Anisuzzaman (born 1917 in Calcutta) is an author and academic of Bengali literature. He is Professor Emeritus of the University of Dhaka. He has received the Bangla Academy Award and the Ananda Purashkar for his work in the field of Bengali literature. In 2011 he received the Pandit Iswarchandra Vidyasagar Gold Plaque from the Asiatic Society of Kolkata.
It's really futile to say that the person who has worked as a peon for 25 years will retain the power of his eyes. And besides, his eyes were in a bad shape for a long time anyways. He had started using spectacles since grade seven. The deadbolt had opened on its own causing the window pane to have blown inwards and hit the table during the storm that night. The spectacles of thick lenses had fallen off of the table that was elevated by a couple of bricks. The seeing-aids were always worn with strings tied to them; Saleha stomped over them while running towards the window.
Sadat Sahib had the ability to buy a new pair. But "when"? That was indecisive. The reason lay with him receiving his pension irregularly. The bread on the table was barely laid from Asad's earnings. Saleha needed to be married off; but it was not possible in the given circumstances. Asad was married though; and God willing, he would be the father of a son soon.
Sadat Sahib had fallen into great hassle for his broken glasses. It's as if a person has nothing without his eyes. How does one survive, not because of being restricted from leaving the house but for not being able to even make out the shapes of the furniture in his own room! 'Even though a mute cannot speak, he can at least see' he thought. And then at the same instance he changed his mind, 'but what use is it to see if you cannot speak?' Shoving the thoughts aside Sadat Sahib called out, “Saleha, bring me some paan (betel leaf).”
Hasina, Asad's wife, had brought over the paan. As soon as he heard her say, “Take your paan”, Sadat Sahib immediately understood who it was. He asked, “Where is Saleha?”
“She's in her room.”
“You could have just sent her. You should not move around so much in your condition maa.”
Hasina started to laugh hearing such compassion. Her father-in-law was a very good man. She knew why and with which reasons of anticipation the old man had said all that. Hasina diverted the topic, “You could have really just bought a new pair of glasses. There was some money in the house… the rest could have been borrowed… we could have paid the debt off easily in the coming month…”
Sadat Sahib laughingly had said, “We need to keep some money in the house during these times. You have taken much care of this old one and now it's time for you to take care of the new one.” Hasina had left the room.
Saleha had come running into the room. She was panting, “Abba (father), do you know what has happened?”
“Tell me maa.”
“Students were demonstrating in a rally for the national language from the medical hostels. The police have fired bullets at them.”
“Bullets!”, Sadat Sahib had yelled out in disbelief.
“Yes! They fired bullets as the riot could not be stopped even after throwing tear gas, baton-charge, and even arresting the students. Six of them were killed.”
“Six have died, and many more are injured.”
“Who told you all this?”
“Bachchu. He was there all this time. He came back as soon as the bullets were fired.”
“How shocking!” Sadat Sahib became nostalgic 'The British period could not have been worse than this!' Bullets had been fired in many places around the country in the past few years.
Tension had risen with anger in Saleha's voice. “Does this mean we all have to turn mute from now on?” she screamed as she stormed out of the room.
Sadat Sahib's mind had started to race while sitting in the closed suffocating room. It was as if the world had become uninhabitable for him.
Asad came over while he was engulfed by the daydreams. He had asked once more, “Truly six of them were killed?”
“Yes,” Asad had said distractedly.
The old man had returned to his thoughts once more.
Sadat Sahib had asked of Asad's whereabouts as soon as he woke up. “He's already gone to office”, Hasina had said.
"Early in the morning?”
“It's not that early! Today is Friday… he has to go to work in the morning.”
Truly, it was not morning anymore! He had been late waking up. He had listened to the rhythmic noise of the rifle bearing soldiers till late at night. Saleha brought in a cup of tea and said, “There might be a strike at bhaiya's (elder brother's) work place today. Bhaiya said they would try everything in their power. But what if bhaiya loses his job abba?” Even though she had tried to say it with as much optimism she could muster, Saleha could not have helped herself feel absolutely hopeless.
Sadat Sahib, distracted, had replied, “No… he won't lose his job.” Even then, the issue had made him tense. Is there an end to his tensions ?
There had been silence all around the streets and everywhere else. Not even the sounds of vehicles plying the roads could be heard. Everything had been at a standstill. A few could be seen together, but that too not more than four in every group. Everything was thus as silent as death itself. But, not as clam as death; the whole city had been vibrating from within, as if some kind of suppressed agitation was lurking within its belly.
The old man was reminded of his own death from thinking about the deaths around him. He would die, but then who would remain? Maybe Asad would go too. Who would remain then? Asad's sons and daughters? He was answering his own questions. He was a bit relieved, and could find some hope from thoughts of the unborn descendants. The old man's cold chest found some warmth from the excitement created within the blood flowing in his veins.
Someone had knocked at the door. He had called upon Saleha to check who it was. He could hear sounds of the door opening. Saleha was asking, “Any news Halim bhai?”
The answer had been illegible to him. Halim was Asad's colleague, and had lived nearby. What was the matter?
Distinct noise of a couple of people walking in could be heard from the next room. Hasina and Saleha had started to cry violently. Sadat Sahib yelled out, “What's happened Saleha? Hasina?”
Getting his feet of the mattress he had put on his sandals on the ground. As he didn't have his spectacles, he could not advance any further. Saleha came back to the room. While sobbing hard she had said, “Bhaiya's been shot.”
Halim's broken voice could be heard next, “Police fired at the strike procession which started off from the office. He died instantly. In case the body could not be recovered from the hospital, we had taken him to the doctor's chambers. We brought him over from there.”
Saleha had brought Sadat Sahib into the room. She was crying like a child. Hasina took the body on the floor in her embrace. She was crying.
It was as if the unborn child in her womb had suddenly jerked a little…
Sadat Sahib did not even realize when he had broken down in tears. He was caressing the dead body with his hands. He was in a death struggle trying to see, “I cannot see anything. Where is my Asad? I can't see anything.” His sight was deteriorating faster and everything was becoming even more unclear. It felt as if the haziness could never be healed; he would never see again. Never again? Could he not even lay his eyes on Hasina's child?
He had started to sketch Hasina's unborn child's face with his thoughts; he wanted to see it, even if it meant his life would be on stake. His cries started to subside slowly.
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salauddin
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