The Afternoon of the Seventh of March
Translated by Mohammad Shafiqul Islam
Serial : 12
On the verandah, Amena has been waiting for her daughter. Why is she delaying? Already home, Taslim is eating puffed rice with molasses. Drawing husband’s attention, she mutters, ‘Why not you go out once more? See why she’s late.’
‘Let her spend some time on her own,’ says Taslim. ‘To know about Dhaka, many people have surrounded her. Nonigopal is with her too.’
With rapt attention, Amena listens to the sound of the slogan. She mumbles in astonishment, ‘Processions in the village?’
‘Maybe,’ Taslim says. ‘Our daughter likes to sing; she used to sing on the streets of Dhaka. She’s probably singing now.’
By this time little children have gathered in the house of Sabiha. They’re excited about her arrival.
‘Ma, where are you?” Sabiha calls out loud.
Getting down from the verandah, Amena comes to the outside door, can see Sabiha saying goodbye to others. People are leaving. Nonigopal draws close to the door, carrying her suitcase.
‘How are you, didi?’
‘Well, I’m well.’
‘You haven’t rode on my boat for a long time.’
‘Next Kartik month when I’ll go to father’s house.’ Amena extends her hands to her daughter when she says this.
‘Come close, Ma, calm my heart.’
Putting her head on mother’s shoulder, Sabiha asks, ‘Where are Sahana and Arif, Ma?’
‘They’ve gone out to play. I don’t know where. Are you feeling sad, leaving Dhaka? Come inside, Ma.’
‘In the beginning, I felt so sad to leave so many things, was a bit angry upon father. But after crossing the river, meeting so many people from the village and talking to them, I’m feeling well. It seems people are fearless and ready for independence. Everyone is as courageous as a hero.’
‘Bravo, my soul! I’ve noticed since childhood, the power of your realization is strong. Until you are home, your father has been in tension. No father can keep in peace if a daughter stays away.’
Coming forward, Taslim says, ‘Ma, freshen up. You should eat something.’
‘Abba, give two taka extra to Noni uncle; he has come far, carrying the suitcase.’
‘Yes, sure, I’ll.’
While taking out taka from the pocket, Taslim warns Noni, ‘You’ve anchored your boat at the ghat. What if it’s stolen?’
‘No, no one can steal my boat from Bengal; at the cost of blood, I’ve bought this boat.’
All the people standing nearby laugh out loud. Sabiha gets engrossed in Nonigopal’s laugh, which is rooted deep in his heart. The sound settles with stream of the river. ‘Now I’ll go, Ma,’ says Noni. He also greets Taslim and Amena.
When the boatman leaves, Taslim gets into the room. And then Arif arrives, running.
‘Bubu, you’ve come,’ Arif is excited. ‘How are you?’
‘I’m well,’ Sabiha says.
‘You’ve sung many songs in Dhaka, right?’
‘Yes, in processions, to awaken everyone.’
‘As I’ve grown up, I’ll learn to sing. Didn’t you say―when I grow up, you’ll teach me singing.’
‘Of course, I’ll teach you. You’re my sweet brother.’
‘Bubu, what have you brought for me?’
‘I’ve brought a nice thing for you. Let’s go open the suitcase. But Sahana hasn’t returned yet.’
‘She was running to catch a butterfly, but couldn’t be successful. She won’t be able to catch one either.’
Arif laughs and says, ‘Sahana feels excited, running after butterflies.’
Looking at a butterfly, Sahana bites her own fingers. She strongly yearns to catch one and put it into one of her books. And with its wings, she’ll draw a picture in her copybook. But she can’t catch a single butterfly today. Suddenly she can see Nonigopal. Running to him, she says, ‘How are you, uncle?’
‘I’m well,’ says Noni. ‘Ma, go home; your sister has come.’
‘Bubu, our bubu has come?’
‘I’ve just come from your home.’
Super excited, Sahana runs up without looking around. In a short while, she gets home and shouts out, ‘Bubu!’
This moment, Sabiha has just taken out the flag of Bangladesh from the suitcase. Extending his hand, Taslim spreads out the flag. Hugging Sabiha on the verandah, Sahana says, ‘Is it the flag of Bangladesh? Red and green. On the middle is the map of Bangladesh, yellow in colour.’
‘How beautiful! Joy to Bengal’ Arif jumps in joy.
Amena gets astounded, and looking at Taslim, she emits, ‘Do you see how courageous your son is?’
‘Yes, he has courage,’ says Taslim loudly. ‘Joy to Bengal is indeed the call of our heart.’
‘Abba is right, before us there’s only Joy to Bengal now, nothing else. People all over the country are chanting Joy to Bengal.’
‘Then let’s chant too.’
Sahana stands straight beside Taslim. Raising two hands, she says, “Bubu’s flag is green and red. The butterfly I was running after is also green and red, but I couldn’t catch any―all of them flew away.’
Hoisting up the flag, Sabiha says, ‘See your butterfly has come to us.’
‘Then our home is independent,’ Sahana shouts. ‘Our home has achieved independence.’
Taslim also shouts out, ‘We’re heroic Bengalis.’
