Nineteen ninety-nine. Dhaka, Bangladesh. My college is over and I am having the pre-kingly hours of my life—waiting for results before applying to a university. This is when I find myself looking for a story. In the monsoon air, I look here, I look there, I look everywhere. I look up, I look down, I look all around. Where is the story? I bump into some, though. If one has a head, it doesn't have hands. If one has fine legs, it appears to have an ugly face. Will I ever find a full figure—an exquisite full form of a story? My enthusiasm, strong as the nor'wester storm, deadens by and by.
I need a plot to write a short story. This is my first fiction writing attempt. I had started reading voraciously since I was in the seventh grade. Within this time I have had read some good number of Bengali classics. Writers like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, and Manik Bandopadhay. And I have learnt by heart many poems of Kazi Nazrul Islam, the national poet of Bangladesh.
So it's time to write my own stories. And I am desperately looking for one plot to work on.
Then, one cloudy afternoon when a crow is incessantly cawing for no good reason, I hear of a death news from Maa. The news strikes me as an interesting tale to pen down- that a neighboring woman of my Fupi has killed herself. The next day I make my way to her house, sensing a tincture of hope slowly making its way through the dark corners of my mind.
Narinda, Begumganj is a poor, packed part of old Dhaka. Children always run around in the streets. Women always carry water-filled pots towards home. Cassette players always play movie songs at the top volume. Ghetto houses every now and then burst out in shouts and quarrels. And above all, folks here always swear like exchanging greetings. Even a three-year-old boy showers his anger against his playmate: You son of a bitch, I f__ your mother. Also, when two women are at a verbal war they use the phrases mechanically.
This part, down south in Narinda, is populated by Dhakaiya Kuttis—a community that evolved during the Mughal period and has their own dialect. From our home up North in Gurudas Sarkar Lane to Begumganj, it is a ten-minute walk. Two areas are divided by a wide road—the main road of the neighborhood where two rickshaws can pass without problems.
My arrival surprises Fupi a little. I don't visit her often even though I pooped and peed and grew up in her lap until she got married. I have no memory of that time. But I have heard that her wedding was not a typical one. Her husband saw her in the street and sent someone with the marriage proposal. My father, the chief earning member of the family, declined it. The suitor then threatened to steal her away. Panicked, my father learned that the man had a family house and was not altogether a bad man, in fact. But, he gave his consent because of that house. If someone has a place to stay, food is not a problem—was my father's opinion.
Fupi is now in her early thirties, slim and slender with large eyes and even after giving birth to two children, still preserves the smile of her teen years. Her husband is caring; even these days he is unwilling to let her go out on her own. In the early years of their marriage, I heard, her husband would pick a fight if he found someone staring at her on the street.
In my school days, I flew to her whenever I needed one or two taka to buy a new top or some marbles. As my voice got deeper and dark hair sprouted on my upper lip, I discovered, along with my peer group, a fresh attraction: girls. That was when I began to visit her less and less.
Finishing the snacks—bakharkhani with milk tea, I move uncomfortably to the edge of the bed. Finally, I come out of the cocoon and ask her about the suicide incident, about that woman. Fupi speaks very little, then she narrows her eyes, looks at me intently. Why are you asking these things, she questions, why do you need to know? Just curiosity, I say and try to bring a smile. She seems unconvinced.
On my way back, I think about weaving the story. All I know is the husband of the woman was abusive, she had a family feud and subsequently murdered herself. How am I going to write this now with such scanty information? Yes, I have a great ending, but what would be the beginning?
A week later, mother quizzes me about my visit to Fupi's. Did I go there to inquire about the suicide? I turn pale and stammer. Telling her the real reason will cost me my books. Too much of an obsessive pursuit has spoiled my brain, she might say. Somehow I avoid the crisis.
Nope, I can't be a writer, I think to myself.
My brain is not rich enough to erect a viable, workable story. A sliver of hope, however, crosses my mind. Maybe I should do some travelling or venture into a bohemian life like Srikanto—as in the autobiographical novel of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's Srikanto. To write one needs genuine experience, I begin to believe.
Yet I lack the guts to play with fire, to have a tantalizing floating life. For weeks, I agonize over this. Then one fine morning I wake up, sit at my desk and set the pen to paper. I know what I am going to do. Eventually, in less than a month, I complete a short story, not about suicide but about family violence.
Rahad Abir is a writer and is currently finishing a novel.