Ashok Seksaria Writer & Socialist Thinker
Ashok Sekasaria lives in Calcutta in the Northeast of India. Born in a Marwari family (from Marwar in Rajasthan, northwest part of India), he has worked in Danik Hindustan (Hindi newspaper), Jan (Socialist party magazine), Dinamaan (Hindi news weekly), Varta (Hindi monthly) etc. He writes in Hindi and his writing is mainly related to analysis of contemporary society, but he has also written some short stories. Translation of his short story Vikalp (Alternative) from a short-story collection Lekhki (Writing) is presented here (Vagdevi Publications, Bikaner, 2000).
(Updated July 2007)
Vikalp (Alternative) - A Short Story by Ashok Sekasaria
Today again, he walked towards Hastings. Sitting by the side of Hooghly, watching the boats and reading the billboards on the other side of the river, was his old habit. Today was like the other days, but not for him. In the office he was told that he would be laid off. From next month he will be unemployed. He thought - today is very important day for him. But why he doesn't feel the importance of this day? He had wondered, what he will do if he will lose his job (it was lost)? He would wander around in the dirt of Calcutta - nothing came to his mind. All activities of his brain had gone to sleep. He felt that his brain has been given an anaesthetic injection and he has become numb. He spoke to himself, to understand the situation he must clarify things to himself. He said to himself - today I have lost my job, for another month I can work, then my office will give me two months' salary and then throw me out. He repeated these phrases to himself and then, taking out his pen, wrote the same words in big letters, but he still continued to feel numb. There was no emotion, neither sadness at the loss of job, nor any fear for the future. So he stayed there, lying down on the grass silently. The goods train to Martin Vern passed by the side. In front, there were ships, small boats, in the middle the rail lines, and on the other side, the road with cars. All mediums of transport were there together. He looked at the sky to see if there was an aeroplane. The sky was clean and blue.
He thought - from first December, he will be jobless, which means that around Christmas he will not have any job. He felt happy that he could then walk around in New Market, could listen to the "Morning Session" at the restaurants. He was thinking about all useless things. There was no logic in thinking like this, no logic at all. He usually thinks about such things, which are almost unimportant and which, have no links with real life.
The short days of November, they turn into night, without your being aware. When he looked across the river at the road, evening had gone away and night had fallen. It was a mild wintery night and he was without sweater. Black night, fearful night, he told himself, trying to make himself to feel afraid. He walked to the roadside teashop for seamen near the railway line to drink some tea. Old seamen, boatmen were drinking tea and eating salty biscuits. Their lives pass on the sea and river. He used to think that they were very fortunate. He remembered that once he had said it to Ila - one day he will run away to the sea, he loved the sea, and he had recited Mensfield's poem "Sea fever" that he had memorized. Ila had said - Stop talking nonsense. But he had been lost in his enthusiasm - Ila one day, I had gone to see the cabin of a seaman and everywhere he had put up pinups of girls. He had proudly said to me that he lived surrounded by women, breaking up into loud laughter. Then Ila had said that he will never go to the sea, he would never do any thing in his life. He can just sit here and talk about profoundness and endless ocean. He loves pronouncing those words. Saying profoundness makes him feel profound joy. Ila had paused and said that he had just watched the sea, the ship and had heard the horn of the ship, deciding that he would go the sea. She had become angry and had said - I am wondering how you can say such meaningless things. Why you must say such things because you like them, even if they are completely useless and meaningless. I had been speechless. Often Ila used to speak like that, discouraging his emotions and enthusiasm. He would think of useless things, lost in the emotions. Sometimes he felt that he only had a flying emotional fever and nothing else. He had said forcefully - Ila you always speak like that about my ideas, why can't I go to the sea? Let's make a bet, I too have a bet. What? On my birthday, you can send a message of two lines to the newspaper to remember me. Ila had said angrily, don't talk nonsense. You can't impress me such martyr like useless words. His enthusiasm had gone cold
But today I can go to the sea, he thought. He has lost his job. Now he can do every thing. Go to the sea and from some far away port send a letter to Ila - Ila, you were wrong. With this thought, he felt that all the fog in front of him had disappeared, his future was suddenly clear. He will go away and Ila will know that he was not just an emotional person, talking only in air.
My life has opened, he thought. Between the past and the future, there was only Ila. She had cut herself off from him, to go and live in a house on Diamond Harbour road. In the tram, he often passes through Diamond Harbour road. He knows Ila's house. When the house comes closer, he puts his head out of the window and tries to look if Ila is in the balcony or not? Today he can take a bus from here to go to her house, Ila I was not talking nonsense. But, why should he go to her? She will laugh at him. He remembered the way Ila had simply told him that she had been blessed (engaged). He had asked, why she had not told him before? What should I have told you? When it is done, I have told you.
He tries to think if the news about her "blessing" was simple? But he can never think about it clearly. He can't remember any thing, except that he had not accompanied Ila to the bus-stop after the classes.
While going to his home, he thought that he will give a nice gift to Ruth on her marriage. Ruth is a good girl. In the office when he tells her that "Ruth, the truth is that Tony does not love you", then she becomes very happy, as if he had said that Tony loves her. He laughs and thinks that his words always seem to have opposite meanings.
From Hastings, passing through Maidan he came to to the tram station. He was tired and at home quickly fell asleep. In the morning, when he woke up he saw that he had slept without taking off his shoes. Then he remembered yesterday's event. He couldn't remember that he been to the river, but he remembered that he had lost his job.
The newspaper man brought the newspaper. He didn't even look at the headlines, looking at the "Wanted" column. Then with his pen, he took some notes. A merchant navy company was looking for clerks. He thought that he will apply to that company. He remembered his idea about going to the sea. He laughed loudly. Definitely, Ila had not said any thing wrong.