Professor Shonku and Robu

Reads: 32  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Professor Shonku and Robu (1968), written by Satyajit Ray, the Bengali Oscar-winning film-maker and author,
translated to English (UK) by Dr. Anjana Sen

sex and nudity:  none

violence and gore: mild

profanity: none

alcohol, drugs and smoking: none

frightening and intense scenes: moderate

 

 

 

The advent of Professor Trilokashwar Shonku of Scottish Church College faculty, in the literary sphere of the Bengali Science-fiction adventure, emerged in the year of 1961 for the first time. He is a fictional character created by Satyajit Ray (1921-1992). Professor Shonku (son of Dr. Tripureswar Shonku) is a scientific inventor, who is capable of speaking 69 languages.

“Byomjatrir Diary” (The Diary of the Space-Traveller”) was first published in the Sandesh Magazine. Written by Satyajit Ray, the Bengali Oscar-winning film-maker and author. That was merely the beginning. And Professor Shonku novels became megahit since the very beginning. Since then, total 38 complete Shonku adventures have been published until 1992.

This scientist cum explorer Professor is a bona fide Bengalee. He is a globetrotting scientist and eccentric genius. He is intrepid in the wildest fiercest expeditions, but then again incredibly humble. He has been received with utter respect in the international academic community. His self-confidence, inner strength and versatile innovative talent are astounding. Prof. Shonku has travelled the world in connection with his research and discoveries, and has been honoured by the Swedish Academy of Science. Shonku novels are outstanding cocktails of world-wide travelling, mystic adventures, supernatural thriller drama, reckless campaigns, mysteries, fantasy and hair-rising suspense. Shonku series are allrounder that keep entertaining the readers of a wide range of ages. They include Ray’s marvellous illustrations as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Professor Shonku and Robu (1968)

written by Satyajit Ray,

(the Bengali Oscar-winning film-maker and author)

translated to English (UK)

by Dr. Anjana Sen

 

 

 

 

16 April

 

Today I received a letter from famous scientist Professor Paumer from Germany in response to my letter. This is what he wrote —

 

Dear Professor Shonku,

I am not only elated to read what you wrote about the Robo (robot) or mechanical man that you have engineered, but it astonished me even more. You wrote that, you have read my research articles on robots, and you have acquired extensive knowledge from those. However, if your Robo has really turned out to be the way you have described, then I must say you have far surpassed my achievements.

 

I am getting old, thus it’s not possible for me to travel all the way to India; instead, if you could ever come this way and visit me sometime and bring along your mechanical man, then I would not only be delighted, it would be of a great benefit for me as well.  There is another scientist I know right here in Heidelberg — Dr. Borgeldt. He has also done some research-work on robots. Perhaps I will also get the opportunity to introduce you to him.

 

Waiting for your reply. If you consent and are willing to come, I will definitely be able to arrange for the one-way fare for you. I will of course arrange for your accommodation right here at my place.

signed

Rudolf Paumer

 

I wrote a reply to Professor Paumer’s letter already today, promising him to visit around the time in the middle of next month. I accepted his offer of travel-fare without arguing against it any further, because it’s not cheap traveling to Germany, nevertheless I cannot resist the temptation of visiting that country.

I am of course going to bring along Robu, but he is not yet able to speak languages other than just Bengali and English. If I manage to teach him German in course of this one month’s time, he will be able to communicate directly with Professor Paumer; I won’t need to act as interpreter between them anymore.

It took me one and a half year to design and create Robu. Even though my domestic attendant Prahlad stood by me the whole time and assisted me by handing this and that to me, I accomplished the entire task all by myself. Besides, what is most remarkable is the expenses of building Robu. Altogether it costed me only little more than 44 US dollars. This invention of mine, built so cheap, is going to be my all-round assistant in my laboratory in future, my right-hand man so to speak. It takes even less than a second for Robu to perform ordinary Maths such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc. There is no such difficult mathematical problem that will take longer than 10 seconds for Robu to solve. That tells us what an incredible masterpiece I have acquired at such an incredibly cheap price. The reason I say “have acquired” is that, there is no scientific discovery that I consider as entirely human invention in my opinion. The scope already exists, perhaps it was always there; humans only find those scopes and manage to utilize them either by talent or pure luck.

