[This is my third story in the 52-week challenge. I am in the process of translating the stories of Rajsekhar Basu, aka Parasuram in Bengali literature. Today’s story is “Parashpathar”. Thank you Justin Cox 🍩, your posts keep me going!
Just to confirm, this is a work of Satire, :-)
babu = “Mr.” in Bengali
Lord Kuber = God of Wealth in Hindu Pantheon
Gurkha = Warrior clan in hill regions of Nepal, see here
Marwari = Traders from the Rajasthan State of India, see here
Ramakrishna Paramahansadeva = The nineteenth century mystic saint, more information here
parashpathar = Philosopher’s stone]
Parashpathar: The Philosopher’s Stone
Paresh-babu had found a philosopher’s stone.
Well, why do you want to know when he found it? Or where he found it, how did it get here, or whether there are others? Keep listening to what I am about to tell you.
Pareshbabu was a middle-aged, middle-class man. He lived in his ancestral house in Calcutta, and worked as a legal clerk, barely managing both ends meet. One day as he was returning home from the courthouse, he found a stone lying on the road on his way. He of course could not identify what it was at first sight, having pocketed this novel stuff he picked up from the roadside. After he returned home, as he took out his keys from his pocket to unlock his office room, he noticed that the house keys turned golden. Pareshbabu was puzzled. His house keys were made of iron, how could these turn to golden bell metal? He thought he might have lost the original keys one of these days, and his wife might have had them changed, but he could not remember. Quite possibly he thought he must not have noticed.
Pareshbabu entered his office room and emptied everything in his pocket except for his wallet. Then he walked upstairs. By then he forgot about his keys. After he had his supper and an hour’s rest, he returned to his office room downstairs, and turned on the light in the room. He looked at that stone attentively. This was a smooth round, shining, stone; he thought he would give it to his son the next morning to play marbles. Pareshbabu pulled the drawer of his study table, and placed the stone there. The drawer had knives, pencils, scissors, papers, envelopes and other sundry items in it. To Pareshbabu’s surprise, the knife and the pair of scissors turned golden. Pareshbabu took out the stone and touched an ink bottle with it, nothing happened. Then he touched the stone with a lead paper-weight, it became twice as heavy. Pareshbabu was nervous. In trembling voice, he summoned his servant and asked him, “Haria, can you bring me my watch from upstairs?” Haria the servant brought him his watch, a nickel wrist-watch fitted with a cheap wristband. As soon as he touched it with the stone, the watch and the buckles of his wrist-band turned to gold. The watch of course stopped working by now, as the springs inside it also turned to gold and now these were useless.
Pareshbabu was dumbstruck for sometime. Then he gradually came to understand that he was the owner of the rarest of the rare stones in this world — the philosopher’s stone — one that can turn all metal to gold. As he realised this, he folded his hands in prayer and kept touching his forehead now and again, praying to his favourite goddess, “Mother Goddess Kali, how merciful are you! Lord Hari (“Krishna”), you are the ultimate truth in this life, what games are you playing with me my Lord? Am I not dreaming?”
Pareshbabu sharply pinched his left hand, yet he did not wake up, so this was not some kind of a dream after all. He felt nauseated, he had palpitations. In the manner of the legendary heroine Shakuntala in the epics of the great medieval poet Kalidasa, he placed his hand on his chest and said to himself, “Calm down my heart! Who will enjoy this divine gift of Lord Kuber’s wealth if you fail now?” Pareshbabu had heard about a gentleman who got so excited upon hearing that he won four hundred thousand rupees in Lottery, and in his excitement he jumped so high that he banged his head on the roof. Pareshbabu pressed firmly on his head in an effort to keep it down just in case he were to jump in excitement.
Time is a great healer. As with extreme sadness, extreme pleasure, too soon passes. Pareshbabu quickly came back to his senses, and thought about his next steps. It would not be a good idea for the word to go out, one does not know who are one’s enemies and how they may end up spoiling the fun. He wanted to tell this to his wife Giribala, but as he knew, women cannot keep secret. He went upstairs and told this to his wife Giribala anyway. He asked her to promise him in the name of three billion Hindu Gods and Goddesses that she should not let the secret out.
Even though he cautioned his wife, Pareshbabu lost control of himself. He touched the stone to a beam in the roof of his bedroom. As he did so, all the iron in the roof turned to gold. The roof became so weak it nearly collapsed. He turned all his metal dinnerware and utensils in his house to gold. People started wondering why would he gilt these things? His relatives started asking him about his sudden habit of gilting everything. Pareshbabu was annoyed with them and pushed them back, “Go away, will you stop bugging me about these? After all, why are you bothered what I do with my own stuff?” People started asking him so many questions that he stopped talking to them. His clients thought that he must have lost his mind.
