This sadness, at the core of it, is a howling night on a desert. You walk and the sand doesn’t mark your footprints. The dunes surge and shatter with the wind. The moon hangs in the sky like an eerie silence.
The moon in front of me, though, isn’t in an eerie silence. He is in nomadic kind of silence rather.
Today’s moon is a definite he. And he isn’t hanging nowhere. Rather the sky-tall buildings are hanging. Believe it or not, they have all committed suicide, and now are hanging by the invisible ropes.
The moon, on the other hand, looks quite uncomfortable finding me there.
He is the perpetrator after all.
He whispered, nights after nights, to all the sky-scrapers of the city, how they can quit. And finally they were convinced. So when the last of them was getting its giraffe-neck in the invisible rope, I stepped in.
And I saw the full moon through the corpses of the buildings, he was behind the last one whispering lullaby.
For a minute there we stood facing each other, as the last one hanged itself.
The building that has a huge billboard saying, “Virtual Reality! Put on the VR headset and live like never before!” And it has a picture of some American forest.
Anyway…I couldn’t bother less.
I came here to smoke a cigarette. I stole one. Only one. It was lying down on the table, obviously Niaj vai’s. Niaj vai the brother-in-law. I also had to smuggle the matchbox from Ria apa’s kitchen.
I am on the rooftop of this 17th story building, where Niaj vai has just bought a flat. They live on the 15th floor.
Where the cacophony barely reaches.
No wonder God doesn’t do anything about the world. From up above it all looks unassumingly beautiful. Pristine almost!
Uh! Power cut!
All glamour around vanished in an instance in the coal dark. And the light of the moon slowly engulfed spaces.
A little suspiciously, I looked at him. Who by now, regained his exposure, and wasn’t paying attention to me at all. Did he have a hand in this too?
So much shine after suicides, doesn’t seem appropriate?
Should I recite Jibananda in solidarity?
This cigarette tastes horrible. I guess that’s what happens when you smoke twice a year. There’s no reason for me really to keep smoking it, except for the aesthetic of it. It really looks beautiful!
A lone smoke loosing its way in a cowering city, while the moon is fuming his anesthetic light over the corpses of the giraffe-necked buildings.
And oh.. there’s an owl too, sitting above me, on the giant water tank.
I feel bad for the owl though.
It isn’t bad enough that I broke her privacy, she now has to be in this secondhand-smoke-zone.
What they do to get away from humans…
And still can’t get away.
Humans! One day they will build a tower so high, the Angels will move out!
How the moon will anesthetize that then? How will he anesthetize the giant?
I threw away the stub of the cigarette into the air.
I feel for the air too.
I turned back, time to get down.
Leaving in peace a He-moon and a She-owl.
Closing the door of the rooftop, I stepped in a different kind of darkness. The door blocked the moonlight. And I cannot even see my own hands. Which is odd, the generator of the building usually lights instantly, giving, not even a moment, to the tenants to think of the wilderness that only darkness can bring.
All have sunk. Like there was this steely painting, with blinding lights on top of the lift, and a red arrow pointing down, with blue-lit staircases… and someone has poured black tar on the painting. And just beneath the tar, they are now all waiting to be flashed.
I spread my hands around, and made out the stairs, and tried to sit down.
As I am sitting down, I acutely have this feeling that I am sitting in nowhere.
I wonder If Murakami’s Sheep-man will show up.
I am breathing like our father taught us in childhood. Supply more oxygen to your brain. Our father who taught us to call him Babasaheb.
The love of Babasaheb’s life died, and at that expense, I came in this world.
And nonetheless Babasaheb loves me.
Gave me a shitty name though.
Whenever someone calls me, I feel like I should be sitting in the lobby of an ailing company, being a secretary of some moronic middle aged man!
“Ms. Rosy! Come in the office right now!”
On my birthdays though, Babasaheb faced a real challenge. And the dumb me took long enough to realize why. I was 10 when it hit me.
Babasaheb would braid my hair in two neat parts with ribbons, present me with a new frock, and take me to the park, walk aimlessly on the streets while I binged on ice-creams, he would take me to the tea stalls, to the books and DVD stores… Later at night, when my tummy would ache from all the promiscuous foods, he would walk in the balcony with me in his shoulder.
On my 18th birthday though, he broke the cycle, and offered me some weed instead. There were two joints, one for him, one for me. He gave a short lecture on the uses and abuses of weed, how to identify the good ones from the bad and cheered “Bon Voyage!”
Ria apa was mortified, and horrified.
