(‘I am enslaved by your silence’: Luis Bunuel )
To understand the future of this story, we have to know about the early adolescence of Hossain Akbar, a country-renowned intellectual, who had gone through every aspect of art. He used to love reading books. In their locality a scholar named Shukkur Ali used to live. People said he was a war criminal. His wife and children left him forever. He read books all day long and gave books to the boys of the locality and for unknown reason he could not tolerate girls.
One day when Akbar, a roly-poly teenager of 15 years, went to borrow a book from Shukkur he got raped, though it is turned mutual afterwards. In a month he went there one or two times and for each day he got a rare book. He can still remember the memory of a day, he was standing in his birthday dress, with his eyes kept on the first issue of poetry magazine. Shukkur was in the bathroom. He used to come in an adroit manner, with fragrance used on his ears. The whole room would become fragrant. In his verandah there were almost 40 types of flower plants. One day Shukkur told him, ‘You know Akbar, love is an unknown thing, it has no gender.’ He used to love listening to Ghazal. After such a long time, Akbar felt astonished remembering how beautifully he used to tell the story of Manto and Ismat’s friendship. ‘Akbar Sahab, read Manto. Manto and Galib. Read. Do you understand soul? Your soul will be purified Miah!’ He said another day, ‘Politics does not understand people now, instead listen to songs, read books, be a writer.’ Thus an unequal friendship grew between Shukkur and Akbar. Many a times the poet father of Akbar beat him brutally in an unpoetic manner to leave the company of that war criminal, but somehow Akbar always felt that this man was an unsolved riddle of history, a secret pit that had no bottom, where one could only be lost. Yes, an unbearable feeling, a feeling of abomination, something a whole Cosco soap could not make disappear. But how can one bid farewell to the addiction of a book of Amiya Chakravarty signed by himself! After telling the story of one evening we will enter into the main portion of the story. A few days before the fall of Ershad. There were movements going on throughout the whole country. Akbar was studying in BUET. His results were good as always. The dirty stuff of adolescence was over too. Anindita came to his life. Physics from Chittagong University. Intercourse with Anindita in their attic felt like 52 pilgrimages. He felt like a true god. It was hard looking at Ani. This dark complexioned girl – with the power of exploding, like an atomic bomb; a combination of dead bodies and flowers; twofold. Akbar went home hearing the news of his father’s illness. One evening, God knows thinking what, Akbar went to Shukkur’s house. The door was open. How pitiful he looked, the face of an old man! Within just 5 years! ‘Come, come Akbar Sahib, how are you?’ – The happiness of the old man was beyond imagination. He was bedridden. Akbar sat quietly beside old man. He kept a hand on his head. Fever. The old man held his hand. He said, ‘I am happy that you have come.’ A sound of a plane flying. Twitter of birds. ‘Will you sing for me? You used to sing so well’ – They held each other’s hand. Suddenly a drop of tear came out of Akbar. The old man was sobbing. ‘Please forgive me, Akbar, please.’ – Time stood still. Akbar lay down holding the old man. They held each other and cried ceaselessly. Both forgot about singing. After that evening they never met again. He heard about the death of the old man while studying in America. The news came three days after his death. Total ‘Nirupam Yatra’ case.
In 2003 Akbar Hossain returned to the city he was born in. By then his 36 books of translation were in market, 19 novels and 5 huge essays were already published. 2 thin books and a book of stories were published during his BUET life. Now those books are unavailable. The city stirred with his return. He opened a cinema come bar. ‘Kahiye Du’ style. People would come, have a drink enjoy a movie. Every week a new movie would be shown. A Cine journal would be published every three months. In the city there was a film club started half a century ago, the president was 74 years old Keshabsakha Dutta, who now lead all his works from home and in the club Dutt’s slave Yaajuddin Ahmed dominates. They get astonished by these works thinking how come these thoughts never came to their minds. They show movies which are watched by cine lovers of a city many times. Akbar’s cinema bar was like a revolution. He organized Revolt and Love in 2004: Scenery of Hungarian Contemporary Film – 21 movies of 7 directors including Bela Zar and Mikloz. A week-long program, hugely acclaimed by the whole city. The catalog was of international standard. Jankso wrote in a message – ‘Dear Bangladesh, we have the same mindset, regarding rebellion. We never accept aggression. You are watching the movies of mine and my brothers compassionately, and I convey my love for you from the heart.’ In that small city people from Dhaka started coming. Editor of the country-renowned cine magazine Dhrupadi Mr. Khasru came to watch it. Akbar Hossain was hard working then. He took suggestions from youngsters, too.
The rhythm broke in 2008. Once during an open session of cinema discussion he ridiculed the physical appearance of a young director – ‘We were watching the longest movie of the shortest director.’ A podgy bespectacled movie lover expressed his displeasure at it. His dark skinned girlfriend mildly reproached him for it. But he did not stop. One day a musical show was held at the cinema bar. He made nasty comments regarding the singer’s lack of hair in the veil of mockery. His excessive sense of humor caused problems for him. He was having problems with his wife too. Huge conflict. Meanwhile his wife went back to America for 3 years. That’s where she lives.
2011. Winter night. Akbar had never felt so lonely before. He dialed Anindita’s phone number which he had collected a long time ago.
The very first word made the distance of 25 years fade away.
– I’m Akbar
– Won’t you say anything?
Silence. After a few minutes the line got disconnected. Everything felt disgusting! Putting off his clothes he sat under the shower embracing himself. He felt hatred for himself. He is a traitor. Ani never married again. He was the one who went abroad without talking about their relationship. Unbearable. It felt unbearable for him to handle himself. Paresh is a boy who works at his home. It hasn’t been long since he came from village. He still has the smell of village on him. He sleeps in the kitchen. Akbar called Paresh, he came rubbing eyes. A scene from 30 years ago repeated itself, only the protagonist was different. Paresh cries. His mother is ill. He has no father. Paresh gets hurt. He is in pain. He takes two notes of 500. Akbar says nothing. In his sleep he sees letters from his book of essays on prevention of child torture becoming poisonous ants, entering through the pores of his body, as if whole body is an unsecured fascist land and the red brigade enters, somewhere the communist international is heard. Within his sleep Akbar Hossain feels that his body has become the world atlas. As the sound becomes harsher the land of his dream becomes silent and white. Bipul Promad – the man who used this pen name was his father. On his lap the child Akbar gradually falls into sleep, while he sings the songs of Rabindranath. Feeling this beautiful swinging Akbar Hossain kept falling in deep sleep. No news was published in the newspapers. Only Keshabsakha came, with few boys. He wailed, like a person wails when their brother dies. After a few days the city corporation tore down the cinema bar with a bulldozer to widen the road. Why a podgy bespectacled man broke down in tears watching it holding the hand of a dark complexioned girl nobody knew. People passing by just saw the girl running her hand through the boys hair in deep affection.
About the Author
Saikat Dey is a Bangladeshi short story writer and poet. He has become a loner in his city for being straight forward. In his Facebook he writes about himself, “I am not the easiest person. But I never show my back to friends I’ve given my heart.”
About the Translator