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Out of the Archive: S. N. Ghose’s “The Man Who Came Back” and Other Stories

Fig. 1. S. N. Ghose. No attribution.

Click links to download “The Fool Next Door,” “The Image-breaker,” and “The Man Who Came Back.

The post-World War II novels of the Bengali writer S. N. (Sudhin or Sudhindra Nath) Ghose (1899–1965) received critical recognition in India, Europe, and the United States; however, the short stories and plays he published in London in the early 1920s have been largely neglected. He published stories in Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London newspaper, the Workers’ Dreadnought, and literary magazine, Germinal, which comprise some of the earliest examples of fiction written in English by a South Asian author and published in Britain.[1] They appeared several years before his more famous contemporary Mulk Raj Anand published his first short story, “The Lost Child,” produced on Eric Gill’s handpress in County Buckinghamshire.[2] While Anand’s interactions with writers in Britain have recently been recognized within modernist studies, Ghose’s literary activities in London in the 1920s have been almost entirely forgotten.[3]

Born in 1899, Ghose grew up in Burdwan, Bengal, the son of a High Court judge.[4] When Ghose was a teenager, his tutor introduced him to socialism—a key development, as Ghose’s generation in Bengal was to push for new political and artistic forms.[5] After getting a Bachelor of Science from the University of Calcutta in 1920, Ghose traveled to Europe. He enrolled in graduate school at the University of Strasbourg, where he completed a dissertation on Gabriel Dante Rossetti in 1929.[6] During this decade, he also lived in Paris and London.[7]

While young writers in Kolkata were publishing Bengali literary writing and translations in journals like Kallol, Ghose was publishing in London in Pankhurst’s papers.[8] His socialist politics seem to have informed his choices of venue. Ghose published “The Man Who Came Back” in 1923, in Pankhurst’s short-lived literary magazine Germinal. He published “The Fool Next Door” and “The Image Breaker” in her radical weekly newspaper the Workers’ Dreadnought in the same year. His pair of “playlets,” The Defaulters and And Pippa Dances, were published together under the title The Colours of a Great City, an ironic revision of the title of American author Theodore Dreiser’s 1923 collection of vignettes about New York, The Color of a Great City. The volume was published in 1924 in the series Plays for a People’s Theatre, whose editor, Douglas Goldring, envisioned supporting “an ‘all red’ theatre of the kind that was beginning to spring up in various parts of Europe.”[9]

Due to the later success of Ghose’s novels, some details of his life have been recorded in secondary texts, notably Shyamala A. Narayan’s Sudhin N. Ghose, the first and only book-length study of his work, published by Arnold-Heinemann India in 1973. Narayan says that Ghose first moved to Britain in 1940, after working for a YMCA publication in Switzerland. Several critics note the existence of the two playlets published in London in 1924, though no one so far has considered them critically, or speculated on how they came to be published. None of these accounts record that, in fact, Ghose lived in London for several years in the 1920s.[10] His early short stories are never mentioned. Granted, the stories were published only in periodicals, one of which lasted only two issues, and their editor, Pankhurst, isn’t often considered as an editor of literary work. Plus, Ghose’s politics changed in later decades, so he likely would not have reminded anyone of his earlier, socialist-leaning fiction and drama.

Ghose’s post–World War II novels—And Gazelles Leaping (1949), Cradle of the Clouds (1951), The Vermilion Boat (1953), and Flame of the Forest (1955)—were reviewed widely and included in lists of the year’s best books in Britain and the United States. They were translated into French, Polish, and German.[11] The tetralogy of novels shares a protagonist and narrator, a young boy growing up in India. The novels incorporate heterogeneous sources: Sanskrit verse, Indian storytelling, myth, illustrations, musical transcription, and several South Asian languages. Like Ghose’s early short stories, the novels represent a world full of international crossings, with characters that hail from several continents. One critic counts “a Chinese, a Siamese, a West Indian Negro, a Swedish schoolmistress, a Danish pastor, a Jew, a Goanese, a Greek, an Anglo-Indian girl and half a dozen representatives of other races along with Bangalis, Santals and men and women of other provinces.”[12]  Le Berceau des Nuages, the French translation of Cradle of the Clouds, won the Prix Langlois from the Academie Francaise in 1959.[13] But such recognition did not continue, perhaps because of Ghose’s sudden death in 1965, his reported aversion to self-promotion, or his gradualist stance on Indian independence. Perhaps his reputation will grow with the 2017 reissuing of the four novels by New Delhi-based publisher Speaking Tiger Books.[14]

Fig. 2. Sidney Hunt, S. N. Ghose bookplate, 1923, 6.3 x 9.2 cm. Image courtesy Cornelia Neltnor Anthony and Frank D. Anthony Book Plate Collection, Illinois Digital Archives, West Chicago Public Library District.

Even as to his well-received novels, there remains some confusion; some readers found them not realist enough, while others took them to be factual.[15] They have their champions, however: Shyamala Narayan lamented that in K. R. Srinavas Iyengar’s influential Indian Writing in English (1962), Ghose was “relegated to Iyengar’s chapter on ‘other novelists,’” and thus overshadowed by Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, and Raja Rao, who each had dedicated chapters (Narayan, Sudhin N. Ghose, 10). Other critics have connected Ghose’s literary innovations to later Indian writers. C. Vijayasree wrote of Ghose, “he is undoubtedly an important writer as one of the earliest experimentalists in Indian fiction and hence as a precursor of the new generation of Indian novelists writing today, such as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, and Amitav Ghosh” (“Sudhin N. Ghose,” 127). Indian novelist Anita Desai cited “Sudhin Ghose’s curious fantastic tales” as an influence on her own literary work.[16] Ghose has been the focus of several book chapters and articles, and is occasionally listed in surveys of Indian writers who wrote in English in the post–independence era.[17]  

Ghose’s 1920s Internationalism

When Ghose published in Germinal, the Workers’ Dreadnought, and Plays for a People’s Theatre, he was apparently committed to the socialist, anticolonial politics first imparted by his tutor. His characters in those works are critical of imperialism, business interests, and landlords. But within decades, his politics changed: he came to defend Britain’s presence in India, speaking during World War II against immediate Indian independence. While many prominent Indian writers worked publicly for Indian independence at home and abroad, Ghose believed India should make a slower transition to self-rule, with the British retaining some control. In lectures during the war, he devoted himself to challenging “the systematic misrepresentation and vilification of Great Britain.”[18] In a 1943 book review, he complained that “it is fashionable to accuse Britain of heartless ‘Imperialism,’ and such fashionable critics would do well to note that today the Provinces which constitute British India are as autonomous and as self-governing as, say, Northern Ireland or as each one of the states of the United States.”[19] When the most influential South Asian cultural figures were active in anticolonial politics, Ghose’s apologies for British rule did not help his literary reputation, and his conservative colonial stance likely contributed to his relative obscurity today.[20]  

But in the 1920s, Ghose’s short stories engaged with more radical political themes, representing the impact of British colonial rule in India (and the industrial developments that attended colonization) on individuals and families. And he made use of literary strategies that would come to be recognized as central to Indian literature surrounding independence—a decade before scholars typically identify Indian authors writing in English undertaking such strategies.[21] For instance, writers associated with the South Asian Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA), such as Ahmed Ali, Sajjad Zaheer, and Mulk Raj Anand, are often recognized for their revisions of European literary forms. The PWA, which was founded in 1935 in London and 1936 in Lucknow, following the 1934 Soviet Writers’ Congress, “[r]eclaim[ed] realism” from its associations with colonial education to instead be “an act of self-determination—a refutation of the colonial project.”[22] The PWA’s manifesto, published in the Left Review, declared the “duty of Indian writers to give expression to the changes taking place in Indian life and to assist the spirit of progress in the country.”[23] Jessica Berman notes that Indian writers in the 1930s and 1940s “forged modernist textual responses to the challenges of India’s colonial status, its changing economy, and its modernizing roles for men, women, and their families.”[24] A decade earlier, Ghose had similarly used the short story to “give expression to the changes taking place in Indian life” caused by colonial industry, nationalist movements, and reform movements.

Similarly, Ghose published in venues associated with internationalist politics: Pankhurst had by this time broken with the Communist International, but continued to be active on the left. Germinal, her literary magazine, embraced the revolutionary potential of art on a global scale. In an advertisement for the magazine, Pankhurst invoked an international readership that stretched from Bloomsbury to Tagore’s hometown: “Readers of Germinal are to be found in places as far apart as Gower Street, London, and Santiniketan, India.”[25] The Workers’ Dreadnought and Germinal published literary writing from India, South Africa, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Europe. L. A. Motler’s poem “Transvaal Summer” and Nicholas Scumiley’s poem “The Peninsula of Somaliland,” translated from Russian, appeared on the page before Ghose’s “The Man Who Came Back” in Germinal.[26] The “Critic’s Desk” section of the same issue included a review of G. Heaton Nichols’s Bayete, which the reviewer described as “one of the very few South African novels written with an attempt to deal impartially with the white and black races and to show that the natives have rights and a legitimate point of view,” but objected that “nevertheless the writer would evidently regard the regaining of South Africa by its natives as a calamity.”[27] Thus, Germinal took an explicitly internationalist, anticolonial, and antiracist editorial position.  

