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THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE by Thomas Hardy

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THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE

By Thomas Hardy

Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about

    At a country fair near Casterbridge in the fictional county of Wessex Michael Henchard, a 21 year old hay-trusser, (person who makes bundles of hay) argues with his wife Susan. Drunk on rum-laced furmity (thick boiled grain dish) he auctions her off, along with his baby daughter Elizabeth-Jane, to Richard Newson, a passing sailor, for five guinneas. Sober the next day, he is too late to recover his family. When he realises they are gone, he swears never to touch liquor again for as many years as he has lived so far.

    Eighteen years later, Henchard has become a successful grain merchant and even the Mayor of Casterbridge, known for his staunch sobriety. Henchard has avoided explaining the circumstances of the loss of his wife, allowing people to assume he is a widower.

    On a visit to Jersey on business, Henchard falls in love with Lucetta Le Sueur, who nurses him back to health after an illness. Although Henchard never tells Lucetta exactly how he “lost” his wife, he does tell her he has a wife who is probably dead, but who may return. Besotted, Lucetta develops a relationship with him despite the risk. Henchard returns to Casterbridge, leaving Lucetta to face the social consequences of their fling.

    To rejoin polite society Lucetta would have to marry him, although Henchard is already technically married. Yet just as Henchard is about to send for Lucetta, Susan unexpectedly appears in Casterbridge with her daughter, Elizabeth-Jane. Newson appears to have been lost at sea, and without means to earn an income Susan is looking to Henchard again. Susan believed for a long time that her “marriage” to Newson was perfectly legitimate. Only recently, just before Newson’s disappearance, had Susan begun to question whether or not she was still legally married to Henchard.

    Just as Susan and Elizabeth-Jane arrive in town, a Scotsman, Donald Farfrae, is passing through on his way to America. He has experience as a grain and corn merchant, and is on the cutting edge of agricultural science. He befriends Henchard and helps him out of a bad financial situation by giving him some timely advice. Henchard persuades him to stay and offers him a job as his corn factor, (trader in grains) rudely dismissing a man named Jopp to whom he had already offered the job. Hiring Farfrae is a stroke of business genius for Henchard, who, although hardworking, is not well-educated.

    To preserve appearances, Henchard sets Susan up in a nearby house, pretends to court her, and remarries her. Both Henchard and Susan keep the truth from Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard also keeps Lucetta a secret. He writes to her, informing her that their marriage is off.

    Henchard’s relationship with Farfrae deteriorates as Farfrae becomes more popular than Henchard. Eventually they part company and Farfrae sets himself up as an independent merchant. The rivalry and jealousy for the most part is one-sided, and Farfrae conducts himself with scrupulous honesty and fair dealing. Henchard meanwhile makes increasingly aggressive, risky business decisions that put him in financial danger.

    Henchard’s jealousy leads him to oppose a marriage between Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane, until after Susan’s death, at which point Henchard learns he is not Elizabeth-Jane’s father from a letter which Susan, on her deathbed, marked to be opened only after Elizabeth-Jane’s marriage. His own daughter had died in infancy; this second Elizabeth-Jane is Newson’s daughter. Henchard is no longer concerned about blocking the marriage, but he conceals the secret from Elizabeth-Jane and grows cold and cruel towards her.

    In the meantime, Lucetta arrives from Jersey and purchases a house in Casterbridge. She has inherited money from a wealthy relative. Initially she hopes to resume their relationship, but propriety requires that they wait a while. She takes Elizabeth-Jane into her household as a companion, thinking it will give Henchard an excuse to come to visit, not knowing of Henchard’s hatred of Elizabeth-Jane.

    Farfrae visits Lucetta’s house to see Elizabeth-Jane and falls for Lucetta, not knowing she has come to marry Henchard. Lucetta is also attracted to Farfrae. At the same time, she begins to question Henchard’s character, when it becomes public knowledge that he sold his first wife. Although initially reluctant, Henchard decides that he wants to marry Lucetta, particularly since he is in financial trouble – he believes that his creditors would extend credit if he was about to be married to a wealthy woman. Frustrated by her stalling, Henchard bullies Lucetta into agreeing to marry him. But by this point she is in love with Farfrae, and they run away one weekend to get married. She does not tell Henchard until well after the fact. Henchard’s credit collapses, he goes bankrupt, and has to sell all his personal possessions to pay creditors.

    Farfrae buys Henchard’s old business and tries to help the man who helped him get started, whom he still regards as a friend and a former mentor, by employing him as a journeyman. He does not realise Henchard is his enemy, even though the town council and Elizabeth-Jane both warn him.

    Lucetta keeps her former relationship with Henchard a secret, but all is revealed when Henchard lets his enemy Jopp deliver Lucetta’s old love letters. Jopp makes the secret public and the townspeople publicly shame Henchard and Lucetta in a skimmington ride. Lucetta, who by this point is pregnant, dies of an epileptic seizure.

    When Newson, Elizabeth-Jane’s biological father, returns, Henchard is afraid of losing her companionship and tells Newson she is dead. The twenty-first year of his oath is up, and he starts drinking again. By the time Elizabeth-Jane, who months later is married to Donald Farfrae and reunited with Newson, goes looking for Henchard to forgive him, he has died and left a will requesting no funeral.

