There was a time when I didn’t need an excuse to go to my village. All I needed was a break from school. A vacation, even if it was for just a few days, an opportunity to break away from the monotony of urban life, from the drudgery of the dark and damp alleys of old Dhaka where the sun never shone and the birds never sang. That was a long, long time ago. The Fulbaria train station was close to where we lived in those days. Oh what a thrill it was to board a train, to hear the wheels screeching out of the platform, hissing and puffing like a thousand horses in tandem. How sweet it was to feel the splash of steam on my face and the dust of coal brushing my hair. I’d always make sure to find a seat by the window. I wanted to feel the full blast of the dust and dirt from open fields of rural Bengal whizzing by the speeding train. No sooner the train was out of Tejgaon and into the heartland of the famed jackfruit country of Kurmitola and Tongi I could smell the rich aroma from the green seedlings of jute all over the ground, and marvel at the endless rows of jackfruit and mango trees on either side. The tall skyscraping bamboos would swing in a gentle breeze as if in a gesture of warm welcome to the urban visitor. I’d feel like an enchanted travellor into a many-splendoured world of pure fantasy, an eternity of boundless horizons. The train was very noisy in those days, the old rugged steam engine, you know, spewing off tons and tons of coal-dust and warm steam, but to my mind they were all part of a gala opening of a big orchestra that Nature had arranged for me.
But now, near the end of the century, having long lost my youthful innocence, I’m looking for an excuse for not going to the village! The very thought of leaving the comforts of city-life is frightening to me. Instead of running to the station as I did before I run to the doctor’s office asking for every possible step that I must take to prevent any health problems that I’m likely to face in the village. I’m told in no uncertain terms that I must drink only from properly sanitized bottles of boiled water, must avoid fried greasy foods, must not let a mosquito sit on my skin and a house fly share my meals. As a final safeguard against any possible mishap the good doctor puts a needle in my arm, like an armed security device installed in the body to fight off the invading brutes of the village jungle. His last piece of advice to me was to take a medically qualified friend with me, if possible.
If it depended on me I’d have probably decided to stay put with my folks in Dhaka. But it was impossible for me to ignore the wishes of my father. He told me that it was one of his long-cherished hopes that he would take me to his birthplace and have me meet all those good people who were near and dear to him all his life and who had followed my career with great pride and interest. He wanted to show off his eldest son, one who had done so well in a great western country called Canada. He wanted to share the joy and pride with the villagers who thought of him and his family as the greatest success story born out of their own soil. He wanted everybody to know and see that his dreams had finally been realized, and his hard work had been rewarded. Needless to say it would be cruel of me to say no to him. I just couldn’t.
My favoured mode of transport would have been the train, for old time’s sake. But my friends and zillions of well-wishers warned me of all the possible dangers of riding a train. Instead of inspiring any romantic nostalgia it might help create some horror-filled experience that I’d probably be better off without, they said. Modern trains were overcrowded, filthy, smelly, and downright unhealthy and unsafe. So it was decided that I’d be driven to Norshingdi in a friend’s car. Not exactly his personal car, rather his personal official car, which was hardly ever used for official purposes. This, I was told, was the usual practice in the bureaucratic circles of Bangladesh---official limousines are almost exclusively the vehicles of transportation of the officers in charge, and not the offices they are supposed to serve. So our “official” driver took his private passengers to the river port of Norshingdi in about one and a half hours. But my destination was across the river, another five miles away, a village called Hashnabad, which was not accessible by car. We decided to take the train for the one-hop journey to the next station which was a mere 3 minutes away. I got tickets for a first-class carriage, not for prestige or any inflated sense of self-importance, but for a bit of comfort, more for my aging and ailing father than myself. Alas, comfort is exactly what was missing from that surprisingly overcrowded compartment. To my horror and utter dismay I found out that there were two kinds of riders in the first-class compartments—one, who didn’t buy any ticket at all, first, second, or third class, yet occupied all the seats, and the other, who had bought the tickets with full fare and didn’t have a single empty seat to sit on. And, to add insult to injury, you’d better not argue with any of those rough-looking young riders for fear of any physical harm they might inflict on you. They are known as political elements, who are the musclemen of their political masters. They are the new untouchable class of the country.
