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The best of intentions


Published : Saturday, 5 November, 2022 at 12:00 AM  Count : 1153
Ajmal Sobhan

The best of intentions

The best of intentions

He was standing a bit far from her in their one bed room apartment. There was no living area, a small kitchen, and a toilet, all in 800 square feet. It was on the top floor and the heat was unbearable. She was sitting closer to the door. There was an air of gloom. She had packed her little suitcase and was blankly staring through the window. It was pouring outside, the monsoon had begun, and it appeared the rain would never stop. Everything was damp and moist.

There were strings of clothing hung in the kitchen and the bedroom as nothing dried up due to the rain. "Your parents want to take Iffrat away from us and you expect me to see my first-born from here on as a visitor? You think that a mother can be forced to abandon her own child because she has no power, no rights in this country we live in?"

He did not have an answer; he was wordless. They both sat quietly for almost 30 minutes. She finally said "Please take me to the bus stop, I have cooked enough food for you for a week". He begged her to eat some food, but she would have none. He tried to touch her but she shirked away.

He finally said "There is no reason to take the bus, I can drive you to the village, and it will take only 2 hours".  She said "No, I will be fine going by bus, I did not travel by car before I married you, and I do not need a car now. The bus is my vehicle and my means of transport, the car was a figment of my imagination". Besides, it's not even your car. He was astonished at her sternness. For a single moment he sat in disbelief. But he knew things had been set in motion. So he carried her suitcase and took her to the bus stop in a CNG scooter.

The bus stop, Gabtali, is a major grid, with hundreds of buses going to all the districts, from Rangpur in the north to Chittagong in the south. The bus is the 'poor man's transport': risky, rash drivers, busses which look like relics,  people getting pushed around all the time, and very little respect or concern for women.  Bus drivers, smoking like a chimney, and busboys, as young as 12, literally forcing passengers into their busses. At the bus stop, they waited till her bus was set to go. He took her suitcase placed it on the overhead space, and made sure she was seated.

They did not talk; there was nothing either could say. She looked across the busy street, the noise and the stench was an ugly mix; hawkers trying to sell wilted flowers, knick-knacks, cucumbers dabbed with a spicy stuff from a dirty bottle. A sea of humanity , with all its imperfections: a paraplegic, in a make shift wheel chair, and a handler desperately trying to draw attention, an elderly lady with a folder filled with X-ray's, and a sign stating her husband's need for surgery, and somewhere in the distance one could hear the azaan, the muazzin, calling the faithful for prayer.

They had taken the bus many times before when he was courting her. He was truly enamored with the girl.  But now everything had changed. He tried to make eye contact with her several times with little luck. Finally, it was time for the bus to leave and for him to get off. She said "Please don't call me, just send me an SMS to say how Iffratis doing". The tone of her voice and the softness in it, gave it an eerie quality as if this would be the last conversation they would ever have. There never was a time that their relationship appeared propitious, but what transpired of late was like a train wreck in slow motion. Fate and its consequences where written clearly on the wall. Blame was as futile as accepting reality in no uncertain terms.
Nadim came from a middle-class family, educated but not wealthy. His father a bureaucrat had moved into the city from the village, after high school, and was determined to make Dhaka his home. He finished college and university without a hitch. Ambitious and cocky, he did not delve in student politics, keeping himself away from classmates who admonished him for being such a nerd. His singular focus was on his future, determined to succeed in life and change his circumstance.. He appeared in the BCS (Bangladesh Civil Service) exam and did well.
He climbed up the ladder of bureaucracy with a lot of struggle and was proud of his well-earned position now. He was on his way for greater success, he had paid his dues. He purposefully inculcated sophistication into his life, and could now discuss art and literature with the educated elite. He also made sure he could make small conversations without exposing his humble roots. This was not easy, every now and then, he would slip. But he desperately wanted to be accepted in the upper social class of the city.
Social class meant everything in the city. How one dress, the intonation of the voice, the accent and more than anything else how one spoke English, as well as Bangla.  Money was important, but it was just as important to be able to speak with distinction, to be a member of a club, or develop the habit of social drinking. He did not have a lot of money but he rationed it well. His success also depended on his ability to grease his superiors. Sycophancy has been finessed into an art form in the Sub Continent, more so in Bangladesh, there is no shame in it. Both the purveyor and the receiver are content with the self-gratification involved. Though it was a thankless job, he felt it was small price to pay for success.
Nadim was his only son. He doted on him, gave him all the toys he asked for. But he was also a strict disciplinarian. He would not hesitate to pick up the stick for truancy or minor offences.