Synopsis by Kamlesh Tripathi

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ANATH BABU’S TERROR by Satyajit Ray

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ANATH BABU’S TERROR

Satyajit Ray

Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about

 

    Who doesn’t know Satyajit Ray. The famous ‘Oscar’ fame film director from Tollygange and even Bollywood. Some may not know he was also a great writer. This short story of his ‘Anath Babu’s Terror’ was published earlier in one of his story collections of a dozen stories originally written in Bengali as ‘Ek Dojon Goppo.’ 

     The story was subsequently published in English under a Penguin title edited by Ruskin Bond as ‘The Penguin Book of Indian Ghost Stories’ in the year 1993.

SYNOPSIS

        ‘Anath babu’s terror’ is tale of a ghost hunter’s dare into a haunted house. The narrator, while going on a holiday to write in peace to Raghunathpur, meets Anath Babu in the train. The person appears eccentric and strange and is quite oddly and traditionally dressed. The narrator meets him again in Raghunathpur and discovers he is interested in strange and esoteric things and has travelled from one end of India to the other in search of authentic ghosts. He has spent all his life gathering information about life after death, spirits, vampires, draculas, werevolves, black magic, voodoo and the works. He has spent twenty-five years living in haunted houses, dak bungalows, and indigo cottages. Soon he comes to know about a haunted house, where the body of a Haldar who had been found lying dead on the floor, stone cold, with eyes open and staring at the ceiling.
He tells the narrator that he has decided to spend a night in the west room, the most haunted room of the house. But before that he and the narrator go to investigate the house, where Anath Babu can smell a spirit lurking in the house. The next day the narrator is unable to concentrate on his work and so he goes to meet Anath Babu, to investigate about his ghostly experience. When, the writer asks him about last night. He doesn’t answer, and on the contrary he asks the narrator to go to the west room, to get his answer. The narrator does so and when his eyes fell on the floor, a sudden creep, a wave of horror swept over him. He found Anath Babu lying on the floor, stiff and stone cold, staring at the ceiling with a look of horror in his eyes! When, he tried to run. He found Anath Babu in the passage outside laughing raucously, and his voice was drowning him in it, and also paralysing his senses! Later the narrator finds himself in his house, and his friend telling him about Anath Babu’s dead body in the mansion.

    FULL STORY

    The story is spine chilling and will grip you all over. Sitesh Babu, sick and tired of a long drift at work thinks of taking a break. He works for one of the dailies in Calcutta. Writing indeed was his hobby. He had a couple of short stories that needed further focus. For which he needed a peaceful surrounding to iron out his thoughts. So he applies for ten days leave to visit a quiet place where he could complete his stories. And, decides to head for Raghunathpur.

  But then there was a reason for his choosing Raghunathpur. Where, an old college mate of his, Biren Biswas, had his ancestral home. And while they were chatting in the coffee house one evening, talking of possible places where one could spend one’s holiday. Sitesh told Biren that he had applied for leave. To, complete his book. For which he was looking for a quiet place so that he could concentrate. Biren was spontaneous in offering him free accommodation at his home in Raghunathpur. He even said, ‘I would have gone with you, but you know how tied up I am at the moment. But you won’t have any problems as Bharadwaj will look after you. ‘He’s worked for our family for fifty years.’ Thus Sitesh decided to visit Raghunathpur. Where, on his way in the train he met Anath Babu. Sitesh just had a suitcase and that too was filled with a packet of writing paper.

    The coach was packed. Anathbandhu Mitra happened to be sitting right next to Sitesh. About fifty years of age. Not, very tall. Hair parted in the middle with a sharp look in his eyes and an amused smile playing on his lips. He appeared to have dressed for a part in a play set some fifty years ago. For no one these days wore a jacket like that, nor such collars, or glasses, or boots.

    They began to chat. It turned out that Anath Babu, too, was going to Raghunathpur. ‘Are you also going on a holiday?’ Sitesh asked him. But he did not answer and seemed to grow a little pensive. Or it may be he had failed to hear Sitesh’s question in the racket the train was making.

    The sight of Biren’s house pleased Sitesh very much. It was a nice house. With a strip of land in front that had both vegetables and flowers growing in it. There were no other houses nearby. So the possibility of being disturbed by the neighbours was non-existent.

    Despite, protests from Bharadwaj. Sitesh chose the room in the attic for himself. It was an airy little room, comfortable and totally private. He moved his things upstairs and began to unpack. It was then that he realised he had left his razor blades behind. ‘Never mind,’ said Bhardwaj, ‘Kundu Babu’s shop is only five minute walk from here. You’ll get your “bilades” there.’

    He left for the shop, soon after tea, at around 4 p.m. It appeared that the place was used more or less like a club. About seven middle-aged men were seated inside on wooden benches, chatting away to glory. One of them was saying rather agitatedly, ‘Well, it’s not something I have only heard about. I saw the whole thing with my own eyes. All right, so it happened thirty years ago. But that kind of thing cannot get wiped out from one’s memory, can it? I shall never forget what happened, especially since Haladhar Datta was a close friend of mine. In fact, even now I can’t help feeling partly responsible for his death.’

