the raincoat
 
journal
new issue
- by akhteruzzaman elias
total read - 323
   

it's been raining since dawn. ah, the pitter-patter drizzling of the rain! god willing, it will go on for three days, since it's seven for saturn and three for mars, and day to day for the rest. that's the general statement. there are specific classifications as well. for example: if it starts at dawn on tuesday, for three days the clouds will stay. or: if it rains on wednesday morn, by afternoon the clouds are gone. thursday, friday, none have been left out—but just now, he's forgotten. whatever he does remember is enough to keep him curled up under the covers, catching a few more winks. at least there'll be none of that rat-a-tat-tat for three days—surely the guns and ammo will rest a bit during the rain? just a few days of worry-free relaxation.

but does that actually happen? one wonders… on this very excellent rainy morning, the loud banging on the door tears asunder late autumn's wintry curtain. ruins everything. military! military in his house! oh god! allahumma… anta subhanaka inni kuntuminaz zhalimin. reciting the prayer, nurul huda goes towards the door. he's memorised so many prayers over these last few months, the five kalmas1 ready on his lips every time he leaves the house—who knows when or where the military will show up—still, something always goes wrong: the prayer seems correct, but he's forgotten to put on his cap.

as soon as he opens the door—unfastening two latches and the deadbolt, and lifting the wooden bar—the principal's assistant, ishaq, walks in, accompanied by a blast of wind and rain. praise allah! not military! he wants to grab the man and kiss him! but ishaq, in his thin voice, says gravely, ‘sir sends his salams.' then he sucks the soft breath of his words into the stubble on his hollow cheeks and lets out a command: ‘you've been summoned. you must go now!'

‘what's happened?'

‘there's no time to discuss details—someone set off an explosion next to the college wall last night.'

‘what?'

‘some miscreants destroyed the electric transformer. then, on their way out, they threw a grenade at the principal's house, destroyed the gate.'
what a terrifying situation! the transformer is next to the front wall of the college. beyond the wall, there is a garden, then a tennis lawn. the college building comes after. past that huge structure are the football and cricket fields. beyond the fields, to the left, is the principal's residence. the military camp lies alongside—the college gym is now the camp. setting off a bomb at the principal's gate is like attacking the military camp. how did they get so far in, after setting off an explosion at the front wall, he wants to know. ‘how?'

how would the messenger know? ‘you tell me.'

‘what do you mean?' how would he know? did the messenger think he was one of the miscreants? his head drops involuntarily and the words roll out of his mouth like water, ‘ishaq miah, have a seat. have some tea. i'll only need five or six minutes.'

‘no.' refusing the hospitality, ishaq says, ‘i need to go to abdus sattar mridha's house. you come quickly. a colonel has already arrived. all professors have been told to come immediately.'
ishaq walks out, leaving both the college and nurul in the hands of the colonel and the military. he gets into a baby-taxi2 waiting on the road with its engine rumbling and roars off towards the home of the geography professor. you could say ishaq himself is like a military colonel these days. but perhaps the appearance of an actual colonel at the college this morning has demoted him to the rank of lieutenant colonel, maybe even lower; but it's hard to push him below captain. from the onset of the military outbreak, everyone at the college has been wary of him. since early april, he's stopped speaking bengali. one of his grandfather's brother-in-law's uncle or somebody was the valet de chambre of someone in delhi. on those grounds, he now speaks urdu day and night. the principal is a short, pudgy man. having to try and speak to his flunkey in this new language makes his blood boil. ‘ishaqmiah, there is much trouble in the country. tell the professors and all to be careful. tell them to not spread rumours. it is necessary to help the military people now.'

‘zaroor.'3ishaq nods—his small head a wet tip fitted on to a matchstick-thin body—and repeats thrice, ‘zaroor! zaroor! zaroor!' as this ‘zaroor'—uttered by ishaq several days ago—rings in nurul's ears, reinvigorated by the rain, the word itself seems to explode with a boom. has it started again, in this rain? no, no, that is just thunder. it seems to be getting worse. no, he must start off. godspeed.

