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L’AFFAIRE literary



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AFSAR moved to the other end of his fragile, cobbled together country with three other colleagues- Jainal, Mrinal and Dhash. They were studying to be- come actuaries, receiving course notes and directions from a centralised body based in London. My mother returned to the boarding school, Mirzapur, to complete the final years of her high schooling-Years Eleven and Twelve- with a view to attending university. The education system was built on the British model. There she would receive the occasional letter from my father, signed off as an uncle to avoid arous- ing the suspicion of the college mis- tresses who disposed of any letters of a romantic nature.

Dear Minu, I am settling into a flat with my house- mates, Mrinal, Dhash and Jainal. I try to cook for them, but sometimes there is only the chapatti bread. Karachi is very hot and the people have wide shoulders. I am applying probability ratios to extract a good premium for the company. Good luck in your studies. Your uncle, Afsar.

My mother would diligently reply while she lay on her dormitory bed in the evening, scratching out her letters with an old fountain pen.

Dear Afsar Uncle, The shapla flower floats in our pond and reminds me of nature’s Beauty. It is there that I find my God. I feel the winter’s breeze on my skin and think of Tagore’s words: ‘Beauty is truth's smile when she beholds her own face in a perfect mirror.’ I hope to study Eng- lish at Dhaka University next year. Your niece, Minu.

The backdrop to their innocent, bur- geoning romance was growing polit- ical tumult. The Pakistani leaders in the west wanted to impose their lan- guage, Urdu, as the state language in eastern territory, where the people spoke Bengali. As leverage, the gov- ernment was denying the eastern ter- ritory crucial resources- money, food and arms. By now Afsar had spent a year in West Pakistan and was ready- ing himself for a possible stint in Lon- don. Minu had finished her school- ing and had gained entry to study Eng- lish at the University of Dhaka. They continued to exchange letters but my father, not one to make hasty deci- sions that may have a financial im- pact, had not made any firm plans re- garding a wedding. With the two territories on the verge of war in early 1971, my father and his colleagues were told to return home immediately. Tanks rolled into the East, the military stormed key cen- tres such as banks, water depots and government buildings, and the mas- sacres began. Chaos ensued as every- one ran for cover, seeking safety in their home towns. My mother returned to her village and family from her studies in Dhaka. Another brother, the last of the fami- ly’s eight children, was born soon af- terwards, his delivery occurring in broad daylight while gunfire could be heard in the background. He was named Bullet. My mother and her younger sister, Bulu, were both likely targets for rape amid the disinhibited rage of their

Of love, war and matrimony

masters. If they were outside they dressed in a burqa, the only time in their lives that they ever wore the religious garment. If the soldiers came knocking, they lay under blankets. ‘Please sir, leave them alone,’ Minu’s parents would say. ‘They are sick old ladies trying to recover.’ Soon after my father returned home to Bijoyrampur, a list was made of local intellectuals, professionals and in- dustrialists who were then rounded up by the invading army gen- erals. Those who could be found were lined up in the centre of town and maimed symboli- cally- the eye surgeon had his eyeballs poked out, the writer’s hands were slit with a bayonet and the architect’s limbs crushed with bricks. Unknown to my father, his name had appeared on a similar list, but he found out fast enough when a family friend turned up in the dead of night to take him into hiding. They board- ed a bus at dawn and he was smug- gled into lodgings in the nearby town of Jessore. Afsar stayed there in virtual isolation for weeks, until one afternoon a neatly dressed, muscular soldier with a curly black moustache knocked loudly on his door and strode inside. ‘So Mister, Bhaiya, your time has come!’ he shouted in Urdu, reveal- ing a shimmering bayonet atop a smoking rifle, freshly fired. ‘You think you can hide forever?’ My father froze. Having worked in Karachi, he understood what the sol- dier was saying. As he raised his arms as if to surrender, a neighbour walked in to help him.

‘Sir, please, he is not the traitor,’ the balding, middle-aged man with a limp said, referring to the hastily arranged group of freedom fighters that was now resisting the military brutality. ‘He is

a good man and prays to Allah.’ The solider stared at my father, mo-

mentarily relaxing his grip on the ri- fle. My father sensed his chance.

‘I lived in Karachi for one year and

worked in insurance. I hope to return.

I am not a traitor and fear God the

Almighty,’ he said in fluent Urdu, tak- ing the soldier by surprise.