    Sitesh bought a packet of 7 O’clock blades. Then he began to loiter, looking at things he didn’t really need. The gentlemen continued, ‘Just imagine, my own friend laid a bet with me for just ten rupees and went to spend a night in that west room. I waited for a long time the next morning for him to turn up; but when he didn’t, I went with Jiten Bakshi, Haricharan Saha and a few others to look for him in the Haldar mansion. And we found him in the same room—lying dead on the floor, stone cold, eyes open and staring at the ceiling. The naked fear I saw in those eyes could only mean one thing, I tell you: ghosts. There was no injury on his person, no sign of snake-bite or anything like that. So what else could have killed him but a ghost? You tell me?’

    Another five minutes in the shop gave Sitesh a rough idea of what they were talking about. There was, apparently, a two-hundred-year-old mansion in the southern corner of Raghunathpur, which had once been owned by the Haldars, the local zamindars. It had lain abandoned for years now. A particular room in this mansion that faced the west was supposed to be haunted.

    Although in the last thirty years no one had dared to spend a night in it after the death of Haladhar Datta. The residents of Raghunathpur still felt a certain thrill thinking of the unhappy spirit that haunted the room. The reason behind this belief was both the mysterious death of Haladhar Datta, and many other instances of murders and suicides in the history of the Haldar family.

    Intrigued by this conversation, Sitesh came out of the shop only to find Anathbandhu Mitra, the gentlemen he had met in the train, standing outside, with a smile on his lips.

    ‘Did you hear what they were saying?’ he asked.

    ‘Yes I couldn’t help it.’

    ‘Do you believe in it?’

    ‘In what? Ghosts?

    ‘Yes.”

    ‘Well, you see, I have heard of haunted houses often enough. But never have I met anyone who has actually stayed in one and seen anything. So I don’t quite …’

    Anath Babu’s smile deepened.

    Would you like to see it? He said.

    ‘What?’

    ‘That house.’

    ‘See? How do you mean?’

    ‘Only from the outside. It’s not very far from here. A mile, at the most. If you go straight down this road, past the twin temples and then turn right, it’s only a quarter of a mile from there.’

    The man seemed interesting. Besides, there was no need to get back home quite so soon. So, Sitesh left with him.

*

    The Haldar mansion was not easily visible. Most of it was covered by a thick growth of wild plants and creepers. It was only the top of the gate that towered above everything else and could be seen a good ten minutes before one reached the house. The gate was really huge. The mahabatkhana over it was in shambles. A long drive led to the front veranda. A couple of statues and the remains of a fountain told us that there used to be a garden in the space between the house and the gate. The house was strangely structured. There was absolutely nothing in it that could have met even the lowest of aesthetic standards. The whole thing seemed only a shapeless heap. The last rays of the setting sun fell on its mossy walls.

    Anath Babu stared at it for a minute. Then he said, ‘As far as I know, ghosts and spirits don’t come out in daylight. Why don’t we,’ he added, winking, ‘go and take a look at that room?’

    ‘That west room? The one …?’

    ‘Yes. The one in which Haladhar Datta died.”

    The man’s interest in the matter seemed a bit exaggerated.

    Anath Babu read Sitesh’s mind.

    ‘I can see you surprised. Well, I don’t mind telling you the truth. The only reason behind my arrival in Raghunathpur is this house.’

    ‘Really?’

     ‘Yes, I had learnt in Calcutta that the house was haunted. I came all the way to see if I could catch a glimpse of the ghost. You asked me on the train why I was coming here. I didn’t reply, which must have appeared rude. But I had decided to wait until I got to know you a little better before telling you.’

    ‘But why did you have to come all the way from Calcutta to chase a ghost?’

    ‘I’ll explain that in a minute. I haven’t yet told you about my profession. Have I? The fact is that I am an authority on ghosts and all things supernatural. I have spent the last twenty five years doing research in this area. I have read everything that’s ever been published on life after death, spirits that haunt the earth, vampires, werewolves, black magic, voodoo—the lot. I had to learn seven different languages to do this. There is a Professor Norton in London who has similar interest. I have been in correspondence with him over the last three years. My articles have been published in well known magazines in Britain. I don’t wish to sound boastful, but I think it would be fair to say that no one in this country has as much knowledge about these things as I do.’

    Anath Babu spoke very sincerely. The thought that he might be telling lies or exaggerating things did not cross Sitesh Babu’s mind at all. On the contrary, Sitesh found it quite easy to believe what Anath Babu told him and his respect for the man only grew.

    After a few moments of silence, Anath said, ‘I have stayed in at least three hundred haunted houses all over the country.’

    ‘Goodness!’

    ‘Yes. In places like Jabalpur, Cherrapunji, Kanthi, Katoa, Jodhpur, Azimganj, Hazaribagh, Shiuri, Barasat … and so many others. I’ve stayed in fifty-six dak-bungalows, and at least thirty neel kuthis. Besides these, there are about fifty haunted houses in Calcutta and its suburbs where I’ve spent my nights. But …,’

    Anath Babu stopped. Then he shook his head and said. ‘The ghosts have eluded me. Perhaps they like to visit only those who don’t want to have anything to do with them. I have been disappointed time and again. Only once did I feel the presence of something strange in an old building in Tiruchirapalli near Madras. It used to be a club during British times. Do you know what happened? The room was dark and there was no breeze at all. Yet, each time I tried to light a candle, someone—or something—kept snuffing it out. I had to waste twelve matchsticks. However, with the thirteenth I did manage to light the candle; but, as soon as it was lit, the spirit vanished. Once in a house in Calcutta, too, I had a rather interesting experience. I was sitting in a dark room as usual, waiting for something to happen, when I suddenly felt a mosquito bite my scalp! Quite taken aback, I felt my head and discovered that every single strand of my hair had disappeared. I was totally bald! Was it really my own head? Or had I felt someone else’s? But no, the mosquito bite was real enough. I switched on my torch quickly and peered into the mirror. All my hair was intact. There was no sign of baldness.

