Interrogation by Sunil Gangopadhyay

Translated by Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey


Please continue.
Then I opened my eyes and saw that the streets were unknow and huge cars were zooming past. About
six or seven, no I think there were about nine or ten horses huddled together on a huge vehicle. Then there
was a van stacked with bananas, green bananas, not the ripe yellow ones.
Could you recognise the place?
How did you get there?
I don’t know. I was asleep. I don’t know for how long I slept. I woke up in a taxi, my hands were tied and
my mouth gagged. Two men sat on either side.
How did you fall asleep? Where were you when you dozed off? What were doing before that?
Before that . . . let me think . . . I was going to Santragachi with Safaldi.
Who is Safaldi?
Safaldi is one of Golapi’s aunts. Not her own, a distant one. She is a nurse and travels a lot. She would
visit our village only once in a while.
What a strange name Safaldi! A wandering nurse! Interesting. Why were you going to Santragachi with
She promised to take me to the Gajan fair. Golapi was going with her, so I got tempted. The fair
happens at Santragachi every year for three days. It’s a grand event with Lord Shiva riding on the elephant.
Golapi asked me if I was interested and I jumped. I hadn’t been to a fair for years.
Did your husband agree to let you go?
He allowed me but said that he couldn’t give me any money.
I was so upset because I had no money for the bus and train fares, but Golapi came to my rescue. She
said I didn’t need any money; aunty would pay for us. Safaldi is a kind woman, she said. Everything was
You have children, don’t you?
Two. A boy and a girl.
What are their names?
Ratan and Saraswati.
You are called Lakshmi. Is this true or are you hiding your real name? How can Lakshmi’s daughter be
Saraswati? They are mythical sisters, don’t you know that?
I did not keep her name, my mother-in-law did.
Didn’t your children create a fuss over you leaving them to go to the fair at Santragachi? Didn’t they ask
you to take them?
My son did not, but my daughter cried a bit. Golapi had made it clear that we couldn’t take children along
with us. So my husband came and consoled the little girl. He told her that I will bring for her a beaded
necklace. Still my daughter kept nagging, so . . .
So your husband and children finally agreed, but what about your mother-in-law?
She said nothing and kept staring at my face.
Was she kind to you?
She is a mix of good and bad. But that’s normal. She never called me by name. She called me beti,
daughter. She would slap me sometimes and keep me starving for at least two to three nights every week.
But I won’t lie, she would sometimes speak kindly. She would draw me towards her in the evenings and tie
my hair and suddenly start sobbing.
Why would she weep?
I don’t know. She never told me.
Did you finally go to the Gajan fair?

No. I did not.
I wasn’t lucky enough.
So you need to be fortunate to go to such fairs.
Hmm . . . Did you leave home with Golapi?
Golapi took me to Safaldi. We walked till Sonarpur and then took the train.
What time was it?
I don’t know, but it was in the afternoon. The sun’s rays still lingered on the Kali temple. The water of the
pond shone in the sun. We got down at Sealdah. I was amazed, what a big station it was!
Had you not been to Sealdah before?
No. May be when I was very young . . . but I can’t remember clearly. There was no one with whom I
could have gone there. The station was full of people. Safaldi held my hand so that I wouldn’t get lost. We
boarded another train.
A train to Santragachi from Sealdah? Impossible. To go there you need to take a train from Howrah.
Yes, Howrah. Why didn’t you finally reach the fair?
I fell asleep.
You fell asleep so early in the evening?
I think so. I sat by the window. The train picked up its rhythm. How beautiful it was outside, paddy fields,
fresh cool breeze, a half broken hut . . .
Okay, okay. Did you fall asleep on the window seat? Santragachi is not that far! Did they not wake you
Safadi had given me a paan. It tasted so sweet and refreshing. It just melted in my mouth . . .
So you had paan. I am sure it was laced with some drug that put you off to sleep. Old story. When did
you wake up?
I don’t remember. It was dark, I think it was late in the night. There was no one. Dogs were barking.
From evening till night. That means you had gone much farther than Santragachi. Did you get down
I think so. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t walk properly. Someone helped me on.
Then I slept off again.
Did you eat anything? Weren’t you hungry?
No. I was so sleepy that I didn’t feel hungry.
Who else was there with you? What about that Safaldi and your friend, Golapi?
I cannot recall. I was in deep sleep.
The dose was very strong. Please continue . . .
When I opened my eyes, the sun was shining strongly.
Where were you? In the train or inside a car?
In a room. There was a mat on the floor but no pillow. There was a window on the opposite wall from
where the sun rays hit my eyes. I tried to sit as soon as I woke up but then I saw . . .
What did you see?
It was shameful sight. I cannot tell you.
You will have to tell me everything despite your shame. Tell me what you saw.
Sir, please give me a glass of paani.
You want to drink water?
Yes. I’m very thirsty.
What is the term you use for water, jol or paani?
But they are both the same!
Is that so? Do your children use the term jol or do they say paani?
We say jol.

