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Original: Biraal (Bengali, বিড়াল)

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

English translation by Shubhadeep Paul

I was lying lazily on my bed with the hookah. A bleak lamp lighted the room- the shadows on the walls reminded me of some dance by evil powers. Dinner was not ready- and so, with the pipe on mouth, I was wondering if I were Napoleon; I could have won the Waterloo or not. I heard a faint sound- “Meaw”.
I looked, but couldn’t understand anything immediately. At first I thought it was Wellington in disguise of a cat that had approached me to beg. Deep inside my first perspective, I thought of speaking out that Mr. Duke had been awarded wisely and that he should not expect more now. Primarily, Greed is not good. Duke replied- “Meaw”!
At that time I opened my eyes wide and looked, it was not Wellington. A poor kitty drank the milk that Prasanna had kept for me while I was battling in Waterloo, in other words, I was not aware. And now Miss Kitty, after finishing the milk to her heart’s content is purring sweetly to show her happiness to the rest of the world- “Meaw”. I can’t say if it was something to tease me; or else it was something of the kind- “One beats the bush, another has the hare!” May the ‘Meaw’ sound have something more in it? May be she wanted to say- “Now that I have drank your milk, what have you to say?”
What have you to say? I could not give me a stand. The milk is not my father’s. The milk was Mangala’s and Prasanna had milked her. Hence the rights that I can exercise on the milk, the cat can also exercise the same. But it has been a tradition that if a cat drinks up our milk we must beat and shoo it away. That I will be an exception to this rule is also not true. Who knows if this cat goes and spread news that Kamalakanta is a coward fellow? Hence it is better to more human. Deciding this I lowered the hookah, searched a lot and discovered a broken stick and raised it to shoo away the cat.
But it seemed that Miss Kitty knew Kamalakanta; she didn’t show many signs of being frightened, only notable is that she looked at my face and displaced herself to a nearby place and said- “Meaw”! I understood her question, dropped the stick, sat on my bed again and lifted the hookah. Then I achieved enlightenment and understood every quote of the cat.
I understood Miss Kitty is saying- “Why are you adopting violence?  Relax, take your hookah and then decide wisely! Why is it that only you will get all the milk, curd, meat, fish; why won’t we get anything? You are a man and I’m a cat, what’s the difference? You have hunger and thirst, don’t we? You eat and we don’t intercept but when we eat why does your traditions step in and you come out with sticks and canes; this is out of my range of understanding. You take some advice from me. Apart from taking some knowledge from a four-footed animal, I see no way to make you wiser. Your schools make me feel that you too have understood this fact.”
“Look, you bed-ridden man! What’s religion? To do good to others is the greatest religion. After drinking this little milk I’m greatly relieved- and now you are a follower of that great religion. I steal or whatever I do, I am helping you to be devoted towards your religion. Thus you should praise me rather then neglecting me; I am your helper.”
“Look, maybe I’m a thief, but am I a thief by wish? Who adopts stealing if he gets food? See, many among those people who are great saints, those who get thrilled on hearing the word ‘thief’ are also not truly devoted. Yes, they have everything and hence they needn’t steal. But even having everything they don’t spare their eyes to have a look at the faces of the needy thieves; hence thieves steal. Unrighteousness lies not in the thief- but in those miser- rich men. Thieves are wrong, I accept, but in the same way those misers are even more wrong. Thieves are punished but why do those misers who are the root cause of stealing doesn’t get punished?”
“Look, I roam here and there purring hungrily, but even still nobody gives me the remnants of his dish. They throw away those remnants in drains; still nobody calls me to have them. You all are stomach-filled and won’t understand my hunger. O! If you care a little for the needy, is there any harm? There is nothing to be ashamed in caring a little for the needy like me. Those who don’t provide alms to the poor also stay awake and pray when a great king has a sore. Still miser to the poor! Shah! Who does?”
“Look, if any such law enforcer or head would have come to drink your milk, would you then run with a stick behind him? Maybe you would ask him to have something else too with folded hands. Then why the sticks come in my case. You’ll say that those are great literates and respectable people. Then is it that because they are literates or respectable, their hunger is more. That isn’t- to oil boasters is a human disease- nobody looks towards the poor. They provide food to those have already eaten and punish the hungry as thieves- Shah! Shah!”
