‘Gangster’: A Marathi story in translation

Translated by Jerry Pinto.

Published : Jun 26, 2024 11:00 IST - 9 MINS READ

He pounded the ribcage of the staircase, his footsteps thumping as he walked. He struck the door with a powerful fist. The door took the blow and opened. Peace evaporated from the room behind it; it began to darken with fear. Seeing the angry demon standing there, the Bohri treasurer sitting inside began to stammer and stutter. Terror filled his eyes.

“Give me some chips.”

The Bohri man could not understand this urgency. He could not make himself get up—and this when the man outside was not willing to suffer a moment’s delay.

“Quickly!” he roared.

Also Read | ‘Enlightenment’: A Marathi story in translation

His iron-coloured face swelled up with anger. His bone-white teeth flashed in a menacing grimace. His small red eyes gave him the look of a cruel bear from Africa.

Swallowing spit-balls of fear, the old Bohri got up and began to fumble in the cupboard. This delay further enraged the terrible man. He needed money quickly. He wanted to go and slam it down in front of Jayantiben so that he might soothe the storm in his heart.

He gave the old man a buffet and grabbed the money. He rushed out and ran down the steps, his feet keeping pace with his racing heart. The slap of his slippers ate up the distance as this magnificent, iron-chested man, black as night, his hair curly, his face thrust forward, stormed down the road, as if he were a wild animal about to pounce on its prey.

As the road turned, a small paan shop lodged in the angry man’s eye and he turned abruptly towards it.

In the broad mirror of the paan shop, four wastrels were getting nothing done in a hurry. One was using the juice of the tambul to redden his lips. The second was cleaning his face with an air of deep appreciation for his own efforts. The third was pulling up the ears of his collar. The fourth was trying to fluff his hair out to make it look a little more luxuriant. Suddenly a dark cloud appeared and the four faces vanished with the speed of startled squirrels. Only two red slit eyes in a face the colour of iron were now reflected in the mirror. The entire shop went uncomfortably dark.

“Paan…” the echoes resounded among the glass bottles. The small shop trembled. The paanwala’s hands, intent on preparing a betel-leaf, jerked to a stop. His fingers, which had a pinch of tobacco between them, would not let it go. The rhythm of his movements had been disrupted. Darkness clouded his vision. He felt as if he had been seized by a huge monster out of a whirlwind and began to tremble.

His hands began to flutter like a bird among the bottles and jars as he selected the condiments. They reached the extreme limit of speed possible and then collapsed limply.

“Here you are,” the paanwala said, without raising his head.

One hand, rich with the virility of Africa, plunged into a pocket and came out with an inflated wallet. Tossing a coin down, the man strode off and the oppressed paanwala was left staring—an insect regarding the powerful departing back.

This mysterious man’s discomfiture shocked many people. In that crowded hour, passers-by jumped out of his way. Behind him, a crowd slowed its steps even as it followed him. They were all scared that he might suddenly turn around.

“Gone...” the people heaved a sigh of relief and things went back to normal.


“Does she love me?”

This terrible cry exploded from his burning heart like a bullet out of a gun. His feelings surged and stormed, a flock of startled bats in his head. His unease increased; it was as if electric jolts were shattering his peace of mind. He felt like a wounded wild animal frothing at the mouth.

When he saw the hutments, he stopped with the same haste with which he had been approaching it. From his uncontrollable, obsessive heart, the same cry arose: “Does she love me?”

He was not about to receive the answer he wanted, the relief he sought. Before he had joined a gang in Hong Kong, he remembered doing an immense amount of work. After that, he had performed several bloody deeds for a blood-soaked gang with a bravery that he could still remember. He had felled his first man easily, with a single blow but what he had felt after this first murder still haunted him. During his life in Hong Kong, he had no memory of the company of even one woman. Nor did he remember his parents. He had no recollections of a mother’s magical touch, of her stroking his head or back or face. He had no idea how he had ended up in Hong Kong either. He only remembered a street. And holding on to that memory, he had grown huge, as big as an elephant.


