Under the Same Star
Born in Bagerhat in 1971, Prasanta Mridha, a prolific fiction writer, is a college professor in Sylhet. Graduated from Jahangir Nagar University in Bangla he has been writing since he was only sixteen. Growing up in cultural environment he fell in love with writing short stories. This short is taken from the book “Bangladesher Shamprotik Golpo” (Contemporary Stories of Bangladesh).
For no reason, just before lunch, Shuprokash felt depressed. He was not looking for a reason anyway as to why he felt that way. Unless something serious happens, no one looks for a reason, and neither did Shuprokash. He gloomily stared outside for quite a while.
Outside, the October sun was getting warmer. The sun can make one's eyes sore if one stares for too long. Fortunately, the recently broken guava tree is giving some shade to his eyes. He moves his eyesight from the tree to the wall of the house beside his.
At that moment, Jhorna came to the bedroom from the kitchen. She stood near the bed where Shuprokash was lying on his chest. He didn't realize her presence in the room. If he knew, he would've at least turned his head around and taken a peak at Jhorna's face. She bent over near Shuprokash and tried to figure out what he was looking at. There was nothing but a guava tree. She couldn't figure out what there was to stare at. For a moment she thought to ask him about what he was staring at, but decided not to. Then again, she thought his eyes will start to hurt from staring at the sunny outdoors for too long. Double minded, she thought not too bother him since he had been in a bad mood from morning. Even with his favorite dish served at breakfast, he was dead silent. Shuprokash would lash out if Jhorna uttered a single word.
He slowly gave a look towards Jhorna. She asked “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing that you need to know” replied Shuprokash. He said it in a way as if Jhorna did not deserve him to behave normally. He had been acting like this for the last few days with Jhorna. So, she didn't look for a meaning to the harsh reply. Shuprokash turned his head around a bit to see her reaction. Seeing no reaction on her long and fair-skinned face, he turned his look back to the tree outside. A little Tailorbird was on the highest branch of the tree a moment ago but it was not there anymore. Seeing the bird gone seemed to add another layer of sadness. He looked back at Jhorna again. “Are you looking at me or the tree?” she asked in a scornful tone.
Shuprokash had no answer to a question like that – neither did he have a comeback to the style it was asked. He kept silent, with his ears open he took his eyes back to the tree, waiting to hear Jhorna leave the room. But she stood still for a while for any reaction from Shuprokash. Getting nothing, she started walking towards the kitchen saying, “What a useless conversation! You are going crazy, and you'll turn me mad as well. Go see a doctor!”
“You are not the one going insane.” Shuprokash replies as Jhorna walked away.
“What if do? What are going to do?” Jhorna replied back from the kitchen.
“I will put you in Pabna mental hospital. There is a direct bus to Pabna from here”.
“Do it now, it will save me from this relationship. It's better to live in sanitarium than to live with you.”
“Then go ahead, I am not stopping you.”
“If I leave by myself, people will start talking.”
“You care about what people think and what they say? That's new.”
His comment was too much, felt Shuprokash, and expected an instant reaction like Newton's third law he studied in school. But there was no voice from the kitchen.
Shuprokash started feeling better after the argument with Jhorna. As if, it was needed to get some weight off his shoulder. Trying to figure out why he was so angry – he sat on the bed. He again took a look through the window at the guava tree. The Tailorbird was back on the tree and hopped on to the topmost branch. Another leap would make the bird fall from the tree. He kept looking for the bird to make another jump and fall off. Then he remembered, birds never fall because they have wings.
“Do birds ever fall?” He asked himself.
“No, they don't” he kept conversing with himself in his mind.
“Do they ever feel sad?”
“No, they don't.”
“Birds don't have a mind that understand sadness.”
The bird flew over to another tree next to the guava tree, and stood still like a stone. It was unusual, and he started feeling bad again. Shuprokash thought of the reasons behind his sadness. Seated from the bed, he tried to see Jhorna in the kitchen. No sound from the kitchen made it easier to get his calculation right about his sadness. Any conversation with someone could mix-up his equation.
