Paribandha, a Nepali short story by Pushkar Shamsher. Translated by Theodore Riccardi, Jr.
Toward evening Rane and his wife, Seti, had gone to visit some close friends. There had been a lot to eat and drink so that when they returned home they did not bother to cook but sat in the garden simply passing the time until nightfall. It was just past their bedtime when they entered the house. Rane had been sullen and out of sorts, and Seti prodded him in an effort to make him speak.
“Back home we call this a dhikichyau. What do you call it?” “I don’t know what they call it.”
“They say it steals your hair, is that right?”
Picking up a shoe that was nearby, Rane lifted it to kill the insect.
“Don’t do it! Don’t Do it!” cried Seti.
Rane did not listen and killed it with a blow.
“Hare Narayan, may his soul live in heaven! You just won’t listen when I talk, will you? You’ll pay dearly for this!”
“Whatever I’ll have to pay, I’ll pay.”
“Shh. I hear a noise in the next room. There’s someone in there with him, I think.” “He’s probably brought a girl in with him just to make me angry.”
The sound of something heavy falling in the next room awakened Rane. A loud noise had already wakened Seti sometime before. She had nudged Rane two or three times but had not been able to rouse him. She whispered to him that she heard something. The two sat up listening still half -asleep, but they heard nothing more. A narrow passage separated them from the next room so that it was difficult for them to hear. Rane lit a tukki, took his bhoto off a peg on the wall.
“What is that fool Lahure up to now?” he said, tying the string on his QhQ1Q. He went toward the door. His wife stopped him.
“Isn’t it enough that you’ve quarrelled with him once already, Do you want to start another fight? It’s all over now, don’t go!”
” Oh, let me go. I’m just going to peek through the keyhole. After all, in our own house … Oh, who’s that, I wonder?”
“Who? Who’s there?”
“Whoever it was I couldn’t see him well. Someone sneaked out of Lahure’s room and ran away.”
“A man. I saw his topi. I think something’s wrong.”
The two of them went out into the courtyard and went toward Lahure’s room. It was not very dark, but only after they got closer did they see that the door was wide open. Inside it was black as pitch. They listened intently for several moments but heard nothing, not even the sound of someone sleeping. Rane was sure that Lahure was not there. He rushed back to his own room and returned with the tukki. By the dim light of the tukki he saw a huge pool of blood near the bed. Lahure, his body hacked up and bleeding, was lying on the floor at the head of the bed. There were khukuri wounds on his chin, throat and neck, but his head had not been severed. His eyes stared steadfastly into the void, and his head rolled aimlessly from side to side. Seti remembered now — she had heard stroke-like noises a couple of times, but at the time it did not occur to her that they might be the blows of a khukuri. Rane picked up a pitcher and gave Lahure some water. A minute later Lahure gasped and died. Rane had raised his head so that he could swallow more easily. He did not realize, however, that in doing so some splotches of blood had stained his clothes. “My God! What a sin! I can’t look at him! Who could have done it?” cried Seti as she held the lamp. Rane was silent.
After he had made sure that Lahure was dead, Rane got up from the floor and let out a deep sigh.
“Had I known the son of a bitch was going to die, I wouldn’t have quarrelled with him. Now, what do we do?”
“Perhaps I should go next door and …”
“No, I’ll give the head-man the news.”
“I can’t stay here alone!”
“Go to Bhojraj’s house. They’re probably not sleeping yet.”
Ran Bahadur Gurung — that was his full name — went to his room, got his topi and his coat. He was about to take his khukuri, but something came into his head and he left it where it was. He told Seti to close the doors of both rooms and then go. He then started off quickly for the headman’s house.
It was cloudy and there was. no moonlight, but still there was enough light on the road to walk by. Rane heard none of the sounds of the night nor did he see the wonderful scene set before him. His full attention was focused on the man who had gone out of Lahure’s room, but his effort was futile. He was just barely awake and his eyes were not functioning properly. The yellow spots of the matches and the tukki were dancing in front of his eyes when a man, whom he could not recognize, had suddenly stepped out of the shadows and disappeared.