We got off at the small rural station called Ameergonj, a sleepy little one-room station by the river Ariolkha. On the west side is the sprawling market town of Ameergonj, and on the east is my childhood paradise called Hashnabad, the village where my father was born, and where my uncles still lived, tended their land and raised their families. That was the place where, for generations, my ancestors lived through good times and bad, through famines and droughts, good crops and bad, storms and floods, through hope and despair. They didn’t have much to sustain, not enough land or livestock or other resources. They came close to ruin at times by prolonged droughts, to annihilation at others by epidemics, but they fought back. In some miraculous way they always came back and started all over again from the ashes. They are among the toughest of people I ever knew. And there, on a mid-winter sunny day, was standing a middle age Bangladsehi Canadian, holding firmly
the feeble hands of his elderly father, by the railroad, in full view of the curious eyes of a large crowd of villagers.
I sipped a few drops of boiled water from the flask, and climbed up a waiting rickshaw with my father comfortably seated by my side. The rickshaw-puller put his feet on the pedals, and off we went. My mind went back 40-50 years when there were no rickshaws on this road or anywhere else in the region. Even this railway station wasn’t there. All we had was a narrow sidewalk beside the railroad snaking through the bushes into the deep wilderness of what felt like a huge block of solid darkness. By international standards it was probably a small forest that didn’t even deserve a mention in the guidebooks, but in my mind it couldn’t have been more frightening. It was no less than the tropical rainforests I would read about in my Geography books. I doubt if there were any wild animals there, but my grandma used to tell me stories about occasional sighting of tigers, and about mysterious vanishing of domestic poultry and goats at night, presumably thro’ nighttime hunting trips of foxes or other carnivorous animals. The trees were so tall and the foliage was so thick that at some spots the sun would be almost completely blocked out. Unfortunately that was about the only direct route for east-west travellors, which I was, so it was one that I could hardly avoid even if I tried. Yet the amazing thing about it was its dark beauty and charm. It frightened me, yet drew me toward it in a mesmerizing way. There were times when I’d step on something that moved, and not seeing anything, I’d imagine it was a snake or some such venomous creature, which I dreaded most. Running out the rest of the way I’d swear never to take that road alone again, but I always did. That little trek of rainforest was my pied piper.
It was on the very same road, today, a half-century later, I was on a rickshaw going to pay a visit to my roots. The march of modernization was clearly visible everywhere around me. The tall trees that had stood there for generations finally fell victim to the mighty bulldozer. Truckloads of rich farmland soil were poured on the narrow path to make it wide enough for two rickshaws to pass each other, even to let an automobile drive to important destinations of urban dignitaries. There used to be a canal on the left side that my father would bring me to for occasional fishing trips, and where my uncles would set up traps in dry seasons to catch koi and catfish. Today, as my rickshaw puller was working hard to push through a sandy strip of road I looked out to see that canal of my childhood gone forever, and replaced by rows of thatched cottages. Humans had taken over the land that belonged to little creatures of the bushes. The aquatic animals were made homeless and extinct. The home of the night jackals and of the tigers of my grandma’s tales was now the home of human families. The enchanted forest of my adolescence was now standing in the blazing sun of the tropical winter like a naked little boy.
The rickshaw came to a stop at the edge of our little hamlet. I got off first, then helped my father down. The earth under my feet, all of a sudden, seemed to come alive, as if it recognized my touch. As if it wanted to give me a big hug, and to say ‘welcome home, my son’. I remembered the tall tamarind tree that stood precisely at the spot where I was standing today. It was like a protective umbrella over the 5-room unit of huts that once belonged to my Panju-dada, who was not related to me by blood but by village connection. Almost all children of my age in that village used to think of him as if he were their real grandfather, sometimes more than their own. He left an indelible impression on all our lives. Every time I’d go for a visit to Hashnabad it was his house that I’d drop in first, partly because it was on the way to our home, and partly for the attraction I felt for his ebullient personality and his charismatic manner of drawing people toward him. Of all people in the village I knew he was the one with the broadest smile and the warmest hug. He was also the wisest and the kindest. He used to be the most revered arbitrator of all petty disputes of the largely illiterate villagers. I had my first lesson in how basic democracy worked in the rural communities by observing the way Panjudada conducted his informal courts. Whenever there would arise a contentious issue in the village he would summon all adult males to assemble under that tamarind tree. First he would state the problem, then analyze it in details with no apparent bias on either side. Once he was absolutely sure that everybody understood what the real issues are he would state his own opinions. But he would never say that his opinions were the final decision, rather would leave the floor open for others to offer their opinion. He would invite them to speak up, to state with reasons what they thought should be the decision. Usually most of them would agree with his own opinion, but if there were a dissenting voice or an alternate idea, then the discussion would continue for another round, yet another and another, until a general consensus had been reached. That was quite an eye-opening exercise for me. Even to my western-educated modern mind the memory of those incredible sessions in home-grown village democracy remains a mystery. It was unbelievable.
