Lord You Showed Me The Way
Didn’t Show Me The Road

by Subimal Misra,
Translated from Bangla by V Ramaswamy


Excerpted from Actually This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar’s Tale


Popular wisdom has it that Rome was founded by the sons of Mars,
Romulus and Remus. A she-wolf suckled the newly-born
twins – yes, a she-wolf …

Alas, unknown to us
Both our hands
Got scorched sometime

In ’47, after becoming the Governor of West Bengal, Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari had said in a meeting, Poetry is in Bengal’s air. He did not say this after hearing any Bengali poetry, it was his PA who had advised him to say it. The two body parts of the two Bengals were then, like a mutilated goat, gasping in the hope of a little bit of oxygen. Almost to a plan, a people were consigned to becoming permanent refugees. A few hundred thousand people huddled together like animals on the streets and pavements, and in rail stations. He heard poetry in Bengal’s sky and air then.


All thieves have two to four associates who help them blow away the stolen money. The whole country was partitioned among ten or twenty fortunate people then. Cupboard, wardrobe, sofa, dressing-table, cot, radio, television, fridge, collected works of Rabindranath Tagore, Bankura horse and compensation for property in the other Bengal – so much’s needed to stay alive – coloured Puja supplements to match your heart’s desire – Anandalok – let me send the cook to buy some meat –
Did you have any booze today, pal


Get lost, bastard
Thanks to a conspiracy of two or three people, a people, an entire people, became permanent refugees. That was called independence … for the greater interest …

Forget all this talk about the country, Mister –
wear silk cloths and recite the Gita every
morning, especially the second chapter.

Father was seriously ill once. He was cured of his ailment after wearing an amulet given by a sadhu baba. After recovering from his illness, Father’s faith in sadhus increased tremendously. One day, while returning through a forest, he saw a sanyasi with matted hair sitting under a tree on the wayside, the sacred fire lit beside him. After making obeisance, he sat down on the dirt. There were mutual introductions. His name was Jungli Baba. Father brought the sanyasi, Jungli Baba, home that very day and kept him there. His sacred fire burned all day and through the night in the verandah adjoining the living room. Finally, when word got around of the pretty maidservant becoming pregnant, he disappeared.
I massaged his legs.

It was the time of nation-wide elections, the last day for the filing of nomination papers. Astrologers were panting. For the last two months, they didn’t even have time to breathe. An old astrologer of long standing in Kalighat, said: Brother, till yesterday it was so bad that I didn’t even get time to empty my bowels. Members of all the parties were crowded in my house, whether Marxist or non-Marxist, sometimes openly and sometimes secretly. Some people came by car in the middle of the night so that people wouldn’t see them. They demanded to be told the most auspicious time to file the nomination papers after studying their horoscopes and determining the various planetary influences on their zodiac signs. This was the scene throughout India, mister, not just in West Bengal. The sale of gemstones associated with various planets skyrocketed. A former MP from South India declared that he won in the elections because of the blessings of the Lord of Tirupati. At the very moment when he went to file his nomination papers, with clockwork precision, a grand puja was performed in the temple at Tirupati, the priests loudly chanting mantras, praying for his victory. After all, it was because of the blessings of the Lord of Tirupati that he had been able to get elected as many as three times.


Continuously, the sound of the black van
Continuously, the newspapers full of reports about Dalits burnt alive
In Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh
Through the chimney of Kali Mata Rice Mill

Wisps of smoke emanate             continuously

His ashrams were spread across the world, the number of people outside India who knew him was ten times the number of those in India who knew him. His teachings were translated into twenty or twenty-five languages and printed, with pictures, in five-colour offset. If his picture was hung in a room, holy ash flowed from it. He had a massive Sunmica-top secretarial table, where beautiful women sat illuminating the room. As soon as I arrived, Baba told me the name of the book I had been reading on the train, he put a pinch of dust in my hand, I saw it transformed into two huge Ganguram rossogollas. The foreign disciples were all seated, rows and rows of them, waiting for a bit of dust of his feet.

Here a Bengali calendar, printed in five-colour,
has to be imagined, with a picture of bathing gopinis,
and Lord Krishna stealing their clothes. It could

not be printed for lack of money.