    ‘These were the only two slightly queer experiences I’ve had in all these years. I had given up all hope of finding anything anywhere. But, recently, I happened to read in an old magazine about this house in Raghunathpur. So I thought I’d come and try my luck for the last time.’

    They had reached the front door by now. Anath Babu looked at his watch and said, ‘This sun sets today at 5.31 p.m. It’s now 5.15. Let’s go and take a quick look before it gets dark.’

    Perhaps Anath Babu’s interest in the supernatural was infectious. Basis which Sitesh Babu readily accepted his proposal. And like Anath even Sitesh was eager to see the inside of the house and that room in particular.

    They walked in through the front door. There was a huge courtyard and that looked like a stage. It must have been used for pujas and other festivals. There was no sign now of the joy and the laughter it once must have witnessed.

    There were verandas, around the courtyard. To their right, lay a broken palanquin, and beyond it was a staircase going up.

    It was so dark on the staircase that Anath Babu had to take a torch out of his pocket and switch it on. They had to demolish an invisible wall of cobwebs to make their way. When, they finally reached the first floor. Sitesh thought to himself, ‘if it wouldn’t be surprising at all if this house did turn out to be haunted.’

    They stood in the passage and made some rough calculations. The room on their left must have been the famous west room, they decided. Anath Babu said, ‘Let’s not waste any time. Come with me.’

    There was only one thing in the passage: a grandfather clock. Its glass was broken, one of its hands was missing and the pendulum lay to one side.

    The door to the west room was closed. Anath Babu pushed it gently with his forefinger. A nameless fear gave Sitesh goose-pimples. The door swung open.

    But the room revealed nothing unusual. It may have been a living-room once. There was a big table in the middle with a missing top. Only the four legs stood upright. An easy chair stood near the window, although sitting in it now would not be very easy as it had lost one of its arms and a portion of its seat.

    Sitesh glanced up and saw that bits and pieces of an old-fashioned, hand-pulled fan still hung from the ceiling. It didn’t have a rope, the wooden bar was broken and its main body torn.

    Apart from these objects, the room had a shelf that must once have held rifles, a pipeless hookah, and two ordinary chairs, also with broken arms.

    Anath Babu appeared to be deep in thought. After a while, he said, ‘Can you smell something?’

    ‘Smell what?’

    ‘Incense, oil and burning flesh … all mixed together …’ Sitesh inhaled deeply, but could smell nothing beyond the usual musty smell that came from a room that had been kept shut for a long time.

    So he said, ‘Why, no, I don’t think I can …’

    Anath Babu did not say anything. Then, suddenly, he struck his left hand with his right and exclaimed, ‘God! I know this smell well! There is bound to be a spirit lurking about in this house, though whether or not he’ll make an appearance remains to be seen. Let’s go!’

     Anath Babu decided to spend the following night in Haldhar mansion. On our way back, he said, ‘I won’t go tonight because tomorrow is a moonless night, the best possible time for ghosts and spirits to come out. Besides, I need a few things which I haven’t got with me today. I’ll bring those tomorrow. Today I came only to make a survey.’

    Before they parted company near Biren’s house, Anath lowered his voice and said, ‘Please don’t tell anyone else about my plan. From what I heard today, people here are so superstitious and easily frightened that they might actually try to stop me from going in if they came to know of my intention. And, ‘he added, ‘please don’t mind that I didn’t ask you to join me. One has to be alone, you see, for something like this …’

    Sitesh sat down the next day to write, but could not concentrate. His mind kept going back to the west room in that mansion. God knows what kind of experience awaited Anath Babu. He could not help feeling a little restless and anxious.

    He accompanied Anath Babu in the evening, right up to the gate of the Halder mansion. He was wearing a black high-necked jacket today. From his shoulder hung a flask and, in his hand, he carried the same torch he had used the day before. He took out a couple of small bottles from his pocket before going into the house. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘this one has a special oil, made with my own formula. It is an excellent mosquito repellent. And this one here has carbolic acid in it. If I spread it in and around the room, I’ll be safe from snakes.’

    He put the bottles back in his pocket, raised the torch and touched his head with it. Then he waved Sitesh a final salute and walked in, his heavy boots clicking on the gravel.

    Sitesh could not sleep well that night.

*

    As the dawn broke, Sitesh told Bharadwaj to fill a thermos flask with enough tea for two. When the flask arrived, he left once more for Halder mansion.

    No one was about. Should I call out to Anath Babu, or should I go straight up to the west room? He stood debating, when a voice  said ‘Here—this way!’

    Anath Babu was coming out of the little jingle of wild plants from the eastern side of the house, with a neem twig in his hand. He certainly did not look like a man who might have had an unnatural or horrific experience the night before.

    He grinned broadly as he came closer.

    ‘I had to search for about half an hour before I could find a neem tree. I prefer this to a toothbrush, you see.’ Said Anath.

    Sitesh felt hesitant to ask him about the previous night.

    ‘I brought some tea,’ Sitesh said instead and added, ‘would you like some here, or would you rather go home?’

