Madonna and child,  Kashmir, India, by DILIP BANERJEE
UMadonna and child,  Kashmir, India, by DILIP BANERJEE
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  Vol VII : issue 3&4


  Ashis Nandy
  George Fernandes
  Jaya Jaitly
  Uma Varatharajan
  Rashid Haider
  Santosh Rana

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  Joy Goswami
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Rashid Haider


Babul smiles. The smile lights up the horizon and the skies, and in that glow I see the army men drag Babul away, tied to the back of their jeep. Nantu Bhai, Babul’s house is about a mile from there. It was the same Farukh, the son of Osman Ghani, who had informed them about Babul’s return after his guerrilla training. And that very night they tied him up, hitched him to their jeep and dragged him off. The fragrance starts right where Babul died. Nantu Bhai, if you get the scent, you will know that you are nearing the house of Majed’s brother Baset.”

“Baset, why do you say ‘Majed’s brother’ again and again?”

“It just comes out that way, Nantu Bhai, I can’t prevent it even if I try.”

“But do you need to remind me so often?”

“Nantu Bhai, do forgive me. You seem agitated. Even if my brother is gone, how can I deny being his brother? Without my brother, how would you have figured as his friend, Nantu Bhai?”

“Baset, please stop for a moment. You know, the doctors can’t find anything wrong with me, but I frequently have trouble breathing, I feel like I am pinned down by a rock on my chest. Will you open the windows, please?”

“But all the windows are open.”


“So, will you be able to withstand the scented breeze? Every inch of the path touched by Babul’s body is purified and scented, every speck of dust the soft pollen of ethereal flowers. Nantu Bhai, I think you should check with your doctor before setting off for my house — ask him if your heart has the strength to endure intense fragrance.”

“What? What was that you said?”

“You are startled again. No, no, I wasn’t talking about whether you deserve to experience the fragrance. Ma used to say, not everyone can see everything, not everyone can hear everything. I didn’t get to see my grandfather, but Ma said he was a very virtuous soul. Apparently, he spoke with the archangels in the dark of the night. You just talked of loyalty to your friend versus loyalty to Pakistan — how can you blame yourself?”

Nantu Bhai was getting impatient.

“How much further to your house, Baset?”

“Not far. But you mustn’t blink at all. If you don’t blink, then right opposite the arjun tree you’ll see a garden crafted out of the finest assortment of flowers wafting in the air, like the hanging gardens of Babylon. You’ll see the flowers singing, showering petals on each other. If you blink even once, the garden will vanish.”

“I haven’t ever heard of such a garden, Baset! Are you sure I will see this?”

Baset had no answer. He sat in silence.

“Why are you quiet? The doctors find no ailment, but I still can’t smell anything, can’t see clearly. But I do want to see. Don’t be quiet. Say something. Whose garden is that?”

“The garden of Malek and Khalek.”

“Malek and Khalek? Who are they?”

“The sons of your schoolteacher. Nobody had a clue, but somehow Farukh got to know that the two brothers had gone to sleep clutching their stenguns close to their chests. The army men doused the whole house in petrol and set it on fire. Can you hear me, Nantu Bhai? I am Baset, Majed’s brother Baset, speaking. Can you hear me?”

Nantu Bhai’s throat was dry. “Baset, tell me the way directly to your home. Isn’t there anything nearby that I would recognise?”

“But how can you get there unless you come up the path? Do try, Nantu Bhai. Keep your eyes open, like I did, which is why I could see the fat dripping off the burnt bodies of Malek and Khalek, trickling onto the bare foundations of their house. It was amazing how from every drop that trickled onto the ground sprung a flower-bush, how the whole ground was speckled with petals. Oof, Nantu Bhai! What a garden — you wouldn’t find it’s like in fairy tales, it defeats all imagination.”

Nantu Bhai stands up. Baset sits just a few steps away, but Nantu Bhai gropes his way wildly among the chairs, fumbles at the walls. “Baset, dear Baset, my brother, I want to see that garden. I want to feel that fragrant breeze. Give me that chance, Baset, just this once. Believe me, I will come with my purest soul, I will do whatever you ask me to. But just once…”

Baset laughs lightly. “What are you looking for, Nantu Bhai?”

“For you! Where are you?”

“Right in front of you.”

“But I can’t find you.”

“But I can see you perfectly.”

“You see perfectly in this dark?”

“Why not? I can see you go white as a sheet with fear, the goosebumps on your skin, I see you trembling in terror, gulping frequently, I can even see your chest heaving with every breath.”

“And? What else do you see?”

“I see the sal tree beside my house.”

Nantu Bhai is suddenly still. He flops into the nearest chair and says weakly, “Please call someone.”

“Who should I call?”

“My wife, my children, any household help, anybody.”

Baset calls out: “Anyone around?”

There is no reply. Baset gets up and calls out louder: “Anybody around? Nantu Bhai seems unwell.”

“But I have to go. Anyway, listen. If you stand at the foot of the sal tree and look straight left, you’ll see a house with a corrugated tin roof. That’s our house. But if you still have doubts, you could ask anyone for the house in front of which the war was fought.
Anyone would show you”

Baset listens. There is no reply. Before the power cut, he had heard cars driving down the road, rickshaws tinkling their bells, someone singing a folk song at the corner paan shop, some loud western music blaring from a loudspeaker in the distance. Now, there is nothing. Not even the rustle of the wind under the curtains. Baset sees Nantu Bhai sitting very still, his head in his hands.

“Nantu Bhai.”

“Tell me. I’m listening.”

“Will you recognise the sal tree?”

“I think I will.”

“Why do you need to think? You’ll see the huge tree with big leaves, standing haughtily, staring at the sky. If you go close enough and listen, you’ll hear Atahar calling you.”

“Which Atahar?”

“The most ferocious warrior of the Muktibahini, Atahar Hosain. Don’t you remember him, the eldest son of Aftab Miyan the milkman? You have drunk Aftab Miyan’s milk. The dark guy with the pock-marked face, completely bald — remember?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“You ordered Atahar to be buried alive. Remember? The spot they buried Atahar in — that’s where the sal tree is.”

“Baset, nobody has come.”

“But I called.”

“Call louder.”

“My call was so loud that not just the neighbourhood, but the whole race could respond.”

Nantu Bhai staggers to his feet, leaning on the arm of the chair. “Anyone?” he calls, and slumps back into his chair, exhausted.

“Nobody answered!” he pants.

“Nantu Bhai, I must go home now.”

“Don’t leave me alone!” Nantu Bhai screams.

“But I have to go. Anyway, listen. If you stand at the foot of the sal tree and look straight left, you’ll see a house with a corrugated tin roof. That’s our house. But if you still have doubts, you could ask anyone for the house in front of which the war was fought. Anyone would show you.”

“The war was fought in front of your house?”

Baset laughs softly. “Where in this land was the war not fought? Think about it.”

Translated from the Bengali story ‘E kon thikana’ by Antara Dev Sen


Khalamma: respectful term of address for maternal aunt

Muktibahini: literally, the freedom brigade; the freedom fighters seeking independence from Pakistan. Their armed struggle finally led to the secession of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971

Kaash, bhat, madar, arjun: names of trees, flowers and long grass abundant in the alluvial plains of Bangladesh

Veena: musical instrument associated with the music of the heavens

Paan: betel leaf

p. 1 p. 2


Rashid Haider, a leading fiction writer of Bangladesh and chronicler of the liberation war of 1971, is former Director of the Bangla Academy, Bangladesh’s national academy of arts and letters. He lives in Dhaka