Behind the College Square swimming pool on Bankim Chatterjee street in the Indian city of joy, Kolkata, stood a dilapidated tiny two-storey building crowned with unwanted banyan saplings sprouting from the cracks in its outer walls. A forty-year-old weird man with a midget face and enormous arms lived in a small plaster pealed damp room of ten by eight feet on the ground floor of this very crumbling house. From a large window with vertical iron bars like an old jail cell, Kalidas Maity popped out his little head, observing everything on the busy street outside.
Mobile vendors sold an assortment of things, like authentic Calcuttan snacks, tinker toys, and helium-filled balloons. Squeezing his gargantuan arms through the vertical bars, the deformed man would buy some of these street goods. As he never came out of the house, the neighbouring shopkeeps, such as grocers and vegetable vendors, usually came to deliver their ware at his window. All anyone ever saw was his tiny head and his monstrous arms in the dark backdrop of his book-stacked pitch-black room, as he never came out of his house.
His mother had given him birth in that place, and his entire world was inside the four walls of the ten by eight feet room. He had no father, and one day many years back, his mother did not return from work. People said that the poor lady must have met with an accident somewhere. Books were Kalidas’s universe. In them, he found romance, met and became his heroes, visited places, and came to know about everything. Newspapers and magazines were his sources of daily news.
The downtown College Square neighbourhood around the numerous prestigious and old educational institutes like the Calcutta Medical College and the Presidency University was a boiling cauldron of academics. The nine-hundred-metre-long College Street on the western face of the swimming pool, opposite Bankim Chatterjee street, and its bylanes was a concrete jungle of education-related activities. Rows of cramped bookstalls sandwiched to each other occupied most of the footpaths on both sides of the street.
It was Asia’s largest book market and the world’s biggest secondhand book hub. Many big players in the Bengali publication world, like Ananda Publishers and Rupa & Co., originated from this neighbourhood. Kalidas Maity was a knowledge freak and bookworm too. The weird man’s dark little room was packed from floor to ceiling with columns of old and dusty books.
Students, teachers, professors, and individuals engaged in the business of education; thronged the locality like bees to a field of sunflowers. Many of these curious customers took much interest in interacting with Kalidas through his window. The weird man seemed to have a lot of knowledge in every possible subject and was always eager to share his wisdom with anyone having the patience to hear him out.
Among the many centres of intellectual activities that sprouted around this busy street, the Indian Coffee House established in 1876, originally called the Albert Hall, perhaps was the most iconic. For decades the historic cafe had been a favourite haunt for Bengal’s intellectuals, educationists, and revolutionaries. Unfortunately, those good old glory days of the Bengal renaissance and the Indian freedom movement were long gone. The coffee house and the swimming pool now even attracted criminals and addicts. Kalidas hated these miscreants, who he said was ruining the reputation of his beloved and culturally rich neighbourhood of the city.
Apart from intentionally bumping into the opposite sex wherever possible, touching, groping and pulling on them in the crowd, and bullying outside the colleges, these ruffians liked to spend their time around the cooling waters of the swimming pool during the after-hours, shooting up drugs, smoking weed, and gulping country hootch. Back in the nineteen nineties policing in the area was not that good, and these shady characters took the most advantage of this situation and made it to the best of their use.
Kalidas always said, “If I ever get hold of one of these goons, God help his soul.” The ruffians, however, knew that the disabled agoraphobic was no threat to them as he was too scared to come out of his refuge. They laughed at him and mocked him from a distance. They knew that the wired man with the tiny head and mammoth arms could never muster the courage to leave his house. They did all sorts of nonsense in front of his eyes in the street outside his window.
“Hey, weirdo, still not coming out of the house, are we,” chuckled the old man Bonomali as he passed by Kalidas’s room, heading towards Rajuda’s tea shop for his early morning tea? “Get lost, you good for nothing old clown. I don’t need to come out of the house. I know everything that’s going on in the neighbourhood,” answered back the mysterious man popping his little head through the two central vertical bars of his old window, while his enormous palms clasped the iron rods on both sides of his tiny skull.
“How long will you keep yourself locked up inside that tiny prison of yours. It is totally unhealthy and completely unnatural for a young man to stay cooped up in his room. Pray that God gives you the sense and guts to step out of the house,” said Bonomali and slowly walked away from the window.
