Asim Roy got down from the tram at College Square and walked on the pavement for a few minutes. Then turning a little to the left was the sign of the publisher: "Modern Publishers". He walked right up to the house and entered. Biren Basu,the proprietor, who was looking at some account book, raised his head and when he saw Asim Roy he said:
Roy smiled and said,
-Have you got my book from the printing press?
-No. Not yet. It will be ready in short time.
-I suppose the next week.
-I hope so.
These words from the proprietor sounded sad to Roy. Roy wanted to leave when Biren Basu said:
-At least have a cup of tea or coffee before you leave.
Asim thought for a moment. He got a hunch that all was not well with Basu, however hard he might try to conceal. So he said:
-I'm awfully sorry. I've an important appointment in about half an hour.
-OK. Next time you have to have coffee with me.
Asim felt embarrassed. Basu looked crestfallen. He could not bring himself to speak about the sum of money Basu promised. He did not know what lay ahead. It is unthinkable,Roy thought. He went out early from his house with high hope of receiving the money Basu promised . All his hope dashed to the ground. He felt knackerd and a bit peckish. He fished out his cellphone from his pocket and rang his old lawyer friend Varun Goswami to seek his advice about his manuscript. Goswami answered:
-Hi Asim. Come and meet me at Flury's at about six today.
Without much thinking he walked towards the coffee house. When he entered the well-lighted and well-decorated hall of the coffee house with its atmosphere of relaxation he felt a bit cheerful. He sat at a table by a window and ordered his favourite cappucino and cheese toast. When his food and drink arrived,he put two spoonful of sugar in his cuppucino and started sipping while taking a few bites at the cheese toast…He was once a regular customer of this coffee house. It was about five years ago…
In earlier days of his university student life Rukmini was his girl friend. His class-mate in Statistics. In the beginning he was not convinced that their love was not mutual. He thought it was. Because in those days they they often would go to the matinee shows. In the dark they used to kiss and smooch. Eventually he came to know the truth. He felt dejected…Then came Barsha in his life. His present wife. She was a student of English literature though. It was through their extra-curricular activity that they came to know each other
They both used to write stories for the literary magazines. Barsha was quite a talented girl. After passing her MA final she got a job as copy writer in an ad agency. Then she got a well-paid job in the publicity department of National Electrical. Asim became a lecturer in South Kolkata College.
Unfortunately, the recent economic crisis had caused the retrenchment in her company, Barsha lost her job. She lived on free-lance work plus like her husband Asim teaching English to the pre-Univeristy students at the private and special tutorial schools in Kolkata. Asim sat thinking. Asim Roy was then approached by Modern Publishers to do a book on mathematics for pre-university students.
All of a sudden Asim saw a young lady, in a pant-suit in beige with her very short hair and a man carrying camera, approached his table. He
immediately recognised the woman as his class-mate Srabanti Chatterji in BA in Presidency College in Kolkata. Srabanti smiled and said:
-Arre Asim, we met so many years after . How are you!
- I'm OK . After almost five years !I'm a lecturer in South Kolkata College. So good to see you Srabanti. What are you doing now?
-I'm a programme executive in RTV. Meet my cameraman Sushil Dey.
Asim and Sushil both shook their hands. Then the cameraman said he was in a hurry to meet someone and left.
Then Srabanti volunteered:
-How is your wife Barsha?
-I 'm surprised to learn that you know about us. You know, Barsha has recently lost her job.
-So sad. But your wife seems to be doing well in the field of literature. She has published her writings in English profusely. We learnt that her stories were going to be published soon as a book. We are thinking of interviewing her. You know today we interviewed a Bengali writer in English: Somnath Mukerji.
-Srabanti, I just wondered where were you after you did your MA in Journalism? A true gap between our lives.
Srabanti amorously looked at Asim and smiled, then said:
-I had a scholarship to study jounalism in Florida University. I feel the gap too.
-I see. Then jokingly Asim said: Since I never been to the US, it seems to me to be the place near sea-beach where folks go on surfing etc.
-Well, it is. Hey. Why don't you have dinner with me one day at my house, Srabanti said and delved in her purse and pulled out her card from her purse and gave it to Asim and added, Come about seven Friday evening.
-Yes. I will. I'll come alone.
Then Srabanti and Asim both got up to depart.
Asim took the underground to meet his friend Varun Goswami at Flury' s in Park street. Varun was happy to see him after quite long time. After their graduation Varun studied law and became a legal advisor to a firm called Chandra and Mahindra. They had high tea at Flury's . He told Asim that he was engaged with a girl from Chandigar. They recalled that they both visited Chandigar when they were graduate students.They talked about their past and about their friends. After a very pleasant afternoon with his friend Asim did not feel like asking for his legal advice about his unpublished book. Then he took the underground to his apartment building at Salt lake.
As he entered his flat he met Barsha . She was vaccuam cleaning the corridor. She did not stop . Asim went inside. He changed clothes. He wore his pink T-shirt and a old cotton trousers and sat on a sofa in the parlour and started working on his i-pad when Barsha entered smiling. Asim raised his head from his i-pad and said:
-Why you look so cheerful?
-I've some good news to tell you.
-What , Asim impatiently asked.
-I got a letter from my agent that a collection of my stories would be published.
-Wonderful, Asim almost shouted. I feel like celebrating. You know, this morning I seemed to have a bad news about my book. Although Basu did not tell me I knew deep in my heart that he was unable to publish the book. Because I knew the printer would not do his work.
