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

Translated by Mohammad Shafiqul Islam

Serial : 17

‘We’ll also stroll all over the place, holding Bubu’s hand.’

Sahana and Arif come over, running. Together, three of them move around Amena, who says, a smile on her face, ‘What’s happened to you, Ma?’

‘War may begin soon,’ mumbles Sabiha, ‘people are engrossed in the speech of the seventh of March. They recall at least one or two lines of the speech. Which line do you remember, Ma?’

‘Turn each and every house into a fortress.’

‘Hurrah, bravo!’

‘I remember one too,’ Arif claps.

‘Which one?’

‘My dear brothers!’

‘Wow! Very good!’

‘I also recall a line,’ shouts Sahana.

‘What’s that?’

‘Be ready with whatever you have’’

‘I’ m proud of you—come to my heart, let me hug you.’

Embracing Sahana and Arif, Sabiha bows down and touches her mother’s feet. Indeed three of them keep holding their mother’s feet for quite some time. Moving her feet away, Amena inquires, ‘What’s happened to you? Let’s go home first.’

Raising her head, Sabiha mutters, ÔNot home, Ma, say fortress.’

‘Ha ha ha,’ Arif giggles out.

‘Fortress, a house of gold.’

ÔStupid! I’ll slap you.’

Sahana gets infuriated, ‘DonÕt be so stupid, Arif. Is the fortress a house of gold?’

‘Of what, then?’

‘Arms and ammunitions.’

‘Stop,’ yells Sabiha, ‘don’t speak too much. Lots of enemies are ambling around us, here and there.’

‘Enemy? Who are enemies?’

‘Oh, stop, Arif. Keep silent.’

Arif runs apace towards home, gripping Sabiha’s hands off, with Sahana following him. Holding her mother’s hand, Sabiha gets home. She feels exhausted, so she sits on the veranda. She worries if she’ll be able to walk this way holding her mother’s hand after the war—she tries to convince herself. This is the crossroads of life, so she shouldn’t think like this, as it might devalourize her. Before her are Arif and Sahana playing in excitement with toy pistols made of bamboo. Little in age, they can’t realize the state of the country. At this point, they stop playing and sit beside Sabiha.

‘Bubu, O Bubu!’

‘What do you want to say?’

‘Why don’t you look at us?’

Sahana turns Sabiha’s face towards them.

‘Are you feeling down, Bubu?’

‘No, not at all. Why?’

‘Then why are you looking so depressed? Do you miss anyone from Dhaka?’ Sahana chuckles.

‘Who should I miss?’ Sabiha looks up, frowning.

‘A friend. A male friend? Haven’t you made any friend in Dhaka?’

‘Those who study with me,’ Sabiha confirms, ‘are all my friends.’

‘Not that sort. Close friends who you miss a lot, you deeply feel to see them.’

‘You’re trying to dig a pit, I see! Cad you are!’

 Sahana jumps down the yard, with Arif following her. Their mischievousness and daredevilry please Sabiha. We need such carefree young souls. They come back within a short while.

‘Bubu, Razzak Chairman has summoned you.’

‘Who told you?’

‘Johur lathial, a minion fighting with sticks for his boss.’

‘What else has he said?’

‘You’re asked to meet Chairman immediately.’

‘Where’s Johur Bhai?’

‘He left saying this, adding that if you don’t go now, they’ll tie you with a rope and force you to get to the Chairman.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes, he said so. He looked very angry with you.’

‘Where’s Abba?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘After Abba arrives home, I’ll go.’

‘You’re asked to go now. We’ll accompany you—let’s go.’

Hearing their conversation, Amena comes out from the kitchen.

‘Will you go to meet Chairman?’

‘Yes, I’ll, Ma—I should know why he has sent for me. Maybe he isn’t happy with me, because I speak of independence.’

‘Then don’t go.’

‘No, I’ll go. Indeed we have to face them, make them understand that we’ll fight, or else they’ll put us in trouble.’

‘Be careful, Ma. Don’t fall in trouble.’

‘Ma, don’t worry. I’m going over.’

Three of them—Sabiha, Sahana, and Arif—leave for Chairman’s.

