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Short Stories
Subrata Mukhopadhyay
       SOME find the way and, again, some don't. Be there never such a rover, he must have the wayfarer's heart. A craving for the distance. And an immense pair of feet. Only then, after much traveling, does the way become plain at last, its twists and turns, ruts and ditches begin to show, its shape and secret become familiar.
       Sripati, the music master, can distinctly recall that the last time, when he got off at Rasa station from the first train for Palasthali, it was already evening. There were two roads. One going east and one going west. He went eastward.
       That was two years ago. Since then, the region had been racked by flood and famine, and no call had come. It was parched again this year, but it wasn't like the end of the world. So word came once again for Sripati, the musician of Ilambazar. It was a summons by postcard, "Come over, master, we've brought out the instruments." Not a great many words, but there was a hidden strength in the call. Somewhat like the waters stealing under the bed of the Sal river in the height of summer. Water clear as glass the moment the sand is scratched. Coolness quenching the soul. There was no time to be lost. After the ritual obeisance at the homestead and at his mother's feet, Sripati set off, like last time. He had asked his brother to look after the grocery shop till he returned.
       It was dusk last time too. Exactly three people had alighted from the train. The first two started walking westward at once. There remained only an old man. He too strode ahead at a young man's speed. The musician, almost forty, could hardly catch up, not as long as he moved at this hare's pace. After a while, he managed to pull even with long strides.
       "Which way should I take for Penchalia, sir?"
       Lifting the stick under his arm on to his shoulder, the old man said, "Straight on. Then south."
       "Got to cross the Waylost Plain first. Then straight on, just follow your nose."
       What the old man said after that turned the blood cold. A stranger new to the Waylost Plain invariably lost his way. A bare plain. No settlements anywhere, before or beyond. It takes quite a while to cross. People usually have some sense of direction. But if that sense goes wrong, one must look at the heavens. One has to see if the star there is steady or flickering. That is the Wayloser's Star which makes one lose the way and then find it again. If you see that the star is flickering you've had it, mister. However long you walk the night will never end. All night you will go round and round in the Waylosing maze. So what should one do then? Surely, there must be a way out. The old man walked up to a crossing of three roads and stopped. Pointing towards the right he said, "Straight on."
       Sripati realized that the old man was going a different way. He persisted almost with desperation, "What am I to do if Waylosing catches me?"
       The old man took the stick from his shoulder and tucked it under his arm, cupped his right hand before his eyes and said, "Splash your eyes three times with piss. Even the ghost of Waylosing will run for his life."
       It was clear that way losing was such a hideous thing that one needed a hideous spell to be rid of it.




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