“You know nothing, old man. My room is not a prison; it’s my universe, and Kalidas does not fold his hands to anyone or ask for favours, not even from God. The Almighty has made me strong enough to face my battles. I will not disturb him till we meet again. The day I pray to Him with clasped palms would be to thank him for my earthly existence and let Him know that I am ready to return to his eternal domain. It would be the last day of my life,” murmured the weird man with a retrospective look in his thoughtful eyes.
A few moments later, a teenage boy wearing a shabby cotton banyan with numerous unwanted holes and floppy khaki Bermuda shorts, swinging a suit-stained dented kettle and a wireframe with a wooden handle holding six little glasses came and stood in front of the large window. “Kali Da, Bono Dadu (grandpa) has sent a glass of tea for you,” giggled the tatty lad. “Stop grinning, you buffoon. Leave my glass on the windowsill and tell the old man Bonomali that Kalidas takes no one’s favour or money,” said the grumpy eccentric, flicking a two-rupee coin towards the dirty little chappie.
As the day progressed, many others, shopkeepers, neighbours, and strangers spoke with the man behind the window. While the gentler ones usually conversed about the neighbourhood and the news, the pranksters made it a point to ask annoying questions to infuriate him and light up his fuse. The unknown passersby usually sought directions, which he was more than happy to share with the minutest of details possible and the lengthiest of narrations.
Apart from occasionally retreating into the back of his room, perhaps to answer nature’s call, eat, sleep, or do personal chores, he would usually spend most of his time looking out and interacting with the world outside from his beloved window. Of course, he would be reading his books whenever possible. Everyone wondered what would make Kalidas come out of his solitary cubicle.
It was a cold December night in 1998. The waters of the College Square swimming pool lay still like a frozen lake without a single ripple or a speck of bubble. Even the nocturnal stray dogs had retreated into the nooks and crannies to escape from the icy winds of the chilly night. While the busy street that had been bustling during the daytime lay desolate like an abandoned town from an old western classic, a shabby curtain occasionally swayed behind the vertical bars of the open window, gently dancing in the beam of an incandescent streetlight.
At about one o’clock at night, the cry of a young girl emanated from the southern side of the swimming pool. There was a noise of screeching tyres coming to a halt, and then the sounds of running footsteps and the desperate scream for help became louder and louder. Banging doors and closed shutters, one after the other, a fear-stricken college girl landed in front of the open window. Taking a moment to catch her breath, she screamed through the vertical bars calling for help. She was too exhausted and could not run anymore.
Four well-known local goons caught up with her at the window. They grabbed her and tried pulling her. The frightened girl screamed for mercy, pressing her face between the iron bars and clenching it with every ounce of strength in her sinew. “No one will save you tonight, little missy. You are barking at the wrong window,” chuckled one of the four. Unable to pull her away, they huddled up to her. They squeezed and shoved her, with their heads clustered around hers, pressing on the vertical bars of the open window.
At that moment, two gigantic arms bolted through the iron bars and clutched the heads of the four. A vice-like grip of two massive forearms tightened on their throats. They let go of the girl bringing up their hands, trying to escape the embracing choke. Too shocked and disoriented, the girl ran away to save herself without even looking back at the window. Deathly silence once again took over the neighbourhood as an excruciating squeeze on their throats did not even allow the goons to utter a sound.
Old Bonomali was the first to come in the morning, followed by Raju’da and the tatty lad from the tea shop. Gradually a crowd gathered, and everyone was shocked at what they saw. Two gigantic arms with ten monstrous fingers interlocked as if praying to God, embracing the vertical bars of the window from inside. Four lifeless heads with tongues hanging out of their mouths pressed in-between the bars and the massive arms with their still bodies dangling from the window. Inside the room behind the iron bars, the known face of Kalidas spotted a still and lifeless smile with a knife pierced through his throat.
Later in the day, when the police came and broke into the ten by eight feet room, they were shocked to find that Kalidas had no torso from the waist below. He must have been born like that with half a body. Having no legs meant using his arms extensively, making them herculean.
The horrific episode created an uncanny fear in the hearts of every criminal who ever visited the neighbourhood. After that chilling night in December of 1998, their kind avoided Bankim Chatterjee Street during the night, especially the open window. No one ever rented that room again, and it remains vacant. People say that even today, especially at night, sometimes one can see two enormous palms clasping the iron bars, with a tiny little head popping through the two central vertical bars of the old window.
Copyright © 2022 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
This work of fiction, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. Some characters, incidents, places, and facts may be real while some fictitious. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with Trishikh on the CONTACT page of this website.
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