The Eid Safari Suit and Me…
Rafi Hossain writes what could be seen as a story, or simply as the writer's musings. It tells the story of a man's growth through time
My life has always been full of exciting colors, but I never actually realized it before. The first reason behind that is that I never asked myself, “What does colorful really mean?” The struggles throughout life, in changing jobs, adapting myself with the ups and downs of life has taught me the meaning behind the phrase “survival of the fittest.” From time to time I think, what would I do if my life was made up of only wealth and success or of only sorrow and failure? Is there any life that has experienced pure happiness or has suffered from complete sorrow? Is anyone completely black or white? The truth is that the degree may vary, but we all live our lives in the gray. I never used to believe my life was in the gray as well. I thought I was beyond the complete white, where only colors come to play. I used to think that my straightforwardness towards life would result in life being straightforward with me. But as I have realized that can never be true, because the society we live in is a fool's paradise. Or maybe it is me who is the fool. I used to have a constant debate with a friend of mine, Imran Matin, who tried his best to make me understand that life is not as easy as I thought; that today or tomorrow we all must accept that we all belong to the gray region. I never wanted to accept what he said. But now, I have come to realize that life truly is gray but from time to time a few colors pop up here and there in the big gray slate. That's why life is colorful.
When I was a boy of ten, I remember that the new fashion in the market were Safari Suits. And since I was the youngest child of the family, my parents decided that to make a gorgeous Safari Suit for me on Eid. For some reason, I never shared their sentiment towards the Safari Suit. From the beginning, I thought it would never suit me. And since my philosophy was towards black and white, I preferred simple earthly colors that are not loud enough to shout out my presence. I still like mundane shades. This was also the time when I was going through a transformation. I had found a very strong link between my thought and divine spirituality, which eventually pulled my closer to the duties as a Muslim. I started going to the mosque five times a day for prayer, sometimes I also spent the night there. The master who used to teach me Arabic reading and recitation was impressed with my dedication and with how fast I learnt my lessons. On occasion, he even asked me to deliver the Azaan. And automatically, my dress up patterns changed. My ordinary casual clothes lay at the back of my wardrobe, and I used to only wear a panjabi. And for Eid I wanted alkhellas, and scarves. My parents were astonished! But I was steadfast in my wishes, I wanted what I wanted. Eventually they kept both their wish and mine, and bought me both the alkhella, and the safari suit. They said that I must wear both.
One of my grandfathers was a Sufi person. My father always used to say, that our predecessors had come from Iran. And he also said that they came and settled here to preach religion. But that was about five generations ago, and the family profession had changed. My grandfather was a teacher and the headmaster. The Sufi grandfather I was referring to was not my direct grandparent; he was my paternal grandmother's brother. As a man, he was mystical. He was the same person as the next family man, but at the same time he was an extremely spiritual person. Anyone who spent a considerable amount of time with him would realize that his attitude, the way he talked, how he lead his life was very simple but not the same as everyone else. He was different. People from far away lands used to come for his blessings. People used to share their problems and sufferings with him. He used to smile at them and say, “Why have you come to me? Who told you that I can help you?” He also used to say, “I am the same as you, made by the same Almighty. Plead to the Almighty; plead whatever your problem is, and whatever your heart desires to Him. Only he can solve your crises.” He used to despise the fact that people used to think that he has spiritual powers. He did his best to make people understand that he was the same as them, and that he had no exceptional qualities. But still they used to come to him. People even tried to become his servants, they wanted to make a group of followers, but he never allowed it. He never accepted any gifts in any form, from any of his visitors. He always wanted to live a normal life, just like the rest of the people. He did not like visiting many people and seldom went to their homes. My mother used to really respect him, and whenever he came to Dhaka, he used to pay us an occasional visit. All through my life, I had seen him twice or thrice. Once he came before Eid, and my mother wanted to give him something on Eid. My mother really tried but he would not accept anything. But at last, after a lot of pressuring, he finally accepted a “lungi” from my mother.
