The Deeds of Dashu

In our school, there was hardly anyone who didn't know Crazy Dashu. Even those who knew nobody was familiar withDashu. One time, a new watchman came to our school; he was totally rustic. No sooner than he heard about Crazy Dashu, had he identified him. That's because from his looks, speech, and movement you could tell Dashu was a bit off in the head. He had big round eyes, unnecessarily long ears, and a scrub of scruffy hair. Whenever he walked fast or spoke in a busy manner, it reminded one of lobsters for some reason.

Not that he was foolish. When it came to arithmetic, especially complex multiplication and division problems, his brain worked rather well. Again, there were occasions when he reveled in duping us with such well-forged plans, that we were left embarrassed and stunned.

At the time Dashu or Dasharathi joined our school, Jagabandhu was famous as the "best boy" of our class. He was good in studies no doubt, but we hadn't seen a jealous wet cat like him. One day, Dashu approached Jagabandhu to ask him the meaning of an English word. Jagabandhu snapped at him without any reason, saying, "Do I have nothing better to do? Today I will teach him English, tomorrow I'll have to help someone else with maths, the next day another one would come to me with a new request. And I'd just go on wasting time on this!" A livid Dashu replied, "Hey, you are such a petty little rascal." Jagabandhu complained to Pandit Mashai, "That new boy is calling me names." Pandit Mashai* gave Dashu such a yelling that the poor fellow just went quiet.

Bishtubabu taught us English. Jagabandhu was his favourite student. While lecturing, whenever he needed to refer to the textbook, Bishtubabu would get it from Jagabandhu. One day, while teaching us grammar, he asked Jagabandhu for the book. Our friend immediately handed him the green-cover-wrapped grammar tome. As he opened the book, Master Mashai^ asked grimly, "Whose book is this?" Broadening his chest in pride Jagabandhu said, "Mine." Master Mashai said, "Hmm, is this a new edition? The entire book has changed, I see." With that, he started reading, "Hair-raising detective tales of Inspector Jashobant."

Unable to understand whatever was happening, Jagabandhu just froze, flabbergasted. Master Mashai rolled his eyes devilishly and said, "So you are learning such higher things, haan?" Jagabandhu tried to mutter something, but Master Mashai cut him short and said, "Just shut up now. No need to act nice and good. Enough of that!" Jagabandhu's ears went red with shame and insult, and we sure were delighted to see that. Later of course, we learned that this was the handiwork of brother Dashu, who had replaced another green-cover book with Jagabandhu's grammar book.

We always poked fun at Dashu, often ridiculing his intelligence and looks, right in front of him. I don't recall him getting upset about it even once. A lot of times, he would colour our comments and make up funny stories about himself. One day he said, "In our neighbourhood, whenever someone makes dry mango candy, I am in big demand. Can you guess why?" "Why?" We asked, "Do you relish mango candy?" He said, "Oh no, that's not the reason. You see, when they spread the candy for drying on the terraces, I go there and show my face a couple of times. That's enough to drive all the crows away from the area. So no one needs to guard the mango candy while it dries."

On one occasion, just after the vacations, Dashu came to the school with an intriguing box. Master Mashai asked him, "What's in that box, Dashu?" He replied, "My things, sir." A little debate ensued among us regarding the nature of his "things." We noticed Dashu had all the essential school items with him–books, notebooks, pencil, blade. Then what "things" was he talking about? When we asked him, he didn't give a direct reply. Instead, he clutched the box to his chest and said, "I am warning you all. Don't ever mess with my box." Then, he opened the lid slightly with a key and peeked inside while mumbling some calculations. The moment I tried to lean over to catch a glimpse, Dashu locked it up.

Soon, this became a hot topic of discussion for the rest of us. Someone said, "It's his lunch box. He must be hiding food inside it." But I never saw him opening the box during lunch time to eat anything. Some suggested, "It could be his money bag. It must contain a lot of cash. That is why he never parts with it." To this, another boy said, "Why such a big box to keep money? Is he planning to open a money-lending business in the school?"

During lunch one day, Dashu hastily gave me the key to the box and said, "Keep this with yourself, make sure you don't lose it. If I get a little late in returning, please hand over the key to the watchman before you all go to the classroom." With that he went away, leaving the box with the watchman.

We were thrilled! After so long, we had an opportunity; now only the watchman needed to move away for a while. Shortly, the watchman lit his stove to make rotis* and went to the water tap with a few utensils. This was just the moment we were waiting for. Five-seven of us boys bent over the box. I opened it and saw a fat bundle of papers rolled tightly with tattered cloth strings. Quickly opening the knot, we found another paper box inside, which in turn carried yet another small paper bundle. On opening that, a card popped out. One side of the card said, "Eat a green banana,"^ while the other side had the words "Excessive curiosity is not good." We started exchanging stupefied glances with each other. At last someone said, "The lad sure took us for a ride." Another boy said, "Let's tie it up exactly the way it was, so he doesn't have any inkling that we'd opened it. That would teach him a lesson, all right." I said, "Fine. When he returns, you all politely request him to open the box and show what it contains." We quickly wrapped up all the papers with strings and dropped the bundle inside the box.

I was just about to lock the box when we heard a thunderous guffaw. That's when we saw Dashu, seated atop the boundary wall, laughing insanely. The buffoon was actually watching the whole show from a vantage point. We realised the entire chain of events–giving me the key, keeping the box with the watchman, making an excuse of going out at lunch–all these were part of Dashu's prank scheme. He had been carrying that box for all these days just to make us appear like idiots.

Is it without any reason that we call him Crazy Dashu?

* Roti = Indian flat bread
^ Eat a green banana = In Bengal, this phrase is used to mildly snide effect, after fooling someone or to indiacate that a person's wish isn't going to be granted.
* Pandit Mashai = Respectable term for teacher.
^ Master Mashai = Respectable term for teacher.

Original পাগলা দাশু Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh
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