The Days Go By
Dusk. Bashet wiped off the sweat with a gamchha sitting on the verandah of the outer room. The gamchha has been salvaged from an old sari belonging to his wife. Placing it around his shoulders he lit a biri, puffing away heartily at it. Hashmat Ali came out from within the house. When Bashet spread his gamchha on the floor, Hashmat Ali poured rice onto it. Bashet scooped up the ends of the cloth, tied a knot and set it aside.
Hashmat Ali held out the money and said, “Take your wages for today, Bashet. Eighty takas. Count it.”
Taking the money and knotting it into his lungi, Bashet said, “Chacha, I don't have to. You won't cheat me.”
“I don't worry too much, chacha. I can't. I have earned enough to get by tomorrow, and that is all that matters. I will worry about the day after tomorrow when it comes. I shall take off now.”
Bashet walked out onto the road with the bundle of rice. It is dark; the fortnight when the moon goes into hiding <>Krishnopokkho<> is in progress. He felt quite scared to travel alone at night. Yet, he had to. In order to get over his fear, he sang out at the top of his lungs:
As he inched closer to the Moddhopara neighbourhood, Belayet Hossain called out from his courtyard, “Who sings there? Bashet, is it you?”
Bashet recognised the voice. “Yes, chacha,” he said without stopping.
“Your singing voice is terrible. It sounds like a cracking bamboo stick. Why do you keep on singing?”
“I don't sing by choice. I sing to drive away fear.”
“Insolent fool! Later you will face the music for wasting precious time on rest.”
Smiling, Bashet resumed singing with his bamboo-cracking voice:
A grocery shop stands along the entrance of the Dokkhinpara locality. Bashet entered the shop and sat on a bench. Nobody was in. The shopkeeper, Rais, was cleaning his ears with the stem of a betel leaf.
Rais Bhai. Your mustard oil is pure. It is so strong that it burns my eyes the moment I even touch it.”
Bashet paid for the groceries and took them home. The solitary room was illuminated by light from an oil lamp. He got up to the verandah and called in a high voice, “Where are my sweethearts? I'm back with the shopping!”
The two girls age five and six pushed open the hanging thatch-door and came out to hug their father. Bashet lowered the groceries on the floor, picked up each child under either arm and stood up.
Kajoli, the elder daughter, said, “You are late today, Bajan. We're hungry.”
Bashet kissed her and said in an affectionate tone, “Yes, my dear. I did indeed come back a bit late today. Please forgive me. Where's your mother?”
The trio went out to the verandah. Kajoli and Kajori clambered down from their father's lap and took hold of the bazaar bag.
The kitchen was a thatched hut next to the bedroom. A jute rope was always kept smouldering to provide fire whenever needed. They found an oil lamp, lit it from the rope and entered the kitchen.
Taking the bags from the girls and unpacking them, Bashet said, “Dear daughters, please bring the rice and lentil bags.”
The girls did as told. Scouring the insides of the bags with his hands, Bashet said, “One of you please get the cooking cauldron and the pot for measuring rice.”
Kajoli brought them. As he filled the measuring pot with rice, Bashet asked, “Kajoli ma, how many pots of rice do we need for tonight?”
“Three would be enough, Baba. Put in some potatoes and chilies they can boil with the rice,” said Kajoli.
Kajori let go of her father to run off in search of the basket. Retrieving it, she coiled her arms around Bashet's neck as he arranged the potatoes and chilies on the basket with Kajoli.
Wrapping a dirty sari around her waist, Ramisa entered the kitchen and said, “That's it. You people don't have to cook any more. I'll do the cooking. Didn't bring any fish, did you?”
Bashet sighed, “What would I bring fish with, Ramisa? Where is the money?”
Kajoli said, “We haven't had any fish in a long while, Bajan.”
“Shut up!” exclaimed Ramisa, looking at Kajori. “Your father is the king of laziness. Once he's made enough money for a day, he stays home and sleeps all day instead of going to work. If he had the will he could have gone fishing in the swamp.”
