Harishankar Jaladas was born near Potenga village near Bay of Bengal. He was born in a poor fishing family in 1955. After studying at Chittagong University, he started teaching at a government college in 1984. He has written many books and was the editor of “Unnayan Theatre” and authored “Jolpurush”. He won best author prize in 2007 by “Janakatha” and “Nandan Padak” in 2008. The same year, he received his PhD from Chittagong University researching the “Rivers of Bangladesh”. Currently, he is Associate Professor and Department Head at a renowned government college in Chittagong.
Some are amazed by rain, others get annoyed. It helps flowers blossom or ruin gardens. It makes some poets and some practical human beings. It causes someone to withdraw at home and leaves others homeless.
It didn't do anything for me. Rain didn't give me dreams, didn't amaze me or make me a poet. It gave me nothing but insults and made me a hollowed man. For thirty years of my life I have been the child of the monsoon. It ruled all those thirty years of life. At moments, it made me wet and other times hollow.
When I was young, at night sleeping on the bed that lay on the ground, the smallest sound would make wake me up. I used sleep next to my grandmother. I can barely remember sleeping next to my mother. My grandmother was everything to me. She is the one who taught me everything. She was more than a mother to me. The fishy odor she carried was sweet. She used to sell fish from streets to lanes of Feunapara, Maizpara and Porapara carrying a fish basket on her head. Tired of working all day, she used to return home at the end of the day with a small amount of rice. She used to have her rice mixed only with water. The wrinkled face and body was the sign of her depressed and tired life. I used to sit beside her and eat along with her from the same plate. Holding a part of her sari, I slept next to her. Her bedtime stories about my grandfather were a feast for my ears. My grandfather, Chandramoni, was a handsome man, she never failed to mention. He died fighting a bandit. The bandit's spear went through his chest as he was fishing on the sea. My grandmother was only 17 or 18 at that time he died leaving my father who was only two and half years old. Although an attractive young widow, my grandmother never remarried. As a member of a fishing community, she was allowed to get remarried. There were no religious constrains that forbid her to remarry. She spent sixty-five years of her life taking care of her young son. When I was 7 or 8 years old, during the nights of great storms, I used to find her weeping alone. I always wondered why she would cry. Now I know; it is the rain that took everything from her. Through the holes of the fiber-roof, drops of rain water would wet the blankets and along with it, her eyes. The water of the rain and the tears would become one.
In the middle of the night, the fiery sound of the storm would wake me up. Those nights, I never found my grandmother beside me on the bed. She would sit on the veranda staring at the violent dance of the rain. In her eyes was distress. She would wait for my father. At night when we, the children, were fast asleep my father would go fishing with his fishing net and duijja (fish basket). While we were comfortably sleeping, he was on every pond and lake, avoiding all sorts of dangers to bring food on our plates. He would return pale faced with wet body carrying with him a duijja full of shrimps and crabs. With his fingers and hands pruned being on water for so long, he would drag his overtired body near the fire. The next morning my grandmother would pick up the fishes in the basket and head towards the markets to sell those fishes.
My father carried an anger within him, for only finishing primary school. Moreover, losing my grandfather in one monsoon storm made him hostile towards the sea. Since then he always carried an immense disrespect to the sea, but was never able to keep away from it. He had to provide for his family, and always had to go to the much hated sea. But he always tried to keep me away from the sea. He wanted me to have what he never had. My half educated father wanted to fill his void by making me a complete person. He wanted to give a lesson to the sea by giving me a proper education. When all other fishing families made their children fishing on the river Ganges, my father kept me with Sharashwati (Hindu goddess of knowledge).
Right beside the sea, in a fishing village of Patenga is our home. A lake runs beside it. The lake was there to drain all the garbage to the sea. On the other side of the lake is all barren land. During rain we would hear the frogs making sounds like they are doing a chorus “Ghangor, ghang, Ghangor, ghang”. Never knew what they were singing about but I was sure it was something joyful.
In a pond not far from our home, there were always lotuses of different colors growing all year round. I was always attracted to red lotus. Whenever I had an opportunity, I would go with my friends to pick up a lotus from the pond. My mother never liked it and used to scare me by saying the ponds are full of leeches. Nevertheless, when I would reach home carrying handful of lotus, she couldn't help her joyful smile. I never knew whether the smile was because me returning home, or was it because I had brought something to eat.
In the month of Srabon (second month of rainy season), late in the evening the sun would appear through the clouds. The sudden shiny light would make my day. Strangely though, half of the village would be sunny while the rest would be having rain. The eastern sky would color itself with rainbow. Didn't know rainbow had seven colors. Amidst the hide and seek of lights we, the children of the village would gather and sing along.
When my brother and I grew a bit older, my father took his boat and went to the sea again. As if the sea was calling him. His veins still run with the desire to fish on the sea. Could be, it was only to feed the family. My brother and I went to the sea to help our father. At times skipping school – on other occasions leaving education altogether, we started to accompany our father fishing. I was fourteen or fifteen since my struggle with the sea had started. Constantly fighting with the storm or getting half drowned was a frequent occurrence. It was a struggle we had to go through to bring food to the plate. This struggle continued for 30 years of my life.
The months of Ashar and Srabon brought both happiness and despair to the fishing village. Mother-river Ganges was generous during those two months. She provides more than enough fish in those two months bringing much happiness. In Srabon, there was puja along with many other rituals. During the thirty days of Srabon, bamboo leaves and other herbs were used to make incense which was kept in front of temples for the whole month. At night, in every household epics of Monosha (Hindu snake goddess) were read; “ramoy ramoyr am ram ray.” And there was the dance – the dance, at least for a moment took away all the sorrow and despair from the village. There was also Puthipath (book of poetic fairy tales and religious stories). During those rainy months, I would see the dance more than the Puthipath.
That monsoon took many lives. Many men didn't return from the sea. Like my grandmother, leaving many newly married wives, widowed. That monsoon didn't bring joy to everyone, at least not to me or my grandmother.
Today, at this age, seated in a well-designed concrete home, through the glass window I stare at the falling rain. This rain takes me back to those days forty years back. It feels like it is me who has only changed… not the rain… not the monsoon.
Translated by Zia Nazmul Islam
Illusrtation by Ujjal Ghose