When I think of him, whenever I visualize him, I think about how simple a man can be. Even years later, he used to tell people about the gift my mother had given him. He used to make it sound monumental, and hearing so would make me feel shy. Once when I was talking to him, he had stared at me for a long time. Honestly, I was a little afraid of him; he seemed really amiable, but at the same time he was mysterious and extremely deep. When he was staring at me, I said, “Why are you not saying anything?” He replied, “Life is full of mysticism, and we see some of it, and don't see the rest. If you want to, if the journey attracts you, then you may embark upon it.” I did comprehend what he tried to tell me that day. I simply shook my head in agreement. And this issue never came up. A few years later, my mother told me that my grandfather had told everyone close to him that he will not be with us much longer. He wanted his family to be mentally prepared. He never knew whether he could help the people that came to him, many poor people, many people suffering from diseases, but he felt good about the fact that people could gather mental power through him. The faith they shared with him used to make them mentally stronger. And then he passed away, exactly when and how he said he would.
For the “Beijing plus five” conference, I was to make a documentary called, “Women in Agriculture.” In the process of doing so, I had to visit almost a score of villages in Bangladesh. And I had realized how important the role of women is. In the making of the documentary, I came across women, who handle household chores, and at the same time help to produce agricultural goods. I realized that society actually underestimates women, and that we don't really understand how capable they are and how much their contribution is to our economy. As I met with many women across the nation and learnt step by step of their daily activities, my interest in the documentary itself grew. I felt that such documentaries were necessary in bringing to light what the women of the country are really doing, and how much they are doing. My hats are off to all the women! It was my first visit to the small town, Sunamganj. Our work was mostly during daylight, since agricultural work stops with the sunset and documentary shooting is best in natural light. So, my after-dusk hours were mostly engaged in planning for the next day and meeting with people. I really enjoy the setting of such places, they are far cozier than city environments and the people are far friendlier. These kinds of places have their own characteristics that go hand in hand with the characteristics of the local people. Once I was walking in the pursuit of a phone booth, and a middle-aged man just came out of nowhere to my side and said, “You are looking for something, let me help you find it. Follow me.”
I was awe-struck. I didn't know what to do. Should I follow him? Should I walk away? I had no idea whether he had any evil intentions. And more importantly, he didn't even ask me what I was looking for! Maybe from my gesture he could have guessed that I was looking for something. But how could he know what it was? Full of suspicion, I followed him for a few minutes. But then he seemed to be going further inside the village through turns and narrow roads which I was not familiar with, and I stopped walking. He was in front of me, and sensing my stop, he came and said, “Are you afraid? You should not be, you can trust me. You are looking for a telephone booth, its not here, and so I am leading you to where it is.” Then I asked him, “But how did you know. You didn't even ask me what I was looking for.” He replied very casually, “I just thought that's what you are looking for. You look new in town.” Then I became really scared, was he following me from before? How did he know! And he didn't even look very impressive, his appearance was dodgy. Then he said, “I know what you are thinking. Nowadays the streets are not very safe. In every corner, there is a mugger or a thief loitering. But these district towns are not as dangerous as the city streets. Most people here are trustworthy.” It's not like his words completely freed me from my suspicions, but the situation was normalized. And I really needed a telephone booth. So, I kept on walking with him. He made me walk a long way, almost a mile perhaps. Finally we came to a marketplace and to a phone booth. While I made my call, he waited.
