Tuesday, June 18, 2024


Dhaka Tribune


Update : 09 May 2017, 02:49 PM
I am a detective that has only two wants in life: To solve every case I am put to and to satisfy my wife. Before I was a detective I worked for my family. We shared a residence, but my kin treated my wife poorly and, after a row with my elder brother, I decided it was time for me to leave. This was a bold move. My elder brother was the bread-winner, and I knew that by leaving the family I was leaving my home and my history and all the protection that those things gave me. But I have never been the kind of man that doubts himself. I did, after all, charm a gorgeous wife. I knew I would be able to use those same powers of persuasion to turn my fortune. I, Mahimchandra, am not a man that flounders. After my wife and I left I joined the police force. I was initially given a low ranking position. However, it didn’t take long for the force to recognize my gift for investigation. My wife was glad we had left my home, but was frequently engulfed by black clouds of jealousy. The job of a detective requires travel to many unsuitable locations at many unsuitable hours. She suspected infidelity. I tried to explain to her that working at odd places at odd times is a skill that a detective has to hone. This only caused the doubts and fears in my wife to bloom. Many times she tried to insert her own jealousy within me. She would say, “You spend your nights working here and there and never meet me in the spaces in between. Don’t you worry about what I do at night?” To which I always replied, “To doubt is my profession, so I do not bring it home.” And then my wife would profess, “To doubt is not my profession—it is my habit. Give me a hint of a reason for doubt, and I can do nothing but nurture it.” In spite of my wife’s discouragement I was determined to make a name for myself as an investigator. In an effort to educate myself I read all of the detective cases and the detective fiction I could find. All this reading, however, only heightened my level of dissatisfaction. There was impatience brewing in my mind. Bengali criminals are cowards. They are buffoons. The crimes they commit are simplistic. Murderers can barely restrain their delight in bloodshed. Frauds entangle themselves in rudimentary designs. What pride is there to find in such artless crimes? There is no pleasure in solving simple cases. After I effortlessly captured the notorious Marwari swindler at the Boro Bazaar I thought to myself, “The criminal underworld of Kolkata is beyond boring. Criminals should be skilled craftsmen, but the thieves in this city are bumbling fools who would be better suited as local idiot religious men.” Often, after I had just caught a murderer, I would become exasperated and speak directly to him. I would say, “The state-of-the-art government gallows were not designed for simple-minded fools like you! The reason your lot becomes murderers is solely because you lack imagination!” During my long tedious days at work I would fantasise about the artful criminals contained amidst the towering skyscrapers and misty skies of the crowded streets of London and Paris. I would become filled with excitement whenever I thought of the waves of European people working industriously, flowing through and up into their tall buildings and around their streets and wide roads, and all of the most fierce, repulsive, brilliant criminals secretly teeming among them.
Then, all of the sudden, it became painfully obvious that without a woman in the picture unbolting the door to this young man’s secrets would be very difficult. One day, after this revelation, I stopped Manmath and spoke to him. I talked in an emotional tone. I said, “Brother, I love a woman, but I fear my feelings are one-sided.”
