Two More Deaths
Hasan Hafizur Rahman's publications include poetry, short stories, criticisms, travel stories, and translations, besides his work as the project leader, compiler and editor of the 'Bangladesher Swadhinata: Dalilpatra' comprised in 16 volumes, published in 1982. His anthology of poetry includes: 'Bimukh Prantor' (1964), 'Arto Shabdaboli' (1969), 'Antim Shohorer Moto' (1969), 'Jokhon Uddoto Shongin' (1973), 'Bojro Chera Adhar Amar' (1976), 'Shokarto Torobari' (1982), 'Amar Bhetorer Baagh' (1983), 'Bhobitobbe Banijjo Tori' (1983), and his unpublished poems in 1986 three years after his death. His collection of short stories include: 'Aro Duti Mrittu' (1970) and his unpublished ones finally put in print in 1989. The other works include criticisms and analyses in: 'Adhunik Kobi o Kobita' (1965), 'Mullobodher Jonno' (1970), 'Shahitto Proshongo' (1973), and 'Alokito Gohor' (1977); Translation: 'Odyssey'; Travel-story: 'Shimanto Shibire' (1967); Sub-Edited work: 'Dokkhiner Janala' (1974); and Editor for: 'Ekushey February' (1953), 'Uttor Bonger Meyeli Geet' [in collaboration with Alamgir Jalil] (1963), and 'Bangladesher Swadhinata: Dalilpatra' (1982).
By Hasan Hafizur Rahman
Continued from last issue…
The man was staring blankly with eyes as murky as the deep waters of the Jamuna. And I remained perplexed hanging in on a suspended sense of suspense.
Was no one in the compartment going to utter or exchange even one word with the man? None was able to rid their hesitations. Or was it that the need to communicate with him had evaporated from everyone's needs? It was as if he was a different type of human being; as if the urge to make acquaintances with him had to come from a feeling within that was self-sacrifice in one sense - such a feeling that it sends a chill down the spine!
It was cleared to me just then - the man is very simple; he is afraid of death; straight as an arrow. Even then he had to come out rushing such that safety had to be sought in the confines of the train in that dark night.
I thought of calling him once; thought of bringing him close to me and make him sit. But I could not make even the slightest hint of a sound as I looked about the whole of the compartment. It seemed as if the tiniest of noise would resound as very heavy glass falling and breaking all over the place to shatter the unrelenting silence. It was as if the sound would resound till the end of time itself and never stop. And the trio would then keep on only shivering in terror, till they would turn blue all over and die.
It felt as if the full waves of the Jamuna were rising and falling in my own heart. I fell absolutely silent from some kind of strange fear welling in me wild vindictive thoughts of men were chasing after them.
I stared down at the floor for sometime as I turned my head and buried my neck into my shoulders. I was observing the playful shadows formed by the wings of the insects circling the lights. Our compartment had three columns. I was seated in one of the columns near the window. The ones occupying the middle column were queasier than the rest. They did not have the liberty of lying back like the rest of us, and the air flow was constricted for them - just as land in the middle is always depraved of water from the canal. One amongst them had drool sliming down his chin. The end of the beard of another was brushing against the nape of yet another passenger in sync with the rhythm of the bouncing train. The tickled man - also in deep slumber - was frequently scratching away at the spot he was being tickled upon.
I would have probably broken out in laughter if the circumstances were different. But I was feeling sympathetic towards the three. Turning my head I gazed upon the Hindu man once again. The man had at that moment fixated his stare upon a toilet mug hanging from the rails just opposite to my seat. Somehow his gloomy eyes were glowing with thirst. It looked like he was swallowing a few dry gulps as well. Discarding doubt in my mind, I ended up suddenly calling out to him by gesture of my hand. The man came and stood in front of me slowly as if he was not ready for this. He did not even have the courage to decide upon whether he would heed to the call or not. He even said something with quivering lips! I tried to call out to him in a numb voice for quite a while. I then made enough space beside me and said to him, “Please sit”. The person beside me also in consent spoke up saying, “Yes, yes. Please sit. At least we all wil alll feel a bit more energized from our bodily heat- the warm clothes we have all are…”
The night was drawing to an end by that time. We had crossed many stations by then. The man took the seat; maybe because he saw no other options available. But he was strangely very queasy about it all. He kept on glancing at the accompanying woman constantly. He was acting like a dying flame that at times would flare up and then simmer down again. Was the uneasiness a result of him leaving her side? The thought that he could not bring himself at ease amongst us crossed my mind.
The man was sitting with his neck protruding up and straight. Light was bouncing off in glitters from the bend on his windpipe. I noticed it very suddenly. That very small space - maybe if it was tugged at slightly, or the blade of a knife just grazed on it, could just have just ended the man right then and there! Such a fragile life of a being, so concise. Was the vindictive intention really only to wipe away his existence, was that the root of all this malice? It was as if I could feel the man within the grasp of my fist. He was totally under my bidding! Such a small, fearful dove like existence of a man!