My Panjudada was an amazing person indeed. I still remember the ingenious way he would “ catch” a thief. Assume that there was an episode of break-in in someone’s house during the night. The usual thing would be to report the incident to the police. But the nearest police station was a good five miles away, and even if you did report you couldn’t be sure that justice would be served as quickly as you’d hope. So the next best thing was to go to the informal court of Panjudada. He would first make up a clandestine list of possible suspects, i.e., those who were known to have tried their hands in break-in attempts before, then promptly set up an ad hoc court in someone’s front yard with the suspects seated to form a semicircle. A few grains of “charmed” rice would be placed on a brass plate, and a strong young man from the crowd would be asked to press his palm firmly on the plate. Panjudada would then close his eyes, mutter some strange words that I never understood, move his hands in a mysterious way, while the crowd waited in a state of mesmerized silence. Suddenly, inexplicably, there was a motion. The young man’s hand and body would start moving, as if whipped by an invisible spirit to move in a direction that he had no control on, known only to the god of spirits. It was quite a scary thing to watch for me. I suppose it was scary even for the adults. The brass plate would continue moving with the young man helplessly following its direction, until at one time it would stop at one of the suspects’ feet. That was, of course, the unfortunate person who would be declared as the guilty man. The verdict was final, no appeals allowed. Pretty scary kind of judgment, no doubt. With hindsight I’d even say, judgment without justice. But the amazing thing about it was that on the few occasions I had the opportunity to observe the proceedings of the village court, I found out, to my disbelief , that the marked culprit was indeed the actual offender. How that could possibly happen I have no idea.
There were a few other nuggets of treasure in my Panjudada’s bag of secrets. In those days there was not a single doctor in a five-mile radius of our village. So who do you think the folks would run to if someone in the family needed medical help? You guessed it right. Our good-old Panjudada, of course. I still remember one particularly bone-chilling event.
There was an enormous abscess on just above the left eye of a 10-12 year old boy, who had been suffering for days in intense pain and discomfort. Something just had to be done to relieve the poor boy from his unbearable agony. An ad hoc solution was found by the village elders. Since it was not possible to bring a doctor in a reasonable length of time, it was decided that Panjudada would be entrusted with the difficult job. So we all assembled one day in the front yard of the local mosque while Panjudada got ready with his crude scalpels and other essentials. The boy was held firmly by two strong young men sitting on either side. We held our breath while Panjudada, coolly and calmly, proceeded with the sharp blade of a kitchen knife to cut open the boil in a flash. The poor boy’s screams must have traveled miles across the open fields. There was, of course, no anesthetics, no painkillers, no antiseptic devices, not even a drop of rubbing alcohol. The very sight of the bloody and gory mess was too much for some of us to take. I was going to pass out, didn’t, but a few of the younger kids did. Perhaps the only person who remained in complete control of his nerves was Panjudada himself. Today, having spent most of my adult life in the west, I’d not have expected to see the boy recover from his ordeal. But it was 60 years ago when there was no modern medicine in remote villages of Bangladesh, so it was up to the patriarchs like Panjudada to do whatever they could to alleviate some of the suffering of the village folks. Amazingly, inexplicably, that young boy responded very well to the surgery, and had returned to normal life in no time at all.
I cannot resist mentioning yet another incident involving Panjudada that has remained a complete mystery to me through all these years. I had an aunt, the youngest sister of my father, a full-blown beauty of 18-19 at the time, who suddenly got sick. It was not an ordinary sort of illness. The symptoms were quite strange. Her body would shake violently, teeth clenched, eyes about to pop out of their sockets. I, along with other kids of the family, was watching her contorted body twist and turn continuously, as if possessed by an invisible demon. The elders had decided that she was under the spell of a wicked spirit. Aunt Johra was an unusually good-looking girl. With her bright-coloured skin, well-built body, dreamy eyes and luscious lips she was quite a stunning beauty. Her beauty was too dazzling for the evil spirits to resist, they opined. But how does one scare the spirit out of her body? Who but our very own witchdoctor Panjudada? As usual he was on the scene as soon as the word got to him. He came, with a knowing smile on his face, had a look at my aunt’s witch-ridden body, and quickly confirmed that it was indeed the evil spirit that hides behind the thick bushes across the backyard, and pounces on the unsuspecting victim at an appropriate moment. He informed us that its particular fascination is with pretty girls, who, therefore should never be left alone near that bush. Needless to say, a couple of hours of his well-honed witchcraft that only he might have understood, the “spirit” finally let go of my aunt Johra. She came out of it, visibly shaken, and quite perplexed as to what could have happened to draw so many people around her ,and how could she have allowed herself to compromise her modesty with her sari and hair in such an embarrassing mess. I was relieved to see her out of her suffering, but found it hard to shed my sense of bewilderment as to what really happened to her. At that time I was too young to know that it was probably nothing more than an epileptic seizure that some young village girls were prone to, for whatever reason, especially in thick bushy areas.