About Robu’s looks, I cannot say it turned out to be anywhere near handsome. In particular, it looks somewhat cross-eyed, as the two eyes ended up being mismatched. In order to compensate for that, I have added a smile on its mouth. Robu always happens to have his smiling face — no matter how difficult and complicated mathematical problem he is solving. I have made a hole where his mouth should be, all his conversations emerge through that hole. Creating lip-movements would have wasted unnecessary time and money, so I avoided that.

Robu has a bunch of electric wires, batteries, valves and so on in the place where human brain should be located. Hence, Robu is unable to perform most of the tasks that human brain is capable of, such as, feeling happy or sad, or being angry or jealous — Robu knows nothing about any of these whatsoever. He just performs tasks and answers questions. He is capable of solving all sorts of Math problems, but not outside what he has learnt, and he is not capable of answering questions outside what he has been taught. I have taught him answers to nearly fifty thousand questions in English and Bengali — he never ever made a single mistake. Now about ten thousand answers in German, and we will be ready for our trip to Germany.

Despite so many drawbacks, I don’t think there is any other mechanical man in the entire world that has ever done what Robu can do. What’s the point in designing and building such a wonder, if I keep it confined in this small town Giridih? Shouldn’t the outside world become aware of what a Bengali scientist can do in Bengal using so little ingredients? It would rather be publicity and promotion of my homeland than individually my own. At least that’s what my intention is.

 

18th April

 

At last, Mr. Avinash acknowledged my scientific talent. Even though this guy is a good neighbour, at times I have hard time tolerating his reproach and sarcasm about my work.

He often comes to hang out with me — but every time he dropped by to see me in last three months, I sent out Prahlad to tell him, I cannot see him, as I am busy.

Today after I finished a session of teaching Robu German language, I was sitting on a chair in my laboratory and browsing through a science magazine, and Mr. Avinash showed up. I also wanted to show Robu to him, so I let him come right in to my laboratory, instead of keeping him waiting in the drawing room.

As soon as he stepped in to the room, he wrinkled up his nose in disgust and said, “Have you started trading Asafoetida or what?” Next moment his eyes widened in amazement, as Robu caught his attention, he said, “Whoa — what’s that? Radio or phonograph or what on earth could that be?”

Mr. Avinash still uses obsolete terms, like phonograph for record-player, Bioscope for movie, and flying ship for airplane.

I replied, “Why don’t you ask him what he is? His name is Robu.”

-“Robu-scope?”

-“Why would it be Robuscope !? I said his name is Robu. Please call him by his name and ask what sort of thing it is, he will respond with the correct answer.”

-“God knows what you are up to,” muttered Mr. Avinash, came forward to stand

in front of Robu and asked, “Hey Robu, what are you?”

A clear response came out of the mouth-hole on Robu’s face, “I am mechanical man. Professor Shonku’s assistant.”

Mr. Avinash almost fainted in shock. After hearing about the activities Robu is capable of doing and witnessing a few examples, he turned pale, shook my hands, said goodbye and left. I can tell that this time he is truly impressed.

Today an article about robots written by Professor Borgeldt in an old German Science magazine suddenly caught my eye. He has written in a rather arrogant manner, that the talent, proficiency and achievements Germans have shown in the scientific field of building mechanical man, nobody else in any other country in the world has ever been able to accomplish the same. Moreover, he has written, that even though it has been possible to use robots as domestic help, it’s never going to be possible to make robots perform meaningful tasks or intellectual tasks.

That article included a photograph of Professor Borgeldt. Wide forehead, unusually thick eye brows, a pair of deep-seated eyes, and about two-by-two inches patch of black beard in the middle of his chin.

Now that I have read what he wrote and have seen how he looks like, I am even more eager to meet him.