Over time, Pareshbabu slowed down a little. He sold some gold items and deposited the money in the bank, and purchased shares. He built a huge house in a 20-acre plot at a wealthy neighbourhood in the city. One day he discovered a large heap of rusted iron scraps from breaking of cars in a junkyard. He asked the owner of the junkyard how much he would ask for the heap. The owner agreed to give away these scraps to Pareshbabu for free if he were to carry them himself. Pareshbabu would visit the junkyard everyday, collect about a tonne of these scraps, then he would haul them back to a special room he made in his house, and converted these to gold. He posted ten gurkha soldiers and five bull-dogs to guard his factory, and did not allow anyone to enter without his permission. From the way he was manufacturing and then selling the gold, you would think that was the easiest business in the world, but if you were to produce gold in such large quantities, that would not be very easy for one person. So Pareshbabu advertised for an assistant in the newspapers; after rejecting several applicants, he employed a young man — Priyatosh Henry Biswas — for a monthly salary of a hundred and fifty rupees. Priyatosh had just graduated with a Master of Science degree from the university and he did not have any relative, so he started living in the factory premises. He would take about an hour to shower and get himself dressed, he worked at the factory for eight hours, slept for another eight hours and he spent the rest of his time composing long poems and love letters for his college-sweetheart Hindola, and drinking cups of tea and smoking cigarettes. He was a nice man, he would not even attend church on Sundays, he had no curiosity about life whatsoever, and he never wanted to know from Pareshbabu from where did he get so much gold. Pareshbabu thought he found another gem in addition to the gold — this man Priyatosh. In the factory he would melt metals in large tanks and make thick gold bars. Pareshbabu would take these gold bars and sell them on the market to Marwari traders. Then he would deposit the money in his bank. His bank balance kept rising. His wife became so rich and had so much gold ornaments that she started hating wearing gold, as she had aches all over her body from wearing all that gold. Now instead she wore Rudraksh beads and simple jewelry.
Pareshbabu, however, could not hide his activities for long. The Bengal Government ordered the police to shadow him. He could manage them easily with gifts of gold, and things died down for a while. Indian scientists tore their hairs over wondering what was going on. Had they been born two hundred years ago, they would have easily realised that Pareshbabu got hold of a philosopher’s stone. As there is no place for philosopher’s stone in modern science, they came to the conclusion that Pareshbabu must have put together a machine that can smash atoms and he is then recombining the fragmented atoms to create gold, in the same way they make tapestries from torn cloths. The problem was, Pareshbabu never responded to letters written to him about these things, and Priyatosh was as good as an idiot. When pressed for reply, Priyatosh would claim that he just melted gold, he did not know where it all came from. Scientists outside of India initially ignored the whole thing as a hoax, now even they got interested to know what was going on.
The government of India came under the pressure of the experts. The government decided that Pareshbabu was a dangerous person, but they really could not do much either, as Pareshbabu did not really break the law. There was a proposal to pass an ordinance to arrest him and seize his factory, but such a proposal faced stiff opposition from powerful people all over the world. Pareshbabu was in the good books and surveillance of the consuls of Britain, France, Russia, and America in India; now and then, they would often invite him for dinner. Pareshbabu would quietly attend those parties, he would not reveal much other than a few “yes” and “no”s, but nothing, not even generous supply of champagne would help bring out what he had in his mind. A few Congress Party political leaders had advised him to reveal his secrets to only the few leaders for the greater good of the country. Other leaders, who were Communist Party leaders, warned him not to listen to the Congress Party people and instead encouraged him to continue what he was doing.
His number of friends, and those who were really fair-weather friends, continued to please him, kept increasing. Pareshbabu tried to keep them as happy as he could, yet no one was really happy with him. His enemies were perplexed although they were silent. Even though his wealth skyrocketed, Pareshbabu did not show off. His wife was too old-fashioned to blow away money either. Despite this, Pareshbabu became world-famous for his wealth; his daily life was a point of attraction to the big magazines in America and the Europe. These days he started getting letters from women all over the world; they would write, “Dearest Sir, we do not mind that you keep your old wife. After all, you are a liberal Hindu gentleman, why don’t you keep me as well in your special harem? Marry me, or else, I will poison myself.” His wife Giribala, truth be told, would snatch these letters away soon as they would arrive in his mailbox. She had appointed a European Secretary who translated each letter and would write responses that Giribala would dictate her. Even though Giribala would say a lot of unpleasant words, the secretary would only write, “Damn you!” basically this meant “… curse you lady, why don’t you go die?”
A group of ten famous scientists from all over Europe wrote to Pareshbabu that should Pareshbabu reveal them his secret of making gold, they would try to have him awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Physics, and Peace — all at the same time. And, you guessed it, when this letter reached Giribala, she responded to this letter with the same disdainful response she would send to the love-letter writers, “Damn you!”