That old tamarind tree was not there anymore in Panjudada’s front yard. It had fallen to the road-widening project of the government. Panjudada himself had been long deceased, as had been most of his sons and daughters. There were faces that I never saw before, huts and houses, trees and bushes, that were not there fifty years ago. Of his seven sons four died of cholera, one of malaria, one left for better life somewhere else, and the youngest one moved to Norshingdi to earn a living by pulling a rickshaw. The young adults and teenagers of the village are not interested in tilling the fields anymore. Too many people and too little land to farm. So they dream to get away. To Dhaka,to Chittagong, or Khulna, where they would find work. Or better still, to Abu Dhabi, Doha, or anywhere where they could earn enough dollars to get rich overnight. They are all dreaming to get out of their home to seek fortune elsewhere. The sharp contrast to what used to be in my father’s time didn’t escape my eyes.
I held firm to my father’s hands. My mind had crossed the barrier of time and began wandering along the narrow path that crisscrossed our little hamlet. The memories that were stored away in my mind came flooding back to my world of consciousness.
A few more steps took us to my final destination. My ancestral home, a tiny piece of land, that couldn’t possibly be spotted on any official map, yet occupied such a huge landscape in my mind. This was the most sacred place of my life. This is where it all started. This is where my father and his siblings were born. This is where I didn’t exist, yet today my existence is all about this place. I felt like a determined explorer who finally discovered the source of a mighty river. While my father sat down for a bit of rest his younger brother Hassan, looking more frail and weak than his age, came to greet us with open arms. He looked at me as if to find someone else, someone from his past life, very dear and near to him, then suddenly threw his arms around me and started sobbing like a little baby. I, too, for once didn’t know how to keep my emotions under control. Can’t say for how long we were locked in each other’s arms, seemed like an eternity. Then came my aunt Rokeya, my most favourite aunt, who tried in vain to put a smile on her face, finding nothing to say but to ask if I were hungry and if I’d like to eat a special pitha she made for me. Silly of her to remind me that this was the pitha that I was once crazy for in my childhood, and that nobody could make them as tasty as she could. She was the aunt who took me in her bridal palanquin on her wedding day along with new husband. How could I ever forget any of those? She was not a new bride any more, but a grandmother, an elderly village woman, cowed down by years of hard work and a dozen or more childbirths. Yet, today, she was back in her parental home just to be on hand for her favourite nephew coming for a day-visit from a faraway land called Canada. She wanted to take care of all the cooking for me. She couldn’t trust anyone else with my comfort and well-being. She had to do it with her own hands, just like the old times. She cooked a very spicy dish with duck meat that I used to relish once upon a time. My poor aunt! How could she know, having lived the life of a farmer’s wife whose only purpose of existence was to be at service for a large number of people in the house, that her Canadian nephew would no longer be able to eat spicy duck for fear of aggravating his already severe cholestoral and other health problems? How could she ever know that the little kid of 6 or 7 she used to help go to bed by telling stories from the Arabian Nights and wrapping his body under warm comfy quilts, was the same aging expatriate who left home looking helplessly everywhere for a meaning of life, with a morbid fear of fatty foods like an oily and greasy duck?
When I was a 10-yr old boy, I, along with the whole family lived in the village for four full months, first to avoid the bomb raids by the Japanese in the Second World War, then to escape the crippling famine that had struck the city of Dhaka. To my mind that was the most memorable and most enjoyable 4 months of my life. That is when the flora and fauna of my village made a deep impression on my mind. The rural Bengal revealed herself in all her charm and beauty to my young eyes. I fell in love. Love for the smell of the soil, the noise of the birds, the sound of rain on the tin roof, the dragon flies playing in the rice fields, and the thick black clouds in the monsoon sky like an army of dinosaurs about to descend on the mother earth. It was during those 4 months that the foundation of my character and personality was formed, in my opinion. That was when I knew the meaning of purity. I learned what pure joy is, what the difference is between pleasure and ecstasy. But for that experience I don’t think I would be nearly half a man that I am today. I owe the birth of my inner soul to whatever little time I was able to spend in my village. It helped me find my own little niche in the greater globe.