    ‘Oh, come along. Let’s sit by that fountain.’ He replied.

    Anath Babu took a long sip of his tea and said, ‘Aaah!’ with great relish. Then he turned to Sitesh and said with a twinkle in his eye, ‘You’re dying to know what happened, aren’t you?’

    ‘Yes I mean … yes, a little …’

    ‘All right. I promise to tell all. But let me tell you one thing right away—the whole expedition was highly successful!’

    Anath poured himself a second mug of tea and began his tale:

    ‘It was 5 p.m. when you left me here. I looked around for a bit before going into the house. One has to be careful, you know. There are times when animals and other living beings can cause more harm than ghosts. But I didn’t find anything dangerous.

    Then I went in and looked into the rooms in the ground floor that were open. None had any furniture left. All I could find was some old rubbish in one and a few bats hanging from the ceiling in another. They didn’t budge as I went in, so I came out again without disturbing them.

    I went upstairs at around 6.30 p.m. and began making preparations for the night. I had taken a duster with me. The first thing I did was to dust that easy chair. Heaven knows how long it had lain there.

    The room felt stuffy, so I opened the window. The door to the passage was also left open, just in case Mr Ghost wished to make his entry through it. Then I placed the flask and the torch on the floor and lay down on the easy chair. It was quite uncomfortable but, having spent many a night before under far more weird circumstances, I did not mind.

    The sun had set at 5.30. It grew dark quite soon. And that smell grew stronger. I don’t usually get worked up, but I must admit last might I felt a strange excitement.

    Gradually, the jackals in the distance stopped their chorus, and the crickets fell silent. I cannot tell when I fell asleep.

    I was awoken by a noise. It was the noise of a clock striking midnight. A deep, yet melodious chime came from the passage.

    Now, fully awake, I noticed two other things—first, I was lying quite comfortably in the easy chair. The torn portion wasn’t torn anymore, and someone had tucked in a cushion behind my back. Secondly, a brand new fan hung over my head; a long rope from it went out to the passage and an unseen hand was pulling it gently.

    I was staring at these things and enjoying them thoroughly, is when I realised from somewhere in the moonless night that a full moon had appeared. The room was flooded with bright moonlight. Then the aroma of something totally unexpected hit my nostrils. I turned and found a hookah by my side, the rich smell of the best quality tobacco filling the room.’

    Anath Babu stopped. Then he smiled and said, ‘Quite a pleasant situation, wouldn’t you agree?’

    Sitesh said, ‘Yes, indeed. So you spent the rest of the night pretty comfortably, did you?’

    At this, Anath Babu suddenly grew grave and sunk into a deep silence. Sitesh waited for him to resume speaking, but when he didn’t he turned impatient. ‘Do you mean to say, ‘he asked, ‘that you really didn’t have any reason to feel frightened? You didn’t see a ghost, after all?’

    Anath Babu looked at Sitesh. But there was not even the slightest trace of a smile on his lips. His voice sounded hoarse as he asked, ‘When you went into the room the day before yesterday, did you happen to look carefully at the ceiling?’

    ‘No I don’t think I did. Why?’

    ‘There is something rather special about it. I cannot tell you the rest of my story without showing it to you. Come, let’s go in.’

    They began climbing the dark staircase again. On their way to the first floor, Anath babu said only one thing: ‘I will not have to chase ghosts again, Sitesh Babu. Never. I have finished with them.’

    Sitesh looked at the grandfather clock in the passage. It stood just as it had done two days ago.

    They stopped in front of the west room. ‘Go in,’ said Anath Babu. The door was closed. Sitesh pushed it open and went in. Then his eyes fell on the floor, and a wave of horror swept over him.

    Who was lying on the floor, heavy boots on his feet? And whose laughter was that, loud and raucous, coming from the passage outside, echoing through every corner of the Haldar mansion?

    Drowning Sitesh in it, paralysing his senses his mind …? could it be …?

    He could think no more.

*

    When Sitesh opened his eyes, he found Bharadwaj standing at the foot of his bed, and Bhabatosh Majumdar fanning him furiously. ‘Oh, thank goodness you’ve come round! ‘if Sidhucharan hadn’t seen you go into that house, heaven knows what might have happened. Why on earth did you go there anyway?’

    Sitesh could only mutter faintly, ‘Last night, Anath Babu …’

    Bhabatosh Babu cut him short, ‘Anath Babu! It’s too late now to do anything about him. Obviously, he didn’t believe a word of what I said the other day. Thank God you didn’t go with him to spend the night in that room. You saw what happened to him, didn’t you? Exactly the same thing happened to Haladhar Datta all those years ago. Lying on the floor, cold and stiff, the same look of horror in his eyes, staring at the ceiling.’

    Sitesh thought quietly to myself, ‘No, he’s not lying there cold and stiff. I know what’s become of Anath Babu after his death. I might find him, even tomorrow morning, perhaps, if I bothered to go back. There he would be—wearing a black jacket and heavy boots, coming out of the jungle in the Haldhar mansion, neem twig in his hand grinning from ear to ear.’

