Space For Rent

Space For Rent
Sunday, June 28, 2015, Ashar 14, 1422 BS, Ramadan 10, 1436 Hijr

Fear in February fog
Tapan Chakrabarty
Published : Sunday, 28 June, 2015,  Time : 12:00 AM,  View Count : 462
After the ABUETA felicitation, Dr Zaman took me to a dinner invitation at Dr Nooruddin Ahmed and Rosy Bhabi's place. In the living room of their Dhanmondi flat, the books on the walls advertised we were in a ChE professor's den and should listen more than talk. It also showed the host got his technical info not from Wikipedia but from real books. It also warned me, who gets info by Googling, to think twice before I opened my mouth. The topics of discussion showed we were in the company of someone who got news from reading newspapers and not from social gossip sources, like Twitter, Facebook, or Bueter Aari Patay Shona.
The discussion also reflected we were in the company of a former VC of BUET, hardened by dealing with campus killing of an innocent female student, caught in a cross-fire between two rival student groups, and dealing with the political consequences of taking disciplinary action against the culprits, as VC appointment and termination rested with the Prime Minister of the country, a political figure. His account revealed how a ChE text book was written in the wake of a turbulent situation. The current situation in the country was not discussed. Hardened Dhaka --- a city which had more than its share of turbulence and associated violence since 1952 --- residents had decided to ride it out, hoping and praying for divine intervention.
Rosy Bhabi made sure the dinner menu was right for me, a marathon runner, after checking with Salma Bhabi in Uttara, who once called Calgary her hometown, which I still do. Dr NA, having lived almost all of his life in Dhaka, except a few years in Saskatoon, Canada, to earn the salutation Dr, knew where to buy the items in the fish-dominated menu. He even bought Sole and Ayr fish, which I did not have since 1974. He also found the seasonal date palm brown sugar that was least adulterated with readily available cane sugar.
Too many dishes on the dining table started a discussion about what should be the right order to enjoy them. The host, Dr NA, hailing from Dinajpur district in North Bengal, said he would start from dal --- the least desired dish --- and end with the main course, fish or meat, the most delicious. The hostess, Rosy Bhabi, hailing from Mymensingh district in the north-eastern part of the country, would do it in reverse. That trivial difference obviously did not cause any pre-nuptial or post-nuptial rift between the host, a former VC of BUET and a ChE professor, and the hostess, a retired Physics professor at BUET. However, in the villages of Matlab and Bishnupur, where I grew up, inter-district arranged marriages were frowned upon for fear of such mundane cultural incompatibilities.
History book pages are replete with incidents of people hurting others for seemingly mundane reasons. This was allegorized in Gulliver's Travels, in which several rebellions, with loss of lives, erupted in the fictional Indian Ocean Island of Lilliput, over how boiled eggs should be broken: on the smaller or the larger end.
January 30, 2015 was a great day for me: a lunch-feast at Uttara, a great dinner at Dhanmondi, and in-between a grand felicitation party at Palashi (BUET).
A new 72-h hartal had been called from Feb 01, 2015. To avoid getting holed up in my hotel room in Dhaka, I decided to go back to Matlab, the day after the felicitation.
I was in the launch to Matlab again. The sun was setting over the gray Meghna horizon. Its reflection looked like a narrow band of gold floating and dancing on the river surface. A fishing boat in silhouette looked like it stopped fishing and was getting nearer, as if to scoop out some of the dancing gold. I stopped photographing some cows grazing on the east bank, moved to the west side, steadied my camera with a telephoto lens, leaning against a post, and waited for the boat's tip to inch forward to the edge of the golden band. A dark-skinned boy stopped selling snacks and requested he be photographed touching the sun.
"What's your name?"
"That's a good name. What's your full name?"
"Hridoy Mistry."
"What do you do here?"
"Work in the store."
"Where is your family?"
He pointed to a village along the north side of the Dhonagoda River. He told me his elder brother was in 9th grade, and his father got him that job for about $10 a month. He slept in the launch when it was anchored at Matlab over night. He could not be older than 10. I asked how his marks were when he was at school.
"Would you like to go back to school?"
His answer was a confused stare. There was some sadness in his eyes when he stared at me, probably thinking of his classmates, the games he played in school and after school. I was thinking about how this boy could be helped to go back to school. "What obstacles I would face in trying to do something and how the father, who sent him to work, would react?"
Back at Matlab, I went to see a childhood fair place in Doshpara. When we were kids, I used to go there with brother Swapan to play the games in the fair. One popular, but very difficult game was to make a coin fall into a small glass placed at the bottom centre of a bucket filled with water. It required a lot of attempts at home to get one inside the glass. But we tried in the fair anyway.
A gentleman donning red beard and white hair was giving me a tour of the place, saying how the fair was still drawing a lot of crowd, regardless of their religions. Yasin spoke of a deadly snake that lived there, which even the most skilled snake catchers were afraid of going nearer to. The bottom of the banyan tree, in an entanglement of caves and crannies, looked like the right place for a snake to be crawling in to and out from. He then gave me a lecture on tolerance of all religions, quoting teachings of some wise people I did not read or hear about. At one point, he said: "All humans are equal in the eyes of Him," pointing to the gray sky. Impressed with his sagacity, I offered him a Calgary granola bar, which he took rather hesitantly. He did not ask for anything. On my way back to the waiting rickshaw, I kept wondering, "Who could this be?" I looked back. He was gone! (The next instalment of this article will appear next week)r
Tapan Chakrabarty, a seven-continent marathon finisher and an inventor, writes from Calgary, Canada

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