The Made-up Rimi

I was greatly inspired this afternoon by my friend Gautam Benegal, who, tongue firmly in cheek, posted a helpful video tutorial to help women deal with the current biggest female crisis – “peach fuzz” on the face. So I put double chocolate-chip cookies in the oven, and dug out the dusty travelling bag of old makeup I had been given five years ago as a power-dressing experiment kit. This was before I found employment in the public health/public education sector and discovered ‘power dressing’ meant shoes that would see me through five hours of muddy terrain in the middle of the monsoons.

The pre-make up face.

Of course, even before I opened the zip on that bag, I landed on YouTube to do some recon. I don’t know if you’ve seen any, but (A) the people in these videos mostly speak FAR more than necessary, and (B) and do it in an annoyingly chirpy, high-pitched, nasal voice. So I shut off YouTube and decided to just dive in. After all, I had studied painting for six miserable years as a child. How much harder could this be?

Don’t answer that. I know now.

First, I took a blunt-edged kajal and tried to outline my eyes. It was just as traumatic as the last four times I tried to have my eyes painted. Still, I managed to keep the grin on. It would disappear soon.

scary-kajal.jpeg

Then came the task of painting the lid of each eye. To be frank, the fuss of it just isn’t worth anyone’s time, unless one makes a living by it. I’ll tell you why.

First, the sponge/brush thing tickles. It’ll make you snap open your eyes in the middle of dabbing on the sticky powdery colour, making red-rimmed weepy eyes almost an inevitability.

Second, the colours are wonky. I touched a sponge delicately to the little squares of colour in the box – à la the tutorial videos – but even after four careful dusting, my lids remained their usual shade. Irritated, I jabbed the sponge a little harder and swept it across the lid. Voila! I became Burlesque Rimi, Queen of the Cakey Pink Eyes.

The picture below is my fourth attempt at painting the eyelids, after having to clean off the three previous attempts with cold cream and coconut oil. Because soap just doesn’t cut through this “waterproof” rubbish.

eyelids.jpeg

By now, I had lost my patience with make-up and was getting quite cross. So I snatched up the blunt stick of kajal – the easiest thing to use so far – and tried to do me over as a goth queen. After I was done, I stared at my own image in the mirror for a while, then dashed off to the sink and washed it off frantically.

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Then I zipped up the make-up box, much of the stuff in it still untried,  jammed it into the odds-and-ends drawer, and rammed the drawer home. I think I’ll live with the the face I was born with, thank you very much. At the very least, I won’t give myself a heart attack by accidentally glancing at the mirror.

Plus, I’m really cute.

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Gorgeous Green Humour

Thanks to a link by ace baker and my social media friend Kamini Gopal, I found the amazing – and absolutely hilarious – wildlife website of Rohan Chakravarty.

Aptly called Green Humour, the site features vibrant cartoons of India’s rich wildlife, panels of absolutely on-point, ironic humour about our shredded ecosystems, and a choice of stationary on which you can have these reproduced on. After a late, headachy night, Green Humour is absolutely the best way to begin the day’s internetting. So glad I found it. Thanks, Kamini :-)

Here’s a tiny sample of Rohan’s most recent work. Tell me if this doesn’t immediately make you very happy (and worried about the planet’s future).

Birds of Indian Regions, for Endemic Bird Day (9th May)

The Many Uses of a Snow Leopard’s Reeeeally Long Tail.

Vermin WHO?

Exercising Fire

I sneaked a quick look at Ghonada.

As seasoned observers of the mess-house at 72 Bonomali Noshkor Lane know, outrageous claims of this kind were his domain, not ours. Generally, if any of us dared to so much as set a toe on said domain, we would first be blasted with scathing sarcasm, and then be dazzled with a tall tale justifying all Ghonada’s claims. Today, we hadn’t just set a tentative toe into his domain. We had stormed it, set up camp, and were now in the process of hoisting our flag on its soil. How was the man reacting to this blatant act of plagiarism, or, if you like, this blatant mockery?

“Exercising Fire”, Premendra Mitra, July 1978
Original Title: “Khanobdahe Ghonada”
Premendra Mitra’s Ghonada is a study of fascinating contrasts.

