Humayun Ahmed was a Bangladeshi author, dramatist, screenwriter, playwright and filmmaker. He emerged in the Bengali literary world in the early 1970s. His breakthrough occurred with the publication of his first novel, Nondito Noroké in 1972. He was a former professor of Chemistry at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Humayun Ahmed continued to be the top best sellers list of Bangla Academy (Bangladesh) book fair, a feat that had been maintained over the previous two decades.In 2012 he was appointed as a special adviser to the Bangladesh Mission in the United Nations. Humayun Ahmed passed away on the 19th of July this year, leaving millions of mourning fans.
At seven in the evening on Thursday, Abdul Karim was certain that he would be hanged by dawn. The executions usually take place right before Fajr (early morning prayers). If that is the case, then Abdul Karim has 10 hours in his hand.
The jailer himself has come. He is standing outside the cell with a cigarette in his hands. He is smoking the cigarette nervously. He is avoiding eye-contact with Karim.
“Do you smoke? Want a cigarette?”
“Yes, sir, I'll have one”, says Karim.
The jailer passes the cigarette packet through the bars, and says “keep it.”
“Thanks”, replies Karim.
“Tell me; what would you like to have for dinner?”
“Is the execution today?” asks Karim.
The jailer looks away and says, “I can't say for sure.”
Karim says, “I'm asking because you wanted to know what I'd like for dinner.”
“My wife sometimes likes to treat the convicts with a death sentence. That's why I asked.”
“I feel like having alu-bhaji (fried potatoes).”
“Yes sir, Alu-bhaji with fried dried pepper and two spoons of ghee.”
“No fish or meat?”
“If possible then shing maach (catfish) with egg.”
“Of course it's possible. Why not? If you need to send any message to anyone, you can tell me.”
“I have no such message for anyone, sir. You are very kind. “
“The meal will arrive by 9pm.”
The jailer leaves. Abdul Karim sits on the blanket on the floor with the pack of cigarettes in his hands. He hasn't lit one yet. He has no lighter. The inmates aren't allowed to keep lighters or matches with them. It's not a problem though. The guards will light them if he asks.
There are eighteen cigarettes in the pack – two cigarettes an hour. Karim gets up and stands holding the prison bars. A guard came rushing. The guards show a lot of sympathy towards convicts right before execution.
“I want to light a cigarette.” says Karim.
The guard doesn't have a lighter with him. He runs and fetches it in an instant.
“What month is it in the Bengali calendar?” asks Karim.
“Ogrohayon (a month in Bengali calendar)”.
Karim puffs on the cigarette. It is very cold during the month of Ogrohayon in the countryside, enough that one sheet isn't enough to sleep in at night. But Dhaka is still warm. The jail is even warmer. He is in jail for more than a year and a half. He never felt a winter come and go in his cell. There's only one season in the jail; summer.
“Want some betel leaf? Can I bring you some?” asks he guard.
“I won't have betel leaf now. I will have one after dinner.” says Karim.
“No worries. I will bring you two with Jarda (a special spice taken with betel leaf).”
He learned to say thanks from Jamuna. She isn't from a religious family. Who knows from where she learned to say 'thank you'. Karim asked her about it one day. Jamuna looked away and replied, “I won't tell you” with a laugh.
One day, he sat for lunch at his home. There was a huge feast of pulao (a fancy rice dish), chicken and mutton. Since it was a holiday, he did the grocery shopping himself in the morning; fish, vegetables and prawn. Karim asked in awe, “what are all these for?”
As usual, Jamuna looked away and said, “I won't tell you” with a laugh. He got his answer at night. It was their marriage anniversary. Karim forgot that it was their first marriage anniversary. They got married in the winter. It is not possible to comprehend the intensity of cold in Netrokona in the winter if one hasn't experienced it firsthand. They spent their first night together at her place in an old bed decorated with flowers. The arrangement was neat. The only problem was that there weren't any quilts to sleep in. Whereas, two quilts are hardly enough, the new groom had to sleep in a slim sheet made out of flowers.
Karim asked his bride, “don't you have quilts in your house?”
Jamuna replied, “of course we have. My father made a double quilt out of silk-cotton for our wedding.”
“Then why just a sheet?”
Jamuna looked away and replied, “I won't tell you” with a laugh.
The mystery of having only a sheet to sleep in was deciphered after a while. It was a prank by Jamuna's grandmother.
