Song of the Dawn

As a child, and even now, I simply loved to read about the hilarious adventures of Tenida and his three proteges: Paalaram, Kaabla, and Habul Sen. The characters are the creation of Narayan Gangopadhyay. Tenida is the leader of this four-member group; he is a loud-mouthed bully, but a lovable bully at that and quite unpretentious. This is only a poor translation of "Probhat Songeet" by Narayan Gangopadhyay; the quality of the translation has been renderred even more poorer because of my inability to communicate Habul Sen's characteristic East Bengal accent in English.

The four friends reside at Potoldanga in Kolkata. Tenida has devised a plan - well, it has actually been conceived by Habul, and Kaabla has given it the finishing touches - to raise funds for an exercise club, which the group has launched. The plan is that the four of them should go around the neighbourhood, at the crack of dawn, singing a song that extols the virtues of exercise. The onus of writing the song falls upon Paalaram who, incidentally, is the narrator of the story. Paalaram has done a good job of writing the song; he has included the names of Lord Hanuman and Bhima, mythological heroes, in the song and has also tried to tempt the audience by mentioning a list of fruits. The friends have reasoned that people are usually in a good mood when they wake up in the morning, and that is the time when they would be more willing to make a donation.

The reasoning proves false. But the friends do receive a donation of one hundred rupees, quite a large sum few decades ago. The hundred rupees are paid in two instalments; the donation is made for a reason entirely different from the one that the friends had envisaged.

Tendia wore a grave expression on his face. We also tried our best to appear as grim as possible. Kaabla was chewing a gum; he pushed it to the side of his mouth with his tongue - it seemed as though he had stuffed a marble in his mouth. Tantalizing aroma of mouth-watering fried snacks, aloo bhaja and beguni bhaja, wafted from the Potoldanga street corner snacks bar and caused much distress to Habul Sen. But today's mood was so serious that even the lip-smacking aroma could not ruffle Tenida.

After a while Tenida spoke. "What kind of people live in our neighbourhood?" he asked.

"Absolutely bogus," I said.

Tenida raised his already turned-up nose and said, "Many of them have money; few of them even own cars. But they won't donate to our exercise club."

"Nah, they don't want to donate," Habul Sen said shaking his head, "they say: Why do you want to exercise? Do you want to become hooligans?"

"Hooligans, my foot!" Tenida was annoyed. "If you want to have a healthy body, you are called a hooligan! Now, look at Paala; instead of being sickly like Paala..."

"Why drag me into this?" I objected.

"Shut up," Tenida roared like a tiger, "don't you dare interrupt me. Instead of being sickly like Paala, all we want is that the neighbourhood boys should exercise and become physically fit. If they are physically fit, they will be mentally fit also and will be able to stand up against injustice; they will become capable of doing great things in life. You call that hooliganism! Excepting for two or three persons, no one else has given us any money. We have purchased a few dumbells after raising money amongst ourselves, but we must have a chest expander barbell..."

"Nobody pays any attention to us," Kaabla said; he had resumed chewing the gum.

Habul nodded his head in agreement, "Nobody will donate. Close down the club, Tenida."

"Close down the club! Never!" There was a grim determination on Tenida's face, "We shall raise funds. You, Paala..."

"Wha-huh?" I was alarmed.

"You like to make stories about us, and some of them are even published. Can't you think up some idea?"

Scratching my head, I mumbled, "I...I..."

"Yes...yes." Tenida, without warning, rapped me on the head with his knuckles; it felt as though my brain was shaken out of its moorings, and I said, "Kaa..ak."

Kaabla said, "It is no use rapping him on the head; it won't stimulate the brain into thinking; instead, he will get more confused. Now, he said 'kaa..ak' but a few more knocks on the head could cause him to say 'ghak-ghak' and he might even bite us."

"Why would I bite you? Am I a dog?" I said.

"Shut up, you good-for-nothing," Tenida said.

Habul whispered to me, "Don't answer back, Paala. If Tenida knocks you on the head again you will start calling 'miaow, miaow' like a cat." He then said to Tenida, "Leave him alone, Tenida; I have an idea."

Tenida was excited, "Let's hear it."

"Let's start a band."

"Band? You mean we go around with a begging bowl singing, 'Give us mo...ney for our ex...ercise cl...ub'," Tenida said gritting his teeth. "What an idea! People are clever; they don't fall for such things. At the end of the day, you will find you have collected thirty paise and few torn clothes. Bah!"

Kaabla once again pushed the chewing gum to the side of his mouth and said, "Tenida - the idea."

We gaped at Kaabla. He is the youngest and the smartest in our group; he had received a national scholarship. Kushalkumar Mitra's photograph had appeared in the newspapers after he stood first in higher secondary examination. Well, that's our Kaabla.

Although he is the youngest in our group, Kaabla is the real brain. He looks even more authoritative after he started wearing spectacles. So, whenever Kaabla speaks, we pay attention.

Kaabla said, "We could go out at the crack of dawn."

"At the crack of dawn! Why? Are we to commit burglary?" Habul was at his wit's end.

"Oh shut up Habul, let me finish first. I have seen that many small groups move around near dawn singing devotional songs. People don't get angry; instead, they feel happy to hear God's name being uttered at such an early hour. They, probably, even donate money to these groups."

"Yes, there is something in that," Tenida said, "people wake up in a happy mood after a good sleep. Afterwards, when they go to buy vegetables and fish their mood sours. Their mood is the worst when they return home from office."

I agreed. "My elder brother, after returning from the hospital wants to give injections to everybody in the house," I said.

Habul said, "If your brother could only catch hold of all the rich people in the neighbourhood and give them injections..."

"Order! Order!" Tenida yelled. "You fellows are making too much noise. Kaabla's idea appeals to me; it is what you may describe as psychological. People usually are happy, or rather in a pious mood in the mornings; if, in that state, they get to hear a few devotional songs they will certainly donate money. So, let's get working."


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