The publication history of Ghose’s work from this period also suggests a remapping of the modernist geography of London. Writers and artists from the colonies are commonly thought to have engaged with European modernists in the more centrally-located neighborhood of Bloomsbury. Mulk Raj Anand’s Conversations in Bloomsbury (1981) emphasizes the location’s importance in its title. Sara Blair’s article “Local Modernity, Global Modernism: Bloomsbury and the Places of the Literary” describes the neighborhood as a cultural contact zone where suffragists, reformers, students, and artists from South Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Britain encountered one another. Indeed, Ghose’s residences and institutional affiliations in Bloomsbury are consistent with Blair’s account: he took classes in art and archeology at the University of London, joined the Student Movement House, and lived on Gower Street.[28] But it was in East London, where Sylvia Pankhurst was located, that saw his early fiction into print.[29]

Fig. 3. Publisher J. Reynolds’s map of the East End, 1882. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

East London was a different kind of contact zone within the city, a working-class area whose docks attracted sailors from around the world, many of whom came from Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia. The Chinese writer Lao She’s 1929 novel Er Ma depicts “the social and commercial affairs of the shopkeepers, café proprietors, and seafarers that made up the major part of London’s small Chinese community, then based in Limehouse in the East End.”[30] That Sylvia Pankhurst’s offices in East London hosted writers like Ghose and Jamaican poet Claude McKay, who worked for the Dreadnought in 1920, suggests that we should see it as a site to further explore modernist networks that crossed national and racial lines.[31]

Ghose’s Early Work

Ghose’s work from the 1920s represents the experience of workers in South Asia as well as migrants in European metropoles. He depicts anticolonial resistance and the violence of industrialization. Ghose’s early writing deals with themes that scholars associate with global modernism; he offers a damning portrait of those engaged in colonialist and capitalist projects. His stories and plays from the 1920s ultimately suggest the ineffectiveness of current methods of protest. He doesn’t offer clear possibilities for resolution and liberation. 

Ghose’s plays represent experiences of migrants and critique colonialism.[32] Unlike his stories, which are set in India, Ghose’s plays feature outsiders who have traveled to European cities. In The Defaulters, Gotam has left his father’s plantation in Siam in protest of his father’s labor practices, and refuses to accept money from him while in Europe. The play shows, however, that exile and self-impoverishment are not a sufficient response to colonial and capitalist exploitation. An “ex-communist” tells Gotam that he should have stayed on the plantation in Siam and led the coolies in a revolt. But the ex-communist’s brand of militant action proves even more misguided: he sets off a bomb in their apartment building to protest the landlord’s evictions, and inadvertently kills Gotam’s girlfriend.

The other playlet, And Pippa Dances, features a woman who has migrated to a metropolitan city from a place on the periphery of Europe whose boundaries were redrawn after war. She meets an artist. At the beginning of the second act, she awakes in bed with the artist, whom she accuses of drugging her to have sex with her. He explains that his poverty led him to do so, as he cannot afford to court women. Pippa sympathizes with his politics, which resonate with her own critiques of nationalism and war, and seemingly excuses him. They promptly decide to marry. The play ends as a revolutionary romance in which Pippa and the artist resolve, “We will both be on the barricades when the Revolution comes.” However, this revolutionary resolution rings uneasily to contemporary readers. This erasure of sexual violence in favor of a political cause sends a chilling message about the sexual politics of the revolution depicted here.

In Ghose’s short stories and plays, the toils of work and attempts to make political change are shown to be pointless; personal relationships are stymied by conditions outside the characters’ control. If, as Jed Esty has argued, European modernist novels that engage colonial and postcolonial themes often take the form of a failed bildungsroman, in which “plots of colonial migration and displacement” prevent characters’ “attainment of a mature social role,” then Ghose’s narratives go further.[33] His youthful characters face death and imprisonment—graver consequences than those suffered by the protagonists of Lord Jim or The Voyage Out. And if, as Esty claims, such generic revisions critique “mainstream developmental discourses of self, nation, and empire,” then Ghose’s narratives suggest a much more urgent critique (Esty, Unseasonable Youth, 3). Ghose portrays characters’ failures to fulfill a father’s expectations, to find opportunity when migrating abroad, to succeed in local industry, or to effectively revolt against colonial authority. They demonstrate that individualist fulfillment is impossible under such structures—but don’t suggest any effective way to resist them. Such plot lines, which push against genres of development and resolution, take on particular significance in colonial and postcolonial contexts, where writers’ adoption, transgression, and transformation of genres like the novel or certain western poetic forms often enact a political critique.[34]

“The Man Who Came Back”

“The Man Who Came Back” indexes a range of transnational issues, despite the small geographic range of the story, which takes place entirely in a tent at the edge of a construction site during a strike.[35] Gopesh Babu is a head clerk at McDonald and Co., whose tramway project rips up the roads, causing incessant noise and traffic problems, A loyal employee, he has spent the night in a tent to guard against a thief who has been stealing electric accumulators. A stranger appears in the middle of the night looking like a “living skeleton” in his tattered clothes, but Gopesh Babu doesn’t immediately call for the police when the man arrives (Ghose, “The Man Who Came Back,” 26). The unnamed man who arrives immediately admits to being the thief, but suggests that Gopesh Babu should condemn the colonial industrialists instead of him. The man asks, “what about the thieves that have forced us into this condition?” He explains that he too once believed in the good of industry, but after experiences in universities in Tokyo and labor unions in Chicago, he now rejects capitalism and its wage slavery; he also critiques the limitations of the nationalist movement at home in India.

Gopesh Babu’s life was previously changed by another colonial project, a geological survey that found valuable tin in the soil of a piece of land he owned in Bihar. The tin brought money that funded his son’s studies abroad. The clothes Gopesh Babu wears also signal the international forces that impact his life. He is “dressed in a very thick Irish ulster—a garment that was never meant for the mild winters of Calcutta,” brought by a Scandinavian engineer who worked for the colonial tramway company and who mistakenly thought he would use it to ski in Darjeeling (25). In contrast, the man who came back from living abroad is dressed in tatters—a poverty that critically informs his understanding of industry and empire.

“The Man Who Came Back” reflects an upsurge in anticolonial activity in the first decades of the twentieth century, particularly in Bengal, where both non-violent and militant revolutionary movements took root.[36] South Asian workers went on strike in large numbers to protest British colonial projects. At the beginning of 1919, textile workers went on strike in Bombay, and strikes spread throughout the subcontinent and included the railways. The Bengali Communist leader M. N. Roy described the strike’s development in the Workers’ Dreadnought in 1920:

To prevent the transport of troops, the workers on the railway connecting the two provinces struck, and began to destroy the roads, telegraph lines, stations, troop trains, bridges etc. In a few days the strike spread all over the country, entirely tying up all activities of public life. The whole movement soon assumed a decidedly political character, and ended in an uprising against British rule.[37]

The railway became a site of uprising against British rule not only tactically but also in the cultural imaginary. As Marian Aguiar argues, “the railway became a focal point as a symbol for those who criticized or outright opposed British rule in India.”[38] “The Man Who Came Back” makes use of this symbolism, but comes at it slant. Ghose creates a strike story for the subcontinent, staged at the periphery of a strike. The story takes place at a tramway construction site—a symbol of colonial development, movement, and infrastructure—and the strike taking place in the background signals ongoing, organized anticolonial action. However, the characters do not embody nationalist heroism, and the narrative does not arc toward a proletarian victory. 

Instead, Ghose’s story presents a loyal employee and a disenfranchised, itinerant man to consider the possibility of an anticolonial, socialist future. One character is on guard against the strikers, and the other is a sympathetic but cynical observer of the anticolonial movement. The man who has come back condemns the neo-colonialist tendency of nationalist leaders to reproduce colonial structures. The man tells Gopesh Babu, “Look at the Nationalist papers—they cry against Imperialist injustice every day, and when it comes to their turn to give justice to the Indian workers they are the same as the English capitalists” (Ghose, “The Man Who Came Back,” 27). This is a critique similar to James Connolly’s warnings to the Irish, Mulk Raj Anand on India, and Frantz Fanon’s later assessment of Algeria.[39] The man also laments that the strikers’ demands are not more radical, but he understands from his time in Chicago that workers tend to limit risk when they are providing for a family. The story emphasizes the difficulty of effective resistance.

