“The Hungry Stones” uses two first-person narratives. It begins and ends with the voice of an unnamed narrator, who describes himself as a traveler returning to Calcutta on a train with his kinsman from a puja, or Hindu religious pilgrimage. While waiting at a junction for the train, the narrator and his kinsman meet a man who impresses them with his learning and knowledge of current events. The man, Srijut, launches into his own story, which becomes the main part of the tale.
When he was young, Srijut recalls, he was appointed collector of cotton duties at Barich. Nearby stood a marble palace that had been built 250 years earlier by the emperor Mahmud Shah II. Karim Khan, an old clerk in Srijut’s office, warned the young man not to stay in the palace. Srijut ignored him. After staying in the palace for less than a week, the young man began to hear footsteps and the sounds of maidens running to bathe in the nearby river.
Although during the day, Srijut’s nighttime experience seemed like a fantasy, before dark he was drawn back to the palace, leaving his work unfinished. Entering a spacious hall at the top of a staircase, he heard the sounds of fountains, strange music, and tinkling anklets. His normal identity began to seem an illusion until his servant entered and left a lamp. After going to sleep, however, he was awakened and led through the palace by an Arabian or Persian girl, who seemed to him like someone out of a tale from Alf layla wa-layla (fifteenth century; The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, 1706-1708). She took him past a black eunuch. As Srijut attempted to step over the eunuch’s legs,...
(The entire section is 679 words.)