 

23 May

 

I have arrived Heidelberg this morning. A city of picturesque beauty, and acclaimed as home of the oldest university in Europe. The river Neckar is flowing through the city; in the background, hills covered with green forest are guarding the city. This is where Heidelberg’s historic fort is situated up the hills.

Professor Paumer’s home is 5 miles outside the city in the middle of pleasant natural surroundings. This seventy-year-old scientist received me so cordially that I cannot express it in words. He said, “As you probably know, Germany has a natural attraction towards India. I have read plenty of books of ancient literature and Philosophy of your country. Max Müller has done a remarkable job translating such books. We owe him immensely for that. What you have accomplished and achieved as an Indian scientist, has made my country proud even more.”

I have brought Robu very carefully packed up in lying posture in a packing case of its suitable size filled with straw, cottonwool, sawdust etc. When I saw that Professor Paumer can hardly wait to see Robu, I took it out of the box by noon, cleaned it up and placed it in Professor Paumer’s laboratory. Even though Professor Paumer has produced so much research and academic publications on this Robot topic, he has never built a robot himself.

He was utterly astounded on seeing Robu. He said, “As I can see, you have assembled this thing simply by using nothing but glue, nails and adhesive plasters ! And you are saying this robot speaks and carries out tasks?”

I could clearly hear a tone of disbelief in his voice.

I smiled slightly and said, “You are very welcome to take a test. Why don’t you ask him some questions?”

Professor Paumer turned to Robu and asked, “Welche arbeit machst du?” (What work do you do?)

Robu articulated his response most eloquently in a very clear voice and pronunciation, “Ich helfe meinem herrn bei seiner arbeit, und lose mathematische probleme.” (I assist my master in his work and solve mathematical problems).

Professor Paumer stared at Robu in amazement for a while and then shook his head. Then he sighed and said, “What you have accomplished is absolutely unprecedented in the history of Science. Borgeldt is going to get jealous.”

Before this, we haven’t had any discussion about Borgeldt. I was a bit startled when I suddenly heard that name from Professor Paumer. Has Borgeldt built a robot as well, or what?

Even before I asked anything, Professor Paumer said, “Borgeldt is right here in Heidelberg — living in a secluded place just like me, though on the other side of the river. I used to have closer acquaintance with him in the past — almost a friendship so to say. We studied in the same school in Berlin — though I am three years senior to him. Afterwards, I relocated to Heidelberg to study degree courses. He remained in Berlin. It has been around ten years now since he came back here and has been living in his family-home.”

-“Has he built any robot himself?”

-“He is at it for quite a while now — but perhaps didn’t succeed. At one point I heard he has become a bit mentally deranged. He hasn’t been out of that house for last six months. I tried to contact him on the phone a couple of times, his domestic help told me every time that Borgeldt is ill. I have stopped trying lately.”

-“Does he know I have arrived?”

-“I have no idea. I have informed a few scientists here that you are visiting — those are the ones you are eventually going to meet. Some of the media folks may have gotten the news as well. I didn’t see any reason to inform Borgeldt specifically.”

I remained silent. A cuckoo clock on the wall chimed 04:00 p.m. I can see the garden outside through an open window; and the hills in the background. There is no other sound than a couple of birds chirping.

Professor Paumer said, “Stregonuff from Russia, American professor Steinway and Dr. Mannings of England, all of them have built robots. Around three-four robots have been designed and built right here in Germany as well — and I have seen all of them. However, none of them has been created in such a simple way, nor can they speak in such an articulate manner.”

-“Robu can also do Maths, you know.” I said, “You are welcome to give him any type of Mathematical problem and test him.”

Professor Paumer said with utter astonishment, “You don’t say! Really? Is he familiar with Auerbach equation?”

-“Try asking him.”

After testing Robu’s knowledge, Professor Paumer said, “Good Heavens! Your talent and achievements are commendable!” Then, after staying quiet for a few moments, he spoke again, “Is your Robu capable of feeling emotions like us humans?”

I replied, “Nope — not that sort of thing.”

