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Tue Jul 27, 2010 5:13 pm

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That day as well, father was awakened by the fazr call to prayer sung out by Sabbir Hossain, student of the Dakhil class, the lodging master hired for a meal a day. At any rate, the boy had a good voice, full-throated and melodious. Father did not get up; he praised him while still abed. Later, he changed the side his side-pillow lay on and turned over himself, then closed his eyes.
On other days, this was a time of comfort. The land of sleep could be reached borne on the melody of the azan, the cool breeze of dawn. Like a firework flying silent through the sky, without limits or connections – father winged his way to a higher plane. At that moment, a sudden gust of wind that shakes the crop fields moved around and raged inside the long-cloth long shirt of Sabbir Hossain. The Mowlana thought, this is a machination of the devil; Satan has sent his agent to wreck the azan. Still, in the past five years, the Mowlana's svelte voice had turned into a baritone, about a dozen goat-like beard hairs had crawled out from the soft-tender chin, but not a single note of the tune nor a word of the text of the azan would be distorted.
Today Sabbir Hossain was very distracted even without the machinations of Satan. He could no longer control the colorful kite of the azan that he had floated in the air, not even by grabbing hard on the string. As if not a hand but a pair of tongs were clapped tightly to his ear. A lump of discomfort lodged in his throat. The kite somersaulted in the air, thrashing its way in the sky in a bid to be free. Before his wispy goatee could move from right to left in the momentary gap between Haiyya Al Sallah and HAiyya Al Fallah, Sabbir Hossain began vomiting.
This sudden disaster of melody awakened father. As if stung by an electric shock, like a spring, father sat up in bed. Next to him was a decorated bed from grandfather's time. Mother lay there asleep with her wings spread over half a dozen kiddies. War days. No one got a good night's sleep. The days were spent in disquiet. Father tried to push away fear of death as if it were a side-pillow, to try and get some sleep in the cool of the dawn. But he couldn't. It seemed as if his throat would gush blood from thirst. As he reached for the glass of water on the table, he lay down on his face on the bed. Then father had a dream:
A frightened, lonely deer beside the clear lake in the forest. Who was troubled by even the faint whispers of dead leaves He cannot risk lowering its head to take a drink of water. The chattering of the birds had died down. Suddenly a monkey screeches in warning from an overhanging branch.
Father entered the maze outside his house before the curtain of early morning fog was ripped. He couldn't decide which way to go, what to do. The fear-confused deer scurried off at the warning from the monkey. Gradually increasing the distance between its two pairs of legs, finally it became the speed of light itself. Why couldn't humans do it? Ahead lay great grandfather's landholdings, spread across the horizons. After the Prajaswatya Law was passed in 1950, after buying and selling what he had owned, father had been left with about four bighas of land on his hands. Planting rabi crops there in different seasons, he had now planted some Irri rice there. Now the verdant rice plants were trembling in the gentle breeze. So luscious and coy that it seemed they would jump onto one's lap from the cracked, arid soil if one simply held out one's arms.
In the past, the deep tubewell, the jewel of the four villages, would gush water vigorously and enthusiastically around this time. With a laughter that shook the earth in its mouth. This year it was gagged. The thana town was about a quarter mile away. The army camp was there. No one had the guts to turn it on. The earth-shaking laughter of the machine could be heard now if one listened closely, throbbing inside the hearts of the people. And the endless water of the well flowed down their cheeks – silent and indifferent.
Sabbir Hossain emerged like a koi fish in the dry season between a man soaked with tears and the vast greenery. He had vomited up the victuals provided by father before he had even finished the morning azan. Now he felt unburdened, lively, fresh. He had even slept for sometime, foregoing the morning namaz. There was a veil of fog now all over the world. No additional screens were needed to hide a conspiracy. He climbed down into the fog. When all of a sudden he was face to face with father, he felt uncovered, naked. As if the lungi knotted around his waist had suddenly fell to the ground. And when father smiled “Well, Mowlana, who are you going to tend to now”, with tears in his eye, the heavy feeling of the night returned to Sabbir Hossain. He felt irritated. Forgetting to say “Assalamu Aleikum”, the courtesy learned from birth, he strode onwards.
