The slumber of Lal Prasad snapped suddenly. ‘It’s hardly 3 o’clock at night,’ he said, checking the time on his expensive Romanson watch on his wrist. ‘It’s just thirty-five past two,’ he said. ‘Is this a time for the sleep to break? But this an unfaithful did.’
He realized that Das Capital by Marx was still on his chest, half-open. It was the book he had picked before sleeping just to have a feel of it through caress. It was but natural for a Marxist politician and central leader of a party like him, who held a portfolio of the Finance Minister under a power-sharing arrangement, to have a book written by Marx close to his heart. ‘What else can be there?’ Lal Prasad asked himself and thought, maybe Modi Aain, Narendra Dai or Jail Journal by B P Koirala could be a better pick. He said to himself how nice it would have been to prove himself a studious and true Marxist, had this scene with the book on his chest seen by some cadre or security guard! This would have certainly helped him counter the allegation labeled on him as a less-learned individual. He weighed the disadvantage of being alone in the room. ‘A treacherous time’, he murmured. ‘How nice it would have been if somebody had not only seen my present position and had secretly taken a picture of it and sent to those journalists who constantly write against me with fabricated details!’ he ground his teeth in anger, spilling his fill out to those unruly journalists.
Who knows: security guards might be peeping in from the windows! He rolled his hopeful eyes in all possible directions, but no trace of another human could be sensed. It was pitch dark outside. Almost all the people in the neighborhood were in deep sleep, and tranquility reined over the city. Who would see him at this moment and make all his blissful thoughts a reality!
Lal Prasad became even more tensed.
It was not Das Capital, the guiding light for the communists the world over, wide open on his chest, that was raising Lal Prasad’s stress. The real source of his restlessness was none other than Marx, who died some hundred and thirty years ago, but constantly kept on questioning him in dreams night after night. Shooting of those sharp questions disturbed his sleep midway because he did not have answers to any of the questions Marx asked. Whenever Marx asked a question, Lal Prasad felt constricted as if somebody was pressing on his neck and finally his sleep broke off. However, along with these tedious questions, some pleasant intervals were also evident in his dream. Marx, folding Lal Prasad’s hands, had many times, taken him to a country where there were no discrepancy between the rich and the poor, there were no rulers and there were no ruled ones. Nobody was in the upper strata, nor anyone in the lower. Every toil was respected. There was not much difference between a village and a city. If a village was more pleasant, the city was cleaner. That was not all! No one was unemployed there; people there did not have time for gossips, arguments and protest rallies. The society was classless and borderless. Development was evident everywhere. The first and foremost right of the human being—‘to live without fear’—was respected by all. There was glow on every face and hearts were in complete solace.
The wonderland of Lal Prasad came to a sudden end when the sequence of tasteless question-answer began. How nonsense were questions by the old fellow, Marx were? He thought, ‘I have adorned my office, living room, residence and every place possible with his portraits; have duly remembered his words with reverence in my speeches. What more could be done than that! Moreover, how can Marx in the twenty-first century ask questions that suited for the nineteenth century reality? Can he expect the nineteenth Century philosophy implemented ditto in the twenty-first century?’
‘Not at all,’ Lal Prasad said, answering his own questions, and heaved a sigh of relief for a moment. He also concluded that the country Marx took him on tour did not exist anywhere in the world and was nowhere a possibility.
All his questions are now irrelevant.
But the questions were so excruciating that they would become even sharper whenever he tried to forget them. Marx would say, “Many people in your country are languishing under poverty line. They are compelled to face death due to lack of access even to a few tablets of paracetamol and oral rehydration solutions. In that case, how can you live such an exorbitantly luxurious life? The vehicle you use, your sleeping bed, your dress-up, perfumes you use, your gourmet…everything is against the principles you have embraced, Lal Prasad! You are keeping your people under a myriad of illusions and are betraying them. You are selling their poverty for your interest. What had you promised to the villagers who had respectfully provided you food and shelter when your party was still underground? What was their expectation from you in helping you out to the hilt of their capability? What were the assurances you had given to them in course of your political activity, election campaign or simple visits to their houses? Where have you tried to narrow down the hiatus between the poor and the rich in your country? The division between the rich and the poor seems even more widening! Perhaps for the first time after my death, the communists from all over the world had seen a hopeful situation in the communist movement of your country and pro-people stance you had taken during the time of struggle. But, what happened to all those during this moment of their execution? Your modus operandi is much more anti-people than those of the bourgeoisies and capitalist parties. The bourgeoisies more openly accept that we are capitalists and we support it. But you claim yourself as proletariats, communists, against the feudal system etc. Should this be your demeanor as soon as you rise to the helm of power? This double face of yours is not only harming your country but also defaming the communists all over the world. Lal Prasad! Have you imagined difficult days will never return and victory in one election will ensure you a perennial berth in the government? If so, this can be the last time people have elected your party to power and you would probably never get another chance to become a minister again.”