On the one hand, as Mitra said himself, he is a teller of rather tall tales. He seems to have lived through almost the whole 19th century, popping up sometimes in Siberia, sometimes in the Amazon, on small islands in the, and in the interiors of Africa – always saving the day with his near-superhuman repertoire of combat skills and encyclopaedic knowledge. And yet he lives in a rickety mess-house in the bowels of old middle-class Calcutta, with nothing more exciting in his life than evening walks.

On the other hand, for a self-aggrandising liar, his stories are surprisingly accurate – both geographically and politically – and scientifically sound for his time. So perhaps the ‘encyclopaedic knowledge’ part of his stories is actually true? And if that is true, is it possible the at least some of the rest is also true?

The four young men who subsidise Ghonada’s living can never work it out. It doesn’t help that the few times they trick or test him, he comes out with flying colours. In a way, Ghonada’s tales are like the stories of religious myth, to be taken on faith, or not at all.

And much like the gods, Ghonada’s favour can be won by gifts of special food. His younger housemates use this weakness to cajole stories out of him all the time, and appease him when he is cross. The list of the dishes he is fed in exchange for his yarns is a valuable record of the food middle-class (Hindu) Bengalis thought of – and continues to think of – as special treats, spanning at least four different cuisines and a broad spectrum of prices. In a way, Mitra’s stories are as much a narrative of ‘junk food’ in Calcutta as they are of Ghonada’s tall tales.

The excerpt above is from a short and unusual cycle of stories he spins for them, in which Ghonada details the “hidden history” behind many incidents of the Mahabharata. The full story can be read here: Exercising Fire.

City Chicks in Sarees

It happens a lot less than people would have you believe. Once, young women moved from their babyhood swaddle straight into sarees, worn around the knee with the aanchol or pally wrapped tightly around the waist. Then there came the intervening modernity of dresses, but most Bengali girls still graduated to the saree fairly young, and once there, didn’t switch loyalties for the rest of their lives.

Now, I’m surprised if I see one person below forty in Bombay’s streets wearing a saree. The times, they have a’changed. To be fair, though, there’s a class element to the city-saree. Most of the cleaning ladies in my neighbourhood wear sarees. Their employers seldom do. Is it because sartorial modernity is considered the premise of the better off? Would employers raise their eyebrows if their maids suddenly turned up in something as innocuous – and eminently Indian – as the salwaar-kameez, much less something a little more ‘western’? I haven’t had the chance to find out. However, I have noticed that one can get sarees for much less than a salwaar-kameez set, and certainly a pair of trousers and a shirt. So perhaps the cleaving to the traditional, though enforced by one’s cultural capital and form of labour, is also perhaps propped up by one’s financial capability.

This sudden nattering about sarees has been brought on by the #100sareepact. Did anyone else know about it? Now, I don’t even own a hundred sarees, and given that I mostly work from home lately, I doubt I’ll wear the ones I do have. But this sounds like a fun project, and so I think I’ll participate by adding old pictures of myself in sarees. Because memes are for modifying, right?

weddingmorningsaree

This is today’s picture. It’s my wedding morning, and I’m wearing an inexpensive red-bordered golden-yellow saree bought specifically for the messy wedding-morning rituals. This saree was a yard too short for my generous frame, so first we tried to make do by wrapping it a la Mumtaz, with a tiny pallu. That didn’t work. So then we unwrapped the whole thing, and began the first wrap from the back, instead of the front. This time, it was draped to all the adult women’s satisfaction. There’s a lesson in this process, and it is this: flaws hidden are flaws acceptable, as long as the show goes visibly on.

As people familiar with Bengali/Indian weddings will know, there are two throne-like chair at every wedding venue, one for the bride and one for the groom. They are usually overstuffed and damned uncomfortable. However, since I was doomed to spend the rest of day demurely adorning this chair, I spent the morning making damn sure the chair knew who was boss.

A Photo Essay on Destruction

We had a lovely guest for dinner yesterday. In his honour – and in an effort to keep face-licking off our mehmaan nawazi – we allowed the dogs to romp unsupervised in our bedroom, while we socialised civilly inthedrawing room.Electrified by the sudden free rein in this otherwise-forbidden room, the dogs went absolutely wild. This is the state the bed was in after our guest left.