Bashet said, “The landlords don't let us fish there anymore. They say they have leased it from the government.”
“Then go to the river or the canal.”
“All right Ramisa. Tomorrow I shall. My two girls have wanted to eat fish, and so they will. My dears, let us go to the verandah. Let your mother finish cooking. Then we can all eat together. Nothing compares to the joy of eating together with the family.”
When serving the piping hot food an hour later, there was no trace of exhaustion left on Ramisa's face. This was her family, Bashet was the apple of her eye. Together they ate until they were full. The moment Kajoli and Kajori became droopy with sleep, their parents took them to bed. The girls fell asleep in the arms of their parents. But the latter had other things in their minds, and sleep was far from it they waited, one for the other to beckon first.
“Ramisa!” Bashet whispered. She didn't respond. “Ramisa! Have you fallen asleep?” he persisted.
“Ummm...” Ramisa managed to mumble.
In the morning Ramisa woke up, washed herself and went into the kitchen. Today she felt like eating khichuri. There were two eggs in the house, they would go well with it.
The girls woke up during cooking and came into the kitchen. Both were excited at the smell of the food. They walked up to the stove.
“Yes, dear,” came the reply as Ramisa stirred the food. Kajori circled her arms around her mother's neck and said, “We will really enjoy eating it, Ma.”
“Did you two brush your teeth and wash your face?”
The girls obediently went off to follow the instructions, then came back as soon as they were done. Ramisa chuckled and held them close. When the khichuri was done she set the eggs and potatoes to cook together in an egg curry.
When the cooking was done, she asked the girls, “My dears, do you each want one potato?”
“Yes ma!” they said in unison, gulping.
Ramisa chuckled as she placed two potatoes on two small bowls with some gravy. The sisters began blowing on them to cool them, then ate away with the gravy. This made them hungrier.
“I'm hungry, Ma. Serve the khichuri,” Kajori said.
All four sat down on the kitchen floor to eat. The two eggs were cut up into four pieces. Everyone ate to their hearts' content. Chewing with a full mouth, Bashet said, “It's a good thing you kept chickens, Ramisa. Now we can have eggs every so often.”
“It's good to eat eggs, Bajan,” Kajoli observed.
Kajori had finished her egg too fast, and was now sitting there, not touching anything. Bashet looked at her and asked, “Why isn't my little girl eating?”
“What shall I eat it with? There's no more egg left!” Kajori made a long face.
“Why did you finish the egg before having the khichuri?” yelled Ramisa. “Now finish it without any eggs!”
“Don't scold my little girl,” said Bashet. “How can she eat without any eggs? Here, ma, have your food with mine.”
After breakfast Bashet sat on the verandah with the children. Ramisa was still in the kitchen. She raised her voice and said, “Can't you go catch some fish instead of just sitting there? The kids want to eat fish every day.”
“You're right. I'm on my way. Kajoli, get me the fish basket.”
Bashet set off for the small swamp near the house. He tied the light basket around his waist and stepped into the water, catching two <>koi<> fish with his hands in quick succession. He soon caught another fish and was about to put it into the basket when he heard someone yelling and scolding furiously at him. No sooner had Bashet straightened up to stand than the man had reached the bank of the swamp.
Bashet said, “Just caught some fishes, Jalil Bhai. Why did you run up like that?”
“Don't you know that I leased this swamp? To hell with your fishing, get out now! Get out, I say!” Jalil's face had contorted viciously.
Bashet had to get off the swamp. Jalil took the fish out and returned them to the water.
Bashet asked with indignation, “If you people keep leasing the swamp year after year, enjoying all the fish by yourselves, where will we catch any fish?”
“Poor people don't need to eat fish or meat. Have lentils. Lentils are the protein for the poor.”
Bashet said, “Thanks to you sacrificing a cow every year on Eid, we get to eat meat at least once. Can't you sacrifice fish the way you sacrifice cattle? That way we could eat fish as well.”
artwork by mohammad nazmul alam
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