In the Straits of Bosporus
It was a dream coming true.
I had been imagining of it from the days knowledge quest, when we would engage ourselves knowing who knows what, and the best. During those sweet days, when classes were thin and loose early every year, when we were free to gossip in the class sitting ourselves to our comfort; we would sometimes resort to asking questions as to what, when and where were the earthly features with the superlative status - biggest, smallest, longest, deepest, hottest, coolest, widest etc., etc.
That Bosporus divides the City of Istanbul into two whole continents was a great geographic fun--in one moment you are in Asia and in the next, you run towards Europe. 'What is Golden Horn by?' 'Bosporus' was the reply. So many ships passed through the water course since time immemorial, so much trade, so many adventures! Greek Ulysses surely and Arab Sindabad possibly lost ships in storms somewhere here. Was Robinson Crusoe straddling the waters? So were the silent curiosities filling our minds. And so many times this great city changed hands in more than a millennium of its history--Saint Sophia (Aya Sofia) => Constantinople => Istanbul--gain for some, pain for others.
Though in my early forties, I was certainly euphoric and literally conducting electronic sorties between Dhaka and Istanbul. In one such sortie, when I had queried whether it would be possible to stroll along the shores of Bosporus after dinner, my Course Coordinator simply emailed, "You come first and let us see". I was at a fix. Is it prohibited for foreigners, particularly a bearded Muslim like me, to move openly in a strictly secularized country? Are they so scared of mixing as puritan Aryans are? Is it another iron-curtain (or more precisely steel-curtain) protecting their super-orthodox secularism? Sand after all is hotter than the Sun itself!
Maybe Dr. Mehmet Emin Birpinar had smiles for my childlike euphoria. Istanbul is an ancient mega-city (now 13 million residents) and our Misafirhane (musafirkhana or guesthouse) was miles away across heavy traffic streets and lanes over an eye-catching, undulating landscape. It is good to stare but rude to fare depending only on one's feet. On arrival, we had to travel 50 km cross-city (all very much within the city perimeters) from Kemal Ataturk International Airport to our 10-night abode at Guzeltepe Mah. Namazgah Cadesi. Who was going to take me if even I did like and afford to! But Ali Altunisk, an-Iranian-looking young man, did take us once. I had better follow our great predecessor Syed Mujtaba Ali and stop short of.
As we stood on the narrow, sandy shore waiting for the boat to turn up, there seemed no let up to the endless stream of cars, jeeps, buses, lorries and trailers crossing one of the three bridges, suspension type and 60m above the highest water level. Waves and winds splashed chilled water spears at us (mind, we had been no trespassing Gullivers and there were no Lilliputians either!). What is very strange - the day is hot but the water is icy! Overhead, piles of clouds, white and gray, mobilized all over the skies, as if to arrange for a Sunamganj-style reception.
Earlier, we had started after lunch and there was no hurry either, only the impatience of getting aboard and afloat on the 200m deep link between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Fate is usually not on my side whenever I happen to be on journeys. My buses are late to roll and my trains arrive at times as if too early for the next days trip. Even when I was about to fly from ZIA, BAF fighters had put us on a halt just at the entry to the runway nevertheless, it was indeed thrilling to see fighters taking off so close! As if a pair of sparrows stretched wings in front of our white 777 swan.
A Turk was angling nearby. With every pull of the string, he did bring fresh, the memory of an avid angler. He looked ever-relaxed and had a grocery shop to run.
But he had been only a part-timer there, leaving his widow mother to take care. His main business was to hook fish from the innumerable brooks, ponds and ditches (then full of Koi, Shing, Magur, Tengra, Puti) dotting and lining our small, sleepy town and its roads. Sitaramdah is long gone, so gone are most of the ponds and ditches, characteristic features of low-lying Sunamganj. What a lake-like beauty our Jubilee School playground would assume when Surma would burst her banks during full monsoon!
Sudden cheerful hue and cry cut my time-travel short. I returned to present and spotted the vessel. It was approaching us at an angle rolling over the mild waves. It looked flat, much like the boats risking docking with passenger ships in the Meghna near Munshiganj at dawn. May be built as such to stabilise on un-calmly waters of the straits.
Zia Bey, was written its name above the waterline along its swollen belly. It sounded much like Zia Bhai to me. "What does Bey mean?" I asked Omar Birpinar standing nearby.
"It's an honoring word like Mr. or Madam" replied Omar and implicitly criticising western styles, added, "We give value to the person. So we utter the name first and then use title". The same Asian practice, I thought to myself: we also usually call Zia Shaheb, Mia Chacha or Tia Bhai. The Indians say, Zitu Jee, Mita Jee.
Talking and laughing, hearing cautionary words from our Turk friends, we got on board.
The vessel started cruising through the rolling surface and the afternoon winds. I climbed to the top deck awash with sunshine. The brilliant afternoon light added cosmetics to the green vegetation on the hillocks lining both shores of Bosporus. Here and there red-roofed houses peeped through attracting me to spend a night there and staring at the waters. Being citizen of an extremely flat country, I am always fascinated by undulating landmasses. Oh, had I been owner of a small hilltop bungalow overlooking this saline river!
Legendary Abdul Aleem staged a loud comeback in me. Without the slightest hesitation, I opened my bill: sorbonasha Padmanadi …, at the top of my voice. My voyage-mates gathered around me in great excitement and joy. Ever smiling Muhiddin opened his video-cam and focused on me. His small, even, white teeth peeping through rosy lips on a golden face, demanded reverse position of the camera. But what to do?
As I sang, I waved my hands all around, gesturing towards the waters repeating questions Aleem so genuinely asked to Padma.
"He is doing things so that we do not forget him" commented Professor Zekai Shen. He was smiling, so was Professor Levent Kavvas and Professor Tefaruk Haktanir. They were enjoying the instrument-free exercise of mine.
When I finished, Dr. Birpinar asked: "What it says, Mozammel?"
"Well, it is about a once mighty river of our country, called Padma. Terming it as a catastrophic river, a boatman asks whether it has any limits or not. But it's no more as such. Indians have killed the river through a barrage at Farakka". As I narrated, I looked at Arindam and Rajkumar, the two Indian participants to the course. I could detect unease especially on Bangali Arindam's face. That's enough. I cut short changing the subject.
"Shall we be heading towards the open sea?" I eagerly asked Dr. Birpinar. As before, he did not answer in a concluding manner. Smiles, not words were dominant on his rosy lips. I changed the context again. Maybe, Turks love mystery.
(To be continued next week)
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