And Babasaheb was horrified when Ria apa giving up her studies at the University, chose to marry her high school private tutor Niaj vai. He was thirteen years older than her.
When Babasaheb took Ria apa aside and asked, when in school if Niaj vai ever made any move on her, because that would be pedophilia, in utter shock, she lost words.
Two days later, she got married in Saima fupi’s house. Our father’s sister.
Babasaheb wasn’t invited.
Motherless and fatherless Ria took a very well adopted bride-role who is besides herself to get married. Except at the end when she broke down. But choked it minutes later, seeing that I was looking at her stone cold. With pains in her eyes, she looked me back, and went away.
You see, there are so many casual cruelties that are done to the loved ones.
I am feeling at ease sitting here. Which I don’t usually at their apartment. I don’t know how Ria apa tolerates that much brightness! Like me, she grew up knowing how darkness can be medicinal.
Babasaheb twice a year, would plan an all-eclipsed escape to the village home. One in summer when the rains would start to drop by the tin shade house to let us know the sky has a plan of her own. One in winter when the foxes would drop by the dying fire to shake off the chill.
Our dead grandparents live there, along with the love of Babasaheb’s life.
At the dead of night, in the charcoal-black, he would blow out the burner and tell us stories. Some made up, some not. Sometimes he would recite from memory. When little, Kipling would drop by often. Babasaheb would tell us about him, who was so damn racist but wrote so damn well!
Sometimes he would ask if we two ladies cared to join him on a pre-dawn walk by the Brahmaputra.
And we would yelp by the river,
NOW this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.
Babasaheb too would run and howl…
Some of these village nights, he would invite the extended family. He always wanted to get everyone around a fire, and talk… with crickets chirping, leaves rustling, and nearby forests marking their territories, and at the edge of it all, men prolonging their sense of existence.
That would always end up in a poor production. The fire would die amid people’s bitter and snide remarks that surfaced because the night had dug out old itches and aches. People would smile with their teeth hidden. I wonder if Sheep-man would appear and tell me to dance…
It’s not gonna be a problem. I can dance. We danced around the fire a lot. Babasaheb would break out in these weird moves that Ria apa and I would fall down giggling!
He’s in jail.
It has been 23 days.
They beat him. I don’t know why….
This morning they let me see him for the first time. Face swollen, a darkened eye, his Punjabi hanging by his body.
Can a man become this much skinny in just 23 days?
We didn’t talk. We sat in this cramped up tiny room that the lawyer managed with great labor. The room smelt like piss. The lawyer came voluntarily, a friend of Babasaheb, and it was clear, the police, the judges don’t give a shit about the case points and various rules and citizen rights that he was citing.
After a while I got sacred by his silence. I know I wasn’t able to talk, but “Why isn’t he talking?”. Even at the gloomiest points of our lives, Babasaheb never stopped talking. He talked so much sometimes I had to hold his mouth! “Babasaheb! Can’t I just have a moment of silence?”
I don’t why…
Do you have to beat a fifty-nine year old college professor?
You arrested him, dragged him by the neck, wasn’t that enough?
Where would I go now to free my seditious father?
You see, there is this center point of our village where the bazar is, and the tea stalls, the tin-shade salon, the cure-to-all medicine corner, one tailor with plastered posters of old film heroines- Shabana, Bobita, Kabori, Sujata and Rozina, the palm reader with a personalized parrot, vegetables and fruit shacks, one meat place where once a month a cow and a goat is slayed and during Eid al-Adha dumba meat is available that comes all the way from Saudi Arabia.
Where every Thursday, comes Fakirs, who sings of Vaishnavi and Ali and of lives they passed behind.
There was this teen-age boy named Shekhar, who threw rocks at our British lord who came to visit the village one time. When asked, he refused to apologize. “This is my place. Not his. And I will decide whom I want here and whom I don’t. ”
A seditious boy.
He was hanged. The lord, annoyed at the rudeness of it all, went away the very next day, and no British lords had been there after that.
There is a mountainous Banyan tree in the middle of it all. Nobody can tell exactly when the tree came to being. Just generations after generations grew up seeing the tree there. He is as old as time.
The branch from where Shekhar was hanged is still there.
Then the world that was lumping like a shining spectacle caught up with the Banyan tree.
This renowned plastic company needed a place for one of their gigantic factory build up. And they leased Shekhar-tola from the government. And they will buy the rest of the private shops. No one asked if the shops want to be bought or not.
