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Bepin Choudhury's Lapse of Memory
Every Monday, on his way back from work, Bepin Choudhury would drop in at Kalicharan's in New Market to buy books. Crime stories, ghost stories and thrillers. He had to buy at least five at a time to last him through the week. He lived alone, was not a good mixer, had few friends, and didn’t like spending time in idle chat. Today, at Kalicharan’s, Bepin Babu had the feeling that someone was observing him from close quarters. He turned round and found himself looking at a round faced, meek looking man who now broke into a smile. “I don’t suppose you recognise me.”
“Have we met before?” asked Bepin Babu. The man looked greatly surprised. “We met every day for a whole week. I arranged for a car to take you to the Hudroo falls.In 1958. In Ranchi. My name is Parimal Ghose.”“Ranchi?” Now Bepin Babu realised that it was not he but this man who was making a mistake. Bepin Babu had never been to Ranchi. He had been at the point of going several times, but never made it. He smiled and said, “Do you know who I am?” The man raised his eyebrows, bit his tongue and said, “Do I know you? Who doesn’t know Bepin Choudhury?”
Bepin Babu now turned towards the bookshelves and said, “Still you’re making a mistake. One often does. I’ve never been to Ranchi.”The man now laughed aloud. “What are you saying, Mr Choudhury? You had a fall in Hudroo and cut your right knee. I brought you iodine. I had fixed up a car for you to go to Netarhat the next day, but you couldn’t because of the pain in the knee. Can’t you recall anything? Someone else you know was also in Ranchi at that time. Mr Dinesh Mukerji. You stayed in a bungalow. You said you didn’t like hotel food and would prefer to have your meals cooked by a bawarchi. Mr Mukerji stayed with his sister. You had a big argument about the moon landing, remember? I’ll tell you more: you always carried a bag with your books in it on your sight-seeing trips. Am I right or not?” Bepin Babu spoke quietly, his eyes still on the books. “Which month in ’58 are you talking about?” The man said, “October.”
“No, sir,” said Bepin Babu. “I spent Puja in ’58 with a friend in Kanpur. You’re making a mistake. Good day.” But the man didn’t go, nor did he stop talking. “Very strange. One evening I had tea with you in a veranda of your bungalow. You spoke about your family. You said you had no children, and that you had lost your wife ten years ago. Your only brother had died insane, which is why you didn’t want to visit the mental hospital in Ranchi...” When Bepin Babu had paid for the books and was leaving the shop, the man was still looking at him in utter disbelief.
1. Why did the man stare at Bepin Babu in disbelief?
2. Where did Bepin Babu say he went in October '58?
3. Mention any three (or more) things that Parimal Ghose knew about Bepin Babu.
Bepin Babu’s car was safely parked in Bertram Street by the Lighthouse Cinema. He told the driver as he got into the car, “Just drive by the Ganga, will you, Sitaram.” Driving up the Strand Road, Bepin Babu regretted having paid so much attention to the intruder. He had never been to Ranchi — no question about it. It was inconceivable that he should forget such an incident which took place only six or seven years ago. He had an excellent memory. Unless — Bepin Babu’s head reeled. Was he losing his mind? But how could that be? He was working daily in his office. It was a big firm, and he was doing a responsible job. He wasn’t aware of anything ever going seriously wrong. Only today he spoke for half an hour at an important meeting. And yet... And yet the man knew a great deal about him. How? He even seemed to know some intimate details. The bag of books, wife’s death, brother’s insanity... The only mistake was about his having gone to Ranchi. Not a mistake; a deliberate lie. In ’58, during the Pujas, he was in Kanpur at his friend Haridas Bagchi’s place. All Bepin Babu had to do was write to — no, there was no way of writing to Haridas. Bepin Babu suddenly remembered that Haridas had left with his wife for Japan some weeks ago, and he didn’t have his address. But where was the need for proof? He himself was fully aware that he hadn’t been to Ranchi — and that was that.
The river breeze was bracing, and yet a slight discomfort lingered in Bepin Babu’s mind. Around Hastings, Bepin Babu decided to roll up his trousers and take a look at his right knee. There was the mark of an old inch-long cut. It was impossible to tell when the injury had occurred.
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