My heart skipped a beat. Could I have just wrung out the man? Right then?
The waves in my heart very violently took to churn and then subsided. A sense of calm and compassion radiated throughout; serenity and satisfaction. A strong urge of passing away the night in conversation with him rose within me. I wanted to take him home. There was no need for him to search for safety, I would protect him. I exhaled with a long deep sigh looking at him.
We are hard-working people; even though we posses not extreme wealth, we have not stooped so low that we would start calling two or three more to take care of as burdens. Yet, as thought of my village home the first thing that crossed my mind was that the times were different for me to have taken them home, to have lived harmoniously together. I did not know as to when such times would come back again. Anxiety flooded my mind just as I pondered upon the thoughts of the village. What happened, how are they, how was everything progressing - we all are entwined within our families - there would be no other scope other than to drown to the bottom once one starts to think such things.
But, nothing seemed more important than to be concerned about the man beside me at that moment! I sat back after shifting about a little while taking off my shoes. I was wearing my nephew's shoes. My feet were in blisters for the shoes being a bit smaller. They were smarting, so I lifted my feet up and my body gave way to ease a bit. Instantly the man shifted a bit - he tried to give me some space by becoming rigid and absolutely straight. I was taken aback with shame. Did he still fear me? Fear?
I took down my feet swiftly. I remembered that he was thirsty. He was swallowing his dry gulps every now-and-then. I suddenly ended up asking him, “Do you want some water?”
He nodded his head and declined the offer. His whole body quaked up in shivers even before he could finish uttering the single syllable. Turning his head, he kept staring upon the woman with a blank steady gaze. I was really surprised in that moment. I was observing his anxiety surrounding the woman. But why was he shivering? Why so much? I was even more surprised at what I saw lying within his gaze. Every time the train hit a bump, the woman was affected with weird pains in her body such that it convulsed inwards in writhing pain. It was as if she was snatching her life away from the jaws of death every time.
I wanted to ask what was wrong. But the man turned his head once more, and in a very timid and suppressed voice whispered, “Labor”!
The statement at first seemed to have had boiled over and then had started to grind away at the fearful silence. It then kept ringing. Finally the whole silence fell still as if engulfed within what he had said; as if etched in stone, the word seemed to resound off and fill the whole compartment. I should have noticed that the woman was with child right from the start. I have a good name in the village for keeping in touch with even the smallest of events that take place. But the whole incident was so impossible, that I couldn't even imagine it being so. Because, it was absolutely not normal to see someone making a to-be-mother to walk a great distance and made to travel by a jerking train. I could not, even in my imagination, think that it could have been possible for them to have done such a thing. To have thought of it then brings Goosebumps on my flesh even now. What type of people! I thought of shaming the man, thought of cursing him. I turned my face away from him. But, then again, they might have had no other choice. Death had surrounded them from all sides. The same face, on which I had wanted to spread the venom of curses, was now borne with remorse, his eyes were calm and tearing up just the way someone tries to hold back their tears of great sorrow as if their lives depended on it.
The little girl was sleeping. The woman on the other hand was trying fast to abstain from the sorrowful pain by constraining her whole body such that a silent roar was materializing from her limbs, her organs, her whole existence. She was trembling, moaning, wanting to drive her head in between her knees. It was unexplainably depressing observing the mother! It was overwhelming to all the senses. Overwhelming without conscience.
I had broken into sweat by then. For how long, how long would she be writhing in silence! The woman could not stay there any longer. The pain had spread all throughout and was making each and every muscle in her body scream out in agony. She finally started to crawl and went into the toilet, dragging herself in battle against death.
I thought that the man would have definitely screamed out by then; yelled his lungs out, or would have leapt out of the seat and embraced her with his two hands like a madman! But he did nothing. He remained seated in his place even more rigidly.
I could not think of doing anything in that situation. I could not even imagine how to help. Had the man lost all his senses? He seemed to have been struck by lightning, such that he was absolutely stiff, and would come tumbling down with the slightest touch; would he have really broken down if I had put my hand on him? I thought of commiserating him, but I fell silent. I thought of randomly start talking with him - not one sound escaped my lips. I felt the pangs of extreme thirst!
The night was coming to an end. The quay was right after the next station; Bahadurabad adjacent to the Jamuna. I had to disembark onto the dock; it was home. Most passengers in the compartment had already gotten off. It was most likely for me to be the only one to stay back, amongst the handful remaining, who would have crossed to the other side of the river. They were awakening. Some of them yawned lazily, and the remaining very openly. Some even spoke illegible words in very incoherent voices. Were the moans of the exhausted-writhing-mother audible as well? Everyone was sluggishly waking up by then. But how was she faring in the toilet? Most of the others had started to get their belongings together. The closed windows were brought down. It seemed as if maybe the dimness of the light was being complimented by the lackluster hue growing outside.
