Dukkhen: A poor fisherman
Dokkhin Rai: An evil spirit ruling the seven last islands of Tide Country
Bon Bibi: The protector good spirit that saves good hearted clean souls
Adharma Rai: A greedy wealthy landlord who deals in different fish
Dawn is about to set in. Chirping of birds in the background, flute playing”Bhairava” raga. The air is moist and waves could be heard washing the rocks which fill the periphery of the stage
Dukkhen [humming lowly in a Bengali dialect anchors his boat near the shore and calls for someone]: Aye! Babu éshechhé? Has Rai Babu come? We should leave before more clouds come in the sky. Not good sign, you see clouds.
Boy: Na, no one has come. Why? Are you going somewhere dada?
Dukkhen: Yes, on a fishing trip with Rai Babu and his group. They want to go to the island after ImilyBari, to find fresh stock of Katla and Rohu. We should leave early, I told them, before the ebb sets in.
In the distance four men are seen. A plump man with a cane stick in hand, dressed richly compared to the other three. All are coming towards the boat. As they come near, he waves to Dukkhen dressed in a tattered blue loincloth. The pink cheeked man with a walrus like mouth is Adharma Rai coming with his men.
Adharma Rai: Aye Dukkhen! Ja, beriye ja! Goru, where all did we not look for you? Since early dawn we were wandering around. Be quick now, is the boat ready? We four will come along and you know where to go. We want to go beyond ImilyBari.
Dukkhen [lifting the anchor]: Yes, Babu. All is ready. I was here only. I hope you know that where you want to go is a wild area. They say it is Dokkhin Rai’s area and the ones who must not be named live there.
Adharma Rai [With a smug knowing smile]: You village folk! You understand nothing of this world. Now world is progressing so much and you still believe in stupid folktales. I am all set to go and remember I am paying you good money. Decide quickly. About the tigers…
Dukkhen puts his hand on Rai’s lips to avert him from saying the name
Dukkhen [fear in eyes]: Na, Babu! I beg you don’t repeat it. It brings bad luck. You know about Monjul’s son.
Adharma Rai [slightly annoyed]: Enough. Climb in. These men will protect us from the beast of the jungle.
In the middle of Ganga amidst mangroves, the boat is nearing a pool where the fish gather by late morning. The air is heavy and they have long crossed ImilyBari. The place is isolated and completely silent. Dukkhen is breathing heavy after three hours of continuous rowing. Rai Babu is looking around, his men dipping nylon nets to catch any fish around
Dukkhen: Babu, this is the pool where I have heard that fish come. We will anchor here and wait for some time.
Adharma Rai: You lazy rascal! Tired so fast? [Sternly] We will go a bit further near the banks when you catch some breath. Sachi, Mohan, Nogen; keep your lines ready. I intend to catch some good fish today.
Dukkhen: Where to now, Babu?
Adharma Rai: There, [pointing towards the banks nearby which appear to be some island] we will get down there and then Sachi and Nogen will come with you while I and Mohan stay on the shore to unload.
Dukkhen: Bhalo! [Resumes humming some song which seems like a mix of Bengali and Arabic]
After the two men get down, Dukkhen, Sachi and Nogen row away from the shore. They go out of sight. Rai Babu stretches a bit and walks around the fringes of the island while Mohan readies bags to stock the fish. Rai wanders a bit further when he sees something glint in the dark. Greedy Adharma Rai, thinking it to be some lost treasure on this uninhabited island moves to inspect it. Mohan does not notice him move away.
Adharma Rai [to himself]:
Ah Swarga! Glorious future right ahead I have,
What cleverness of me to have landed here!
To these men with minds small as fish
Never will fate reveal a penny mere.
But, wise men as me, it finds us well
And once seen our forays in the wild
By our spirit even God is beguiled
Blessed we are with sounds so rich
And worthy remains even in such dark a niche!
Let me advance, quickly and leap
On that awaiting fortune in heap!
He quickens his step and moves following the yellow shimmer. He forgets how deep he has gotten into the forest. The banks are nowhere in sight and there is a faint smell of flesh. Adharma Rai moves around the stage. Single spotlight, sudden flash, another spotlight, a tiger appears out of the bush. Rai loses balance and falls on the ground.
He is terrified beyond words and can’t muster courage to cry out. His heart is caught in his Adam’s apple. Gasps release his mouth and his eyes are blinded. He waves in frantic desperation and faints.
