Prof. Basanta Kumar Khilar
THE POSTMAN, THE PRIEST AND RAY SAHIB : SOME OLD MEN AND CHILDREN IN THE STORY OF MANOJ DAS
Prof. Basanta Kumar Khilar
Reader in English, Khaira College, Khaira, Balasore
A writer is dear and necessary for us only in the measure in which he reveals to us the working of his soul.-Leo Tolstoy
He is Marxist Manoj and devoted Das in one. Inspiring mother Kadambini, mutinous Marx and elevated Sri Aurobindo patterned “naughty Mantu” to magic Manoj who overwhelmingly continues to mesmerize the readers with his multifaceted writing and creating for them a literary wonder land. His literary longing was initiated by his mother who flooded his mind with fables and fairies, myths and mysticism which form in him a conventional and quintessential India in his writing. The other India which occupies the nerve centre of his creation is post-Independence India, an India with engineers, professionals, politicians, ministers, mayors, hypocrites and bureaucrats. The artistic amalgamation and antagonism between the characters and backgrounds of two Indians find a fertile ground for humour and satire in his creation. While R.K Narayan wrote stories and novels profusely to divert Indian mind and attention from westernized India, Manoj Das thought infinitely and wrote infinitely about an India he encounters with its contemporary concerns. If changeless India takes him to a trance, the changing India brings him back to reality.
His literary empire is affluent with poems, stories, novels, travelogues and column. To wade into his kingdom is to miss one’s way unless he keeps some marks and indications for his return. To ensure a safe study of his characters, the readers may divide them broadly into two classes – the children and the old people.
Out of his numerous stories which are peopled largely by old men and children, one may take up the trio the postman, the priest and Roy Sahib, a group of elderly and ageing people chosen from different professionals. Little Rina and the postman in “ A Letter from the Last Spring”;Lakshmi and the old priest in “ Lakshmi’s adventure”; Baboo and Saboo and their possessive father Roy Sahib in ‘Trespassers’ are quintessence of Manoj’s people.
From the balcony of the upper floor, a little girl waits at least four hours every day for the postman for a letter from her mother, asks the same question, “Is there a letter for me ? My name is Rina”, then moves away slowly with a sigh and her anxious expectation ends in a vacant look. She forms the pleasant habit of bestowing her look upon the writer who usually stands on the upper floor of a small hotel opposite her house and feels deeply for the writer and realizing that he too never receives any letter from his mother, ultimately hands him the last letter through the watchman written by her mother during last spring. The theme and its presentation is spontaneously lyrical. All the elderly people in the story are loving and endearing. They all encircle little girl almost like stars encircling the moon who is no other than extremely understanding Rina. The story sends a message that love is triumphant and a binding force to sustain human existence. The traumatic experience of waiting for something and never getting it is surely a deficiency. Life without deficiency is no life. The story has an inward movement. Whatever happens in the story, happens inside, in the inner recesses of mind and in silence. The intimacy and closeness between the little angel and the writer without audible exchange proves how silence is more eloquent than words. The implication in the story suggests that there is one language in the world; it is the language of human heart. Little Rina could study it. Is the child the father of man?
Silent Rina can be juxtaposed with the six year old, outspoken and alleging Lakshmi who in the summer noon stole of her house, spied upon the snoring old priest, crossed over him and hastily entered into sanctum sanctorum and overwhelmingly opened her accumulated grievances before the presiding deity. Lakshmi encounters life, poverty and deprivation. She experiences the vast gap between the money – lender and the borrower and reacts, “For your information, God, we did not go to the bazar, for who will give, me a frock without money?” Lakshmi’s sorrow can be shared but Rina’s can’t be because of the aloneness of her suffering. One who suffers alone, suffers in the mind. The attitude of the elderly people to her was quite shocking and overpowering when the cruel people headed by the priest pursued her and she dashed into the pond, stood waist – deep holding two bananas close to her bosom and a lot of angry voices demanded her to come out. After silently suffering for three days, she died. This shocking scene is synonymous with the ignorant and the wicked chasing Jesus Christ to crucifixion. The older people such as priest/the local leader, two trustees and some others were corrupt, merciless who inflicted pain to the innocent child. Manoj’s world is not a desperate world but a world which offers rays of hope to live. The priest’s prayer, “God! Next time let this sinner be born without a tongue I” invites flood of light to remove darkness. At least a chance is given to the sinners for self-realization. The world he envisages is neither utopian nor a paradise lost already but it is a world that shows ray of hope amid suffering. His approach to life is humanistic.
We come across a different set of elderly men and children in “Tresspassers”. Roy Sahib decides to bring up his two sons, Baboo and Saboo in sahib – frame. Both the prospective sahibs were patterned and structured to live a regimented life, a life of emotional vacuum within where as Lakshmi lived a natural life amid poverty and Rina lived a secluded life against a background of all parental promises and belongingness. The over-possessive Roy sahib sealed all the doors and windows of his children’s mind and too prevented fresh air and light to their lives. The adverse effect of too much discipline erupted when Mr and Mrs Sahib were driven out, first by their elder son and daughter-in-law, and then by their younger son and daughter-in-law, thus doubly driven to double storied cream-tinged impressive building with elegantly walled compound. He disciplined and segregated his children from others but ultimately falls a victim of over-discipline and segregation. Manoj Das gives a chance to the erring characters, a chance for self-correction. Rai Sahib has been reduced to a trespasser by his obedient, disciplined and sincere sons. Now the stray children rush to his residence without the queries of the Durwan and prior-appointment from little Sahibs.
Thus the writing of Manoj Das is combined with and supported by a marvelous feeling for reality, large and varied familiarity with the world.