The Soothing Blue Light
Moinul Ahsan Saber was born in 1958 to father Ahsan Habib, one of the former main modern poets of Bangladesh. Saber emerged as a writer and gained fame with the publication of his first novel Porato Sahish in 1982. The fiction writer is the executive editor of popular weekly magazine Saptahik 2000.
His fictions include Aadmer Jonye Opekkha (1986), Pathor Somoy (1989), Char Torun Toruni (1990), Manush Jeikhane Jai Na (1990), Dharabahik Kahini (1992), Opekkha (1992), Tumi Amake Niye Jabe (1993), Kobej Lethel (1993), Prem O Protishodh (1993), and Songshar Japon (1997). Among other works in the media Pathor Shomoy was adapted into Television Drama by Bangladesh Television and he had written a screenplay. He also wrote Liliputera Ber Hobe, based on Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.
by Moinul Ahsan Saber
The fish was rotten! But how could he have known? He understands very little. And on top of that, the fishmonger had praised the fish so much, that Hafez had ended up buying it anyway. In his defense, Hafez had followed the rituals checking the gills, poking the fish with his fingers before paying for it. Even thoughts such as 'The fish is definitely fresh… right?' had crossed his mind after the purchase. But he had yet to buy greeneries along with some spices. He could have been taken advantage of if he had started buying other groceries with a doubtful mind was the other thing on his mind. Even then he could not let go of the nagging thought and question of the freshness of the fish. Hafez knew very well what Jahanara was capable of if the fish turned out rotten.
The question of integrity of the fish had totally dropped out of his mind after fifteen minutes or so. He had met a friend on the way. He was very surprised Iqbal? After such a long time! They went to the same university. They had met once or twice after graduation, and had not seen each other. So many years! He was on his way home trying to push and shove through the crowd when somebody stepped and crushed his foot with a mud soaked sandal. Hafez could not muster up enough courage, but he wanted nothing more than to grab hold of some of the mud and to smear it on to the other guy's face. As there was the urge, he had to at least catch a glimpse of the man. As he lifted his eyes to get a better look, he blurted out, “Aren't you Iqbal?”, in the informal speech rather than the appropriate formal one.
The man smiled and in the same informal tone said, “I recognize you. You're Hafeizza.”
“You… where'd you come from how surprising… seeing you after such a long time…”
“Ain't nothin' to be surprised 'bout. It's inevitable to meet. Rentin' a place in this neighbourhood.”
“My house is just five minutes from here. Come.”
Iqbal on the other hand was not at all prepared to visit Hafez's home right then. He was not done with shopping. Besides, where was the rush? Since they met after so many years, another few hours of wait would do no harm. Iqbal will pay the visit in the evening, and Hafez could just leave the address with him. Hafez on the other hand would not let go. Since they met after so many years; it had to be then; Iqbal can visit again later when he sees the house and where it is after he has a cup of tea there; it's only then he wilhl be able to recognize the address. He dragged Iqbal to his place against his will.
He was truly very exited and happy to have found his old friend after so many years. Truth be told he has nearly no friends to speak of at present. He has nothing to do after returning from the office. Now that an old friend such as Iqbal has moved into the area, the whole state of affairs have changed how exciting! He can now say farewell to his boredom.
Just as the servant boy opened the door he told Iqbal, “Come”, and while entering the house called out, “Jahanara!” Handing over the bags to the boy he continued saying, “Ask your aunt to come… Iqbal, sit down, even though you've never met, Jahanara has heard about all of you and knows all of you. Sit, and let the conversation take place today, have a cup of tea, and then you can go.”
Jahanara did not show even after being called twice or thrice. He had asked the boy to bring tea, which too was being overlooked. He wanted to stand up and go fetch Jahanara. But that was not necessary. He had just got up from his seat and was about to take a step when Jahanara showed herself, “Is that what you call fish that you bought? I 's been rotten for seven days now. Have you lost your head? Why does a stupid person such as you go to the market anyways!? Just wait, if I don't make you have that fish all raw…”
He tried to lighten the mood by laughing a little, “Aha, this is the Iqbal that I had spoken of… remember? The really old friend of mine.”
Jahanara did not even glance at Iqbal, and kept staring at Hafez, “So you bought it together, did you?... or have you have you brought along a friend to defend yourself… just stay there and let me send over the fish so that you can eat it in front of your friend.”
As soon as Jahanara left Hafez turned to Iqbal and tried smiling. Iqbal with a heavy voice said, “Surprising turn of events pal, you're the one who has returned from the market and it's your wife who's got the temper.”