Pareshbabu kept on slashing the price of gold. The price of gold plummeted from a hundred and fifteen rupees per ten grams to eight rupees per ten grams. The British Government had purchased gold at a cheap price from India and have repaid their loans to the Americans. The American government got very upset but they could not do much. The British government even offered to repay the pound sterling balance to the Government of India but the ministers of the Indian government replied that as Britain never borrowed gold from India, rather, India supplied Britain with other goods during the Second World War. India would like Britain to pay back with those war goods.
The hawks of Economics and Politics lost their sleep over thinking about this. They could not find a solution to this problem. Had this been in the ancient ages of Satyayuga, they would have gone into meditation or take recourse of the Gods and Goddesses such as Vishnu or Shiva and would have been able to punish Pareshbabu. Alas, that was not to be! Some experts advised to use platinum, and others said, even that would be made cheaply, so it’d be better to use radium or uranium as standards, or rather, go back to the old ages when people used to barter.
Winston Churchill was so upset that he was out of control; he angrily announced, “We will not allow the Commonwealth to be destroyed like this; we will not bother to complain at the UN; let there be British Raj again in India; let the British Army invade India and capture this guy Paresh — we will confine him in the Isle of Wight. Let him make as much gold as he wants there — these will all be Empirical Gold, property of the United Kingdom, we will distribute this!”
George Barnard Shaw said that gold is a useless metal, it cannot be used to make sickle, or sword, or boilers, or engines —one cannot use it to make anything useful. Pareshbabu has done a good thing by diminishing the reputation of gold. Now let him try to make gold as strong as steel. Shaw said he would shave himself as soon as he would get such a gold razor.
A spokesperson from Russia wrote a letter to Pareshbabu. In that letter he wrote, “Sir, we gladly invite you to our country. Ours is a great country; we do not have racism. By the God’s grace, you have acquired a great power, but beg your pardon, you are not very smart about it. You only know how to make gold, but you do not know how to make use of it. We will show you how to make great use of gold. If you have any political ambition, we will make you the president of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. We will provide you with a grand palace on a 100-acre plot in Moscow. If you prefer peace and quiet, we will offer you an entire city in Siberia where you can live peacefully for ever. Siberia is a beautiful place, in your Hindu scriptures you call it “Uttar Kuru” (North Pole).” As usual, Giribala assumed this letter to be another love-letter from overseas and responded, “Damn you!”
Pareshbabu had drastically reduced the price of gold, now it is about 25 cents per 10 grams. At the time of writing this story, the annual global production of minerals in the world was about two million tonnes and Pareshbabu alone was putting out ten million of gold per year. The gold standard was down in the drains. In all countries inflation surged, currency was as good as junk. Prices of most stuff skyrocketed, and the world was plunged into a great crisis.
A group of ten people from different political parties went on an indefinite fast in front of Pareshbabu’s house. At times he started receiving anonymous threats, “You are an enemy of the world, we will come to assassinate you!” By now, Pareshbabu too got sick of all his wealth. Giribala started crying out that if they could not live in peace, what good were all the money? She pleaded with Pareshbabu to throw out his cursed rock; she even told Pareshbabu to throw all this gold to the river and go on a pilgrimage.
Pareshbabu at last made up his mind. He revealed his gold making secret to Priyatosh in the morning. Priyatosh was indifferent. Pareshbabu handed him the philosopher’s stone and asked him to destroy the stone however he wished: burn it, melt it in acid, or in any other way. To which Priyatosh responded, “Right O’”.
In the late afternoon that day, a custodian of the factory rushed to Pareshbabu, “Master, Mr Biswas has gone mad and he is calling for you!” Pareshbabu rushed to the room of Priyatosh and found he was crying inconsolably in his bed. Pareshbabu asked him, “What’s the matter with you, Priyatosh? What happened to you?”
Priyatosh handed him a letter and asked him to read it. This is what Pareshbabu read in that letter,
“Adieu, my love! My father does not want me to marry you. He keeps raising one after another objection. You are poor, you do not have your own house, you barely earn a hundred and fifty rupees a month, you are a Christian and a year younger to me. He says we cannot marry at all.
But listen to this.
Have you heard of Gunjan Ghosh? He sings well, besides he is a handsome guy and has curly hair. He earns six hundred rupees a month from his job at the Civil supplies. He is the only son of a millionaire father. Dad has decided that I am going to marry Gunjan.
Please oh please do not be sad.
Do you not know Bakul Mullick? This girl Bakul and I used to study together in the Diocesan school, and she is three years junior to me. She is of course no match for me, nonetheless she is one in a million. Go after her, you will be happy.
Darling, this is my last love letter to you. From tomorrow, you will be my brother and I will be your loving elder sister.