Kolkata, on the other hand, is completely banal. The houses on either side of the Kolkata streets always have their windows open and nothing of note happens other than cooking and chores, studying for exams, games of chess or cards in the living room, quarrels between husband and wife, at the most household disputes among brothers threatening to hire lawyers – never does it seem to me, when I stop to peek into a home that Satan may, at that very instant, be sitting quietly and thoughtfully in one corner of the residence, hatching his very own dark, bleak, black eggs of mischief and conspiracy. So bored was I with the lack of crime in Kolkata that I began to venture out into the streets and observe the movements and facial expressions of passersby. If anyone’s impression or expressions left a feeling of doubt within me I secretly followed them home. Every time I thought someone was suspicious I would check into their whereabouts and family history, and discover, with enormous despair, that they were all honest individuals. None of them had even a single crime on their record. When I interrogated their relatives and friends they refused to speak ill of the suspect. The pedestrian who, to me, appeared to be the most heinous criminal, turned out, upon inquiry, to be a professor at the local elite high school, simply returning home after a long lecture. Had people such as the professor been born in a different country they might have become the most notorious of robbers. It is only because of the banal nature of this country that people of such intelligence choose to pursue scholarship and then comfortably collect pensions in their old age. After many such investigations I began to detest this innocent scholar more than even the simple-minded burglars that so aggravated me. But then, one evening, right across from my own home, I saw a man under a gas-post who kept wandering around the same area without reason. As soon as I saw him I had not even the slightest doubt that he was involved in some grand conspiracy. I hid in the shadows and took a long look at his appearance—young and handsome. I said to myself, “This is the face of a criminal. His handsome looks alone are evidence against him. People never suspect the good-looking. They assume that they’re innocent. People who have faces such as these are always serious offenders. With such a face as this young man, one cannot commit petty crimes.” Just by looking at him it was obvious that the lad only had the capability to plan and execute grand schemes. In my mind I rejoiced. I thought, “If this young man can utilize the gift God has given him, and he is as heinous a criminal as his face portrays, then ‘Bravo!’ I have finally found my match!” Overcome with excitement I decided to speak to him. I came out of the shadows of the gas-post and said, “Hello there, are you doing alright?” He looked surprised and turned ashen. I said, “Excuse me, it was my mistake. I thought you were someone else.” The young man’s shiftiness confirmed what I had suspected. However, I was disappointed that he acted so astonished. If he was such a great criminal he should have had greater control over his body. But even the most skilled criminal must have weaknesses, I supposed. Nature maintains her standard of imperfections even when making thieves.
Also read: http://www.dhakatribune.com/magazine/arts-letters/2017/05/05/the-wifes-letter/
After we spoke I returned to my hiding place in the shadows. I watched him as he hurried away into the night. I followed him through the city until he stopped at a park and lay down on a grassy patch next to a pond. I knew he must be trying to concoct a way to get out of some heinous crime he had committed. Sitting next to a pond people would think him much less suspect than if he was standing under a gas-lamp. If anyone saw him lying on the grass they would think he was tracing the outline of his fiancé in the night sky. I realized as I watched him that this young man had a certain type of charisma. I was drawn to him. Upon further investigation I discovered the location of his residence. I learned Manmath was his name. He was a college student. He had just finished his final exams and was now spending the summer in Kolkata alone. His housemates, all students as well, had all left to spend the summer in their native villages. During the long summer holiday, it is typical for college students to escape back to their village homes. I was determined to uncover what malevolent star had detained this young man to stay solitary in the city. To get closer to him I disguised myself as a student and rented out a room in his apartment building. The first day he saw me, he looked at me and made a face that I could not comprehend. It seemed as if he were surprised to see me, but that he also understood my intentions to investigate him. I saw then that I, the hunter, had found my ideal prey. I had found an animal that did not spook easy. When I tried to establish a friendship with the young man he did not show the slightest hesitation. It appeared he was actually trying to keep an eye on me and figure out who I was as well. Such intense inherent curiosity is a sure sign of a seasoned criminal. I was pleased to see he showed such felonious promise at such a young age. Then, all of the sudden, it became painfully obvious that without a woman in the picture unbolting the door to this young man’s secrets would be very difficult. One day, after this revelation, I stopped Manmath and spoke to him. I talked in an emotional tone. I said, “Brother, I love a woman, but I fear my feelings are one-sided.” At first he just stared into my face, startled. Then he smiled. He said, “Such disaster is not uncommon. Our jester of a God has differentiated between male and female to present jokes and entertainment of exactly this kind.” “I need your advice,” I said. I then made up quite a long tale and