Iqbal left soon after. He kept sitting in the drawing room for quite a while after that. Finally he got up to go take a shower. He was in the shower for a long time, but his temper did not subside even then. He was feeling very strongly to scream. He gets the same feeling from time to time to scream; to scream his heart out while standing in the middle of the room. But, it never surpasses to the actual act from his desire. He did not scream. He went and stood in the balcony.
Their balcony is very small. All the verandas of all the houses in the area were such. Only the house adjacent to theirs was different it had bigger balconies. The two storied house itself was one to be admired. The innards of the house were visible as well only because the houses were so close together. A week or two had transpired that the first floor had been vacated. They were on the first floor as well. They could see the whole of the house standing from their balcony. They noticed how the flat had been left empty for the past week or two. He knew that the flat could not be let out very easily. No body would want to live in the neighbourhood at such exuberant rent.
He however had said at some point that they would leave the house and rent the flat. It was just a joke, poking a little fun, something said in passing for a good laugh. He thinks that getting a few laughs out of such desires is good; it keeps the mind fresh and reduces some stress. But Jahanara had looked at him with sheer amazement and asked, “You will rent that flat?”
“Hmm… I will. What's the problem?”
“You cannot pay the rent for this flat on a regular basis.”
“Who knows better about that than me?”
“Then… do you know the asking rent for that flat?”
“I don't. But I can surely make an estimate.”
“Such dreams even after guess work?”
“Aha Janu, doesn't the midget extend his hand towards the moon, doesn't the hunchback desire to lay straight on his back?! Think how exciting it would be for us to have lived in that flat…”
“Don't utter such rubbish.”
Hafez had not said anything further. Standing from the balcony, finding nothing else to do, he kept staring at the flat for a while. Much of the flat was visible from the corner he stood at. That too was small, yet tiptop and appealing. Empty, even the bare windows were curtain void, which made it even more visible. No matter how appealing, the flat was still yet to be rented off. He knows very well that no one would rent the premise to count out a fat sum as rent at each month's expiration. He could have placed a bet with Jahanara at guessing when the flat would be occupied once again. But Jahanara would have just blown it away saying not to talk rubbish. He had thus not uttered a word about the bet.
The servant boy brought over a cup of tea a few moments later. He was astonished, “Tea? Why the tea now?”
The boy said, “Auntie sent it over. She asked you to finish it and then go inside for breakfast.”
“Listen to what this boy has to say! Breakfast after tea! Does it make sense for such illogical burdens to be put on me by her?” Even so, he held out his hand and accepted the cup and saucer. He even sipped a little of the tea. He waited till the boy left the veranda. He then dumped the rest of the tea down by tipping the cup out through the grills of the balcony. With a smile of achievement he stood there for a bit longer and then went in for the meal.
Jahanara usually sits down for breakfast with Hafez. It was the same that day. She said she would have the eggs and while passing over the bread and butter she asked, “From when do you this friend of yours?”
“Which friend?” Hafez inquired.
Jahanara stared at him for a bit and said, “Which friend? The one that you carried home in your lap in the morning today, I am speaking of him.”
“Oh… he used to study with us… from university.”
“Your friends are as dumb as you. How does a person come to visit someone else so early in the morning?”
Hafez turned a deaf ear to Jahanara's words and kept silent.
“Have you gathered the money?”
It would have been great if he could have ignored this comment as well. But that was not possible. He nodded his head.
“I will go tomorrow in the morning along with Babu.”
“What about Babu's school?” he inquired in a very surprised tone.
“No harm will be done if he misses a few days of school.” Jahanara always has a final decision about everything ready with her. It was thus futile to lengthen a conversation with her, but he still couldn't let it go and spoke up in a very timid voice, “But his exams are coming up…”
“I will worry about that. You will gather the money by today.”
Jahanara was going to visit her father. She bought three kathas of land there. It was not necessary to pay the whole amount up front. She purchased the land on installment payment terms. It was time to pay one more installment, which is why Jahanara was paying the visit and Hafez had to gather the money. The installment is inexpensive, same as the land; yet on the other hand it was not easy for Hafez, but he could manage the sum with a little effort and running around. But he is against the whole project. It's important to own land, it's even a good idea to buy, but why does it have to be that the land has to be bought there? Jahanara has already inherited quite a lot of land, what use would it be to add another three kathas to that? But who will tell her that… who will make her understand? He still had told her a quite a few times; it never worked; it would never work, and he knew it.
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin
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