D1

My partner saw this mess while I was clearing the dishes (we dropped by a few times in between chatting to check on the dogs). To prevent further damage, he put the dogs in the bedroom balcony, where to also hang our laundry to dry.

Once our guest left, we opened the door of the bedroom… and saw the dogs looking damned pleased with themselves.

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Of course, Kaju immediately made an effort to get to us, but alas, the window of his jail was too high.
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Shorshu, of course, thinks it is déclassé to try and rescue herself. She issued bird-like warbles, indicated she would like to be rescued from her undignified perch, and cuddled for her troubles.

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Finally, after I let them both out of the balcony after half an hour’s detention, Shorshu immediately jumped onto the destroyed bed and curled up, like it was her goddamned right.

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While Kaju posed cheerfully for the camera, proud of his evening’s efforts.

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So much for lessons learnt.

Little Red’s New Coat, Road Dahl

I was speaking to my mum on the phone today, when my dad came on the line specifically to tell me that he read my post reproducing James Thurber’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, and that he enjoyed it very much. My mother added from the background that it was delightful.

It’s a bit unsettling at first to know one’s parents reads one’s blog, but I’m quite kicked, really, to play parent, and introduce them to new things, the way they introduced them to me once. So here is an excerpt from another re-telling of the Little Red fairytale, this time by Roald Dahl. It’s a favourite of mine, despite raising contemporary concerns of gun-violence, the fur trade, and encouragement of cruelty to animals.

The action below begins after the wolf has eaten Red’s grandmother, and is preparing to eat Red once she arrives.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf
Roald Dahl

Wolfie dressing up in Granny's clothes. Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

Wolfie dressing up in Granny’s clothes. Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

Poor Grandmamma was terrified,
He quickly put on Grandma’s clothes,
(Of course he hadn’t eaten those).
He dressed himself in coat and hat.
He put on shoes, and after that
He even brushed and curled his hair,
Then sat himself in Grandma’s chair.

Little Red Riding Hood comes in and stares. Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

Little Red Riding Hood comes in and stares. Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said.
“…But Grandma
what a lovely great big furry coat you have on.”
“That’s wrong!” cried Wolf. “Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I’m going to eat you anyway.”

"Bang bang, she shoots him dead." Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

“Bang bang, she shoots him dead.” Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

"My lovely furry wolfskin coat." Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

“My lovely furry wolfskin coat.” Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, “Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.”

Little Girl and the Wolf, James Thurber

little-red-with-gun

NOTE: On the one hand, a tale of cynical ’empowerment’. On the other, a possible advocacy for NSA’s ‘good guys with guns’ fallacy (or in this case, ‘smart kids with guns’ fallacy, recipe for an even greater tragedy). Either way, this is James Thurber’s all-American two-paragraph version of Little Red Riding Hood.

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

(MORAL: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.)

#JeSuisCharlie? Foutre le Camp!

I see on Facebook today that Charlie Hebdo is still trending, and an email informs me that the asinine hashtag ‪#‎JeSuisCharlie‬, started soon after the Paris attack, is still raging on the interwebs.

Well, I *am* furious about the disgusting – and frankly idiotic – murderers, but this “Je suis Charlie” nonsense is taking pop activism too far. I am NOT Charlie Hebdo, thank you very much, and neither are most of you showing solidarity with the hashtag. European xenophobia – and I say this because most of my friends abroad live in the USA – is a beast quite unlike the hysterically blind, unself-aware American one: it is far more open and unapologetic. In a way, that’s often a better thing than the subtle poisoning of the subconscious, but it is still not a good thing. And much of this xenophobia is expressed culturally through satire.

Does that mean Charlie Hebdo’s staff deserved to be slaughtered? No. Litigated against, perhaps, but not violated physically, much less murdered. On the other hand, do they deserve to be universally applauded for ‘bravery’? I don’t think so. It’s easy to be part of the cultural majority of a land and claim to be an equal-opportunity satirist, but that is not how power works. And indeed, if googling serves me right, I believe France – which is trotting out it’s historical culture of appreciation of satire as a moral brownie point – once banned a magazine for satirising Charles de Gaulle [UPDATE: Facebook connections tell me the banned magazine was Charlie Hebdo’s earlier avatar. Fascinating.]. So much for historical equal-opportunity.