He wakes up after some time. The tiger is still poised on a low branch. Instead of growling and purring it almost sighs and starts to speak something that resembles human tongue.
Dokkhin Rai: Hah! Welcome my friend! Of course you knew where to find me. And I knew where to find my right man. So, where do I start? [A contented smile] The limbs, liver, lungs or… the heart? [Wicked grin] Ummm… Fresh meat. So, greed brought you here, is it? That familiar golden shimmer? How naïve! Now, now, you must not be so petrified! You even dare take my name, didn’t you! [Growls loudly enough to make leaves of trees around quiver]
Adharma Rai: I don’t know what to say actually. I really don’t know why I am still alive. Why did you not kill me in my sleep? [Weeps miserably] Please don’t tear me apart. I am just a greedy foolish man. I only came here to make some money. Take all that I have and leave me. Please, I will never invade your islands again! Pity!
Dokkhin Rai: [mock pity] Ah! Leave you my friend? But no! To me, your cries are like jingling gold, so inviting. How can I not be greedy? Do you think I am above lust and hunger? What do you do when someone barges into your house? [Takes a circle around Adharma who is fallen on the floor] Do you leave the burglar? Do you not derive pleasure in beating him and scratching all the skin off his body? Try it! [Sadistic delight] I so want to lynch all the coiling flesh in your stomach! But, we share some common spirit! Greed! It makes you blind, doesn’t it? Blind enough to draw your own beloved’s blood.
He wanders a bit, looks skywards and softens in features, thoughtful, then looks again at Babu.
Dokkhin Rai: Let’s see. If I let you off, what can you give me in return? Rack your brains you smart tradesman! What can be so precious as a life, rotten though by contempt and greed, yet a life nevertheless?
Adharma Rai: [Wiping off beads of sweat, thinks for a while and then his pale face brightens up] How about devouring on a body, less fleshy but innocent soul, pure and uncorrupted? Utter real fear will grip his heart and his blood will be clean red! The most pitiable creature! Nowhere a match to your power and sharp senses! There can’t be a better bargain, my lord!
Dokkhin Rai: [Thinks for a while and then seems genuinely interested, intrigued more so] Sounds good but don’t take me to be a fool! [Growl] Where in these times will you get me such a simple prey? Old though I am, not senile enough to let you go for some lanky piece of meat that will make me run around! Tell me quick [His paw brushes Babu’s face].
Adharma Rai [Seeing a solution, very happy]: Ah! Just command! On my boat is a man, as simple and pure as I described. I assure you a different taste altogether! Just let me get him! Please!
Dokkhin Rai: Hmmm… okay. Go! Bring him to me before the sun sets. It is noon. Beware! You are in my lands. You will pay heavily for your treachery! Here, justice prevails, though slightly differently.
Adharma rushes towards the banks, panting for breath, still unable to believe if it was a dream. All he knows now is to find the lamb and hand him over and get out to never visiting this place. This is an entr’acte but nothing is behind the curtain. Adharma will pretend to run on the same spot but people dressed in black and green will come and change the setting behind and the other characters will take position, Dukkhen on the center right beside Adharma, Sachi and Mohan behind him and Nogen behind Adharma. There is loud echoing music (Krishna Das-Gregorian Chants).
Adharma Rai [huffing and puffing to Dukkhen]: Quick! Go inside! I mean… I just found a big pond inside where they live… some kind of pearl fish. Go, you will make money! Just go fast! Why are you so still! Fool, time is running out!
Dukkhen [perplexed at the urgency and generosity]: Are you telling me Babu? Ki holo Babu Shaheb? I have never heard of pearl fish in Tide country! Why are you sending me? I thought you didn’t like me! Tumi shotti bolchi? Why are you helping me?
Adharma Rai: No, no, of course not! I mean you deserve it. You sailed us here, took all our complaints, never grudged, and took reasonable fare. You completely deserve it. I am just eager for you to get ‘em before they go! Shotti!
Dukkhen [simply]: Oh okay! Right away I will get them. Please take care of the boat. Do you think I should take Nogen along?
Adharma Rai: No, no! He is a crook! Don’t bother dear! Just run away. I will see to your boat.
While Dukkhen marches innocently, Rai explains the situation to his comrades. They hop on the boat and make a dash for home. On the other hand, Dukkhen is already staring in the eyes of the tiger, bewildered more than fearful. Things seem to unwind in his mind.
