Dr. Syed Manzoorul Islam (born 1951) teaches English in Dhaka University. His interest ranges from Shakespeare to Postmodern literatue, cultural studies and literary theory. Besides academic articles he has written extensively on Bangladesh art and culture, and contributes a regular column for the daily Prothom Alo where he comments on political and social issues.He is an award winning fiction writer who has published five volumes of short stories and four novels. He received the Bangla Academy award for literature in 1996 and one of his short story collections, Prem O Prarthoner Golpo received the Prothom Alo best fiction award and Kagoj literature prize in 2006.
Dr. Syed Manzoorul Islam
Selling Tabiz (locket with holy Verses, supposedly does miracle) was not Ubaidul Mabud's primary profession. He was a hardware trader, selling hammer-anvil, nail-screw, nuts-bolts, locking wire and sand paper. Having a shop at Purbodhola bazar (market), his earning was not negligible. It was enough for two souls; his mother and him. He had some extra cash that he saved in a local Shonali Bank in Islamic way.
Selling Tabiz was his passion, or can be said to be an obligation that he found in his dreams. One night, his dead grandfather, known in the market as Umedul Bepari, who also was the founder of Ubaidul's hardware shop, appeared in his dream. In the dream, he said to his grandson “take the Tabiz!” A surprised Ubaidul asked “why grandfather?” Umedul replied “because I said so – take one for yourself and also for others.”
“For others too?” A surprised Ubaidul asked.
Umedul yelled at his grandson in the dream, and said “dummy, do I have to tell you everything? It is for the people around you, the ones who are in pain, distress and in trouble. But not for free, nothing works for free, free food puts in Char in your stomach, go start working.”
Ubaidul took advice from the madrassa teacher, Abu Bakkar, about the dream. He gave him few holy verses from the Quran, and also explained which ones do what kind of miracle. But, he was not approving the fact that no money would be taken for the Tabiz. He mentioned that it is not fair to take money for Tabiz especially from the needy – he even used the word “inhuman”.
Ubaidul told Abu Bakkar that in his dream his grandfather had said “anything free is not good, free food puts in Char in your stomach”.
“What is Char?” Abu Bakkar wanted to know.
Ubaidul looked around for a moment and admitted that he didn't know either.
Ubaidul studied in the madrassa for a few years, and then went to Purbodhola high school. He finished his School Certificate from there but didn't study any further. His writing in Arabic is not bad.
Later, he went to Mymensingh to get supplies for his hardware store, he also bought a few Tabiz lockets; some were square and some round shaped.
It is a common saying, and he also read in the books that a “a baker doesn't eat his own bread”. That is why he never got a Tabiz for himself, even after his dead grandfather's advice to do so. He didn't have any problems in his life anyway to have a Tabiz for himself.
People from all are around were buying Tabiz from him. He was selling at least two a day – even five to six during examination times or when there was a outbreak of a disease in the villages. To respect both his dead grandfather's wishes and the good-man Abu Bakkar's advice, he didn't charge much for the Tabiz he sold. He saved the money he received from the sale, but not in a bank anymore, inside a small hole of a bamboo pillar of his house. The saving was for his sick mother. Within two months, he found the saving had become quite large. So, he paid his respect to his heavenly grandfather and to the madrasah teacher, Abu Bakkar. He was the one who campaigned in the villages, saying “buy Tabiz from Ubaidul, he has received the Tabiz divinely in his dreams.” Therefore, Abu Bakkar was the biggest contributor for his large client group.
Ubaidul thought, may be it was because of his mother that his dead grandfather appeared in his dream. His mother, all her life took care of the old man. At the end of his grandfather's life, for at least a year, Ubaidul' mother became the sole care-giver of his grandfather. His grandfather was not unfaithful, maybe this was his payback. Otherwise, why would his Tabiz gain such popularity in such a small period of time and at such young age of his? He was not even married yet.
He still didn't take the Tabiz his grandfather advised him to take – he didn't feel the need to. It made him worried sometimes, and then he forgot all about it. He was a busy man – there was a lot in his mind.
But suddenly, one day he clearly realized why his humorous grandfather wanted him to take up the Tabiz.
It was actually Rowshon Ara who gave him the realization. One day she came to his hardware store to buy nails and wire.
For the readers, the “behind the story” should be known. Purbodhola Bazar was not Bashundhara shopping mall, where a 20/22 year old girl would show up by herself to buy nail and wire, driving a car wearing jeans tops swinging car keys.
Rowshon Ara or Rowshon was a singer of a Jatra (village drama) group. It was no more proper to call it Jatra. The word “Jatra” carries an anti-religious connotation. It was therefore, preferred to call it a “cultural group”. Cultural groups were usually invited by the local officials or by the youth supporters groups of the government in power. It served both the villagers and the organizers. Villagers enjoyed music and dance while the organizers had their pockets full with by selling tickets. Rowshon was in the village to sing in her maternal uncle's “cultural group”. Her uncle was a good person - took good care of her. They were preparing the stage for the program to be held soon in the village.
