Raju, the Curious Child

Hafijur Rahman

“What is a galakata, grandma? Is he very bad?”

“Well, a galakata is a very terrible person. He appears to be a simple man like anybody else in our society. He keeps hiding in the jute field. And whenever he finds any kid close at hands, he catches hold of him/her and takes away. He is a kidnapper-cum-killer.”

“Where does he take them?”

“He takes them to a distant land.”

“Which land, grandma?”

“I don’t know. May be in the neighbouring country or in a land where no human beings live.”

“What does he do with those kids?”

“Either he sells them or enslaves them to have them work for him.”

“But why is he called a galakata then?”

“Oh, if he fails to take to kid to his land he cuts the throat of the kid. That’s why he is called a galakata.”

“Ok grandma, have you ever seen a galakata?”

“No.”

“Then how do you come to know about all these things?”

“I heard. When I set my first step to this village, I was a very small bride.  I heard that there were two dead bodies found in the jute field in the neighbouring village. Those corpses were taken to police station. People were very much upset. They stopped going out of their houses after it was evening. They did not let the children go out alone even during midday. Peasants did not go to the jute field for weeding in fear. Since then when it is the time for jute cultivation there is the rumor that there is an outbreak of galakata. After that incident, the farmers started losing interest in cultivating jute.

In those days every year your grandpa had so huge a production of jute crop that it took over a month to dry and process all those jute fibre. And the whole area of our house remained covered by jute fiber. On the roof, on the outer wall, on bamboo made ceiling, everywhere you would find only jute fibre. After the activities of drying, you would see a huge three or four piles of jute stocked for sale. When the price would go high up, your father and grandpa would take all those to the market for sale in the bull carts. At least fifty carts would carry those golden fibres. Our house would have filled up with jute sticks. We had never suffered from firewood crisis. During these days were became very aware of the jute piles being set fire to. A section of people set fire to the jute godowns. Oh! Those golden days of jute fiber have gone by.”

“Ok grandma. Now you tell me the story of the dry cow dung collecting old woman.”

“Not today I feel sleepy. Now let me sleep in peace. I will tell it tomorrow night.”

“No, please tell… grandma…please.”

“Then only this one.”

“Ok. Thank you.”

“Long ago there was an old woman.  All her hair turned grey. She used to wear a white sari. She looked white. So people called her white-old woman. Nobody knew where she lived in. She used to come to this area once or twice a year. She came to collect dry cow dung. Once some human bones and skull were found in her sack. Villagers caught her and she was beaten up severely. She admitted that she sells the bone and human skull to a man whom she does not very well know. The man takes those to India and sells them for money. After this incident she was also suspected as a  human trafficker. Two years ago a boy went missing from our village. Nowhere was he found. He was lost during jute time. So people took it to be an act of galakatas. People started questioning her many ways but she did not confess. Later on she was handed over to the police.”

“Grandma, why does she collect human bones and skull?”

“I do not know, but people say that human skull is used in constructing bridges.”

Why?

Um…. If you do not use human skull during the construction of a bridge on a river or a lake, it will collapse.  Man has not yet learned how to master the courses of rivers.  So they need human skull. During the construction of Gobai Bridge on the Gobai river it is said that a man was slaughtered at midnight and one hundred skulls were used to. As human skulls were not offered earlier the bridge collapsed several times. And the constructor was told in a dream that he would have to sacrifice a human being and one hundred human skulls. Ultimately, it was carried out. People brought out processions everyday in protest of the construction of the bridge. Even they turned violent. The district magistrate and police officer came to pacify them. They assured the people that no such human sacrifice was made and won’t be made in future. But the mass grew violent and two men were shot to death. And gradually the agitation subsided. And after the construction of the bridge people were greatly benefited.”

“How many years ago the incident took place?”

“I cannot exactly remember. It happened sixty to seventy years ago. It was in the British period.

“Well grandma, did you saw it in your own eyes?”

“No, I did not see it myself. People say.”

“What for bones are used?”

“In India most of the people are Hindus. They burn their dead bodies to ashes. They do not get the human bones, they need for medical treatment (research). So, they secretly buy bones from Bangladesh.

“What is India?”

“It is our neighboring country.”

“Why they burn the bodies of the dead people?”

“It is their culture.”

“When your grandpa died, your father and uncles kept vigilance at night in fear that the dead body of your grandpa would be stolen.”

“Now, sleep in peace.”

“Well, grandma. Have you ever gone to India?”

