So I met Mozzel again today! It’s been a while. He is dead for fifteen years. As far as I can remember it was in May or June, one of those hottest days of that year. Well, last time when I met him he was still alive. He vanished for two years and then we found him dead in our Banggari Park. His body lied there unmarked beside the deep water pump. Heard so many rumours about his death! Truth always hides in those rumors, so that we can choose the one that suits us. Even in our home there were four versions of his death. Baba said, not every death would have to have reasons! Ma proclaimed it must be the epilepsy! He suffered a lot in hotter days. Our maid, Mushi’s ma, suspected the ghosts could be behind it! A lonely man in that deserted land! The neck of a thirsty man is ghost’s favourite dinner.
But I like my Dadi’s version better. She thought he died because he couldn’t hold his breath long enough to blow his flute.
I couldn’t go and see Mozzel, lying there dead! I heard people saying he had nothing else but his flute, tucked in his lungi.
Never did I think I would have met him again in Kuakata beach. I couldn’t recognise him but his flute sounded familiar! Mozzel recognised me first, may be from the silhouette of mine, made by night or sea as both were soaked with moonlight or maybe he was already following me, knowing me somehow, somewhere.
“So Dadavai, which hair style are you after, Mithun cut!” Mozzel asks with his age old smile, “Well, this is not your time of Mithun cut.” I smiled. “Rather Ronbirs”. But you probably don’t know them, do you?” Nearby, there was a tree trunk, we sat there facing each other. Ayla flooded this area in 2009, some towns went under, but still there are some trees that rise above during low tides.
“So how did you end up here? “ I ask.
“Father used to tell us stories of sea, sitting next to our river. He heard those from his father, and he from his father. None of my past, had ever seen the sea. Then the river dries up and becomes a creek, the creek dries up and becomes dirt. Before his death, father, holding my hand, urged, Bapdhon, there is nothing else I expect from you. People dream of their sons becoming doctor or leader but all that my dad wanted was, me embracing the sea that they had never seen. So I came here last year. Before that I was in Coxesbazar.”
“So did you manage to like the sea?” my preoccupied mind asks.
“Don’t know, but this land doesn’t attract me, I feel restless. Sea wails like nothing else dadavai!”
“Let’s blow this thing Mozzel! So many days have passed without your song! Do you remember those evenings when you played the flute by the pond? Near the pond’s concrete stair! Us sitting around you? Us spellbound by you! Do you remember those days Mozzel? Do you?”
Mozzel stays silent. His eyes reflect the moon or moonlight splashes his eyes, like it does to the sea with its thin crystal lines. Mozzel, now his eyes closed, sitting there like an ascetic spirit, starts to play his flute. He hasn’t changed a bit. He can still cast a spell on me like he could in those days.
When I met Mozzem for the first time, I was only seven day young. Ma wanted him to cut my baby hair. On a hot burning day, he did this under the roof of our golaghar. Dadi was holding me stiff while he was doing his trick. Not only me, he was also the barber of my four other brothers as well as the rest of our village. Once finished cutting, he had lunch with Kathal juice and gorom panta vat. Ma cooked chicken curry for him with the ones from our backyard but Mozzel refused to eat. He even refused when Ma wanted to give him some money. He, just as usual, tied a kilo of rice in his gamcha and quickly walked off. I heard all these from Ma. The day Mozzel died, Ma was incredibly sad and was telling me all those again and again.
Mozzel would be summoned home in one of those Fridays, usually just before Jumma. We, the two immediate brothers, while sitting there bareback, watched how Mozzel sharpened his single edged razor with Baba’s tool sharpener. He would yell,” Mithun or Amitavh?” I would ask for Mithun while my elder brother would go for Amitavh. Funny thing is none of us knew either Mithun or Amitavh. Television had yet to infiltrate our village so I guess even Mozzel wouldn’t know them. Well I might be wrong in that case. The neighbouring village had televisions and Mozzel could go there for his business. He might have seen them in one of those. The village had three houses with televisions and in every fight we had with them, they would boast about those.
After the haircut, we would examine them in mirror, but both cuts looked exactly the same. He only knew one cut but gave it different names. His magic was in his words, not in his razor. He also had the same haircut for the whole village irrespective of elders or young. There was nothing unique in his flute either. He had only one song that he played from evening to mid night. He might have one song but had infinite rhythms. He put his heart in there and every time he played the song, the song became new again.
“Let’s take a walk.” Mozzel says removing his flute.
And so we walk.
“How come it’s so quiet in here while so busy out there? After all the night is not that old!” I ask.
“May be I am here, that’s why!” a naïve answer from Mozzel. “People get scared when they hear me playing but can’t see anyone! It’s that fear that I win the world with!” Mozzel laughs.
“Well if you could use some fear with them, you wouldn’t have to vanish that day!” I say.
