On Monsoon Nights, on the Jamuna
Syed Badrul Ahsan
Wanderlust is getting hold of me again. It happens this way, every now and then. And when it does, something Henry David Thoreau-like happens to me. I go looking for my own Walden Pond, to carve out my own isolation, to observe the raindrops plop into the pool and the stars gleam in the silent night sky. There is always this search for the Black Forest in my soul. With the winds of winter howling and the cold rains battering the earth with their ferocity, I would like to drive through lonely paths through the woods, my partner beside me and Mozart reminding me of the charming tumult that music can be.
There are country railway platforms I would like to be on as a windy September rushes through the golden hair of a wonderfully endowed English woman waiting to catch the train I have set my eyes on. The afternoon sunlight casts an ethereal glow on her face, casts a spell on me. Could this woman be a re-creation of all the beauty I have read about in all the tales spreading themselves before me in the school library? Our ideas of the world being largely a result of the imagination we first unleash in our childhood, it is no coincidence that in our middle age it is to that period of innocence we often go back to. That woman on the platform is a journey back to boyhood.
My wanderlust has often made the imagination in me run wild. I have gone looking for spots of earth as yet undefiled by the human touch, for streams where the water and the fish have complemented each other without knowing the nature of violence. That is how I have seen things in my daydreams. And that is also how I would like to take long walks through the sun-scorched, dust-swirling streets of Timbuktu, for Timbuktu has been as much part of my consciousness as has been any centre of urban substantiveness. It is when you plod through deserts, making footprints all along and yet watching those very footprints vanish with every new blast of the wind, that life takes on added meaning. It is in deserts that I have often sought to relate the earth to the heavens. It is in old, silent churchyards somewhere in England that I have had cause to question the validity of life itself before all those slanting and collapsed tombstones that speak of men and women who passed on two or three centuries earlier.
The essence of the world I build in the core of the mind lies in the cemeteries I go visiting, in every country, in every village I pass through. I am a traveller, which is why I crave the sight of a peasant in Vietnam, one whose parents once put up a mighty struggle against foreign invaders, working the fields of paddy in a hamlet happily removed from time. I would do anything, almost, to stand once more on a steep hillside in the Scottish highlands, and watch the sheep go about their business around me. The lone hut out there has stood the test of time. It will be there for another like me, another traveller who loves the sound of the wind and the silence of the lambs. My wanderlust is an endless questioning of modernity. It abjures the supermarket for the haat in a Bangladesh village. It pushes aside a trendy café for a souk somewhere in Egypt.
There are walls I would want to climb. On the Great Wall of China, I think I will take a long walk in the blustery wind, in the hope that ancient ghosts from the lost caves of history will emerge to let me in on the tale of how they put all those bricks in place, of how the Pyramids in Giza came to be. Seven years ago, I walked through Mount Vernon, room to room, passageway to hallroom, observing George and Martha Washington sip tea, and watch the sunlight create silver patterns on the quietly flowing Potomac. On afternoons of unmitigated gloom, I walk down to Bangabandhu's home in Dhanmondi, stroll sadly through the rooms, stand for minutes on end at the top of the stairway where he fell, and I think I hear the laughter and the vivacity that once made that home vibrant and made the country an exciting place to be in.
My wanderlust takes me everywhere, from the narrow streets of timeless Calcutta to the gentle waves caressing the shores in Colombo. I think of being at the spot where Parveen Shakir's life ended suddenly on a street in Pakistan. The heart in me speaks to me of Virginia Woolf's final walk to the stream, to her death. Might I someday locate the bend in the stream where her lifeless form revealed itself a few days after her disappearance?
On monsoon nights of ceaseless rains, on a covered boat on the Jamuna, I shall hold in my palms the soft, ageing face of the woman I love, and watch her bosom heave in ancient passion with every new ray of lightning that touches her, through the silently passing melody.
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