After my call was done, I asked him, “Why did you make me walk so much? I believe you made me walk in circles, and there must be shorter routes from where I was to this place.” He started laughing. And then said, “I knew you would feel it. I actually lengthened our journey so that we could spend more time talking together.” Even though I was immensely irritated, I didn't show my true colours on my face. He then also said, “If you are free, I would like to spend some more time with you. And if you think badly of me, you are most welcome to come to my home, and hopefully you will realize that I am not a bad man.” Even though I was annoyed, the truth is, I was also curious. I wanted to find out more. So, I went along. After a few minutes of walking, we came up to a closed store. He had keys to it, and opened it. I realized he was the owner, and he said so. I asked him if this is where he lived, but he said this is his own store. He talked continuously, and I found out that he was a lawyer by profession, but now he is in the business of making herbal medicine. He collects medicinal plants from the woods and mixes them to create healing potions. He also told me that he has had a life of struggle. He never knew his mother as a child, and had to struggle a lot to become a lawyer. But he cannot practice anymore, because his own family, mainly his step mother has framed him for murder! He was convicted of the crime, mistakenly, at least according to him, and he had to spend almost five years in jungles hiding from the law. He said that those years taught him more about life than he ever knew. He met a “shadubaba” in the jungle, who taught him about medicinal plants. He used to spend hours meditating with him. Days were passing just like this when suddenly the “shadubaba” disappeared, and he couldn't find him ever again. He is actually from another part of Sylhet, and now lives in Sunamganj. For all these reasons, he could not get married before, and had a very late marriage. I asked him, “Why did you bring me here?” He told me, “I want to prove to you that I am not a fraud. I wanted you to see my work and my shop, and then we shall go to my home.” Once he reached his home, I was thoroughly shocked. His home was in the middle of a slum! And he told me, “My wife is really conservative, she will not come in front of you. She will talk to you from behind a screen.” After talking further for a long time, I realized I was really late and had to leave. Before I left, he said he wanted to give me gift. He gave me a piece of writing in the form of a wall hanging. Something was written there in Bengali. He asked me to keep it with me. He escorted me out and came with me to my hotel. Before we parted, he said that if I gave him my address in Dhaka, he will come to visit me. He wanted to become my friend. But, for obvious reasons, I ignored his request. Interestingly, he spent the next three days with me, and accompanied me everywhere. He turned out to be a great help since I was new to the area. After I was done shooting, and had to leave Sunamganj to go to the next district on my list, he wanted to come with me! But that was where I had to draw the line. I could not have allowed an unknown man accompany me and my crew on an official tour.
About two weeks later, when I returned to Dhaka, he called. And I had a very interesting conversation with him. He told me he knows about me, and accurately spelled out events of my life that he had no way to knowing! I was a bit shaken. I was convinced that he was an ordinary man. I asked him to come to Dhaka.
He came and stayed with me for a day, he visited my office. I was going through bad times, and things may have turned so bad, that I would have to leave it. He told me, that under no circumstances, should I let go of what I was doing. He said that my trouble would eventually fade away, if I am patient and persistent. He tried to help me in every way possible, with ideas and insights. He used to call me almost regularly and became a well wisher and a guide in my life. I listened to his words for a couple of days. After a few days had passed, what I was doing seemed questionable to myself. What was I doing? Was there any logic in his words? Is he a fortune teller? Why am I listening to this man? And I decided myself that I will not listen to him anymore. The next day I went to the landowner and I let go of my office. The same day I did this, the man called me. And he said, “Please don't let go of your office. Go back and undo what you said to the landowner. Please believe me, I am asking you to do this for your own good.” I became angered and asked him never to call me again. I told him never to come visit me or contact me in any way. He became melancholy and told me that I had misunderstood him. He said that he felt that I needed his help and he only wanted to be my well wisher. But since I did not want his help, he wished me all the best and hung up. I thought he would call or contact me after some time, but he never did. Later I felt bad; he had never actually done any harm to me. I called his cell phone many times after that but could never reach him. The man remains a mystery to me, I had no idea how he knew so much about me or what he wanted. I never met the man again.
Sometimes I ask myself, “Am I too superstitious?” Sometimes, I ask myself, are these happenings really truly, are do I create them in my mind? Are they reality? Or fantasy? Do things like these happen to other people as well? The many turns in my life, the new faces, the new people, the new experiences, etc have all enriched my thoughts and my conscience. And I have no regrets for any time or part of my life, whether my venture was successful or not. I have learnt in every phase, through the success and through the mistakes, and all that I have learnt has taught me that this is life. Life runs on its own course, which cannot be re-routed through personal thoughts. We think we can, but life is bigger than us. We are only its instrument. There is nothing to complain about. Life is what is should be.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007