‘must you go? getting soaked in this unseasonal rain might trigger your asthma…' will it do for him to listen to these loving words from his wife? will she share the principal's rebuke? on top of everything, there is a colonel at the college. god knows what's in store for nurul today! if they make him face the firing squad, can he beg the colonel to order them to shoot him in the head? won't the principal do at least this much lobbying on his behalf? the principal has been praying day and night for pakistan. always crying to god, yet finding time to swear at his colleagues. around mid april, he humbly stated to the senior military officers that, if pakistan is to be saved, the shaheed minars4 in all the schools and colleges have to be removed. these unauthorised constructions are comparable to hindu shiva lingas;5 they are like thorns in the body of pakistan. in order to heal pakistan's pure and clean body, these thorns must be pulled out. well, the military listened to dr. afaz ahmed's advice. whichever town or village they went to, the first things they aimed their cannons at were the shaheedminars. not a single undamaged shaheedminar remains in existence in any college in the country. the principal gave them such important advice, won't they listen to his tiny request when shooting an insignificant lecturer—to avoid all the other silly areas of the body and aim for the head? and nurul's provided such service to the principal, won't he do this little bit for his colleague… er… subordinate?

‘come back quickly,' he hears his wife say from the kitchen, as he is pulling on his pants. ‘there were sounds of gunfire near mirpur bridge before it started raining. who knows what may happen.'
what's the point of saying these things? the radio and television are regularly stating: situation normal! the enemy is completely under control. all miscreants have been eliminated. the president is determined to bring democracy back to the nation. his speeches can be heard every few days: ‘our ultimate aim remains the same, that is, to handover power to the elected representatives of the people. everything is getting back to normal.' the governor is bengali—that is, east pakistani. the ministers are east pakistani. everything is normal. why does his wife still say these unnecessary things? uff! it's becoming impossible to deal with asma! two nights ago, tossing and turning in bed, she said, ‘i can't fall asleep unless i hear a few gunshots in the night.' god knows what trouble she will bring down on their house.

‘the umbrella isn't enough for this rain, dear.' he hears another round of affectionate chatter from his wife. ‘you might as well take mintu's raincoat.'

uff! mintu again! he has to be extra vigilant because of that brother of hers. mintu left home—yes, their two-room flat in moghbazar—on the 23rd of june. they shifted to a new place on the 1st of july. who knows, what if someone there suspected something? three days after mintu left, the round-faced lady from the neighbouring flat asked his wife, ‘bhabi,6 we don't see your brother around any more.' as soon as he heard about that, he started looking for a new place. that was the fourth time they changed houses since the military came. one day, after they had shifted to their current house, the gentleman downstairs said, ‘i decided not to keep my brother in dhaka any longer. so much trouble everywhere, i sent him home.' his heart was palpitating when he heard that—what if the man then asked about his brother-in-law? he came here seeking safety. it's far from the college, far from their friends and relatives, almost outside the city. a new area, he thought, with a view of swamps and rice paddies through the eastern window. but what a calamity! hooligans with sten guns come to this area by boat! people around here see only boats—boats full of weapons. on top of all this, if his wife keeps bringing up mintu, then the weapons will be literally inside their house. he and his wife both know very well where mintu has gone. but look at what his wife is telling the kids, just to establish her pride in her brother. even they say, ‘uncle has gone to kill the khan shenas.'7 can anyone say which words will cause what kind of trouble? if asma is so brave, why didn't she join her brother? he can't say it but the words quiver on his tongue all the same: ‘forget about mintu, asma. forget him. we have no one. no one. mr. kissinger has said, this is all ‘pakistan's internal affairs.' they are massacring people, putting houses, markets and entire villages to the torch—it is no one's headache. it's all ‘internal affairs.' no, it's not even good to let such thoughts near. the owner of a welding workshop lives in the flat below. his father-in-law seems to be some sort of a boss-type razakar.8 every two or three days, he sends refrigerators, tape recorders, expensive sofa sets, fans, beds and other furniture to his daughter's house. once, he even sent an idol of a hindu deity—it might have been made of gold, who knows? truck after truck, goods come and then goods leave. where does the razakar get all these? if the man figures out that the brother-in-law of the professor living upstairs is a miscreant who left this very person's house on an oath to kill the military, then the guns will be firing inside this house, in this very room. those gunshots will lull asma to sleep forever. it's important to be alert when talking around here.

‘let's see if it fits,' asma says, putting the raincoat on him. ‘mintu is so tall. will it fit you?' see, again! comparing mintu's height to his! is it right for her to go overboard like this about her brother?
‘great, it's covering you down to your ankles. even your legs will stay dry.' asma is not finished. she brings the cap that came with the raincoat and puts it on his head. that mintu! what great feat did this brother-in-law of his carry out this time? no, this time his achievement is different. ‘he left the raincoat hanging inside the closet and the cap on top of the wardrobe. i saw it lying there when i went to get the quran sharif.'9
mintu didn't leave anything else behind, did he? he checks the top of the wardrobe himself. the military found three chinese rifles under the bed in a house in moghbazar. strangely, the resident of the house, an innocent doctor, knew nothing about them. it's good to check everything in the house on a daily basis.

‘dad's become chotomama! dad's become chotomama!'10 he is alarmed to hear his daughter chanting in a just-woke-up voice. has mintu come in, carrying weapons? that means the military is following right behind. that means… no, the door is still locked and barred. his two-and-a-half year old daughter claps, still abed, ‘dad's chotomama! dad's chotomama!'

does he look like mintu? will the military then mistake him for mintu? in the middle of this, his five-year-old son examines him solemnly and declares, ‘dad looks like chotomama. that means dad's a freedom fighter, right?'
this is worrying. standing in front of the dressing table, gazing at his own reflection, his new look surprises him. his colouring is not quite khaki, but not olive either. the earthy tone seems a little burnt but hasn't lost its lustre. he looks a bit like military. it's not safe to look like military. if the military deems the wearing of the raincoat as military impersonation then they'll capture him and send him straight to the cantonment. no! he's getting scared for no reason. why would it be a crime to wear a raincoat in the rain? does the military not have common sense? the principal, dr. afaz ahmed, says it right, ‘listen, whoever the military captures, they don't do it for no reason. they are all somehow or other involved in subversive activities.' but nurul stays a hundred feet away from such things. his brother-in-law crossed the border, then came back into the country and killed a bunch of military; how is he responsible for all that? this military that sets fire to bazaars and slums in dhaka city every day, regularly kills people, picks up women—has he ever said anything about it?

the military camp is set up by the principal's residence, against the college wall. all classes have been cancelled. the students don't come. teachers still have to clock in, but many went into hiding long ago. he goes to work on time every day. his colleagues are always whispering in the staff room—about some bridges that were blown up, the seven corpses of soldiers who had been shot by the boys, which of the boys of the college have gone to the front—he has never participated in any of those discussions. whenever such conversations start, he gets up and goes to the principal's office. he listens to dr. afaz ahmed make predictions, in his raspy voice, about the immediate and inevitable fall of hindustan and the miscreants. no one goes near that office these days. the principal has recently started sweet-talking the urdu professor, akbar sajid. but sajid doesn't pay much attention to the principal. instead, sometimes, he asks, ‘apka tabiyat bhalo haye?'11 and makes fun of the principal's urdu. either because dr. afaz ahmed is anxious about safeguarding the undividedness of pakistan, or because he cannot put together enough correct urdu sentences to come up with a response, he remains quiet. then, thinking sajid might get upset if he doesn't respond, he laughs and says, ‘jihaan. at your mercy.' sajid laughs, ‘my mercy? who am i to show mercy? say, “at the general sahib's mercy.”' because he would run out of urdu responses taking the conversation any further, the principal goes quiet at this point. the man is in two minds about the urdu professor. it's getting harder every day to differentiate between his jokes and his compliments. in fact, one day, listening to the principal (who is overawed by the skillfulness of the military) analyse the war, sajid said, ‘sir, you should do a doctorate on military science. an lmf doctor in mohammadpur has recently started practicing homeopathy. but he hasn't given up allopathy either. so the people of the area are calling him “double doctor.” you should become a double doctor.' then he started laughing and dr. afaz ahmed, with his single doctorate, had no choice but to ‘hehheh' along. the rest of his colleagues were in trouble. in these difficult times, they couldn't figure out which joke it was safe to laugh at.

his feet have been tingling ever since he got into the raincoat mintu had thrown away (or left behind); he can't stand still a moment longer. the principal sent for him so long ago!

there aren't any rickshaws on the road. he can't worry about that now. wearing the raincoat, he won't have any trouble walking to the bus stop. the rain falls ceaselessly onto the coat. how wonderful! not a single drop touches his body. he licks at a few drops from the water dripping off the rim of his cap. not exactly bland. has the spirit of the cap entered the water? does he look like military? punjab artillery, or baluch regiment, or commando force, or para-military, or military police—each of their clans have a different name, a different appearance. does he, in his raincoat, look like a member of some new division? he walks quite fast. there is a chill to the rains of late autumn. but what wonderful warmth inside the raincoat! mintu has done such a good thing by leaving it behind. who knows when the rascal might come back for it? ah! who knows where, by what river, the boy is lying in ambush, in the middle of this torrential downpour? perhaps a pakistani army platoon has set some village ablaze, killed a couple of hundred people, tossed away the corpses and is carrying off live young girls in their jeeps—mintu's sten gun is no doubt aimed at those military men. he'll be able to kill them all and rescue the girls, won't he? seeing the military lorry on the main road, nurul snaps back to reality. in order to hide all his thoughts about mintu, he fills his eyes with allegiance and stares at the lorry. no, man! it's better not to make eye contact with them. the lorry goes off towards the north, so he is forced to look south. but is it so easy to erase the rain-drenched sound of the lorry? asma had heard gunfire coming from the direction of mirpur bridge last night. was the lorry heading there? who knows what happens where? and asma hears gunfire every night. it's all speculation. the principal once said, ‘listening to rumours and spreading them are equal crimes. there's that saying—those who commit crimes and those who tolerate crimes…' either because it was written by a hindu or because he had forgotten the rest, the principal stopped at that point. and then continued in urdu, ‘sajid sahib,12rumour is rumour.' sajid immediately rhymed back in response, ‘whatever was rumour, has today become violence.' all choked up with reverence, the principal rattled, ‘is that by iqbal? wait, let me write it down.' akbar sajid stopped him, ‘towba!13 why would it be by iqbal? “gujob”14 is a bengali word. in urdu, it is—' the principal couldn't wait, ‘that's better. you recite, i will write it down.' in order to maintain the alliteration, sajid did not use the urdu synonym for gujob. he recited the next line, ‘army ke arman puray ho chukay haye.'15
‘meaning?'
‘meaning: the army has accomplished its mission.' sajid created more verses. he recited the whole poem, gesturing with his hands and feet:

‘whatever was gujob, has today become violence
the army has accomplished its mission
one allah, one rasul16, one pakistan as well
those who don't believe in this are traitors
destroy those traitors wherever they may be found
the pakistani army will never be kept back.'

entering the staff room, sajid said, ‘if the principal recites that to any major or colonel, he will be punished. the military will say, are you making fun of us?' his colleagues stayed quiet. no one wants to talk about these things in front of sajid nowadays. even his friend, the history professor, ali kabir, avoids him. on the other end, sitting in his office, the principal repeatedly recited the urdu poem, written using bengali letters, in front of his personal assistant, ishaq, and within a few days, started thinking of it as his own composition. his eyes closed in reverence and joy as he recited.

the waves of rain beat against the raincoat, to the rhythm of the poem, and suddenly it occurs to nurul that perhaps the principal is reciting it to the colonel right now. what if the colonel wants to know the urdu word for gujob and, getting no answer, suddenly becomes angry?

the urdu professor, akbar sajid, makes a lot of jokes about the army's proficiency. the geography professor, abdus sattar mridha, once said in a whisper, ‘i'm sure the man is using his mother tongue as a shield in order to do work for the miscreants.' then, one day, english professor khandker cautioned everyone, ‘don't agree with what he says. he actually says those things to determine your attitude. the guy is definitely the army's man.' but it's been a few days now that akbar sajid has been kind of quiet. if he sits in the staff room, everyone starts to fidget, and he doesn't like going into the principal's office either.

nurul himself has been staying away from sajid. what's the point? but, standing in the rain, dry on account of the raincoat, his heart yearns to secretly discuss a few things with akbar sajid. what can that mean?
no, such wishes are folly. he must stay as far away as possible from thoughts of making jokes about the army, in bangla or urdu. he has to look north for the bus once he reaches the bus stop. the military lorry is nowhere to be seen, but there is no sign of his bus either. he is the only living creature at the bus stop. the keeper of the small cigarette stall on the side of the road has raised his shutters and is looking northwards as well. has there been some trouble in that direction? the shopkeeper is a bit of a chatterbox. seeing him at the bus stop, the chap starts muttering, ‘didn't you hear, yesterday? they came in two boat-loads by way of the mirpur swamp. blew up a jeep, at least five khan shena killed. bbc said more than half the area in rangpur-dinajpur has been freed. did you listen to chorompotro17 yesterday?' he doesn't stay too long around the boy. what if he, too, is captured while listening to these rumours? whatever was gujob, has today become violence. the principal says rumours are the ruin of bengalis. rumours hold a very strong attraction; they are irresistible. right here, right now, perhaps on account of the cover of rain or maybe from the relief of being sheltered by the raincoat, he walks towards the shopkeeper. wishing for some gossip, he asks, ‘how long has it been since the bus was due?'

‘forget the bus! where would the bus come from?' the boy hurriedly closes the shutters and tucks himself inside the shop. nurul wonders, has there been some attack on the bus depot? did the sound of gunfire asma heard come from there? did the military lorry go that way? there is a slum behind the depot, did the military go to set that on fire? the spot wasn't too far away, he could go check it out. the rain was also abating. should he go? he doesn't get a chance—right then, spreading a reddish glow in the drizzle, the red state bus arrives.

the bus is quite empty. no, not the falsely advertised ‘empty bus' that conductors are always yelling about. more than half the seats are actually vacant. when he gets on, the water from his raincoat drips onto the wet floor of the bus. for this, he should be subjected to some insults, at least a few jibes. but no one says anything.

so many empty seats on the bus! can't see the wood for the trees—as he remembers the saying, there is a smirk on his lips. is the reason for that silent but definite smile this: that even though the water from his raincoat is flooding the bus, no one is making a sound? is everyone baffled by his outfit?

finding the road empty, the bus drives very fast. but he can't decide on a seat. swaying, he looks towards one seat, doesn't like it, so goes towards another. right then, two passengers from the back get up in a hurry and calling out, ‘stop, stop,' risk jumping off the moving bus. he looks at them and realises they fled because of him. those two men must be criminals. one is a thief, the other a pickpocket. or maybe they are both thieves, or both pickpockets. just as they are getting off, the one who seems to be the leader of the two looks back at him. his eyes are full of fear, naked fear.

as he plops down onto his chosen seat, the cushion foam hisses, making three passengers sitting in front turn around to look. hmph! he identifies these three as thieves or pickpockets as well. might even be robbers. or perhaps when the military sets some slum on fire and leaves, these three rush there to loot the place. or maybe if the military loots some place, they go there to pick up the leftovers. all three stand up way ahead of the next stop and get down in a hurry as soon as the bus comes to a halt. not one of the three criminals looks back at him, which means they are so scared of him, they're going out of their way to avoid eye contact.

good, mintu's raincoat is coming to good use. all the thieves and pickpockets are fleeing from him. the decent folks can stay. he'll be amidst respectable company all the way to the college.

at the asad gate bus stop, a number of people are waiting in the drizzle. those with their own umbrellas are standing under them. to protect themselves from the rain, many of those without umbrellas are twisting their bodies so as to keep at least some part of their heads under someone else's umbrella. when the bus stops, he notices that nine passengers get on, one after the other. he scrutinises them all thoroughly. seeing him, three of the nine, saying ‘arre, rakho, rakho,'18 and one saying ‘rokho, rokho,'19 get off the bus hastily. it seems the last one is just an ordinary thief, most likely a small-time crook. and the first three chase the military's tail. if they see a pretty girl somewhere, they inform the military, or they take guns from the military and go around neighbourhoods shouting, ‘pakistan zindabad! pakistan zindabad!'20 picking up pretty girls and delivering them to the military camps. those misguided, misguided razakars!

it's nice to be travelling on the criminal-free bus again. outside the window, needles of rain are flying in the cool breeze. he feels extra good seeing the transparent cover on the trees, the people, the stores and houses. all the good feeling is ripped away when the bus brakes suddenly. then he has to look to his left and notices the roof of the mosque under construction. a cool gust from the door hits his face and enters his chest through his nose, where it strikes him: on the morning after the night of the crack-down, muezzin shaheb was shot down by the military from the roof of this mosque. the blast of cool air warms up so much inside the raincoat, it feels like a fire is burning within. at that time, they used to live on the third floor of the house opposite the mosque. all night long, the roar of the tanks, the barking of the machine guns and sten guns and the moaning of people had not let any of them sleep. he was lying under the bed with his children and their mother. in the morning, when the military took a break from killing people, the children fell asleep and he went to their closed window, lifted the curtain an inch and stared out onto the street. across the road, the muezzin was standing on the roof about to give the azan. normally, he prays the namaz at jum'ah21 regularly. but that morning, he really wanted to hear the azan. he didn't move from the window because he wanted to watch the muezzin give the full azan. the electricity in that whole area was out, the mosque's loudspeaker was not working. in his booming voice, with as much volume as he could muster, muezzin shaheb called out, ‘allahu akbar.' he didn't get a chance to proclaim allah's greatness a second time; he fell to the street before that, making a completely different sound. it wasn't raining that morning. was the military planning to re-enact that scene on this rainy morning? it isn't time for any namaz right now, so what will they do about the azan? they must have issued some new decree that any time can be considered the time for namaz.
the military is stopping all manner of vehicles now, making the passengers get down and stand in a line at the edge of the road. another group is keeping their sten guns aimed at this line of people. a different group is searching through those people's clothes and hidden places on their bodies. those the military are selecting are being pushed towards a lorry waiting behind. a tall, very fair military man gets on their bus.
there is no sound inside the bus now. the thumping in the passengers' chests gets louder in the quiet and the sound throbs inside his head. beneath the rimmed cap, the sounds rub against each other to ignite a fire whose flames emerge from his eyes. but the banging inside his head and chest comes back under control as he shifts in his seat and, ignoring all that, looks directly at the military man's face. the man's eyes narrow and the pupils of those narrowed eyes pierce his face like darts. he, too, calms his blunt but heated gaze and casts it lightly over the military man's sharp nose and needle-like eyes, the reddish skin around and under those eyes, that nose and that moustache. it works. the military man's pointed gaze moves away from his face, falls to his raincoat. it seems as if the man is counting the drops of water on the raincoat. do the drops seem a little reddish from the heat inside him? they came to kill people in the land of water, so what is it in these water drops that has stunned the military man so? does he see signs of blood in them? the man abruptly finishes counting the drops and says, ‘move on.' the bus suddenly starts up, jumps a few feet in front and, boosted by the sighs of relief from the passengers, speeds past the gates of dhaka college. when it reaches the front of new market, nurul gets up and orders, ‘stop, i'll get off.' when the bus slows a little, he lets the water gathered by his raincoat drip down. as he steps off the now criminal-free bus, he looks at his fellow passengers. his lips curve, revealing his front teeth. he thinks that those who saw this gesture will rightly identify it as a smile.

inside the principal's office, on the principal's throne-like chair, is sitting an imperious-looking military officer. from his authoritative face, it can be presumed that he is a colonel or major general or major or brigadier. seeing him, the principal's face turns from black to purple. dr. afaz ahmed, msc, phd, points back at him and says, ‘this is professor nurul huda.'
but dr. afaz ahmed, msc, phd, cannot help but correct his own mistake, ‘sorry, he is not a professor. a lecturer in chemistry.'
‘shut up.' now the principal stops. before putting him and abdus sattar mridha into the military jeep, the imperious colonel or brigadier says sternly to the principal, ‘it is a grave crime to make up shayari22 to poke fun at the military.' he's being let off this time, but will be kept under close watch. the principal doesn't benefit from using the urdu professor, akbar sajid, as an excuse. nurul is worried: if sajid sahib doesn't flee now, then what must lie in store for him, only god and the military know.

they are both blindfolded, the jeep travels in twists and turns. they are tossed into a very high-ceilinged room. when his blindfold is removed, he does not see abdussattarmridha. the place is also unfamiliar. how long he sits in the deck-chair, he has no clue. someone from the military comes and sits on a chair in front of him, asks him a lot of questions in english. he responds. when that man leaves, he is taken to another room where yet another man comes and questions him and he responds. the questions are fairly similar and his responses don't change. for example, several metal cabinets were bought recently at their college. who transported them? he answers, ‘right. three for the office, two each for the botany, history and geography departments and one for english, a total of ten cabinets were brought into the college.' there is no need for him to talk so much. the cabinets were brought in on a few wheelbarrows. he knows the wheelbarrow-wallahs quite well. how would he know them, nurul huda replies. they are labourers, he is a lecturer. then why was he talking to them so much? under the principal's orders, he was checking the cabinets—the thickness of the steel, the number and shape of doors, the quality of locks and paint, etc. his responsibility was to…
the military man says in a calm voice, as if relaying information, that the miscreants entered the college under the guise of labourers. who knows this better than him? they were caught today and gave up nurul huda's name. he has regular contact with them, he is an active member of their gang.

‘my name? did they really? they gave my name?' the military man is not annoyed by nurul huda's sudden shouting; instead, it encourages him. the encouraged military man says again, ‘thelabourers were miscreants in disguise. among the teachers at the college, they gave nurul huda's name.'

nurul huda stares in disbelief. do they know him? one of the labourers had stood close to him when setting up the cabinet in the chemistry department. that was in the thick of the rainy season, and it had rained a lot in dhaka this time. he had said something about the endless rain, to which the labourer had muttered, ‘the rainy season is the most fitting.' he had said it twice. what did that mean? someone in the staff room had whispered once or twice, ‘the bastards don't know the rains of bengal. russia had general winter, we have general monsoon.' is that what the boy in disguise was trying to mean? they had so much faith in him? nurul huda looks around here and there, encouraged. his silence convinces the military man further.

after some time—how much time, he does not know—the military man asks him the same question and, getting no response, punches him hard in the face twice. the first punch causes him to list, the second sends him falling to the floor. picking him up off the floor, the military man inquires again, he knows quite well where their hideout is located. he responds, ‘yes.'
they assure him that he will be released with due courtesy as soon as he tells them the address and feed him bread and milk. the military men leave, giving him time to think it over. some time later—how much time, he does not know—the military returns and inquires again, he knows the miscreants' address. again, he replies, ‘yes.' but, not getting any response to their next question, they take him into another room. his short body is strung up from a metal ring on the ceiling. the whip cracks over and over on his buttocks. but because the strokes are continuous, after a while they seem to nurul huda a mere nuisance. as the rain falling on mintu's raincoat. they took off the raincoat, who knows where they put it. but its warmth is still stuck to his body. the whiplashes fall like rain against his raincoat-like skin, and he repeats endlessly: he knows the miscreants' address. not just that of his brother-in-law—knowing his address is no great feat—he also knows the hideout of the labourers in disguise. nurul huda's suspended body trembles so violently from the allegation of his entente with them and the thrill of honouring the entente that he can't bring himself to focus on the strokes of the whip.

 

 

notes
1. the kalmas (or kalimas) are the basic fundamentals of islam
2. baby-taxi: an auto-rickshaw
3. zaroor: hindi and urdu word, meaning ‘sure' or ‘for sure'
4. shaheedminar: a monument commemorating those killed during the 1952 language movement demonstrations
5. shiva linga: phallic symbol representing the hindu god shiva
6. bhabi: any male relative or friend's wife
7. khan shenas: pakistani soldiers during the liberation war (on the facile assumption that they all had khan as their surname).
8. razakar: a private militia organised by, or supporting, the pakistan army in east pakistan during the liberation war. since then it has become a pejorative term for traitors
9. quran sharif: the holy quran
10. chotomama: a form of address; ‘one's mother's younger brother'
11. in a mix of urdu and bengali: ‘your health is good?'
12. sahib/shaheb: equivalent to ‘mr,' or ‘san' in japanese
13. towba: ‘forgive me for saying what i did'
14. gujob: rumours
15. in urdu: ‘the army has accomplished its mission'
16. rasul: messenger or prophet (of god)
17. chorompotro: a popular radio programme during the bangladesh liberation war, meaning literally, ‘ultimatum.'
18. in bangla: ‘stop'
19. in hindi and urdu: ‘stop'
20. zindabad: ‘long live'
21. jum'ah: a congregational prayer that muslims hold every friday
22. shayari: a specific kind of poetry, usually 2 or 4 lines, originally in persian, later in urdu, then hindi and other languages

translated by : qp alam

 
 
was published in November 2016
 
 
categories
 
Fiction
    Flash Fiction
    Short Story
Non-Fiction
    Essay
    Interview
    Narrative
Poetry
 
 
 
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