-It does not matter now. But what about your manuscript?
-I go to him and collect them one day soon.
-But if he cannot give.
-He is bound to give.
-I would advise you to get them soon so that you can give them to another publisher.
-Yes. That sort of book is very much in demand. I'll get another publisher.
-You know, I met Srabanti suddenly at the coffee house today. She heard the news that your book to be published in English by a foreign publisher.
She said she would interview you on behalf of RTV.
-Really? I remember her. I guess she studied journalism abroad.
-She said she studied in Florida University.
- I made onion soup with cheese. Do you want to eat now.
They both went to their dining-room-cum-kitchen when Asim arranged to put crokeries and cutleries on the table. Barsha put the casserole
containg the soup on the oven and switched it on. They then helped themselves with the heated soup into their soup-plates and sat at the table and began eating with soup spoon. After taking a mouthful of soup Asim uttered:
-Very good taste.
Barsha smiled as usual showing her teeth. Then Asim began:
-I had never thought that my day would be pleasant just after meeting the pathetic looking Biren Basu of Modern Publishers. Not only that. I got worried . Then slowly and gradually I found that things are turning good and pleasant for me. Barsha again gave her toothy sweet grin.
Friday morning Asim told Barsha that he was invited by Srabanti at her house. Next Monday she had an interview of a job as public relations officer. in Jamzedji Products Ltd. Asim hoped she would get the job. But Barsha was not at all hopeful. Asim had to go to his college. But in the evening Barsha would teach at the tutorial class.
When Asim arrived at Srabanti's Ballygange Circular Road residence at about seven in the evening on a dark winter day he felt good when her domestic servant led him to the well-lighted parlour well-decoreted with paintings by contemporary Bengali painters. After about three minutes Srabanti appeared in a dungaree and red T-shirt and said:
-Hope I have not kept you waiting.
-Not at all, Asim smilingly said.
-Lets go to my dining-room, said Srabanti when Asim rose to his feet and followed her to her dining-room. She made him sit at the table already laid with crockeries and cutleries and opened a cupboard and fished out a bottle of white wine and then called her domestic woman servant to serve them. She opened and put the bottle on the table. The woman wore a white coat over her salwar-kamiz and expertly filled their wine glasses and served fish fried and tarter sause with baked potatoes. They sipped wine and began munching the morsels of their food. Srabanti began:
-You know ,my domestic helper is from Ahmedabad. Her Muslim family had suffered a lot after the communal riot there. She and her newly married
husband had to flee. Finally my television company helped them to get setteled in Kolkata. Her husband is our office driver and he also drives my car when I need. His wife Priti works for me. Now she cooks very good.
-Yes. The food is delicious.
Priti served them Sandesh, gulab-jam and misti doi for dessert. When finished eating they left the dining-room and went to sit to in her study room carrying their wine glasses. It was a nice room with book-cases covered one -side of the wall. A big glass window showing the view of a backgarden on the other side. Priti came in carrying the wine bottle and placed it on the table and left. While sipping wine Srabanti began:
-You tell Barsha that next week we'll phone her for her interview. And I arranged with our drama section to telecast some of your screenplays. You will hear from us soon.
Asim smiled and said ,-I never thought of anyone using them. So good of you.
-Do you recall that you and I acted in Macbeth. We were in love those days. We loved Shakespear's strictly Marxist play Timon of Athens. Then you went to study Statistics and I Journalism. Then came your Rukmini and eventually Barsha in your life.
-What about you, asked Asim.
-What about me!
-I mean your love-affair.
-I had only one affair that was with a student in the US.
-I've no one. Only you.
-Those days we were lovers. I still find you as attractive as before.
-Me too. I find you so attractive and sexy.
-Then why can't we at least have sex once to remember.
-You really mean it?
-Suppose we get attached to each other.
-No. That will not happen. You have your Barsha.
That evening Srabanti and Asim slept before the latter's departure.
Next Monday during their leisure period his colleague Sukanta Mukherjee ,a lecturere in Bengali, came and sat next to Asim's empty chair in the teachers' room and asked him about his deal with Modern Publishers.
-I think they have financial difficulties.
-What about your manuscript, Mukherjee asked specifically.
-I've not asked the proprietor yet.
-You're taking a risk. I heard a rumour that they have gone bankrupt.You must go to them immediately and demand your manuscript.
-Well. Thank you for reminding me.
After his conversation with his colleague Roy felt that it was his fault. He should have demanded his manuscript from Biren Basu. So there and then he decided to visit Modern Publishers that afternoon.
When he arrived there he was again disappointed to find Basu with his hair and dress dishevelled, writing something on a ledger book. He couldnot bring himself to speak to him. Quietly he tried to leave when Basu almost shouted at him:
-Please don't leave without taking your money and your valuable manuscript. I'm ruined. I'm ruined for good. I 'm bankrupt. But I never mean to do any harm to my honest authors. I sold the publishing right of my books to Bijon Bannerji, owner of Banerji Publications Pvt Ltd. He is very eager tomeet you. He promised me he would pay you well. He wants to make a new contract with you. I suggest you go to him soon.
He got up and delved into his drawer and pulled out a thick file and then a bundle of rupees. First Basu gave him the file containing his manuscript saying:
- Yet you're free to choose your publisher now.
And then he gave Asim a thick bunch of currency notes saying--Here Ten thousand rupees as compensation for the delay in publishing your book. Good luck and good bye.
All of a sudden Asim felt tears started to his eyes.
- Dipok Sarma .