Shaking mother’s hand, Sabiha shouts out, ‘Heroic Bengalis, take up arms.’
All others join, ‘Free Bangladesh.’
‘Hoisting up the flag, let’s chant slogans in our yard.’
Holding two edges of the flag, Arif and Sahana hover it up, others behind them. All the people there move around together. Sabiha gets drenched in emotion―could she see such a scene in Dhaka? Everyone feels proud of their motherland that they’ve placed in their hearts. Life would be more rhythmic with the fulfillment of love if Ashraf were here today; the coming days would be more colourful. These beautiful days come to a few people, Ashraf! Both of us are witnesses of the best time. I won’t feel sorry if I don’t live longer, neither will you do, I know. Sabiha can hear the sound of river deep within her heart―all kinds of sounds, of stream, of erosion. None of the sounds is outside of life. She gets excited in happiness.
After the procession, they get on the verandah, while Sahana and Arif go to cut green coconuts. Entering the kitchen, Arif says, shouting, ‘There are only five coconuts; we’ll take one each, putting our mouths onto those.’
Sahana cuts coconuts with a chopper, sitting on the corner of the verandah.
Looking at her Parents, Sabiha emits, ‘Sitting here in my home, I can hear the speech of the seventh of March, Abba.’
‘Which one, Ma?’
‘Turn each and every home into a fortress. You have to fight the enemies with whatever you have.’
‘You mean we have to turn our home into a fortress?’
‘You’re right, Bangabandhu has directed us just this way.’
Arif runs to Sabiha and asks, ‘What’s fortress, Bubu?’
‘I’ll tell you what it is after some time; together let’s have coconuts now.’
Bringing two more coconuts, Arif gives his parents. With coconuts and the chopper in hands, Sahana follows Arif. Putting those on the ground and raising the chopper up, she says, “Bubu, Bangabandhu told everyone to fight enemies with whatever they have, right? I have this chopper with me―with a single blow, the head would be severed!”
‘Come, sit here.’
‘My goodness, how bold she is!’
‘Don’t fear, Ma. All of us have to gather courage – what do you think, Abba?’
‘You’re right. We can never achieve independence without being courageous?’
‘Together let’s have coconut water courageously. One-two-three / with coconut water, turn your throat watery.’
Everyone bursts in laughter and sips coconut water. Arif finishes first and then shouts out, ‘May coconut water conquer!’
‘What do you mean by coconut water to conquer?’
‘We’ll have dinner together; Ma, what will you cook tonight?’
‘What would you like to eat?’
‘Khichuri and beef, Ma.’
‘Where can we get beef this time?’
‘Khichuri and fried eggs?’
‘Okay, khichuri and fried eggs will do.’
Arif jumps down the yard from the verandah, and Sahana collects the forsaken coconuts to cast away. ‘Are eggs available home?’ Taslim asks.
‘Yes,’ nods Amena. ‘What will you like to eat, Ma?’ she asks Sabiha.
“No need to cook anything different for me,” Sabiha confirms. ‘I’ll eat what Arif has chosen.’
Sabiha enters the room. She feels a bit dejected, missing Ashraf so much. Besides, this small room is congested for her compared to Dhaka, the large and frenzied city. The moments of singing in processions appear live to her―she closes her eyes. Singing mass music from the front, she’d say, ‘Our struggle shall keep on. People’s struggle shall keep on.’
Her eyes are still closed, and she feels that all others in the procession are singing the song, with the boys carrying festoons and placards. Sabiha and Ashraf are walking together. Raising his fists up, Ashraf is shouting slogans now and then, ‘Six points, eleven points,’ while others are joining, ‘You have to accept, you must accept.’ On firm feet, all are moving forward. The university premises are reverberated with songs and slogans.
Ah, to witness such days is a matter of luck in life. With eyes closed, Sabiha gets immersed in the memories of Dhaka days. In those days, she’s acquainted with Ashraf, later falling in love with each other. Tender feeling of love pulls Sabiha to the depth of memories, as if the memories were settled in order at the depth of the mind-ocean. No sooner does she close her eyes, than everything gets adorned in the clay wall. She no more feels sad. Delivering herself from the game of memories, she emits, ‘Time is my best friend. I can blossom the flowers of this time in my mind. Not long ago, my friends gathered in my room at Rokeya Hall at deep night―in excitement, we didn’t sleep.’ When she closes her eyes again, she can see the images.
To write on posters, Sabiha has spread paper on the floor. On a small clay platter nearby, there’s ink, red and black. Taking red ink now and then black in the brush, she’s writing in big letters― Ekush is indeed the colour of our spirit. With captivated eyes, she keeps looking at the words, as if she herself were an artist. The spirit of an artist engrosses her. In another poster, she writes – Our pride, our hope / Our mother tongue. Then pasting gum behind the poster, she sets it on the festoon, rested against the wall. It’d be wonderful to carry them in the procession. Those who will see can read – Ekush is indeed the colour of our spirit.
Selina Hossain : Fictionist in Bangla Literature
Mohammad Shafiqul Islam : poet, translator and academic, teaches English as Associate Professor in the Department of English at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet 3114, Bangladesh
Illustration : Najib Tareque