Zakir Talukdar was born in Natore in 1965. He attained his M.B.B.S and is a practising physician. His passion and appreciable skill in writing have been reflected in numerous works of his which include stories, novels, and translations. He was bestowed upon with many honorary prizes, both nationally and internationally.
Mintu stifled a groan, “Uh oh, Joinal Mia! Just my luck!”Until now, he had been happily going about the fair with Kusum, their elbows entwined. He had picked up this practise while he was located in Dhaka for a few months. There the boys and girls would wrap their elbows together when they were on their outings. Yet, it is difficult to pass off in distant villages that which can be passed off in Dhaka. Kusum would feel shy. But Mintu was never one to give up. He would not bow to anyone. Over the last few months, Joinal Mia had had him running like a dog across almost the entire country. But ultimately, it was Mintu who had prevailed. Joinal Mia's stubbornness, his wealth, his important connections – nothing could take Kusum away from Mintu. Having circumnavigated the entire fair once, the couple had started to do some shopping. Kusum, having sat down in front of a variety shop, was busy inspecting the bangles, dye and lipsticks on offer. Leaving her to herself with her shopping, Mintu had lit a cigarette. Sucking in as much smoke as he could, he had exhaled heavily. And through a fading screen of smoke, he had spotted Joinal Mia in the distance, his face covered in a gray – mostly white, a few strands of black – stubble.
The sight of Joinal Mia should have filled Mintu with a considerable amount of apprehension; and it did too. Although there was no longer any social or legal complications surrounding Kusum and himself, yet knowing the kind of Kusum-crazy man Joinal Mia was, there was no telling what he would do in this crowded fair if he saw Kusum after all these days.
The two of them were visiting the Bhatudara fair without a worry in the world. The possibility of coming face to face with Joinal Mia had not even crossed Mintu's mind. Joinal Mia was a wife-obsessed man, and it had been around six or seven months that he has lost his wife. To get her back, there is not a man at whose feet he hadn't thrown himself to. Even Mintu had not been spared. Joinal Mia had even brought along a pocket-full of rat poison, “If you don't give her back to me I am going to kill myself!” And he probably would have done it too, if Dablu bhai and Raju bhai had not taken it away from him. But still he would not leave! He had grabbed hold of Mintu's hands, “You have had your way with her these four months. What more do you want! Now give me back my wife. I can't live without Kusum. I want nothing back – the money, the gold. Whatever you have taken you can keep. I just want my Kusum back.”
This had happened four months after Mintu had eloped with Kusum. By that time, Joinal Mia had already been to the police. He had been to the courts. He had supplicated with the influential locals. He had even had the two of them jailed. But at the end Mintu had prevailed only because of Kusum's determination. Ignoring the implorations and tears of general society and her relatives, and the threats of the police, she had stood in court and repeatedly said she had not been kidnapped by Mintu. She had gone with him of her own will. If she had to spend the rest of her life in jail, or even hang, she was ready. But she simply would not return to Joinal Mia. After that was said, what could the law courts or the police do? As a last resort, Joinal Mia had found their address and had come to beg at his feet. Kusum had done so much for him, and in return, at the very least, he had to have shown the strength to not give in to Joinal Mia's desperate pleas. For the sake of Kusum, for the sake of her love, Mintu did not pay any heed to the feet-hugging pleas of his former master. Oh what a love story they had crafted together! Joinal Mia's grocery store was the biggest in the neighbourhood. It was while he was working there that Mintu had grown intimate with Kusum, Joinal Mia's second wife who was half his age. And even in that tale of intimacy, the role of rat poison was quite significant.
Mintu would eat three times a day at Joinal Mia's house. He used to sleep at the shop. In the morning, he would open up the shop before Joinal Mia could awake. Rice puffs from the store and tea from the tea-stall next door would sustain him till nine or ten in the morning. Joinal Mia would then arrive, having done the day's grocery shopping for his house. Mintu would take the groceries to the house, and would get some breakfast before he got back. In the afternoon, Mintu would go before Joinal Mia for his meal. After all, for Joinal Mia there is not only lunch to consider, there is also his afternoon siesta. There was also the matter of spending an idle afternoon with Kusum. At night, Joinal Mia and Mintu would go home for dinner together after closing the store. Yet, whichever regime was being imposed keeping them apart, a connection between Mintu and Kusum, with Kusum being half the age of Joinal Mia and almost the same age as Mintu, was inevitable. Things between the two were developing steadily, when at one point, Mintu made his move. At first, Kusum was furious. How dare he! A mere servant making advances towards the master's wife! If Mintu had responded to her fury with anger, then everything would have probably ended there. In his anger he could have said he could not care less about his work at Joinal Mia's store. He is young. There is no lack of work. But instead, in the voice of a broken man he made further entreaties towards her. He only works for Joinal Mia to be closer to her, he explained. After all, how much does his work pay? He has a number of other options available. If he would just work with Sayed Ali in helping Indian goods cross over, he would at least make thousands, if not lacs. But he still works here, only because he dreams of Kusum day and night. His working here means that at least he gets to see her three times a day! But Kusum's anger would not abate. At that point, Mintu took out a packet of rat poison from his pocket. If he was to be deprived from seeing her, then he would not want to live a moment longer. Kusum was dumbstruck. Can a young man really love her that much? The more she thought, the weaker she got. The more she thought, the more she was taken by the idea. The more she thought, the more she felt the love for Mintu invading her heart. The more she thought, the more she realised that staying with the elderly Joinal Mia is tantamount to feeding her invaluable youth to the birds. After that, there was the elopement. They had taken whatever money and gold they could find. Thankfully, there was some money. How else would they have managed to survive all those days on the run? Those were some days. One day at an aunt's house in this village, the next at a friend's house in that village. To avoid trouble, they paid off the kazi (marriage registrar), the local muscle, the police. What saved them was Kusum remaining steadfast about her testimony. In his quest to win back Kusum, Joinal Mia had left no stone unturned. After all the chairman-court-magistrate-police hurdles had been overcome, when Mintu and Kusum were just beginning to settle down, Joinal Mia had appeared with this packet of rat poison. But even that episode was overcome. It has been heard that Joinal Mia's Kusum-longing has still not diminished. That's why Mintu does not particularly like to be out and about in his neighbourhood with Kusum. What would happen if they ran into Joinal Mia?