In summary, Hebdo had every right to print what they did, even if they didn’t have sterling taste or a clean social or political conscience. On the question of religious ‘offence': if you’re a deliberately uninformed Hindu, you’re free not to eat beef (or any animal protein), but you have no right to stop anyone else from consuming it. If you’re a devout, conservative Muslim, by all means never draw the prophet, but you have no right to attack or slaughter those that do (but of course, you could take them to court). If you’re a conservative, stupid Christian, stay away from the school curricula. Your ignorance is your choice, not society’s collective burden. Let things stand at that, and all shall be well.

Well, well-ish. It’s a pity that that is the best we can ask for at the moment.

The Dragon Nightmare: Porcelain Doll 2

AUTHOR BRIEF: Hemendra Kumar Roy was a very popular author of children’s and young adult fiction, not that there was much of a difference between the two at his time. Society was rather different then – India was still a colony, for a start – and therefore the flavour and style of Hemen Roy’s stories are rather different from what one might expect today. This is also what makes them particularly interesting, despite Roy’s somewhat bombastic and ethnocentric style.

Previous segments: Part 1, Part 2.1.

Part 2. The Porcelain Doll
The next morning at breakfast, Jayanta was on his second cup of tea while Manik monopolised the newspaper. Suddenly, he threw the newspaper down in front of Jayanta with some force. “Joy, look!” he exclaimed.
“What?”, asked Jayanta, putting down his cup, “Another new murder?”
“No no, an advert! A strange little advert. Listen to this: ‘Anathnath Sen, Chandranath Dutta and Niradchandra Basu have been murdered by person or persons unknown. These three gentlemen had come to Calcutta from Rangoon, accompanied by a fourth. The fourth man’s life is now in great danger. The followers of Lao-Tzu are looking for him, with death on their minds. If he wants to save himself, he should contact Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu immediately, at 40 Shyamakanta Basu Street’.’
Jayanta brought his fist down on the small tea-table. “Manik, we’ve been such fools!”, he said. “We should have put out an advert like that. This initiative should have been ours. I, too, knew there was a fourth man, and that his life was at risk, and that an advertisement in the newspaper would be the quickest way to get him to come to us. But Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu have bested us at our own game, Manik! We should quit this case right now, while we still have some semblance of respect left.”
“Come on, Joy”, said Manik soothingly, “don’t be so hard on yourself. Sometimes we make the first move, sometimes someone beats us to it. What matters is that we solve this confounded mystery! Look, the advert implies the followers of Lao-Tzu are the murderers. Who might these followers be?
” I suppose they must be Chinese”, muttered Jayanta, still distracted.
“But what connection might these Bengali gents have with Lao-Tzu’s Chinese followers?”
“Manik, you’re an even bigger ass than I am!” snapped Jayanta. “Niradbabu was a military accounts officer stationed in China – you told me this yourself! Clearly, the other two murdered men were also stationed in China.”
“Ah!”, said Manik. “Now I see why the murderers leave the picture of a dragon behind! Like the cross is a symbol of Christianity, the half-moon a symbol of Islam and the lotus a symbol of Hinduism, the dragon is a symbol of China!”
“Well,” mused Jayanta, “it’s possible that the dragon here has other meanings hidden beneath…”

The rest of his words were swallowed by a furious stomping on the stairs, followed by the banging open of the room’s door. A panting Sunderbbau crashed into the room. “Lost! All’s lost!”, he exclaimed, collapsing onto a chair. “Jayanta, tea, tea for me! Curse this job! I’m parched like the desert’s parched – make it two cups, Jayanta, quick!”
Jayanta shouted an order for the tea.
A little calmer, Sunderbabu said, “That porcelain doll has been stolen.”
“What?” exclaimed Jayanta and Manik together. “Stolen? From the station?”
“Yes!”, said Sunderbabu, pounding his thigh. “And not just any thief. There was supernatural mixed in this, you mark my words.”
The two friends exchanged glances. “Let’s hear it all from the beginning, Sunderbabu”, said Jayanta.