Gopesh Babu’s tent at the side of the construction site offers the setting of a temporary home, a liminal space between public and private realms, where his employer requires him to maintain constant vigilance and alertness. Such spaces, between private and public, offer an opportunity to comment upon the state of domestic relationships and gender roles in colonial modernity. For instance, Ulka Anjaria observes that Tagore’s Ghare Baire (1916) is “set almost completely in the parlor—itself a liminal space between the inner and outer,” a symbol for women’s role in the home and symbolic place within Indian nationalism (Realism, 18). Rashid Jahan’s short story “Dilli ki Siar” (A Trip to Delhi, 1932) explores a similar kind of space, when the woman protagonist, wearing a burqa, waits alone on a railway platform. According to Priyamvada Gopal, her burqa creates “a strangely liminal space where the domestic and the public collide against each other” (Literary Radicalism, 51). The burqa and the parlor offer specifically gendered settings in these works by Tagore and Jahan. Similarly, the tent in Ghose’s story is a liminal, and gendered, space: a temporary, portable shelter for men removed from familial life and domestic experience. Gopesh Babu has given over his domestic life for this job guarding the construction site; the man who comes back is alone and unsettled. The tent provides the man temporary refuge, but ultimately a policeman interrupts their privacy. Ghose depicts relationships disrupted by the power of the colonial apparatus and its industry.

“The Image Breaker” and “The Fool Next Door”

The two stories Ghose published in the Workers’ Dreadnought, also set in India, feature characters defeated by their circumstances. In “The Image Breaker” (1923), a revolutionary meets an ironic and tragic fate in a small village temple when his ammunition spontaneously explodes.[40] “The Fool Next Door” (1923) demonstrates the violence of colonialism when two brothers suffer a gruesome death in an industrial accident in India. When their father asks how future accidents will be prevented, the owners are at first “struck dumb,” then call him “an insolent dog.”[41] They only regret that the accident has given fuel to “the swadeshi-gangs” who have been protesting the presence of the foreign company. In shock, the father has a breakdown, and becomes the “Fool” of the story. This story is one of several works by Ghose that features relationships between fathers and sons disrupted by the forces of capitalism and colonialism. The sons are captured, killed, or disempowered. In contrast to some fiction by South Asian contemporaries of Ghose, in which women come to stand in for the nation, or embody traditional values to be preserved or reformed, Ghose depicts young men who fail to realize their desires or relationships.[42] Ghose’s fiction from the 1920s indexes the violent and exploitative impact of migration, industrialized labor, caste, religion, and colonialism.

The gap between Ghose’s early radicalism and later conservatism is by no means unique, but it is striking. Ghose left this period of his life behind, apparently never recalling it in his personal relationships nor in print.[43] However, for scholars of South Asian literature and global modernism, Ghose’s fiction from the 1920s is worth recalling. These early short stories engage themes that have come to define global modernism. They are important also as examples of Indian fiction written in English in the early decades of the twentieth century. Scholars ought to come back to these short stories, whose representations of anticolonial revolutionaries, Indian families, cities, migration, and industry, and their location in British left publications in the 1920s, connect them to a larger movement of literary experiment and internationalism in the twentieth century.

Stories by S. N. Ghose

The Fool Next Door - S. N. Ghose

He was my next-door neighbor, but I do not know as yet who first gave him the name “Fool.” He was an old man—his hair was all grey, but he walked with his head very erect.

Our lane was a blind alley—behind one of those big hotels. Every evening heaps of paper bags, opened tin-cans and empty provision-baskets were shoveled off on our side. The children and the mongrel dogs of the neighbourhood would rummage among these; the “Fool” used to be there as well. He did not as a rule succeed in getting much, but what he got he would give to the youngsters. He did, however, keep the cardboard boxes for himself; out of these he made crude toys for his young friends.

All the children liked him; they called him “Grandpa”; he was always very friendly with them; he would sometimes tell them the stories of the time when he was young—how the electric tram-cars were a very new innovation, how the big hotel was first built.

When he was about eight he was a bricklayer’s boy; we had heard him say how one day this bricklayer slipped from the scaffolding and fell on the pavement below—that was a terrible sight. All that remained of the man had been scattered about—mixed up with the brick-dust, the mortar, the pebbles and the mud.

We did not mind listening to the stories of the Fool nor did the children—but, then, their mothers did, and most probably it was they who had given the poor man the name “Fool.”

The old man often had trouble with them; they complained about his telling creepy stories to the children.

I do not think that he always told unhappy stories, for I myself have heard him tell a lot of fairy stories as well: how God had crowned a little boy because he would not hurt the birds, how in the Kingdom of Parijata the old and the young were always happy and there were no great and no small...

As a rule he finished up each of his stories with some moral maxim, which he would make all the young listeners repeat in chorus. I know a few of them—such as “My little brothers! For the sake of God we must love one another,” or “My little angels! Do not laugh at the weak—God does not like that!”—and there were some more like these. 

It was several months since I had been there that I came to know the tragedy of the life of the “Fool.”

They say that it happened in the early days of the chemical industry at Calcutta. The company directors never bother to put in the improved tanks or healers, and in those days they cared still less. All that they did was to buy the rejected second-hand things from Germany or America. No doubt they got them cheap; but when the yield was not large, they published in the papers how the Hindu workers are lazy and why “twelve hours a day” is not so bad.

The dividends in the chemical industries have however, in spite of the Hindu workers’ laziness and inefficiency, remained uniformly large. What they wanted—and even now every one of them want—is: “Produce more, or for less, so that we will get richer, and all the world would become happy.”

I was in France in 1917 in the Labour Corps, and that opened my eyes. A French worker, even if he is paid a hundred times more, will never work under the same conditions as we do; he simply will not take such risks. Of course, I don’t work in the chemical factories now—but then, the “Fool” did, and that is how the calamity came to him.

They say he had two sons, whom he himself had brought up; their mother had died when they were very young. The old man had no other relation in this world.

He had his two sons—all used to work in the same chemical factory. That was somewhere in Howrah, over the other side of the Ganges. It has now been removed further up the river. I have sometimes passed it by in the steamers, and everyone can see it is a nuisance enough over there now, and in those days it must have been a dangerous affair—so near people’s homes.

The “Home Rule” party people began their factories much later; somehow or other they did not like the factory where the Fool worked; they made a lot of fuss.

Early evening some of their speakers would come up and tell the workers how dangerous it was to be sweated in a factory owned by the foreigners, how it was not hygienic to work long hours in the factory where there is no proper ventilation, how everything would be all right if they got “Home Rule,” how the workers themselves out to protest against the foreign exploitation,” and a lot of other things as well.

One day an elderly man with big horn-rimmed spectacles came up there. He was a professor of chemistry; maybe that is why he spoke for hours that evening. They could not make anything out of his speech; he was worse than the Home Rule people. He wanted Freedom, and then they said he talked on “Carbonisation,” “Suffocating a petition,” the mother Ganges, and of “Pollution of potable water.” Though the workers did not understand much of the professor’s speech, the directors of the factory might have done, for shortly after that they received a notice from the City Corporation, and they had to shift further up.

Just before the change, the tragic incident happened to the “Fool.”

It was on a Saturday afternoon. All three of them—the old man and his two sons—were working extra hours; they had to, though the eldest son was going to be married that very evening.

I am not quite sure if that is why the foreman had given them extra hours. Few people like extra hours on a Saturday, and, I can swear, not even a strike-breaker—if it is the day of his marriage . . . But everybody is not a foreman, and these three were “nobodies”—just “unskilled hands.”

There were huge tanks of acids, I don’t remember their telling me what acids they were. The two sons had to watch the tanks fill up to a mark and then turn on some taps; there were always suffocating fumes over there, and the two boys had often been almost half-choked. The manager was a very clever one—he saved money on the condensers.

Their day’s work was nearly done; the eldest son was moving over his plank—it was ever so narrow—very carefully; he had to be always very careful. Generally some fifteen minutes before the closing time the distillation of the acids used to be stopped so that the workers in their department might know and become extra careful—the sound of the hooter is generally so unnerving. I have heard of heaps of accidents happening just at closing time.

It was past six; still the signal of closing did not come off. The eldest son was as usual on his narrow tottering plank leaning over and watching the seething mass of acid, when all of a sudden the hooter went off. At that sudden shrill sound he tottered, lost his balance and fell headlong into that gurgling tank of corrosive acid.

His brother was near him; he rushed to drag him up, but the plank was too narrow—one could hardly keep his balance upon it, and before anything could be done he himself was in the acid as well.

