In the Middle of Nowhere
THIS man was walking in the middle of the street, nonchalant about the fast moving human haulers whooshing past him. After managing to reach him in a bid to rescue him from his apparent peril, I holler at him: why are you walking in the middle of the street. Obvious question, isn't it?
He replies without batting an eyelid: 'I am neutral.'
I do not have to wait for an answer.
He goes on: 'If I walk on the right side, some shopkeepers on the other side may think I am tilted towards the BNP, as there is a large shop belonging to one of their big leaders on that side.'
I nod my head, feigning total understanding of the situation, and hoping it is also registered as a gesture of apology by the puzzled passing-by drivers.
What about the left side of the road?
He gives me the 'you-are-so-stupid' look and goes on: 'I see you are new in this part. Don't you know there is this business of an Awami Leaguer on that side…?
Honestly I didn't.
'But why are you trying to be so neutral and with so much risk to your life?' I enquire.
I get the same look, but with the addendum 'and dumb', before he replies: 'In a few months time there will be the elections.' I nod vehemently, this time with genuine understanding.
'And I assume you know we have a caretaker government before that? A world example, haa…'
By now the traffic was slowing down on our two sides. For fear that others may assume I am being reprimanded by this guy, I was also occasionally waving my index finger at him.
Catching it with a swipe, he announces with a degree of pomposity, 'And I am a candidate for act'.
This guy is now speaking in wrong English, I conclude.
Almost sensing my inner thoughts, he continues, 'A.C.T Advisor to the Caretaker Government'.
My lower jaw remained dropped, as he went on, 'But you are right, they have to do a lot of acting those three months. Neutrality is not natural; even if natural, not supposed as such'. He lifts my thoothnee with the tip of his forefinger, a smirk of sassiness smeared all over his face.
'But what makes you think you are qualified for the job', I am now getting annoyed, and therefore bolder.
'My interest is enough. You see, there are so few persons assumed as neutrals in this country that there is very little competition.'
'But surely there are many, many neutrals, lakhs of them.' I wanted to say 'crores' but I was not sure myself; besides my finger was still in his kabja.
'Who will believe them? They do not trust each other.' He guffaws.
'Maaney?' I snap back.
He explains, 'If a neutral person says Khoda Hafez, the Allah Hafez group assumes he is imbued with the spirit of ekattur'.
'What is wrong with that,' I retort.
'There you go. You do not like the Allah Hafez crowd.'
I thought it best to let him speak, and so I did. By now a traffic policeman has also joined us. He has no work, you see. The trucks are not usually allowed to ply at that time of the day.
Our potential ACT harps on: 'If a neutral person says he has crossed the Jamuna Bridge, the Khoda Hafez circle takes it for granted he is not of the Joy Bangla kind'.
'But Joy Bangla is the slogan of our War of Liberation. It is the slogan of every Muktijoddha, and of every eastern Bangalee who lived in 1971 at home and abroad,' I cannot help but saying.
'There you go. I told you, you do not like the Jamuna Bridge crowd.' He was now sounding like a teacher.
'Jamuna Bridge… another three hours…,' smiles the policeman while picking bits of paan from his teeth.
I wave for the would-be badshah for ninety days to go on. He does. 'If a neutral person says 950 dollars is the right price for the non-ballot Hajj flight, he is thought to be against the present regime…' He looks at me for effect and ends the sentence with a squeeze on my finger, '… and vice versa'.
'If a neutral fashion designer schemes a black jacket for the light winter season with no sleeves, oreybbaaps, he is surely a vote for the boat.'
'A neutral rural chap cannot plant some paddy these days without being suspected of having strong political affiliation.'
So how was he preparing for his new role? After all, he would need the nod from both the major political parties. I butt in at one point of his discourse on neutrality and suspicion.
'This is it, the beginning,' says the man. 'I walk on the middle of the road. I cross the Tangail-Sirajganj Bridge. I have stopped eating rice. I travel by launch. I put on a chaddor over my attire to ward of the cold. I have even stopped purchasing items that require to be weighed on a dari-palla,' he ends with a wink.
How do those who matter know he is interested?
'You are Bhai one naïve of a guy,' replies the PACT (p for prospective). I was gradually being convinced the fellow might make it.
'Big or small, every party has an IMPACT that's Inspecting Manpower for… you know the rest. They keep on looking for people walking in the middle. Kee miah! Am I not right?' he asks the policeman.
The constable lowers his head in agreement; his two hands clasped 'Sir has understood the entire bepar. Please keep me in your good books, sir. Those few months are bad for us'.
Seeing the two in perfect harmony the PACT and the law enforcer I decide to leave the place. As I reach one side of the street, a gentleman walks up to me and queries, 'Kee money holo? Cholbey?'
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