“No. Did your grandpa ever allowed me to go out of the boundary wall of the house? But your grandpa went to visit India. Then the country had just become independent. During the Independence War many people went to India. When they came back, they used to tell many stories to your grandpa. Among them one was Haider Ali. He was the bosom friend of your grandpa. He used to say, “Omar Ali bhai, I have visited many places with you, Khulna, Dhaka, Racecourse Maidan, Lalbagher Kella, Mirpur Zoo, Airport etc. Now I want to visit the Calcutta Museum with you.”

“Uh no. I am not of the age to travel a foreign land.”

“Hu..hu.. You have made me laugh, Omar Ali bhai.  Does age matters in traveling a foreign land? Only willpower is enough.”

“Besides, collecting passport, managing money there is lot of hazards.”

“My god, do you need a passport to visit India?”

“No, no if we are caught we will be jailed. You know how much scared I am to face police, thana, court.”

“Hu.. police will catch hold of us and send us to jail. Is it that easy?  What the hell I will do? Will I chew my fingers dumb found?”

“Listen, I am a freedom fighter. In India even the crime of killing seven persons is pardonable for a freedom fighter, you know. If I introduce myself, they will never imprison us. Besides, I have acquaintance with some darogas of Horidas pur thana.”

“Listen, Omar Ali bhai, in the next puja, we will go to India and it is final. I must see Calcutta museum. During the durga puja India keeps its border open for the Bangladeshis. We will celebrate puja in Bonga, understood?”

“As you are pressing me hard I will go to visit India and the Calcutta museum, not to celebrate puja.”

“Ok, man come on.”

“But where should we stay?”

“Why, the first day we will stay in the house of Jadab Ghosh. Jadab Ghosh lives in Barasat?”

“Oh I see. Now I remember Jadab Ghosh lives in Barashat. Whenever he comes in Bangladesh, he requests me to go to India and stay at his house. But where to stay in Calcutta, Haider?”

“No tension. We will find a hotel. Now you manage some money. You do not know how wonderful India is.”

During the liberation fight you did stay at your home. When Jalil was butchered by the Pakistani army I could not stay here any longer. I went to India. At night I swam the Betna river and reached Sharatola. I crossed the border by the morning. I went to Bonga. I found many Bangladeshis living there under the open sky.  Among them there were two or three of my acquaintance. I used to sleep there placing my head on a brick. We used to take food once a day or once in two days. We used to pass days and months with  one lungi and genji. Almost all the people migrated from Bangladesh had the same condition. Training was given to the young and able persons by the Indian army.  Most of them were Shikhs. We had a great problem regarding the language. But we overcame everything for the sake of our motherland only. In the month of July Indira Gandhi came to visit us. She is so beautiful a lady. She said to us, “Bangali, free your country.” After the training session was over, we were given arms. Along with Indian army we entered Bangladesh. From Sharatola, we fired rocket shell into this area. When we felt that Pak army was closing from this area, we advanced further. We heard from Bangladesh Betar that Jessore has been freed on 5th October. We marched through Chhutipur, Radhanagar, Pallah to Bodhkhana. It took two days to come here. I thought it would not be wise to halt at my house. So, I ordered my soldiers to halt at your house. It was 1:00am at night. I was calling you, do you remember, Omar bhai?”

“Then your grandpa opened the door but became very afraid having seen all those unknown armed soldiers specially having seen the freedom fighters. Your grandpa could not recognize his friend Haider. He had grown beard full of his face, kept long hair, had only a lungi and genji on his body. And all of them were without any shoes. I came out of the house with the lamp in my hand having thought that the freedom fighters came to take your father. When I came out, Haider shouted bhabi, don’t you know me? I’m Haider. Then your father smiled. Haider awaked everybody of the house shouting. What should I do I did not understand. I told your grandpa to slaughter some hens. Haider shouted, “What do you mean bhabi, the country is going to achieve freedom. Only chickens won’t go. You have slaughtered goats. My soldiers are very hungry. I laughed. Your grandpa and Haider slaughtered the goat. I boiled a big dish of rice with the help of those freedom fighters. Everybody rejoiced. Haider’s joy knew no bounds. He said, “Look, this is called Bhabi.” I said, “For VIP guests, VIP entertainment.” I finished cooking and while they finished eating, the dawn was breaking.”

“Grandma what is Muktijoddha?”

“Those who fought against the Pakistani army in `71 to free Bangladesh are called freedom fighters or Muktijoddha.”

