‘Fritz’ by Satyajit Ray is set in a British-era rest house in a small town named Bundi in Rajasthan, the story grips the reader’s attention till the last scene where it plunges him to cauldron of fear, confusion and chimera.
The short-story is set in a circuit house, which is a dark bungalow generally used by senior government officers for short stays. It is situated in Bundi, a small town in Rajasthan. The story opens with the conversation between two friends named Shankar (author) and Jayanto. They have been childhood friends and after so many trials, they had managed to visit Bundi and explore it, after decades. While having tea at the circuit house, Jayanto appears lost in some thoughts. On enquiring, he tells Shankar that the faint memories of his first visit to Bundi were rushing into his mind.
Though initially, Shankar was puzzled with Jayanto’s keen interest in visiting Bundi, when visitors normally would prefer to visit places like Udaipur, Jaipur or Chittor in Rajasthan. Though on a personal level, he had no objections to visiting Bundi after having read Tagore’s poem ‘The Fort of Bundi’, for he felt familiar with the name of the place and felt excited about the prospect of actually seeing the fort.
It was only during their journey by train to Bundi, that Shankar got to know the reason behind Jayanto’s inclination towards visiting Bundi over other places. Jayanto’s father, Animesh Das Gupta used to work in the Archeological Department, hence his work brought him to Rajasthan numerous times, for it’s a repositories of India’s ancient monuments. Jayanto as a child, hence, had visited Bundi earlier but the memory of the place had not quite faded from his mind. He had always wanted to return as a grown-up, to witness any changes that took place in Bundi.
Jayanto becomes nostalgic as he recollects the tall rooms, ventilators tethered to stings, the rose plants outside, etc. The magnificent buildings stood still there. A few similar furniture’s that excited even before spoke about the timelessness of the place. The trees stood tall to provide shelter to the birds. Jauanto remembered all of these vividly.
The two friends go on a sight-seeing to the famous fort of Bundi standing amidst the hills. Time seemed to stand still in the fort’s vicinity. Everything reflected the antiquities of the Rajputana era, except for the electric poles which were the only signs of the new age. The old golden age of Rajputana craftsmanship appeared to have come alive.
Jayanto had always been an emotional person. Ever since reaching Bundi, he had been unusually quiet and somewhat absent-minded Perhaps the sights and sounds of Bundi had stirred a delicate cord in his heart. His palpable sadness didn’t escape Shankar’s notice. Jayanto reminisces about the large rooms and over-sized chairs of the circuit house which used to make him feel as if sitting on a throne, while sitting cross-legged. To his dismay, now everything seemed to have shrunk in size. Though, Shankar dispels his confusion by stating that he had grown in size over the years, hence that made him feel so.
After tea, the two went out for a stroll in the garden. After a while, Jayanto seemed struck by the memory of a Deodar tree that used to stand at the far end of the compound. He looked bewildered, trying to find the tree and ultimately turns excited on finally tracing it. His euphoria takes Shankar by surprise. Jayanto’s eyes were fixed on the tree trunk, looking into it searchingly. He exclaimed that he had an encounter with a European near the Deodar tree as a child. Though; he struggled to recollect the entire episode. While having dinner at the oval dining table in the circuit house, Jayanto seemed to be remembering events from his childhood as the faded memories began returning to him. He spoke about Dilawar, the place and also the ‘European’s lowly; he recalled the whole episode about his doll.
It emerged that ‘Fritz’ was a doll which Jayanto’s uncle had brought for him from Switzerland. It was a foot long figure of an old man dressed in traditional Swiss clothing. It wore a Swiss cap with a little yellow feather sticking out from it. It also wore a belt, buttons were on, had pockets, collars, socks and even had little buckles on the shoes. Apparently, Fritz was very lifelike and bore a smiling face. It was very flexible, hence could be bent and twisted at will.