Posted by Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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Share it if you like it

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

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Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

*****

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

BOOK TALK: And Then There Were None–Agatha Christie

Copyright@shravancharitymission

 Khidki (Window)

–Read India Read Initiative—

Title: ‘And then there were none’

(Also published as—‘Ten Little Indians’)

Agatha Christie

St Martin’s paperback

A 275 page novel abridged to around eighteen hundred words (ten minutes) for your quick assimilation

Hindi movie ‘Gumnam’ was only an adaptation of this book. So, were the movies made in Hollywood on the theme of this novel.

    I’m sure many of you must have read this amazing novel sometime in the past. Well, I read it for the third time only recently. What an amazing book it is. A master suspense and a masterpiece, and the most difficult of her books to write confessed the lady author. It was first published in the UK by Collins Crime Club in November 1939, as Ten Little Niggers, after the British blackface song that serves as a major plot point. The US edition was not released until 1939. Its American reprints and adaptations were all re-titled as ‘And Then There Were None.’

    The narration is so precise and intricate that you tend to forget after a while. And when you read it again you get a feel as if you’ve not read it earlier. It is Christie’s best-selling novel with more than 100 million copies sold. It is also the world’s best-selling mystery and one of the best-selling books of all times. Publications international lists the novel as the seventh best-selling title. So, if you’ve not had the chance or time to read this book earlier  at least go through the synopsis below.   

CENTRAL IDEA

    The novel starts with a bunch of people being lured into coming to an island under various pretexts such as offers of employment, to enjoy a late summer holiday, or even to meet old friends. And mind you. All have been complicit in the deaths of some other human beings. But have either escaped justice or committed an act that was not legal. The guests and the two servants who are present there are ‘charged’ with their respective ‘crimes’ by a gramophone recording after dinner on the first night and informed that they have been brought to the island to pay for their sins.

    They are the only people on the island, and cannot escape due to the distance from the mainland and the inclement weather. Gradually all the ten are killed, one after the other. Each, in a manner, that seems to match, the nursery rhyme. Nobody else seems to be left alive on the island by the time of the last apparent death. A confession in the form of a postscript to the novel, unveils how the killings took place and who was responsible.

PLOT

    On a hot day in early August, sometime in the late 1930s, eight people arrive on a small, isolated island off the Devon coast of England. Each appears to have an invitation tailored to his or her personal circumstances. Such as, an offer of employment or an unexpected late summer holiday invitation. Where, they are received by Thomas and Ethel Rogers. The butler and the cook-cum-housekeeper, who state that their hosts, Mr Ulick Norman Owen and his wife Mrs Una Nancy Owen, whom they have not yet met in person have not arrived. But have left instructions, which strikes, as odd to all the guests.

    A framed copy of a nursery rhyme ‘Ten Little Niggers (called ‘Ten Little Indians’ or Ten Little Soldiers in later editions), hangs in every guest’s room, and ten figurines sit on the dining room table. After supper, a gramophone record is played. It contains a recording that describes each visitor in turn. And accuses each of having committed a murder but escaping justice, and then asks if any of the ‘accused’ wishes to offer a defence. All but Anthony Marston and Philip Lombard deny the charges, and Miss Brent even refuses to discuss the matter.

    They discover that none of them actually know Owens and conclude that the name ‘U.N. Owen’ is shorthand for ‘Unknown’. In the aftermath of the recording, Marston finishes his drink and immediately dies of from cyanide poisoning. The remaining guests notice that one of the ten figurines is now broken, and the nursery rhyme appears to reflect the manner of death (‘One choked his little self and then there were nine.’)

    The next morning, Mrs Rogers’ corpse is found in her bed. She had died in her sleep from an overdose of chloral hydrate. By lunchtime, General MacArthur is also found dead, from a heavy blow to his head. Two more figurines are found to be broken, and again the deaths parallel the rhyme. Miss Brent, who had refused to speak with the men present, relates the account of the gramophone charge against her to Vera Claythorne, who later tells the others.

     A search for ‘Mr Owen’ shows that nobody else is on the island except the remaining seven. The island is a ‘bare rock’ with no hiding places (see how Christie had planned the story) and no one could have arrived or left. Thus they uncomfortably conclude that any one of the seven remaining person is indeed the killer. Justice Wargrave leads the group in determining that as of yet, none of them can definitively be ruled out as the murderer. The next morning, Rogers is found dead while chopping wood, and after breakfast, Miss Brent is found dead in the kitchen, where she had been left alone after complaining of feeling unwell. She had been injected with potassium cyanide with a hypodermic needle.

    Wargrave then suggests searching of all the rooms, and locking up of any potentially dangerous items. Suddenly, Lombard’s gun goes missing from his room. When Vera goes upstairs to take a bath, she is shocked by the smell of seaweed left hanging from the ceiling of her room and screams. The remaining guests rush upstairs to her room. Wargrave, however, is still downstairs. The others find him seated, immobile and crudely dressed up in the attire of a judge. Wargrave is examined briefly by Dr Armstrong and pronounced dead from a gunshot to the forehead.

    That night, Lombard appears surprised when he finds his gun returned to his room. Blore catches a glimpse of someone leaving the house but loses the trail. He then discovers Armstrong is absent from his room, and the remaining three guests conclude that Armstrong must be the killer. Vera, Blore and Lombard decide to stay together at all times. In the morning, they unsuccessfully attempt to signal SOS to the mainland from outside by using a mirror and sunlight. Blore then decides to return to the house for food by himself—the others are not hungry—and is killed by a heavy bear-shaped clock statue that is pushed from Vera’s window sill, crushing his skull.

