Open 2020, Short Stories - Prasun Roy


Biiter Gourd

By Prasun Roy 


Mr. Samir Mukherjee was Baba’s college friend. He used to live in Kolkata along with his wife, Archana aunty. Samir uncle was a lawyer by profession and used to practice as a public prosecutor in the Calcutta High Court. The incident happened when I was in class X and it left quite an impact on my adolescent mind. It was an incident that I feel I must share with everyone…


One Sunday morning, as I was sitting with my studies after finishing breakfast, the doorbell rang. The ring was of an unusual duration than normal and I felt that somebody was at our doorstep with an anxious state of mind. Baba was in the living room and was reading the newspaper. Aunt Padma went ahead and unlocked the door. Like a gust of agile monsoon breeze, Archana aunty entered. Maa came out of the kitchen and Baba kept aside the newspaper and stood up. The was a clear sign of anxiety on Archana aunty’s face as she stood with a big suitcase beside her. I came out from my study room and watched the entire episode unfold.


After the grimness of the sudden arrival cleared a bit, we all learnt from Archana aunty that Samir uncle had sent her to Mumbai, to stay with us for a couple of days, in order to avoid a crisis that was prevalent in their lives. The suddenness of the situation was such that it was not possible for them to inform us previously, and Archana aunty took the morning flight from Kolkata to Mumbai and arrived.


“He is involved in a dirty case!” said Archana aunty while drinking from a glass of water. “He has taken up the defense case of a serial murderer in the Calcutta High Court. The entire newspaper media and the electronic media has been harrowing us ever since! Even the general public has labelled him as an evil lawyer! No other public prosecutor agreed to take up the defense case and finally Samir agreed to do so. The public emotion is strongly in favor of the capital punishment and Samir is fighting in favor of the criminal, on behalf of the court of law. Everybody, including our relatives and friends, have suddenly taken a negative view about us. They have labelled Samir as a traitor to the country and democracy! Considering the looming danger of a public outrage, Samir has sent me here till the case clears!”


All of us listened to the discourse with full concentration and consoled Archana aunty. She was very worried about the safety of Samir uncle. Baba made a few phone calls and even spoke with Samir uncle over a long-distance telephonic conversation, while taking stock of the current situation. I could not find any reason for this behavior of Samir uncle. Why did he have to represent the evil criminal? Why did he choose to work in favor of somebody whom the entire world abhors! Why did Samir uncle need to support a felonious person and bring upon such bitterness? Yet, I could not find any suitable answer. Days passed, as we keenly followed the proceedings of the case.


A sense of bitterness grasped out house. Everybody held a gloomy face while Archana aunty remained in a state of complete trauma and fear of something bad that might befall. Baba, tried his best to convince Samir uncle out of the case, but failed. Baba pleaded him to remain safe and get out from any upcoming troubles. After a total of one month, the Calcutta High Court declared its decision and announced the criminal as guilty! Unknown to us, Samir uncle gave a striking interview in the local newspaper, and as a result, the negative public emotion cleared quite somewhat. In the next four days, Samir uncle was in Mumbai and sitting with us happily.


On the day of his arrival, Samir uncle smiled at Archana aunty and said, “Archana, I am famished! I have missed the excellence of your cookery for so long! Please treat all of us with a fantastic Bengali lunch this afternoon! And please include my favorite SHUKTO recipe in it positively!”


Baba and I were sitting with Samir uncle in the living-room. I asked, “What is this SHUKTO? Is it a specific delicacy?”


Samir uncle only replied, “Pravin, wait till you taste it. I am sure you would love it.”


As we sat for lunch, Archana aunty first served steamed rice and SHUKTO. It was the first time I tasted SHUKTO, a mixture of bitter sweet medley of vegetables that was cooked in a unique manner! The recipe holds its origin in the old Portuguese culture and has evolved ever since its incorporation in the Bengali cuisine.


As we savored our lunch, Samir uncle asked, “This Bengali style recipe, SHUKTO, is an appeasing rustic curry which clears your palate! Can you perceive the taste of the BITTERGOURD amid the vegetables?”


I nodded my head while gobbling my food. Baba’s eyes sparkled in anticipation of what his dear friend was about to say. Maa, Aunty Padma and Archana aunty looked at Samir uncle while he started again, “The bitter taste of BITTERGOURD in the SHUKTO is not meant to spoil the taste of this fantastic recipe. It is this bitterness that alleviates the beauty of the entire curry and makes the recipe more palatable and unforgettable. Without BITTERGOURD, the SHUKTO is incomplete!”


Baba smiled, as if he understood what Samir uncle was hinting towards. I listened keenly to his words as Samir uncle continued, “Bitterness is important in life. It is important because, the absence of bitterness would eliminate the taste of sweetness! Since there is something bitter, we can appreciate whatever is sweet. This is the sole reason why I chose to become the public prosecutor in favor of the criminal. Even though the entire media criticized me for my choice, I remained firm in my decision.”


Archana aunty watched her husband with eyes full of emotion as Samir uncle spoke, “If nobody represented evil, nobody highlighted the negativity, how would have anybody proved the righteousness? How would the defense lawyer prove the guilt? The more I fought, the more I defended the criminal, the more easily justice was meted out. I didn’t believe or support the crime, I highlighted it. Bringing out the bitterness in front of everybody, helped me prove the severity of the crime!”


Samir uncle finished, “Trust me, bitterness is important in life and my decision was not wrong. The entire news media now understands my decision. So, my dear Archana, we can happily go back home!”


Even though it is an old story, the metaphor of BITTERGOURD in SHUKTO still remains so relevant. Indeed, the absence of bitterness in life will devoid us of the beauty of sweetness. The sweetness that life and the entire world carries around us is far more than my pain.



Prasun Roy from India writes stories in genres of adventure, mystery, thrill and young adult fiction. An alum of IIM Lucknow, his debut book Ringo & the Yogi, an adventure tale written for young readers, is published by Srishti Publishers & Distributors


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