View from the Bottom
On the Two Sides of the Divide
Tanvir was reading the news item on the book 'In the Line of Fire' written by Pakistani president Parvez Musharraf. In the book Parvez Musharraf has written about his falling in love with a Bangalee girl while he was living in Karachi. He even managed to get himself a posting as a young lieutenant in Karachi to be able to see his object of love. But the romance ended abruptly when he was posted to another part of the country. He never saw her again.
That's all that was there in the report. Tanvir put the newspaper down and closed his eyes. He thought of another romance that took place and ended in tragedy decades ago in this part of the land when it used to be known as East Pakistan. Fragmented memories of faces, words and laughter appeared in flashes before his inner eye. He remembered the tall and fair girl who was his constant companion in the university for four long years, who had promised him a life of ever-lasting togetherness, despite the fact that she belonged to a very protective non-Bangalee Muslim community in which marriage outside the community was prohibited. They would rather kill the girl than agree to a marriage with a person from another community. It was double jeopardy if the boy happened to be a Bangalee. Only one or two incidents of marriage between a Bangalee boy and a girl from that community took place during the Pakistan period. But those were civil court marriages.
Tanvir remembered the two lines he wrote on a piece of paper sitting on the lawn of TSC...
“Those eyes are my oceans deep
Where I wish to drown to a thousand death.”
She read the lines and smiled. She looked away. Tanvir could sense she was trying to suppress a sigh. He looked away too.
At one point Tanvir realised the risks of being seen with her in the university or on the road to TSC or the British Council, since many non-Bangalee boys and girls studied in the arts faculty at that time. They knew this girl very well as she was a very good student. But the girl took all the risks saying that she did not believe in the rules set by her community leaders about marriage. She felt the prohibition unjust. She said that even if she did well in her Honours examination and in her Masters as well she would have to marry a half-educated businessman from her own community who would not like to talk about Rousseau or Kant or Freud. On her part, she did not like to talk about gold and diamond ornaments and expensive shopping trips abroad, which the girls in her community did all the time. She frankly told Tanvir that when her own community people talked ill of the Bangalee people, she protested vehemently. She gave examples of the highly qualified teachers in her college and university and the good nature of her Bangalee friends, their parents and relations. At one stage they stopped talking about Bangalees in front of her.
Somehow the news that she has been hanging out too much with a Bangalee classmate reached the ears of her parents. They did not like what they heard. Moreover, those were not the best of times for anyone in this part of the world. The anti Pakistani and anti non-Bangalee sentiments among the people were reaching its peak. One day two of her worried sisters came to the arts faculty to meet her. She was in the library and Tanvir was in the laboratory. The sisters spent some time with her and went around the department where she studied. She took her sisters everywhere except the laboratory where Tanvir was doing an experiment. After they left she came in and told him what happened. Since that day, both of them decided to be discreet to save her from any embarrassment.
The mass movement for the liberation of Bangladesh was finding momentum. Non-Bangalees lived in great fear of persecution. They avoided going out alone in Bengalee dominated areas. Similarly Bangalees also began to avoid areas where majority of the residents were non-Bangalees. But the girl came to the department everyday and also sat for the Honours examination, which was held in the tumultuous days of early '71. She helped Tanvir with her notes and books and encouraged him to study seriously as he had the chance to get a first class. Political situation worsened every day. Killings on the roads increased. Curfew was imposed in the nights. Yet, she gave him assurance that she would be around him no matter what happened in the country. She would just walk out of her house when the time will come and reach him.
Then came the black night of 25th March. For weeks he did not hear from her. No one picked up the phone in her house. One day, in the month of April, a girl who lived in the same locality met Tanvir in the university. She handed over a small paper. “I am being taken to Karachi by force. I am being kept locked up in my room. I'll contact you from Karachi. I have your phone number. Take care of yourself.”
Tanvir waited. The phone call never came. Today, her face is but a blurred contour. Only her laughter comes back often in bits and pieces.
(Based on a true story)
(R) thedailystar.net 2006