Seeing Rowshon, Ubaidul's heart started to beat faster. Is she merely a girl or a fairy? Rowshon threw a sweet smile towards him. That smile made her even more appealing to Ubaidul. For two straight days Ubaidul attended the “cultural show”, but eventually, Rowshon left after it. But, during these two days, Ubaidul gathered all the information about Rowshon; her hometown, her father's name and almost her full “curriculum vitae”. It was not fair to say that he decided, rather, he promised to himself that he wanted to see the end of this – his infatuation towards Rowshon. He started to tell his dead grandfather “I don't need Tabiz” – he started to laugh out loud.
Like every night, after dinner, he sat beside his mother to talk. He started to say “listen mother, my blood starts to dance when I look at Rowshon, I go insane. I want her in my arms. What should I do? Oh! mother, how appealing is her eye, her nose, her neck, her cheek and her breast. Even you would go insane had you seen her beast. Feels like fondling them with my two hands. Her belly is like the one of a Boal (Catfish); white and soft. And, her waist is like the one of a lizard.”
He continued to say, “honestly, mother, I have never seen such a beauty in this earth. What should I do? I am having wet-dreams thinking about her. I just can't take it anymore”.
His mother just kept gazing, like she had been doing for the last three years. She was in a vegetative state, couldn't speak, only made groaning sounds through her vocal cords. Three years ago, she slipped and fell on the concrete floor of the pond ghat (quay), and broke her hips. From then, she was in this condition – the lower half of her body is paralyzed – the bed was her world.
The next day Ubaidul told his mother his plan. In a week, he was going to go look for Rowshan. Her hometown is in Oshtogram in Kishorganj.
Who was going to take care of his hardware store?
Who else but Altab, Ubaidul's cousin, almost same age as him, or could be a year or two older than him. Altab was the lazy type, never had any education – he loafed around with a fascination to fashion. But, he had no money to realize his passion for fashion. Ubaidul gave him a job in his hardware store, let him live in his house, and paid him some pocket-money. Altab loved Ubaidul's paralyzed mother. He regularly used to rub oil on her mother and also took good care of her.
Ubaidul's father died the year he was born. Without a father, his grandfather raised him. He has no memories of his father – all memories are about his grandfather. He once said to his grandfather that he would give Altab a Tabiz, which would lead him to a straight path.
One night, while speaking to his mother, Ubaidul realized that his mother wanted Altab to get married. A girl at home will be a great help at home, taking care of his mother.
He kept the one-way conversation with his mother “Altab should get married? You are saying so mother?” He kept laughing out loud saying that. There are reasons to laugh. For the last four years Altab himself tried to get married but with no avail. What kind of father would give away his daughter to no-good man like Altab? How can a man take care of a wife when he is living on the mercy of his cousin brother?
Unwillingly, because of his mother's wishes, Ubaidul gave Altab a Tabiz. But, it was not for a better future but for marriage. A Tabiz, that was full-proof. He told “get rid of all the dirty thoughts off your mind. Men with dirty thoughts never get married”.
Ubaidul knew, what he said was not true. It was actually people with bad thoughts who get married having grand ceremonies. And, people with pure thoughts like Altab, sits at home sucking their thumb. Once, while rubbing oil on his aunt's back Altab said “my skin is becoming a wrinkled paper, and there is fire on each groove. Still, I can't get a wife, what a life I have!”
Grandfather Umedul Bepari was was always proud of Ubaidul for his wisdom and bravery, and also for his street-smartness. The readers too, should be proud of Ubaidul for his quick success of having Rowshon Ara in his life. How was it possible? A girl, only six months ago came to Obaidul's store with her uncle to buy nails, gave him a neutral smile looking at Ubaidul's his lewd look –agreed to a proposal of the man. Wasn't Rowshan Ara Pretty? Didn't she have a heavenly voice? Then what fault did she have that she could not deny such a mid-income man like Ubaidul? Rather, in the second day, she said “you are a good man, I like you”.
If it were you (readers) or I, unlike Ubaidul, we would've done something drastic knowing that Rowshon had agreed to the proposal. But, Ubaidul was a responsible man – he approached in a practical manner. No matter how eager he was to have Rowshon in his life, he kept his cool. He told Rowshon's uncle, “give us gifts of any kind, I have no demand”.
Some political leader of a government supported youth group wanted to marry Rowshon. She would never agree on a marriage like that. She would've been kicked out of the marriage within a week.
