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     Volume 5 Issue 124 | December 15, 2006 |

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View from the Bottom

Dateline: 1971
Tale of an ill-gotten Treasure

Shahnoor Wahid

If you happen to pass by a particular house in a quiet village near Narshingdi in the dead of night and if you suddenly see an ethereal figure clutching a small leather suitcase trying to hide behind the trees in the jungle, do say a short prayer for the unfortunate soul that badly needed salvation.

With this preamble I wish to tell you the tale of a man who paid heavily for his greed in 1971. If you go to that village (let's call it Natungaon), and ask about him to the ancient men there, they would shudder for a second and then tell you the oft-told tale.

Haider Ali (Not real name) was manager of a small branch of a bank somewhere in Dhaka in 1971. After the crackdown on 25th March, he decided to go to a safe place far away from the Pakistani army with his beautiful young wife and one little child. Most of his colleagues in the small branch had already left for their individual villages. One of his colleagues left him the address of a village near Narshingdi (Natungaon) where he could go to find safe refuge. He would be well treated there by the kind villagers, he had assured him.

So, in the first week of April, 1971, Haider Ali packed two suitcases with essential clothes and started for Natungaon in the morning. Oh, he had one small leather suitcase that he kept close to his body. It is because of this small suitcase that he did not go to his own village, which was infested with ferocious dacoits.

When his wife asked him about the small suitcase he told her that it contained some valuable bank documents that he must keep with him so that once everything became normal he would be able to start the branch without facing any problem. On reaching Natungaon, he asked some young people about the family he intended to live with for a couple of months. The family welcomed them with open arms. They were poor people but had hearts of gold. And in 1971, strangers instantly came closer to one another as they shared the common pain. The birth pain that a mother experiences while giving birth to a child.

Haider Ali always kept the small suitcase with him and he did not like anyone asking questions about it. As days passed by with more and more bad news coming from Dhaka, he began to worry a lot. One day, after about two months, while he was having his mid-day meal, the household head came to his room and told him that two gentlemen from Dhaka were asking about him in the village market which was located about quarter of a mile away. He did not give them the location of his whereabouts as all sorts of things were happening in Dhaka. Haider Ali let out a sigh of relief and thanked him for his wisdom.

Then one evening, while he was saying his evening prayer, he heard his landlord talking to some strangers outside the boundary wall. He immediately jumped up and grabbed the small suitcase and ran out through the back door and went to hide in the forest behind the house. After a while he heard the voice of his landlord and came out of the hiding. Surprised, the landlord told him that two of his close relations came to enquire about him as they obtained from the bank staff the address of this village. They were worried to death as they could not trace him anywhere. And they also wanted to tell him that the bank had opened and was being run by the assistant manager. So, he should go and join immediately. Haider Ali again thanked his landlord and told him that those men were not really his relations but agents of the Pakistani army who wanted the valuable bank documents. From then on, every time anyone came closer to that house Haider Ali would jump out and vanish in the darkness of the forest.

Haider Ali began to lose weight and there were dark circles around his eyes. He became extremely jumpy. One night some more men came to that house and called out the name of the landlord. Haider Ali recognised one particular voice. It was that of the staff who had given him the address of the house. Haider Ali grabbed the suitcase and ran out through the back door. After the men left, his landlord went looking for him in the forest with a lantern. Haider Ali was nowhere to be found. He went deeper into the woods. Then he saw him. Haider Ali was lying on his chest on the ground, one hand clutching his chest and the other the leather suitcase. His face told him that he died of severe pain in the chest.

The landlord brought the body of Haider Ali to the room with the help of his two sons. After the initial shock and despair, his wife told the landlord to open the suitcase that had made her an untimely widow. With trembling hands, the landlord opened the suitcase with the key Haider Ali always kept in a string around his waist. Did the dim light of the kerosene lantern suddenly become brighter? No, the intensity of the light magnified ten times as it shone on the gold and diamond ornaments worth about three lakh taka inside the suitcase. The ornaments were kept by his clients in the locker of the bank. It was a lot of money in 1971.

An eerie silence dawned on the quiet room as the tearful wife of Haider Ali looked at her child sleeping on the bed.
(Based on a true story)

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