Baba’s sadhana practice was somewhat different. He didn’t say that the body was perishable, rather he had discovered that God dwelt within the body. His theory about the body was very interesting. A huge hall. The walls were sparkling white. Incense burned inside, in the dim light the entire hall was half lit and half in shadow. On the pretext of devotion to the Divine, about a dozen of us male and female disciples entered the room. Opposite every male disciple was a female disciple. As soon as we entered the room, all of us disciples began pulling at the thin, saffron-coloured gowns of the female disciples. Tore them. Baba had said, tear it away with all your strength. There shouldn’t be any undergarments inside. And so, with utmost haste, we tore away everything. And who doesn’t like to tear away women’s clothes. The girls too became enraged. They too began tearing away our gowns. That’s just what we wanted. In delight, snippets of Bombay film songs broke out. And then the business began. Baba had said, scratch and bite a little. That would enhance the pleasure. We did that. We groped, fondled and scuffled for as long as we could. We broke into perspiration, our bodies were drenched in sweat. We continued our sadhana practice thus until we were exhausted.
A difficult face, dark-skinned, savage-looking. The two eyes grey like steel. The nose a lump of flesh. Thick lips. As he walked along, he did not budge an inch if anyone came in his way. His wife had been taken away at night by the babus who came to the bungalow for an outing. He had cut up and killed a babu with an axe. There was a murder trial against him.
Drought. The earth gasping. Eleven-thousand-volt electric cables spanning the sky, floating like a net in the void. The loud screeches of a bird. A long road of black tar. Looking to the fields, as far as the eye could see were rugged wretched faces, here and there were tiny patches of dark green fields of the fortunate few – all the remaining ones, scattered everywhere, were grey and yellow, –
A pre-dawn moon in the sky. The temple lies in faint darkness. A peace flag at the top. Mother Lakshmi’s owl flies off the branch of a hibiscus bush.

… Forget about nation and things like that, mister – wear silk cloths and recite the Gita every morning, especially the second chapter.

The boatman stands, wearing a netted vest over a green checked lungi. Near the bank, a hair-cutting saloon and a tea shop. Two long, thin planks are laid, a crowd of people clamber in. Brown, red, green and blue saris come most to sight. A babe on someone’s shoulder, the older child held in the left arm. They climb aboard the steamer, walking hurriedly over the narrow plank, shouting loudly at their respective folks to hurry … a people, an entire people, become refugees like this …
A shining pair of steel handcuffs hangs on the wall, newly acquired, and a thirty-four year-old portrait – quite unclear, faded …

What’s up, dada – shall we

show our might?

A little sibling for Monu in the womb. Monu’s mother went from house to house in the village, doing the household chores and husking the grain. The affluent folk in the countryside did not yet eat mill-polished rice. In her pregnant condition, Monu’s mother boils the paddy, dries it in the sun, stamps the husking pedal, and wonders: Why don’t I die, death will bring an end to all the troubles.

Lord Ramakrishna had said: The world is a whole onion. Peel away the skin – all your life, peel away the skin – and till the end you’ll find nothing. The world is a veil of illusion.

Sent my thirteen-year-old girl to the babu’s house to work. To get food to eat. The younger son of the house made her pregnant. And then he shows money. Don’t the bastards have mothers and sisters at home …

The gentleman drank a gulp from the glass in his hand, one could observe the descent of the drink down his gullet …
Refugees hoped for assistance. There shouldn’t be a clamour for relief until an all-India committee was constituted – they hadn’t been taught that The paunch juts out half an arm. It bounces like a balloon filled with water.

Some boys and girls were spotted in the casuarina grove, entwined in unbecoming conduct, and when the local administration was informed about the incident, they knocked their hands to their foreheads – what can we do, sir – everything’s god’s wish – call him …

He was a very good boy. Obeyed his parents. Whenever he travelled by bus and passed Kalighat, he knocked his knuckles on his forehead in obeisance and said a prayer addressed to Mother Kali. He never squandered his money on cigarettes, and he knew, he came to know, that everything, everything about our life, is contained in the ‘vedas’.

Swearing-in of Ministry delayed on astrologer’s advice

Barun Sengupta: New Delhi, 10 January 1980
Friday, 11th January, was not a suitable date for all concerned. Consequently, the Ministry will not be sworn-in on Friday. The swearing-in will take place as soon as an auspicious date is determined. It is believed that it was on the advice of a highly respected astrologer that, at the last minute, Indian democracy’s date of swearing-in was delayed.

The wife of a very senior civil servant, terrific influence in the neighbourhood. She used to phone and asked for the car to be sent from the Writers’ Building so she could go shopping in New Market in the afternoon. A theft had supposedly taken place in her house and her inlaid silver zarda box was missing. Standing in front of an audience of a few female neighbours, she grabbed the right hand of the servant girl and inserted it into a pan of boiling oil. The thirteen-year old girl screamed in pain and fainted. No one uttered a word. The servants and maidservants have gone just too far, they’ll steal and yet never admit it …

Whose mother? You don’t know the mother? She’s each and everyone’s mother – the thief’s mother, the ruffian’s mother, the blackmarketeer’s mother, the goonda’s mother, the gentleman’s mother. There – the sattu-wallah who sits under the shirish tree, sattu basket and shiningly washed brass plates arranged in a little bit of cleaned-up space, around whom is a crowd of rickshaw-wallahs under the blazing noon sun – she’s his mother too, and again, also J. J. Birla’s. An old bakul tree. Flowered through the night. Fresh bakul flowers and poisonous ant colonies all around the roots.

