Translated from Bangla by Mohammad Shafiqul Islam
Serial : 22
Touching her parents’ feet, Sabiha seeks their blessings, and extending love to her siblings, walks along with Nayan, shortly uniting with the darkness of the night. “Where are we going,” asks Sabiha softly.
“Sorry, I can’t tell you, but I’m asked to help you reach there.”
“I’ve got it, Ashraf has trained you well. Don’t talk, then—I won’t ask you anything more.”
“Remaining silent for some time, Sabiha looks back, watching the surroundings. She’s heading towards a new destination but doesn’t fear to move ahead—she was indeed waiting for Ashraf’s call.”
“What do you observe?” asks Nayan, smiling. “Have you already started missing your parents?”
“I see my beautiful country; at the touch of night, it’s looking exceptionally beautiful.”
“But they’re burning the country into ashes.”
“We’ll certainly take revenge against them.”
Within a short while, they get to the boat at the bank of the Bishkhali. As they sit on the boat and the boatman begins to move the oar, Biplob gently asks, “How are you, Sabiha?”
“No question now,” interjects Munir, “keep silent.”
After a hushed silence of quite some time, Sabiha wants to know, “Is there any preparation for arms training in the location we’re going to, Nayan?”
“All preparations have been taken for the war. Indeed Ashraf has made all the plans—you must know him.”
Again silence prevails. The boat is following the stream, so it’s moving ahead a bit slickly, and the boatman is using the oar comfortably. Looking at him, Sabiha thinks time is in their favour and the river their companion. Now she recalls the memory of the Racecourse ground where thousands of people carried oars that are inspiring them to go to war. Taking a long breath with a sense of ease, she puts her hand on the head and thinks that man and nature have listened to the call for independence. She feels like laughing out loud, but can’t—even the sound of laughter isn’t expected in this quiet atmosphere.
When the boat stops at the bank of the river, Sabiha asks, taking a look at Nayan, “Have we arrived?”
“Yes, here’s the camp of Musa group, and you’ll stay here. They’re trying to form a group of women fighters here.”
While getting off from the boat, one of them says, “My name is Faruk; I’ll teach how to operate a Sten gun.” Another one says, “I’m Altaf; I’m assigned to teach to operate a machine gun. What will you learn to operate?”
“I’ll go ahead following Commander’s directions. In this case, my personal choice won’t work, I think.”
“You’re right, training and operations will come about as planned.”
Nayan tells all to be quick, “Let’s move forward.”
As all of them walked forward, Sabiha asks Nayan, “Is Ashraf here?”
“No,” Nayan confirms, “he’s in another camp. Don’t worry, he’ll come to meet you.”
“Ashraf has also brought our other friends—Chandana, Bula, Lata—here.”
“I understand; let’s go inside.”
As soon as she meets her friends, everyone shouts up.
“Sabiha, have you really come?”
“Why are you asking this? Do you see my shadow, then?”
“No, not that, but now we’re feeling fulfilled having you among us.”
“I’m feeling as if we all were in Rokeya Hall, in a single room.”
“This has been possible for Ashraf bhai,” Chandana adds.
Bula cuts in, “Ashraf bhai has also brought me here. He indeed collected our addresses earlier. Badal went to my house to bring me. At last, Ashraf bhai congregates us here in Musa camp.”
“Ashraf sent Nayan to my home.”
“My case is absolutely coincidental.”
“I was arguing with my parents—my father gave his consent, but Ma was dead against my joining the war. Angry, I didn’t eat anything two nights, and on the third night, four travelers went to my house, one of them being Ashraf bhai. I was excited seeing him, didn’t care about permission then—we started off just that night. I was yet to figure out we were coming here together.”
“Shall I make tea?” offers Lata.
“Will Sabiha have only tea?”
“I have molasses and puffed rice—let’s eat together and then go to bed.”
“Wow, that’s fantastic; at midnight we’ll have fun.”
“As Chandana offers molasses and puffed rice on the plate, everyone begins to take handfuls out from there.”
That night, in the lantern light inside the camp, Ashraf writes a letter to Sabiha—
My dear Sabiha, I hope you’ve reached the destination with Nayan safely; others will also get there soon—you know some of them. Good news for all of us that the Provisional Government of Bangladesh has been formed with Tajuddin Ahmad being Prime Minister. Through training, we’ll prepare ourselves in such a way that we’ll be able to topple down Pakistani army. The world will observe the liberation war of Bangladesh has begun. Joy to Bengal!
After five days into Sabiha’s leaving home, Razzak, Chairman of Peace Committee, calls in Taslim. As he doesn’t follow, Chairman, along with Kader, the mercenary, gets to Taslim’s house. As soon as he comes down to the yard, Razzak abruptly pulls his hair, saying, “Where’s your daughter? Why isn’t she in the village?”
Freeing himself off in a jerk, Taslim emits, “She’s gone to Dhaka.”
“Where in Dhaka?”
“She’s gone to the university.”
Chiding him, Razzak shouts out, “Don’t tell a lie, Taslim—you, the betrayer, a liar.”
“Why are you belittling me? You get out from my house, I say get out.”
Razzak kicks Taslim, and when Kader also hurts him with a stick, he falls down on the ground. Soon Amena, Sahana, and Arif run towards him.
Chairman intimidates him, “If you don’t tell us about your daughter, the consequence will be very bad, Taslim.”
Admonishing him with abusive words, Chairman leaves in an angry mood, even landing a kick on the bamboo door.