He told Shankar how fancy he had grown of Fritz. Since, he was not enrolled in a school that time, he had all the time in the world for Fritz. Though, he mentions that his parents did warn him to not overdo things with a mere doll. Shankar was all ears to Jayanto’s story. He questioned about the doll as to what happened to it. Jayanto revealed a shocking tragedy that befell Fritz in Bundi itself. On one occasion while playing with. Fritz, he had spilled hot tea over himself. In the hurry to go inside and change his clothes, Jayanto had left Fritz on the floor only. On return he saw that a few stray dogs had destroyed Fritz’s face completely. With great disbelief, Jayanto assumed it to be dead. Eventually, like one does it for a living being, Jayanto arranged for Fritz’s funeral. He wanted to bury it in a coffin for it was a European, but Jayanto couldn’t make arrangements of it and eventually buried him just like that under the deodar tree that he was searching for in the evening.
After the conversation, both Shankar and Jayanto retired to bed at around ten. But soon Shakar woke up due to a slight noise. He found Jayanto awake with a look of anxiety on his face. Ignoring Shankar’s querry, he asked him if the bungalow inhabited rats and cat for he felt something walk over his chest and that was what woke him up. He said that it was the second time that he woke up from sleep, earlier he woke up after hearing an unusual shuffling sound from near the window.
At this, Shankar looked around the room in search of the nocturnal intruder but all in vain. Suddenly Jayanto shouted out of fear and showed Shankar the tiny, brown circular marks on his quilt. Shankar felt Janato’s anxiety and tried to soothe him with some reassuring words. After some coaxing, Shankar fell asleep. Next morning though, Shankar could notice that Jayanto had troubled night with no proper sleep. He though that if need be, he would give Jayanto a tranquilizer to put him to sleeps to that he can get proper rest.
Soon after breakfast by 9 o’clock, they left for the fort for sight-seeing. Jayanto was again immersed in his old memories of the place, but not concerning his doll. He sounded excited at the sight of elephant statues, the real throne and the beds. But soon all his enthusiasm began to wave. He quietly slipped away to the terrace. On finding Jayanto, Shankar noticed that he had grown lost in the old memories, not the cheerful ones, and stood absent minded near a wall on the other side of the terrace. Jayanto expressed his wish to return to the circuit house. Though Shankar agreed to it considering his friend’s anxiety, yet he personally wished to stay a little longer at the fort. Throughout their drive to the circuit house, Jayanto seemed restless and that worried Shankar.
After putting in some efforts, Shankar finally managed to know what went through Jayanto’s mind. Jayanto said that it was Fritz, who had been to their room last night and it were his footprints on his quilt. Shankar felt annoyed at his friend’s irrational behavior, but at the same time he got worried about his health too. He thought that Jayanto needed some nerve tonic to calm down his troubled mind. Furthermore, Shankar thought that in order to prevent Jayanto from turning mad, they should exhume fritz’s remains from under the deodar tree so that Jayanto witnesses the doll being destroyed and only then could Jayanto come to terms with reality.
The idea appealed to Jayanto, though he did not agree to the idea immediately. He went for a bath, had little food during lunch hour and then they decide to relax in the veranda. There was something eerie about the silence that afternoon. At about three in the afternoon, they noticed the gardener. On Jayanto’s initiative, Shankar went forward to strike a deal with gardener. With an amount of rupees five in order to dig around the spot at the far-off deodar tree. Jayanto pointed at the ground about a yard from the tree trunk. He told the gardener to dig deep at less eight inches deep. Shankar shared a light moment with the gardener but Jayanto sweated even in the month of October. He stared at the ground without even blinking for once. Suddenly, he made a strong sound. With a trembling hand and a fearful voice, Jayanto pointed out at something under the soil. The gardener lost grip of the spade and Shankar too gaped in horror, amazement and disbelief. They gaped at a twelve inch long, pure white, perfect little human skeleton lying flat on its back, covered in dust. Disturbing as the sight was, the story ends on a mysterious, questioning tone if Fritz had always longed for Jayanto’s company.