    Vera and Lombard are now confident that Armstrong is the killer. However, shortly afterwards, the duo come upon Armstrong’s body washed up on the beach, which they do not immediately recognise due to decomposition. They realise that Armstrong could not have killed Blore. Panicked, each concludes the other must be the killer, overlooking that neither had the opportunity as they were together on the beach and when they found Blore’s body. Quickly regaining her composure, Vera suggests moving the doctor’s body past the shore, but this is a pretext. She manages to lift Lombard’s gun. When Lombard lunges at her to get it back, she shoots him dead.

    She returns to the house in a shaken dreamlike state, relieved to be alive. She finds a noose and chair arranged in her room, and a strong smell of the sea. With visions of her former lover, Hugo, urging her on, in a post-traumatic state, she adjusts the noose and kicks the chair out from under her.

    Two Scotland Yard officials are puzzled by the identity of U. N. Owen. Although they can ostensibly reconstruct the deaths from Marston to Wargrave with the help of the victims’ diaries and a coroner’s careful report, they are forced to conclude that ‘U. N. Owen’ was one of the victims, but are unable to determine which one. They note that the chair on which Vera stood to hang herself had been set back upright, indicating that someone—presumably the killer—was still alive on the island after her suicide.

POSTSCRIPT FROM THE KILLER

    In a postscript, a fishing ship picks up a bottle inside its trawling nets. The bottle contains a written confession of the killings, which is then sent to Scotland Yard. It is not clear how long after the killings the bottle was discovered.

    In the confession, Justice Wargrave writes that he has long wished to set an unsolvable puzzle of murder, but is morally limited to victims who are themselves guilty and deserving of such an end. He explains how he tricked the gullible Dr. Armstrong into helping him fake his own death under the pretext that it would supposedly give him the freedom to help the group identify the killer, and also explains that after Vera died, he replaced the chair in her room neatly against the wall. Finally, he reveals how he used the gun and some elastic to ensure his own death matched the account in the guests’ diaries. Although he wished to create an unsolvable mystery, he acknowledges in the missive a “pitiful human” need for recognition, hence the confession.

He also describes how his first chronological victim was actually Isaac Morris, the sleazy lawyer and drugs trafficker who anonymously purchased the island and arranged the invitations on his behalf. Morris was poisoned before Wargrave departed for the island. Wargrave’s intention is that when the police arrive they will find ten bodies, with evidence that someone had been alive after each death, but nobody else on the island, and no way to trace the killer through his invitations or preparations. He states that, although there are three clues that could guide the police to the correct killer, he is confident they will be unable to do so and that the mystery will remain unsolved until the confession is retrieved.

Current published version of the rhyme

Ten Little Indians

Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.

Eight little Soldier Boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.

Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

Five little Soldier Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Three little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.

Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.

One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.

*****

By Kamlesh Tripathi

*

https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

*

Share it if you like it

*

Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

*

By Kamlesh Tripathi

*

https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

*

Share it if you like it

*

Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases. Should you wish to donate for the cause the bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

*

Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray– by Oscar Wilde

Copyright@shravancharitymission

–Read India Initiative–

Khidki (window)

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY

BY OSCAR WILDE

Khidki (Window)

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about

        This is an amazing novel of its times but with an unearthly theme. The biggest truth of life is, everyone wants to look beautiful and that too all throughout their lives. This offbeat novel profoundly captures this primeval topic. Even in present times. You will find many celebrities and even average, well-to-do individuals going in for various beauty treatments to keep their looks shipshape. 

    Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, in the year 1854. After a notable career as a poet, a lecturer, and even an editor, he published ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ in a monthly magazine in 1890. But he wasn’t satisfied with it. So he soon revised and lengthened it, for book publication in 1891. Wilde even wrote nine plays that included four celebrated comedies namely: Lady Windermere’s Fan, An ideal Husband, A Woman of No Importance, and The Importance of being Ernest. Sadly, Wilde died in Paris in the year 1900.

    I had read this eerie book long ago. The story is not that easy to forget. As the essence of it keeps haunting you, even during your day to day existence—that is, how to keep your good looks alive. Remember, there are always moments in your life that can but change the drift of your pursuits.

    While waiting to begin his final sitting for artist Basil Hallward’s portrait of him. The beautiful, young Dorian Gray has a conversation that changes the very course of his life. Basil’s friend Lord Henry Wotton fills Dorian’s head with the idea that youth, beauty, and pleasure are all that matters in the world. He urges Dorian. To, indulge in all of life’s sensual joys. Before, age catches up and his good looks fade.

    When Dorian sees Basil’s stunning finished picture. He is transfixed by its reflection on his own beauty. But he is also troubled by the insight that the image in the painting will forever remain youthful and handsome, while he himself would grow old, and be less desirable in times to come. So, he wishes aloud if the roles could be reversed. Saying that he would give his soul, if only the painting would suffer the ravages of time and instead he would remain young forever. But as the old adage goes: Be careful what you wish for.

    And that brings me to the splitting point. If Oscar Wilde’s only published novel is at an elevation of hedonism? Or is it just a cautionary tale, or something else, altogether? In his preface, Wilde warns readers not to search for meaning in the story. He says ‘Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.’ He further says ‘There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.’

    ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is one of the most elegantly written books of all time. So I understand and even felt while reading.