A sharp yell of pain—one agonising cry of two human beings in deadly torture went up. It was piercing enough, but very short; every one of them had heard it; it was just for a few seconds, and after that there was silence.

When the foreman and others came to examine the tank they found nothing—not even a tuft of hair, not a piece of bone or a bit of flesh . . . There was just a tankful of acid and some burning smell, and bits of soot floating...

The analyst gave the report. He told them that in that tank of acid he had found “extra amounts of phosphorus, and lime (and I think some such strange things in such proportions as to indicate the presence of two persons dissolved in it).” That was all . . . the end of the life history of two human lives. The analyst had not heard their cry of pain—he had never the misfortune to lose children in that terrible way; probably that is why he gave his report mechanically with no word of sympathy, no advice for future precaution, not a sentence on the extra hours. They said that a minute trace of gold had also been found, and this the analyst could not account for, but this was from the gilded wedding ring which the elder boy had.

A week later they called the “Fool” in at the directors’ meeting, where they offered him some compensation money, and they reminded him that he ought to consider himself lucky in coming across such a large sum.

Every one of the directors was angry at the “Fool” for the accident; one said that it gave a weapon in the hands of the “swines and the swadeshi-gangs”; another wondered if it might not be the work of the anarchists: the old man might have been bribed by them and the sons had jumped in the acid deliberately. The president of the board of directors said that he did not believe in the nonsense of the workers getting married early; infant marriage, according to him, was the cause of the inefficiency of the Hindus.

The “Fool” heard all this; he did not weep—he had not cried—he simply said he did not want any money, but he wanted to know what they were going to do to prevent future accidents. Everyone was struck dumb at this; they called him an insolent dog, and an ingrate, and he was discharged then and there.

The “Fool” came out as he was—empty-handed—the poorest of the poor.

Outside the factory gate he fell down on the gravel and there he wept for hours. When the neighbours came to take him back home, they found he had become insane...He only said to them, “Brothers! We must help one another.”

The Image Breaker - S. N. Ghose

Far as the eye could see there were only the green paddy fields—nothing to indicate the way which could lead one to the railway lines. The corn had grown tall enough to come up to his breast, and as Udas looked around him, he saw the gusts of wind were playing ripples over the bending heads of the growing corn. Udas had been plodding through the muddy rice fields for a long time, and he was almost on the point of falling down through sheer exhaustion; he had to throw his boots away, for the water in the fields occasionally was knee-deep, and the boots, far from being of any help, seemed to be a great hindrance. He was very hungry—he had eating nothing for a very long time...

...Overhead the sky was dull...leaden grey—it was the season of monsoon; the occasional shower had drenched him many times during his forced march. His long matted hair; his heavy breathings, which seemed more like the snortings of a hunted animal; his pail face; his bloodshot, sleepless eyes and his mud-bespattered dress, might have evoked the pity of even those who were hunting him down. A “mauser” (revolver) was dangling down his breast—it had been hung with a black tape round his neck.

Udas’s sole hope lay in hitting on a railway station, and then he could find out how he would get back to one of the bigger cities and thus escape the police.

The events that had forced him to take this tramp were quite unforeseen. He had just joined the University, and that week-end he came down to a small town to take some of the revolutionary leaflets back with him, and to take lessons in sending telegraphic messages. He had never before been in this place—but he had been told that some comrades would meet him at the station. When he got there, however, he found things quite different; somehow the police had got a clue and they had already raided houses and made many arrests...When the railway train arrived at the station he found the police were apparently on the look-out for a new-comer; Udas avoided them and got down at the next was Koti.

His idea was to wait there some time and then take a train back to Calcutta; but he was very soon disillusioned, and found that it would not be possible to get back to Calcutta by the trains from that small town....The police were searching every passenger very carefully and asking many questions of each one....They seemed to have got hold of his photo somehow.

Without wasting his time in the difficult and almost impossible task of boarding the train at Koti, Udas decided on a better plan....He would march right across the rice-fields and hit on the main railway line. He knew there were quite a number of fairly large stations along that line, and every day a very large number of passengers travel over there....From what he knew, the main line was some thirty miles away. Thirty miles is not a very long was surely not so to him. On other occasions he had covered this distance in a single day—but this had always been on the high roads...and in the company of others. And there was one chief drawback now—he did not know very much about the way....

But he hoped he would soon come across some village—where there would be no vigilance from the police—and where they would give him shelter; he had always an exaggerated notion about the honesty and hospitality of the country folk. As a rule they are not much better than others, and sometimes they are most reactionary and extremely difficult persons to deal with.

Late that evening he came across one of those collections of mud huts, which are commonly called a village in this area. Every one seemed to be in bed then; only a few tumbled down huts had some brightly-lit windows...others were all dark. In the monsoon rains the only street that the village could boast of was muddier and in a worse state than the bare fields. It was here that Udas came to know all about the activities of the police; the village watchman—a big, stout man who continuously spat on the ground, making grimaces—told him everything: how the police had made several raids at Koti, how they had arrested some young men and an old woman—one of these people had since then been found dead in his cell—how they had offered a heavy reward to anyone who could get a young “anarchist” arrested. The description had also been furnished; they had told he was coming down to Koti in a couple of days’ time. The watchman was a kind fellow—he noticed that this news had a very depressing effect on Udas—so he cheeringly said, “Don’t be downcast! I am not going to arrest you—nor will I tell the authorities anything about you. But, please, you must get out of here as quickly as possible—if the villagers know you will be in a difficult position.” Udas thanked him and was on the point of running away from him but the watchman stopped him and began in a loud husky voice...“Well! What do you thank me for? I am only doing my duty. The sub-inspector took away my newly purchased cow, without paying me a single copper, and he expects me to catch thieves or ‘anarchists’ for him! I don’t know what the anarchists are like—you seem just like any other man—maybe the military police and the C.I.D. have made a mistake. Anyway I am not going to stop you.” He then began relating the story of the village ghost. He was speaking so loudly that Udas thought any moment some head would be popped through one of the windows to find out the cause of the disturbance. Fortunately no such thing happened....Udas become more alarmed when the watchman began another story of a man who had robbed the landlord of the village; he began to fret, and said “Do you mind if I go now—I have a long way before me. Haven’t I?”...

“Oh yes! You see I have few educated gentlemen to speak to—that is why I am telling you all this. Please keep to the North....Right to the North, and you will soon get to the main railway line....God bless you...little father.”

*       *       *       *       *

Udas had been marching all the night. It was now morning. He was tired, sleepy, and quite worn out. He felt he would fall asleep any moment. Once he had heard how one comrade had been caught by the police inside a cab; he had hired that cab, and the cabman at the end of his journey found his passenger fast asleep. He tried to wake him up, and when he pushed he found a revolver dropping down from one of the pockets of the sleeper....The police had him without any scuffle—even....This comrade had done very important work before—but he had had no sleep for two nights, that is how he came to fall fast asleep in a cap.

*       *       *       *       *

If only he could get a shelter...where he could rest and sleep...just a little; he did not mind being without food for a long time—but the drizzling rain and occasional showers had really exhausted him. Not a tree could be seen on the whole horizon.

A dismal day it was; still, as he looked up, he felt after all it was not so bad. In the cities you can never realize what it means to gaze on the sky in an open countryside! There it is vast—and Udas then felt it was something more than vast, it was infinite—the eternity itself—solemn and majestic. He could never believe that the people who every day gazed on this awe-inspiring canopy could ever have mean prejudices. He wondered how could a peasant toiling all day under the free sky ever get into the dirty, narrow mud huts and call it his home....He looked on the great cornfields intently, wistfully—the wind was playing over them—it seemed to caress the gr[owing] blades of corn.[1] Did not the fields of gro[…]ly look as vast as the sky? They, too, [seemed to] be infinitely extensive....

But then how was it that the agricultural labourers were always so badly off?...They toiled year in and year out—in the sun and in the rain;...with the sweat of their brow it was they who transformed the dull grey clods into smiling fields of corn....But in spite of all this they always remained the poorest of the poor. The profits of their honest labour went to the landlords, the middlemen, the merchants, and the speculators in corn. It was their toil that fed the millions, but they were the half-starved. They never knew what their fate was going to be the next year....A deal of the speculators may make the price of the corn go up or down...but the peasants never got any benefit from that....They always found themselves the losers; probably that was the reason why all the peasants had been so very conservative, and why they distrusted all new innovations; they were afraid and they thought...“Probably a new method to exploit us more....“

Udas knew how most of the peasants had always been in debt...they were often working for days, just to get money sufficient to pay the interest. For a time this young University student forgot all about his fatigue—and why he was there; a strange feeling—a feeling of sadness and triumph came over him; he was glad...infinitely be in the movement that wanted to put an end to the old order—the order that had condemned the millions of men, women and children to live like beasts and to toil continuously—half-fed and ill-glad—in order that the few may live in luxury and control the destiny of the human race. A diseased age it was—with its burden of overwhelming sorrow—with its load of terrible injustice and monstrous oppression....Yet one thing made him glad: he was among those who would put the whole thing to rights. “Yes,” he thought, “surely we will do it. In spite of the failures, and of the present drawbacks, the Truth will triumph and the Right will prevail.” He thought he would be among those to see the passing of the old system...with all its diseases...and then there would be the Red Dawn!