Father saw that the curtains had parted. Sabbir Hossain walked alone on the stage against the tide, opposite the direction taken by everyone else. He left the earthen, grassy path and stepped onto the brick road, making a left turn. The thana townand the army camp was about a quarter mile down that road.
About an hour later, Surma the Dumb Woman of the village came running down that same road, from the opposite direction. Five crows came flying over her head. The old Dumb Woman did not know what to do when she could not find father there and tried to moan and whine away the crows. The crows began cawing together so loudly that a number of people in the village grew alert. Besides, during her trek of a quarter mile, Surma the Dumb Woman had gestured in explanation of her story to all the people on the list. Even if they did not understand all of it, they scented danger. Perhaps because it was wartime, they had not wasted any time wondering on whom the danger would descend. Assuming that ruin was come upon them, they fled.
After starving for two days, the Dumb Woman's son had sent her to the town with the only egg-laying chicken they had. On her way tot own, the Dumb Woman had seen father crouching over the paddy field, running his hands in the young rice plants. The market had not yet been set up properly, when she reached town. Just a few street dogs were scuffling in last night's heap of rubbish. With the chicken in her lap, the Dumb Woman sat down under the banyan tree in the middle of the marketplace. The fog was woven so thickly around her then, that identifying either army or humans at a distance of ten yards had not been possible. Both the Dumb Woman and the chicken were dozing under cover of the fog. It was then that two armed men came and grabbed the chicken from her, kicking and leaving her lying on the ground. Surma the Dumb Woman was desperate. She followed the clucking of the egg-laying hen through the fog and reached the camp. There she saw Sabbir Hossain add six names to the army list including father's name.
When the fight between the Dumb Woman and the crows began, father was at the very end of the village. He could hear the cawing of the crows from there. Ahead of him was the house of his twin sister's father-in-law. Who knew what would happen, the crows were cawing so, he left the earthen earthen raised boundary of the field and climbed onto the road toward the house to see the sister torn from the very same umbilical cord. The husband of his twin, who was suffering from intestinal gas, was sitting in front of his house eating watered-rice with tamarind. Two smooth, polished canes lay on either side of him. He raised the cane on his right to thump the cat, while the on his left was to shoo ducks and chickens. When father stepped into his yard, he had just put down the chicken cane and picked up the one for the cat. Father and the fleeing cat were face to face. It was the cat who stepped aside to let father pass. In doing that, a forcible blow landed on its back. The cat sprang up like a rubber ball and surprisingly it was father who grunted.
“He, he, such a big war going on in the country”. The husband of his twin sister said as he lowered the cane, “And the silly bugger is afraid of the cane.” Father couldn't decide whether these words indicated him or the cat.
When he finished eating, the husband of his twin sister wiped the canes with the gamccha wound around his neck and hung them on separate hooks on the fence. The cat-cane in its own place and the chicken-cane in its own. Father was quite disheartened at his activities. Still, they prepared the betel-leaf and sat down face to face to discuss their plans for going off to India.
The husband of his twin sister consented to fight in the Liberation War but was totally against going to Agartala. He had only one thing to say, “Thakur's seven sons are just waiting there.” Premananda Thakur, whose house and duck pond he and his three brothers had grabbed by force during the India-Paksitan war had died a few days ago. His sons were now in Sonamura, Agartala. Only six years ago. Wouldn't they grab him by the throat as soon as he got there! Father did not have the ability to get him to the freedom fighter training camp while hiding him from the eyes of the seven Thakurs. After an hour of discussion, they agreed upon this fact.
Father was so confused just then that he left without saying anything to his twin sister. In any case, he was in a hurry to get home. The husband of his twin had advised him to sit down immediately with Sabbir Hossain to discuss the movement of the army. Father returned home to hear that the Mowlana had gone out in the morning and had not yet returned. He wasn't supposed to come home then anyway. He returned home and sat down to eat each night after dark, when father would restlessly be twisting the knob after listening to the Free Bangla news, trying to tune in to BBC, Voice of America, one station after another. Before the war began, Sabbir Hossain would have lunch at their house. In the evenings he would have dinner with the Bara Huzoor at various poor households. Even if the Bara Huzoor received an invitation to a rich household, he did not have the courage to take along his novice. Now where did the lad have his meals in the mornings and the afternoons, where did he go?