Professor Paumer said, “How great it would have been, if your robot had some kind of psychological connection with your brain, if nothing more. You could have benefitted a lot from him, if he could at least feel what you are feeling. He could really have turned out to be one reliable companion for you.”

Now Professor Paumer looked a bit preoccupied in his thoughts. Then he said, “I gave it a lot of thought — how to make a robot comprehend the mind of a real human. I had even made a great deal of progress in this line of work, then I grew old. The brain worked just fine, but heart problems started and disabled me. Besides, I am no longer capable of even building the robot I was supposed to run my experiments on.”

I said, “I am more than satisfied with my Robu’s performance. Whatever he does is good enough for me,”

Professor Paumer remained silent. I noticed that his eyes are intently fixed on Robu. Robu has the same smile on his mouth. The setting sun through the window is now shining on his left eye. The glistening sunlight has even made its electric bulb-eye look like it’s smiling.

 

24th May

 

It’s now midnight. I am sitting in the room upstairs in Professor Paumer’s house and writing my diary. A lot has happened since yesterday midnight and all day today, I am trying to write those down in an organized way. I don’t know how much I will be able to do it, because I am not in the mood. First time in my life the doubt has arisen in my mind, am I really the outstanding scientist I thought I am. If I was, then why did I let myself be humiliated like this?

Let me first describe what happened last night. It’s nothing serious, but I better write it down.

Professor Paumer and I finished dinner by 09:00 p.m. Then we sat in the drawing room and chatted over coffee for a long time. Even then I noticed again Professor Paumer was getting lost in his thoughts. No idea what’s in his mind. Since he met Robu, perhaps it has been a constant reminder of what he hasn’t been able to accomplish himself. Indeed, the way he has aged, he no longer seems capable of commencing any research on robots anew.

I went to bed some time after 10:00 p.m. I checked on Robu before I went to bed. He seemed quite alright in Professor Paumer’s laboratory. He has no interest in the cold weather or natural beauty in Germany whatsoever. As if he is simply ready and awaiting my order. Before bed, we two scientists said good night to him in German language. Robu responded in a very clear voice, “Gute Nacht herr Professor Shonkugute Nacht herr Professor Paumer.

After browsing through a magazine for a while with the bed-side lamp on, I heard the grandfather clock downstairs chime 11:00 p.m., then I turned off the lamp and lay down to sleep.

When I woke up from sleep in the middle of the night, I had no idea what time that was. A sound woke me up — and that sound is coming from Professor Paumer’s laboratory right under my room. Tat tat — tang tang, tat tat. At times it sounded like footsteps on wooden floor, then it sounded like tools and machineries are being rummaged around.

But the sound didn’t last longer than 5 minutes. I still stayed alert in bed with anxious curiosity, to listen if there is any more noise again. But didn’t hear anything other than the clock chime 03:00 a.m.

Next morning at breakfast table, I refrained from mentioning anything about this to Professor Paumer. It’s because I didn’t want him to get unnecessarily concerned to learn that something disturbed my sleep.

After breakfast, I was planning to go out for a stroll, but even before we got up from the table, Professor Paumer’s domestic attendant Kurt came in and handed a visiting card to his master. After reading the name on the card, Professor Paumer said in astonishment, “My gosh, Borgeldt is here!”

It really took me by surprise too.

As I entered the drawing room, it turned out to be the same face that I saw in a German magazine in Giridih, only difference is that his hair has now turned more grey. As we entered the room, he immediately stood up from the sofa and greeted us. I was surprised to see his brisk military demeanour despite his old age. He is pushing seventy — but what a robust health!

Professor Paumer spoke up, “Good Lord, Borgeldt, you don’t really look like you have just come out of a long illness — you rather look like you have been to a wellness retreat and fully recovered.”

Borgeldt laughed out loud in a deep voice and said, “People seem to pester less, when they hear I’m ill. It doesn’t help saying I’m busy — it rather makes them more curious, and then they keep calling me on the phone and keep trying to find out what it is that I am occupied with. You understand very well, it’s not always possible to pass on that type of information.”

-“Indeed, that’s true.”