“Then Haider grandpa is a Muktijoddha?”

“Why? Your Haider grandpa, then your Liakat grandpa, Rocket, Jalil, Birprotik grandpa and Rashid uncle all are Muktijoddha.”

“Which Haider grandpa, that one who comes to our house everyday and goes away home after taking supper?”

Fie! Papa, never say like this. Your Haider Grandpa, Liakat grandpa and Rashid uncle are very good people.  After the liberation, our house was plundered twice in a month by the robbers. So, your Haider grandpa volunteered to stay at our house at night. After that nothing happened like that.”

“If they are good people why then you say they were beaten by the police hanging from the mango tree of Gacha Thana?”

“No, they were not beaten by the police. Actually, Bangabandhu formed Mujib Bahini after the liberation war. The Mujib Bahini was looking for them who did not submit arms after the war. Everybody fled to India again to save your Liakat grandpa. He was caught by the Mujib Bahini and was taken to the thana.  There he was severely beaten. He was hung in the mango tree and chilies powder and soap water were poured into his nostrils. After much torture he was sent to jail.”

What is freedom grandma?

I can’t very well make you understand, what freedom is. But I think if you do everything upon my order and instruction you are not free. You are free, if you can do everything of your own accord.”
“Why do people want to be free?”

Hu..hu.. It’s a queer passion of human being. Once a poet said which I can’t very well remember now—

“In the deep-blue sky, I fly- free and bold

Don’t like your cage though made of gold.”

“What does it mean?”

“Hu.. a hunter is calling upon a flying bird to live in his case which is made of gold. The hunter promises the bird to give food and drinks also. But the bird turns down the proposal of the hunter saying that it is safer in the uncertain blue sky than in his cage of gold.”

“Grandma, why didn’t you go out of the house?”

“Because, your grandpa didn’t like it. Once while your grandpa was alive I went out of the house to borrow some salt. You grandpa heard it and became very angry and bit me with the stick he used to tame the cows in the field. When I used to go to my father’s house, your grand papa covered the bull cart with a bamboo made chhoi and clothes. Your grandpa used to carry water himself in the jurs for me for taking bath in the house. That time tube-well was not available in this village.”

“Grandma, haven’t you ever felt sorry as you were not permitted to go out?”

Hu… feeling sorry? I came to this house early of my age. Then I was merely a girl of twelve or thirteen. When I felt much unhappy I kept myself confined in the room of the chilleotha of the 1st floor of this house and kept looking far and wide through the window. I could see the field quite clearly from there.  Sometimes I tend to curse your grandpa for not allowing me to fulfill many dreams in my life. Anyway, let’s sleep in peace. If I remember all these things, they remind me of your grandpa. And it pains me. It is more painful for me to live alone. You know Raju, a quarrelsome conjugal life is better than a lonely life. Your grandpa would come from the field and would jump in the pond shouting at me, “Give me rice.” If I was one minute late even I would have been beaten severely. At night he would come back along with your Haider grandpa after solving the disputes among the villagers. He used to carry a towel on his soldier. He would have to be served supper light warm. If it is too hot I would have to fan the rice. They would discuss politics, agriculture, household matters and take food. After taking supper your grandpa would take betel nuts.  Your grandpa was so good a man that he would keep the change for the day labors in retail so that they might not face any difficulty. He used to hold the tarabih prayer in our yard. He used to lead the congregation. On the first day of Ramadan he would invite the villagers to take iftar in our house. An environment of festivity ran in our house throughout the Ramadan. Hu….

“Grandma, you had to undergo much pains hadn’t you?”

Yes, I had to work hard. But it never seemed burdensome to me. I used to cook the sehri, I used to prepare the iftar, husk at least half a mound rice a week;  boil paddy, prepare  gur in the winter, prepare fried rice, flat rice; make custard of mastered seed, graze 10 to 12 cows, clean the cowshed, paddy, wheat, gram, pulse etc. I didn’t know how I could to do all these. They don’t have to do anything of this. It thrills me when I remember the past. It chills me to the bone. I wonder women of these days were very weak. Today’s women are enjoying the blessings of science fully. Now-a –days they have rice mill, oil mill, fan, freeze, electric bulb, cooker, blender etc. They also keep house maids. Still they cannot make their family happy. I don’t know what happens to them.  There must be something wrong.”

“Did you keep fast?”

