Trousers worth 100 and Lungi worth 50
Harishankar Jaladas was born near Potenga village near Bay of Bengal. He was born in a poor fishing family in 1955. After studying at Chittagong University, he started teaching at a government college in 1984. He has written many books and was the editor of “Unnayan Theatre” and authored “Jolpurush”. He won best author prize in 2007 by “Janakatha” and “Nandan Padak” in 2008. The same year, he received his PhD from Chittagong University researching the “Rivers of Bangladesh”. Currently, he is Associate Professor and Department Head at a renowned government college in Chittagong.
Having been defrauded and heart-broken, the 63 year old Mr. Abdul Latif from Kaukhali, Guatoun returned to Dhaka. Amidst his encounter with a row of date-palm trees on his left and a loaded van before him he realized the trawler was setting off the terminal. What now? He looked around to see the vegetation around him, and the vigorous movement of the branches .The cool wind of Kali Ganges touched him with a shiver as his weakened pace led him to the dock. The familiar faces greeted him pleasantly with “Salaam”. His eyes silently stared at the river. The pain was too deep. He had never expected that Soleman Sheikh from the neighboring village of Nilti would ever deceive him. The consequence of blind trust had left him with regrets.
From one of the corners of the terminal, an individual reckoned him saying, “Brother, want some tea?” Abdul Latif rejected the offer and boarded on the trawler that had just arrived with some passengers. He arrived at the Hoolarhaat after 35 minutes. Horolal Das' sons had opened up quite a big restaurant and Mr. Haralal who was sitting near the cash stood up to greet Abdul Latif with his reddened mouth (due to beetle leaves) and instructed the boy nearby to clean the tables. Abdul Latif initially thought of sharing his experience with Haralal. Being an old friend he is most likely to give fruitful suggestions. But he changed his decision instantly. What if Haralal mocks a man of his esteem being so easily deceived! Haralal sent his son Shwapon to accompany Abdul Latif to the terminal and also instructed his son to ensure proper bedding for Abdul Latif who had set off for Dhaka from Hoolerhaat. A price hike for oil led to the fare shooting up to Tk 140 from Tk. 70. Beddings were arranged too, but Abdul Latif was more concerned about his bag. He kept it in the room of one of the officials of the trawler who would hand it over to him when he left. Though Haralal had offered to send with him some Parata with fired eggs he had refused due to indigestion problems. He satiated his hunger with bread for Tk 12 and a banana for Tk 6 which is originally worth Tk 10 and Tk 4 respectively. However, he reached the Shadarghat drowsily the next day. A struggle for 22 days in Kaukhali had taken a toll on his weak physique. As he stood before his house, he looked around with surprise. Everything seemed to have changed. He failed to clearly recognize the faces of the passersby who greeted him. On entering through the red gate, he dropped his bag, drew a chair and sat down. A passing train created resonance all over the house. His elder daughter tiptoed to him seeing her father lost, broken and shattered. Then came Mrs. Monowara Begum, heavily making her way to stand next to her husband. The man has a hot temper and often created turmoil in the family with his temper. Seeing the man who demanded perfection was today in a state like this left her with no clear guidance.
Someone of his experience had fallen for such a fraud! He should have pondered over it then when he had purchased 10,080 square feet of land from Dhaka and paid the amount in three installments. He did not think it necessary as it belonged to Kaukhali and was aware of the details of every land there and even the seller. Whenever he is seated in the Bismillah Hotel in Kaukhali he is addressed by many different men; some complaining about his absence from the place and some expressing their desire to accompany him to Dhaka. He had in fact brought a lot of men to Dhaka allowing them to pursue a better living. By his virtue many are seen in shirts and trousers. Had they not earned a living by being local vendors as a profession, their children would have inevitably gone astray. Every morning the women of the families set off to the garments factories. It was just the other day that he had recruited two men as helpers in a bus. Jabbar had entreated him to rescue his daughter who had been entrapped by a local boy. Abdul Latif had caught hold of them and the boy pleaded for mercy and married her. This was an investment for him. He knows how to reap the benefits. These are the people who are always at his service in any dire situation and it is because of them that he is so popular among all the parties. He rents men for all the public meetings. He is the one name known to all for this purpose. Men in trousers are rented for Tk. 120 and in Lungi are rented for 70 taka. He keeps Tk. 20 as commission. So ultimately men in trousers receive Tk 100 and those in Lungi receive Tk 50. He takes the money in advance to avoid any disruption. He sends the same group of men for every political party. A new and powerful Youth Leader had demanded 300 men in exchange of the new notes of money he had sent. Men in red bandana were sent. Abdul Latif never attended any of these meetings. Before the War of Liberation he had gone to Bangabandhu's public meeting in Pirojpur. There was the passion of youth that worked him up in those days. The ultimate twist of fate brought him from Kaukhali to Malibagh today.
Malibagh had a completely different scenario back then. The development we see had been made recently. There were very few men in trousers those days. Most men wore lungis which were of strong dislike to Abdul Latif though in his days at Kaukhali that was his preferred attire. Modernization is manifested in an attire like this was what he believed. He asks his men to buy a pair, but they pay no heed to this piece of his advice. Before setting them off, Abdul Latif leads the voices for rehearsal or chooses his son Triqul to read out the slogans written by him, Tariqul is badly addicted. This upsets Abdul Latif. He has shops opened up in Karwan Bazar and Malibagh. The workers persistently complain about the frequent attacks made by Tariqul. Instead of being the sole support to his father, Tariqul had indulged himself in looting the shops and had gone astray.
Abdul Latif is all by himself in facing the obstacles of life. The other day Police sources informed him that men from the Lungi group were arrested though the reason was not specified. Abdul Latif searched for Tariqul to deal with the young Police officers. Just then he was informed that the son of Gani, who is a newspaper seller, witnessed Tariqul completely indulged in drugs. This enraged Abdul Latif to the last extent. However, having controlled his temper he rushed alone to the Police station as the last resort. The police were extremely rude as if they intended to charge Abdul Latif as well. He knew it was only with patience and calmness of mind that he could combat the situation. He said, “Our men participate in meetings of all parties. You have arrested them without presenting proper reasons. If I call the leaders of the parties you will be summoned at once.” It was either the fear of the leaders or the strength of his voice that made the police release the men.
And this very Abdul Latif was cheated by Soleman Sheikh. When he went to the registrar for the last installment, he found out that the land was already registered the year before to Maizdi Sheikh from the village Amrajhuri. The bottom line was that Soleman had sold the same land to two men. It was useless to file a case since the land was already legally registered to Maizdi Sheikh whose children are related to the ruling party. This was the result of his blind trust towards the native men. On searching, he figured that Solaiman has run away to some place where nobody knew about.
Abdul Latif cannot rest in peace until he regains the money and neither can he share it with anyone including his family. Would he be a living corpse till then? Just then he saw the cap slipping from Tariqul's hand. Over-excitedly he greeted his father with the message that a new party has demanded some men wearing caps for the meeting. Abdul Latif regained his life. He immediately stood up and said, “Did you forget who killed your uncle during the War? Why shall we work for the enemies?” Abdul Latif's voice had the vigor and animosity for the enemies that scorched through the bright sun. It was the memory of the golden days of 1971 that brought back life into the living corpse.
Translated by Nuwaira Raiyan
Illustration by Ujjal Ghose
(R) thedailystar.net 2012