Rowshon Ara wouldn't do the same mistake three times. She was married twice before. Her first marriage was with a contractor from Kishorganj named Nabiullah. Second one was with a Homeopathy doctor from Ostogram named Anasuddin. Her first marriage lasted only for three months. At beginning of the fourth month of the marriage, Nabiullah came home drunk, beat her with Khorom (wooden slipper), and kicked her out. Even in the second marriage, within few days her husband's other wife kicked her out.
Rowshon Ara's uncle wanted Ubaidul to know about her past, but she insisted he didn’t do so. She knew the world. Life was hard singing in a “cultural group”, most demands in life can't be met.
One rainy day, Ubaidul brought Rowshon Ara from Ostomgram to Purbodhola. The journey for him was like walking through clouds on rose petals. Having her sit beside his mother, he said “look mother this is your daughter-in-law, my Rowshon”.
Rowshan startled touching her mother-in-law's feet, it was stone cold. She took the duty to start a new life on those stone cold feet. Ubaidul watched in amazement that Rowshon was going to devote her time to his mother; rubbing oil on her body and feet, giving her baths, combing her hair and feeding her, sleeping with her for the afternoon nap.
He prayed to God with heart full of debt. He told Altab, “brother, marriage is a gift from god – it fulfills one's life.”
Taking a long breath, Altab said, “what is the use of telling me all these? I will never be able to get married.”
Ubaidul felt ashamed, and thought about giving him another Tabiz, this time he would take the least possible fee. He remembered what his grandfather had said “free food puts char in the belly”.
At night he brought the matter of Altab's marriage to his mother. “The helpless guy, Altab, should be getting married soon, don't you think?” asked Ubaidul to his mother. He is burning inside, anymore of this burning will turn him into coal – he will not remain a human being anymore. Mother! What a pleasure, having a life partner at home. Every night now, I am in a trance. Whenever I touch Rowshan, I feel electricity in my body…”
Seeing Rowshon entering the room, Ubaidul stopped talking, he felt shy. To hide his shyness, he started to talk about Altab.
Rowshon smiled politely and said “It would be great if Altab Bhai gets married, I will gain a friend to hang-out with.”
Ubaidul brought the issue of his mother's illness into the conversation. In the month of Poush-Magh (Bangla calendar months), he will take his mother to Dhaka. “A proper treatment will surely make her able to walk and talk, I am sure” he said.
Rowshon felt pity for Ubaidul – she combed his hair with her fingers and said “it requires a lot of money for that kind of treatment.”
“I know that, but I have saved enough in my bamboo bank” replied Ubaidul.
Rowshon started murmuring a song. She knew, whenever she sang the mother shuts her eyes off.
Maybe the mother once liked songs or to sing. She has to ask Ubaidul about it, but not now. Now he was in a trance, holding her tightly with his mouth near her neck.
She saw, Altab peeking at them from a cover with tear in his eyes.
One morning, Ubaidul woke up from sleep a bit late. He felt a heightened sensation from the Oghrayon (Bangla calendar month) air. Moreover, he had a splendid night with Rowshon. They decided to have a child after treating his mother from Dhaka. He felt sorry for missing the Fazar prayer.
It was not going to happen again tomorrow, he said to himself, and laid his hand on Rowshon – or he thought he did. But, she was not there – nowhere. Springing up from bed, he laughed at himself thinking Rowshon was in the bathroom. Then, he looked around for her for a while, and realized she didn't go the bathroom– she went to with Altab – they eloped.
Eloped with Altab?
Yes, readers. We are not exaggerating any bit. Rowshon eloped with Altab in the early morning. Neither Rowshon nor Altab was found at home. Also, with them, gone was the saved money in Ubaidul's Bamboo bank. He couldn't tell how much money was saved, not less than 4,000 taka for sure.
No, it was more than that. When Altab was counting, we (readers) saw, it was 4,820 taka.
Few days went by after the incident. Don't ask Ubaidul how those days went by, but they did fly away. Like he always used to, one night he sat beside his mother. There were a for few days gap in between the sitting with his mother. The mother must've been worried and surprised not to see her son sit beside her. Ubaidul said, “mother, I am feeling very happy now. Do you know why? My Tabiz has worked on Altab. He is now a married man.”
Whatever the mother replied was not understood, but Ubaidul said “Don't worry about me mother.” Like my grandfather told me, I will get one Tabiz for myself now. And it will not be for free. I will save that money in my bamboo bank. What do you think? It will not take time to fill up a bamboo Bank.”
“If you ask me mother, I am really not into slim women. Didn't you see Rowshon? She was thin as a stick, not an ounce of fat in her body. Thin women like she have small breasts, they produce little milk for a baby. My Tabiz will be for a healthy woman – they are good wife and mother. They produce lots of milk, a baby can drink as much as it desires.”
Illustration by Ujjal Ghose
Translated by Zia Nazmul Islam
(R) thedailystar.net 2012