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     Volume 4 Issue 24 | December 10, 2004 |

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Love on a Blue Afternoon

Ahmede Hussain

She picked up the newspaper; Nasser did not look up, he just stared blankly at the red Persian carpet.

In an anonymous letter sent to all the major newspaper offices yesterday, the so-called Harkat-ul-Zihad Al Islam Bangladesh (HZAIB) has declared a bounty of Tk 10,000,000 ($16,66,666) for young writer Nasser Hussain's head. In a fatwa issued by Shaukat Osman, the militant outfit's chief, the group said, "We, on behalf of the Muslims in the country, in the name of Allah the most beneficial and merciful, declare writer Nasser Hussain an apostate. It is now the duty of every Muslim to kill him as our beloved religion tells us to do so".

An otherwise coloured front page of the Star ran a black and white portrait of Nasser, probably to make the news look grimmer. Newspapers crave for and bank on morbidity, Shormi thought as she read down further.

The HZAIB, which is believed to be an umbrella organisation for all religious extremists groups working in Bangladesh, in a previous letter sent to the dailies, had told Nasser to publicly apologise for his writing. The group had also called the beleaguered writer to reconvert to Islam; Nasser had denounced the call and had urged the group to shun the path of terrorism.

The writer was attacked last week by a group of young men on the Dhaka University campus; though the police have blamed it on "unidentified muggers", many suspect the hands of HZAIB in the incident.

The writer could not be contacted for comments, as he was not home.

The home ministry has beefed up security in the Banani area of the city, especially around Nasser's home. But when contacted last night, the police headquarters had refused to give us any detail of its plan to reign in on the extremist group, which is blamed for carrying out numerous terrorist attacks in the country.

Shormi stopped reading, looked down at Nasser and caught him looking at her face. She put her head on his lap. He bent down, kissed her and said, "Baby I am so scared".

Shormi did not say anything; she kneeled on the floor, cupped his head and kissed him. As they made love, a roaring locomotive snaked through the rail-line that had curved past the mosque. Inside the room, on the CD Sting sang on:

There's a little black spot on the sun today
It's the same old thing as yesterday
There's a black hat caught in a high tree top
There's a flag pole rag and the wind won't stop

It was National Revolution and Solidarity day today, a public holiday; her Uni was closed, but they did not go out. Nasser lay down on the bed while Shormi cooked. When she was done, Shormi walked up to the bed and said to Nasser, "I haven't read your masterpiece".

He smiled and said, "Don't. You might try to kill me after reading it. Even political parties that deplored the stabbing, in the same statement, said I wrote something regretful."

She laughed and said, "You don't know…"
"It's really funny, you know," he continued matter of factly, "Even the so-called liberals believed that the government did a pretty good job when the book was banned. Suckers!"
She had been thinking about this while cooking. The big political parties needed general people's vote to win the elections; and, Shormi had thought that they could spare one or two Nassers or Humayun Azads to go to power. If public opinion ran swiftly against Nasser-- which she believed was going to happen-- no one would give a damn about his plight. Votes were all that mattered to Bangladesh's political establishment; the socialists, she mused, were ready to make alliance with the HZAIB if it meant a few seats in the parliament.

It was late in the evening; a grey light sneaked into the bedroom. Shormi stared intensely at Nasser, who was reclining on the bed, fidgeting with a jigsaw puzzle. Shormi heard the sound of another rail wagon coming through as she leaped up and sat on his lap. He tried to get up to kiss her; but she pushed his shoulder down, put her head to his ear and softly said, "It's my turn now to forget everything".

The Police's The King of Pain was on repeat-mode; Sting was saying:

I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running 'round my brain
I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain

The song was rhythmic and steady, and shortly they had forgotten it, the sound no more of an interruption than a consistent rain.

And it poured heavily all night. She almost freaked out when someone called up and asked for Nasser. She wanted to say no one with that name stayed here; but a sense of urgency in the caller's tone had forced her to ask back, "Who has given you this number?"

"Ma'am I am sorry. Dr Mizan of the Dhaka Medical gave me your number. My name is Inam; I am a reporter, I work with the Star. I want to interview him," he continued, "Dr Mizan thought you might help me out."

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