A Wandering Dream
Al Mahmud (born 11 July 1936), is a Bangladeshi Poet, novelist and short-story writer. He is also a freedom fighter. In the 1950s he was among those Bengali poets who were outspoken by writing about the events of the Bengali Language Movement.He was born in Morail Village, Brahmanbaria District. Mahmud started his career as a journalist. He came into recognition after Lok Lokantor was published in 1963. In succession, he wrote Kaler Kalosh (1966), Sonali Kabin (1966) and Mayabi Porda Dule Otho (1976). In addition to writing poetry, he has written short stories, novels and essays such as Pankourir Rakta and Upamohadesh. After fighting in the Liberation War of 1971, he joined The Daily Ganakantha as its Assistant Editor. Later, he joined Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in 1975 and retired in 1993 from the position of Director of the Academy.
He must be having a mental breakdown, Mustafa thinks. Why would he be walking in his sleep in the middle of the night? There is no escape from the dreams he is having. The moment he lays his head on the pillow some dream catches him and drags him through the doors on to the streets. Strange though that he roams the streets near his home and no accidents happen. Any day an accident could happen. He is a 35 year old man, still a bachelor, who works as a translator at an advertising agency.
In his dream Mustafa always returns to a woman. She works as a computer operator at his advertising agency. She too is unmarried. Not a model-type woman but she has all the features to attract a man – fair skin, sharp face and long hair. Her appeal intensifies when she comes to the office wearing sari, a rare occasion. Smart, smooth and clean, Shobita is a complete woman. Many in the office can't take their eyes off of her.
Mustafa rarely has conversations with Shobita. She is always at her computer. In his dream, Mustafa is always in his apartment on the second floor. The street he walks on is the one beside this apartment. There are almost no vehicles on the road, the few that appears makes him scared of being run over by. Probably because it is in his dreams he never gets run over. He has seen a doctor for his condition. The doctor laughed listening to his condition saying “You are not suffering from any mental illness, you are just in love. Proposing to her is the only medicine for you”.
Mustafa is afraid to lie down and go to sleep. His dream will take him to that street and the street always leads him to Shobita's door. Being a graduate from a lower-middle class family, she lives right beside the Mohakhali main road. She often comes to Mustafa's desk and with a smile asking him how he is doing. Mustafa just looks at her. Shobita blushes.
“What are you looking at like that?” she asks with a smile.
“You”, Mustafa replies.
“You are looking at me because I am in front you. Otherwise you would be staring at so many others. I am just a computer operator, and you are an expert in English – I heard you are a scholar too”.
“Who did you hear this from”?
“Information floats in the office. You often quietly stand behind my desk and watch me work. Is that to check whether I make mistakes or not?”
“No, I do that to only watch you”.
“Oh. How unbelievable. An unfortunate and poor computer operator has your attention. But you do stand behind me and watch something.”
Ashamed of being caught like that Mustafa deflects the away from the conversation and turns back to this desk. Never again does he go back to that computer room to see Shobita. Suppressing his desire to see Shobita he drowns himself in his work. Shobita herself shows no interest anymore, probably worrying that she over-stepped her place in the office and stays at her desk.
But for how long can Mustafa wander off in his dreams? How long can he try to stay awake in his apartment? He has to go to sleep at some point. And when he does, he immediately takes off from his building on to the dark street. A car rushes off beside him, even that doesn't wake him up. Mustafa's dream takes him to different places. He grasps that he is not walking in his dreams rather in his heart – where it beats. He sees his blood pulsating within himself, like a strong current on a river. What a strange machine the human body is and what is connection between the soul and the body? He can see all the veins, arteries and intestines inside of him. But where is picture of Shobita stored? Probably in the brain, he thinks. He touches his hair, through his thick hair his fingers and touches his skull. He feels down and starts walking again. Then he decides to go to Mohakhali to Shobita's home. It is just a dream, there is no problem seeing her. Today he will see Shobita. She will probably open the door but will not see him. Then again, when he walks on the streets, drivers drive around him to not to knock him off. Then others probably can see him. His stubbornness takes him to Mohakhali where Shobita lives, as if his dream is pointing its finger to the building where she lives. He knows Shobita lives alone. Will she open the door at this time? He pushes hard the calling-bell switch. Shobita's voice appears from the other side of the door.
“Who is there at this time?”
“It's me Mustafa”.
“Whats wrong Mustafa Bhai, so late at night, why are you here?” asks Shobita opening the door.
“Can you see me?”
“Oh! There you are in front of me – why wouldn't I be able to see you”?
“But I am in my dreams. I walk in my dreams and wander off like I am here to you. How can you see me?”
“Why would you be in your dreams? You are standing right in front of me, in person. Come inside.”
Mustafa moves in the room and seats beside the bed on a couch.
“Do you want tea at such a time”? Shobita asks.
“No, I walk in my dreams but not eat or drink”.
“You are acting strange. I have noticed you have been staring at me a lot. I am just a girl form a poor family, did my education with hardship and got myself a job . I am living a life with whatever dignity I have gained for myself. I don't see any reason for you to be attracted to me. Then again, often love needs no reason. You are probably just having just a crush on me, that's not love. Will you be able to love me?”
Mustafa is stifled at Shobita's straightforwardness. With a very low voice he said “I need to think about what you said. I am seeing the dream version of Shobita. But you are real and the words coming from you seem real.”
“You are at an unmarried woman's home at such a late hour – this doesn't look good in real life”.
Shobita takes Mustafa by the hands and leads him to the door. “Go now, tomorrow when you are not in your dreams we will both find out how much you love the real Shobita”.
“Do you think I am a mental patient?” Mustafa asks.
“No, I don't. As far as I know all men are a bit imbalanced” Shobita starts giggling saying that.
“You are probably right about men being imbalanced, or else why would I be walking in my dreams? Moreover, if men were not a bit imbalanced there would be a disaster on earth. What does any normal man see looking at woman?”
“You tell me.” Shobita asks.
“They see a seductress, a trap and a magnet with infinite pull, that's what they see.”
Shobita drags Mustafa back on the street and says “You stay in your dreams, I don't have time for them. Don't bother me at awkward times like this. I live in the real world. Let me be there. I am doing fine here. Yes, you could say that I lay a trap for men like you, but not to catch a man who lives in dreams. If I am a trap then you are a Nishad. Do you know what a Nishad is? He is a hunter; a cruel murderer.”
Mustafa starts walking on the streets again. This time he can't find his way home to his bed. From one footpath to another, from one lane to another, tired of all the walking he falls on the footpath. He finds himself sleeping in his dream.
Translated by Zia Nazmul Islam
Illustration by Ujjal Ghose