Series Novel : The Afternoon of the Seventh of March : Selina Hossain

Translated by Mohammad Shafiqul Islam

Serial : 16

Flabbergasted, Taslim keeps his eyes on his daughter’s face. Since her childhood, she is a bit different – Taslim reflects. She always tries to think beyond her stage. It’s only four years he had taken her to Dhaka, but she didn’t hesitate to go to the city from village. How quickly she adjusted with city life! While waiting in the bus stop, he told her, “Dear Ma, don’t spend more time in music so you can study well.”

“Listening to music,” Sabiha said, “I’ve learnt how to sing. No one taught me. Besides, I sing only patriotic songs that inspire people to love the country.”

Taslim nodded his head, and his eyes turned heavy with tears. Just that moment he got on the bus with Sabiha, didn’t have time to wipe tears. Through all these years, Sabiha has changed a lot! “You’re right, Ma.” Taslim mutters. “My heart also beats faster if I listen to patriotic songs.”

“I’m going to river ghat.” says Sabiha, “From here I can’t get news about Dhaka.”

As Sabiha starts walking on, Sahana and Arif follow her, and Taslim asks for rice to eat in the kitchen.

By the time Amena offers a plateful of rice and a glass of water, Taslim begins to eat silently, and mumbles in a low voice, “You also eat.” Now Amena pulls her plate and begins to eat. Very hungry, they get engrossed in eating. Their brains seem to be blank, so they can’t think anything now. No birds are chirping, no animals are gloating anywhere. There’s no sound of river stream there too. A strange silence has settled over the whole purlieu. It seems only a few people are walking along the cropland, without making any sound. Taslim now looks up to the yard, and then keeps an eye on Amena’s face. Amena looks a bit depressed – anxious too. The daughter would join the war, so the mother must worry. Taslim also thinks – can Sabiha return from the war? Right away he remembers Sabiha saying – either death or independence! Now he lands a fistful of rice into his mouth and thinks that there’s no more significant realization than this on earth.

Astounded, Amena asks, “What’s happened?”

“I’ve finished eating,” emits Taslim, “so now I’ll join the war.”

“We all – even Arif – have to fight for the country. Everyone in the village has come to know that this house would turn into a fort.”

“And you’ll be the defender of the fort.”

A wave of radiance streams over Amena’s face as she smiles. The oven in the kitchen has been put off, but the room has lightened up. This is a distinct joie de vivre mixed with courage and smile. They cast a glance at each other, roaming around the realm of memory. Although they tied the knot twenty-eight years back, they’re still happy, without facing any big crisis in their life. Moreover, they’ve got such a great daughter, who never wants to be diffident. They keep their look glued to each other – no one keep their eyes away. In a strange sense of certainty, they continue keeping their eyes on each other.

A host of sparrows are squeaking outside as if they just came down on the yard from a miraculous tree. The yard is gradually expanding as if to turn into a vast warfield for the sparrows. Like bullets, the screeches are sprinkling around. Both Taslim and Amena ruminate as though they won the independence movement, and the slogan ‘Victory to Bengal’ rings in the screeches of the sparrows.

Excited, both of them stand up, with plates in their hands. Stepping on the terrace, they see lots of sparrows, either flying or leaping on the ground.

“The sparrows are playing gleefully, I see,” emits Amena in a thrilled voice.

“They aren’t afraid of us too, or else they’d fly away.”

Taslim remains motionless for quite some time as if he can’t see the sparrows – his look floats up in the space. To him these tiny birds appear as bullets that no more carry joys for him. His daughter, now walking by the riverbank, is running after the bullets, but he can’t stop her. Why should he stop her? Clutching Amena’s hand tightly, Taslim says, “Let’s go.”

“Where?” Amena turns her look, frowning.

“To the riverbank,” murmurs Taslim, with emotion.

“Why to the riverbank? To call Sabiha?”

“No, we shouldn’t call her. Let her spend time by the riverbank. Since my childhood I’ve known the Bishkhali, the river of my heart. If Pakistani military pierces my heart, the Bishkali will place me in its heart.

“Why are you saying all this?”Amena begins to sob. Pulling her hand again, Taslim says, “Let’s go.”

