Two More Deaths
Hasan Hafizur Rahman - poet, author, and critique - is considered to be one of the leading pioneers in Bangladesh's literary and cultural scene. He is as passionate as he is rebellious when it comes to the Bangla language. He was born to Abdur Rahman and Hafiza Khatun on June 14, 1932 in his home village at Jamalpur under the Mymensingh district. He had taken part in the language movement in 1952 with much conviction, and in 1953 had published, through his own efforts, the first anthology of different works titled 'Ekushe February' by aspiring writers of the time featuring thoughts on the language movement. The late language movement poet's greatest contribution to the nation is his sole effort in compiling and editing 'Bangladesher Swadhinata: Dalilpatra' comprised in 16 volumes, published in 1982. He was assigned the task by the Bangladesh Government in 1978 and was given the position of Chief of the 'Muktijuddha Itihash Prakalpa'. While still being in charge of the project, he took to serious illness and had traveled to Moscow, Russia for treatment on January 17, 1983. He breathed his last on Friday, April 1, 1983.
By Hasan Hafizur Rahman
The train fared to Bahadurabad from Narayanganj, the exact one that stopped at the station, and just lingered there for only two minutes. It was a dark night, nothing was visible. The slight hint of the light seeping out from the door and windows of the station-quarter suddenly dazzled me and retreated even before the train came to a complete stop. The black night engulfed all the light trying to escape from each of the well illuminated compartments. I wouldn't be able to notice my hand if I was to extend it out of the window then. It was extremely chilly; nobody was bothered slightly even to notice whether or not more passengers would get on or off! All of them were huddled together sitting nonchalantly like children.
Just then voices were heard from the adjacent compartment, “Ehane jaga nai, ehane jaga nai; arre deho na?” (There's no space here, no space; can't you see?). Hurried shuffling of feet along with the clinking of bangles could be heard even before the words were finished uttering. There was a lot of deep breathing while someone was advancing the compartment. Right then, the ones standing at the door of the compartment I was sitting in started to yell, “Ehaneo jaga nai, ehane jaga nai; arre deho na!”
But the bell went off in the station by then. Even the guard blew his whistle to signal the train to leave. Someone exactly then, as if very impatiently, got hold of the handle, twisted it shut, and shoved the door inwards with all the strength they could muster. Agonizing screams of a child from below could be heard, “Kakima go!” (Oh my aunt!). The sound itself was horrendous enough to have chewed and spat out the daunting darkness and silence. The man, who till then had barred the way with the door, was so taken aback that his hands let go by themselves and he too took two steps back. An old Hindu gentleman shoved in a small sack and a tin suitcase through the gap and dragged himself through the doorway. He was wearing a simple dhuti and his body was covered by a buttery shawl. Just as he made space enough to stand he started to extend his hand below, as if he was trying hard each time to get hold of something fragile without breaking it. But what he brought in was a woman. She was middle aged, nearly thirty. Anyone at a first glance could tell her condition was not normal. She fell to the floor and barely sitting up started to gasp. A small girl of nine or ten then jumped on while running. She had to, as the train had already startedoff chugging away while blowing its whistle.
The compartment we were sitting in was a 'limited twenty-one seats'. Crammed to a point where we were shoving into each other while invading each other's spaces, we were waking up and going to sleep simultaneously. Two inconsiderate men had occupied the spaces above. I was trying hard to keep sleep at bay. It was because I was berated in such foul language by the person beside me for falling onto him twice while asleep, things I would have said myself in the same circumstances, but still could not bring me to accept it.
I had the urge of speaking to keep myself awake; but the people all around seemed as if they were so numb that even if they were attacked with deathly blows, they would not utter a single sound. Falgun's (end of February) final wave of winter was imminent, besides which the whole atmosphere was engulfed in the silence of exhaustion; it was as if even the small amount of warmth that was being savored in everyone's lungs for all of this time would be expended if one word was uttered. We would then have no other alternative than to freeze all over. That was exactly why the ritual of breathing had become so sacred that there was nothing else for us to do than to feel the whole process individually within ourselves. We were only experiencing each other's existence without even knowing it.
