Maathin-the Laily of Teknaf
Travelling to Teknaf, the southern tip of Bangladesh was not easy in the beginning of the last century as it is today. Now if you are in Cox's Bazaar, you can just hop into any one of the many buses that ply between the city and Teknaf and be there in an hour and a half. Or you can drive leisurely all the way to Teknaf, along the Naaf river highway, stop at Neila, take some breathtaking pictures, have your lunch at Teknaf Bazaar and come back to Cox's Bazaar in time to enjoy the picturesque sunset. It is possible nowadays to just take the last bus in Cox's Bazaar to reach Chittagong around 11.00 p.m. and get the mid night bus to Dhaka to be in time for the next morning's business as usual. The only mode of transport to Cox's Bazaar and Teknaf from Chittagong in the early twenties of the last century was the big steamer run by Scindia Steam Navigation Company that left Chittagong Sadarghat (Bangla Bazaar) once a day, usually in the morning and reach Cox's Bazaar in the evening.
Dhiraj Bhattacharjee, a police officer in the British Indian police and posted to Teknaf as the Officer-in-Charge, had a longer travel time, not to mention an arduous travel route. Coming from Calcutta, he took the train from Sealdha, arrived at Goalnanda to board the steamer to Chandpur and from there continued up to Chittagong, the gateway to Eastern Bengal on train. The steam engine driven train, touching all stations on the way would take the entire night to reach Chittagong's Baat Tali Station in the morning.
Dhiraj, a handsome young police officer in his late twenties, spent the day in the police mess in Dampara Police Line and set out for Teknaf the following morning sitting on a deck chair atop the deck next to Shareng's cabin, breathing the pristine air of Bay of Bengal. It was winter, the sea was calm and the fishermen were practically working overtime. The Bay of Bengal had plenty of fish and the catch was good that year. This was Dhiraj's first time out of Calcutta and suddenly he felt homesick. His father was getting old and both his parents were sad to see their beloved son go away to Teknaf, a distant outpost.
In the twenties, Teknaf was a small trading post where traders from different parts of Bengal would gather to trade in rice, timber and beetle leaf, and fresh and dried fish. Rice would also be freely smuggled into Bengal from Burma. Traders in precious stones would also frequently visit Teknaf to meet their counterparts from Burma. Most of the local inhabitants were of Rakhine origin. Piracy was quite common in these parts and the traders and the local community had to be protected. To facilitate the traders and enforce law and order in the area the Government of Bengal established a police station in Teknaf along with a small dispensary. When Dhiraj took up his position in the thana as the Officer-in-charge, he found the work undemanding, the Rakhines were quite friendly and helpful, and he had had ample time to move around in this beautiful heavenly sleepy trading post.
Teknaf in the twenties had a drinking water problem. The only drinking water well was situated in the thana compound. The Rakhine girls, in their colourful dress of thami (loin cloth) and blouse would come to fetch water early in the morning everyday. They would giggle and laugh. Some would pick sheuli flower from the small garden in the thana compound. Dhiraj would regularly sit on the veranda of his quarter located inside the thana compound with a cup of hot tea and watch the girls fetching water from the well. One morning came Maathin, the only daughter of Wanthin, the local Rakhine zamindar. She was stunningly beautiful. For both Dhiraj and Maathine, it was love at first sight, something like a Suchitra-Uttam movie. Maathine found all the excuses to make non-water fetching visits to the thana compound frequently to spend some romantic moments with Dhiraj. Both would often spend hours together, planning a happy life together. But Maathine's family could never think of accepting the <>pardesi babu<>. After all, who was Dhiraj? A simple police officer. Maathine was the only daughter of the highly respected zamindar. But love recognises no boundaries. Time passed by. The Maathine-Dhiraj romance and love ran deeper.
One day, news reached Dhiraj that his father in Calcutta was very ill and he was summoned back home by his family. He gave Maathine the news, informing her that he had to leave for Calcutta on a month's leave. Maathine was unwilling to let Dhiraj go before their dreamt marriage. Dhiraj had other plans. He wanted his parents to know about his future plans. Maathine was not sure if the pardesi babu would ever return from Calcutta to marry her. Unable to convince Maathine, one evening Dhiraj left Teknaf silently for Calcutta, never to return. Maathine came to believe that it was not her pardesi babu's father's illness that had taken him to Calcutta. Rather it was Dhiraj's indecision to marry Maathine that made him flee Teknaf silently. For Maathine it was an act of betrayal. She stopped taking food and soon became sick. No amount of assurance from her zamindar father or the family elders could change her mind. From morning till evening she would sit in front of her house, staring in the horizon in the hope of seeing her beloved Dhiraj return. She became frail and weak. One day Maathine breathed her last, leaving her family, friends and the neighbours in great grief and sorrow. Since the death of Maathine the well in the Teknaf thana compound has become a symbol of love and sacrifice. The police authorities took measures to preserve the well, naming it as 'Maathine's Koop.' In 2006, approximately eighty years after Dhiraj-Maathine episode, the Officer-in-charge of Teknaf, Md. Khaled Hossain, with the assistance of journalist Abdul Quddus Rana renovated the well and made it into a tourist spot. Many young couples while visiting the Maathine's Koop silently drop a flower petal in the well and pray that their love does not have an ending as tragic as that of Dhiraj and Maathine. My friend Dr. Souren Biswas, who specialises in romantic movies and stories, compares Maathine with Laily of Laily Majnu fame.
Dhiraj, after reaching Calcutta left the police service and took up film acting. He was handsome and tall. He acted in films like Adarsha Hindu Hotel,Hana Bari, and Biplobi Khudiram. Later he wrote two best selling memoirs, Jokhon Police Chilam, (When I was a police officer) and Jokhon Nayok Chilam. (When I was a hero). Not much is known about Dhiraj's later life or his family. Next time when you are in Teknaf do not forget to drop a petal in 'Maathin's Koop.'
Professor Abdul Mannan is a former Vice-chancellor of University of Chittagong. Currently he teaches at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.
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