Why not. Everybody of our house used to keep fast. Your father used to keep fast from the age of four. Once it happened that when we woke up to take sehri, we found that there were no pots in the kitchen. The thieves have all taken away. We cooked rice again in hectic haste in another pot which I always kept in my bedroom. But in the morning we found those pots left under the blackberry tree in the back of our kitchen. On the other day, your grandpa didn’t find his pair of shoes after performing tarabih. Every body thought that they were taken away by dogs. But we found it left in our verandah in the morning.”

“How it may happen? Whether any fairy took them away.”

“No, not that. It might happen that someone took the pair of shoes but later on returned it as he repented for his action or someone might have taken it mistakenly but could not tell us out of shame. It seemed to be a wonder to today’s urban people. Once you keep your shoes out of sight in the mosque, you will never find them again. Your papa lost his shoes last month while he was saying his prayer in the central Jam-e- mosque of Jessore. He kept his shoes in the box behind him and after saying prayers when he turned his head back he found his shoes vanished. He finished his money buying things. So, he had to return home without shoes. The mosques become full of swindlers and thieves. Mosques have turned to be mere concrete houses. They no longer produce virtuous men. They have lost influence over men. We are passing the most critical moment in the history of human civilization. It’s time when the verses of the holy Quran become a matter of recitation only.  I wonder what more are waiting for me before I die. If I could see Imam Mahadi (alaihi wasallam) and Isa (alaihi wasallam) come down to the earth to save the earth from deteriorating further.”

“Grandma left it. Say, don’t you have got any good memory with grandpa?”

“Yes, there are many.”

“Tell me one.”

“Once he took me to enjoy magic show in Shimulia Mission School premise. I enjoyed it very much. The magician vanished a man putting inside a box. He cut another man into two pieces. I was about to fall in a swoon. But what made me happy the most was the performance of a joker. His jester, poster every movement made us laugh.  I laughed and tumbled down on your grandpa.”

“ Grandma would you tell me about any sad event.”

The saddest event in my life was the day when your grandpa left the earth.

It was an eid day. Everybody, came back from the eid-gah. Coming back he asked for a price of shemai. Your aunt and aunty were yet to come. After taking the shemai he told me that he was not feeling good. I told him to take rest because he worked much in the Ramadan which he should have done at that age. I prepared bed for him in our bed room. He told me that he owe some seventy taka to Nobirul. He requested me to pay it for him if he failed to pay. I told him not to worry. Then he asked me about your father. I informed him that he went to buy some beef. He told me to tell your papa to bury him near the mosque if he died. I warned him not to talk anything ominous. Saying this I went to the kitchen. After some time it started raining. I heard that your grandpa was calling me. I rushed to him leaving everything to your mother. Going there I found all was over. The life less body of your grand father lied on the bed cool. I gave a shout and fell down on the ground.  There were people in the next room. No body could realize that he was going to leave us for ever. The news spread like the thunder light. Amidst the rain the whole of the village broke into our house. Your aunt and aunty came soon. Everybody buried your grandpa near the mosque. It seemed that the nature was also crying for your grandpa. The man went away breaking my heart. The sore he had developed in heart won’t be healed unless I meet him in the grave.”

“Grandma, are you crying? Sorry, I didn’t know that it would hurt you.”

“It’s ok.  Dadu, let us pray for your grandpapa.”

“Ok.”

“Then say with me.

Hey Allah, forgive my grandpapa. He was a very good soul. He never cheated anybody. He was a pious man. The charity he made in his lifetime and the prayer he offered, please accept those over looking the defects, whatsoever. Save him from the hell fire and make him fortunate enough to be one among the inhabitants of papradise. Ye Allah, accept our prayer. “Amen.” “Amen.”

“Grandma, you loved grandpa very much, didn’t you?”

“Shut up. Now, sleep in peace. It is already mid night. Look, the watch will trumpet the sound of twelve. It is enough today.”

“Grandma, would you switch of the five-watt bulb?”

“Ok.”

“Do you know what you did after your grandpa died?”

“What?”

“The next day in the morning when you woke up you didn’t find your grandpa in the bed. And you were searching for your grandpa. Then I took you the graveyard. I showed you the grave and you said, “Bring a spade, dig up the grave, take grandpa back to home.” You were a boy of only five years. Do you remember, Raju? Ai Raju, Raju? Oh, fallen asleep. Oh, thank God. Alla..h..umma… bi….ismiska …uo.”

Faculty Member

Department of English

IUBAT

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