Fighting and overcoming an inborn urge, like a gushing gale, I asked, “Can we not see what has happened to her… shouldn't we…”
But as soon as the man heard it, he turned red so fast with embarrassment and was so shocked that it seemed his whole body had turned into the burning coals of a spit; as if each and every vein in his body was coursing molten rock and not blood. I could very distinctly notice his lips quivering violently. I had never seen the lips of any other old man tremble like that. At least, from experience gathered in the 40 years of my life, I knew that men at that age would never show their inner weaknesses in such manner. But the man had lost his control and composure. But I could not comprehend as to why and where all the shame was coming from. I did not think that I would get any answers if I asked him anything then, for he seemed not to be in any state to say anything at all.
It was nearly an hour that the woman had entered the toilet; what could have happened to her? What else could I have done other than to have remained silent just like the man beside me! Maybe because the whole matter was not under my command; maybe because feeling so helpless was not acceptable, and so some kind of indescribable rage was spreading throughout inside of me every time. Whatever was happening was not tolerable; something had to be done.
But I could not decide whether to push the man forward, or to go to her aid myself, and why was it feeling weird to have even considered those scenarios - should I have asked him about that too, or should I have just cursed the old man to his face? My veins started pulsating. Finally, I felt even more shocked and tried to calm myself down and take away my queasiness.
I kept my ears open in alertness with much anticipation - maybe the paralyzing fossil like silence would be broken and crushed by the soft cries of a newborn accompanied by the uprising piercing screams of the woman. The deathly gloominess would be wiped away by the weeping of the new born. I was praying for it to be so. But nothing happened.
I looked back at the man with grinding teeth. Sweat beads had formed on my forehead, even in the cold. The artery in my shoulder was trembling with hatred and agitation. I glared at him with that stern stare; but the thin pale face of the old man was wet from the running waters from red-sad sunken eyes. I had then wanted very badly to have just emptied my chest by exhaling a long deep sigh.
The train had reached the quay by then. It stopped finally between two rows of coolies standing and waiting for its arrival. All the remaining passengers started to haphazardly rush out. All the motionless people had somehow found some new energy to have started to randomly shoot out in every direction without any patience. This too was a roar of vulnerability of some sort. This stupefaction has a sound of its own; something more terrifying.
The people started to blend into the growing hue very slowly as they walked away. There was no one left in the compartment. I thought the man would get up then. But he did not move. I didn't know why, but I could not run away.
The little girl was awake from all the running around and noise made by the leaving passengers. She rubbed her eyes, yawned, and then looked around searching for her aunt and became perplexed on not finding her. Terrified, she started to scream, "Kakima go!" she kept screaming looking at the old man with questions in her eyes. But she could not ask him anything. The cursed old man remained as he was - as if paralyzed - like a stone, without life.
Knowing that there would be no reply from him, I yelled out as if my life had depended on it. But I realized instantly that there was absolutely no sound coming out from my throat - I was just rapidly gesturing at the girl while flaying my arms. At last when some sound did come out, it sounded very out of tune even to me, "Look in that toilet… open it… hurry… there, right there…"
The girl looked at me with a dumb expression on her face. She ran to the toilet, opened the door, and stood there astounded and in shock as if struck by lightning for quite a while. She then had leapt in while screamingly violently, "Kakima go!" She couldn't stop screaming, "Jethamoshai go… ashona go… ki holo go… kaki…" (Oh Uncle… why won't you come… what happened… aunt…).
I was standing with fear gripping at my throat. All the hair on my body was standing. I was shivering. I looked at the man. He was even stiffer than before. There was the sound of him inhaling-exhaling air before - his chest was rising up and down- but that too had stopped by then. I started to shake him insanely with both my hands.
I understood then, the father figure uncle would in no way look upon his younger brother's wife's dead body. I also understood that I had nothing to say to the sobbing little girl. Who would actually understand to what degree of anxiety the three of us were going through! On what different levels!
I thought of looking into the matter once. But the same unborn-hallowing-unrelenting burden that had paralyzed the old man had started to act upon me as well and had rendered me motionless. My eyes helplessly closed. I realized that men became captives in their own minds, as such, in moments, such as that, when they are inflicted and bombarded with such maiming senses.
My eyes closed down; there was nothing but darkness. Darkness, in which the body of a woman was floating away; a blood soaked body, with her mouth gaping wide open; her belly abnormally swollen; her eyes rolled inwards, from the inhuman-unimaginable pain that she had to suffer - a mother; a woman thirsty to know what motherhood meant; a mother who understood its true meaning with each of her dying breaths! There is a child in her swollen womb; a child which was alive. If only the child could have been born, the child then would have maybe achieved a lot in life; the child could have at least taken a breath in a happy world of the future. Who had barred this child from taking birth?
The whole of my being shivered up in agitation right at that moment. Oh the hatred! The hatred that I had felt then for destruction! Unbearable!
I cannot remember the old man's face; but his silence, his stupefaction, is still entwined within my heart.
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin.
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