The train is half an hour late because of bad weather. By the time it trundles up the tracks our lungs are full of cigarette smoke. We jostle our way to our first-class bogey and collapse onto our seats. And then we're off to Chittagong, the hometown of my brother's bride. The twenty-odd people now stowing luggage in the overhead compartments are all the people from my extended family who could make the trip. The train ride is the first time in many months I get to spend with my family. One of my cousins has brought along her two children, ten and eight, and they are bouncing all over the place. They tear down the length of the f bogey screaming and hollering. My two phupis take out their thread and needle and sew miniscule sequins on my to-be sister-in-law's wedding orna. It is not quite like any journey I've taken in a long while.
I sit by the window and watch the concrete melt away into the green fields and clay paths of the many nameless villages that ring the city. Skinny cows graze on sun-dried fields and goats bleat by the side of the road. Farmers stand ankle-deep in flooded paddy fields and transplant rice saplings. Barefooted children run through the stalks of sheuli phool that sway feather-white in the early morning breeze. It is a world far removed from the highways and Targets and McDonalds' of Grapevine. Here where the decade-old steam-engine train whistles through the land, no one knows or cares about economic recessions or America's first black President. The only thing that keeps the people awake at night is if the rains will be on time.
Morning drifts into afternoon and as the hours go by my copy of 'A Farewell to Arms' lies forgotten in my bag. There is much catching up to do, many jokes to crack and groan over, good-natured teasing that only family can get away with. Between the ten of us we go through three tiffin boxes of sandwiches, washing them down with Praan mango juice. And when the light starts to bleed away some of us doze off, shawls draped over heads, the conversation reduced to 'when will we get there?', a question that my niece and nephew cannot get answered.
It is six in the evening when we finally arrive. The station is crowded, coolies and children with distended bellies jostling to carry our luggage. We swim through the people to get to our cars. There is a good deal of hollering and gesticulating as the men of the family sort out the luggage. The women stand by the side of the road and comment on the lateness and the pace of the proceedings. My brother, soon to be a married man, looks like he might be on the verge of a mental breakdown. The mayhem takes no one by surprise. After all, what is a deshi wedding without some madness?
By Shehtaz Huq
Last resort: The story of Al Islam
I looked away; it was all too much. I closed my eyes to stop the tears. I couldn't think, was I only hiding my tears from the man or growing sickened of myself as a human being? It took a few minutes to regain my composure, to think about what the man was saying. I opened my eyes again. I was sitting in this hospital beside a thin and depressed man. On the other end of the bed was his wife, young but visibly worried.
I'd been sitting there for the past hour listening to the man. I went to Ahsania Mission Cancer Hospital as a part of community service our school had arranged. All along this was only for the certificate but now I actually understood what this trip to the cancer hospital really was.
The man had smiled faintly when I entered the room; the nurse followed to explain the reason for my presence. On her way out, she whispered that the man didn't talk that much. I was quite troubled thinking how I would spend an hour with a man not willing to talk. I awkwardly asked his name, and learned it was “Al Islam”. His voice was husky from the treatment, so I moved my chair closer .
Only capable of writing his name, the man was a small businessman, dealing with old newspapers. The third of seven siblings, he lived in Gandaria, with his wife, seven month old son and his parents. About a year back, he had pain in his lower abdomen and quickly referred to a doctor, who confirmed that he had a tumor in his colon. He was admitted to the hospital as a terminal patient . A successful surgery later, he was discharged from the hospital. So how was it that I found this despondent man lying in a hospital bed for the eighth time, holding his wife's hand and cringing in pain? I listened as he recounted how the pain returned after a few weeks following the surgery, and how newer complications emerged, until he arrived at this state, with the doctors unable to do anything.
I continued asking him about present health condition, his treatment, and his personal life. He looked at me with weary eyes, and said he had no hope for becoming that healthy man he once was, he just wanted to know if he was dying. He didn't want to waste his only belongings on treatment, ruining his son and wife's future. He was frustrated at how the doctors never confirmed what had happened to him or how whether there was any real progress.