“Look, look at my condition, I roam outside, in colonies, alleys, buildings, still nobody gives me his remnants to eat. Our only luck is when we are pet- when we sit on the ladies’ lap- or be a locale to the chess players- only then can we rise in life. Their health develops; fur increases and some cat’s turn poets at the sight of their beautiful face.”
“And look at my condition- empty-stomached in lack of food, bony, ugly-tailed, teeth-displaced- tongue hanging out- and lastly- ‘Meaw! Meaw! Nothing to eat!’- Don’t show hatred just because of our black skin! We too have some right on the fishes and meats of this world. Give us to eat- else we have to steal. Don’t you feel pity at our dry faces, weak figure and the sad Meaw Meaw? Thieves beget punishment, isn’t there any punishment for being selfish and cruel? There is punishment for poor collecting food but why is there no punishment for rich showing selfishness? You Kamalakanta, far seeing creature, don’t you too notice that we steal because of rich men’s cruelty? Why should one collect food that could be served to five-hundred poor people? Okay, if he does so; but cannot he give his remnants to the poor? And if he doesn’t give it is natural that the poor near him will steal because nobody in this world wants to die surrendered.”
I couldn’t take it more and shouted out- “Stop! Stop! Kitty Miss! Your words are heavy socialistic! The root of disorder in society! If somebody doesn’t earn what he deserves; or after having earned it, cannot digest it, he will long before drop the very idea of earning and economy of the society will fail.”
Kitty replied, “Why should I care? Rise in economy of society is rice of property of the rich. What’s the loss of the poor if the rich don’t earn?”
I understood and replied- “There is no way to development without the rise of economy in society.” Miss Kitty answered angrily- “Why the hell should I care the economy of society if it cannot provide me a little food.”
It was useless to make her understand. If the judge or lawyer determines earlier not to understand anything, it is useless to make him understand. This cat is judges well and is a good debater, lest he has his point of not understanding. Finally I decided not to be harsh and replied- “Maybe it makes no difference to the poor, still it is a primary requirement for the rich, isn’t it?”
Miss Kitty then said- “Hang the thieves, I have no opposition to it but make a rule with it that the judge who will offer the hearing of punishment will skip all his meals three days ago. And still if he doesn’t feel the desire to steal, he can willingly hang the thief. You, you picked the stick to beat me; just skip meals for a day and see how it feels! And if you are not caught in Nasirama Babu’s hotel, then just beat me up, I won’t oppose then.” Wise men say that when someone gives advice, others should listen to it keenly. I followed the trend and said to the cat- “All these unlawful words! It’s also a sin if I oppose all these! Leave all these and be a good disciple of religion. If you wish I could gift you a good book of ‘Newmann and Park’. And ‘Kamalakanter Doptor’ will also help you a bit- at the least you’ll understand the pleasure of opium. Now return to your place. Prasanna will bring some curdled milk tomorrow: Come during the mealtime, we will share and have it. Remember not to steal others’ bowl of milk again; if you are hungry come to me and have some sesame like opium.”
Miss Kitty thought for some time and then spoke out- “Opium is not necessary but I will take time to think about the decision of having the curdled milk, as per my hunger.”
Miss kitty departed. “At last I succeeded in bringing some light to a lost soul.” This thought made Kamalakanta happy.

Well known novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was born on 27th June, 1838 at the Katalpada village of Chobbis Paragnar district of Bengal. His father was Jadav Chandra Chatterjee. Bankim Chandra was brilliant, intelligent and talented from his childhood. He passed his graduation from the Calcutta University with honors. He was the first graduate from the college. Soon the British Government posted him as a District Magistrate. He wrote poems from his student days and published them in various magazines and newspapers. ‘Lalita O Manas’, ‘Durgesh-Nandini’ were his magnum-opus. He started a magazine ‘BongoDarshan’ which stood to be a mouthpiece for many other writers. Prominent among his other writings are ‘Anand Math’, ‘Durgesh-Nandini’, ‘Rajsingha’, ‘Chandrashekhar’, ‘Kamalakanter Doptor’ etc. He was awarded the title of ‘Sahitya Samraat’. This great son of Bengal left for his heavenly abode on 8th April, 1894.

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