Following is not an original story written by me. It is merely an English translation of a short Hindi story written by a Hindi writer Shri Ashok Sheksariya who is no longer with us. The title of the original story is ‘Bikalp’ (‘the option’ in the English language) but I find ‘the escape’ to be the more suitable one. I am not judging an old Hindi writer’s capability to put a title, it is not in my niche to judge someone who contributed his life for the language and literature but this is just my opinion.
Today also, his feet happened to move towards Hastings. He would spend hours sitting beside the river Hooghly staring at boats, reading graffiti and advertisements across the river. Today’s day was a usual day for everyone but him. He had been laid off and he would be jobless by the end of next month. He thought, today is an important day for him, but he couldn’t grasp its significance. What would he do once he is jobless! He would be a stray dog on the streets of Kolkata — he couldn’t comprehend the reality of the situation. He was losing consciousness as if somebody had anesthetized him — he was senseless. He said to himself, today he had got a notice, he would hardly be there for one more month and then kicked out of the office. Whatsoever, nothing was bothering him, he remained lied down on the grass. ‘Martin burn’ — a train express had just passed from the nearest railway track, there was a fathomless river flowing beside him, housing small and big boats, parallel to which railway tracks were giving green signals to board an upcoming local train. On the other side, motors were running on the road. All the ways of conveyance were there together, is there any airplane in the sky too? No, the sky was clear and mystic blue.
He thought — he would be jobless by 1st December, and he was not expecting for the situation to be ameliorated even by Christmas. But somehow, he was getting fancy about it. He would roam around and in the New Market freely, would be able to listen to the morning radio show in restaurants. But what a waste! It was his habit to think about only things that had nothing to do with his livelihood. When he looked across the street sitting along the riverside, he realized that dusk had already descended and the night was about to cover the arc of the sky. He was feeling a little cold as he didn’t have any sweater on him. He stood from there and sat on the bench at the nearest tea corner beside the railway line. Some old bus conductors and fishermen were enjoying their evening snacks with tea and biscuits. These fishermen, he thought, spend their whole life measuring the depth of the sea and fishing in the river. He had a deep appreciation for them as if they were messengers of the sea. He remembers — one today at this very place — he had told Illeana, he would escape to the sea, its unfathomable depth, the endless journey would charm him. Fascinating by the sea, he recited the poem of the Mansfield he had learned in high school. ‘Don’t talk nonsense’, Illeana was afraid of losing him. But he was dwelling in his imagination- ‘Illeana one day I went to see a ship with my sailor friend. He had said with pride that he stay with that many numbers of girls’ and he had laughed hard. But instead, Illeana asked him to promise that he cannot escape to the sea. He can talk about the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans but he cannot escape. That day, she was irritated by his words of imagination. Why he is always on cloud nine and making fortress in the air. ‘You will always speak, no matter how useless and utterly nonsense things are’. He was stupefied by her reaction. Always, every time Illeana pacified his enthusiasm. He was always in the flow of sentiments thinking otherworldly facts and fairy tales. One day he told her — ‘Illeana you always undermine me, can’t I escape to the sea! Bet on this, one day I will, but I have one condition.’ ‘Tell me’ -Illeana asked. ‘Give two lines of remembrance to print on ‘Statesman’ on my every birthday.’ Illeana was upset after hearing this. ‘Don’t talk nonsense, you are not going anywhere. You cannot influence me by this useless talk.’
But today, he thought, he can escape to the sea without any resistance. He was already out of his job, he can do anything and everything he wants. He thought he would send a mail to Illeana from a faraway port — ‘Illeana, how wrong you were.’ Suddenly he felt the fog of his perception settling down. He will escape, he will escape and Illeana will know that he was not just a sentimental person with worthless talk.
He felt like he had found a new door to life. Illeana was standing between his past and the future. Sometimes later, Illeana, after cutting from his life had settled in an old house situated in ‘the Diamond Harbour Road’. Often he used to pass the diamond harbor road commuting on the tram. As he would cross Illeana’s house, he would try to check whether Illeana was there in the corridor standing or not. Today, he thought, he can go to Illeana’s house and mention — ‘Illeana, I don’t just talk, I can do things too.’ But why should he go! Illeana will just laugh at him. He just remembers one day in the college, with what ease, she had mentioned that she got engaged with someone. He had asked why didn’t she say before. What would she say? Was the engagement that easy? He never thought about it so clearly. He doesn’t remember completely, but this was the only day he didn’t go to see her off at the bus stop.
Through Hastings ground, he reached the tram terminal. He was so tired, as he reached home, he fell asleep. In the morning, when he woke up, he realized that he had slept with his shoes on his feet. This made him recall all the incidents of tomorrow but somehow he didn’t realize that he had spent his entire evening at the riverside, instead, he just remembered one thing, that he was kicked out of his office.
Newspaper boy rang the doorbell. On receiving the newspaper, he first looked at the ‘jobs column’. He jotted down something on a piece of paper. There was a requirement for a clerk in a merchant navy company. He thought he would go there to give his application for the post. This made him remember the escape to the sea. He laughed and said- ‘Illeana you were right, I can’t escape!’