If a man feels cold on his wedding night, then he is no man at all. Jamuna's grandmother was trying to put Karim to the test. Karim failed the test. Jamuna had to go fetch a quilt late in the night. Jamuna couldn't bear the sight of Karim shivering in the cold.
Tonight, before dawn, Karim will be executed for choking his wife to death. But he didn't do it.
That day in the afternoon, he had a terrible headache. His forehead was warm from fever. He doesn't miss office. He waited for the clock to strike four with fever. In the meantime, he got a call from his landlord. He had to receive the call from the boss' chamber. Karim was feeling hesitant, as his boss gets irritated if anyone rings him and asks for one of his employees. Karim was lucky that his boss wasn't in his office when the call came. Jamuna said in a scared voice from the other side of the phone, “can you come home this instant?”
Karim asked, “Why?”
Jamuna replied, “I won't tell you. Come home immediately. “
“Is anything wrong?”
“I won't tell you.”
Karim took leave from office and went home. He lived in a three bedroom apartment on the 3rd floor. A house-help of around twelve to thirteen of age by the name of Jaheda also lived with them. Since Karim's mother-in-law went by the same name, they called her Fuli.
Karim took the stairs. He pressed the doorbell for a while. Nobody answered. Jamuna always opens the door if the bell rang once. When Karim tried to open the door he found it open. He entered the house. Jamuna was sleeping in the bedroom wrapped in a blanket. The blood clot on her lip turned black. For a while he stared at Jamuna in shock. Then he hurried down the stairs. The concierge opened the gate. He ran to the streets.
The lawyer at the court made him restless. The lawyer is a man of thin stature. He was as dark as his gown. His tooth and the white part of the eyes were incredibly white. He was wearing glasses but kept taking them in his hand while asking questions. Most of the questions didn't not make any sense.
“How old is your servant?”
“Twelve or thirteen year, not sure”.
“How long do you have sexual relationship with her?”
“That's imposturous. She calls me her uncle.”
“There are many uncles in this country who have sexual relationships with their nieces, don't they?”
“I do not know sir”.
“When did your wife come to know about this relation?”
“Nothing of this sort happened.”
“Your wife doubted you for no reason.”
“She never suspected me of anything.”
“Day before the incident you granted your maid a leave. Was it to help her to commit the murder?”
“The girl's father was sick, she asked for a leave to visit her village. My wife gave her the leave. Not me.”
“Your wife cannot be asked to come to the court and answer who gave her the leave. That is the problem. Is it not?”
At this point, the lawyer looked at the judge and said, “the police arrested the girl named Jaheda from Shyamgonj. She said she never wanted a leave. She was suddenly given a leave. The girl confessed to the magistrate that she had physical relationship with the perpetrator. We will bring the girl in due time. Now we turn to the perpetrator.”
“You are saying that you entered the house and found that your wife was dead?”
“After such a big incident you should have informed your neighbours. Instead of doing that you escaped from your house. Is it true that the police arrested you at 3.0am at Komlapur Station?”
“Yes it is true”.
“Is it true that even then your hands had blood stains?”
“Yes it is. The blood on Jumna lips was on my hands.”
“Is it true that nothing from your house was stolen?”
“Yes it is.”
“Then we can assume that this murder was not committed with the intention of robbery. Is my logic correct?”
“Your wife, Jamuna's postmortem has been done. Nothing indicates that she was raped before being murdered. The murderer did not kill for money or rape. The motive was entirely something else. Whatever the case, why were you at Komolapur station after the murder?”
“I don't know.”
“Why wouldn't you know? A ticket to Bahadurabad port was found in your pocket. The ticket could take you up to Mymensingh. Am I wrong?”
“Were you trying to escape?”
“Then why did you get a ticket to Mymensingh, to relax?”
Karim was wounded by the lawyer's statement but was not angry. He was not hurt. He was doing his job. He was going to catch the offender, and see to it that the criminal got severe punishment. This is what he was paid to do. Karim was hurt by Jaheda's statement. He used to adore that girl, used to call her Ma. Jumna used to get mad because of this.
“Why call a maid Ma? Call her by her name. She will be spoiled if u adore her too much.”
She was just a little girl. What made her do such a thing in the court! Karim was embarrassed.
Continued to next issue
Illustration by Ujjal Ghose
Translated by Sadia Khalid
(R) thedailystar.net 2012