The Great Migration
Toon: E R Ronny
It’s Eid time again, and the city is invisibly divided into two groups - those who are heaving a sigh of relief, and those whose blood pressures are escalating at the thought of the journey ahead. There are some who are going out of Dhaka on Eid for the first time, and here’s an article about that thin line between life and death that they’re soon going to trample on dangerously.
Step 1: Tickets are like iPhone 5s
If you have crossed the nasty age of 18, and your parents are unkind enough to make you buy bus or train tickets, be ready to camp out. You have to wait in line from Fazr, pay an exorbitant price, and possibly return empty handed in the end, as all the tickets have magically disappeared anyway. Then you might have to track a fishy guy down in a station, pay even more for the same tickets, and risk getting chased by the police.
Step 2: The wait
Railway officers will say 50% of the trains leave on time, but the actual figure, as anyone who travels will know, is way less. Most trains are about an hour late, but many can be late by up to 4 hours. And just maybe, your train will be on time. So to not take a chance, you are going to have to wait at the station for ages; we advise you to carry smartphones, survival food, tents and weaponry.
Step 3: Settling in
Even if you bought the best tickets, there won’t be any difference between the compartments when you get on. ACs won’t work, windows won’t budge, kids will throw up, and as one disturbed traveller experienced, there will be people sitting on chairs inside the loos. For this part of the journey, you should take plenty of aerosols, since they attach extra coaches to the train during Eid which were unused all year. This writer once discovered the existence of flying roaches, rats and bed louse on a trip home from Chittagong.
Step 4: Tailbacks and psychological disorders
Reports show that some tailbacks span more than 40kms. Bus journeys will, at one point, feel like a surreal trip through a bowl of jelly, and there will be memory loss. You will suffer bouts of crippling existential angst where you question the value of life, family, love and beef. You will start thinking about economical questions that you ignored in the textbook - why are the roads are so narrow and the rice fields endless? A bus or truck that was never serviced will definitely stop working at a crucial intersection, delaying you further. When you come out of it anywhere between 16 to 24 hours later, you will probably be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD and severe social phobia. The best solution would be to accept that grimy looking coke bottle from a random stranger, and bliss out for most of the journey.
Step 5: Homecoming (or not)
Through all of this, you will probably eventually arrive at your village, unless you are as unlucky as a relative who had to offer Eid prayers at the mosque on Aricha ghaat. Sometimes the traffic exists well into Eid day, and half of the day is wasted away on the road. But when you do get there, at least there will be good food. For some people, the journey is too awful to go through again, while for many others, a lonely Eid away from family is worse. To most Bangladeshis, this journey is like a smelly pilgrimage that will warm you towards family life. Or make you quit it altogether.
Midnight: A love story
By Munawar Mobin
You would not believe it if I ever told you what happened that night. But that's ok. Your belief is not required. What I am after is understanding. And forgiveness, though I do not know whom to ask it of, so I am asking you.
The meadow was dark, even with the half-moon trying it's hardest to shine. There was a haze around the darkness. It glistened and pulsed as it swirled around me.
Something tugged at the back of my mind; something calling. I remember walking towards the huge doors. It was hard to walk, as if the Earth clawed at my feet. I struggled up the steps and hurried inside. I leaned on the door; the climb had taken all I had. The room was huge, the high ceilings lost to shadows. Moonlight fluttered in through thin rectangular glass panes creating light angels which danced about on the hard packed dirt of the floor, jumping lithely over the broken bits of wood. There was a whiff of something fresh in the air. Amidst all cavorting light and shadow, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.
She sat at the corner of the room, eyes scanning the floor as if she's dropped something really tiny. For a second, I gaped. She was beautiful. I looked away quickly, afraid that she would catch me staring. I darted a quick glance again and our eyes met for one moment. That was all that was needed… to make it terribly awkward. The entire building seemed to just die down right there, no creaking, no rustling, none of the usual noises a house makes. The world held its breath, a tiny tear in the usual way of nature which made things the way they were. And then I felt it. A little surge of electricity working its way through my body as I realised she was staring at me.
And then she smiled. And my heart stopped beating. Have you ever seen a smile that is just the perfect balance of naughty and nice?
She said nothing and just watched as I walked towards her, cool as a whistle. I don't know what made me take those steps, but I did. She kept her eyes on mine all the time and somehow, shy as I was, I managed the same. I don't think either of us could've looked away at that point, even if we tried. Her eyes seemed to flicker with excitement as I got closer, the little bell she wore under her neck tinkling as she cocked her head to one side and gave me another enigmatic smiles.
There were no introductions. She didn't offer her name and I don't think I could've said anything more than croak. She was even more gorgeous up close and the few strands of hay in her hair, blowing gently in the draft of the hall, made her look like a wild goddess of the fields.
The night rolled on, heedless to the laws of time and space. A moment stretched eternal, hours passed by in an instant. She threw back her head and laughed at my hard-fought jokes and I lost my heart. That night is gone, but the memory remains. It is in honour of that memory that I am writing this. It is for those large, brown eyes, that my pen bleeds. Words cannot confine her spirit, no more than ropes or chains. But I hope, Stranger, that you still have some inkling. Such moments should not go unappreciated.
My memory still had holes, but I remember sticking close to her as I gave up every intention of finding a way back home. With the moon shining down through the roof and the smell of fresh earth, I remember wanting to be there by her side for the rest of forever.
Morning came. But day doesn't always bring hope or joy. Sometimes the dark is preferable. Morning isn't always salvation. She was gone. The men took her out, while the children watched from a safe distance. Words were exchanged, some calm, some excited. Agitation. There were unintelligible cries. Thud. Something fell. 'Swish' went a knife. Feet ground at the Earth.
And the last I heard was a strangled, “Moo”, a cry I echoed, swishing my tail to flick away the flies which were as insignificant as my life had just become.