...Quite unexpectedly he found in front of him, only a few yards away...a man working with a hoe on a dry patch of ground—while further beyond Udas could see the dome of a temple. The very suddenness of coming across a man so unexpectedly seemed surprisingly queer; both of them—Udas and the man with the hoe—were equally surprised; they both looked at each other for some time before they could trust their eyes. Udas said in a feeble voice: “Brother! Could you find me a shelter?” The labourer stared vacantly at him as if he had seen a ghost; whoever had heard a gentleman with a shirt on his back and spectacles on his nose address a peasant as “Brother”? This fact alone would have surprised him—but last evening he had been told how a dangerous revolutionist had been near about these places. What the profession of a revolutionist was he did not know, nor did he care—the only thing that mattered was the reward the police had offered. The peasant eyed him cautiously as if Udas was a beast of prey—he looked at the mauser revolver...and then suddenly he turned round and ran towards the Temple...shouting “The Germans are here!”

He had never seen a German, nor did he know why people had been saying so many things against the Germans—but in his simple mind this man thought a revolutionist would naturally have some connection with the Germans.

Udas was more than surprised at this strange reception; he was very tired—too tired to think what the man meant by running away and calling him “The Germans.”...He moved slowly towards the Temple.

When he had got on the stone steps of the Temple the news of his arrival had already spread round the village. Evidently the story of his big revolver had been circulated as well—for a big crowd soon gathered, but they kept themselves at a distance from him. A young woman had brought a red cap for her child—she thought it would be an opportune moment for her to show this new purchase to the village, and she rushed towards her home, dragging the child; the youngsters appeared in large numbers—they did not know what the commotion was about; some began clapping their hands, thinking Udas was a sweetmeat dealer. The men, however, took the matter very seriously; they all shouted at the same time; some gesticulated wildly, throwing up their hands, and occasionally turning round to see if Udas had vanished in the earth, or had changed himself into some super-human form....

All this appeared extremely comic to Udas—but the crowd apparently waited for somebody, and this conjecture was true, for a few minutes later there appeared on the scene a fat well-fed person, wrapped up in a piece of cloth which had very patterns all over it. It was no less a personage than the village priest—the commotion of the crowd went down as if by magic.

The priest shouted to Udas in a growling voice to throw away the revolver and come down from the steps of the holy temple. “An unclean dog you are! Carrying deadly weapons. Hell itself is too good a place for you.”

Tired as he was, the student wanted to tell them why he was there, and what the movement wanted to do for the peasants. He did begin his address, and soon found how the people had given up their hostile attitude; but the priest interrupted him, shouting: “What is equality? You mean to say a low-caste pariah is the same as me?” In a firm voice Udas said, “Surely you are not superior to others.”

The priest’s face became livid with anger....Some of the older people thought that before his holy anger the earth would swallow the blasphemer up. In a voice almost choked with passion the priest demanded:

“Who is to worship the village God, then?”

“Brothers, there is no God in these stone temples; I do not know if any exist. If there were one, and if he really were as they say, ‘good and omnipotent,’ would he tolerate the wrongs you suffer?”

“You dog!...Son of a bitch!” the priest cried. “Get down from the terrace. You are an atheist. We have sent for the military police....You shall have a lesson soon.”

Udas tried to laugh at the priest’s senseless anger, but the reference to the military police reminded him of the painful fact that he was still being hunted, and there was no time to lose.

Already the village constable appeared....One of his children had removed his baton to play at soldiers, and the futile search for this official ensignia of law and order had delayed him so long that, in his great hurry, he had no time to put on his full uniform—he had only the blue trousers on....

Udas smiled and said, “Brothers, why would you hand me over to the military police? We are against the oppression of the rich and the priests....” This was too great an insult for the priest. “Dare you touch the stone-idol?” he shouted. He had become truly mad; his eyes seemed to be bulging out of his head. Had it not been for the mauser revolver round the neck of the stranger, he surely would have led a bold attack of the whole village on this young blasphemer. “Dare you enter the Temple?” he shouted.

“Of course I can. Shall I do it?”

The student saw in the distance the military police coming towards the Temple. One of them was on horseback.

Everything seemed lost...but he wanted to show one thing—that the stone-idol was no God; he deliberately stepped inside the Temple and lifted the heavy stone image from the altar and dragged it on the floor. The floor was muddy and extremely slippery; in lifting the heavy idol up he lost his balance, and fell down on his face.

A terrific sound like the explosion of a bomb immediately followed—the ten cartridges of the revolver had exploded all at once—his body was torn open.

They said that the death had not been instantaneous—someone had seen him roll round several times, and when the police officer picked up the still warm corpse he found that the face was turned toward the dark ceiling of the Temple, and there was a last linger of a faint smile left on his face.

As a matter of fact the boy was not killed instantaneously; he did hear the cartridges explode, but curiously enough he did not feel any pain. Probably he lived just a fraction of a second after the explosion—but in this very small space of time he thought much. He did not think of his comrades, nor of his own short life...nor did he ponder over the unknown regions of the Dead....

He saw a bat, which was hanging on the rafters inside the ceiling, flutter about, disturbed with the sound of the explosion—he smiled at its discomfitures. Suddenly the dark sooty ceiling of the Temple vanished—he seemed to see the vast horizon above him—it was all crimson with clouds painted blood-red by the sinking sun....He seemed to hear in the distance thousands of voices, nay hundreds of thousands of voices, singing the “International,” all the Temple bells ringing in its accompaniment. All the church organs seemed to peal this anthem, the whole of Humanity seemed to have become awake and changed this hymn; it was strange, but Udas dreamed of coming across the fat village priest in this multitudinous throng. He smiled again, and tried to say just before his death. “Poor people! If they only knew...”

No one wept for him—none seemed to regret his untimely death. Apparently no one missed this pale youth, cut down even before he had reached the prime of his life.

The villagers thought that the priest would utilize the incident as an opportunity for exacting money on the pretext that the idol had been polluted; they had been quite sick of the way in which he proclaimed his superior intellect and position—but they resented most his extortions of money—he seemed never to be satisfied.... But the priest, on the other hand, himself had been really frightened. He wondered if the village elders would take him to task for not locking the door of the Temple. Once they had done so—when the gold necklace of the idol was found missing—of course, the priest himself had removed it, but he innocently had declared that the door was not properly locked.

But nothing serious really happened. This incident seemed to have very little effect on the life of the village. The old monotonous cycle of dull and toilsome days went on as before. The village priest, however, sometimes said how in his dream he had been visited by the village God, who told him “. . . I am thirsty. Give me human blood to drink”; then with a cunning laughter he would conclude his story...“Fancy just seven days after that the God chose his victim: it was a stranger who had blasphemed at me.”

*       *       *       *       *

Only an old woman, who had lost her first child in a factory accident near Calcutta, could not forget this tragic incident. Years afterwards she would tell the story to her grand-children at nightfall, and would weep over it; she used to tell all about it to the strangers who happened to pass through the village.

[1] Due to a printing error, the text is somewhat obscured in this section. The brackets indicate places where the text was illegible.

The Man Who Came Back — S. N. Ghose

It was about eleven o’clock on a cold winter’s evening; they had dug up nearly the whole of the Upper Chitpere Road to put in the new rails of the tramways. All day long the congested traffic had made a terrible noise—and the electric cement-breakers, too, had added much to the din. Gopesh Babu, the head clerk of the contractors, McDonald and Co., was sitting in a small tarpaulin tent, musing over a brazier.

He was dressed in a very thick Irish ulster—a garment that was never meant for the mild winters of Calcutta. It had been given to Gopesh Babu by one of the retiring engineers of the McDonald Company. This engineer had come from Scandinavia, and somewhere he had heard that round about Darjeeling there are fine winter sports and ski-ing every year. He hoped it would require a very thick coat to go over there to the sports.