It would be wrong to say that the silence rose only through our exhaustion - it took birth from terror as well. I was on my way from Dhaka, and that's exactly why this feeling is so absolutely clear to me. Just as the stability of society is dependent on the sympathy of one to the other, the most significant of hardships lies within the malice that one has for the other. I came to know of this hardship at the tumultuous city called Dhaka, from the riot that had started right after Kolkata. I was never tired from feeling this fearful pang; I have never known it in this forty years' life of mine. I went to visit my daughter in Dhaka; the son-in-law is a resident of the railway colony; I had stayed there. The neighborhood had barred the riot. That had proved to be complicated for me. I feel I would have found some kind of peace only if my whole body would have warmed up from the boiling blood within, only if all my thoughts would have vaporized and risen as smoke from a bursting flame! But the environment I was in, there was nothing else that could be done other than show hatred towards the animalistic instinct. There was no other path to tread other than to feel the aggression in its very essence secretly within myself because of the sane rebellion persisting and surrounding me. Only I know how aggravating it feels to have felt such abhorrence.
The job at hand was extremely important; I couldn't return home. The wintry days were that of end Maagh (mid February), but the winds were so chilly that it felt as if I have had never experienced such a thing during all the conscious time that I have spent in my life. The skies were laced with winter while only silence and terror could be seen on the faces of people. And on the other side of things, the peaceful colony displayed such resistance to the movement all over the area that it resulted in exhaustion.
I may have gone insane if I had not witnessed this final thread of a sense of belonging to a family.
I was returning home at last; who knows what has happened there. I know how crazy the daring people that come from the banks of the Jamuna can turn to be; I can't even reason with my own brother. The weather had however calmed down a lot by then. The environment is never static only because of behavior, innovative thinking, and perception of people. Even though all was not lost because of miscreants and robbers, the heart still hoped for much peace even then. And it was in this scope that this Hindu gentleman, along with two others, was fleeing away to a safer-better place was evident to me from the very beginning.
The man had done one single thing since he got on: he laid the bound mattress - maybe there was something very important in its folds to have made it so bulky - straight on the ground and made the woman sit on it very carefully taking her by the hands. It was as if he was placing something very sacred, something so pure that it held the power to cleanse anything touching it. The small girl sat next to her with their bodies in embrace in the remaining space. The old man had then stood very still, without glancing anywhere at all, beside them. It seemed as if he would never look at anything ever again; he would never want to see anything ever again; mechanical, mute.
Something had struck me about the man from the very first glance. I could not decipher the exact feeling. But there was a very clear attraction, I was not able to avert my eyes from him.
Fear and terror had gripped and turned him white, I noticed even though I was sitting at quite a distance from him. His face sported a growing prickly beard, which would make him look like a Mullah (Islamic cleric) if it were to grow a bit more. But he was wearing a dhuti; none amongst the three of them had any notion of hiding their origins of the Hindu religion to the least. But there was no apparent reason as to why they would think the train to be a safe haven. There have been murders committed and were still being committed in the trains. The danger for a Hindu man is no less in this respect. The man knew of this; I could tell. Just as the ostrich buries its head in the sand to avert danger, the man was trying hard with all his life to muster all his strength through standing rigidly and trying to suppress his fear and terror from that one spot without even sparing a single glance at any of us on the train. Thusly, I could not help but look around and glance at everyone else's faces. Everyone was asleep mostly, save a very few, whose faces were emotionless. Their stares were languid with innocent wet eyes! Each one of them had noticed the trio, it was evident. It was proved by the long sighs and breaths expelled by the men that they were not feeling easy by gazing upon the trio's pathetic state. Their discomforts were not limited either.
A sense of exhaustion lingered over the whole atmosphere. I have traveled to a lot of places; such as the capital Dhaka. But I had never come across such a depressing moment ever before. I think it was the result of the ongoing riot. The souls have been stripped and dragged into the ground through the inhumanity persistent all around. The plight has risen from a sense of guilt.
To be continued…
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin
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