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     Volume 4 Issue 27 | December 31, 2004 |

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A Dirge

Syed Waliullah

I was still in my early childhood when my mother left for the other world leaving an unfathomable void in my life. Now, the hazy remembrance of that sad event of the past still lingers for it is woven into the string of beads of my memory. Since then, there have been days of both agony and ecstasy in my life. Both occurred alternately. One showed up at the heel of the other at regular intervals. Then came long days of full-time homebound life for over a decade and a half, after my wife had a brain stroke that robbed her of speech and left her immobile, despite undergoing brain surgery.

At her deathbed, as recalled by seniors in the family, my mother used to hold me close to her frail body and whisper in agony, "Son, I am leaving you soon."

She then continued in a choked voice, "I am leaving you in the hands of Allah, He will take care of you." I am not sure if I understood then the full import of mother's departing words. Now, the pain -- stricken words of emotions from my mother returns to me, though not regularly, but surely enough to make me feel sad and pensive, even at this late age.

Later, but not long after, while I was a high school kid I had a copy of Mashik Boshumuti, a publication from Kolkata. This particular issue had a cover photo of a sad looking beautiful young mother sitting on her bedroom floor. She was holding a baby frock and pearly drops of tears were hanging on her cheeks, with baby toys scattered all around her. There was this caption inside, "The front page picture is of a young mother, just lost her baby." This picture affected my sensibility so deeply that it is still fresh in my memory making me wonder, why a mother loses her child and a child has to see his mother die! Did I ever think that I may, one day, go through such a sorrowful experience? Definitely not. Never did I have an inkling of what was awaiting me when I was to raise my own family.

My wife and I went through a long spell of intensive agony when we lost our second baby, a stillborn. Most of the time she kept her sufferings to herself and refrained from verbalising her painful memories of the lost child. I had no words of consolation for my wife but could only hold her hand and sit close to her. Occasionally we would go for drives to places or to meet someone she liked. This did not help. I used to hear her utter, "How beautiful were his features, little round face and long limbs!" with a painful look on her face. She could not even weep. She had an amazing capacity to hold back her grief. Our surviving son, in his adolescent years sensed his mother's agony related to her failed pregnancy. He was immensely touched by the incident, so much so that he tried to console his mother by saying "When you get pregnant again I will take care of you."

I sent him a draft of this piece. While making some observations on the material he added, "I forgot that I ever said this to Ammu. Also, you don't know this for you were in the middle of all that was going on, but I remember sneaking into the bedroom and taking a glimpse of my stillborn brother. I didn't come to know of it later, but had actually experienced it and have some memory of it."

He has always been a quiet partner of our sorrow that he also long kept to himself. I took my wife on a boat trip on board the steamer S.S. Ostrich to and from Khulna to soothen her intense agony following the mishap. On our return journey we woke up early in the morning and sat on deck chairs when most of the cabin passengers were still in bed. An attendant came along and asked if we would like to have a cup of tea when he informed us that we, at that very moment, were at the confluence of the three big rivers -- Meghna, Jamuna and Padma. Due to semi darkness of the wee hours we could not make out the differential colour of these rivers at the confluence.

I was enjoying the tranquil surroundings and the early morning breeze that came from all directions as we were waiting for the famed crimson sun to show up on the horizon. There were hundreds of tiny country boats all around us returning to Chandpur Ghat with their boat full of Hilsas that they caught the night before. It was a perfect blissful early morning for there was no sound excepting the monotonous one, produced in the lower deck engine room and the occasional heavy throated whistle blown by our ship warning these fishing boats to stay away from our path.

At one point we found a thin bright lining of ray of the rising sun to our right horizon, soon to be gradually lightening up the atmosphere with the mild glow of the huge round shaped crimson sun. Both of us were in reclusive moods and as I was completely lost in the comfort of the environment, I did not notice her mental state. Suddenly I heard her blurting out, "Death was hovering on us." I was taken aback by these words and looked at her askance.

She went on, "In return death took away a life -- the life of the little one, sparing my life. It was alive as long it was in my womb. You remember? I always felt it kicking inside me while it was growing bigger by the day. There was no doubt that the baby would arrive at the appointed time and in good health."

She paused and continued, "I always thought that once he is in my lap I would have raised him with great care, and loved him the same way I did our elder son but would have avoided making the mistakes that we made in his case. Remember, I used to tell you all about it? All these dreams ultimately ended up as a dream."

She stopped for a while, and then said, "Why did Allah spare my life, not his?" I looked at her and found her tearful eyes. Her monologue came to a sudden stop. She sighed and kept quiet. That was it. Never again did I hear her express such emotions all these long thirty plus years.

It has been seven years now since my wife suffered a brain stroke and was bedridden. She does not talk or move. She is quite aware of her surroundings, listens to what is said around her. She seems to recognise her friends or relatives, even if they visit her, after a decade or so. In her present state, the painful memory of the stillborn is still troubling her in her silent world. We can only surmise this from the way she enjoys the company of the babies of our visitors. On seeing a baby only a year ago she would extend her hand to hold him/her. At these moments, everyone present by her bedside could see a glimmer on her face. The younger the baby, the greater was her urge to hold him. On failing to hold the baby her face would return to its non-expressive stance. Those of us who nursed her knew very well that there is a pain hiding behind the plain face, for she still seems to remember the still-born.

How true was John Keats when he wrote "Pleasure is oft a visitant; but pain Cruelly clings to us."


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