“I won’t go,” Amena still sobs.

“The river is my last refuge,” emits Taslim, “let’s go.”

With her sari anchal, Amena wipes tears, and then walks on with Taslim. From this far, they can see the river has got high tide, the sound of which is different today, as though it were saying, “The history of Bengal is the history of the staining of streets with the blood of the people of this country.”

Coming out from the house, Taslim holds off Amena’s hand, as many people are moving around. Turning his head, Taslim asks, “Can you see?”

“What? River?”

“Yes, the colour of the river has changed. Now it seems to be the river of blood, its water is red.”

“I can also see the river has turned red.”

“O God!”

They walk fast to the river, and seeing them, Sabiha comes, whereas Sahana and Arif are still moving to and fro to catch butterflies.

“Abba, see the river well, your Bishkhali,” Sabiha says.

“We’re seeing, Ma, the Bishkhali is now the river of blood.”

“I can see the same – war is approaching faster.”

“Let’s go, Ma, we’ve come to bring you back home.”

“No, Abba, I won’t go home. I’m waiting to see if anyone comes from Dhaka.”

“You can get here again in the afternoon. Now let’s go as you haven’t eaten anything since morning.”

Suddenly Sabiha feels hungry, so she wants to eat something. Nonigopal, the boatman, is on the other side of the river. People aren’t travelling much today. Sabiha remarks, “Since morning, Noni uncle is waiting on the other side. If he were on our side now, we could wander about by his boat.”

“Let’s go back home,” Amena holds Sabiha’s hand.

“Let’s go, Abba.”

By the time they begin to walk, Sahana and Arif run toward them.

“How many butterflies have you caught?”

“Not even one.”

“From now on, guns will be needed to catch butterflies,” remarks Arif, laughing.

“You can’t, even with a gun,” shouts Sahana. “It’s not easy to catch butterflies with guns.”

“Who told you? It’s not difficult – I can kill thousands of butterflies with a gun.”

“Shut up,” Sahana chides him. “Don’t say a single word more. You needn’t display heroism.”

Arif looks at the faces of his parents, but no one speaks anything – they don’t look even at him. A bit sad, he runs toward the house, feeling like jumping in the pond.

Coming from all around, people in a group or as individuals around them, ask several questions. They’re indeed curious to know about Dhaka, but no one has any news to share. They can know only what Pakistani Radio broadcasts.

Delwar mumbles, “After hearing Mujibur’s 7th March speech on the radio, we don’t feel like hearing what Pakistani Radio relays.”

Three or four people shout in unison, “We feel like breaking the radio into pieces.”

“What should we do now, Taslim bhai?”

“We have to join the war.”

“Where shall we get arms and ammunitions?”

“Of course we’ll manage. Now go home, you all.”

It’s the month of Chaitra, so at noon scorching heat is sheeting down. Moreover, wind isn’t blowing from the riverside. Sabiha feels suffocated, and she’s hungry too, but more than that she’s feeling depressed. She won’t have peace of mind until she comes to know about Ashraf’s whereabouts. Dry leaves, dust, and various types of insects in the wind are making her more discontented. Uninterested to talk to anyone, she wants to walk fast back home.

With all others, Taslim stands under the banyan tree nearby. He’s unable to bear the intensity of the incident that happened last night, so he likes to lighten it up, talking to other people. Several people are talking various things in different ways, some of them stating lines from the 7th March speech. The young boys from the village are shouting slogans with some lines of the speech. Taslim himself also chants, “Now the people of Bengal want emancipation.”

Someone else adds, “The people of Bengal want to live.”

Together the boys shout, “The people of Bengal want to have their rights.”

Hearing this line, Sabiha gets astounded and stops there right away – people have clearly remembered the line. She gets excited as everyone has fondly carried the line in their minds. She realizes that the people won’t make any mistake to take a decision in the coming days. Deep within their hearts, the spirit of the 7th March speech is igniting.

“Hurrah, we’ve found our path. Now let’s move on /Drum beats ring in the sky / The youths of morning sun / Let’s move on.”

Holding her mother’s hands, Sabiha moves around.

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

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