Love and yours as of today,
After reading this letter, Pareshbabu told Priyatosh, “What a fool are you, Priyatosh! Hindola has herself decided to leave you. If I were you, this would be great news, but why are you sad? Oh well, I know you cannot go and offer Puja at the Kali Temple, how about lighting a couple of candles in your church instead? Anyway, now get up my man, wash your face and come over to my place for a cup of tea and savouries. By the by — could you manage to get rid of the stone?”
Priyatosh informed him in a sad voice, “I have swallowed the stone sir. I have lost all interest in my life and this stone will rest with me in my grave forever. Oh! After all these days of romance, there comes Gunjan Ghosh!”
Pareshbabu was surprised, “Why did you swallow the stone? Was it poisonous?”
Priyatosh said, “I do not know the composition of this stone sir, but I guess it is some kind of a poison. Even if it does not turn out to be poisonous, and I do not die tonight, I will definitely poison myself with potassium cyanide tomorrow morning, I have kept it ready. Worry not sir, your stone will be with me till the day of Judgment!”
Pareshbabu said, “Goodness, Priyatosh, you are a mad man! Get over these ideas, Priyatosh, I will try to see if I can get you married to Hindola. Her father, Jagai Majumder is my childhood friend; he is a sharp guy. I will give you handsome gifts; if he hears this, might agree to let Hindola marry you. But you are a Christian!”
“I am ready to become a Hindu, sir!”
“Well, you will, for the sake of love after all; anyway, get ready now, let us go to Dr Chatterjee, need to get the stone out of your system.”
Pareshbabu told Doctor Chatterjee that Priyatosh had unmindfully swallowed a stone. The doctor ordered an X-ray. Dr. Chatterjee examined the X-ray plate and told Pareshbabu, “No one has seen a case like this before; I am going to report this to The Lancet. This guy has a semicolon next to his ascending colon where the stone is dislodged. It’s probably going to get down on its own. If not, or if he comes up with symptoms, I will take it out surgically.”
Jagai Majumder rushed to Pareshbabu’s house soon as he received an invitation letter from him. After he discussed with Pareshbabu, he went to his daughter and asked her, “Dola my dear, Priyatosh is ready to become a Hindu; marry him. Let’s not wait much longer, he is going through the purification ceremony and you should get married to him tomorrow!”
Hindola was struck a bolt from the blue, “What are you talking about, father! Just the day before yesterday you suggested I marry Gunjan Ghosh and today you are talking about Priyatosh! Take a look at it, Gunjan has gifted me this diamond ring! What will he think now? Both you and I have promised that I am going to marry him, so how can we not keep our promises? Besides, does Priyatosh even match up with Gunjan?”
Jagaibabu said, “Well, what do you know girl! Priyatosh has now gold in his bowels! He has a gold mine within himself. One day or other the philosopher’s stone is going to come out of him. Then it will fall in your hands! Pareshbabu will not take it back anyway. He has gifted it to Priyatosh. Return the diamond ring to Gunjan, Priyatosh will gift you hundreds such rings. Gunjan and his contractor father do not even compare with Priyatosh. Do not waste another word, now go and marry Priyatosh.”
Hindola was emotional; she wept, “Of course I love Priyatosh; he is such a fool!”
Jagaibabu said, “He is a fool, isn’t he, else, why would he be after you? After all, with a philosopher’s stone in his bowels, had he wished he could marry the most beautiful girl in the world!”
Priyatosh Henry Biswas did not mind that he converted from Christianity to Hinduism. He was purified, and tonnes of ghee went into his fire ritual, five Brahmins were treated with sumptuous meals. Then in an auspicious hour, Priyatosh and Hindola got married.
But Jagaibabu and his daughter’s secret wish never came to pass. The stone did not get dislodged. Instead, something mysterious happened a few days later. All the gold Pareshbabu manufactured started losing their shine. In a month all of the golds turned to iron.
This can be easily explained. Everyone knows that health ruins in failed love, just as, if the love is fulfilled, health gets energised, that is, the metabolism gets a boost. Priyatosh was therefore able to digest the stone in a month. So much so that all traces of the stone disappeared in a month in X-ray, and with the disappearance of the stone, all gold turned to whatever they were earlier.
Hindol and her father were very upset. They said, Priyatosh is an imposter. They just fell for the words of his false hope and in vain did they rummage through the excreta of that Christian. As for Priyatosh, he got stronger by digesting the philosopher’s stone, and he was not going to listen to his wife and her father. Even if Hindola were to divorce him, he would not reach for his cyanide. He had realised that both St Francis and Ramakrishna Paramahansadeva were right, that cravings for both gold and women are rubbish. Nothing compares with iron. He is now busy working in Pareshbabu’s new iron factory, and is very happy.