    The chief protagonist ‘Dorian’ has some unusual emotions and beliefs when you find him saying. “How sad it is!” murmured Dorian Gray with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait. “How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June….If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”

    Some call it a philosophical novel. But I would also call it a controversial one for that era of time.    Since it has been published several times the plot of the novel varies between each of the published versions.  The summary below deals with the longest version the 1891 novel.                           

    ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ commences on a pleasing summer day of the Victorian era England. Where, Lord Henry Wotton, a dogmatic personality, is attentively observing the astute artist Basil Hallward while he is painting the portrait of Dorian Gray. A handsome young man who happens to be Basil’s ultimate muse.

    While posing for the painting, Dorian listens to Lord Henry, espousing, his hedonistic world view. When he begins to think that beauty is the only aspect of life worth pursuing. This prompts Dorian to incessantly wish that the painted image of his, would age, instead of himself. Under the hedonistic influence of Lord Henry, Dorian decides to fully explore his sensuality. When, he discovers actress Sibyl Vane, who performs in Shakespeare plays, in some dingy working-class theatre. Dorian approaches and courts her and soon proposes marriage. The enamoured Sibyl calls him ‘Prince Charming.’ She swoons with the ecstasy of being loved. But her over protective brother James Vane, warns, that in case ‘Prince Charming’ harms her, he will murder him.

    Dorian proudly invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sibyl perform in Romeo and Juliet. Sibyl, too enamoured with Dorian to act, performs poorly on that day that makes both Basil and Lord Henry think. Dorian has fallen in love with Sibyl because of her beauty instead of her acting talent.  

     Embarrassed, Dorian rejects Sibyl. Telling her that acting alone was her beauty. Without which she no longer interests him. On returning home, Dorian notices that the portrait has changed. His wish has come true as the man in the portrait bears a subtle sneer of cruelty.

    Conscience-stricken and lonely, Dorian decides to reconcile with Sibyl, but he is too late, as Lord Henry informs him that Sibyl has committed suicide by swallowing prussic acid. Dorian then understands, where his life is headed, lust and good looks shall suffice. Dorian locks the portrait up, and over the next eighteen years. He experiments with every vice; influenced by a morally poisonous French novel that Lord Henry Wotton gave him. (The narrative does not reveal the title of the French novel. But during the trial, Wilde did say that the novel he had read was ‘A Rebours’ (Against the Nature, 1884), by Joris-Karl Huysmans.

    One night before leaving for Paris. Basil goes to Dorian’s house. To, ask him about the rumours of his self-indulgent voluptuary.

    Dorian does not deny his debauchery and takes Basil to see the portrait. The portrait has become hideous. Which Basil is able to identify as his work, only by the signature he affixes to all his portraits. Basil is horrified and beseeches Dorian to pray for salvation. But in deep anger Dorian blames his fate on Basil and stabs him to death. He then calmly blackmails an old friend, the scientist Alan Campbell into using his knowledge of chemistry to destroy the body of Basil Hallward. Alan not able to come to terms kills himself over the deed.

    To, escape the guilt of his crime. Dorian goes to an opium den. Where, James Vane is unknowingly present. James has been seeking vengeance upon Dorian, ever since Sibyl killed herself. But he had no leads to pursue. The only thing he knew about Dorian was the name Sibyl called him by, ‘Prince Charming.’ In the opium den he hears someone refer to Dorian as ‘Prince Charming,’ and he accosts Dorian forthwith. Dorian deceives James into believing that he is too young to have known Sibyl, who killed herself 18 years ago, as his face is still that of a young man. James relents and releases Dorian. But is then, approached by a woman from the opium den who reproaches James for not killing Dorian. She confirms that the man was indeed Dorian Gray by explaining that he has not aged even in eighteen years. James runs after Dorian. But by then he is gone.

     James then begins to stalk Dorian, causing Dorian to fear for his life.  However, during a shooting party, a hunter accidentally kills James Vane, who was lurking around a thicket. On returning to London, Dorian tells Lord Henry that he will live righteously now on. His new probity begins with deliberately not breaking the heart of the naive Hetty Merton, his latest romantic interest. Dorian wonders if his new-found goodness has reverted, the corruption in his picture. But when he looks at it he sees even an uglier image of himself. This makes Dorian understand that his true motives for self sacrifice of moral reformation were only a vanity and curiosity of his quest for new experiences. Deciding, only full confession will absolve him of the wrongdoing. Dorian decides to destroy the last vestige of his conscience, and the only piece of evidence remaining of his crimes—the picture.

    In a rage, he takes the knife with which he had murdered Basil Hallward, and stabs the picture. The servants of the house awaken on hearing a cry from the locked room. On the street, passers-by who also heard the cry call the police. Upon entering the locked room, the servants find an unknown old man, stabbed in the heart. With his face and figure, withered and decrepit. The servants identify the disfigured corpse by the rings on its fingers that belonged to their master. And beside him is the picture of Dorian Gray, restored to its original beauty.   

*****

By Kamlesh Tripathi

*

https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

*

Share it if you like it

*

Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases. Should you wish to donate for the cause the bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

*

Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(Archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2014)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. Book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

Story of an Indian salesman who is lowly qualified but fights his ways through uncertainities to reach the top. A good read for all salesmen. Now available in Amazon.com

(CAN BE BOUGHT FROM ON LINE BOOK STORES OR WRITE TO US FOR COPIES)

*****