Waiting for the ferry
Syed Shamsul Haq was born in a small town called Kurigram (now a district town) on December 27, 1935. His father was Syed Siddique Husain, a homeopathic physician, and his mother was Halima Khatun. Haq passed his childhood in Kurigram. During his childhood he observed the harshness of the Second World War.
Haq is married to Dr. Anwara Syed Haq (also an outstanding writer in her own right). He is father to a daughter, Bidita Sadiq and a son, Ditio Syed Haq.
Syed Shamsul Haq writes poetry, fiction, plays- mostly in verse and essays. He is recognized as one of the leading poets of Bangladesh. His experiments with forms and the language have given a new direction to Bangla literature.
I Have never seen him before. I wasn't really able to like the man. A person meets many different people while on the streets. You see them for a moment, to never meet them again. A sense of liking or disliking develops instantly in that small portal of time. And sometimes, you end up remembering that person for many days to come.
I am waiting in my car for the ferry to Dowlatdya. I drive it myself. My mind is not in peace. I have driven it all the way from Dhaka very carefully. All my friends had told me not to. One of them had wanted to give me his car along with the chauffer. “Oy! It's safer not to drive the car yourself given the circumstances”. One of them even wanted to tag along with me seeing how stubborn I was being. I didn't bring anyone along.
It's going to take a long time before the ship arrives. I have already taken a cup of tea from the stall. A few far faring buses have arrived and are parked waiting to be taken to the other side of the bank. The travelers have stepped out and are walking around. Quite a crowd has formed because of them. The sand of the river bank presses down under their feet as their skins bake in the sun.
Many have swarmed into the restaurants for breakfast. The cooks are busy frying eggs with sizzling sounds on the open pans in front of the entrances. The aroma is dense. The eggs along with parathas, laid upon used news papers covering the tin plates, are being smuggled to and fro in frenzy. Some others are busy hurriedly swallowing rice, kneading it along with hilsha fish, red chilies and onions.
The shopkeepers are trying to calm the customers down, “Eat slowly sahibs. You'll get a lot of time. Have another piece of fish? It's hilsha from the Padma!”
The dock's supervisor said the ferry will be late. A ship somewhere is stuck in the river after running aground on a submerged strip of sand.
The man suddenly appeared in my line of sight through the masses and the eggs and the fried hilsha and the steaming rice. His eyes are as impatient as a grasshopper's. The grasshopper hops onto every flower with nectar, one after the other. The man's gaze is shifting frequently from bus travelers to motor-travelers to women. His eyes are dancing as his stares shift from one woman to another. Maybe this is the reason why I have taken notice of the man.
He's wearing an ash colored safari suit, his complexion is a degree more ashen and dirtier. His face resembles that of an imposter. It's hard to tell his age with certainty. It could fall anywhere between thirty and forty-five. He sports a three day long unshaven beard on his cheeks. His teeth are the protruding type. He has a cigarette in between his fingers. He's sucking on its butt rigorously.
Something starts to tingle on the nape of a person if you are staring at him for long. A tickling feeling develops there. The person returns the stare. The man turns and faces towards me. He looks at me. He looks away as soon as our gazes meet. He cocks his head and looks at me again. Something strange happens next. He keeps on stealing in-between-looks at me while his stare jumps from one woman to another.
It's as if he and I have fallen entwined into a bond. Shortly, I begin to notice that my own stares have started to fleet from one woman to another, the same as his. And just like him, I am stealing a look or two at him from in-between my shifting gaze on the women.
The man is shifting his stares from one woman to another. And my gaze, just like his, is shifting from once on the women, to once on him.
Yet, god knows, I am not in the habit of staring at women. On the contrary, I have always looked the other way as soon as my eyes should fall on a woman. It's as if it's legal for me to stare at everything in this world, besides women. It seems like there lies an uncultured and uncivilized nature within it. I couldn't look at my own wife properly even on our wedding night. That was five years ago. It was just the other day that she had made cruel jokes about me about this.