Mozzel doesn’t say anything and I don’t know what he is thinking about.
“Trust me I never belonged to that group. But I couldn’t go against them, they were too strong! But if you think my silence was my sign of support, then I made a mistake.” I try to explain to Mozzel.
“That’s ok, Dadavai! Main thing is you loved my music and that’s the reason we meet here again. Can you believe I am playing for someone again, after such a long time!
“Who did you play for in between these days?”
“Habit! Habit made me playing these days.”
“Or was it for yourself?”
“May be!” Mozzel answers with indifference. Then he picks up his flute again giving the sea a stern deaf look.
He would go to sleep once every one of us would. Mine would come late. When Mozzel took the walk from one end of our village to another, I would think his music was coming from somewhere else. May be from other side of my dream, from one hidden space of my scream. He would take a break, just before the Fazr Azan. Ma would be angry with me for waking up late every day. I talked about it one day with Mozzel! He laughed. “I don’t play that long dadavai! My breath is finished by Esha Azan!” He would say.
Meanwhile the wind calms down a bit and so does the wailing of the sea. I was always scared of that calm quiet sea! Now I fear nothing. I can feel that the sea is now in deep slumber. The humming is her sound of her peace. Gradually I will get to understand the sea.
“Our village has changed, hasn’t it dadavai?” Mozzel stops playing flute.
“Yeah, a lot, long fences along houses, no easy access to homes anymore. The girls seldom go out. Boys do fencidil business at the border. There was a mosque once, barely standing there. Now so many of them, big as palace, wrapped with electric fans. Barber shop is in every corner. All modern machines to do the haircut.”
“Super!” Mozzel sighs unable to add anything else.
“Now television is in every house. Dance and music go nonstop but look they kicked you out just for playing flute! That Safi Huzur, coming from who knows God damn where, gives a fatwa and whole village jump in to drive you out. Can you believe, these same people would struggle if they couldn’t hear your music for even one night! Your sickness would kill them, they would go miles to make you feel better, and they would do anything to make you play the flute again”
“Humm, One day they couldn’t control my high fever, Minu Kabiraj rushed to get grand Kabiraz from Pabna.” Mozzel says interrupting me.
“And look, that same Minu Kabiraz led them to drive you out of the village!”
“Sea is so vast, Dadavai, as if she is holding an eternity inside like a pregnant mother” Mozzel changes the subject.
We keep on walking. There was a tree trunk and we had our endless time. We take a sit facing the sea. I urge Mozzel to play the flute again. I close my eyes, the melody is coming from so far that I have to imagine. I remember I would raise my head from pillow to taste the song like a moist bread. And that what I used to do every day. Mozzel would play under a tree, that didn’t have any name. Mozzel would play while lying there restless on a bamboo stake. Mozzel would play while farewelling the reflected moon on someone else’s docile lake. Mozzel loved his family, he loved his home. He was father of eight- five girls and three boys and every one of them looked so different! Rumor was Mozzel’s wife would meet her lovers, in secret, who would come out of her bed during midnight. She was so fertile that every year she could be pregnant. Once in a while, Mozzel would visit his home. We saw him carrying his daughters on his shoulders when he came outside. Mozzel loved to spend a day or so with his children before going out again with his flute and tools. Seldom did he make contribution to his family and that was like giving four anna lollies to his children. Furious wife would throw them to the creepy mud. Children quickly picked them up, cleaned them in pond and chewed them slowly removing the wraps and that made the other children go crazy. Then Mozzel’s second eldest daughter, eight years old, found dead, bloodied, near the garden. We didn’t know why did that happen. We didn’t ask much about her blood soaked body, our chairman also forbade us to talk about it. Mozzel cried a lot holding his daughter and that was the last time we saw him crying. Just after seven days of his death, his wife gave birth to a baby boy. He looked exactly like Mozzel. The whole village came like a stream to see the baby. I went to see him too. Trust me, I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t go and see him. On his eleventh day, the baby died suddenly. I was thinking whether I should tell him all these things. Then decide to hold it off. May be another day. We have time!
Mozzel tucks his flute inside his Lungi. “I owe you an apology, dadavai!”
“Why? You haven’t done anything!” I ask.
“When the strong current was pulling you away, I tried so hard to save you dadavai but couldn’t. This stupid soul and its will power is useless without the flesh.”
“Don’t worry about these anymore, Mozzel! I too am learning similar things, as I grow older into my days!”
We go back to our silence again. All of a sudden, we feel like two enormous trees that have seen so much that they don’t find anything significant to talk about anymore. As usual the moon was up above like a plate in the sky, as usual the she was going home, crisp and quiet, slowly along her the star-studded path.
About the Writer
Mojaffor Hossain is a Bangladeshi fiction writer, translator and literary critic. He is editor at Shashwatiki.
About the Translator