This was a subject worthy of worry. But father did not get the opportunity to concern himself with this thought for long. Because just then he heard that Surma the Dumb Woman had come two hours ago, with her those five crows. The Dumb Woman's son was a day-labourer. There was no work in the fields, the season for day-labour was closed, it was quite possible that he had sent his mother to ask for some help. But what about those five crows?
Father looked at the radio. It was wearing a cloth cover with ruffles, as if it were his youngest daughter sitting on the side table with the skirt of her flowery dress all spread out. These days it wasn't safe to keep either daughter or radio in the house. He held the radio under his arm and left the house. Today he didn't even remember that mother would come home looking for the radio as if looking for her daughter.
The thick curtain of fog had lifted from the world a while ago. Once on the road, father felt he was the lonely deer, frightened out of his wits, benumbed with fear in the land he had known since birth. The leaves on the trees trembled in fearful whispers. Waves of conspiracy in the air. He walked in a disjointed manner along the earthen field-boundary he had taken earlier. Ahead was the house of his twin sister. There was a break in his walking. He thought, What use was it to cling to this mortal life, he had not even said good bye to mother or the half a dozen kids.
Now father's goal was the other side, Agartala. He had listened to a detailed description of the route last week from the Games Teacher. The lad had taken people over to the other side. He was to return tomorrow. But father did not have the time. He had to start off for India by himself. He would have to reach Kangshanagar Bazar while daylight remained, a journey of twenty miles to be made mostly by walking, although one could use a rickshaw for part of the way. Just past the Bazar flowed the river Gomoti. From the guide, he had heard of the escape journeys of hundreds of men and women trudging through the sludge of the Gomoti. A caravan of people fleeing their homeland crossing the river on the way to villages whose names they did not know. Father was one of them. All he had with him was a three-band Philips radio. Spending the night in some schoolhouse; on the road again the next day. The guide had said that the human caravan grew as the day wore on. Finally, tall mountains can be seen in the eastern horizon, a white border post on one.
Father stood still. Ahead his twin sister was standing and crying holding onto a banana leaf. The woman to whom he was elder brother just because he had been born two minutes early. Here he was wandering the fields like a madman after leaving her house! She climbed down the earthen field-boundary with the crumbly sand. Weeping, she told him that Surma the Dumb Woman had come looking for father, there were those five crows with her. Father was irritated. The afternoon was wearing on, he still hadn't been able to cross the village borders, when would he reach the other side. It was precisely then that he gradually began to lose confidence in himself. He even began thinking that he was trapped within the maze of great grandfather's land holdings, that he did not have the ability to find his way out of here. In this situation he needed his colleague, the Games Teacher.
The man had both emotion and enthusiasm. He had gone off to Dhaka just to hear Sheikh Mujib's speech on March 7. The next day, the bamboo grove in the yard was axed. About a hundred bamboo sticks were made that very same day. The students at the school started training in two shifts with those. All the students were apolitical. They'd never even seen a Pakistani in their lives. But they were spurred on by the bamboo fort of Titumir read in the history books, the events of March 25.
There was a padlock hanging from the door of the Games Teacher's house. A stray dog was standing with its legs apart in the bald bamboo grove in the yard, as if an unsleeping guard. Father was surprised. When did the man take his family and flee, he had only seen him yesterday, he could've said, Brother, we're off to the war, if we stay here, we'll be killed, come, let's die fighting. If the name of the school Games Teacher was included in the Camp Listing, then why on earth would they leave out the Head Master. The man that father had depended on so much, he had left a dog to guard his house and fled without saying anything to anybody!
A long time ago, the village had almost become deserted from this going off without telling anyone. Father was quite young then. He was probably in class six at the time. On the day of the Orosh at the Fakir household, after eating rice there with buffalo meat, the blind beggar of the village began vomiting mucus in the middle of the night. Then the cholera epidemic spread from house to house like wildfire. They couldn't keep up with grave-digging. That time too, the bamboo groves of the village were denuded to make woven mats to lay the dead upon. It was then that for the first time father saw a witch-doctor in the village to fight the cholera. That was also the first time he heard the jigir chanted. The chorus of the jigir flowing over the village frozen with death. At that age, when he woke up it seemed that Azrael, the angel of death, had descended singing from the sky with his companions. An enormous drum hung around Azrael's neck, while his comrades beat on the kortal.