Gopesh Babu felt very warm, but still he was uncomfortable. He had been put there that evening to catch the thief who had stolen several electric accumulators from that place the evening before. Poor Gopesh Babu was a quiet man. He could never understand why people steal. Of course the thief might have been in want; but Gopesh Babu wondered how long the man could keep himself by that sort of stealing. He thought, too, that even a thief ought to have some respect for public utilities, and should not hamper the progress of laying tramway rails. He hoped that the thief would not turn up, at least not this evening, to take any of the things that lay scattered about.

It was a bit foggy that night and old Gopesh Babu coughed; once a missionary had told him that it was the fog in the cold countries that was responsible for the scourge of tuberculosis. He never knew whether this was the real cause of the dread disease under which so many of the poor go down every year—some in the prime of their lives and some still earlier. Any way he used this information of the missionary when his son wanted to go to Japan. It was such a long time since he had heard from his son. He remembered distinctly how, years ago, he had promised, over his wife’s death-bed, to give his son a good education and never to get a stepmother for their child. It was only a few years later that suddenly Gopesh Babu, the poor clerk, found himself rich. He had bought a piece of land somewhere in Bihar. There he had intended to live after retiring. But one day he received a letter from the Geological Survey informing him that this ground contained tin-ore, and they were willing to pay a good sum of money to secure it. He had thought this offer was a Godsend, and hoped to use this money, every farthing of it, in his son’s education.

His son grew up quite different from what he had expected. The young Rabi was always talking of going somewhere, and while yet a boy he told his father that if he were not sent off immediately to Japan to study banking and commerce he would commit suicide. Who gave him the idea of going to Japan to study banking no one ever knew. The only thing that he repeated hundreds of times was that India needs a good banking system before she can progress.

Gopesh Babu well knew that had he said such a thing in his childhood they would have thought him mad; but somehow or other, the people of these days seemed so different—he wondered at first, but soon he gave that up; the young junior clerks in the office spoke of all sorts of irreligious things; someone the other day even remarked that the Supreme Evil is God! One had said that this life is a “rotten game!” He had tried to argue with them and convince them, but he had soon to give up the idea of that. They all laughed at him when he said he had been upset at the demands of his boy. “What is wrong in going to Japan?” said the cashier; “he is quite right; you yourself will live to see him carrying out his plans. The difficulty is that you are a miser and do not want to part with the money you made in that tin-deal. Are you thinking of marrying again, eh?”

A miser he never was—and this remark he regarded as the lash of a “whip”; he was wounded. When he returned home that evening he was himself preparing to send his boy off to Japan. No one knew what it meant to him to send his son so far away; no one knew how Gopesh Babu prayed every night that he might live to see his son a grown-up man; in a small cupboard he kept the little shoes which his son had work when a baby, the toys he used to play with, the torn and the tattered exercise books with strange childish hieroglyphics, and the big letters of the alphabet written so many times. He used to look at these when his son was away. He remembered the early morning when he went to the Victoria Docks to see his son off. It was a misty morning; he had cried all the night before like a poor helpless child and had prayed many times—that he might live to see his son come back to him.

*       *       *       *       *

He plainly saw how his Rabi waved to him—how the big liner slowly began to move.

For a week he would go to Victoria Docks after office hours and look at the locked gates.

The letters he received from his son, however, filled him with pride; he read and re-read them; he put them all away in the cupboard where so many other things of his son had been kept.

Years had passed since his son left for Japan—the money he had saved from his “tin”-deal had nearly all been spent; he wrote frantic letters to his son asking him to come back, then he sent telegrams, but his son used to send the same evasive reply...“I will return when I have learnt a trade thoroughly.”

Then the letters from his son failed to come in regularly—and at last they stopped altogether. The last one he had received bore American stamps—it was from Chicago.

He went to the office as usual and did his work as before—but everyone could see he was a dazed man! He was always silent and would hardly give an audible reply to any question put to him. His colleagues said it was the son who was killing this poor man.

He had sent some money to the old address of his son in Japan, but it came back, the “addressee not to be found here.” This was too much for a broken man like him, and every day he felt he was going down and down. Whenever he saw a postman in the narrow, dingy lane he lived in, he would rush to him and ask if there were any foreign letters for him; the answer was always “no.” For years every day, every hour of the day, he expected some news from his son. He never doubted that God was good—he always believed that everything and everybody is in the best possible condition; but yet he wondered how it was that his only object of affection; his son who was to be the comfort of his old age; should keep away from him.

Every night he would remain awake for hours repeating his prayers and mumbling that it might be granted him to live to see his son again.

Gopesh Babu hardly knew whether he were thinking or dreaming all this time.

The motor-horn of a passing huge automobile roused him from his reveries; the gas-workers had been on strike and the street was ill lit. The head-lights of the car for a moment threw a dazzling glare on the road and cast gigantic shadows; then it vanished round the corner. There were sounds of merry-making in one of the houses near by. He could hear the refrain of an obscene drunken song floating across from there; it seemed so very inharmonious. He felt it was cruel to sing such things on a night like this: the deep shadows, the mystic silence, the ill-lit streets, the distant chimes of church bells—all lent a solemn atmosphere, and in the middle of this a drunken man’s bawlings!

Gopesh Babu pondered: “Perhaps this drunken man has never heard of God—he is probably one of those that do not know how to utilise their time...”

Gopesh Babu gave a start. Right in front of him a very thing man—a living skeleton one would think—in tattered clothes, half naked, was trying to remove one of the red lamps from the rails!

He was surprised beyond words. He wanted to shout for the police and get hold of the man and...

But he found that he could only cough.

The thief looked up with a start and said in a drawling way: “Bah! I thought you were asleep...I only wanted to light my cigarette. It is such a cold night you see, and with so few lights along the street it makes one shiver all the time. By the way, could you give me a cigarette?”

Gopesh Babu wondered at this man’s audacity. A thief who ought never to have been born—who would now be handed over to the police and would most probably get some months hard labour for stealing the electric accumulators and the cement-breakers—addressing him in this unceremonious way! Before he could raise his voice for the police this new-comer began:

“Well, I thought you were fast asleep and I wanted to get inside your tent for a few minutes and come out when those wretched police had departed. But you are such a queer person—you did really give me a start! Good Lord, I thought you were a police-officer and had such a fright; you know I have just knocked down one of these fellows and so have got to take shelter...”

Gopesh Babu could hear the shrill blast of a police whistle go off at a distance.

The man continued:

“You see they have already scented the death. Wouldn’t you give me a shelter just for a few minutes? Maybe you would like to hear my story and would later think it a good thing that you sheltered me.”

On other occasions Gopesh Babu would surely have run immediately for the police—he believed in law and order. Strangely he felt different to-night, and remained silent and looked vacantly at the one lighted window of a house opposite. The man of his own accord came inside the little tent and sat near Gopesh Babu.

In the dim light of the red lamps Gopesh Babu saw that the new-comer’s hands and part of his shoulders had all been covered with dark, muddy ink; it looked like tar. The man was trying to wipe all this off very carefully.

Gopesh Babu at last made an effort and said “Have you been removing these electric accumulators for the last few nights?”

“Of course. Who else do you think? A man must have something to live on when he has no work.”

Gopesh Babu had never thought of that; he knew theft was crime and it was not justifiable under any conditions—still less so when it is things useful to the multitude. He told the new-comer that; but the man remained unconvinced. He said “Bah!...That’s your idea, isn’t it? We know all about that—the old nonsense—I wonder how such stock phrases have become international! I heard the same in U.S.A. In California, when I was a student in the University, they also used the same arguments, but what about the thieves that have forced us to this condition?”

Gopesh Babu expressed his surprise and wanted to know in which way the McDonald Company were behaving like thieves.

The stranger seemed to become irritated and he burst out: “In which way? Had you not been a fool you would not have asked that?...But all the poorer people do ask in this stupid way. How is it that the McDonald Company make huge profits? They employ labourers and they pay wages just sufficient to keep body and soul together, but how do their directors manage to get rich? They are parasites, they are crafty, and they use all their brains in robbing the poor. And fools like you ask who are the thieves!”

“But you can’t do without tramways and other industries, can you?”

“Who says I can? But that is why these should not be in the hands of those company directors; that is why I don’t believe in the existing system. When I was young I, too, thought like you and believed in starting industries—so that I could become rich; but now I think differently. I believe it is cruel to become rich. You have to rob someone to become rich. This is not a very startling discovery; if you could only use your eyes you would see that.

“The gas company has been making enormous profits, and when it comes to the turn of the workers to get a rise in wages they are refused, and that is the cause of this strike. You well know that; but what I say is—to Hell with this system of wage-slavery and the capitalist currency. The rich can buy your soul any moment they want. If you are unbending they would crush your life out of you.

“I came only four days ago from Java in a cargo-ship as a stowaway, and when I heard about the strike I went off immediately to meet the gas-workers.

