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     Volume 7 Issue 30 | July 25, 2008 |

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They went away,to Marry other Men . . .

Syed Badrul Ahsan

It feels good to be young again. Or pretend to be young again. In your fifties, there often arises in you that immense desire to go back to your teens, or to your early twenties, when the world was within your reach. It was a time of creative energy, for we went composing poetry for the young women we fancied, for the eyes we thought emitted light all across the globe. Our nights brimmed over with waking dreams; and our days were spent in expectation of strategic bumping into women we knew were beautiful beyond compare.

That was the way we were in our youth. But youth again was a whole lot more than waiting for a woman in yellow polka-dotted <>kameez<> alighting from her red car at the entrance to the arts faculty building of the university. It was a time of intense, soul-gnawing agony, when those of us laid low by genteel poverty spent whole afternoons and entire evenings on nothing but a shingara, or half a shingara each, to keep ourselves going. At the IBA cafeteria, we shelled out the coins we had, to pay for the tea. At Madhu's in the evening, in order to feel the fullness of a new, cold <>shingara<>, we asked for green chillies to be added to the fare. Our mouths and our tongues burned even as we argued about literature and went wild on politics. But deep within ourselves we knew that the future was ours if we did not mean to let it slip away. We were fired up by inordinate ambition. We would be teachers at the university, we said. And we would go into the civil service, we said over and over. Indeed, we would be everything. Some of us even imagined being politicians and changing the face of the country, of the entire world as it were.

And then we would go back home, each to his lair, to homes where hard-working parents kept alive the hope, like the flickering lamp in the gathering storm, that their children would someday make an impression on the world by taking over the world. Those were rough days, for at the end of classes and sometimes late afternoon tutorials, we would walk down to Dhanmondi to teach little boys and little girls whose parents gave us good money for our efforts. Those were affluent parents who also happened to be a sophisticated bunch. Sometimes a foreign couple or two were thrown in for good measure and anyone who found himself teaching a European or Middle Eastern child was considered, almost, the chosen of God. We were paid by the hour, twenty taka an hour for three or four hours a week. At the end of the month, it amounted to good money, good enough to help your family and buy books for yourself. Feeling on top of the world, some of us even called forth the courage to invite our classmates, the pretty women we thought we would marry someday, to romantic breakfasts at Mouly's in Shahbagh before we would get down to classes. Of course, none of those women married us, which was rather silly and insensitive of them. They went off marrying men more economically endowed than we. Did they not realise that years down the road those husbands would remain husbands and we, on the other hand, would graduate from being lovers to husbands to charmingly conceited men?

We walked great distances, for two reasons. The first was that we were young and our limbs were strong. We were unstoppable. And the second, and more glaring, reason was we did not have the kind of money to throw away on transport. Besides, walking made us think. We debated, we argued as we walked. The roads, the pavements were a decent concatenation of bricks and mortar in those days and traders were decent enough not to commandeer the footpaths for unauthorised use. We were happy Jimmy Carter was going to beat Gerald Ford; we wondered why Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were marrying again. We were intrigued by Morarji Desai's urine therapy, though we could not imagine ever emulating him. And we sang all the old songs that we remembered, in our discordant, grating voices. Those were the 1970s and within each of us subsisted a rebellious spirit. The fire of Bangali nationalism burned intensely in us, as it does still, and so we were not willing to accept any thought that challenged that concept.

And we went wild when one of our classmates had some of his articles published in the Bangladesh Observer. He was suddenly and happily the star in the group and we cheered. With one of us already in print, the rest of us were certainly on our way. That was how our thoughts went. And then came the days when we gathered at the registrar's office to collect our stipend. It was a good amount in those more innocent days, when traders were not wolves and business was not highway robbery.

It was a long time ago. In these graying, ageing days, as I serenade the blazing beauty of a woman whose laughter in the starlight induces me into a reinvention of the old poetry, I wonder where she was in those afternoons of debate, in those evenings of rising ambition. I take her hand in mine; and then I ask for it again. Naughtiness twinkling in her eyes, she whispers, “Why, O why?”

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