Dokkhin Rai: Ah! You are indeed my innocent feast! You have dared enter my islands to rob me of my treasures! Did you think I would spare you? Who can save you here? All your friends have left you already! [Laughs aloud] Oh mortal! Pray to your deities! Ask them to save your soul! [Slowly]Do you have anyone?
Dukkhen [mustering courage]: Aren’t you the wicked spirit that must not be named? My mother told me when I was young! She also said that for all of a good heart, Bon Bibi would serve as the angel of life! She would resurrect us men from your clutches. I am sure she can save me!
Dokkhin Rai: Hahaha… This is my land! Dare she come my comrades will tear her apart. She and her brother Shah Jongoli! Both have annoyed me greatly! Call them! Let me fight and win you from them!
Dukkhen starts chanting the same humming chants which sound like a mélange of Sanskrit, Bengali and Arabic, an invocation to rouse Bon Bibi and her brother Shah Jongoli from the deserts across Arabia to call them here to his aid. The tiger jumps around in wrath, becoming more furious by the moment.
Dukkhen: Bismillah! Bon Bibi, ami ke raksha korbe… Tvam gyaanam asi, tejomaya devi amar rooh rakshanam korbe…ami premal, shuddha chitta…
Dokkhin Rai watches curiously, still wondering with a tinge of disbelief if Bon Bibi will come.
Then, suddenly, there is a noise farther in the woods; anklets can be heard brushing the bushes as they pass. A sweet smell of musk fills the air, so intoxicating that the tiger gets fuzzy for a moment. Then suddenly, a lady with peacock’s feathers attached to her hands appears. Her face is smeared with vermillion and her eyes are big and black with kohl. She faces Dukkhen and he becomes silent. Then she looks at Dokkhin Rai and smiles as if meeting a long lost friend.
Bon Bibi: Aye, Dokkhin, kemonnaché? It’s been such a long time we met! Not up to your dirty tricks anymore? Not gorging up fresh meet now or is it just that I see old age setting on you? [Smirks]
Dokkhin Rai: Aye, sheesh. I don’t have time Bibi. I have to kill you today to eat up my prey. He thinks you can save him, you, a fragile tiny thing. Your magic is good to please the stupid girls and boys of the village, not hurt the likes of me! [Growl] Let us finish this macabre dance fast so that I can claim my prize!
Bon Bibi: Sure! [Voice growing louder] Let us finish with you for once and for all. No longer will I let you feast on innocent and good men! You will be taught an appropriate lesson. Never again will you harass those weaker to you! You evil spirit! You will pay today for all the misdeeds of your past. I will offer you to the Ganga today! [To Dukkhen] Don’t fear, man! You are a good man with a clean soul. You prize your own tales of the country and your faith has drawn me here. I will slay this demon and free you.
Dukkhen: [tears of joy in his eyes] Khoob Bhalo, Mata! Please save me! I have never even hurt a single thing in my life and I have always prayed to God in good and bad times. [To Dokkhin Rai] I said she would come! I knew it. Oh beast of fury and vanity, have wisdom enough to accept defeat!
Dokkhin Rai: Never! Never will I bear such words from an insect like you! I will smash all of you to pieces!
Dokkhin Rai and Bon Bibi stand in the centre of the stage. Dukkhen moves to the right wing as if looking from a distance. Drums of war in the background and conch shell is blown. Rai and Bibi stand facing each other at a distance and take two half rounds as if preparing for war. A short mime of fight for almost two minutes, at the end of which the tiger lays vanquished on the ground in the centre. The spotlight on the tiger dims as he winces in pain. The lady regains a calm posture and sits in the center on a rock, slightly above ground level. She beckons to Dukkhen with a smile. He tiptoes very precariously and goes around the tiger, examining him. Then he leans and bows down to the lady
Dukkhen: I do not have words to thank you O holy goddess! You have saved me from this man eater and granted me a new life. How can I pay you back?
Bon Bibi: No, my son! I only come to rescue those of pure and clean hearts. If you ever wish to pay me back, go and teach all the sons and daughters of your village the virtue of a pure conscience!
Dukkhen: Yes, mother! I will do so. Also, I will build an altar to you and will pray to you every Nag Ponchomi with all my village brethren. May your divine grace protect us all, O spirit of the tide country!
The narrator’s voice comes in. “Since then, all the people of the Tide Country worship the goddess Bon Bibi and her brother Shah Jongoli on Nag Ponchomi. They offer a pudding of milk and rice to her and chant that muffled verse that Dukkhen used to hum. And so passes on the tale of Bon Bibi, the tale of the tide country...