Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Syed Mujtaba Ali

Translated by: Md. Saber -E- Montaha, Senior Lecturer, Department of English, Northern University Bangladesh

A friend of mine, Jhanduda, frequents Europe and America. He goes abroad so frequently that seeing him anyone might get confused if he is leaving or returning.

Jhanduda is a thorough businessman. He had just got down the ship at the port of Venice in Italy that day. Answering all the queries in the customs house, he had finally reported, “a tin of vacuum-packed roshogolla [1]. Price ten Taka [2].”

Jhanduda’s luggage used to have so many tags attached to them from all kinds of hotels that even a dumb customs officer could easily understand that their owner does not bother for a permanent abode- his days are spent from hotels to hotels. But the customs officer that day started checking them thoroughly just as a little boy would read a book with difficulty in figuring out the spellings. He also looked frightful with a very sickly lean figure and battered cheeks.

The officer asked, ‘what is in that tin?’

‘Open it’

‘How come? I will take it to London. Opening it now will ruin them all.’

The officer’s cold look seemed to be commanding Jhanduda to open the tin so fiercely that even a king commanding with five hundred drums beating would have been no match to it.

With desperation, Jhanduda replied, ‘brother, this tin of sweets is meant for my friend’s daughter in London. They’ll be ruined if I open it now.’

The officer’s look this time seemed to resound the beating of a thousand drums.

Jhanduda replied helplessly making small eyes, ‘then send it to London by post, I’ll have it discharged from there.’

The officer, to our utter surprise, did not agree even to that proposal. We tried to convince that inconsiderate brute that Jhanduda’s proposal was thoroughly justified and lawful as well. He, nevertheless, remained unconvinced as if he did not understand any human tongue.

Jhanduda had started to be annoyed by now. He murmured, ‘but you have to taste them yourself if they’re really sweets.’

That devil immediately produced a tin-cutter from beneath the counter. Taking the tin-cutter Jhanduda again told the customs officer, ‘I am saying it again, you must taste those sweets.’

The officer returned a dry smile, the kind we usually put on when we have extremely withered lips in winter.

Jhanduda cut the tin open.

What else will be there? There was roshogolla. Without bothering for forks, Jhanduda used his bare hands to bring out roshogolla and at first distributed them among the Bengalis, then among all the Indians and then among everyone, that is to say, the French, the Germans, the Italians, and the Spaniards.

The whole customs house was gobbling roshogolla then; roshgolla was everywhere. The police, security staffs and orderly of the customs house, all had roshogolla in their hands.

We saw Jhanduda with a roshogolla in his hand, leaning towards the customs officer over the counter, saying in Bengali, ‘Taste one.’

The officer had turned grave, slightly retreating to the back. But Jhanduda seemed to be obstinate. He repeated, moving further towards him, ‘See, everyone is having them. Just taste one, at least to see what it actually is.’

The officer turned back his shoulder. He is a stark fiend, did not even express a simple sorry.

Suddenly, out of the blue, Jhanduda threw himself on the counter to hold the officer’s shirt collar with his left hand and with the right one smashed a roshogolla on his nose. In a hoarse voice he blurted out, ‘you won’t have one? Even your whole family will have. Is it a joke, you moron? Told you all the sweets will be ruined, but you won’t listen to me!’

The customs house had become chaotic by then. And why won’t it be? It is downright a serious offense. People often go to jail for it.

We four or five were already trying to get Janduda off the counter. He was going louder and louder, ‘won’t you eat, oh sweetie, won’t you eat, you blockhead’. The officer was calling the police in a feeble voice. But, where were they? All the police and security staffs of the customs house seemed to have vanished! What sorcery, what magic was it!

Jhanduda had been brought down the counter in the meanwhile. Seeing the officer wipe his nose with a handkerchief, Jhanduda shouted out, ‘don’t wipe, it will help you sue me in the court’.

Someone advised Jhanduda to leave immediately, as police would come anytime. Jhanduda replied carelessly, ‘I see a man calling someone. Let their chief come’.

The chief came within three minutes through the crowd. Jahnduda stood before him, saying, ‘Signor, before you proceed, I mean, before you start investigating, please have a sweet’. He then had one himself and distributed among all one more time. The chief, having one, stood completely still closing his eyes for two and a half minutes. He then stretched his hand for one more, keeping his eyes closed. Then one more time.

The tin had become completely empty already. The customs officer presented his pledge.

The chief replied, ‘Thank god you opened the tin, how would we taste that heaven otherwise?’ Looking at us, he said, ‘what are you doing here? Go, get some more of those sweets. While leaving the place stealthily, we heard the chief rebuking the customs officer, ‘You are an absolute idiot. You opened the tin, but did not even taste one of those juicy delicacies?’

I sang along,

‘Oh, thou ball of sweet, why have you swallowed so much elixir

The whole of Italy kissed your feet, forgetting religion and empire’


  [1] An Indian sweet consisting of a ball of paneer (curd cheese) cooked in syrup.

  [2] Currency in Bengali

The translator is aSenior Lecturer, Department of English, Northern University Bangladesh

Leave a Reply

Related Posts