When Professor Paumer offered him drinks, Borgeldt shook his head to refused and said, “I have quit drinking alcohol. Besides, I don’t have much time either. In today’s newspaper, I was reading the news of Professor Shonku’s arrival in town along with his robot. You already know how curious I am when it comes to robots. That’s why I just showed up straightway without even making an appointment. Hope you don’t mind.”

-“Not at all, not at all.”

I said, “So, you want to take a look at my robot, I presume.”

-“That’s exactly why I am here. I’m naturally eager to learn how you turned impossible into possible.”

I came to the laboratory along with Borgeldt.

One look at Robu and the first thing Borgeldt said, “I can see you didn’t work much on its appearance. In my opinion, it’s better to call it a device rather than mechanical man — isn’t it?”

I naturally didn’t disagree. “That’s true, — I emphasized on its function rather than appearance. He by no means looks as gorgeous as Apollo.”

-“I hear that your robot excels in solving mathematical problems !”

-“Want to test?”

Borgeldt turned towards Robu and asked, “How much is two plus two?”

The answer from Robu’s mouth came out so loud that all the glassware in Professor Paumer’s laboratory rattled violently. Robu never yells like this. It was obvious that Borgeldt’s question irritated Robu, and that stunned me as well.

The way Robu snapped at him, that left Borgeldt visibly dumbfounded. He continued to ask one after another difficult Math-related questions, and Robu as usual continued to answer every time within just 5-7 seconds. That made me feel all puffed up with pride. When I looked at Borgeldt, I saw perspiration on his forehead despite this cold winter temperature around forty degrees.

After almost 5 minutes’ long question-answer session, Borgeldt turned towards me, and asked, “What else does he know other than Maths?”

I replied, “He knows a lot about you — you are welcome to ask.”

Prior to my trip here, I took out a lot of information about Borgeldt’s life from a German encyclopaedia and “inserted” in Robu. I anticipated that Borgeldt may ask Robu.

Borgeldt appeared quite amazed to hear that. Then he said, “Is that so? Your machine has so much knowledge? Very well, now tell me herr Robu,…. what’s my name?”

Not a single word came out of Robu’s mouth. One second, two seconds, ten seconds, one minute — not a single response, not a single sound, nothing whatsoever. As though Robu has turned into something lifeless just like all these furniture and apparatuses around us in the room.

Now it’s my turn for perspiration. I came forward, and pressed the button on top of Robu’s head a few times, fumbled around with this and that for a while, I even shook his whole body repeatedly — causing a loud clatter of all the gadgetry and hardware inside him, but in vain.

Today, thanks to Robu, my country’s honour and glory in scientific study as well as my own prestige went right down the drain in the presence of these two famous foreign scientists as witness.

Borgeldt made a derogatory “huh” sound in disdain and said, “There is no doubt a major defect has remained in that thing. Anyways — it has nonetheless a good knowledge in Maths. If you don’t mind, kindly bring it along to my place tomorrow afternoon, I believe I will be able to fix the glitch. I also have a couple of things to show. You are both invited.”

Borgeldt said goodbye and took off.

Professor Paumer felt how I felt, and it was obvious to me how embarrassed he felt himself as well. He said, “The incident is also quite shocking to me. Let’s test and see if he is talking normal again.”

We got back to the laboratory and found out that Robu is responding correctly as usual. He walked about normal too. I assumed there was perhaps a temporary mechanical failure at that very moment, that’s why this poor thing failed to respond. It’s me who should be responsible for this. Not his fault.

A telephone call came from Borgeldt in the evening. He reminded us about the invitation tomorrow. He mentioned one more time that we should bring along Robu, and said, “There isn’t going to be anybody else present here, just me. Therefore, in case your machine fails, you don’t have to worry about being humiliated in front of the outsiders.”

I cannot stop feeling uncomfortable. So, I have taken one of my own invented Somnolin pills, in case I am unable to sleep at night.

Suddenly I remembered something, which raised a slight suspicion in my mind. Last night where was that tak tak sound coming from in the middle of the night? Was that Professor Paumer working in the laboratory himself? Did he do something to sabotage the machineries inside Robu?