Today they had come to the fair thinking that a man in mourning would not probably be interested in the festivities of the fair; which is why seeing Joinal Mia at that fair had produced more of a shock than expected.
Kusum had not heard his groan. She was busy trying to decide which colour of bangles would look best on her fair arms.
Mintu called out for her in a stunned voice, “Kusum!”
It did not seem as if Kusum had heard him.
Mintu raised his voice a little, “Kusum!”
“Unnh,” said Kusum as she stood up with her hands full of two bushels of bangles, “Have a look, which colour do you like better?”
She placed first a set of bangles the colour of a banana sapling, and then another set that was emerald-green, in front of his face to help him decide.
He ignored her bangles. With increasing bewilderment, he exclaimed, “Kusum, Joinal Mia!”
Kusum turned white. Casting a few apprehensive glances in this direction and that, she asked, “Where?”
“Over there!” Mintu raised his finger to point, only to be dumbstruck. He could not spot Joinal Mia.
Their fearful eyes started searching for Joinal Mia. The bangles had fallen from Kusum's hands by then. Her elbow had of its own volition linked up with Mintu's to form a chain. They looked for him desperately and finally manage to spot him.
This time they spotted him standing in front of sweet shop. Kusum was the first to see him, “Look, the old man has married again!”
Mintu now saw a young girl, looking like a bundle of jamdani, standing very close of Joinal Mia. Joinal Mia was buying generous portions of jalebi.
“Good, Joinal Mia has found himself a new wife!” thought Mintu with a sigh of relief. Now perhaps Joinal Mia will not cause any additional problems. Nevertheless, at least at that moment, Mintu did not have the courage to come face to face with Joinal Mia. He smiled at Kusum, “Lets go somewhere else. The old man might come this way to buy his new wife some bangles.”
Although Kusum was walking away with Mintu, she could not stop herself from looking over her shoulder at Joinal Mia with his new wife. She began to scrutinise the new wife, “Look, she is just a child! The old man hasn't lost his taste for young girls. When he took me home, I was also young like her!”
Mintu hurried her on, “Lets go!”
“Yes, let's. Look, the wife has dark skin, but her eyes and nose are pretty, right!”
“Does her nose sweat? Girls whose noses sweat are devoted to their husbands. Look at what the old man has done!”
“He cracked a joke and pinched her nose right in front of all these people at the fair!”
“People and their whims!”
Kusum could not stop murmuring to herself.
By that time, Mintu was trying to pull Kusum away from the scene. But even while she was being led away, she could not help but stare -- the wife is wearing jamdani. He did not give her jamdani when he married her. She got a tissue sari. It was so hot underneath! It would keep slipping from her unaccustomed body, and Joinal Mia had kept smiling at her.
Joinal Mia had taken his wife to the stall they had just left. By then, Mintu was pulling Kusum away quite forcefully, but even then Kusum was staring at them. She could see them quite clearly. The bangles, the lipsticks, the dyes, the creams -- the wife would point with her shy fingers, and Joinal Mia would put them in his packets. There is not even any bargaining. The man is completely mad about his wife! How much has he lost because he refuses to bargain?
Mintu finally managed to pull her outside the fair premises.
At night, tired and worn out from the day's activities, the two fell quickly into a deep slumber. But soon Mintu's sleep was interrupted. Kusum was screaming. He pushed her, “Kusum, hey Kusum, what's going on?”
But Kusum kept shouting.
Mintu turns on the lights, only to find that Kusum was not awake. She was screaming in her sleep, “You have come to destroy my family, you home wrecker! My tidy family! If I don't burn your charcoal face, my name is not Kusum. If I don't cut off your nose then I am not Joinal Mia's wife Kusum! If…”
Translated by Saba El Kabir
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