by Selina Hossain
Translated from “Durokom Juddha” by Radha Chakravarty.
“Double war” is anthologized in Bodymaps: Stories by South Asian Women edited by Radha Chakravarty (Delhi Zubaan, 2007) And
Fugitive Colours edited by Niaz Zaman (writers.ink, 2010)
Nurjaan is running. Running as fast as she can. Running with all the strength in her body. All her strength concentrated in the movement of her legs, as if even her lungs require no power, nor any other part of her body. Her legs make her powerful. She feels she is flying, not running. Flying is the fastest form of motion. Nobody knows, better than herself at this moment, that one can fly with one's feet.
Even a short while ago, she had satisfied three Pakistani soldiers by offering them her body. Suppressing the sharp pain in her heart, she had watched their shining faces, and thought of that as her own battle field. She wants to devise war strategies with her body, not with weapons. Her speed doesn't flag as she runs. As other times, she would have begun to feel physical pain in some part of her body. Now, even that sensation is gone. Actually, the sharpness of pain has evaporated from her consciousness. There is just one goal before her. She had received news that, at around noon, a jeep laden with military personnel would head towards Kandpasha village. The news must be conveyed to the freedom fighters' camp.
She doesn't let her anchal fly in the breeze. Nor her hair. She has twisted her anchal, the end of her sari, tightly around her waist. And her bunched-up hair is stuffed into the back of her blouse. She thinks she is astride an invisible horse. Alongside, her thoughts have also taken wing. Before the war began, her father would sit in the verandah weaving nets, and telling them stories. Stories from books. Stories of gazis, religious warriors. He was a fun-loving human being. While recounting these stories, he would sometimes burst out into full throated-song. Nurjaan liked the story of Sonabhan best of all. Arching his neck, Baba would say, “The man walked on, riding a horse.”
Her younger brothers and sisters would roll about, laughing. She didn't feel like laughing. Gazing at the evening sky, she would wonder which star was Sonabhan's horse. What if the falling star landed on the terrace of their own house! Sonabhan brought sleep to her eyes. Her dreams spread across the heavens and the underworld. People in the village called her a tomboy. The term gave Nurjaan no pleasure, nor did it inspire her with thoughts of becoming a woman of courage. Rather, it made her even more angry. The anger of being unable to think of oneself as someone worthwhile. One day, as news began to arrive that the Pakistani army was killing people and burning villages, that war had broken out, she told her elder sister Tamiza while they were tying up their bundles:
“Call me Sonabhan.”
“Why?” asked Tamiza, rollimg her eyes heavenwards.
“Because Baba tells us the story of Sonabhan. Sonabhan goes to war, riding a horse.”
“Why do you want to be like that Sonabhan? Do you want to go to war?”
“Yes, I'll fight.”
“Aren't you a girl, after all?”
“Can't girls go to war?”
“I wonder! I don't know.”
Tamiza curled her lower lip.
“Isn't Sonabhan a woman?” guffawed Nurjaan. “Why do you forget that?”
Tamiza gazed at her with wide eyes. Her sister had lost her head, she thought, climbing trees, rowing boats, swimming out to gather shapla. She could split wood, but also cook rice. Was there anything she couldn't accomplish? Tamiza didn't get to ask Nurjaan that question. On her own, Nurjaan became Sonabhan, even if no one called her by that name. one morning, she went directly to confront her father, and announced: “I am going to war. Nizam Master has set up a camp for muktijoddha, freedom fighters.”
Baba's voice grew hoarse. “Go to war, a young unmarried girl like you?” he screamed. “Have you gone mad?”
“If you don't let me go, I'll kill myself.”
“Nurjaan, you're getting too bold.”
“No, I won't kill myself Baba. Why should I die? If I must die, I'll kill a khansena first a Pakistani soldier.”
“What's all this you're saying?”
“You can't keep me in chains at home. I shall go.”
“If you go, there will be no place for you in this house, any more.”
Privately making up her mind, Nurjaan moved away from her father's presence. A few days later, she quietly left the house. Nizam Master was not surprised to see her.
“So you've come. Join us,” he said simply. “There's a lot to be done.”
“Just give me work to do. See if I cope. If I fail, punish me. Whip me.”
“Enough! Say no more. Get trained first.”
So began Nurjaan's training in the art of wielding weapons. For the moment, she must learn how to shoot with a rifle and remove the pin from a grenade. The Pak army had set up camp at the power house. When she and Abu Bakr went there to reconnoiter, they were captured by the razakars, those in favour of the ruling regime. Here began their life in the Pakistani military camp. Hell, it was hell. Even in that hell, she prepared herself. Abu Bakr became a guard at the camp. He couldn't move anywhere. He would only gaze at Nurjaan in dumb silence. He felt surprised, happy.
“I get all sorts of news,” he had whispered to her, one day. “We must pass it on to Master's camp.”
“Don't worry, I'll also smuggle out some mines and grenades.”
“You're well, I hope, Nurjaan?”
“I'm fine. Bring me mines and grenades. I'll carry them to Master's camp.”
“Can you do it?”
She is running, mines and grenades tied to her chest and back. After running so long, her speed should have flagged. But instead of slowing down, she runs faster. She is not out of breath. She feels she will reach the muktibahini camp in a single breath.
She looks back, once. No, nobody is following her. Although day has broken, there are no people to be seen on the street. Abu Bakr had let her out, opening the rear gate of the camp.
“Where are you going?” he had asked her.
“To bathe in the river.”
Abu Bakr made an inarticulate sound.
