Death of a Village Sculptor
As Shah Alam was walking past a large area of paddy fields at village Satisha on his way to Ishwarganj, his fate became sealed that he would die of a stroke on a Shraban day three years and eight months later. But then it was the month of Agrahayan and all the fields were full of ripened paddy. The rays of afternoon sunlight were travelling towards Shah Alam, touching the yellow paddy.
He was going to Ishwarganj to watch a movie at a cinema in the upazila town. Jhinutara chose the occasion to emerge from a paddy field. And her emergence before the eyes of Shah Alam decided forever his fate.
Shah Alam was in his early twenties, and worked in a furniture shop owned by his elder brother Shah Jafar. The two brothers were furniture makers. His elder brother owned the roadside shop adjacent to their village Purba Dapunia of Gouripur upazila. Shah Alam was the opposite of Shah Jafar in nature and very much dreamy. Besides making chairs, tables, beds and other furniture, he also sculpted birds, fishes, cattle and trees out of bamboo bulbs and leftover wood.
Shah Alam used to distribute those works among children at Purba Dapunia and thus every house in the village had a sniff of art.
After returning from Ishwarganj that night, Shah Alam sculpted a girl's face out of a bamboo bulb and kept it under his bed at the shop. Shah Alam would stay at the shop at night after the closure of the shop.
Within a couple of weeks, people in the neighbourhood came to know that Shah Alam had sculpted a girl's face for the first time in his life and the fortunate ones who got a chance to see the sculpture could easily identify whose face it was. Jhinutara was the last person to hear the news. On hearing the news, she hired a rickshaw and went straight to Shah Alam's shop and found him there alone working on the arms of a chair with a chisel.
"Is it true?" Jhinutara asked.
Shah Alam instantly recognised the looming crisis.
"Yes." His voice sank to a whisper.
Shah Alam complied with Jhinutara's instruction and the girl looked at the sculpture intensely. Then she turned to Shah Alam and slapped him hard on his face.
Tears welled up in Shah Alam's eyes but he did not lower his eyes. What Jhinutara read in his tears, nobody in the locality could say, but they said the beautiful girl, whose father owned most of the Satisha paddy fields, extended her right hand to Shah Alam and said in a soft tone:
"Would you give me the thing?"
As if he were a slave, Shah Alam handed over the thing to her.
One year after the incident, a tall thin man arrived in the upazila town. He came along the very road through which Shah Alam had gone to Ishwarganj on an Agrahayan day. The road connected Satisha with the other parts of the world. GovindaShil, who was from a different district but settled in Satisha after his marriage there, was then planting boro saplings in Jhinutara's father Abdul Baten's land which was adjacent to the road, it was a Paush morning.
Govinda noticed the man wore peculiar clothes in contrasting colours. The stranger was walking haplessly as if he had rested all his hope on the road to find for him a destination. He was carrying a sizable bag on his back.
"Where are you off to, brother?" Govinda asked.
The man stopped and looked at Govinda.
"I've come from the capital," the man said in a tired voice.
"Okay, from Dhaka. But, brother, I asked you where you were off to."
"Nowhere," said the man and resumed walking.
In the evening that day, Govinda talked about the strange young man with his fellow villagers. He said the eyes of the man were sparkling but his limbs looked worn out. Govinda said it seemed to him that the man was nearly thirty years of age and had no relatives in that area.
"Like you, Govinda, he would find one soon," fellow villagers joked and they quickly forgot the young man. They heard azan from the village mosque and the blowing of conch from Govinda's house.
How the stranger found Shah Alam and made his acquaintance was never known. But he began to stay with Shah Alam at the furniture shop. Soon, people would come to know that the man was a painter and had become a friend of Shah Alam, despite the difference in their ages. The man would talk to none but Shah Alam. So, he remained a mystery to the people of the locality. Even the death of Shah Alam kept the man unexposed for long as people could not establish any relation of the painter with Shah Alam's death.
The villagers were certain that Jhinutara's marriage was the cause of Shah Alam's madness and subsequent demise. They could remember how hurriedly her father had married her off to a young man who had inherited a large amount of property after his father's death. They also noticed how Jhinutara's dream to be a footballer was dashed due to the marriage.
Later, Govinda came forward to clear the haze in the mind of the people and said Jhinutara gave him the very sculpture Shah Alam gave her to return it to the sculptor. And, one week after Jhinutara's wedding he came to Shah Alam in the dead of night and found Shah Alam was awake.
'Dada Babu, please tell me what had happened that day.'
'It was the first thing Shah Alam had asked me that night,' Govinda told villagers.
The villagers didn't have any idea about 'that day'.
So, Govinda started narrating to the villagers what he had told Shah Alam that night. He told the villagers that a fortnight before her marriage, Jhinutara was returning home from the girls' high school she studied in on a rickshaw. Instead of going home directly, she went to Shah Alam's shop.
The people recalled that Jhinutara was a ninth-grader at the school and the captain of the school's football team.
That day the painter was working on canvas at Shah Alam's furniture shop. Jhinutara did not find Shah Alam with him and peeped into the room where Shah Alam would sleep at night. But Shah Alam was not there too.
When she was about to turn around to leave the shop, she was pressed by somebody in an embrace from behind. It was the painter. The strong and healthy young girl used her elbows to get rid of him and the thin man fell down on the floor due to the impact of the blows.
"What's the difference between me and Shah Alam for you?" the painter asked while he was pulling himself from the floor. "In fact, I'm more attractive and creative than rustic Shah Alam."
It was the first time the painter had talked to Jhinutara after his arrival in the upazila town. At that juncture, Shah Alam returned to the shop. He noticed that Jhinutara spat disdainfully in the painter's face and gave an angry look at Shah Alam and went away.
The painter left the upazila in the evening that day with all his belongings in the bag he carried with him from the capital. On the following day, a fellow villager of Jhinutara informed her father that his daughter frequented Shah Alam's shop.
"Shah Alam was clueless about what had happened between the painter and Jhinutara on that day. Jhinutara narrated the incident to me a day before her wedding. But Shah Alam was doomed when he knew the incident from me.Brothers, facts don't always console us."
The villagers then recalled how Shah Alam had been spending his days since the marriage of Jhinutara. He would not come out of the furniture shop and would remain in his room in the shop.
He sat motionless gazing on the returned sculpture unwinking - initially at nights and later all the time. Within a couple of months, he started muttering to himself that led him to the fateful afternoon of a Shraban day one and a half years after Jhinutara's wedding. On that Shraban day, he circled the main playground of the upazila town several times and at one stage he lost his balance and tumbled over. He saw bloodshot clouds hanging in the sky above him after a downpour. Doctors later said it was a stroke.
After the burial of Shah Alam, the people of villages of Purba Dapunia, Paschim Dapunia, Gao Gouripur, Gujikha, Satoti, and, of course, Satisha returned to the shop and it seemed to them that fishes, flowers and birds were floating out to their villages from the dead sculptor's room. But there was no Jhinutara sculpture.