Irrepressible Lalu

(This is a feeble translation of a story by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Manohar Chatterjee has arranged for the worship of Goddess Kali at his house. In those days the worship involved sacrificing a lamb. But the person engaged to carry out the sacrifice does not show up. Chatterjee's men rush to his house and discover that he is incapacitated with a stomachache. The religious belief of the people is that if no lamb is sacrificed at the worship, they will incur the Goddess's wrath. A lamb must be sacrificed. But who will do it? Lalu is the person who can be relied upon for help during difficult situations. The devotees rush to Lalu's house, but Lalu refuses to help. He is against animal sacrifices. However, Lalu's father tells him to assist the devotees; father cannot be disobeyed. Lalu accompanies the devotees and sacrifices two lambs, but afterwards he creates such a scare that Manohar Chatterjee pledges never to sacrifice animals ever again.)

His pet name was Lalu. He, of course, had a real name; but I can't remember it. You probably know that the word "Lal" is often used in Hindi as a term of endearment for the son. I don't know who gave him this name, but people sometimes do live up to their names. He endeared himself to everyone.

After finishing school we enrolled in college, but Lalu said he wanted to go into business. He borrowed ten rupees from his mother and became a contractor. We doubted whether he could become a successful contractor with an investment of only ten rupees. But Lalu laughed away our doubts and said, "How much more do you need? This is a great deal."

Everyone loved Lalu and hired him; he had a lot of work and was busy. On our way to the college, we often came across Lalu. With an umbrella over his head, he could be seen supervising a team of labourers engaged in some repair work on the road. On seeing us he would laugh and say, "Run along, else you will be late for your classes and you will score low in your exams."

Even much earlier in our childhood when we attended a local school in our neighbourhood, he was everybody's favourite "repairman"! Among the books in his bag were forever present a pestle, a plier, a broken penknife, an old drilling needle, and a horseshoe - it was a mystery to us from where he had obtained these things. But, armed with these few tools he could repair almost anything! He mended everyone's broken umbrellas at school, repaired the wooden frames of writing slates, and if we tore our clothes while playing Lalu was there to sew them for us! He never refused to help us. Once, during a festival, he bought some coloured paper and craft sticks and prepared some toys out of them. He, then, went to the banks of the Ganges, where people had gathered to take a dip as part of the religious ritual associated with the festival, and sold his toys. He earned two-and-half rupees and treated us all to roasted peanuts.

Years passed; we all grew up. In the gymnastics arena, there was no one who could match Lalu's physique and skills. He had unmatched strength, and he was fearless. Whenever anyone needed any kind of help, Lalu would be the first to rush to their assistance. But he had one deadly fault! If ever he came across an opportunity to scare someone, he could not resist the urge to make most of that opportunity. He did not spare anyone then - whether they be young, old, or his elders. We marveled at the way he devised his devious schemes in an instant. Let me relate one incident. Manohar Chatterjee from the neighbourhood had arranged for the worship of Goddess Kali in his house. In those days the worship involved sacrificing a lamb. The hour of the sacrifice drew near but the person engaged to carry out the sacrifice did not show up. Chatterjee's men rushed to his house and discovered that he was incapacitated with a stomachache. What was to be done? At such a late hour it was difficult to find another person who was adept in such work, but the worship would be incomplete without the sacrifice. Someone suggested Lalu's name; he had carried out such tasks in the past. The men rushed once again, this time to Lalu's house. Lalu was awakened from his sleep, but he refused to accompany the men.

The men were astonished; how could Lalu refuse to come? if the worship was obstructed, they would incur the Goddess' wrath!

"So be it, but I am not coming; I have done these things in the past but I will never do them again," Lalu was firm.

The men were in despair; only ten to fifteen minutes were left, and after that, it would be the end for them; no one could escape the Goddess' wrath!

Lalu's father asked him to go with the men. "They have come to you out of sheer desperation; it will be unjust if you don't go."

Lalu had no courage to defy his father; he had to go.

Mr Chatterjee's troubles vanished when he saw Lalu. There was hardly any time left; the lamb was garlanded, a vermilion mark applied to its head, and it was led to the altar. The innocent animal's last mournful cry was drowned in the tumultuous invocations of the gathering. In a single decapitating blow with the falchion, its head rolled and a fountain of blood spurted out; Lalu remained still for a while with his eyes closed. Another lamb, which had stood trembling at a distance, was garlanded, vermilion applied to its head, and its final appeal too was drowned in the uproarious invocations.


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