Oh, Lord! Is this your way of freeing me from the possible entanglement of relationships? I pondered and wondered; my eyes filled with tears. The joy of such freedom is full of intense pain too. Nobody would understand the pain of a hollow man such as me unless of course, one has been through it. … I must also add that I cannot help smiling ruefully at the irony of the situation. So at the dead of night I sing, “O cruel one, this is the best solution. Sear my heart with fire.” I suppose I must tell you now what happened….
I received a letter from Shahida the other day. My beloved is now married and happy…. I felt that I've been freed from bondage. I won't lie to you, however, that at the same time, I've been consumed with pain and jealousy. I've run around in a fierce mood for the past few days, but have found no peace. We are so proud of our superior human mind and body; but how much can we really sustain? We talk to ourselves to restrain our mind and boast that we've become great hermits. And then in the twinkle of an eye an intense desire takes over our heart and soul and we howl in frustration. Isn't that all too human? Does freedom reside only in such bonds? Who knows!
Forget me, wretched Shahida, forget our past, all memories of us together, all concealed desires, everything! Imprisoned in the darkest confinement of society, how could you dream of the unattainable? Why did your foolish heart offer itself to someone who could never claim it? ….Only in some secret chamber of the earth does your love abide and you struggle every moment to keep the blind love contained there. The curtains of murderous society are bloodied with the crimson of your love, but have no place for pre-marital love. It is still guarding you like a stone effigy.
Forget all, Shahida; enjoy your new life and forget the old. You've no right to love an individual person; you have to love your husband.
Ah, the faint light of the waning moon seems so dismal. Memories from last night are killing my soul….
Last night, around this time, and as the commander of this battalion, I was going around, revolver in hand. I heard one of the guards calling out, “Halt, who goes there?” He called again, “I say, who is there? Don't move!—Ugh!—Mother of God!” All I could hear afterwards was someone groaning. I rushed forward and saw an Arab woman in a red dress running away, a rifle in her hand, and the still body of a sentry lying on the ground.
They are absolutely fearless—these Bedouin women. I realized instantly that they are the ones who had been stealing our rifles and killing our guards. Standing still, I took a shot at the woman, but failed to hit her. As I was preparing to shoot again, the woman turned around. Like a skilled gunman she raised the rifle to her shoulder and took aim at me. I then heard the sound the rifle being loaded, but surprisingly, she threw it away and I saw her crouching on the ground, trembling. I had already taken cover, but at this opportunity I sprang up. But the spectacle that I was confronted with made me drop my revolver too. The covering on her face was gone, and the light of the moon shone clearly on her fair face. I could recognize the Bedouin woman Gul in the light of the moon. Gul, who years ago, had declared her love for me! She was surprised indeed, but I could also discern tears, brighter than moonlight, running down her cheeks. She was trembling in pain and pleasure. I could read her heart in her tears, “O cruel one, where did you appear from after all this time? And you made me cry so.” Even my stony heart allowed itself a few teardrops.
O Lord, what kind of test is this? I came to my senses soon and wondered about what I should do now. Years of practiced restraint—will they be undone by a few teardrops of a love-struck girl? Then I remembered Shahida and a very similar tear-stained face.
I thought I heard a warning voice that echoed through the deserts and mountains of Kutol Amara, “Soldier, beware!”
In my mind's eyes I saw the whole of Bengal waiting for the likes of us with garlands and blessings. Between love and duty I'll always choose duty!
I prayed, “O Lord, pour strength in my heart and arms. I have a duty to perform.”
Induced by a surge of new-found vigor, I took up my revolver. I heard a command, “Fire.” I did exactly that.
Right afterwards there was a sharp cry, “Mother!.. O ma.. ah!”
And then all was silent.
I lost myself completely and ran towards her. Taking the fallen form and holding her close to my chest I pressed my thirsting lips on her dying ones. “Gul, Gul, Gul!” I sobbed. Her tears fell like sheuli flowers assailed by a strong wind.
She raised her hands slowly and clung to me. In the faint light of the moon her face appeared unearthly. That face will haunt me throughout my life. … She opened her eyes slowly, took a look at me and closed them again. She said, “Death in the hands of one's lover should be cherished, right, my love?” I sat like a statue as she smiled a sad smile. A faint tremor ran through her body like an earthquake. My tears mingled with the blood on her breasts. She was still holding my hands; her facial expression expressed contentment. Was this what she wanted? … Once again I kissed her lips that were going cold, and called out, “Gul, Gul, Gul!” The night air blew and mocked me, “Wrong, wrong, wrong!”
The moon reappeared through the thin clouds and I lay there with Gul in my arms. Suddenly, an elderly woman appeared from nowhere and snatched Gul away from my embrace.
As the woman howled over her daughter I fell at her feet like one enthralled and cried, “Ma, Ma!”She picked me up like a mother indeed; kissed my forehead and called out to me, “Farzand, Farzand.” Her tears flew like the rushing waters of the river Kaberi and fell on my head.
Ah, the anguish of a mother who has lost her daughter!
I roused myself resolutely; stood up and whimpered, “Mother, O mother!” I thought I could hear a choking voice calling my name, “Farzand!”
Far away, from the top of the mountains the sound of a mother wailing for her lost daughter resonated through the valley. Then was heard the sound of hoofs of a horse galloping.
Am I a beggar today, or a king? A convict or a free person? Am I complete or hollow?
I wait by the pensive and quiet Arab Sea with torrents of rain washing over me.
Sohana Manzoor is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh. She is also the Deputy Editor of The Daily Star Literature pages.