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
Just as he entered the office, thoughts of informing Jahanara crossed his mind, even though there was no reason for such a thought. It was not like that they shared everything with each other, and it was nothing that could not wait. He would be keeping her in the dark about something very insignificant. Yet, the urge of letting Jahanara know still kept nagging at him. There was very little work at the office that day since the M.D. had left the country in the morning. The work place followed a strict unwritten law: no work would be done unless it was absolutely necessary and urgent while the M.D. was not in the country, which was quite often. Hafez, on the other hand, did have some work to finish up on and later thought of socializing a little. He decided against it and instead drew out some paper and started writing to Jahanara:
If circumstances were such that you and I had bet on whether or not the flat opposite to ours was going to be rented out or not, and you had said that yes it would be soon and I had said that no, then you would have won. It was only yesterday that a new couple moved into the premises. I noticed curtains on the windows, seeping a melancholy soothing blue light, after I returned home last night, and caught glimpses of the couple in the morning today. I am guessing they have a child as old as Babu as well. And what is surprising is that both of them look very familiar the husband is the obvious familiar face while the wife is not far off in that respect. Even so, I can't put my finger on how I know them and from where. But I will definitely find out before your return. Besides that, they look like a very happy family and friendly as well. How are you? And Babu?
He returned straight home from the office that day. But his efforts were in vain since his purpose of returning without visiting anywhere else was defeated. No, there was no sound or movements coming from the flat, not even any of the lights were on. 'What now? It could be that they were all out visiting someone. Was that it? Could be; it would not have been anything strange', he was thinking to himself as to why it should bother him even if they were out on a visit or not. Why should he be curious? And then again, since they were neighbors and they looked extremely familiar there was nothing wrong with his curiosity; he justified to himself.
Since he was home and had nothing better to do, he grabbed a novel and started to read. He never really liked reading much, as it made him feel sleepy. It was no different that day either; he started yawning after going through two or three pages. He put the book aside and with nothing to do started roaming around in the house, and at last came and stood in the balcony. The full moon was out spreading bright light that made it look like a mirror. He kept staring at it, admiring it, from his veranda for a long time.
There was no scope of supper at home that night as he had not prepared any. Usually when alone, he would cook a little rice, make some mashed potatoes and scramble a few eggs for the meal. He was not in the mood to prepare anything, and thus the only option left was the roadside restaurant. Since there was nothing else left to do, he did not want to linger going to the eatery, even though he could go later. He locked the apartment and headed out. His return home was late again. It is good to walk a mile or so after the night meal, and as he does not get the chance often he took to loitering here and there in the streets.
He was angry on Jahanara after his return, 'Why was she visiting her father? Who wants to take up such burdens'? If he had not gone to the restaurant, then that would mean he would have to cook. And if he had to cook, it only meant that he would have to wash the dishes as an extra chore. Adding to that, there is the hassle of preparing breakfast in the morning. On the other hand he had not taken down the mosquito net; who would want to take it down and put it up again every day? He knew Jahanara would create a commotion about these things on her return, but there was nothing to be done. He took hold of the book once more and entered the confines of the net to escape from the mosquitoes. He read a few more pages, and turned the light off using the bed-side switch. He could not sleep.
Like few other nights he kept turning from side to side, but could not go to sleep. He could not find out why, yet he did not get up from bed either; it never helped, and more so, it always got him even more exhausted but never brought sleep. He pondered about Jahanara, Babu, and his family that night. He went into a trance like state that lasted for quite some time. The trance passed away very suddenly, and he sat up on the bed. He was not enjoying his restlessness, to say the least, and with a long face he got out to stand in the balcony.
It was evident that it was late in the night as the otherwise crowd of people had thinned and vanished from the lane in front of his house. Besides that, there was no sound from anyone anywhere. It was as if he was a very lonely and sad person resting his head against the grills of his veranda. He was thinking to himself, 'I am certainly a sad person to not have my wife and child by my side, and not being able to sleep because I can actually feel my loneliness. I don't think anyone other than a sad person could feel this way.' There was a chill passing through in the balcony. The wind was affecting him a little, and he coughed a few times. He had tendencies of catching colds very fast, and thus it was not right for him to linger in the veranda any longer. But what would he do inside on the other hand? He looked towards the adjacent balcony. There was no one there; no one was supposed to be there anyways; not every one is as lonely as him.
