Bhikhu suffered terribly throughout the rainy season. At the beginning of Ashar while raiding Baikhuntha Shaha’s depot at Basantapur, Bhikhu’s whole gang got caught in flagrante delicto. Out of the eleven only Bhikhu managed to escape with a spear injury over his shoulder. He walked about ten miles overnight seeking a hideout near the broken bridge. Under the thick prairie grass, half sunk in a mire he spent the whole day. After nightfall, he walked nine more miles and reached Pehlad Bagdi’s doorstep at Chitalpur.
Pehlad refused him any shelter right away.
Pointing at the wound he said, “Does not seem an easy one, pal! It will fester, swell, and eventually, people will find out very soon. What do I do then? Only if you hadn’t killed the man…”
“Now I feel like killing you, Pehlad!”
“In your wild dreams, perhaps!”
As there was no way out, Bhikhu took refuge in the woods nearby about five miles to the north. In the middle of an impregnable sinjuri bush around a remote part of the woods, Pehlad built him an entresol of bamboo with a roof built of palm leaves. Pehlad tried to lighten him up and said, “Rain has scared all the tigers off to the hills. Only if you can keep away from snakes, it is quite comfy here.”
“What shall I eat?”
“Here, I have left some puffed rice and molasses. I will visit every second day and bring you some rice, wait till then. If I show up every day, it might cause suspicion.”
Wrapping the wound with some leaves and herbs, Pehlad left Bhikhu and promised to come back. As the night deepened, so did his high fever and he stayed awake. The next day he found what Pehlad said to be true; the wound- it was swelling, causing the entire right arm to bloat up so extremely that Bhikhu was unable to move.
Out in the woods where even tigers dared not live during the monsoon- soaked in rain, fighting mosquitoes and insects, removing one or two leeches every hour, enduring high fever and unbearable physical pain, Bhikhu spent two days and two nights inside that tiny hideout of his. Torrents left him drenched, and the scorching sun made the place so damp and frowsy that he felt suffocated; insects, too, did not leave him in peace even for a moment. Soon he ran out of his stock of tobacco that Pehlad left for him. He had a few days’ reserve of puffed rice but there was not much of molasses left. The smell invited ants as they came in groups only to find there was none left for them. However, they refused togo away and continued to leave their marks of angry despair on Bhikhu all day and night long.
Cursing Pehlad to death Bhikhu kept on fighting for survival with the last bit of his might. On the day Pehlad was supposed to come, Bhikhu ran out of water in the morning. He waited for Pehlad till afternoon and unable to put up with the thirst anymore, had to go out in search of water. The struggle he had to undergo to bring his half-filled pitcher from a stream not that far from the entresol was beyond description. Helpless against the hunger, he filled his stomach with the leftovers of dry puffed rice. One by one he squeezed the ants and other insects to death with the only hand he could use. In order for the toxins to be sucked out, he himself placed the leeches around the wound. Discovering a green snake peeping at him somewhere from the thick sinjuri leaves, he waited for two long hours to kill it. Then he kept beating around the bush, making loud noises to scare the snake away. He kept doing it after every two-three hours for as long as he could.
He wouldn’t die; in no way he would. In an environment where even the wild animals did not survive, Bhikhu, a human with flesh-and-bones, did.
Meanwhile, Pehlad went to another village to attend the wedding program of one of his relatives. He did not show up even the following day. Hung-over during and after the wedding, he lost his sense. Not once in these three days he remembered Bhikhu and how he was passing his days deep in a forlorn forest.
Bhikhu’s wound, on the other hand, started festering and reddish pus kept oozing out. His whole body began to inflate by then, too. Fever subsided a little, but the excruciating pain left him exhausted and he remained there, as if in a trance like an addict. He could not feel the hunger or thirst now. Bloated with his blood, leeches dropped down one after another from the wound without Bhikhu feeling anything. At one point he broke the only pitcher pushing it unknowingly, and the puffed rice began to grow molds as showers of rain made them moist. It produced a very strong pungent smell inviting foxes around the bush at the nightfall.
Upon his return after a long time, Pehlad was left baffled to find Bhikhu in this miserable condition. He had brought some rice, small fish curry and vegetables along with him but ate those himself as he had to wait till the evening. He returned home to fetch his brother-in-law, Bhorot and a bamboo stretcher. Together, they carried him back to Pehlad’s home and put him in a secret place above the ceiling on a bed of straw.
Such strong a spirit the man had that with this nominal care and almost no medication whatsoever, Bhikhu started recovering. Apparently, he overcame an inevitable death though at the cost of his right arm. Numb and unusable, it resembled a hanging dry bough from a tree. With much effort he could move it a little in the beginning; however, he lost that ability too, gradually in time.
Once the wound began to heal, Bhikhu learned to get down from the ceiling with the help of his only arm while no one was around. In one of his frequent visits down, he did something shocking.
Pehlad went out with Bhorot to grab a drink and Pehlad’s sister wasn’t home. While taking her son to bed, Pehlad’s wife discovered Bhikhu ogling at her. In an attempt to avoid him, she tried to move elsewhere when he grabbed her by the hand.
Strong and stout, Pehlad’s wife belonged to the Bagdi family. It was not possible for Bhikhu to get hold of her with his feeble physique and only functioning arm. She jerked his grip off right away and eventually left the room hurling some verbal abuse at him. Once Pehlad returned home, he came to know about everything.
Heavily drunk, Pehlad could not stand this treachery and instantly reached a conclusion that Bhikhu deserved death for what he had done. Giving his wife a wild blow at first, Pehlad proceeded to smash Bhikhu’s head. Even though drunk, he sensed that no matter how accurate a decision it seemed at first, the reality was far from that. In his left arm Bhikhu was holding his sharp machete in an attacking position. Therefore, instead of a massive bloodshed it was only an exchange of some squabbles between the two.
Pehlad finally exploded, “Why on earth did I squander seven taka on you? Give my money back and get out of my house! Just be gone!”
“I had a baju tied to my waist. You stole that! Give it back first, and I will leave!”
“Who knows of your baju?”
“Give my baju back, Pehlad, if you want to come out unharmed. Unless I get it back, just like I did to the Shah, I will slit your throat! Mark my words! Give my baju, and I will not say a word.”
But Bhikhu did not get it back. As Bhorot appeared right in the middle of their altercation, together they got hold of him. Exhausted and helpless, Bhikhu couldn’t do much and sank his teeth into Pehlad’s arm. Pehlad and Bhorot beat him almost to death and kicked him out of the house. Bhikhu’s almost cured wound started bleeding. Wiping blood with his own hand, Bhikhu limped away into the dark. No one knew where he had gone, but deep in the night, the whole Bagdi village woke up to find Pehlad’s house on fire.
Banging his head against the wall in utter despair and rage, Pehlad regretted his decision of ever entertaining the thought to shelter such a traitor in the first place. Nevertheless, he could not even utter the name of Bhikhu lest the police should sense something.
That very night was the beginning of the second phase of Bhikhu’s antediluvian barbaric life that would continue forward from then on. Having set fire to Pehlad’s house, Bhikhu stole a fish boat and set sail along the flow of the river that ran by the side of Chitalpur village. He was unable to row the boat. Somehow he kept the course of the boat straight all through the night, using a flat plank as the oar. The stream alone couldn’t have taken him that far before it was the dawn.
Motiur Rahman is a lecturer of English at Dhaka University of Engineering & Technology.