Grasping the gate, Amena keeps standing there for quite some time. Aubergines are burning on the oven, but she doesn’t have the smell. Leaning her head against the bamboo door, she waits for her daughter’s return, as if the unending time of fourteen generations stood before her. It seems to her she can never pass the time, facing trials. But times ahead belong to Sabiha—Amena regains poise—she’ll surpass her fourteen generations in a single leap. Then Amena asks herself—can she really do that? Yes, she can and she has to. She alone carries the courage of her fourteen generations. My brave daughter—just muttering this, Amena lifts her head up. Fear flies away fluttering in the spring breeze blowing around her. Unsullied spring breeze flows. Taking a long breath in with full content, Amena murmurs—I’m proud of you, Ma.

Going over to Razzak Chairman and standing face to face with him, Sabiha says, ‘Uncle, this lathial has behaved rudely, talked as if he’d force me to come to you.Õ

Razzak Chairman’s eyes turned red in rage.

ÔScoundrel, ‘chides Chairman at Sultan lathial, Ôyou didn’t learn to speak proper! Go away from my sight.’

As soon as Sultan attempts to leave, Razzak Chairman commands, ÔHold her feet and seek apologies to her. She’s an educated girl, you should show respect to her.’

Begging forgiveness to Sabiha, Sultan goes away.

Chairman says, ‘Good that you’ve come to the village. For Sheikh Mujib’s oppression, no one can stay in Dhaka, neither you. I was wondering I should talk to you about protecting Pakistan.’

‘Talk? To me?’

‘You’re an educated girl, the pride of our village.’

‘What do you know about Dhaka? Pakistani Army are killing people indiscriminately.’

‘In response to Mujib’s activities, what Pakistani Army are doing is justified, Ma. Taking law in his own hand, Mujib is trying to rule East Pakistan. Now . . .’

‘Stop, uncle.’

‘Why? Ain’t I right?Õ

‘Has Yahya Khan done the right thing? Wasn’t he supposed to hand over power to Bangabandhu? Has he kept his promise?’

‘Stop! Get silent—you’re talking of dividing Pakistan, the country that respects women. I thought . . .’

‘I don’t need to know what you thought. Never call for me again for anything. Now before me is either independence or death.’

‘Such audacity,’ roars Razzak Chairman. ‘Leave, go away from my sight. I have to talk to your father.’

‘Aren’t you a Bengali? Isn’t Bangladesh your country? Haven’t you listened to Bangabandhu’s speech of 7th of March?’

‘Leave, be off right away. You’re a traitor, I see.’

‘Talk sense,’ Sabiha roars back.’

‘If you cross the limit, I’ll hand you over to army, and then you’ll know what’s what. Now leave, go back home. Send your father to me.’

‘Bubu, let’s go.’

As Sahana and Arif force her to leave, Sabiha follows them. She no more recognizes Razzak Chairman, whom she has known since childhood—now he works for Pakistan. But he hasn’t spoken this way so long. At this point, struggle of the Bengalis for emancipation appears as Mujib’s tyranny to him. Sabiha’s head begins to twizzle, and she can realize that she has to recognize the Bengalis supporting Bangladesh or Pakistan, face the music of trust and mistrust. She also realized this earlier, but this time Razzak Chairman’s behaviour torments her.

Coming out onto the street, Sabiha thinks about Gopal—has he returned home or he’s still on the other side of the river? Now she gets into Gopal’s house. With her five-year old son in her lap, Koruna is crying at a corner of the yard. Chunks of dry wood are burning in the clay oven. They draw near Koruna.

‘How are you, Boudi?’

Startled, Koruna looks back, hugs Sabiha right away, and keeps crying.

‘What’s happened, Boudi?’ asks Sabiha. ‘Where’s Dada? Hasn’t he got home yet?’

‘He was home last night, but has gone out this morning.’

‘Don’t you know where he has gone?’

‘Pakistani military killed thousands of Bengalis in Dhaka last night, torched their houses. He’s sort of mad, you know. Hearing the news, he couldn’t sleep at night. In the morning, putting his hand on our son’s head, he swore in the name of Mother Kali and said: I’ll come back only after taking revenge.’

‘Did he say anything else?’

‘He also said he was going to meet those who had taken the oath to fight for independence after listening to Bangabandhu’s speech of the 7th of March. Has the Liberation War really begun in our country? What do you think, Sabiha Apa?’

‘Yes, it’s as true as the sun and the moon, Boudi. Now we have no option, but our Chairman is working to save the honour of Pakistan.’

‘He’s just a wicket man, who calls us malaun.’

‘Boudi, this country belongs to all of us. Everyone should live in peace and get their own due rights.’

‘I’ll also join the war, Sabiha Apa.’

‘We all shall fight—either independence or death.’

