Apad: Short Story by Rabindranath Tagore

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      Several kids have talent but do not conform to set patterns of behaviour. They have a restlessness in them that parents and guardians find baffling. They are never at rest and often rejected by family and society. Apad - The Troubles is about such 'difficult' children, much misunderstood even now despite the advances in child psychology. Atithi had been filmed in 1969 by director Tappan Sinhala.

Kiran lost all her sulkiness and welcomed the boy in with dry clothes and a bowl of hot milk.
Apad : The Troubles

Short Story :-

It was a stormy night at Chandan Nagar, some way off the big city of Kolkata.

In a big garden resort by the river Ganga, Sharath Babu and his pretty wife Kiranmoyee were having a chat by the lamplight. They had come there on a recuperation trip Kiranmoyee had been very ill and the village doctor had advised a change of air. Her devoted husband had not only sent her here but accompanied her himself. His mother too was fond of Kiranmoyee and come along with them.

Kiranmoyee had almost recovered but she was very bored in that small place. She was a social creature, naturally fond of company. She liked to have good fun and cheerful chit-chat. She was tired of medicines, hot compresses, diet and so on.

On this night, when the storm was raging over the swollen river, a sulky, Kiranmoyee was asking her husband to end this rest cure and take her back to their native place.

Just then, there was a commotion outside the door. Kiran opened the door. A servant reported that somewhere on the river a boat had capsized and a Brahmin boy from that boat had saved himself by swimming across to their garden resort.

Kiran lost all her sulkiness and welcomed the boy in with dry clothes and a bowl of hot milk.

His name was Neelakanta. He had long hair, large eyes, and no trace of moustache as yet. Kiran sat right before him as he ate, and learnt that he was from a jatra or moving theatrical group. It was going to a nearby village to perform when a storm arose and the boat sank. Neelakanta was a good swimmer and so saved himself. But he had no idea what had happened to the rest of the group.

Kiran's heart went out to this youth who had had such a narrow escape from death. Her husband was happy at the thought that Kiran had found someone to absorb her attention and keep her occupied. As for Neelakanta, he was only too happy with the comfort and attention he received here, after the hardships of the life in the theatre group.

So it came about that Neelakanta stayed on at the garden resort. But soon Sharath Babu and his mother changed their opinion of him and began to regard him as an aapad, that is, a sudden trouble or problem.

Neelakanta began to take puffs at the long pipe that Sharath had for smoking tobacco. He began to calmly use Sharath's fancy silk umbrella as he went about looking for new friends in the locality. He picked up a stray dog as his pet and encouraged it so much that would come right in and put its dirty paws on the carpet in the living room. He gathered quite a following of local children and finished off all the unripe mangoes on the trees.

There was no doubt that Kiran spoilt the boy. She dressed him up in Sharath Babu's old dresses and socks, and gifted him with new dhoti, chadar and shoes, making a 'babu' of him. Sharath Babu and his mother asked her not to, but she never listened. She often called Neelakanta up to her and made him act out scenes of plays before her. She sat on the bed chewing paan or betel leaves, with the maid drying her hair, and whiled away the long afternoons watching Neelakanta sing and wave his arms about in the role of female characters like Sita, Radha or Damayanti.

Sharath often boxed Neelakanta's ears or gave him a slap. But the boy did not seem to care. In his days at the theatre company, he had been used to far severe punishment.

He was about seventeen but looked like fourteen. Because he had acted in female roles at the theatre company, his development as a youth had been stunted. But now his teenage seemed to proceed more normally. He began to feel bad when Kiran asked him to act out female roles. He tried to pick up some lessons from the accountant in Sharath Babu's employment. But the accountant disliked Neelakanta for being such a pet of Kiran's, and anyway, Neelakanta did not have any power of concentration. Rather, he was a dreamer. The books he tried to read, or the plays he had acted in, filled his imagination with dreams dreams in which figured the gracious lady who had given him refuge.

But within this imaginative and romantic personality there also persisted the long-haired Neelakanta who played female roles or stole mangoes and was slapped by Sharath.