He came back inside; what else could someone as lonely as him do? He then stood for a while in middle of the room, and then with soft steps went into Babu's room. He organized the already organized books and copies. While nearly exiting the room, he remembered and very quickly walked over to the window and peered out. Yes, the blue light was on in the bed-room in the flat opposite to the window. He could not believe what he saw looking into the blue light.
Did they intentionally keep the curtains parted, or was it the wind that blew them aside? But are they really that callous? Can it really be that they thought of keeping the curtains parted just thinking that, 'Oh! It's too late for anyone to be awake.' Hafez was stunned at what he saw next: the carnal union of the couple. Even though he could not see completely what was going on, he could see the tremendous amount of energy that they both shared. Hafez could not divert his amazed gaze, seeing the pleasure they were deriving from each other.
He wrote to Jahanara in the morning:
You must be surprised to be getting two letters from me in two days. Well, circumstances are such that I could not help but write to you. I had to share this with someone, and who else than you? I couldn't sleep last night, so was roaming around the house when I started rummaging through Babu's books and copies. It was then that I noticed the light in the bedroom of our new neighbor's were on. It was the same soothing blue light that seemed to seep out before as well. The curtains on the other hand were completely thrown back! They were making love to each other. They must have been really callous. I do not want to write details in a letter, but I do want to tell you about it when you come back. I was blown away by their compatibility, understanding and passion. It was primal, yet beautiful, very beautiful…
Two more days passed for Hafez with time passing normally in the office. It was the time at home that was bothersome. And that was exactly why he had returned late in those couple of days. Lately, his days were horrible for the lack of sleep. He thus bought sleeping pills, which did not help completely, but did ease matters. He had noticed each from the couple a few times over the last two days. He even saw the husband in the balcony once and had smirked at him thinking in his mind, 'I saw everything. How dumb are you to have kept the curtains parted, that too with the light on? But I do have to admit that the both of you are very fine tuned together. Bravo!' On the other hand his anxiety of not recognizingg the person had grown in Hafez. How could it be that they both looked so familiar, and yet he was failing to recognize them? What was more surprising was their attitude and how comfortable they were with each other. They would peer onto the street every now and then, and would be
lost within themselves for the rest of the moments. It was as if the world was non-existent to them, let alone the insignificant veranda Hafez stood in. Hafez could not be more amazed at the relationship he was witnessing, for they were completely unaware of him. Jahanara could surely identify this couple. She surely could when she came back.
He did not take the pills one night. He knew his motives, and was ashamed of them, yet still he could not suppress his curiosity. As soon as it was late, he got up and went to Babu's room. The curtains were slightly parted; the blue light was seeping out as usual, but the couple was not making love. Was he disappointed? Primarily, yes, as he was hoping for a repetition of what he saw before. But the scene he witnessed also brought joy to him. They were laying side by side in embrace and in deep slumber. The room was dimly lit with the blue light. He never thought that sleep in the nearness of the one you loved could be so enjoyable. He felt his pain of being deprived of his true intention fade away. He kept staring at them with amazed eyes. He cried a little.
He thought of the whole situation going a bit too far, and so wrote to Jahanara in the morning:
I had been a bit of peeping-tom last night. I am not proud, but not ashamed either. Yes, my intentions were less than decent, and people would definitely call me shameless. I would not argue with them, for I cannot describe the beauty I had experienced from their acts. I was disappointed, for all they did was sleep. But then again I was blown away once more by the beauty of sleep itself, and how they made it look. I could have never imagined that it could be so serene, as to how husband and wife can share that together in loving embrace and how beautiful it really was in the silhouette of the soothing blue light. I started to think that it was actually true that a person's state of sleep was induced by his life. One suffering from anxiety does not sleep well. I will be there soon to bring you back. And once you're here you can see for yourself all that I have been writing to you about. And yes, not to forget, as I had mentioned in the first letter they look very familiar. I haven't recognized them, but I am sure you will once you see them…
Hafez reached his in-laws right before afternoon. Jahanara asked him in a very stern voice, “Have you lost your mind?”
Shocked, he wanted to know, “Why are you asking such a thing?”
“I came here for a week. You have written three letters to me in that space of time. What's the meaning of this? ”
“Can I not write three letters to you in a week? Does it have to have an underlying meaning?”