A heavy silence ensued while the sol-

dier locked eyes with his prey, then surveyed the bare single room dwelling. He lifted his rifle, then lunged at my father, pressing the sharp blade of the bayonet against his throat, turn-

Illustration: Amrith Basumatary ❘❘❘❘❘❘❚●
Illustration: Amrith Basumatary



Chapter: Romantic Mismatch Pp 45-50

ing it from side to side. My father closed his eyes, fearing his end. ‘You were lucky this time, Bhaiya,’ the soldier snarled. Then he charged out to battle once again. Catching the wind of his slim escape, my father hugged his neighbor in thanks. Several months later, after almost

three million people had died, the war came to an abrupt end. The Indians joined the eastern territory in battle against the west to avert a mammoth

refugee crisis on their border, just kilo- metres away from my mother’s village.

Their superior forces brought the Pak- istanis to their knees within weeks. Amid the death, rape and destruc-

tion a new country called Bangladesh was born. Radio Australia was the first English language service to announce it. A new leader, Sheikh Mujib, was hailed as the land’s saviour. In 1972, the euphoria settled and famine ar-

MY MOTHER’S brother was born soon after the war started, his delivery occurring while gunfire could be heard in the background. He was named Bullet

rived soon afterwards. The country was bankrupt and Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State, declared Bangladesh a basket case. But lives be- gan afresh. My mother continued on with her first year of study at Dhaka University where she lived in a female dormitory and my father began a new job at an insurance company. Frustrated by my father’s matrimo- nial indecision, my mother’s family found another suitor, a learned man living in Karachi. But when the end of the war grounded all flights to Bangladesh he was stranded, unable to return home. Having made no con- tact through the conflict, Afsar re-

newed his wedding proposal, but was met with resistance by his own immediate family who wanted a big dowry. Minu’s father refused, of- fering only to pay for the gold and jew- ellery at the wedding. A row erupted and my father was caught in the peacetime crossfire, unable to ap- pease his family. He visited my moth- er on the university campus present- ing her with a single rose bought at a nearby street stall. Meanwhile, his family’s attitude about the dowry ramped up. In their opinion, for such a rare find of a man, who had such humble beginnings- humble even for Bangladesh- a gar- gantuan payment was appropriate, mandatory almost. They demanded a motorcycle, several goats and cows, an allotment of land and a typewriter. The gold jewellery was a given. It was a stalemate. There was a tense stand-off. The marriage looked doomed, until my father finally stepped in. ‘I want to marry Minu,’ he told his family, demanding that the metrics of the dowry payment be modified. Finally they relented, realising the wheels of courtship had progressed too far to be thwarted. Minu and Af- sar married weeks later in a simple cer- emony without any fanfare in my mother’s university dormitory room, her brother Badu carrying the wed- ding ring to the city from Dihi.



Invitation: European Union Sanskriti Festival

Organiser: Embassy of Republic of Poland in New Delhi, Embassies of Member States of EU, EU Delegation in India, in association with Gauhati Cine Club Date: 10-16 December 2011 Venue: State Library Auditorium, Guwahati Attraction: Movies from 12 EU countries – Poland, Sweden, Finland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Spain, France, Italy, Lithuania, Hungary, Netherlands and Austria Website:eeas.europa.eu/delegations/india/ more_info

Announcement: 13th North East Book Fair 2011

Organiser: All Assam Publishers and Book Sellers Association Theme: Folklore Attractions: Centenary celebration of Burhi Aair Xadhu, 200th anniversary cele- bration of first printed Assamese book

Dharma Pustak

Place: Chandmari Engineering Field, Guwahati Date: 14-27 December 2011 Contact: mail@northeastbookfair.org,


Website: www.northeastbookfair.org

Invitation: Goa Arts and Literary Festival 2011

Organiser & venue: International Centre, Goa Date: 17-21 December 2011 Occasion: 50th year of Goa’s liberation from colonial rule Participants from NE: Desmond Kharmaw- phlang, Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, Lou Majaw, Mamang Dai, Mitra Phukan, Robin Ngangom and Temsula Ao Contact: Arjun Halarnkar (Festival Incharge)


Email: prog@incentgoa.com Website: www.goaartlitfest.com


Beside the pond of memories Throwing pebbles in the still waters Of the dark pond,
Beside the pond of
Throwing pebbles in the still waters
Of the dark pond, cornering round my memoirs
I found myself lost in the round ripples
Massaging the chords of my nostalgia
easing off with vanishing thoughts as the
thin waves disappear in the free thinking waters.
The soil bowl dug out in the gloomy mud
gulps the rain waters leaving me thirsty for
the days when my children will revive
my leaping, joyous days of upbringing.
All seems phony now and much more
heavy with wisdom and age.
Cracks on the shore of the pond too
drinks the flowing loam after the long summer.
My cracks stay still and drip in rain as
A herd of cows grazing in rice fields in monsoon
without the thoughts of the farmer with the stick.
My thoughts are weaved with greediness
To think of all those and all that I have
lost forever
and a vain trial will sit here with an
extinguished mind
till the clouds or lightning drives me from here,
nods me and pushes me into my present.
Illustrations: Amrith Basumatary