Is there a collusion going on between Paumer and Borgeldt?

 

27th May

 

I am travelling back home tomorrow. I don’t think Heidelberg Horror is ever going to be wiped out from my memory.

However, I have gained a new knowledge from my visit here. I have realized that even though scientists are admirable, not all of them are trustworthy. But none of these things occurred to me at the time. Only thought in my head was — so many unfinished tasks, which I’m not going to be able to accomplish. How I am going to breathe my last —

Let me now describe the incidents elaborately.

Borgeldt invited both of us before he left. It’s not easy to wander around carrying Robu, but I decided to take Robu with us anyway as Borgeldt urged me to. I packed up Robu in the packing case, laid the box down in lying posture on one of the side-seats in a horse-carriage, tied it up with a rope, as we two sat in the opposite seat, we set out for Borgeldt’s house around 04:00 p.m. It’s about three miles’ road-trip from here, going to take almost forty-five minutes.

On our way there, I was enjoying the beauty of springtime blooming cherry-flowers on both sides of the road, while learning about Borgeldt’s ancestors from Professor Paumer. One of them — named Julius Borgeldt — mysteriously lost his own life while trying to resurrect corpses like Baron Frankenstein. Besides, there are talks about a few insane Borgeldt family-members who spent the major part of their lives in loony bins.

The route is up the hill through the forest. It feels somewhat colder here, moreover, the setting sun is beginning to turn dim. I wrapped my comforter tightly around.

After a few more minutes’ ride, we turned at a bend, and a huge gate with decorative design on came to sight. Professor Paumer said, “Here we are.” The words “Villa Marian” is written by decorative carving on the gate.

One gatekeeper came forward and opened the gate for us. Our horse-carriage drove through, made stamping sound of the hoof on stony ground and arrived right in front of the main door of the house. We should rather call it a castle or palace than house.

Borgeldt was waiting right there. As soon as we got down from the cart, he came forward and shook our hands with his cold hands, and said, “I am so glad that you two have come.”

Then two brawny servants came out, picked up Robu’s case and took it inside the house. We went inside and settled down in the drawing room, and upon Borgeldt’s order, they took Robu out of the box and placed it in standing posture in the library right next to the sitting room.

This entire house, especially this sitting room and all the furnishing in it — pictures, mirrors, clocks, chandeliers — are exhibiting an impression of antiquity as well as aristocracy. I smelled something peculiar in this room, perhaps partly because of the old wood, and the rest is some kind of drugs or chemicals also. I’m sure, Borgeldt definitely has his own laboratory and that would be somewhere near this living room. Even after the lamp was turned on, it didn’t help the shadowy darkness in the room. It was because there wasn’t a single item in the room that can be called light-coloured. All the items are either brown or dark-coloured — and they are all ancient. All in all, it was an eerie creepy atmosphere.

Borgeldt ordered a glass of apple juice for me, as I don’t drink alcoholic beverages. The domestic attendant who came with the drinks on a tray looked like he can be at least ninety years old. Being a bit confounded, I must have been staring at him too much, so Borgeldt spoke up just to satisfy my curiosity, “Rudy has been with us for quite a long time, since the time before I was even born. They are serving my family for three generations now.”

I would like to mention something about the sound of Borgeldt’s voice, I have never heard such a grave yet soft and smooth voice.

As we lifted our glasses and wished good health to one another, a telephone started ringing outside this room somewhere in the house. Then the old servant Rudy came in and announced, there is a phone call for Professor Paumer. Professor Paumer got up and went out to answer the phone.

Borgeldt was also holding a glass of apple juice in his hand. He fixed his glare at me as he kept turning the glass in his hand, then said, “Professor Shonku — you probably know, it has been nearly thirty years now scientists have been doing research on mechanical man.”

I said, “Yes, I am aware of that.”

-“You probably know as well that I have done some work on this topic too.”

-“I know. I have also read some of your publications.”