I feel sorry for those Bengalis whose knowledge of rural Bangladesh is only through the tube of TV, the celluloid of the movies, or the pictures in the tourist books. It is impossible to grasp the intoxicating power of the raw nature of the Bengali village without filling the heart with that maddeningly earthy aroma that permeates the air, without having to wake up in the middle of the night because of the continuous groaning of the frogs in the marshes or the sound of the monsoon rain on the roof. The incredible charm of the village life has inspired many poets and songwriters to create their immortal works, but no one can fully appreciate how deeply the six seasons of the Bengali calendar affects the daily life of the ordinary villagers unless one has spent a good deal of time there and have shared their life. I am not a poet, but I’m lucky to have had the opportunity of spending a lot of my holidays in the village during my childhood and adolescence. I was there to see the grey dust storm racing through the barren fields near the end of the dry season of Choitra, the black nimbus clouds rising from the horizon like a prehistoric monster, to venture out with my cousins to collect the precious blobs of ice from the blinding hailstorm. Oh, what a thrill it was to get soaked in the monsoon rain and dance in joy in the flash floods it would invariably leave behind. It was just as thrilling to go out in the stormy nights to pick the fallen mangos with my aunts. I’d watch in awe and wonder the roofs of poor farmers getting blown away by the raging wind. I heard the deafening crackle of thunder and large branches of trees struck down by the merciless rain. One particularly frightful night remains etched in my mind, even to this day. It was dark, and eerily quiet. As if the world was approaching its final moment of existence. The sky was thick in a mass of calm, voiceless cloud. It was middle of the night. I should have been deep in sleep, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t. There was fear in the air. We were holding our breath. Something terrible was going to happen. Suddenly there was a loud voice slicing through the still night. It was my uncle Hassan, trying to scare away the evil spirit. It would bring the dreaded tornado, I was told, that could be deflected only by loud volleys of war-cries like the ones my uncle was able to muster. He also held a large machete in his hand just in case the storm did hit the village. It was generally believed by the villagers that tornados are fearful of only one thing—a machete! I, on the other hand, was more fearful of the war-cries of my uncle than the tornados, which I never really experienced myself.
It was the same uncle in whose arms I lost my composure today. He was too weak to utter an audible word, and I was too overcome by memories to try to say anything. We just kept ourselves locked in an everlasting embrace, and let time keep flow toward its endless eternity.
I inquired about my uncle Barek, not related by blood, but by village kinship, just like Panjudada. But he was one of my most favourite uncles, mostly for his sense of humour, his endless stock of hilarious wisecracks. I never saw him in a dark mood. Always smiling, always cheerful, no matter how hard the day-to-day might be. Droughts, floods, crop failures, nothing would seem to bother him. I still remember a few of his jokes. One goes like this. Someone was grieving the death of his son-in-law and that of his daughter-in-law. Barek uncle tried to snap him out of his grief by pointing out the bright side: this time death spared your own flesh and blood. Consider yourself lucky. It could be much worse. Another one: a middle-aged fellow sat beside a young lady in a half-empty car of a fast-moving train. In an apparent state of half-awake and half-asleep he found himself scratching the stately muscles on the upper parts of the lady’s left leg. Shocked in utter disbelief the lady sprang from her seat in raving rage demanding an explanation. Poor guy couldn’t possibly tell the truth. So he just said, sheepishly, sorry about that my fair lady, I was wondering in my dozy state why my itch was not going away. Now I understand!
Barek uncle had a daughter called Begam. She was quite a girl. Like a tomboy. She would climb up people’s fruit trees to steal mangoes, berries, guavas and lychees. She would ravage the farmers’ fields of radishes and cucumbers. She was a terror. An indomitable spirit. Yet, Barek uncle could find no fault with her—she was his child, his ever-innocent baby. He would dote over her. She was the centre of his universe. I never saw an ordinary village farmer loving a daughter as passionately as he did. He was a poor man, yet wouldn’t think twice to buy something new every week from the market for Begam. Anything she would ask for would be hers in no time. For her, money was never a problem to the father. There was a time when we used to play together. For some reason she was always very nice and kind to me. Usually she would snatch toys from other children, but she never did that to me. On the contrary, she would share her own toys with me. If her father would buy some biscuits or lollipops for her she would not hesitate to give me a share. Perhaps she thought as a city-boy I wouldn’t get those things easily, or that I might not have such an indulgent father, so she felt a bit sorry for me.