“They know I don't run away. If I go somewhere, I always come back. If anyone asks after me, say I have gone to the river to bathe. You'll remember, won't you?”
“Is this something to be forgotten, Nurjaan! If they can't find you, they'll kill me as well.”
“I can't afford to die. There's lot of work ahead.”
“You're very brave.”
“You know I fight on two fronts. Can you fight a war unless you're brave?”
Now, at last, Nurjaan slows down. Ahead of her is the camp. Her excitement increases. Her heart flutters in excitement. She touches the mines and grenades on her back and chest. Then she knocks on the door. Before that, she stands at the door and takes a deep breath. How extraordinary, how tender is the breeze at dawn! In an instant, it wipes away all her fatigue. She knocks twice.
“Who is it?” calls a voice from within.
“It's me, Nurjaan.”
Nizm Master is surprised to see her.
“Nurjaan, is it really you?”
“I have news.”
“Come in. Sit down. Will you have some water?”
In Master's presence, she unwraps her clothing and removes the mines and grenades from her chest and back.
“Please take these.”
“How did you bring them?”
“I can't tell you now.”
“Has the wound on your back healed?”
“No, it hurts a lot.”
“What's the news?”
“At around noon, a jeep full of khanshena will be heading towards Kandpasha.”
“We must arrange an ambush!” cries Nizam Master excitedly. “At once!”
A few boys have come up to stand by him.
“I want to go,” each one of them declares.
“Wait, all of you. Let me organize everything. Nurjaan, go back to the camp. They'll search for you if they can't find you there. Then they'll kill yoou.”
“Let them kill me. I am all but dead, sir.”
“Ah! Don't say too much. Go at once, or some razakar will notice you.”
“No, I'm not going. Tell me where the mines must be buried. I'll plant it. Who's going with me? We need to go at once.”
Her firm voice rings out in the room. In silence, Nizam Master and the five boys gaze at Nurjaan's countenance. Her voice is like thunder, as if Bangabandhu himself suddenly entered the room to stand before them. In Nurjaan's presence, they feel helpless. As if they have never taken part in an operation, as if whatever they have done all these days is utterly insignificant, not even worth mentioning. As if they don't know what mines are, or grenades. As if they have never heard the sound of machine guns and brushfire. Have they really understood what war is all about? Can they view war as Nurjaan has perspective? They break out in a sweat, inwardly, each one of them.
“What's the matter? We have no time left!” Nurjaan barks at them.
Her voice stuns Nizm Master. Pointing at the boys, he declares: “They'll go with you, all of them!”
“So let's go, then.” Nurjaan rises to her feet.
“Have a handful of panta, fermented rice, Nurjaan,” Nizam Master urges.
“Aren't you hungry?”
“Why must you create so many complications? There's no time.” She opens the door.
“I've decided where to plant the mine,” she announces. “In front of the cane thicker to the right of the Beltola turning. The road is unpaved. If we cover it with scattered grass, they won't be able to tell.”
Nizam Master nods his head.
“Yes that's right,” agree the boys. “That's the right place.”
Again, Nurjaan runs. With her, now, are five muktijoddhas. They are forced to run in zigzag fashion, taking refuge behind trees and thickets. Again, that tender breeze fills her lungs. Reaching the appointed spot, they swiftly bury the mine beneath the road's surface. They plant grass in the unpaved area. It's impossible to detect anything now. They position themselves behind the cane thicket. Not a single khansena will be allowed to return alive.
When everything is ready, Nurjaan says, “I'm leaving.”
“We won't let you go, Nurjaan. Stay with us.”
“Don't stop me. If they find me here, they'll set fire to the entire village. They'll kill people. They won't let you off either.”
“But does that mean you must…”
“Forget about me. I have two wars to fight. Give me some poison, if you can. I'll stuff those men's mouths with poison.”
“You are in pain, Nurjaan. Your body hurts.”
“What use is my body, if I can't set my country free?”
she burst into loud laughter. Her laugh is forceful and violent, like a storm. The five muktijoddhas cower as they listen to her laughter. Listening, their blood runs cold.
Leaving them in that state, Nurjaan heads back for the camp. On the way, she stops to bathe in a pond. The wet sari clings to her body. She removes her blouse. Suns the open wound on her back. They had prodded her back with a bayonet, a game they sometimes played. She grits her teeth. Looks around her at the open fields. How much longer would it take to win freedom?
As soon as she sets foot in the camp, a khansena yanks her by the hair.
“Kidhar gaya?” he asks in Urdu. “Where have you been? Ghaddar! You traitor!”
she points to her wet clothes. Gazing at her wet clothing, the khansena burst into obscure laughter. Abu Bakr stands at a distance. Nurjaan doesn't glance at him. She enters her shelter. The other women sit indolently, looking down cast. Nurjaan gives them an intense look. The women are startled: But they are unable to ask anything. When she turns back on them and starts changing her clothes, they gaze at the wound on her back.
In the afternoon, news arrives at the camp. There is terrible commotion all around. Not a single khansena has escaped alive.
After dusk, their door is flung open at the kick of a boot. Without a glance at anyone they drag Nurjaan out by the hair. The torture begins. She doesn't scream. Bears it as long as she can. Makes no sound. Then she begins to moan. From the depths of her subconscious mind, the sound of her moaning spreads across the camp.
After a while Abu Bakr sees Nurjaan's naked body suspended from an iron rod, blood dripping from various parts of her body.
If he can offer her some water to drink, she won't die, thinks Abu Bakr. To accomplish this task, he waits for darkness to descend.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009