-“My last research article was ten years ago. My real research started after that article. I haven’t reported a single piece of information in connection with the outcome of that research.”

I remained silent. Borgeldt silently kept staring at me with his sunken blue eyes. A banging sound is coming from somewhere in the house. It’s definitely coming from inside the house, but not very close to this room. Why is Professor Paumer taking so long? Who is he talking to on the phone?

Borgeldt said, “It must be an urgent phone call for Professor Paumer.”

His remark caught me off-guard. I didn’t even say anything to him. How did he read my mind?

The question Borgeldt asked next moment shocked me, as I didn’t see it coming at all.

-“Will you please sell your robot to me?”

I responded in a baffled manner, “What are you talking about? Can you tell me why?”

Borgeldt replied in a grave voice, “I need that thing. Only one reason. My robot has no Maths skill, and that ability is however particularly essential for me.”

-“Is your robot here at home?”

Borgeldt nodded yes. Frequent banging sound and on top of that Professor Paumer’s long absence — these two together were making me feel somewhat uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I felt the thrill of excitement to know that Borgeldt’s robot is right here in this house, and hoped that I will probably get the chance to see it.

Borgeldt continued, “Absolutely nobody has ever been able to build a robot like the one I have. What I — Gottfried Borgeldt — have created is utterly exceptional and unprecedented. But my robot lacks one quality. It’s unable to do Maths as easily as yours. But then again, I need to compensate for this shortcoming. It will be possible if I get hold of your robot.”

I felt outright agitated. Would anybody willingly let go such an invaluable masterpiece just for the sake of money? My precious robot, designed and engineered by me with my own hands for the very first time in life — I would just sell it out to this psychopathic scientist of Heidelberg? What for? Am I in desperate need for money that bad? Besides, Robu’s ability in Maths, that’s my greatest achievement. Whatever type of robot Borgeldt might have built, whatever he says, I strongly believe, he has never built any mechanical man more fascinating than mine.

I shook my head, and said, “Forgive me Professor Borgeldt. I refuse to sell that. To be honest, as you are such a great scientist — if you work a bit harder, there is no reason you won’t be able to create what I have created.”

-“Because —”, Borgeldt has now gotten up from the sofa — “not everybody is capable of doing everything. That’s the way of the world. I know very well I will be able to create it if I try, because there is absolutely nothing that’s impossible for me. But there isn’t much time. All my savings are gone. My house is tied up in debt. I have lost everything to build just one robot. I have spent billions of Deutsche Mark on that one. It failed to be perfect for lack of just one quality. I want your robot. After I have it, I will be able to recover all my money. People are going to say, yes — what Borgeldt has accomplished is beyond the capability of any man. I have some gold in my safe — four hundred years old. I will give those to you; sell your robot to me.”

This man is trying to lure me with gold ! Borgeldt has no idea I have succeeded to overcome greed long long ago ! Now I turned the tone of my voice as serious as possible and said, “I don’t like your tone, Professor Borgeldt. I won’t even sell my robot in exchange for an entire diamond mine — let alone gold.”

-“Then you leave no other way for me.”

After saying that, the first thing Borgeldt did is to go right ahead and shut the door by the staircase. After that, the other door on the opposite side — must be to the dining room — he shut that too. The glass windows were already closed. The only door that remained open was the door to the library. Robu is standing in that library, and this is the first time it occurred to me, I may never get to see Robu ever again. Perhaps he will soon start working for another master, and will be solving all those difficult mathematical problems for him. And Paumer? There isn’t a single trace of doubt remained in my mind that Borgeldt is acting in collusion with Paumer, and they are conspiring together with the sole purpose to ruin me.  

Boom boom boom boom — that noise again. Sounds like coming from under the ground. What can that be? Borgeldt’s robot?

No time to think. Borgeldt has now come towards me and is standing right in front of me. Again that unblinking fierce gaze. I have never seen such an inhumane stare in the eyes of anyone else.

This time as Borgeldt spoke, I noticed, that soft and gentle tone has disappeared from his voice. An offbeat merciless steely sternness has now replaced it.