With beaming eyes, Koruna looks up and exchanges glances with Sabiha. They realize their own position. Just this moment, Sahana storms into the house and says, “Bubu, Abba has told you to get home now.’

‘Let’s go. I’m leaving, Boudi. See you soon.’

Sabiha has been feeling blank within since she left Gopal’s house. Has Gopal done the right thing, leaving Koruna all alone? He could have taken her with him—indeed he should have done this. Is it time to think about—Sabiha assumes immediately—what should or shouldn’t be done? Gopal left home in an intense excitement, but he may return as soon as he misses Koruna and his son. And then, keeping their son with his mother, Gopal might take Koruna with him. Sabiha now gets silent. Who knows what may happen? A storm blows within her. As she draws close to her house, the afternoon of the 7th March rings in her heart: ÔToday with a heavy heart, I appear before you. You know and understand everything. ÔSince then she has been trying to weave the thread of knowing and understanding. Ashraf, however, understands much better and can analyze more subtly.

No sooner do they draw close to their house, than Sahana says, ‘Look, a beautiful butterfly there! I’m going to catch it.’ The colourful butterfly is flying over a wildflower by the road. Now it sits on the flower, and then flies away. Sabiha also enjoys the sight for a few moments. When Sahana runs after the butterfly, Sabiha enters the house.

From the gate, she can see her father sitting beside a man, who’s lying on the mat spread on the veranda. She walks fast to her father and asks, ‘Abba, have you called me out?’

‘Yes, Ma, come here. As Amena brings a glass of milk, Sabiha asks, whispering, ‘Who’s the man, Ma?’

‘He’s a policeman,’ Amena informs, Ôfrom Rajarbagh Police Line, Dhaka.’

Amena offers him the glass, ÔPlease drink the milk.’

‘I’ll never forget the care you’ve taken of me. Now I’m feeling much better.’

Looking at Sabiha, Taslim says, ÔMa, he’s Mizanur Rahman, who fought against Pakistani Army last night. As he couldn’t stand before heavily armed forces, he came out from there. Your Noni uncle helped him cross the river. Seeing him unable to walk properly, I brought him home so that he can take a little rest to get well.’

‘I’ve got well, Taslim Bhai. I’ll remember your care forever.’

‘What my parents have done for you is nothing compared to your contributions to the country. You’ve proven heroic are the Bengalis who don’t let Pakistanis go unchallenged. You’ve fought with all strength to make us part of a proud nation that will certainly pay tribute to you.’

A wave of smile on his face, Taslim remarks, “My daughter studies at Dhaka University. She can sing well. All through March, she sang in front of processions, with girls and boys tuning with her.’

‘We can sing and fight simultaneously.’

‘Absolutely right,” Sabiha applauds in excitement. Sahana and Arif also clap and saunter around; everyone else laughs. Suddenly Mizanur Rahman thinks it’s a house of music and war. How does a policeman fighting against Pakistani Army opening fire meet a girl, who sang during the non-cooperation movement in Dhaka, in this location? Couldn’t someone else have escorted him to another house? Why the father of this girl? This is luck, the holy thread of bond. Delighted, Mizanur breaks silence, ‘I don’t have the rifle now, so let the war of music keep on.’

‘War of music? Yes, that’s right. Come on, let’s fight with music together.’

‘Which song will you sing, Bubu?’

‘Durgom giri kantar moru dustor parabar—Unreachable mountains, vast deserts, impassable borders.’

‘Yes, great choice—we remember the lyrics too.’

‘I’ve also memorized the lyrics,’ Mizanur adds, smiling.

‘Really? You’re then a man of both rifle and music.’

Everyone bursts into laughter.

‘Ma, you also have to sing with us; don’t feel shy. You and Abba will follow the song, listening to us. Is it okay, Abba?’

‘Yes, okay.’

The singing starts—‘Unreachable mountains, vast deserts, impassable borders.’ With almost unbearable pain in his frame, Mizanur sits on the mat spread on the veranda. While running away from the Police Line, he fell down on the street inverted, his head getting severely hit. He’s still feeling pain over the whole frame, not an iota has subsided down—now it’s difficult for him to keep seated. But he doesn’t exhibit how he’s suffering. Hearing Mizanur sing, Sabiha figures out he has a great voice—he’s indeed singing very well. Everyone is enjoying the arrangement to their heart’s content. People from adjacent places have already gathered. They get to the gate singing. When they stop, Mizanur shouts, ‘Struggle this time…’

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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