“I had kept the doll on the desk in my bedroom”, said Sunderbabu. “I planned to examine it closely after dinner. My room is on the second-floor of the police station, as you know. Till about ten o’clock, I was in my office on the ground floor, sorting through the paperwork of a big robbery. It was after eleven when I finally climbed up to my room. The first thing I noticed when I opened the door was that the desk-top was empty. The doll was missing. Just then, I heard a steady thudding sound moving towards the end of the verandah. I ran to the verandah, and there it was, a big ball of dark smoke! Don’t tell me that’s natural! And then a shadowy figure emerged from it, and disappeared skywards with a whoosh!. Goodness! I nearly collapsed right there!”
“Damn the smoke and flying shadow,” said Jayanta, irritated, “I want to know what happened to the doll.”
“Lost, I told you. It’s gone. Burly constables everywhere, plus me, the fearsome officer-in-charge, plus my family on the second-floor – normally, I would never have believed a thief could have reached my bedroom past all of us. But someone came in, stole the doll, and disappeared. I’m telling you, it’s either magic, or its supernatural stuff. Either way, a poor policeman shouldn’t have to deal with it!”
Jayanta disregarded Sunderbabu’s excitement. “This thief”, he said thoughtfully, “didn’t he leave any signs behind?”
“Well, there were two signs, I suppose. One was a piece of paper with a dragon on it, but no numbers. The other sign is no more.”
“What do you mean, ‘no more’ ?”
“Well, it was raining last night, do you remember? There were wet footprints on the floor of my room. But they are dried and gone now.”
“Did you measure the footprints?”
“Uh, no. All that confusion and smoke and whatnot… frankly, procedure was the last thing on my mind. But I’ll tell you something odd – there was only one foot-print. The right foot. It’s almost as if the thief was playing hop-scotch in my room. Damned nutty criminals.”Jayanta sat back in his chair and let out a long, relieved sigh. “Sunderbabu”, he said, rolling a pinch of snuff between his fingers, “we’ve finally found something concrete about your shadowy thief; he has just one leg.
“Heh, really? And how do you arrive at this ‘concrete’ fact?”
“Didn’t you say you heard a thudding sound before the thief flew away from the verandah?”
“Yes, so?”
“So the thudding sound was from a wooden leg. Your thief is lame, and wears a wooden leg for support.”
“Impossible!”, growled Sunderbabu. “Are you trying to say the thied thudded into the station, thudded up two floors, thudded down the corridor into my room, and none of the us at the station heard him even once? Come on! Do you think we stuff cotton in our ears at the station?”
Jayanta stood up and started pulling a shirt on top of his vest. “Tell you what, Sunderbabu. Manik and I were on our way to meet Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu before you arrived. Would you like to come along?”
“Those nutjobs?”, exclaimed Sunderbbau, amazed. “Why would you go to them? Those two should be locked away!”
“No, they shouldn’t”, said Jayanta calmly. “Besides, they know a great deal about this case. If you want to hear about them, come with us.”

***

Coming soon, The Dragon Nightmare 3: Lasso.

The Dragon Nightmare: The Porcelain Doll 1

AUTHOR BRIEF: Hemendra Kumar Roy was a very popular author for children’s and young adult fiction, not that there was much of a difference between the two at his time. Society was rather different then – India was still a colony, for a start – and therefore the flavour and style of Hemen Roy’s stories are rather different from what one might expect today. This is also what makes them particularly interesting, despite Roy’s somewhat bombastic style.The story so far: Ace detective Jayanta’s friend Manik witnesses a dark, shadowy figure flying away from his neighbour’s roof, moments after his neighbour is murdered. Part 1 here.
Part 2. The Porcelain Doll
‘There’s nothing supernatural about this matter, Sunderbabu’, said Jayanta briskly. ‘There might be such things as lost souls, but they don’t break into homes and steal.’
‘No, of course not’, said Sunderbabu hurriedly. ‘Of course not. But you’ll notice, whoever killed Niradbabu – and I’m not saying it was ghosts – didn’t actually steal anything. They merely tried to open a locked strongbox.’
Jayanta looked thoughtful. “And you say it was the same in the two previous cases?”
“Yes!” said Sunderbabu. “In each previous instance they managed to open the almirah and strongboxes, but didn’t actually take anything. Not money, not jewellery… nothing.”
“So clearly the murderers were looking for something else”, mused Jayanta. “There must be something else, otherwise nothing makes sense.”
Sunderbabu cleared his throat. “Well… there was something in the locked strongbox. Nothing important or valuable, just this silly little doll.”

