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Kamalakanta's testimony

(This is a feeble and much-abridged translation of a satirical essay by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya. The objective is merely to exhort readers to read the original or better translations. The story is set in the pre-Independence era and involves the opium addict, Kamalakanta - a witty character created by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya)

There had been no news of the opium addict, Kamalakanta, for a very long time. I made enquiries, and one day, unexpectedly, saw him in person in the criminal court premises. The man was sitting with his back pressed against a tree and smoking. He must have stolen a pinch of opium from somebody, I thought to myself; I was certain he wouldn't steal anything else. There was a constable nearby. I sneaked away unobserved by Kamalakanta suspecting that if he saw me he might ask me to bail him out. However, I remained nearby to ascertain what was the matter.

After some time, Kamalakanta was summoned. A constable escorted him into the courtroom. I followed. From the snatches of conversation which reached my ears, I managed to grasp what it was all about.

The judge took his seat. Kamalakanta was present not as an accused but as a witness. The case pertained to the theft of a cow. Prasanna, the milkmaid, was the complainant. Kamalakanta was squeezed into the witness box, and he stood their laughing gently. "Why are you laughing?" the court usher rebuked.

Kamalakanta saluted him and said, "Whose grains have I destroyed that you have squashed me into this pen?" The usher did not comprehend the meaning; he ran his fingers through his beard and said, "This is not a place for jesting - read the oath."

"Certainly; tell me what do I have to say."

A clerk began prompting the oath to Kamalakanta: I, in Almighty's presence, ....

Kamalakanta: In Almighty's presence! Do I have to say this?

The judge sensed that the witness was being troublesome.

Judge: What is wrong with that? That is how oaths are read.

Kamalakanta: Your Honour, it is quite likely that I might tell a few harmless lies during the course of my deposition. But, is it appropriate to begin the deposition with a big untruth?

Judge: What is untrue in this oath?

Kamalakanta: Your Honour, it could be owing to my bad eyesight or something else, but I have never seen the Almighty. When I cannot see the Almighty how can I say 'in Almighty's presence'?

The complainant's counsel was angry. His precious time - every minute cost him money - was being wasted by this penniless witness. He addressed the witness, "Mr Witness, wouldn't it be better if you reserved the theological lecture for a different forum? This is a courtroom, and do decide to behave according to its norms."

Kamalakanta turned to him and said, "It seems you are a lawyer?"

Complainant's counsel: How did you recognize?

Kamalakanta: Easily; from your thick chain! But mister, I admit you can see the Almighty - whenever you find clients approaching you.

The attorney was very angry now and he pleaded with the judge, "I ask the protection of the Court against the insults of this witness."

The Court said, "O Baboo! the witness is your own witness, and you are at liberty to send him away if you like."

But it was impossible to prove the case without Kamalakanta's testimony. So, the attorney took his seat without uttering another word.

The judge observing that the witness objected to taking the oath, ordered the clerk to take a simple affirmation instead.

The clerk, accordingly, asked Kamalakanta to repeat after him the words 'I pledge to'. "Come, repeat after me," the clerk urged.

Kamalakanta: Wouldn't it be better if I know what I am pledging before I undertake to make that promise?

"Very obstructive," the complainant's counsel said.

Kamalakanta, addressing the attorney, said, "I know it is an usual practice outside the court to affix signature on a blank paper; but, should that practice be followed in the court too? Signing on a blank paper, and pledging, without actually knowing from the very beginning what you are pledging, are but one and the same thing.

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