Bedana Dasi

I don’t-want, don’t-want, don’t-want, dear

This measured-out love of yours.

Calcutta at dawn: the first tram. A widow, attired in silk, her son, an officer of substance, was on her way to bathe in the Ganga, the sacred stainless steel water-pot in her hand. Near the steps of the Jagannath Ghat, a paunchy, non-Bengali businessman, his two hands joined on his chest, eyes shut in pious worship of Rama-Sita. A band of scruffy looking urchin kids surrounded him, he would throw a rupee coin towards Mother Ganga … a whole rupee coin.

On 12 February 1978, this age’s most noteworthy sacred fire ceremony was conducted at the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. Only four million rupees were spent on the ceremony. The organiser was the former queen mother of Baroda, Shanta Devi. For sacred fire offerings, 32,000 kgs of pure ghee, 500,000 litres of pure milk, 250 quintals of fine-grade rice, 200 sacks of sugar, 60 bags of dhal and 300 sacks of wheat were used. The purpose of the sacred fire ceremony: (1) increase in wealth and power (2) removal of scarcities in commodities of daily necessity (3) increase in food production (4) to bring back peace and love in the minds of people. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Raj Narain left important meetings in order to participate in the ceremony, they flew there.

Jagadalpur, Bastar, 11 March 1980: UNI News.
Recently, a youth from the Muria adivasi community here was taking his pregnant wife to hospital. Two nurses from the hospital had already been to the village and examined the girl and told her that there were twin babies in the womb, and that one baby was dead. Unless she was operated upon to remove the dead foetus, she would die. Her husband was therefore taking her to hospital. On the way, he encountered a group of people from his own village. After hearing about the matter, they said: Good heavens! In that case the dead child in the womb has become a ghost by now. It will kill you too at any moment. You must kill the ghost before it leaves the womb. If you burn your wife, the ghost too would burn to death. After that the man did just that. He burnt his wife to death. No one heeded the wails and screams of the unfortunate woman.

In this part of the manuscript, there’s a statement by the boy who died after being beaten for being a pickpocket, the one whom we thrashed till his balls burst, he died in hospital that very evening –

From the time I was a child, I grew up just like the cows, goats, ducks and hens, till I was ten years old, I had never eaten to my fill – do you know that? The dog on the street – the kids on the pavement too grow up like that, and so we too grew up. How they grow up, what they eat and how they survive – you babu folk will never be able to understand all that.

Morning descends on Calcutta. Sunlight hits Howrah Bridge. The streets awaken. The two banks of the river become visible.

It’s very cold in Darjeeling. Tourists arrive in droves to savour and relish the cold.


Do you know that a large section of refugees who came around 1947 have not been able to make anything of their lives…

He wears saffron silk. Wears a turban on his head, in the style of Vivekananda. A watch on his wrist. The shiny-faced aristocratic sadhu said:

Our ideology is vedic communism. We too refer to Marx, to communism, we ask people to read Karl Marx. We say, where Marx ends, that’s where we begin. We have said what Marx was unable to say. And Marxism is not something new. All of it is contained in our vedas. Our ideology is vedic communism.

Kasim Ali roams the countryside with a bamboo-shearing knife, for two and a half rupees he castrates bulls into bullocks.


Our goal is vedic communism. Where Marx ends, that’s where we begin … And if we carry on like this, even Mao’s dad wouldn’t be capable of making revolution in this country … what … why … isn’t it correct …

Bangladesh will supply shoe uppers worth Rs 40.50 million to India. An agreement towards this end was signed in New Delhi today. The tall and hefty Punjabi refugee of military appearance, settled in Bhowanipur, wearing a dark-colored shirt, lounges on a string cot, sipping milky tea and shaking his legs
Oye, dil mein chakku maar diya

The engine of the car parked right in front roars.



Excerpted from the original Bengali experimental anti-novel, Actually This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar’s Tale (1982) by Subimal Misra. Translated by V Ramaswamy. The translator gratefully acknowledges the Ledig House writing residency for enabling the translation.


Subimal Misra, born in 1943, is an anti-establishment and experimental writer in Bengali and lives in Kolkata. His work has appeared in small, limited-circulation literary magazines (or little magazines) from the late sixties. Over thirty volumes of his stories, novellas, novels, plays and essays have been published. Two collections of Misra’s stories, The Golden Gandhi Statue from America, and Wild Animals Prohibited, have been translated into English.


V Ramaswamy lives in Kolkata. He has been engaged in a long-term project to translate the short fiction of Subimal Misra. The Golden Gandhi Statue from America and Wild Animals Prohibited have been published by HarperCollins India.