Rane arrived at the headman’s house. He stood still for a minute. Another thought had occurred to him. Suppose the head-man suspected him of the murder and arrested him! Would the head-man believe that the murderer had escaped? As soon as he learned of the murder, why didn’t Rane run shouting after him! Rane was supposedly a big husky fellow- – nothing would have prevented him from catching the murderer. Either he should have been able to identify the man or at least describe him. But the only witnesses that Rane was not the murderer were his wife, and God, who never speaks. Who would listen to Seti? It would be like asking the cat who stole the milk. And the most damaging thing of all– who could have foreseen it –that very afternoon, because of Seti, he had fought with Lahure and, in a fit of anger before all those who were trying to pull them apart, had shouted, “I’ll kill you if it’s the last thing I do — I’ve only one life to lose!” They would be sure to remember it and talk about it. God! Why had he not had the sense to go after that man! He might have found him then! Now, it was too late.
Rane turned and took three or four quick steps. He stopped again. Slowly he shook his head in despair. He had not even crossed the foolish age of twenty-five. He had just turned twenty-two. His only way of salvation was to run to India. Seti’s face flashed before his eyes — his throat went dry. But love suddenly counted for little in the face of being captured. Now there was as much difference between his former and present selves as between earth and sky. Before he had thought himself an agent of the law going after the murderer. Now, in the eyes of others, he had become the murderer. Fearful forms surrounded him from all sides. He had been considered “number one” in courage. Now he would jump at the hoot of an owl. He began to run blindly. The further he ran, the deeper he dug his grave.
The old state arbitrator of the third district of the Bharadari, Padmanidhi Lamichane, was a man with a wonderful knack for sifting the details of a case. He always spoke in a friendly and polite tone with litigants.
“Hey, Lal Bahadur! Bring in the prisoner. Rane, sit down, Babu. Well you’re a real good-looking boy, aren’t you?”
“Hajur, what’s the use of being good-looking? It’s good karma that one needs.”
“Today your case will be heard by the Talukvala. Do you understand?”
“Yes. And how does it look?” asked Rane numbly.
“You haven’t got a chance,” said Lamichane, puckering his lips and shaking his head.
“One who takes poison should die from it, hajur, not one who hasn’t,” said Rane apathetically.
“That’s true, but what’s to be done? The other day, during your quarrel with Lahure, there were a lot of reliable witnesses who heard you say you wouldn’t stop until you killed him. Your wife — what’s her name — ah! — Seti, she says the same thing. You say the opposite.”
“Don’t interrupt yet. Early on the night of the murder, in front of your house– what’s his name — Kalca Newar, right? was walking home. He heard your wife cry out, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it’ and then he heard ‘May he live in heaven!’ Seti admitted saying that. But she also said that you were trying to kill an insect. Who’s going to believe that? And then you denied that it ever happened.”
“I denied it at first because I was afraid, and then after …”
“Listen to me. If you lied to the authorities and you did commit the murder, how can you get out of it by denying it? You’ve made it easy for them. And then because Lahure attacked Seti, you were very angry with him. No one has said anybody else in the village had any ill-feeling toward Lahure. He seemed rich. He had a bundle of notes and some Indian rupees in his money box. But he wasn’t killed for his money. Nothing was stolen. If you had gone straight to the headman and given hi,m the news you might have had a chance. But Rane, you ruined everything by running away. As soon as somebody hears your case, he says, ‘If he didn’t do it, why did he run away?’ I say it, the fellow over there says it. Who wouldn’t say it?”
“Unfortunately, hajur, I lost my head. I didn’t know I was running. When he was pulling Seti, I couldn’t see anymore. I just went for him. I couldn’t think, I was so mad. I didn’t know whether to run or not, but that was the only mistake I made. They say you panic when you are afraid …”
“Look, fellow. The thing they call circumstantial evidence is a mysterious thing.”
At that moment an angreji baje in his apprenticeship came in and sat down. Lamichane, to impress him, started showing off.