“Don't talk rubbish! I have never been so ashamed. Only god knows how Baba has reacted to this. You are so careless!”
“You got the letters from me. There is nothing to be ashamed about. And why would Baba even give a second thought to it?”
“Again such rubbish. And what did you actually write in the letters?”
“I wrote it exactly as I saw it. Not one line was fabricated.”
“I am not saying that they were. But, who wanted to know anything about the couple who moved in to the flat opposite to ours?”
Hafez remained silent.
“It's dumbfounding as to how you've lost your mind. God knows who these people are, and yet you've been writing about them and them only in all the letters.”
“You'll witness it yourself.”
“I don't have to see anything. Pervert! You've gone mad with whoever has moved in next door.”
They reached home around 9pm. The journey usually is complete by the evening if one starts of at 10am. Since the bus had broken down after disembarking the ferry, it took them a solid two hours more. As soon as Jahanara entered the bedroom, she took a very sour tone and said, “I knew it.”
What did she know? She didn't say. Instead the sour rose to her face as she started undoing the binds of the hanging mosquito net while making the bed. Hafez caught on and scratching his head told himself, 'I really could have taken it off before I left.' He laughed a little and said, “In fact all men are a little careless.”
“Don't talk nonsense.” Jahanara started to yell, “There is no need for you to shift your blame on everyone else… listen to me and go to the market now.”
“Go to the market. We do have to eat at night?”
“Can I just bring over food from the restaurant?”
“I warn you! You know I can't have food from the hotel.”
“Nothing will be available at the market at this hour.”
“They're there. But don't come back with bags filled with rotten stuff.”
“Even if I find anything there, they will all be rotten. What difference would it make to have food from the restaurant for just one day?”
He waited for Jahanara to speak, but to no avail; she acted as if she did not even hear him. He then went into the kitchen and grabbed the bags, and asked the servant boy to bolt the doors after him. Situation at the market was truly dire. He knew that only the very poor came to the bazaar at such a time. They buy all the rotten and stale leftovers from the long day for reduced prices. He contemplated on whether to do the same for a moment. But he knew there were no other options. Jahanara would call him stupid and blind for bringing back rotten groceries, but he also decided to retaliate this time. But would he really? He felt exhausted. It was a very long day, and now he had to pick out fresh things out of a rotting pile on top of that. Yet he still tried his best. He decided on talking back if Jahanara was to berate him about this one bit.
He washed his face after flinging the bags of groceries into the kitchen. Then he lit a cigarette while standing in the terrace. He usually never smokes in the house with Jahanara around; she yells a lot. But that day was different. He was agitated. He had decided to give her a piece of his mind if she would even dare to yell at him. He was waiting for her to come yelling at him with, 'the groceries are all rotten.' He would let her have it then.
The actual situation was nothing like that. But he could hear Jahanbara yell out his name, after quite a while though. He was standing with his head against the grills, with his cigarette already finished. Was she going to something about the groceries? She better not dare! But Jahanara said nothing about the groceries, but instead came to the veranda and facing him asked, “Tell me truthfully if you have gone totally mad or not?”
Even before he could ask why, she grabbed him by the hand and said, “Come with me.” She dragged him all the way to Babu's room. Ordering Babu out of the room, she pushed Hafez towards the window and said, “Tell me that you're not mad!”
He kept silent. Jahanara started to scream at him, “Why are you silent? Look out the window! Where is the blue light? Liar! Aren't there new tenants next door? The husband and wife who are so familiar… how serenely they sleep, and how you watch them making love; liar, insane, why are you still silent? Blue light? Where is your blue light it's an empty house covered in darkness what is there?”
Jahanara tried to turn his head towards the flat. But he did not turn towards or look at it. He is surprised though, what is Jahanara blabbering about? He had not written one false line in those letters. He wrote exactly what he saw; in less detail even. But why is Jahanara acting in such a way now? Is there actually no one there, on account of how she is yelling her lungs out? But how can that be? He saw it with his own eyes. Yes, it could very well mean that there was no one there at the moment, but does that mean Jahanara will keep yelling, “only darkness where is your blue light?”
Does Jahanara not realize that his response might be, “Jahanara, is there no blue light anywhere?”
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin
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