Sankar (Mani Sankar Mukherji) is a leading figure in Bengali literature. The Middleman is published by Penguin India. His earlier novel Chowringhee is published in the UK by Atlantic Books


Up and down dealing

Mitra asked the driver to stop the car before a yellow single-storeyed building on European Asylum lane. "Stay here," he told Somnath in a low voice. "This is a cultured neighbourhood. We dare not have anyone suspect anything. Mrs Ganguly is a housewife. Her husband is a clerk with the Calcutta Corporation, but his salary is not large enough to support his love for alcohol."

Somnath waited in the car. Mitra rang the doorbell and then went inside. He emerged a few minutes later and smiled at Somnath, "Come along. Let me introduce you to Mrs Ganguly." He added in a whisper, "Firm breasts, like melons. Mr Goenka will be very pleased."

Somnath followed Mitra into the neatly arranged drawing room. He sank into a soft leather-covered sofa. English and Bengali books were arranged in a shelf on one side. A couple of portraits hung on the walls. A clock stood on a table in the corner; next to it, in a lovely nickel folding-frame, was a photograph of Mrs Ganguly and a man. It was probably her husband.

Mrs Ganguly was in her early thirties. She was tall, with olive skin. Her appearance was graceful but simple; there was no sign of any artifice. She had probably only just woken up. The vestiges of a siesta were still visible. Her light blue voile sari was paired with a short, tight blouse that showed a lot of cleavage. Mrs Ganguly smiled at Somnath, who lowered his eyes in response. Mitra said, "This is my friend, Mr Banerjee. You understand, don't you?"

Mrs Ganguly raised her hands in a languid gesture of welcome that suggested that she had probably taken dancing lessons when young. "Time you got a telephone, Mrs Ganguly. It doesn't seem right for you to not have one," accused Mitra.

Mrs Ganguly smiled. Tucking the bra strap peeping from her left shoulder behind her blouse, she said, "Mr Ganguly doesn't want a phone. He's worried that if we get one people will bother me all the time. Far too many strange beasts around, as you know."

"But you don't deal with strange beasts, Mrs Ganguly. I am aware that you're not available except for the best and most important of our clients, and then only those whom we know very well."

Mrs Ganguly was pleased. She crossed her legs elegantly and said, "I keep myself for discerning people only. As you know very well, Mr Mitra, it's not just about the body. People are so tense, so full of anxieties these days. Do you suppose it's easy to talk them into forgetting their worries, to give them tender loving care and distract them into a relaxed mood! You cannot really make a name for yourself in this business without some skills, you know."

Continues in issue 19. Order now.

Translated by Arunava Sinha



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