoots wife in a
rage and ends in the sea.’
In a breeze
I went through the
news item and there it was. The Doctor’s name was Paritosh.
In a flash
the memories of Digha
began to leap before my eyes vividly, its craggy shoreline, its
landmarks, the fishermen’s shanties, the fabulous hotels and
the forests hugging the seashore. I could almost identify the exact
spot given in the picture in the newspaper.
used to go on a long
walk over the solitary stretch of the beach almost a kilometer away
from the spot most favoured by tourists. A stretch of Pine forest
abutted a slivery slice of the steeply sloping shore. A huge board
warned bathers to stay away from the dangerously dipping beach and
It was here
that Dr. Paritosh’s
lifeless body was reportedly found floating by fishermen returning to
deliver their catch. His battered head was resting on a shallow rock
and his body was being rocked gently with every hit of the foaming
waves. Streams of blood still streaked into the sea water like the
arms of an octopus.
I spent the
entire day wondering
when did Paritosh uncle return home from his self-enforced exile and
what had prompted him to return to Digha for the last time.
Press kept speculating
about the turn of events which could have lead him to shoot his wife
and end his valuable life in a popular tourist spot, I shook my head
in disbelief. I knew something about him that the Press may never
find out, I mused.
He had been
a wise man of divine
virtues and a great doctor for his patients. But there was a child in
him who was beckoned again and again by the eternal waves and the
forsaken children of those waves. I tried to imagine how the children
I knew looked eight years later and if they were still around to pay
their last respects to him.
“Uncle, I shall
forget you,” I whispered to myself and lit a candle for him
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
story list and biography
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher