Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 40, Tuesday, October 12, 2010




Wet grass sparkled against the early morning sunshine in the radiant clarity of flawless diamonds. The air was less humid than summer months; the heat was bearable, but brushing the tip of his tongue over the lips to moisten, he still picked the salt of grime. Looking at the clouds that gathered overhead, canopying the translucent blue sky, Probir felt like touching the pulp, the softness of the masses.

From the Ashwin sky his gaze stooped below. As far as his eyes went, he saw purity in another form. Nourished by earth the kaash grew tall, taller than the tallest among them, and the weed swayed along the gentle southern wind, gracefully bowing before the earth in worship. The ever-expanding terrain claimed by kans grass created a thick, white blanket, almost sacred. It moved like the poised notinis of an open theatre, always harmonious and never defiant of the tune of the harmonium, the gentle breeze of autumn.

The image had faded, the vivid colours greyed, but standing before the mighty expanse of the kaash, Probir could recollect his dream like it was reality before him. Like Gopi's kaleidoscope, which Gopi took from one fair to another across villages, towns and cities, the separate images bore no meaning but pieced together they brought impressions of a dreamy reality where he could not only see her image but also hear the chuckle of the belle or the rhythm of payel as she strode the ground.

The memory of his first dream was as fresh as the last he saw the other night. Narendra Pratap wanted puja to be perfect that year. He was blessed with a son, finally an heir to his vast lands and subjects, borne by his second wife Nondini. The Pandit consulted the almanac, traced the stars and brought glad tidings of a prosperous future, marked first by the arrival of the child and soon to be followed by a splendid harvest. The gods had finally looked upon them and it was time to show gratitude for the blessings.

“Mould me a Durga, Probir. One like never before" the zamindar said that day, smoking fervently from a majestic hookah. "Create an image of Ma in splendid beauty and majestic glory. She should be like no other deity ever cast. Give me a goddess in the likeness of no human and you will not go unrewarded.”

Probir too wanted an image of Durga, one he always longed to craft but his skills seem to always fall short, never polished enough to bring the detail. Probir prided himself on the lustrous eyes that he masterfully etched on the clay figurine. But the form of the deity in itself, showed his weakness. But he was a master sculptor, a renowned Pal, whose name spread across many lands. Probir sought inspiration from the women he encountered but they all fell short. He could relate to features but the complete likeness of Ma seemed missing from her human offspring.

And then he saw her, the epitome of feminine grace and divine majesty, Nondini. She spoke in a tongue with unfamiliar composure and authority. “Our korta is not aware of this audience, but I asked Nayeb moshai to arrange this meeting. Your legendary skills precede you. Make a deity that will please zamindar babu; make an idol in the exact image of Ma herself. And here is a reward in advance.” She threw a velvet pouch; the metal pounced as it hit the floor.

Nondini was dark but her features sharp, aristocratic. Pradip felt a sense of guilt feeling these feelings for the zamindar lady. A man of his stature should not have such feelings. Yet, the bindi on her forehead, the vermillion on the cleave of her hairline, the red hues on her lips she was a deity in human form.

When Probir started working on the idols, he put clay on the straw and bamboo edifice. He knew the routine like the back of his hand. The effigy remained hidden from view by a veil of a white muslin, not only from the casual viewers but, as it seemed, also from Probir's imagination.

Then the inspiration came to him, in a trans -- a life like dream -- where the village belle walked through the fields of kaash in spontaneity. She wore a sari, almost the shade of the vermilion adorning her forehead. Her hands, full of gold bangles that shone through the air, rightly accentuated by the ivory shankha, upheld her marital standing. Probir heard her laughter, the clattering sounds of the bangles. Her disheveled curl bounced on her back but her face remained hidden.

No one heard of Probir Pal since the shoptomi that Ashwin. He had created the effigy of Durga in the likeness of zamindar's wife Nandini. News of the scandal spread like wild fire. Strange it may seem, but Nondini seemed to have disappeared since that day as well.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Based on the film Antar Mahal

Under a different sky


By Iffat Nawaz

Just like that, on a sudden lazy Thursday evening she realised he doesn't laugh very often. One might think she is slow for realising this after three years of being with someone but they would be wrong. The thing about him is that he talks with a smile, and gives mild sarcastic chuckles from time to time, but laugh? A hearty, open all, mouth twisting laugh? No he doesn't do that very often.

When she had this sudden realisation he was deep asleep taking his mandatory post afternoon nap. He is into naps, and strong cups of coffee sipped slowly, back massages, the travel and living channel and plates of steaming rice eaten with the daal in the most perfect density and texture. He took pleasure in those things and she found that quite moving.

She liked thinking, putting things in and out of boxes and often breaking the boxes all together. She was all about wanting to break the regular moulds and her biggest fear was that she would go so left to breaking away from the typical that she would end up being in the right. She lived in a constant state of inner evaluation, a paperless self-checking mechanism that ruled her to the T.

But most of all, the thing that ruled her inner and outer soul was laughter. Although it might not have seemed apparent to some, she loved laughing. Just genuine, mouth filling laughs, rolling over and falling, touching tummy, wiping tears kinds of laugh, high to medium pitch giggles. She loved it so much that without it she felt quite empty.

It didn't take her much to laugh either. It was all about a state of mind, and her eagerness always taunted her to. She was famous for laughing out loud during group prayer sessions or at the grocery store line because she remembered something funny. She was the kind that would laugh telling her own jokes before she got to the punch line forgetting always to finish them.

It was a long, rainy day, the sky was in her favourite shade of blue, the workday had ended with a relaxing glass of cold lemonade and there were no questions to ask or answer. Rainwater had taken over the streets turning everything grey to brown, Dhaka was high from plates full of khichuri and the promise of Friday prayers, silent statues of Durga stood waiting for life. Life was still, and there was absolutely nothing to laugh about, even when she tried to dig her brain nothing came to mind, no old incidents, no memory of face breaking laughs, no memories of a reason why laughter came and went.

When he woke up finally from the post afternoon nap, she had fallen asleep. It was dinner time; rain poured still, you could hear an old popular song playing somewhere next door. He watched her for a while, gently touched her forehead and then tickled her till she woke, her mouth filled again, and she remembered that though he didn't laugh much, he knew how to make her laugh, and she laughed more ringing in and out with the summer's last rain.



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