Hong Kong had become too hot for him. Finally it had come to the point where he could no longer stay there. The law was hunting him, axe in hand. This meant he could not break out of the enfolding embrace of darkness. He could not come out during the day. The sun could not come near him. Some years passed like this. He had never found a woman. No woman had ever looked at him and smiled. Or wept. Or complained about him.

One day, the gang moved to Singapore. There, too, they carried on the same activities and there, too, he lived in the same dark loneliness.

There were two Chinese and two Europeans in the gang who were allowed to move around freely. They could come and go as they pleased; but he did not have permission to go out. One glimpse of him and he would be arrested and the entire gang would then be at risk.

He knew this but still one day, he did go out and just as the mynah calls its alarm when it sees a snake, the sex workers of Singapore shouted up a storm at the sight of him.

He turned back. The gang began to howl about his going out and the supervisor issued a stern order.

Despite that, the next day, he sought out the prostitutes’ lane again. A German prostitute savagely and cleared turned him down on the grounds of his appearance. He tried to bribe her with a lot of money but she refused; and in terrible words, she told him what had happened to another woman who had accepted a customer like him.

He turned back.

At the hideout, he and the supervisor had a fight. Both threatened to kill the other. A temporary truce was patched up but the gang had begun to turn against him. They thought to kill him and leave Singapore. He got wind of this. Finally it was he who killed the boss and left. The gang broke up. Some went to Taiwan and some came to Mumbai via Karachi.

Ten years passed. During that period no woman ever showed any sign of attraction for him. Nor did he ever visit the red-light areas. He had not forgotten the German prostitute’s words. He did not want to become an animal, driven by lust. But in the night, of her own accord, Jayantiben had come to him, had sought him out. She was weeping, babbling, asking for something in Gujarati. The entire slum feared him as if he were a fiend. And yet, alone, in the night, this petite, fragile widow stood in the house of an ogre and had the gall to ask something of him.

No woman had ever stood so close to him. No woman had ever wept before him and in truth, he had never seen a woman at such close range. He had never experienced the effects of a woman’s tears.

And then, just as the crowbar of the first rays of the sun cracks the dark boulder of the night and allows the light to flood through, her weeping broke his shell open. He agreed to help and went out to get the money.


“He’s coming!” the people standing in the chowk around the bhenda tree announced, their voices filled with trepidation. They had gathered there to accompany Jayantiben’s mother on her last journey.

He came forward, each stride a pounce, as he headed towards Jayantiben’s hut. His backwash dispersed much-smeared men and mosquitoes alike.

He put his hand on the poor lintel of the house and stuck his huge head in, scanning the room for Jayantiben. Seeing him, the hut lost its courage. The men looked down. The women pulled their pallus over their heads and folded their bodies into themselves. Jayantiben let loose an ululation.

Hearing this wail that Jayantiben let loose on seeing him, his heart rose on a tidal wave of feeling. He felt as if all his questions had been answered.

And in that second, the storm in his heart stopped. He felt the joy of having escaped some huge calamity. He threw the swollen packet of money in front of Jayantiben.

Men of all castes, states and religions were at work. They were getting the bier ready.

The preparations done, the corpse was raised. The “Ethiopian” offered his shoulder as one of the corpse bearers and when the burden was settled on his shoulder, he began to walk at a brisk pace. The other three pall-bearers were not as tall as he. They had to hold the bamboo rods high up with their hands as they trotted after him. They were all concerned that the body might slip and slide off the bier.

Also Read | Birds of the air: A Hindi story in translation

They were almost running now. Carrying the burden of the corpse and chasing the Ethiopian was proving difficult. But, who could stop him? Who could tell him that the old woman’s body was bouncing along in indecorous fashion? Who was going to blame him if the corpse fell?

The three of them and the people behind were now running. Then suddenly he came to a halt, looking stunned and exhausted. The other three stopped to mop their brows.

In his heart, a pain began to grind, as if deep inside him, something was being born. He might have discovered what this was if he had wept. But he had never wept in his life!

Selected by Mini Krishnan

Reproduced courtesy of Speaking Tiger

Illustrations by Siddharth Sengupta

More stories from this issue

+ SEE all Stories
Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment