Well, it soon grew dark. Boro didi got up from her place and said in a real commanding tone ' Look here, boys, you'd better get down now and find a place somewhere else. I've allowed you to remain here long enough! She spoke as if the entire train were her personal property and it was she who decided who should sit where! But strangely enough, most of the menfolk left our compartment quite meekly, without any argument whatsoever! Two of them were Bengali boys and I quite expected them to argue about her sudden order but they didn't and got down silently. Only three men remained. They sounded extremely apologetic as they told Baro didi, Please let us stay a little longer. We have to get down after two more stations and there isn't an inch of room anywhere else in the train! Baro didi said, Are you quite sure' They said, Of course, we are!
'We passed the next station. Baro didi spread her own bedding, keeping her pretty little woven-cane jewellery box beside her pillow. Then she told me, Please keep an eye on my things while I go and wash my hands.
'We passed the second station before Baro didi was back from the toilet. She returned and sat down in her place. Then she said in a stern voice, Hey you! What do you mean by remaining here' Why didn't you get down' The three men stood up!'
My sister-in-law exclaimed, 'Were they the dacoits then'
Khuku didi said, 'Boudi, please don't interrupt. Let Chotan tell her story.'
My sister said, 'Yes, indeed they were the dacoits! They were the dacoits! They stood up and said, We don't get down at stations. We're used to jumping down from moving trains. But before we do that, hand over whatever valuables you have, all of you!
'The three dacoits pointed their pistols and daggers at us. All the girls started crying and screaming hysterically. My own heart was thudding like nobody's business! Then I glanced at Baro didi. She merely looked at the three men angrily. Baro didi turned to me and said, Sit still. There's nothing to be afraid of! Then she whispered something in my ears.
'The other girls handed over all their jewellery and cash. One of the ladies refused to give her necklace. The bearded dacoit just tore it off her neck. Then they came towards us. The one who was obviously the chief, said to Baro didi ' Look here, grandma, better hand over all you have.
'Baro didi said, I'm not your grandma!
'The dacoit said, Oh well, grannie, then! Grandma or grannie, whatever you like to be called, let me have all your jewellery and fast!
'Baro didi turned to me and said in a disgusted voice, How boorish and ill-mannered the present day dacoits are! Fancy pointing a dagger at a lady! Now, in the olden days even the dacoits used to be cultured and soft-spoken! We've had dacoits breaking into our house so often but no one even tried to scare off women! I remember how once Raghu dacoit's son Madhu had broken into our house. What a nice boy he was! He stood before me with folded hands saying, Mother dear'
'The three dacoits interrupted her and said, For goodness' sake, cut it out! We've no time to listen to your yarns! Show us where your things are!
'Baro didi said, Oh well, if you're in such a hurry! Wait! Don't you dare touch any of us! All my jewellery is in this cane basket. I'll give it to you just now.
'Baro didi opened her basket. The three dacoits bent over it eagerly. But the moment she took off the lid, a huge cobra lifted its head and hissed ferociously!'
To be continued
Sunil Gangopadhyay's short story, My Sister's Sister, translated from Bangla by Swapna Dutta, first appeared in the children's magazine Target, edited by Rosalind Wilson. It was later published in the short story collection, The Carpenter's Apprentice, by Katha, a Delhi-based non-profit organisation and publishing house.