Meanwhile, Satish, the younger brother of Sharath, landed up there for his holidays. Kiran was delighted. Between the brother-in-law and the sister-in-law there were pranks played, jokes exchanged and fun times enjoyed. Neelakanta suddenly felt bitter and out of sorts. He began to bully the local youngsters who followed him about. He often kicked the stray dog he had made his pet. As he walked along he unnecessarily hit the mango trees with a stick. He did not eat to his fill if Kiran failed to be present while he ate something that began to happen quite often now. He cried himself to sleep, without knowing exactly why.

He felt Satish was all the time saying things against him to Kiran. He prayed that in the next birth he would be born as Satish and Satish as him. He cursed Satish as his ears rang with the merry peals of laughter that were ringing out as Satish sat upstairs with Kiranmoyee.

He did not dare to openly have a fight with Satish, but pestered him in petty ways. One day Satish had gone for his bath keeping a cake of soap on the embankment. When he reached out for the soap, he found it gone. Another day, he found a favourite shirt of his float away along the river. Yet another day, Kiran called up Neelakanta and to amuse Satish, asked him to sing a song from the plays he used to perform. To her surprise, Neelakanta refused.

At last it was time for Kiranmoyee to go. She was now fully recovered. Satish too, would, as a matter of course, be going with them. But no one even bothered to think of what Neelakanta would do - whether he would go with them or stay on here. Nobody was bothered.

Kiran proposed that Neelakanta should go with them to their own place. Her husband, mother-in-law and brother-in-law, all three protested. Kiran had to call Neelakanta up and in a few sweet words, ask him to return to his own village.

After the neglect of days, these sweet words made Neelakanta burst out crying. Tears came into Kiran's eyes also. She felt guilty at showering someone with temporary affection when he could not be given anything permanent.

Satish ridiculed Neelakanta for his show of emotions, and reproached Kiran," "You are too trustful of everyone! An unknown character lording it over here; he is just shamming so that your heart melts and he does not have to lose all this comfort."

Neelakanta hurried away, bleeding inwardly.

Satish had a very fancy inkstand shaped like a swan. Kiran often teased him about it. One day before departure, it could not be found anywhere. Kiran tried to make a joke of it by saying: "Your swan has flown off somewhere". But an angry Satish accused Neelakanta of stealing it. Hauling him up before everyone, including Kiranmoyee, he shouted:

"Get me back my inkstand!"

Kironmoyee took Neelakanta aside and said in a low, soft voice: "Neelu, if you have indeed taken the inkstand, quietly give it back to me, and no one will ever know."

Neelakanta hid his face in his hands and wept.

Kiran came back and told the others: "Neelakanta cannot have stolen the inkstand."

"None other than Neelakanta has stolen it", said Sharat and Satish. They wanted to conduct a search of his room and his tin box. Kiran refused to let them. With tears in her eyes, she said, "If you question him or search his room, I will never again speak to you. You cannot doubt the innocent."

In the evening Kiranmoyee quietly entered the room Neelakanta had been allotted. She had got some new clothes and a ten-rupee note to give him. She wanted to quietly leave her affectionate gift inside the tin box which she herself had once given to the boy. With a key she had, she opened the box. But it was full of odds and ends like kites, pen-knife, broken bits of glass, apart from clothes. Kiranmoyee had to take everything out in order to make room for her gifts. As she did so, she saw the inkstand lying at the bottom of the box, below everything. Stunned, red-faced, Kiran sat there holding the inkstand.

She did not get to know that Neelakanta too had entered from behind and caught sight of her sitting with the inkstand in her hand. Neelakanta thought that Kiran had come to search his box secretly and found him out as guilty. But how could he make her understand that he had not really wanted to steal the inkstand, but wanted only to teach Satish a lesson. He was not a thief! But then, what was he? Kiran had suspected him to be a thief. How could he bear such cruel injustice!

Kiran herself gave a long sigh, and put everything back in the tin box, with her gifts on top.

But the next day no trace could be found of Neelakanta. Neither the villagers nor the police could search him out. "Now let us search his box", suggested Sharath.

"Never!" said Kiran. Later she took the box into her room, took out the inkstand and dropped it into the Ganga in secret.

Sharath went away from Chandan Nagar with his whole family. Within a day, the garden resort became deserted. Only the stray dog that had become Neelakanta's pet lingered by the riverside, howling as he searched on.

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