It turned out that Barek uncle got the word of my arrival, so came over himself to say hello to me. It took both of us a while to recognize each other. But eventually we did. I could see that time and life had left deeper scars on him than they did on me. He couldn’t hear well, see well, didn’t have a single tooth in his mouth, and his body was like the bark of a dead tree. He looked sad, very sad. The smile was gone. The shine on his face was gone. Couldn’t figure out what could have happened to bear on him so hard. I found out later when somebody told me the awful story. It was Begam, of course. She was married off to what appeared to be a nice young man from a respectable family. But she was having difficulty getting pregnant, which, after a while, became an issue with the mother-in-law, as well as her husband. They started treating her badly. She did her part by going to every doctor in the region, every counseller, and visited every shrine she knew of. But there was no baby. So the inevitable thing happened after 3 years—her husband got a second wife. And the torture followed quickly after. She was being subjected to all kinds of humiliations and deprivations that one can think of. Starvation was one of their weapons. They would even abuse her physically. She took it all quietly. Didn’t utter a word to her parents knowing full well how much it would hurt them. But a time came when she couldn’t take it anymore. She had to do something to escape the torture. And she did. One morning people gathered in her backyard to find her body strung by a rope from a mango tree. I remember having seen a few hanging bodies of young housewives in my village in my childhood. Pretty common in those days. This was about the only way the poor women knew how to put an end to their suffering. Those were by far the most chilling memories of my life. I never imagined the same thing would happen to my childhood playmate, Begam, the bubbly little girl who was the most precious pet of her adoring father. Who would have thought that the girl who loved life so much would one day take it herself , not being able to bear it anymore. This is how brittle the life of a village woman is in our society.
Soon the long shadows were coming down on the hamlet. The sun was gone behind the tall trees. In my childhood this was the time I cherished most. My uncles would return from their fields. The cattle would be back to their barn. It was time to relax, unwind, to have some laughs, and to enjoy each others’ company. At the harvest time the women would tend the paddy in the open court of the inner house, husk the mustard seeds, clean up the freshly picked vegetables like radish, eggplant and squash. On bumper years there would be village-wide celebrations, feasts and festivities. The boys would play all sorts of indigenous outdoor games, sometimes there would be cowraces, mock fights with wooden sticks. Mothers and grandmothers would be busy in the kitchen baking cakes and cooking rare delicacies. The poultry would feast over the freshly strewn grains in the yards. The farmer’s house was full of life, brimming with joy and contentment. And a lot of gratitude to the almighty God for the bountiful crop.
But that was a long, long time ago. Deep in my memory, sunk like a wrecked ocean liner. Today, the sun was about to disappear behind the tall bamboo trees. Time for me to say goodbye. I had to go back to my own world, far, far away from where I was born, where my father and his father was born. Today the village I knew was no longer the same piece of heaven anymore. My village had suffered a lot of beating from men and nature alike. There had been a war with the Pakistani Army, there had been famines and floods, droughts and hurricanes, political unrest and violence. Today the farmer’s dwelling is no longer the bastion of peace and tranquility. No bumper crops. No mangoes to pick, no jackfruits, no lychees or pineapples. And here I was, waiting for the fateful moment, to say goodbye, to go back to the airport to board the plane to a safe and prosperous world, I, an elderly affluent professor, torn between a remote past and the sight of a sad broken village, my holy shrine, sobbing like a little child in the arms of my aunt Rukeya, my favorite fupu, as if time had stood on its heels unable to move. I know I’d be gone in two days, gone from the clasp of my aunt, gone from the horror of the violent death of my playmate Begam. I’d be spared of the utter depression, the constant battle with death and disease, the morbid cycle of life they are all condemned to suffer day after day. I had lost my paradise a long, long time ago. Suddenly a sickening thought peeked in my mind: did I have a role in all this? Was I responsible for this state
of my village in some way? A deep voice rose out of the depths of my heart: yes, I was, to a large extent. I failed to give to my village even a fraction of what my village gave me. Thanks to my father’s last wish I was able to learn something about myself: my village had changed, yes, of course it had, but a much greater change had occurred to me. Perhaps in a way I cannot feel mighty proud of.
Mizan Rahman, মীজান রহমান