The man keeps walking, shoving and poking through the crowd. I keep on walking as well. I can't really bring myself to decipher whether it's him that attracts me or me that attracts him. Both of us have started not to lose sight of the other in any way. It's true that I am not enjoying his presence one bit, but then again, I am not able to avert my eyes off him.
It's like I am copying him from within me.
All the women are mostly in cars or on the buses. They haven't disembarked. They are all sitting pressed against the windows. Many of them are housewives. Some of them are carrying their kids. Some of them are very young. One of them just exited a car. Aah! She is wearing jeans trousers, with a white shirt on top. A camera slung over her shoulder. The trousers are stretched like a tanpura's sound box from the behind.
The girl leans against a pillar by the bay. She then takes her camera out to focus on a sail spread dinghy in the middle of the river. I start to wait. It was not clear on whether she snapped a photograph of the boat or not. She pours tea onto the cup from her flask.
A few drops of tea spills out and then stops. She is very dissatisfied with the flask as she stands curling her lips at it. Who knows what's in store for the flask. She might just fling it away. She doesn't. She swings it over her shoulder after ramming the cup on top of the flask. She starts to observe the people, the crowd.
The girl then walks over to one of the stalls by the street and buys a bottle of coke. She opens the cap using her teeth. The bite seemed to look very brave. Two urchins by the streets stop in their tracks looking on amazed at the girl.
She then starts to gulp the beverage down while staring at the sky. Her hand is raised to the level of the bottle as she raises her head to the sky. The shirt on her chest is raised as well. The pink colored belt on her waist begins to show. Her breasts heave up, as if in earnest, as if they want to drink the coke too. Everything starts to dazzle in the bright sunshine of the morning sun.
I start to notice, the man is staring at the girl's bosom too. The girl lowers her neck, and her head, and instantly her loose shirt droops down. The swell of her bosom flattens out against her shirt. A sudden gust of wind breaks out. The wind, seemingly, is saying, “Hey! I couldn't see it properly!” And the girl's bosom becomes apparent at the wind's audacity. The wind starts acting in a very vulgar manner now. It holds the shirt pressing it against her body.
I turn my gaze. The man is still staring at the girl's chest. Is it concern in his eyes? Or is it sparkling lust?
I turn to look at the girl once more. The wind is still mischievous. The girl is so daring. She doesn't have the slightest notice of her bosom amongst so many people! Or is it, she is so simple that she is not at all bothered with her body! Is she not noticing, even for once, at how the man is staring at her with such vile looks?
Or even at how I am looking at her! Moreover, I can't divert my gaze either! I am trying constantly. But my stare is falling on her breasts every time.
Looks as if the impatient eyes of the man have acquired a new target. His look is averted far off this time. And he starts to walk in the direction of his sight. I feel a certain attraction towards the place he is walking over to. It's as if he wants to drag me over to the place as well.
I quickly steal a glance at the girl. But I am disappointed. The wind had died out by then; her breasts are hidden behind her loose shirt once again. What happens next? The wind does not deprive me. The wind acts up once more. The shirt grips her bosom once more.
Is she without any shame? Whereas she should try to pull the shirt away to hide her chest, save the swell of her bosom from the stare of men, she doesn't, while actually enjoying the moment. Her breasts are pressing out. Even her nipples seem apparent! The river wind seems to have started attacking them like a pervert and have started playing with them.
And what is this! As our sights meet, the girl starts to smile sweetly!
I can feel a faint smile surfacing on my mouth as well. As if I am reciprocating her smile. I am being compromised. My feet want to walk me to her. I can even feel myself taking a step. But as soon as I realize it, I constrict myself immediately; I become alert and turn my face around.
Cars and buses are standing in queue along the dock. I notice the man walking along this line. Averting my gaze from the girl, I start walking along the same line. I don't want to lose sight of the man. But I keep feeling that the girl is watching me too. I steal a glance at her from far. I guessed it right. The girl was watching me. I start to feel a smug excitement rising within me. I want to break free of it. I blend into the crowd.
Finding nothing else, I keep following the man. I cannot explain why I keep following him. It's not like I am thinking about it either. I just feel it: somehow the man keeps dragging me along.
Yet, I don't know the man. I have never met him before.
To be concluded…
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin
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