Lal Prasad was wounded the most by the last statement of Marx: “you would probably never get another chance to become a minister again.”
‘Party…Republic…Rich and Poor…Livelihood of the people…Damn! These all are not my sole responsibilities. There are many leaders in my party—Chairman, Vice Chairman, General Secretary and many more. I am a mere central committee member…there are dozens like me in my party. I am not alone to be a minister too. There are forty-eight altogether.’
By now, the wonderland Lal Prasad toured through in his dreams had already gone into oblivion. On the hindsight, he felt that he probably had a hounding dream because he had touched the book Das Capital while sleeping, living it open on his chest.
He promised to himself not to touch or remember a book before going for sleep anymore. But the shining red book was constantly staring at him. He took the book off and thrust it into a corner of his cupboard and padlocked it, firmly. He lay down on the bed trying to sleep, but all in vain. He opened the cupboard, took the book back again and tried to turn on the pages. It opened exactly in the same way in the middle as it had been a little while ago. This was the portion of the book where the chapters relating to several topics on economic revolution—causes of differences between the rich and poor and prescription for ending it, equitable distribution of assets, and interpretation to dualistic materialism etc., had been incorporated. Lal Prasad felt severe giddiness, and drank almost half a liter of water.
The reflection of the bright red cover of the book struck his eyes. The cover also had a picture of Marx at its centre—bald head, seemingly unarranged beards and moustaches and equally messy hair. Lal Prasad got disenchanted with all these. Dring his underground years, he had tried to grow his beards and hair in the very style of Marx.
Lal Prasad opened the door of the room and took this book out to the living room. He came back and lay on the bed but could feel no improvement in his mental status. All the efforts he made to sleep again went in absolute vain. Amidst all these attempts and failures, dawn started peeping into his residence. It was the beginning of a new day and daily routine.
Lal Prasad took along Das Capital while going to his office. ‘How studious our Honorable Minister is!’ thought the secretaries, joint secretaries and others who saw him reading. But, for Lal Prasad, the book had already become a source of intolerable pain. He was crushed by the worry as to how and where he could throw the book. A fear of Marx’s revisit during the night, his never-ending series of questions and potentially another sleepless night had engulfed his mind. He thought of putting the book on fire or burying it, digging a ditch. His residence was full of security guards, relatives etc.; so it was impossible to burn or scrap the book. It was indeed a difficult proposition.
Lal Prasad didn’t work at all in his office on that day. Though his work meant nothing more than talking with high ranking officials over tea, coffee or cold drinks, talking on the phone or signing a couple of documents, he didn’t even do those things. He didn’t set an appointment for those who sought to see him. He was also not feeling like talking to anyone.
On his way back home, Lal Prasad instructed his driver to take the longer road that would go through the main marketplace. After a while, when they were near the market, he saw a big heap of garbage on the side of the road. He opened the car window and threw Das Capital on the heap of the garbage. Then he took a long breathe. Both the driver and the security guard in the car were dumbfounded as they had no guts to ask a minister why he had thrown the book on the pile of garbage.
‘What could be done if Marx came in the dream even today, like yesterday? How can everything that reminds Marx be thrown away like Das Capital? Is it possible to remove all the pictures that hanging on the walls of my office, party office and my own residence? What would be my fate if the driver or the security guard relates the story about me throwing of the book to somebody else?’
It was dusk by the time Lal Prasad returned home. But that day was really a long day for Lal Prasad. He thought, ‘Why on earth is there light for such a long time? Why nature has become so cruel? Why is my clock ticking so slow? Why is darkness running away even farther today? Why am I having headache and giddiness right from the morning today?’
He asked several of such questions to himself. But he didn’t have answers of any of them. All these questions seemed like huge albatrosses trying to grip him. He directly reached his bed and lay down there, waiting for the night to fall and hoped a good sleep would descend on him.
Translated by Achyut Wagle
[Rajendra Parajuli is a celebrated Nepali poet, writer and journalist. He has published five collections of short stories, one book of poetry and one novel. He has worked with several media houses of national repute. He lives in Kathmandu with his family.]