Babasaheb is really not a leader-type. He was not a leader in any of it. He was just another fellow native-son who couldn’t bear to lose his place of adda, songs, salvation, euphoria and income. But he stood out in the crowd of village butcher, farmers, tailor, barber, and parrot-holding palm-reader. Plus he was the most talkative of them all. He couldn’t shut up for a moment without telling it to all…what the Banyan tree and Brahmaputra meant.
You arrested him, wasn’t that enough?
I don’t know whom I am addressing. Whom can I address? Whom can I ask?
Wasn’t it enough?
For the last 23 days, Narayan da and his wife Surma Devi is staying with me at the house. I couldn’t stay at home alone now that Babasaheb’s in jail.
Narayan da who owned the tin-shade salon.
Every morning, for the last 23 days, he asked for my forgiveness. He ran away from Babasaheb’s side when the police came.
They are getting some sort of remunerations as their stalls got demolished. Narayan da and Hekim Borkot-Ullah who owned the cure-to-all medicine corner will get only two-thousand taka, because they don’t have proper paper works.
You cannot pay heed to pleas like, “She has put foods on our tables for generations! The shop is my mother…”
The day of remunerations, they all were organized in a single file. When Narayan da’s
turn came, they said they wouldn’t give him a paisa because he was actively
involved with their leader the Babasaheb.
Apparently he didn’t run fast enough.
They slept on the floor of the drawing room, and wouldn’t sleep in the spare bedroom no matter how much I urged. Ria apa’s bedroom.
Last night I woke up in a world of thirst, like I was stranded on a desert. As I was coming back to my room drinking a gallon of water, I found the drawing room empty. And I panicked, I felt like I was abandoned.
Then I heard the crying, and the effort not to make any sounds. They didn’t want that to reach me.
They were on the balcony. Narayan leaning into the arms of Surma Devi. Surma Devi holding him with her everything. Narayn surrendering.
It is enough, isn’t it? Why should we go on…
Looking at their shaking silhouette, I thought of Babasaheb and the love of his life.
What would she do if she was here?
And I cried too. In my room, pressing the pillow in my face. I didn’t want that to reach them.
I could place a kind of glee in Niaj vai’s eyes when I asked him to help. “You are a pretty high rank police officer. Can’t you bail him out?” He, in intimidation of his own position of power, curled his eyebrows, coughed, and said, “It’s a very serious matter. Whatever you think of the Police Department, you cannot just bail someone out who deliberately ignited violence among the villagers.” I was sinking in their velvet sofa. “He should have known better.” He got more and more irritated as he talked. “If it was some young man, you could try to explain these kinds of impulsive acts! But…” He paused and sipped tea. “Eventually he will get out. Wait for that.”
I wondered right then, why he was doing that. Is it because a day before the wedding, Babasaheb got hold of him and shaking him by the collar said, “You made a pass to my twelve year old daughter? You bloody pedophile! If I knew then you would be in jail!”
Niaj vai was dumb-founded by the man’s stupidity. He told Ria apa if she wanted to be his wife, Babasaheb better be not at the marriage ceremony!
Now the darkness all around me is creeping in. All my organs has started to sink.
Ria apa, by then faced a tsunami of prospected marriage proposals from left, right and center. From various aunties, uncles, neighbors, strangers….
And she knew her father wasn’t bothered by it at all. Which scared her more. What if she misses this chance and never gets to have the security of a husband…
Ugh… Power came up!
My ears have started ringing from the buzz of lights. Yes… there’s the lighted lift, the red arrow pointing down.
The moment I stepped off the elevator and stood in front of their door, my whole body shook in the detest of what was inside.
How is it going to make any difference if I don’t say goodbye to Ria apa?
I turned back. Let’s go down some more!
The elevator opened, and I looked back at the sound of her. A child on her hip, and two more clinging by her sides, curious.
She looked at me, with pains in her eyes…
She has such beautiful eyes!
And I looked back at her… not stone cold.
I smiled a little.
Getting back to the cacophony, I was stepping on the street.
Between the dazzles of the city, and the putrid of the lanes, my every step on the street feels like walking on the sand. With every step my feet sink a little. It doesn’t mark my footprints. Surge and shatter. Silence in the cacophony.
Where would I go now to free my seditious father?
Who wanted to safe keep a world where the moon has a right to provoke suicides, owls have rights to smoke-free-privacies, Banyan trees have rights to spread roots to the deepest of earth and grow leaves closer to the sky, where rivers have rights to flow the way they want to, where Narayans have rights to their tin-shade salons, and Hekim Borkot-Ullahs have rights to their cure-to-all medicine corners.
Where Shekhars have rights to throw rocks at the lords.