As Taslim stands up, Amena grabs him, and Sahana gives him a glass of water. Wiping dust from his body, Taslim says, “The sonofabitch has begun to cross the limit—the razakar, collaborating with Pakistan.”
“Abba, drink water,” offers Sahana.
Taslim drinks the whole glass of water in one take.
“Abba, let’s go to war, all of us, together.”
Quickly Amena cuts in, “Sabiha told us to stay home and contribute to the war from here. Let’s get inside.”
Taslim can’t stand how he’s debased before his wife and kids. Fuming in anger, he goes out silently and thinks about perishing Razzak. Is he Chairman of peace committee or of chaos? While walking forward, he’s stunned seeing a Pakistani flag hoisted in a corner of the field where the young boys received training. He didn’t see the flag even yesterday. It must be Chairman’s work; now Taslim plans to put it down.
Once Sabiha told Taslim, holding his hand, “Abba, promise me no Pakistani flag will fly in this village. Give me words, Abba, you won’t allow this to happen as long as you’re alive.”
No, I won’t—Taslim thinks.
That day Taslim promised his daughter, so he’ll pull down the flag and tear it into pieces tonight.
A while ago, Amena said “We won’t stay here anymore. Let’s go to my father’s.”
Looking at the flag, Taslim speaks alone, responding to Amena, “We won’t go anywhere, leaving our parental homestead. Staying here, we’ll perish the razakars—this is also our war.”
Clasping closely, Taslim raises his two fists up.
Suddenly he can see flames of fire, gradually rising up, so he walks up faster. From a distance, he can see Koruna’s house burning, Razzak Chairman and some hooligans standing nearby. Koruna is watching her home burning away, while holding her son at a close distance.
By this time people from different houses have gone out bag and baggage to run to wherever they can. Pakistani soldiers have put fire on many other houses in the village, have shot many Hindus dead too. To know whereabouts of Nonigopal, the boatman, Taslim gets to the riverbank, but can see his dead body fallen by the river. Lying overturned, Noni’s body has got lots of pores with bullets—the surrounding awash with blood. Sitting by the dead body, Taslim puts his hand on Noni’s chest—his hand gets soaked in blood, pieces of flesh get wedged to his hand too. Touching his feet, Taslim bows down, “Salam to you, Noni; before me, you’re the first martyr for the liberation of the country. I can hear Bangabandhu’s speech on the radio: The history of Bengal is the history of staining streets with blood of the people of this country. We gave blood in 1952; despite winning the 1954 election, we couldn’t form the government. . . . Our children were shot dead on 7 June.” Taslim can’t recall anything else. Keeping the eyes on his blood-soaked hand, he walks up to the river. As he dips his hand, the Bishkhali river looks as if it became the river of blood—no stream of water anywhere. Taslim’s eyes turn watery. Now Bangabandhu’s voice floats through the river stream: What have we got? The weapons we bought at the expense of our own money to protect our country from the invasion of foreign enemies are now being used against the poor and unarmed people of the country. They are being shot down.”
“Oh, no,” an indistinct sound comes out of Taslim’s voice. To him it seems shootings are going on all around, including the Racecourse ground, which must be a battlefield now. Fishing out a fistful of river water, he sprinkles it over Nonigopal’s head, declaring, “Nonigopal, the martyred—Joy to Bengal.”
If Sabiha were here today, she’d definitely sing a song for the martyr. Taslim knows Nonigopal’s dead body won’t be cremated. They torch homes but will never allow cremation of a dead body. Taslim notices Noni’s feet are still intact. Grasping a toe, he lays bare, “A martyr’s blood won’t turn futile.”
Then Kader, the mercenary, comes over from behind.
“Hey, sonofabitch, what are you doing here?”
“I’m castigating you, giving you a good lesson, you bastard.” Taslim jumps up and stands straight against Kader.
“See, I’ll break your head.”
“So shall I do yours, you devil.”
“Sending the daughter to war, you’ve gathered strength, I see.”
“I’ll see you.”
Gliding the stick into ground, Kader takes an angry look at Taslim. Avoiding him, Taslim walks away. He is about to break down leaving Nonigopal’s dead body, feels pain to look back, and instead of watching around, resumes walking. At some point when he looks up, he can see the sky is getting dark with black smoke, with flames of fire flaring up. Taslim can figure out they’re torching homes of Hindus. He mulls over returning home but steps back, thinking if he’ll float Nonigopal’s dead body onto the river—he dearly loves river; indeed he has grown up near the Bishkhali since his birth. Why will he remain fallen by the river today? If his body is floated onto the river, it’ll receive him warmly, take him into its depth, where Noni, the boatman, will sleep in peace. Thinking all this, Taslim looks around, can see Razzak Chairman and his hooligans have gone away, maybe to their den.
Seeing some known people close by, Taslim draws their attention. Jabbar Mia comes over and says in a said voice, “Familiar for so long, a few people are making the village a hell.”
Taslim keeps looking at his face open-mouthed, and wiping tears, gently utters, “Noni . . .”
“I can see his dead body lying there.”
“Let’s float his dead body onto the Bishkhali.”
“Won’t it be cremated?”
“I don’t think so. Will they do this? Rather, they’ll just cover it up with soil.”
“In that case, the river is better, it’s his heart. Can’t we two carry him to the river?”
“We can, let’s do it, then.”
In the meantime two to three more people come forward and they together float Nonigopal onto the Bishkhali, while Taslim is standing quiet, seeing the dead body float away. How far will it go? To the sea? Or it’ll get stuck somewhere? Squatted by the river, Taslim doesn’t see the dead body anymore—the stream has taken it away.
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