-“Don’t you know Shonku, it’s so much easier to destroy life than creating life?” His voice created a deeply resounding echo in that closed room. “A single electric shock. Know how many Volts? Maybe your Robu knows……And the shock technique is also very easy…..”

I have that Carbothin* undervest on. Electric shock won’t do me any harm whatsoever. But how am I going to be able to match this German in physical strength?

I screamed, “Paumer ! Paumer !”

Borgeldt is coming towards me with his right arm raised forward and five fingers stretched out. A look of devilish exultation in his eyes.

I tried to step back, but there is no room for that, as the sofa was causing an obstruction.

Borgeldt’s fingers are merely six inches away from my forehead. Thoughts of my hometown Giridih in my head —

Tang tang tang tang —

My eyes turned to the direction of my right side as I heard that sound. Borgeldt too, as though alarmed, turned his head. After that, what happened was unbelievable and bizarre. The thing that showed up in the room through the library door is nothing else but my own invention, my hand-made mechanical man Robu. With his eyes still incorrectly aligned, and the same smile on his mouth that I have given him.

In split second Robu sprinted forward like a metal tempest, reached out with both hands extended and grabbed Borgeldt in a tight clasp.

What happened next is utterly gruesome and grotesque, I have never ever experienced anything like this before.

Under the pressure of Robu’s hands, Borgeldt’s head was forced to turn all the way to his back like a screw. Then at Robu’s pull, Borgeldt’s head came off loose from the rest of his body and got knocked off right down to the floor, and now what became exposed out of his body through the hole of his neck is a whole bunch of electric wires !

Being unable to stay standing any more, I collapsed to the sofa with my body numb and half-unconscious. My eyes, mind, brain, all became overwhelmed and dazed in shock.

In a half-conscious state, I could hear hard banging on the door by the staircase.

“Shonku, open the door — open the door !”

Professor Paumer’s voice.

All of a sudden, I came back to senses and got my strength back. I got up from the sofa, rushed to the door, and as I opened the door, I found three men standing there — Professor Paumer, Borgeldt’s old servant Rudy, and — yes, absolutely no doubt — this is the real scientist Professor Gottfried Borgeldt himself.

 

Nothing much after that. One of the questions that I had in my mind got instantly cleared up by what Professor Paumer explained next.

“The other day in the middle of the night I went to my laboratory, and inserted a device, an invention of my own, in your Robu’s head. As a result, it acquired a telepathic connection with your mind. That’s why he couldn’t stay inactive, when he apprehended the danger you are in.”

Professor Borgeldt said, “It’s best these mechanical men stay as machines. My robot couldn’t stand me, just because I made him too much like me. He didn’t want somebody just like him existed around him. My plan was, he will carry on my work after my passing, but can a human ever comprehend a brain’s intentions? As soon as I set him free, he immediately tied me up and has held me captive since. He didn’t kill me, because he knew, he has no means other than me, I am absolutely indispensable for him, in case of a break-down of his gadgetries.”

Professor Paumer said, “Rudy was aware of the whole situation — but was terrified to take action. Today’s false phone call was actually Rudy’s trick. His plan was to bring me outside the room to disclose the secret that Professor Borgeldt is being held captive, and then we two attempt together to rescue him. I couldn’t at all imagine that your life will be in such a grave danger like this in the meantime.”

I felt elated as something suddenly occurred to me. I said, “Now you see why Robu refrained from saying Borgeldt’s name the other day? How would he say Borgeldt’s name, where that was not even real Professor Borgeldt? We had no clue, but Robu figured it out alright. Only a machine can discern another machine best.”

 

One time in Giridih, while trying to save the seedlings in my garden in the middle of a storm, I passed out when lightning struck a palm tree nearby. Then I invented this special bodywear and have made it a habit wearing it 24 hours a day.

 

 

from Professor Shonku & the Mysterious Dolls (1965) written by Satyajit Ray


Submitted: October 07, 2021

© Copyright 2021 anjanasen. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:


Facebook Comments

More Science Fiction Short Stories

Other Content by anjanasen