“It's difficult to say what decision I would make,” says Ataur Rahman, officer-in-charge of Teknaf police station and a man clearly used to making decisions. “I've never had to face such a situation. Only if I did could I tell you what the decision would be.”
Rahman, from Sirajganj, is speaking of the conundrum of having to choose between an ailing father and a pending wedding to a Rakhine princess. While Rahman has never experienced such a dilemma, his early twentieth century colleague, Diraj Bhattacharya, famously did.
When Bhattacharya was first posted to Teknaf south of Cox's Bazar it's unlikely he was thrilled. He was a town-man, born in Jessore, while Teknaf at that time was beyond-remote, barely accessible by road. For a young man like Bhattacharya, Teknaf must've seemed the end of the Earth.
History says after settling into the police compound residence, Bhattacharya found there was little to do. He idled away hours roaming. He routinely sat in his rocking chair on the veranda.
Such an excess of leisure time is a circumstance Rahman could only dream of. “Teknaf was an outpost and Bhattacharya was alone,” he says. “These days it's a police station with upwards of twenty officers and forty constables, all working hard.”
Besides, he could hardly sit in a rocking chair on the veranda even if he found time. “There is no veranda,” explains Rahman. “That building was long-ago replaced. And I don't have a rocking chair.”
What does remain is an old, preserved well in one corner of the yard. It's the well that Bhattacharya could see from his rocking chair, then the only well in the area.
In the course of each day local Rakhine women arrived to fetch water. It's fair to say that in their colourful blouses and thami skirts they were pleasing to a police officer's eye. Their lively chitchat brought cheerful enthusiasm to resonate as far as the veranda.
Then one day Bhattacharya noticed Ma Thin, the daughter of a wealthy Teknaf landlord. She was particularly attractive, such that there was little for a police officer to do but fall in love.
“In my experience, Teknaf police compound is no more or less romantic than any other,” says Rahman, contemplating how such love could have blossomed, “But the area is very beautiful. Teknaf is surrounded by the sea and mountains, with the historic Naf River nearby.” The geography, Rahman believes, is suitable to love's flourishing.
Fortunately for Bhattacharya, Ma Thin took similar note of the handsome officer, and there developed a habit for Ma Thin to arrive at the well before dawn. Bhattacharya waited on the veranda and the two exchanged adoring glances.
Over time their relationship intensified until a wedding date was set. In the meantime, however, Bhattacharya's family came to know of the affair and one day he received a letter saying his father was sick and he should return home urgently.
According to his family's wishes Bhattacharya left for Kolkata, where they then lived. Although he promised to return, Ma Thin was devastated. “The decision was up to him,” says Rahman, not one to judge, “It's his business.”
The affair didn't end well. Bhattacharya never returned to Teknaf. Eventually he left the police service to become a movie star; and he wrote a book called “When I Was a Police Officer,” which includes an account of his love for Ma Thin.
Ma Thin was so heartbroken that she confined herself to bed, refusing all food and water until, prematurely, she died.
Unlike Bhattacharya, Rahman says he has never considered leaving the police in favour of becoming a movie star. “Diraj was handsome and it helped him a lot,” says Rahman, who points out he is already around 40 and has three children. “I am not like him. I don't have such opportunities.”
In any case, Rahman is uncertain that being a movie star would be a better job. “The two careers are like sweet and sour, both good but entirely different.”
Among current staff members of Teknaf police station, Rahman is unaware of any officer having to choose as Bhattacharya did. While he is unsure if perhaps the police service has become less romantic, he does state that times have changed and police are busy with all sorts of work-related activities these days.
Nonetheless, Rahman is unwilling to conclude that a love story similar to Bhattacharya and Ma Thin's could never recur at Teknaf police station. “Love happens naturally,” he says, “How could anyone say it couldn't happen now? There's always a possibility.”