with great curiosity Manmath listened. I know that matters of love, especially vile love, rapidly build intimacy among men when debated, but Manmath was not giving me any indication that this transformation in our relationship was taking place. After I finished my tale the boy seemed quieter than before, even though he appeared to have registered everything I had told him. For this young man’s deceptive skills I had the deepest admiration.tagore_section_13 A painting by Rabindranath Tagore I could not figure out what Manmath was doing behind closed doors and in what form and how far his clandestine plans were proceeding. I had no doubt that he was getting ahead with them. His face immediately told me that he was entrenched in a scheme. I resolved to break into his desk’s locked compartment. In the desk I found nothing but a notebook of nonsensical poems, notes from college lectures and a few petty letters from home. In the letters from home I did find proof that relatives and family members had earnestly requested his return to their village. I knew he had a malicious motive for not returning. Had the reason for staying in the city during the summer been benign by now he surely would have mentioned it to me in conversation. It was not possible that my suspicions about Manmath were unfounded. This bloke was no ordinary schoolboy. I was sure he was a part of the global underbelly – that caste of human beings who have concealed themselves underground with the express intention of plunging human society into new depths of doom. Manmath was a companion of the tempest that seeks to wreak havoc and spread disaster across the face of the planet. I knew his guise of the innocent Bengali student donned in spectacles was a sham. I decided that a real live woman had to be brought into the apartment building in order to coax out Manmath’s evil intentions. A fellow female police officer, Harimati, came to my aid. I informed Manmath that it was Harimati’s love I so desperately desired. To prove this to him I staged an interaction with Harimati where I recited poems to her repeatedly by the edge of a local stream. Manmath watched my recitations from a distance. Harimati put her heart into the performance and declared dramatically that she did not love me, but had instead fallen for the handsome, young Manmath. However, all this drama did not obtain our desired reaction. Rather than rush forward to Harimati, Manmath simply observed at a distance with callous interest. One afternoon soon thereafter I found the remnants of a torn letter in Manmath’s room on the floor. I fit the pieces together and managed to be able to read a single, incomplete line, “Tonight at 7pm secretly at your place…” I could find nothing more despite desperate effort. But my inner self was beaming. I felt like the archaeologist who had just discovered a small bone that belonged to the carcass of some grand extinct ancient beast. At 10pm that night Harimati was supposed to visit our apartment building. Manmath knew of this visit. Who was planning to come to our apartment at 7pm? The boy was not only brave, but clearly very intelligent. If he planned to commit a crime that evening it was best to do it when the commotion brought on by my visitor was already in progress. That way, anyone who would suspect would already be focused on the main event—Harimati visiting—instead of being concerned with any of Manmath’s possible plans for ill intentions. It then also dawned on me that Manmath was using our new friendship and my play love affair with Harimati as part of his cover. That’s why he didn’t involve himself wholeheartedly with us, but also never avoided our company if we were near. Our presence created a distraction that helped hide his malicious machinations. Everyone in and around the building thought he was invested in us. This only added to his appearance of innocence. He tolerated us because he did not want this misconception to fade away. If you considered all the facts it was obvious. There was not an inkling of doubt in my mind that Manmath was in search of a guise that would allow him to rest free of the burden of his crimes. Being the non-local student who did not return home for the summer holidays despite repeated requests from relatives was the perfect persona. I broke Manmath’s solitude by coming to his building. I created an immense inconvenience for him by proceeding with my investigation and bringing in a woman. Despite the mess I made for Manmath, he did not appear irritated. He did not leave the residence. He did not distance himself from our company, but he had also kept himself solitary. I could tell he had begun to hate us by the way he acted when he thought we had gone away.
I do, of course, have to admit that my intentions are not entirely selfless. My heart longs to see you in person, even for just a few moments. I dream of hearing you speak about yourself and reminiscing about our childhood memories that took place inside my home
All this could only mean one thing. Befriending a new acquaintance was Manmath’s way of preserving the social norm of interaction while simultaneously maintaining his cover. Before we had come to Manmath’s building he had acted suspicious. This attitude disappeared completely upon our arrival. Knowing that such a skilled criminal with such significant foresight could be born in Bengal filled my heart with inspiration. Had Manmath not objected I might have given him the embrace of a bear. The next day I said to Manmath, “I would like to take you out for a hotel dinner tonight at 7pm.” He was a little surprised when he heard this, but then controlled himself and said, “Brother, excuse me tonight. My stomach has been in dire straits.” Manmath had never before refused an offer to dine at a hotel. I knew he was lying because he had to make his 7pm secret meeting. I had previously told Manmath I was going out that evening, so