“I ask them to demand something more. What would an increase in salary mean in the long run?...It is strange, but somehow it is true, you can never fight the rich unless you have money; I have been removing these lanterns and electric batteries to get money for the propaganda, and you know how falsely the affair of the strike has been represented in the papers.

“Look at the Nationalist papers—they cry against Imperialist injustice every day, and when it comes to their turn to give justice to the Indian workers they are the same as the English capitalists. Aren’t they?”

There were several blasts of police whistles all about the place. Gopesh Babu saw the man give an involuntary shudder. The man began his interrupted story...“It is all strange. When I told the strikers in Chicago to do something more than perpetuate wage-slavery, they said it is all right for you intellectuals to talk like that; how are we to keep our families and ourselves alive? Well, they were quite justified in their remarks.

“You see, I am now a cynic—I am now no longer an intellectual of the Universities. It is a long time since I was in one.

“I saw a woman clubbed to death in the streets of Chicago by the police because she was selling Communist literature. It is awfully funny—the professors in Chicago still lecture us about the great democratic spirit in the U.S.A.

“It is everywhere the same. I was in Tokyo University as well. There was a tramway strike, and I was the only one to refuse to run a voluntary tram service. I wanted to help the strikers. The authorities turned me out of the University...”

Outside the tramp of heavy boots could be heard, and several blasts of the whistle went off again. The man listened for a minute and then continued: “...Do you know what these whistles are for? I was trying to remove the mantles from the gas-lamps and one of the police caught hold of me. I told him that I did not steal for myself but for the strikers, but he would not listen. I did not intend killing him, for I know under any circumstances a human life means very much. I could shoot a millionaire like a rabbit, and would feel glad over it, but I would never even hit a poor man. In the scuffle I struck him with his own baton and he toppled over—fell in a heap, all bleeding.

“I did not want to be arrested—any way, not now; for I came back after such a long time to India, and I wanted to meet someone who would always remember me...”

Just at this moment the face of a police sergeant appeared at the opening of the tent—in the red light of the lamps it looked so unnatural; it seemed to be terrible and unearthly. He shouted in a hoarse voice: “Hellow. Come out of the tent immediately, will you? There has been a murder over there. We want to examine...”

The sentence remained unfinished. The electric torch of the police sergeant glared, and Gopesh Babu saw the man next to him was covered all over with clotted blood—what appeared to be tar in the red light was the congealed blood of the murdered policeman.

He covered his eyes with his hands: it was a terrible sight, but the man coolly got up saying: “What are you shouting for? Did I say that I did not kill that man? I am coming out.”

Then turning to Gopesh Babu he said: “By the way, if you ever come across Mr. Gopesh Babu, of the...”

The police sergeant had now got hold of his man and was shaking him. The man had not finished before he was dragged out.

*       *       *       *       *

In spite of the heat of the brazier and his thick clothes, Gopesh Babu shivered like a man in a fever.

He fell down on the ground groaning, and wished he had never prayed to God to bring back his son. He thought probably the man is right, and there is no God and no justice in the world.

A Note on Rights

I have made a good faith effort but have not located the copyright owner of Ghose’s published writing. If a copyright owner does exist, please contact me by way of the journal.



Thank you to Xiao Wei Bond of the British Library and Shyamala A. Narayan for their assistance. A Mellon Institute for Historical Research pre-dissertation fellowship and a CUNY Graduate Center Doctoral Research Grant supported research that contributed to this publication.

[1] There are, however, earlier examples of poetry. Volumes of poetry written in English by South Asian writers had previously been published in Britain, such as The Dutt Family Album (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1870), and Rabindranath Tagore’s self-translated collection Gatanjali, published by the India Society in 1912. Tagore’s novel The Home and the World, which he translated into English with his nephew Surendranath Tagore, was published in London by Macmillan & Co. in 1919. See Aarthi Vadde, Chimeras of Form: Modernist Internationalism beyond Europe, 19142016 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 39.

[2] See Mulk Raj Anand, “Author’s Preface,” in Mulk Raj Anand: A Reader: Selections from his Fictional and Non-Fictional Writings, ed. Atma Ram (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2005), vii–xiv, ix.  

[3] Anand’s presence in European modernism has been established in his own Conversations in Bloomsbury (New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann India, 1981), as well as more recent scholarship including Sara Blair, “Local Modernity, Global Modernism: Bloomsbury and the Places of the Literary,” ELH 71, no. 3 (2004): 813–38; Jessica Berman, “Toward a Regional Cosmopolitanism: The Case of Mulk Raj Anand,” MFS Modern Fiction Studies 55, no. 1 (2009): 142–62; Jane Marcus, Hearts of Darkness: White Women Write Race (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004); Kristin Bluemel, George Orwell and the Radical Eccentrics: Intermodernism in Literary London (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); Intermodernism: Literary Culture in Mid-Twentieth-Century Britain, ed. Kristen Bluemel (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009); and Jessica Schiff Berman, “Comparative Colonialisms: Joyce, Anand, and the Question of Engagement,” Modernism/modernity 13, no. 3 (2006): 465–85; among others.

[4] See Shyamala A. Narayan, Sudhin N. Ghose (New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann India, 1973), 11.

[5] See Kris Manjapra, “From Imperial to International Horizons: A Hermeneutic Study of Bengali Modernism,” Modern Intellectual History 8, no 2 (2011): 327–59. His brother, Saleindra, may also have been involved in radical politics. A Saleindra Nath Ghose traveled to North America starting in the late 1910s, and was involved movements for Indian independence and the rights of Indian immigrants.

[6] See Narayan, Sudhin N. Ghose, 10–11; and S. N. Ghose, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Contemporary Criticism: 1849–1882 (Strasbourg, 1929; repr. Norwood, PA: Norwood, 1977). In Re-presentations of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Cambria Press, 2010) Lisa Dallape Matson notes Ghose’s dissertation as “the first and only collection of contemporaneous reviews of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s works,” and describes him as “a careful scholar” (51). Sophia Andres notes that Ghose’s text “remains a standard source for contemporary critical reviews of Rossetti’s works.” Sophia Andres, “Dante Gabriel Rossetti,” Oxford Bibliographies Online, May 2014.

[7] Ghose’s papers in the British Library also include unpublished fiction and plays written in this period. Some manuscripts were written in Paris.

[8] See Manjapra, “From Imperial to International Horizons.”

[9] Quoted in D. H. Lawrence: The Plays: Part 1, ed. Hans-Wilhelm Schwarze and John Worthen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), xlix. The twenty-seven-volume series ran from 1920–1924, organized by Douglas Goldring and published by C. W. Daniel in London, and included work by D. H. Lawrence, Goldring, Claude Houghton, Ralph Fox, Lilias Maccrie, Margaret MacNamara, Leonid Andreyev, Eleanor Gray, Edward Charles Reed, Shaw Desmond, Michael Arabian (with frontispiece by the artist Rita Nahabedian), and more. In addition to the published plays and fiction, Ghose’s papers at the British Library include several unfinished pieces that engage with radical politics.

[10] Ghose’s presence in London in the 1920s is evident from documents in his papers in the British Library. See Papers of Sudhindra Nath Ghose (1899–1965), Bengali novelist and art history lecturer, Mss Eur F153, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library: Asian and African Studies.

[11] Lotos, Räuber und Gazellen: Jugendroman eines Inders, trans. Magda Henriette Larsen (Zürich: Verlag der Arche, 1950); Skaczące gazele, trans. Andrzej Nowicki (Warsaw: Nasza Księgarnia, 1961); Opowieści hinduskie, trans. Irena Tuwim (Warsaw: Nasza Księgarnia, 1966); Le Berceau des nuages, trans. Antoine Gentien (Paris: Plon, 1958); Où bondissent les gazelles, trans. Bruno Martin (Paris:  Le Club Français du Livre, 1955).

[12] Hiranmoy Ghoshal, “In Search of the New Novel: A Study of Sudhin Ghose,” Shakti. 3, no. 11 (1966): 20.

[13] He also collected folklore from India and Tibet, published in Folk Tales and Fairy Stories from India (1961; 1964), Folk Tales and Fairy Stories from Farther India (1966) and Tibetan Folk Tales and Fairy Stories (1986).

[14] Rupa and Company republished The Vermilion Boat and the collections of Tibetan and Indian folktales in the 1980s. Speaking Tiger Books issued the four novels in 2017.

