Of Autumn Mist and Bitter Harvest!
Autumn, more accurately late autumn, known to us as hemonto, is my most favourite season. With the black cloud of monsoon disappearing beyond the horizon and fluffy white clouds replacing them, the season of gaiety starts to unfurl. A kind of excitement and euphoria pervades me. I usually try to get away from the humdrum of Dhaka and head for my village. Early autumn also brings with it the season of Durga Puja, something that we grew up with. Even at such a distant physical and mental proximity from the good old puja the sound of the drum seems to creep into our mind's ears, dhak-dhak, drim-drim.
I guess this is more significant for the people of my generation than that of my children. During our childhood and early youth we used to eagerly wait for Durga Puja as we would for Eid, especially if the cycle of seasonality brought both of them close together; and in the season of autumn. Both brought us excitement and pleasure in equal measure. Autumn meant going to the village home with our parents. It meant eating all kinds of Pithas in profusion. Autumn meant walking miles through the paddy fields now bereft of the rice and lying idly in the sun with golden hay on its bosom. It meant spending the glorious moments in twilight in the company of doves, herons, storks or pigeons. It meant the joy of getting lost in the mist that pervaded the fields, the ponds and the village dwellings. Autumn meant bounty.
This year towards the end of autumn I ventured out of Dhaka again. I am fortunate to have my home in a village where I can immerse myself in the juice of nature in various seasons. The dust and din of the city I live in becomes a distant feature. This year there was a bumper crop. Every one talked about it. You could see an abundance of crop being brought home, fanned vigorously by men and women to clean it of the flails and worms, boiling and spreading it on the courtyard to dry. As I saw from my childhood a mood of elation prevails in all households during this great season.
The end of the day would mean all those who worked ceaselessly during the whole day would now take a break, sit in the courtyard or sit on the steps of the ghat by the pond. They would talk of the crop; it's past and present, stories associated with the harvest; some from their experience and some made in their imagination. All these small talks would reflect their happiness, their satisfaction and their sense of fulfilment. This year the usual cheerful spontaneity in them seemed lacking. I thought it was my imagination. We, the city dwellers, bring back our sense of restlessness and our bitterness back to the village and often think that they think the way we do. So, I did not allow myself to be led by my thoughts. I tried to enthuse others by being exuberant. It did not work as well as I thought it would. I eventually gave up and retired under the Krishnachura tree by the pond. It was well past the sunset, the darkness became thicker and the mist began to engulf the surroundings when Sobhan came. Sobhan is my neighbour. He is a menial labourer and lives from hand to mouth. Sobhan is also my friend though he does not want to sit before me out of reverence to the 'class' I belong to. I have to ask him to sit. He brings a piri from our kitchen and sits.
In his usual style he keeps quiet for a length of time. So I have to encourage him to talk. This time it was difficult for me to inspire him to converse. I think, for some reason, gloom had the better of him. After three cups of tea and a lot of persuading when I failed to make him talk and got up to go back to my room, he mumbled something. I sat back again. He cleared his throat and asked me in his characteristic modest manner, “Dada is there really going to be an election?” I said, “That to the best of my knowledge there was going to be an election.” He said that then perhaps the prices of the essential commodities would become cheaper, wouldn't they? I said that I was not too sure of that. It depended on so many things really. He obviously could not follow me. His next question was if the election was going to be free and fair. I said, “why do you ask that question?” He said, “The problem is that in the past I have hardly been able to cast my vote.” I said that well this time the election commission had assured us of a completely free and fair election. He asked, “But what if I am not allowed to go beyond my dwellings on the day of the election?” Why should you be worried, who wouldn't let you go to vote? I said. He said, “No I was trying to say that those that had bought off the votes in the past and would not let us vote; I hear that they have all been freed; if they…!” By now I had started to lose my patience and curtly said, “Look Sobhan, if you have so many ifs and buts in your mind; don't vote. You had a good harvest and be happy with that.” Sobhan said, “But dada if I can't vote the harvest would become bitter. We'd be in the same dungeon that we were in. I left his company for the night because I had no answers.”
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