I had to keep making excuses to stay in. I could feel him growing restless with my procrastination. Any question I asked him he assented. No matter what ridiculous thing I said he made no argument and engaged in no debate. At last, in a state of desperation, he looked at the clock and asked, “Were you not going to go out this evening and bring Harimati back to our apartment tonight?” As if I was startled, I replied, “Oh yes! I had completely forgotten. I’ll leave now and bring Harimati here at exactly a half past ten.” After I pretended to leave sheer delight began to circulate through my veins. I was certainly as keen as Manmath to see whoever arrived at 7pm, if not more. I hid close by and kept a frequent eye on my watch like a lover waiting for his sweetheart. When twilight began to fade away and the darkness of the evening descended enough for the streetlamps to be turned on, I saw a shuttered carriage enter our courtyard. I could barely contain my curiosity at the vehicle’s arrival. I slowly slipped back into the building and climbed the inner stairs of the courtyard to the first floor balcony. I tried to hide stealthily somewhere so I could covertly see and hear everything that happened. A veiled woman emerged from the carriage and spoke to Manmath in a low tone. Then, Maria Barrera-AgarwalManmath looked up and caught sight of me and I had to pretend to rush into an adjacent room. “I left my watch in this room. Have you seen it?” I yelled down to Manmath. He looked aghast, like he might fall face down onto the floor. In a mixture of laughter and delight I asked in excessive earnest, “Are you ill, brother?” He could not reply. I turned to the veiled woman. She sat as stiff as a wooden doll. I asked, “Are you related to Manmath?” I got no reply but then saw that the veiled woman was not related to Manmath in any way. The veiled woman was my wife. What happened thereafter is common knowledge. This was how I caught my first thief. *** Case Note from the Kolkata Metro Police Chief [July 1898]: After Mahimchandra read the above testimony he could not be calmed. I tried to explain that it was completely possible that his wife had a very good, socially acceptable reason for meeting Manmath late at night. Along with his statement Mahimchandra handed me a letter from Manmath that he said he found in his wife’s box of letters. The letter is transcribed below. *** My dearest lady, You may not remember me. When we were children we played together. I would come over to your house when I visited my grandmother who was your neighbor. Although our playhouse and our childhoods are long gone, I still think of you as being very close to me. I don’t know if you ever knew this, but I once tried to have us married. Our fathers, however, refused to agree to the marriage because we are of the same age. Once you married your husband I lost track of you. I didn’t know where you were for five years. Then, five months ago, I learned your husband was posted to the Kolkata Police Department. As soon as I received this news I tried to discover where you lived. I won’t let myself hope to meet you in person. Lord knows I have not the slightest desire to intrude on your life and disturb your domestic peace. Like one who worships the sun, I wait beneath a gas-post across from your home in the evenings. Every night at exactly half past seven I see you in the glass window of the room on the southern side of the second floor holding a lighted lamp of kerosene. For a few moments, I look at your reflection in the light that falls before me. Looking at you in the window like this has been my only sin. When not looking at you through your windows I have, by coincidence, become somewhat close to your husband. Of what I have seen of his character I can tell that your life is not one filled with bliss. I realize that your woes are none of my business, but my heart would rest easier if your heart rested easy, and thus I do feel like I have a duty to do what I can to restore your happiness. Thus, please forgive the vulgarity of this straightforward request, but I would like to meet with you. Come to my house in secret on Friday at exactly 7pm. Come veiled in a carriage. We’ll only meet for twenty minutes so I can tell you what I know of your husband’s secrets. I can show you proof of my words and offer some advice, if this would be of use to you. I pray only that giving you this information will one day make you happy. I do, of course, have to admit that my intentions are not entirely selfless. My heart longs to see you in person, even for just a few moments. I dream of hearing you speak about yourself and reminiscing about our childhood memories that took place inside my home. If you do not believe these accusations that I have brought against your husband and you do not wish to grant me the gift of seeing you in person then write and I will divulge everything by letter. And if even writing a letter is too taxing, then simply show this letter to your husband. He will know upon looking at it that he has been found out. After he knows that I have betrayed him, I would like to talk to him alone and give him a piece of my mind. Yours always, Manmath Majumdar
Rita Bullwinkel is a fiction writer. Her story collection, Belly Up, is forthcoming from A Strange Object in May 2018. In 2009 Rita lived in Delhi, India where she studied Hindi, Urdu, and Indian art history. While in Delhi she also worked for the Indian National Gallery of Modern Art, which houses many of Rabindranath Tagore’s most famous paintings.Saquib Rahman is a Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholar at Vanderbilt University and a native of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is fluent in Bangla, English and French. In Nashville Saquib writes for Inside Dores, a student-run Vanderbilt Undergraduate Admissions blog.
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