Aren’t you a Muslim?
No, Sir! My name is Lakshmi. I’m a Hindu. Can a Muslim ever have the name of a Hindu goddess?
My daughter is called Saraswati. She has two friends, Laila and Jahanara. The last one sings well. She
told me that Muslims are not even permitted to taste prasad, offerings made to Hindu gods.
Hmm. Your case file says that your name is Sarifan and your husband’s name is Jalil Sheikh. It says that
you belong to Munshiganj. There is no mention of your children.
Oh! I can’t believe this, Sir. I belong to Munshiganj and my name is Lakshmi Parui. I have already told
you this.
You’ve told me, for sure, but there are many who make up stories. They change their names and hide
their identities. Do you know anyone called Sarifan?
What is your husband’s name?
I cannot tell you. It is paap to take your husband’s name. His younger brother is called Biroj.
What kind of a name is this? Not common among Hindus, at least. Is it Firoz? So you are a Hindu and
your brother-in-law is a Muslim?
No. He is a Hindu too! Biroj! He is called Biroj!
What a mess! It’s a question of mistaken identity. Am I talking to the wrong girl? If you are Lakshmi, then
where is Sarifan?
I don’t know.
Can you write your husband’s name on a piece of paper?
Oh no! I cannot read or write, Sir.
Biroj…Biroj…can it be Biraj? That makes sense. I am sure it is Biraj. That’s a Hindu name.
You are right, Sir. Biraj.
Okay. So the sun outside woke you up. What did you see in the room?
I feel ashamed to tell you.
No problem. You don’t have to look me in the eye.
I saw a girl sleeping at one corner of the room. I didn’t recognise her, at first. She was lying on her chest
with her back up. I looked at her once and then looked away.
Er…she had no clothes on…
What do you mean?
She wasn’t wearing anything. I hadn’t seen her face till then. She didn’t have a saree, blouse or a
petticoat on her.
Was she alive?
I feared . . . then I saw that she was breathing. I couldn’t think too far. Soon my eyes fell on myself and I
screamed in fright. I cannot tell you more.
I have understood. You don’t have to tell me further. This is a common practice. You too didn’t have a
thread on. Right? They had taken off your clothes too. Was there any mark of injury on your body?
No, Sir.
They drugged the two of you and took away your clothes. Do you know why? That way the doors don’t
need to be locked and security guards are also not required. No woman will think of escaping in that
condition. You said that the window was open, what was there outside?
I did not see. Actually I did not have the guts to go up to the window like that. I was shocked and could
not make out how such a thing happened to me. I just sat and wept. I was also very hungry.
That is natural. Tears induce hunger. Did the other girl wake up soon?
Yes, ji.

You said you are a Hindu. Hindus do not use the term ji to say yes. They either use hyan or ho, in the
style of the Bangladeshi Bengalis.
We say both ji and ho.
Peculiar. Anyway. Did the other girl wake up? Was she Golapi?
Ho. She started crying like me. We hugged each other and wept helplessly.
Two nude ladies, weeping in a small room near the window. The room is dark, bright sunlight outside.
This sums up the scene. How long did you two weep?
Ten to fifteen minutes? You cannot weep longer than that, but these ten to fifteen minutes seemed like
What happened next?
Someone opened the door and walked in.
Man or woman?
I am sure you two had turned towards the wall in a lame effort to hide your modesty. Women helplessly
cling to the bare wall in such situations. Was it a white wall?
White . . . not really. Yellowish, I should say. The man who entered the room was short. He was hairy
like an ape. He carried a big bowl.
Was there food in it?
Some rotis and gur. He kept it on the floor and left. Soon he was back with our clothes.
Did you have chappals when you left home?
Those were lying in one corner of the room. They hadn’t taken them.
Did you eat or wear your clothes first?
Sir! Can any woman eat in that state?
What if they just gave you the food and did not return your clothes? Anyway, that’s irrelevant now. I am
sorry. What was the first thing Golapi said?
Be prepared to die, she said. We have been kidnapped by dacoits.
Dacoits? Where did Safaldi go?
We did not see her there.
For how many days did you stay in that room?
That night, the next day and night.
Did anyone other than that man come into the room?
On the last night a huge muscular man came. He was wearing a bandanna on his forehead. He was the
leader of the dacoits. I still shiver at the thought of that man. I have never hurt anyone, never committed
any crime, but why did such misfortune befall me? Where are my children? Will I ever see them?
Listen, you are hungry. It’s lunch time. Have some food and take rest. We’ll talk again. Think hard.
Leave no gaps in your narration. Don’t hide anything. I have to know everything about that Safaldi.
Sir, when will I see my children?
They are not here. But let me see what I can do.



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