- Whose Story?
It was only after his story was published in the school magazine that I learnt Annu had an important-sounding name: Anil Kumar Chattopadhaya. Class Six.
Annu had always wanted to become a story-writer. He could always spin out stories. I was convinced that he would become a poet or a writer. Not everyone can be a poet; poetic inspiration is a divine gift. Annu had the rare quality that only a genius has.
Even when we played gilli-danda, Annu would sit apart, either lost in thought or busy scribbling in his notebook. I was always curious to know what was going on in his head, how he made his characters come alive, how he wrote about them on the piece of paper before him—how they lived and breathed. Annu sent them wherever he wanted to, made them do whatever he wanted them to, and as they moved from place to place, the plot of a story got created—wonderful! Story-writers are marvelous; they can kill whom they want, give life to whom they want. Aren't they like gods?
Annu laughed. We were in college by then, and he said, "No, that's not true. My characters are not imaginary; they are not under my control. In fact, I am under their control."
Annu even talked like a writer. I always liked that. I felt very proud when his stories were published in the Sunday editions of Pratap, Milap, and Jung.
I showed the newspaper to my mother and said, "See, a story by Annu—Anil Kumar Chattopadhaya. That's his name."
"Really? Read it to me."
I read the story to her. It was about a poor cobbler. My mother had tears in her eyes.
"Arrey, that is the story of Bhiku, the cobbler in our lane. The same thing happened to his mother."
I didn't know that, but I immediately repeated what Annu had told me. "His stories are not imaginary, Ma. He doesn't create characters, but finds them in real life. To do that, one must not only keep one's eyes and ears open, but also keep the windows of one's mind and intellect open."
My mother was very impressed by my speech, which was really Annu's. [End Page 88]
There was a large jamun tree in the lane. Bhiku, the cobbler, used to sit under it and repair the shoes of the entire neighbourhood. It was Annu's favourite haunt. Annu's clothes might have been dirty and unwashed, but his shoes were always well polished.
Bhiku was teaching his son, Ghasita, how to stitch the toe strap of a chappal. When I read the story out to Bhiku, his voice choked and he said, "Son, only people like you can understand our pain. Now if you people don't tell our story, who will?"
My respect for Annu increased that day. He was truly a born writer.
After finishing college, I left Delhi and went to Bombay, where I got a job. Annu started helping his elder brother run the baithak from where he distributed Ayurvedic and homeopathic medicines. His elder brother worked in some government office. He used to run the dispensary for two hours every morning and evening. He had recommended Annu for many jobs, but had been unsuccessful in getting him one.
Once, when I went back to Delhi to attend my sister's wedding, I met Annu's elder brother. He was very ill. He said to me, "Why don't you make him see sense? Ask him to do some work. What's the use of writing stories?"
I kept quiet. He coughed and wheezed for a long time. Then he said, "If only that bitch would leave him alone—he would come to his senses."
I asked Annu who the bitch was.
He replied, "Fiction. Bhai Sahib always curses it. He doesn't understand that just as he treats physical illnesses, I treat social and mental illnesses. I lance the pus-filled boils of society, light the path of people who are lost in darkness. I give them weapons to...