The sun was getting hotter outside and his eyes began to hurt. The outside is so bright this time of the year, that staring outside for too long hurts the eyes. When he was in college he used to wear sunglasses. Maybe, he should wear them and go to Jhorna with a callous look and tell her the reason behind his sadness. Jhorna probably wouldn't care at first but eventually would ask “Why”? Then he would take a deep breath like he was preparing for a battle and say “The reason is you”. Jhorna would quietly say “I know that already”. So, if she already knew then there was no point in saying it.
Shuprokash kept imagining how the argument would go had it taken place. She would say “You are good for nothing, living on your father's properties. You have nothing to do but to blame everything on your wife.” Her imaginary comments kept ringing in his ears. But she wasn't saying anything for real.
It's true that Shuprokash had nothing to do. He never even tried to get a job. People all around him were doing something. Jhorna once proposed to him to get involved in fisheries with one of his in-laws. “There should be no business with the in-laws” was his father's advice. His father himself always kept away from his in-laws. He never saw his father visiting his mamabari (maternal uncle's place). Shuprokash said 'No' straightaway to the offer. They left their village home and moved to their home in town. Now, being here and doing nothing was getting to him and making him depressed. He used to feel depressed during the evenings, but now it starts from the afternoon. Jhorna also got used to him being depressed. At first, she used to say things like “Why are you lying on the bed all the time?” She doesn't say anything anymore. She soon realized that people will blame her for the lazy and depressed behavior of her husband, like Shuprokash did.
All of Shuprokash's own brothers were doing well. One in an insurance company, another was a teacher and all others were doing business. Jhorna asked him to start a fisheries project with his own brother. He said no to that too. There was even an opportunity to open up a shop. As usual, he didn't care. Even a few days back, a close relative asked for a partnership in a phone-fax outlet. He refused to be part of that as well. Going through the TV channels was his way to pass time. Now he doesn't do that either. He felt better now to stare out the window – only if Jhorna wasn't there to bother him.
Shuprokash started looking for the bird again. He felt like the bird was waiting to see him fight with Jhorna. As it never started, the bird waited on the topmost branch of the tree. It should fall from that height but birds don't fall; only people fall. They fall without climbing any tree because they have a mind. The minds of people make them sad. “Marrying Jhorna was a mistake” thought Shuprokash. Before, he never felt depressed. All his dreams had died marrying Jhorna. So many places he wanted to travel, he thought. Tajmahal, Darjeeling, Madras, Mumbai and so many other places he dreamed of visiting. He would have been away all the time only to return for a day or two. All his dreams died because of Jhorna.
Keeping his eye on the bird, Shuprokash said, “My life is hell because of you”. Mixed with anger and despair Jhorna replied, “set me free from this marriage then, I will have no complaints”. She looked at her Shakha (bangles, symbol of married Hindu women) after saying those words. “Who is stopping you? Just get lost!” shouted Shuprokash. No reply came from the kitchen. The bird moved to the nearest tree, as if it wanted to listen to them fight. Jhorna slowly walked into the bedroom. With a mocking tone Shuprokash said, “If you want to go, just leave. I can leave too”.
“Where will you go?” asked Jhorna.
“I will go wherever my life takes me.”
Jhorna moved back to the kitchen, saying, “Such melodrama”. She came to the bedroom only to judge how serious Shuprokash's harsh words were. Seeing the depressed look of an idle man, she realized those words were just bluffs.
“No, it's not a drama, my words are for real. If you leave, we both can be free… then I can go anywhere,” said Shuprokash. Jhorna this time didn't come in the room but just stood near the door with teary eyes. Her tears dripped down her cheek and fell away, as if her tears approved Shuprokash to leave her. Tears may not have a color, but they carry an immense power. He understood the meaning of her tears and couldn't look at her face anymore. So, he turned his gaze back to where the bird was – to the top of the tree.
The bird was gone…
Translated by Zia Nazmul Islam
Illustration by Ujjal Ghose
(R) thedailystar.net 2012