He lay there wearing just a pair of pants, so he couldn't have been well enough. Feeling curious, I inquired about his expenses. He said he had applied to the hospital authority for a subsidy, to no avail. For the first operation, he had to pay a sum of fifteen thousand taka, and from then onwards for his each trip to the hospital; he spends one thousand taka daily just on medicine and hospital bed , in addition to the seven thousand taka for each chemo therapy he received. It wasn't much when you think from the perspective of a solvent man but this was a man who barely earned enough to live. He added with tears in his eyes, that he had lost everything, his business was gone, his wife had sold all her jewelry and in present times, he was thinking of selling off his clothes to go on with his treatment. I was taken aback never expecting the situation to be so dreadful. He added lately, “What's there to do, I even have to pay for the oxygen supplied during the operation.”…I sat there with hands over my face. I was speechless; I had nothing to console the man. With time, it was getting hard for me, being a part of a different society; it was all new to me. A few articles in the newspaper were all the idea I had about the sufferings of the poverty-stricken people. I asked hopefully if he received any monetary help from his family or any one else, and his wife answered “Who comes to the aid of the poor?” All my optimism had vanished.
“How do you plan to continue your treatment?”
“When I am discharged this time, I would return home, and only thing I have left to do is commit suicide, I guess 10-15 sleeping pills would do it.” I
I gripped him and asked him what would happen to his family if he died. He answered, that his son had his mother, and his wife as still young and could get married again. He was determined that suicide is the only way left. He was penniless; there was no way he could go on with his treatment; he had no hope, so no point just being a burden for his wife and family. I was completely crushed from the inside, trying to be sympathetic and, showing a desperate attempt to change the man's mind. Each of his answers broke me apart, I couldn't take it anymore. How can one man's life end like this, was money the thing that is killing him? He concluded miserably, he never smoked, drank tea or chewed on betel leaf. Then why was this happening to him, were the good people only there to suffer? His last question was something I couldn't answer, my emotions were growing uncontrollably. I looked away welcoming my tears.
Each year about 167 out of 100000 Bangladeshi have cancer, and amongst them might be hiding these Al Islams'. They never complain, they fight till they have nothing. They slowly lose all their hope, fading away in the harsh reality. Some monetary help might help to save one of them. But it is time, something is done. This story of Al Islam should get your compassion out, so something to show that you also care. I show all my gratitude to hospitals like “Ahsania Mission Cancer Hospital” who are trying to help the helpless of the society. Each year approximately 600 patients are treated without any cost in these hospitals. We need people like these walking up and taking the responsibility to make a change. And most importantly it is up to us the rising stars to take that one step, that one step that can save people like ”Al Islam” from losing in the game of life.
By Saif-Al-Din Mohd Abdullah
PASSING by a newsstand, if you glance at the covers of the fashion magazines on display, you are bound to find at least one 'magical' weight-loss article boldly announced on each one of them. Thin has been in for the longest time, and an entire industry thriving on this idea means it's going to stay that way for a while. Tell an average person s/he's lost weight, and usually the response is a positive one. Which makes for lots of angsty teens and self-conscious model types resorting to extreme measures and ending up with eating disorders or worse.
Stephen King takes this notion and the whole karma deal and twists it into a macabre plot.
Billy Halleck has it all, a job that pays, a beautiful home in a posh suburb, a lovely wife, and a loving daughter. He also has a bit of a weight problem, what his doctor refers to as 'entering heart-attack country'. Then suddenly he runs over an old gypsy woman trying to cross the road, but goes scot-free because he's got friends in the right places. The victim's ancient father seeks him out and places a curse on him.
Halleck starts losing weight. At first it's a pound here, a pound there, and he's happy that he's getting fitter. Then the weight loss speeds up, and he bypasses 'skinny' and hits 'skeletal' all in the space of a few days. At first he gets scared. His wife suspects it's the big C, but in his heart, Halleck knows what's really going on. Then he gets mad. He can't believe he's the only one suffering, so he goes to pay a visit to everyone connected to the cover up of the hit-and-run case, and discovers that he's not the only one cursed. He starts resenting his wife for being spared when she was just as responsible for the crash. When it seems like his days are truly numbered, he decides to get even, and embarks on a hunt for the gypsies, in order for a reprieve, or some sort of closure. This is a story about actions and consequences, about guilt and blame, and because it's Stephen King doing the writing, it's also about fear. Whether you personally find the story scary or not, the characters are all frightened to death, and he paints such a vivid and convincing picture of their terror, that you cannot help but empathise a little. Even the gypsies are afraid, and so the reader is afraid to turn the page, because there's no telling what's going to happen next. If you're looking for your thriller fix, this is definitely a book worth reading.
By Sabrina F Ahmad
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