Seduced in the Sunderbans

Blue above, blue beneath; waters and skies kiss at yonder point


To sustain salty tides, as muddy lands, bronze in sunrays Swathe itself with the poignant carpet of the Ganges. Boatman swings as if wind itself in the unheard stretches, Vista lucid enough but not to overcome eyes in the clay; Death lies behind the muck and life too; they choose to struggle. Nights alert in sounds; river breezes rumour in our ears- “Look the ‘Royal’ sees you from behind, from beside, ”

Fake cries of people tilts the launch as feet gather on a side Just to beat hope against the blinding trees and bushes. We hover in coop while roars roam around us in the chill Captivating mist dangle themselves over salty fluids; Blur off reality in the splendour that seduces us with drunken eyes. Word-masters may faint penning it from tip to tail for Where is the tip and where is the tail? Scintillating silence Winded by the recurrent chirpings and seldom fox cries. And the wish to see the king, bothering every moment Makes the guards utter, “If seen within the cage

it’s royal, For those who dare to sense it and hear its gasp, it’s lethal.” Verses bows, prose too, ideas too vast for them; logs of

thick line stretches with flags of greenery, bold enough




Keeps us- alive till they rot, afloat in them till they float, Nature’s dearest the ‘Royals’ here, her lap just for them. Eyes become weary, swollen without sleep, still open with hope While the king dozes, watches us every jiffy through royal eyes, Must be smiling seeing the hunters enslaved within inebriated waters.


serene approval haunts the heart as we depart, kicks

the pendulum

Faster to say, “Come here and float but beware







TOUFIQUE IMROSE KHALIDI Recommends Journalist and former BBC broadcaster Toufique Imrose Khalidi is currently managing

Journalist and former BBC broadcaster Toufique Imrose Khalidi is currently managing director of one of Bangladesh’s leading news portals, bdnews24.com. He tells Uddi- pana Goswami that the com- monalities between Bangladesh and the Northeast should inspire reflection by creative people

u What does literature mean to

you? Do you think it has any

relevance in our day-to-day lives? According to you, does it have anything to do with all that is happening around us?


referred to as literature when they are considered important or creative. Of course literature has a lot of relevance to the way we live our lives. But it loses its meaning when times are so barren that nothing noteworthy comes out. There is too much mediocrity in Bangladesh politics, in our media and in all other aspects of our lives. Being in the business of writing the first draft of history daily, one feels the pain more acutely.

u How close is your relation

with literature in general, and with literature of Bangladesh in particular?


I studied literature for a degree at

Dhaka University as a non-committal learner. (My commitment evaporated quickly under the uncertainty during the early 1980s when a General ruled with no respect for law). But I interacted with some who surely qualified to take a look critically at literary works. I had my share of exposure to literary works mostly outside my scholastic pursuits.

u What future do you see for

literature from Bangladesh?


bad and that better days were ahead. We still feel the same. We are increasingly losing our capability to produce or even appreciate quality. That is due to a general decline in the society, our standards of education and our decadent politics.

u Name one book that had a

lasting impact on you. In what way?


comfortable answering. The impact of any book I thought would stay with me when I was young, evaporated as I grew. I often start reading books I really want to read but do not end up finishing them because of the work I do.

u What book would you

Novels, plays and poetry are

Twenty years ago, we felt it was

This is a question I am never

recommend for our readers and why?


Days) by Jahanara Imam should give one insight into why Bangladeshis are so incensed about the War of Liberation. There’s also Muldhara 71. A quick reading of Ataur Rahman Khan’s Prodhanmontritter Noimash (Nine Months as Prime Minister) will give you some idea about how our dictators conducted themselves. One should also read Jibananada Das, among the greatest Bengali romantics. But do all Indians in the Northeast read or write Bangla?

Ekattorer Dinguli (The 1971


Which hills are “bleeding black”

with “ragged wounds” according to Khasi poet Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih?

A. Naga Hills

B. Jaintia Hills

C. Garo Hills

Mur Jiban Xuworon is the auto-

biography of which of the follow-

ing personalities?

A. Padmanath Gohainbaruah

B. Homen Borgohain

C. Lakshminath Bezbaruah

Mur Xuworoni is the autobiog-

raphy of which of the following personalities?

A. Padmanath Gohainbaruah

B. Homen Borgohain

C. Lakshminath Bezbaruah