Serendipity and After/34

a novel about publishing of a novel

As I touched the soil of India, I had an incredible feeling wash over my mind and body. I was safe now. I was out of harm’s way. There was no Pakistan army here to hound me. No razakar or such thing to scare the shit out of me. No more runs for life.

I found my body shedding all these nightmarish things — the marathon walk all though the night, the slow nerve-wrecking travel journey, the ghost town of Jessore — one by one. I felt sanitized. I felt pacified. I tended to feel human.

I drew in a long breath of fresh Indian air. Oh, what a relief!

Then I felt terribly hungry. Something must be taken right now or I would pass out. I saw a small shop on the road selling breakfast and tea. There was a fixed bamboo bench in front. I sat in a corner with other customers. “Quarter pound or half?” the shop-keeper asked me.

I couldn’t grasp it, but said,”Quarter.”

“Omlette or alur dom?”

“Alur dom.”

I was instantly served a loaf and a dish containing Alur dom. I had never tasted it, but I had heard of it from my grandmother.

It tasted delicious with sliced loaf.

“Will you take tea?”

“Yes.”

I was not actually habituated to taking tea. Only my grandmother had the habit of taking it in the morning and evening, and there was just that arrangement in our home for that. But sometimes I used to share her tea. In the varsity I was taking tea occasionally with Kshirod-da.

While sipping tea, I found myself watching people around me. Most of them seemed to come from East Pakistan like me. Some of them were talking in dialect similar to mine. But they have been settled here long since. I gathered here that the India government had set up camps at different places across West Bengal to take in thousands of people coming here for shelter. It would provide them food, medicine, everything. There was one camp in Bangan too.

I left the shop and started walking along the road to the town. So where should I go now? Where would I live? Where would I sleep the coming night?In the camp? What’s a camp and how it’s really like? Would I fit in there? Oh, if Kshirod-da was with me at this moment! The mathematician must have had some step by this time. And he would not be meandering like me.

I saw an empty rickshaw pass by me. I stopped him and inquired if he could take me to the center of the town. Then I clambered over to the seat.

The richshaw-driver was a thin man in his forties, a worn and dirty shirt in his torso, but he was driving like crazy. I saw the town emerge from the front. Buildings, offices, a bridge, sweet shops, bustling market. It looked much like Magura, my town.

I see a large crowd before a two-storied building.

“What is going on here?” I ask the rickshaw driver.

“They’re recruiting young men like you for Bangladesh army.”

“Stop here. Please stop.”

I give him his fare and approach the crowd.

I see a large notice hung on the entrance of the building. “Wanted young, healthy persons for the upcoming Bangladesh defence forces. Minimum qualification: Higher Secondary or equivalent. Suitable candidates will be given officers’ rank.”

What a coincidence! A job right at my door! Hemingway worked in the army.

I saw a small line comprising some ten persons — all way older than me. I stood behind them. I was excited.

They were not taking much time. Ten minutes at best for each candidate. So I was called in soon. A large room with a big table at the center. A uniformed Indian army officer was at the table with a bunch of files and papers and a pen. A part of the room was separated by a curtain.

As I stood before him, the officer gave a good look at me. “How old are you?”

“Eighteen.”

He took my file and examined my certificates and marks-sheet.

“You’re not yet eighteen. Just two months short,’’ he said, “ But your academic qualification is very impressive. Anyway, go there for a medical check-up. I’ve to specially consider it.”

On the other side of the curtain I found another Indian army officer, but he had a stethoscope hanging from his neck. He lay me down on a table, palpated my abdomen, heard my chest, checked my blood pressure and then went to unzip my pant. He was inspecting my member, and then he pressed one of my testicles so hard that I almost shrieked in pain.

“Okay,” the army doctor signaled me to leave.

Then the two officers had a small talk between them.

The first officer called me, and asked me to sit in the chair. “We’ve selected you for the Air Force. You’ll be given an officer’s post.”

He handed me a paper. “Report here tomorrow by ten’o clock in the morning. Don’t forget to bring this paper with you. Okay, you may leave now.”

PREVIOUS NEXT

Arin Basu, thanks for your take on “shaala”, the Bengali expletive. You’re an amazing literary taster.

augustkhalilibrahim, I’m glad you find this riveting and compelling.

Tessa, when I was writing the last paragraph, I knew you would highlight it. We have got the same intellectual heft.

Maulik Thakkar, SF Ali, thanks for your recommend.