His hand dipped into his pocket and brought out a small porcelain figurine. An old Chinaman was sitting on a ram, looking quite satisfied with himself. The entire statute was about six inches high. Jayanta plucked it out of Sunderbabu’s fist and peered at the design.
“This is very old porcelain, and the craftsmanship is excellent. I’d say it probably comes from China’s more glorious times – a representation of the country’s rich artistic heritage. Sunderbabu, it might be news to you, but old Chinese porcelain is as rare and valuable as snakestone. That must’ve been why Niradbabu kept this ‘silly doll’ locked in a strongbox. Is this what the murderers were looking for?”
‘Could be’, said Jayanta, ‘but what about the other two victims? What were the murderers looking for in their homes? We haven’t found Chinese porcelain there.’
‘Lao Tzu!’, said Sunderbabu suddenly. Jayanta and Manik stared at him.
‘Those two men!’, Sunderbabu exclaimed. ‘I knew I should have held onto them. Annoying twerps. I bet they know about the other two deaths. Hah!’
Jayanta brows crinkled. ‘What “two men”’?
‘Young upstarts’, snorted Sunderbabu. ‘Came along to the last crime scene, poking about and asking questions. I knew straightaway they were trouble. “Who are you?” I asked, “What d’you want?” They laughed and said they were looking for an adventure. Adventure! On a murder scene. Cheeky fools. “How would like the prodding of a copper’s rule instead?” I asked, but they just laughed. “If the police prods us, we’ll prod right back. Prodding the police definitely counts as an adventure in our books!” Can you believe that? I was about to have these nuts thrown out when one of them saw this doll. “Lao Tzu!”, he shouted, “Look, Lao Tzu!”

Now, you know I don’t stand for that sort of tomfoolery, Jayanta. So I got right in their face and bellowed, “Get out! Get out of my sight right now!” My shouting voice is usually a force to be reckoned with, but these two were not fazed at all. They sauntered out, holding hands and laughing. Hoom!’
‘Did you get their names?’ asked Jayanta.
‘Bimal, Kumar… something like that.’
Manik sat up in his chair. ‘Bimal? Kumar? Sunderbabu, you don’t mean… could these be the famous adventurers Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu?’
Sunderbabu waved a dismissive hand in front of his face. ‘Who cares? I don’t. Adventurers indeed! What they are is a precious pair, just like the two of you. They spout gibberish just like you, and just like you, they’re barking mad. ‘Lao Tzu!’ Honestly! What does that even mean? Anyway, I’m off now. Lots to do’.

And so, with his mood apparently restored, Sunderbabu left. Jayanta broke the silence first. ’I’ve heard of Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu too, Manik’, he said softly. ‘Amazingly strong, wonderfully smart, appearing when anything strange happens. If they’ve visited Niradbabu’s home, then something about his murder must have struck them as odd… which means they know more about it than we do.’
‘What about Lao Tzu though?’ asked Manik. ‘That’s what confounds me. What is it?’
‘Never heard it myself. Tell you what, let’s look it up in the encyclopaedia. Would you get the volume down?’

Manik not only got the encyclopaedia down, he started looking for mentions of Lao Tzu himself.
‘Here it is!’ he exclaimed after a few minutes. ‘Jayanta, listen to this! Lao Tzu is a person. He was a Chinese philosopher, born in 604 AD, and considered the founder of Taoism, an eastern religion.’
‘Hmm, so then the statue we saw must have been Lao Tzu’s’, Jayanta said almost to himself. ‘But what does a man living in China nearly three thousand years ago have to do with the death of a Bengali clerk in twentieth century Calcutta?’

Silence descended on the room.

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