After the epidemic ended, all the dogs in the village had gone mad. They became addicted to human flesh from gnawing on all those corpses. They would attack people if they could find someone alone.
Father looked at the dog standing guard out of the corner of his eye.
Everyday, for the past few days, one or two dead bodies would float down the canal from the town and wash up against the village. The bodies were all bloated, pecked at by vultures. And how surprising, the vultures would hand over their half eaten corpses to the dogs. Who knew whether this dog wasn't a corpse-eating pretender, feigning to guard the house after feasting on corpse flesh! Father began moving away from there one step at a time. Just then, about two hundred yards away the crows began cawing.
Surma the Dumb Woman had disappeared. The starved, bony, tired body was hidden by the rice field. The five crows had not stopped following her all day. At the end of the day, when she could no longer move, when she let her limbs flop down on one of the earthen field-boundaries that father had traversed all day, even then they surrounded her: in front, behind, up and down they flew, they flapped their wings, cawed, trying to get her to stand up again. The old women neither got up, nor did she move. All she did was flick out her dry tongue once in a while, like a serpent. There was not a drop of water anywhere in the field. It wasn't as if Surma the Dumb Woman was facing any difficulties because of that, she stuck her tongue out from the unvoiced pain of dumb people. Ever since she could understand, Surma the Dumb Woman had heard that her tongue was lifeless, not active like those of other people. How many people were aware in their lifetimes that they actually did have a tongue. It was only in illnesses, on visits to the doctor that one needed to stick one's tongue out, upon orders, for a short period of time, without any unease. The sixty years of the Dumb Woman's life with this lifeless tongue had been spent in struggling to come out with a few syllables. Today she had been quite successful. Except father, the six other people on the list had fled the village because of her words. Now, lying on the earthen filed-border, Surma couldn't remember who she had been searching for all day, father or the egg-laying chicken, or who it was that she was supposed to bring home. Now she did not want to return home anyway. The day ends. Evening falls. Surma, the Dumb Woman lies across father's way home with her five crows.
Father changed his route. Finally, he exited the maze of great grandfather's landholdings, and started off on the brick road leading not to Agartala, but to the town. Sabbir Hossain was there. The man for whom he had provided a meal every single day for the past five years without any expectations of gain or return, would that man not save him in this evil time? This was no privilege, this was truth infallible. Father did not reach the town. He stood halfway there, and looked about him like a frightened deer. The village was still on either side – the cooing of birds was silent now. There were no tree overhead, the evening sky was without birds, alas even the far-off stars remained indifferent. At the end of the day, the terrified man no longer felt the pain of loneliness. He gazed as the trap of silence was ripped to pieces like a torn rag. A group of soldiers emerged from the earth left, right and in front of him. The clomping of boots. Father began to run down the free road behind him. Why could humans not do what the deer could? He increased the speed of his two feet gradually transforming into the speed of light itself.
Surma the Dumb Woman trembled and then lay still at the sound of the gunshots. Surprisingly, the crows did not fly away or make a sound, even at such a terrible noise. The five crows stood around the Dumb Woman's lifeless body, their heads hung low. There were tears in their eyes.

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Thu Jul 07, 2011 9:49 am

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Joined: Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:03 pm
Posts: 293

nice story



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Fri Oct 14, 2011 6:39 pm

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Joined: Thu Oct 13, 2011 11:45 pm
Posts: 62

this is a great story of a freedom fighter.this story represents the time of war,the most crucial time of a country.this is not only about the glorious sacrifice of a dumb women,but also about thousands of innocent people who sacrificed their everything.really nice collection!

Regards,
MUHAMMAD KHURSHID-23753
http://www.stories.pk



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