‘Miyah Mansur’ by Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, translated from Assamese by Arunabha Bhuyan

The protagonist of this story is a writer, waiting at a river dock near his home for a boat to arrive containing the first printed copies of his book. While he waits, he watches the itinerant labourers unloading other cargo. The writer is at first repelled by the lack of interest that the clerk in the dockyard takes in him: “The realization that he did not understand me as a person, my worth, brought a deep pain within me. Suddenly, the happiness of writing and publishing a book was no longer there.” While he waits, he begins to watch the men, some asleep after hard labour. It’s raining heavily, and the Brahmaputra becomes turbulent; an approaching passenger boat is tossed about. The narrator’s servant then says that Anu, the narrator’s wife, is on that boat, returning from her mother’s house. In the drama that plays out, the dock clerk has an important part. Later, another labourer describes all such workers (from East Bengal, now Bangladesh) as “homeless” (aghori), a condition that still evokes suspicion in Assam. It’s that very condition of being placeless that seems to have allowed the dock clerk – whom the narrator doesn’t see as like himself in religion, language, or kind – to behave selflessly. The story always brings a lump to my throat.

Collected in The Greatest Assamese Short Stories Ever Told, selected and edited by Mitra Phukan, Aleph 2021