“Circumstantial evidence will make a thief of a saint and a saint of a thief. Now before the hakim ba ja comes let me teach this apprentice a thing or two. In cases of rape and murder, eye-witnesses — people who saw what actually happened –are difficult to find. In cases where we do have witnesses, the majority of them can be bought off easily — they are like dahi chiyura. The nature of the evidence is changed by the circumstances. Circumstantial evidence is the main thing that the law enforcement officers have to rely on.
Circumstantial evidence, Rane, you understand, creates a great impression in the minds of those who hear the case. It can be true or untrue, but there’s no point in our considering it untrue. If the circumstances ensnare the accused then an acquittal is very difficult to obtain. Now, let’s take your case. Let’s say you didn’t commit the murder, right? I’m only supposing, don’t take me seriously. Among those trying to pull you away from Lahure when you were fighting was someone with criminal intent. It’s not impossible that he heard Lahure had brought some money with him. He also heard you say that you wouldn’t stop until you killed him. The evil idea came to him to kill Lahure, throw the blame on you, and get away with his money. Now, after you returned from your friend’s house and while you were sitting in the garden, he went to Lahure and asked for lodging for the night. He might have even said something like, ‘You don’t know what might happen to you if you sleep alone, especially in the house of someone who said that he’ll kill you. Better let me sleep here with you.’ Lahure was persuaded and let the murderer sleep there. Before you went to bed that night you might have heard them speaking. When the scoundrel, … no, I forgot something … but it’s all right. Let’s remember that your wife’s words, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it!’ referred to an insect. Now the criminal thought you two were asleep, and after he was sure that Lahure was asleep, he got up and killed Lahure. But because he was afraid you might hear and recognize the full stroke of a khukuri, he couldn’t kill him outright with one stroke. Therefore, he had to hit him a number of times. After Lahure stopped moving, he didn’t think to sever the head. His goal was to open the money box and getaway. But while he was trying to fit the key in the box, the dying Lahure fell off the bed. This made a loud noise, the criminal became confused, and when he heard sounds from your room, he panicked. He put the keys under Lahure’s pillow and took to his heels and left the money behind. Then you — a simple Gurung, got blood on your hands and on your patuka while you were giving him a drink of water. You would have washed it off, but you didn’t notice it. You thought of going to the headman, but you didn’t. You began to think that they would arrest you. Your heart began to beat quickly. You took it into your head to run and took to your heels. You didn’t think of the outcome. After you were caught, you jumped to a wrong conclusion, — God knows why — you denied first this and then that. If you are innocent, it had to be this way, Rane, but what can you do? You are trapped by the circumstances. Moreover, you ran away and were trapped by your own evasive talk. Afterwards, you admitted many things, but all you denied was the murder. Now, what’s left for you? If you had not run away, perhaps the court of the first instance– The Court of West Number Two — would have become suspicious and would have undertaken an investigation of those who were present at your quarrel and who knows — they might have uncovered something. If you bring this up now, they’ll become only more suspicious.” Rane had been staring at the arbitrator silently, without emotion. Whatever effect his words had on him could not be discerned from his face. Whether because the arbitrator’s words did not sink into his brain and he did not understand, or whether because each syllable had gone right down to the pit of his stomach, the tears that were trying to issue forth from his dry eyes could find no passage. They turned into a sweat and came out in beads on his forehead. His lips moved two or three times. Perhaps he was repeating “circumstantial evidence.”
“Cholera took everybody,” mumbled Rane.
When the arbitrator had finished talking, Rane let out a long sigh. He fidgeted about, staring at the hard floor. There in one of the polished tiles, he seemed to see the whole picture of his past life reflected back at him.
“We were a big family,” he said, “except for me they all died — why was I alone left untouched? To faIl into this unlucky rotten mess — this karma.”
Riccardi, Theodore Jr; Shamsher, Pushkar; Mainali, Sri Guruprasad; Sama, Balkrishna; and Rai, Sivakumar. 1988. Four Nepali Short Stories. HIMALAYA 8(1).
Available at: https://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/himalaya/vol8/iss1/4