[15] Reviewers, critics, and libraries often miscategorized the novels as memoir; the Times Literary Supplement reviewed the four novels in their “Biography and Memoirs” section, and the National Library in Kolkata classifies the books as memoir rather than fiction. Narayan noted this library classification in 1973, and it remains true today. On the other hand, in his a remembrance of Ghose for the Calcutta-based Writers Workshop Miscellany, David McCutchion objected to the fantastical elements of Ghose’s fiction, complaining that “his mind could not keep a clear hold on reality, and all is distorted and overwrought by his runaway imagination” (David McCutchion, “Sudhin Ghose,” Writers Workshop: A Miscellany of Creative Writing 18 [1967]: 66. Quoted in Vijayasree, “Sudhin N. Ghose,” 127).

[16] Anita Desai, “Aspects of the Indo-Anglian Novel,” Quest 65 (1970): 41–42. Quoted in Narayan, Sudhin N. Ghose, 10–11.

[17] Ghose’s later work is also mentioned in articles and chapters in T. J. Abraham, A Critical Study of Novels of Arun Joshi, Raja Rao, and Sudhin N. Ghose (New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 1999); Shyamala A. Narayan, “Reality and Fantasy in the Novels of Sudhin N. Ghose” in Aspects of Indian Writing in English, ed. M. K. Naik (Delhi: Macmillan Company of India, 1979), 163–71; Ghoshal “In Search of the New Novel,” and “An Indian Tetralogy: Four Novels of Sudhin Ghose,” Books Abroad 30, no. 3 (1956): 284–86; Meenakshi Mukherjee, The Twice-Born Fiction: Themes and Techniques of Indian Novel in English (New Delhi: Heinemann, 1971); Meenakshi Mukherjee, “The Plough and the Tractor: The Contrasted Visions of Sudhin Ghose and Mulk Raj Anand,” in Indian Literature of the Past Fifty Years (Mysore: University of Mysore, 1970), 121–32; David McCutchion, Indian Writing in English: Critical Essays (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1969); Hamdi Bey, “A Look at Indo-Anglian Fiction.” Thought 21, no. 50 (1969): 18–19; Vijayasree, “Sudhin N. Ghose;” K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, Indian Writing in English (New York: Asia Publishing House, 1962); C. Vijayasree’s biographical entry, “Sudhin N. Ghose (1899–1965),” in Writers of the Indian Diaspora: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993); and Jessica Berman, “Neither Mirror nor Mimic: Transnational Reading and Indian Narratives in English,” in The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms, ed. Mark Wollaeger and Matt Etough (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 205–27. A conversation between D. J. Enright, Nissim Ezekiel, and Ghose is recorded in “Modern Indian Writing: A Discussion,” The Writers Workshop Miscellany 28 (August 1968): 61–74.

[18] Quoted in Open University, “Sudhindra Nath Ghose,” Making Britain: Discover How South Asians Shaped the Nation, 1870-1950,

[19] S. N. Ghose, “Review of ‘The Indian Problem 1833–1935: Report on the Constitutional Problem in India (Part I),’ by R Coupland, and ‘Indian Politics 1936–1942: Report of the Constitutional Problem in India (Part II)’ by R. Coupland,” Pacific Review 16, no. 4 (1943): 497

[20] See Ghoshal, “In Search of the New Novel,” 20.

[21] See Anand, “Author’s Preface,” in Mulk Raj Anand, ix.

[22] Ulka Anjaria, Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel: Colonial Difference and Literary Form (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 2.

[23] “Manifesto of the Indian Progressive Writers’ Association, London,” in Talat Ahmed, Literature and Politics in the Age of Nationalism: The Progressive Writers’ Movement in South Asia, 1932–56 (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis, 2009), 183.

[24] Berman particularly calls out Mulk Raj Anand and “the sadly out of print Iqbalunissa Hussain” in “Neither Mirror nor Mimic” (206). Berman mentions Ghose in this chapter, referencing his later novels. In addition to Anand and Hussain, Ahmed Ali would be another author to consider in a conversation about Ghose, in terms of both modernist approach and his shifting relationship to the “progressive” intellectuals. For more on Ali, as well as the PWA, see Angaaray, ed. Snehal Shingavi (1932; rpt., London: Penguin, 2014).

[25] Sylvia Pankhurst, Germinal 1, no. 1 (1923): n.p. Pankhurst’s reference to Santiniketan would likely be familiar to her audience, thanks to “a new kind of ‘furious’ orientalism” that was “channeling the travel of countercultural and avant-garde Europeans to Calcutta in these same years.” Manjapra notes, “Among the writers, indologists, literary scholars and art historians from beyond the imperial axis who traveled to Calcutta and to Tagore’s ‘international university’ in Shantiniketan were Sylvain Levi (1921), Stella Kramrisch (1921–50) and Moritz Winternitz (1922) from Austria, Vincenc Lesny from Czechoslovakia (1925), Leonid Bogdanov from Russia (1922), Schlomit Friede Flaum originally from Lithuania (1922), Sten Konow from Norway (1924), and Carlo Formichi (1925) and Giuseppe Tucci from Italy (1926)” (“From Imperial To International Horizons," 342).

[26] See Germinal 1, no. 2, 24.

[27] “Critic’s Desk,” Germinal 1, no. 2, 32.

[28] Papers of Sudhindra Nath Ghose include documents and letters that evidence his presence in Bloombsury. Mary Weiser mentions the Student Movement House in her “Sudhindra Nath Ghose: A Memoir” (1999), included in Ghose’s papers at the British Library.

[29] Though Pankhurst spent time in Bloomsbury during her work for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which was headed by her mother and sister, Emmeline and Christabel, Sylvia split with the WSPU in 1913 and left Bloomsbury to found the working-class East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS). See Barbara Winslow, Sylvia Pankhurst: Sexual Politics and Political Activism (London: UCL Press, 1996).

[30] Anne Witchard, Lao She in London (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012), 60. 

[31] Anne Donlon, “‘A Black Man Replies’: Claude McKay's Challenge to the British Left,” Lateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association 5, no.1 (2016). See also Wayne F. Cooper and Robert Reinders, “A Black Briton Comes ‘Home’: Claude McKay in England, 1920,” Race 9, no. 1 (1967): 67-83; Claude McKay, A Long Way from Home (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007). Ghose’s and McKay’s presence in Pankhurst’s publications comprises a forgotten moment in the history of black and Asian literature in Britain. See, for instance, A Black British Canon?, ed. Gail Low and Marion Wynne-Davies (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

[32] See S. N. Ghose, The Colours of a Great City: Two Playlets (C. W. Daniel, 1924).

[33] Joshua Esty, Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development (Oxford University Press, 2012), 2.

[34] On the question of European inheritances, Meenakshi Mukherjee’s edited volume Early Novels in India (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2005) presents the “plural heritage” of the novel in India, challenging the commonplace assumption that the novel was imported from Europe (viii). Jahan Ramazami’s A Transnational Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009) demonstrates how poets radically revised canonical British poetry traditions. See also Rosinka Chaudhuri, The Literary Thing: History, Poetry, and the Making of Modern Literary Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) and Vadde, Chimeras of Form

[35] S. N. Ghose, “The Man Who Came Back,” Germinal, Issue 2, 1923, 26–27.

[36] See Tanika Sarkar, “Bengali Middle-Class Nationalism and Literature: A Study of Saratchandra's ‘Pather Dabi’ and Rabindranath’s ‘Char Adhyav’,” in Economy, Society, and Politics in Modern India, ed. D. N. Panigrahi (New Delhi: Vikas, 1985), 449–62.

[37] M. N. Roy, “Proletarian Revolution in India,” Workers’ Dreadnought, September 11, 1920, 1.

[38] Marian Aguiar, Tracking Modernity: India’s Railway and the Culture of Mobility (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 72.

[39] Gopal notes the PWA writers were what Neil Lazarus termed “nationalitarian,” those who “[eye] the future with a radical sense of the present and its challenges” (Gopal Priyamvada, Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence [London: Routledge, 2005], 14).

[40] See S. N. Ghose, “The Image-Breaker,” Workers’ Dreadnought, September 29, 1923, 2–3.

[41] S. N. Ghose, “The Fool Next Door,” Workers’ Dreadnought, December 8, 1923, 6–7.

[42] One might consider these stories anti-Oedipal in contrast to Ashis Nandy’s reading of oedipal story lines in Tagore. Ashis Nandy, The Illegitimacy of Nationalism: Rabindranath Tagore and the Politics of Self (Delhi; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 48. Additionally, Ghose’s stories do not adequately address questions of gender and women’s conditions. For discussion of Indian writers on the Left who did deal with gender oppression, Gopal’s Literary Radicalism in India reminds scholars of such by women writers, and among PWA writers (30).

[43] Mary Weiser’s unpublished memoir of Ghose in the British Library, for instance, doesn’t mention this earlier time in London. See “Papers of Sudhindra Nath Ghose,” British Library: Asian and African Studies.