(13 November 1948 – 19 July 2012)
Translated by Muhammed Rukan Uddin
‘B rother, would you mind listening to an interesting story?’
Surprised, I looked at the gentleman. We two had just talked—not about anything serious though. He asked me if I was waiting for the train. I said, ‘Yes’, and asked, ‘Where are you going?’
The gentleman smiled, ‘I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to receive my wife. She’s coming from Chittagong. The train will arrive two hours late. I don’t feel like returning home. I’d rather wait here than go home and come back.’
I talked to him only that far. Following this when somebody says, brother, would you mind listening to an interesting story?—it seems weird. I’m not much interested in listening to stories from unknown people. Also, I’ve observed one thing from long experience that so-called interesting stories aren’t always interesting.
I kept quiet without saying anything. If the gentleman were intelligent, he’d understand the meaning of my quietness. If not, I must have to listen to the story.
The gentleman didn’t look intelligent at all. He started the story while preparing paan in the box.
I’m talking too much, I suppose—are you feeling disturbed? If anyone keeps on prating to any stranger—it’s obviously annoying. Actually, today is very special to me. On this day, I like to tell this story whomever I happen to meet. I can start the story if you permit.’
‘Do you eat paan?’
‘Have one. Sweet paan. It won’t taste bad.’
‘Do you also offer paan to the person you tell the story on this day?’
The gentleman laughed heartily. He’s about forty, very handsome too. He looks excellent in bright white pajama and panjabi. He may’ve dressed up for his wife.
‘It happened twenty years back when I was pursuing honours in Physics. You may not see me clearly—it’s dark here. If there were enough light, you’d see how impressive I look. I was like a prince twenty years back. Among the student community, I was ‘the prince’. Interestingly, I had no worth to the girls. I don’t know if you’ve observed—girls are never attracted by men’s beauty. They notice everything men may possess but beauty. No girl during my university life was interested in me; neither did anyone talk to me. I too approached none of them because I used to stutter—speech would get blocked.’
I stopped the gentleman, ‘I don’t see anything like that. You don’t stutter. You speak nicely.’
‘I overcame the problem after marriage. It was severe earlier. I went through a huge medication—from keeping marbles inside the mouth to homeopathy treatment to wearing amulets given by faith healers. Actually I left no stone unturned. Anyway, back to the story. My subsidiary subjects were maths and chemistry. One day I saw a girl in the chemistry subsidiary class. She was such a beauty that I felt like I was losing my breath. Sweet profile. Long eyebrows. Soothing eyes. The eyes were ever smiling. Brother, have you ever been in love?’
‘You won’t understand my mental condition that time if you’re not in love. I was taken over by a complete nervous breakdown the day I saw her. I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I felt thirsty, and my throat was often drying out. I drank a lot of water and passed the whole night straddling along the Mohsin hall corridor.
We had two subsidiary classes a week. I tried to cry with anger and grief. What if there were subsidiary classes every day? Two classes meant one hundred minutes, that means fifty minutes per class. One hundred minutes pass by in the twinkling of an eye. Besides, the girl was truanting frequently. It also happened that she didn’t turn up two weeks in a row. Then, I felt like jumping off the Mohsin hall rooftop to end all my agonies. You can’t understand how intense the pain was because you’ve never been in love.’
‘But, you didn’t tell me her name?’
‘Rupa. I didn’t know her full name. Why only name—I actually knew nothing about her, not even her department. I only knew she had subsidiary maths, and she used to come to the university by a Moris Minor black car, number-Bha 8781.’
‘Didn’t you take any further information?’
‘No. I didn’t as I always feared that she might have relationship with someone. You’ll understand if I tell you what happened one day. After a subsidiary class, much to my shock, I saw her with a boy laughing heartily and passing a pleasant time. I was trembling with anger. I felt I would slump to the ground in a faint. Leaving all classes I returned to the hall, and, after a while, I came down with a raging fever.’
‘Yes, it was. I passed two full years in this way. My study spoiled. Then, one day, I did a very brave job. I went to her chauffeur and took her address. Later, I wrote a letter to her without any salutation. I can’t remember what I wrote, but the subject matter was about marriage—I wanted to marry her. She’d have to agree. I’d lie down on the street in front of her house starving until she agreed—hunger strike until death, as newspapers would’ve headlined. Is the story interesting?’
‘Yes, it is. Go ahead. Did you post the letter?’
‘No, I carried the letter myself. I went to their house and told the gatekeeper, ‘Isn’t there a sister in this house studying at the university? Please give this to her.’ The gatekeeper was very prompt. He came back and said, ‘Apa says she doesn’t know you.’ I said, ‘It is OK, she doesn’t know me, but I know her. This is enough.’
‘That said I kept standing there. You see, everything looked absolutely crazy. Actually the whole thing made me unhinged that moment— I became very irrational. Anyway, I stood in front of the gate from 9 am to 4 pm without any problem. I noticed a few people from the second floor were curiously looking at the scene below. At around 4 pm an elderly man came down shouting at me.
‘Don’t be crazy, it’s been enough of it. Now go home.’
‘I won’t’. With even harder voice, I said.
‘I’ll inform the police and you’ll be picked up.’
‘No problem. You can.’
‘You rascal! Didn’t you get any other place to show off this revelry?’
‘Why’re you hurling abuse? I’m not being rude to you.’
‘Outrageous, the gentleman went inside. Then, the rain came down—it’s actually pouring. I felt feverish. I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the cold rain after standing the whole day in the sun. A sense of desperation possessed me—what will be will be. I was completely weary of hunger and distress. Sometimes I felt my head was spinning, and I’d fall down.
Meanwhile many people gathered. Some of them asked me why I was getting drenched in the rain. I requested them not to meddle with the matter, and said I was crazy.
The girl’s family might’ve informed their relatives. Three cars arrived at the gate. The passengers looked angrily at me, and entered into the house.
It’s 9 pm. The rain didn’t stop for a moment. I felt high fever. I couldn’t stand any more. I sat down, legs spread out. The gatekeeper came to me and whispered, ‘Sir wants to call police, but madam doesn’t like it. Apa is weeping at your distress. Stay strong.’
I remained seated firmly.
Now it’s 11 pm. I saw the lights on in their balcony. The door opened, the girl came out, and all her family members followed. But she came down alone.
‘Why all this madness?’ she said with a sobbing tone.
I was astounded. I stared at her. She was not that girl—she was another. I’ve never seen her before. The Moris Minor chauffeur had given me the wrong address. Maybe, he did it intentionally.
‘Come inside. Food is ready. Please come.’ The girl said softly.
I stood up and tried to say, ‘Don’t mind, I’ve made a great mistake. You’re not the one I’m in love with.’ But I couldn’t. I gave in to the strong feeling of love in her eyes. No girl on earth has ever looked at me with that compassion.
Due to extreme fever, I couldn’t put my steps properly. She said, ‘Maybe, you’re not feeling well. Hold my hand and walk. No problem.’
From the balcony her family members scowled at us. Defying their fierce look she spread her hand towards me. This love was beyond any measure, and God didn’t give anybody the power to dishonour it. I grabbed her hand.
I’ve been with her for last twenty years. Sometimes I am deeply penitent. I wish I could tell my wife this story of error. I can’t. Then, I try to find out somebody like you—unfamiliar. I tell the story because I know my wife will never know about it. All right, brother, my train seems to have arrived, let me go.’
The gentleman stood up. From a distance, the train flashed lights and blew the whistle – yes, it arrived.
Muhammed Rukan Uddin teaches English at University of Chittagong. He can be reached at email@example.com