Nadim knew it and tried to play by the book. He remained deathly afraid of him and had nightmares of his father shouting at him. While his relationship with the father was formal and impersonal, it was one of ease and a relaxed kind with his mother. While he could hug his mom, receiving even a pat of approbation from his father was a rarity. He could always let his guard down in his mother's presence. In turn, she would protect him from his father whenever the situation demanded.
The father had come a long way. He never looked back. He might have visited his village just once in the past 30 years. Even then he did not take his family with him on that visit; for he was too embarrassed to admit that such were his   humble roots. He looked back at his village relatives with disdain. He wanted his past wiped clean. His son was placed in English medium schools and had special teachers for him to excel in his studies.

The young boy did excel, but he was not fond of his father's effort to make him a "Brown Sahib". He tried to rebel but his father would have no part of it. The boy felt intimidated and eventually gave in to his father's machinations. His mother could see the boy's frustrations and his sadness. She pleaded with him that his father wanted the best for him, to be a rising star, a person who could speak proper English, knew how to eat with a fork and a knife and not with his fingers: Western etiquette was of paramount importance. But the boy was not in tune with his father. Even at that nascent age he found it contrived, calculated, and all about success and failure.

The more the father pushed, the more the boy rebelled. The mother, caught between a rock and a hard place, tried to play the peace maker with little success. She could occasionally get her husband to shut up but not usually. He was strong physically and mentally and had the talent of a trial lawyer. It was a losing battle. As the boy became an adult, and finished college, he entered medical school just as his father wished (it was either medicine or engineering).

This was also against the boy's better judgment as he loved art and literature more. As he finished the medical school, he soon found it to be very invigorating though, as he could now help people in their worst hour: a bad accident or a woman in labor with a breach, helping the obstetrician. He was by nature a compassionate human.
As he finished the medical school he told his parents that he would like to go to the village and open up a clinic there. This infuriated the father. "I want you to do post-graduate studies, go to England or America, and forget about the village". "But Dad", said the son, "You are from the village, you should be happy for me?" "I don't care, I left the village long time ago, and Ihave nothing left there" said the father. His father's utter lack of empathy for his village roots astounded the boy. He could not understand it.

But the boy was not deterred. With money provided by his mother, and friends he went to the village, and opened up a small clinic. His practice grew, he found a place of his own, he started a small animal farm with goats and cows, and he hired people to look after them. He was content. He kept in touch with his mother in the city but hardly communicated with the father. With a busy practice and night time emergencies of all kinds, he remained tired, exhausted. His living quarters were in shambles, and he started smoking. Soon enough the heat and humidity, the incessant rain, and leaky roofs took a toll on him. He decided it is time to move on. But one fine day he met Amena.

It was in the middle of the night, he was called out to do a delivery at home; he was the doctor and the midwife. When he entered the tin shed house he saw a woman in labor shrieking, being held down by a young lady. The mother-to be was horrified to see a male doctor. The young lady said"He is the doctor, he will save the baby and you, he is very good, and I will be at your side all the time".

 Nadim was amazed by her poise and quick wit. After the baby was delivered, Nadim tried to open up a conversation with the young lady. "So, how did you know I am a good doctor?"  "I didn't! I just said it because she wouldn't let you touch her if I hadn't! "Touché!" he thought. "This is no ordinary girl!" he mused. He observed her closely without gawking. Becoming self-conscious, the girl said "This is a village, men are not supposed to look at girls like you are!""But, do you mind?"he said.

She blushed and said "No, I don't, but not when you do it in front of people!" "Well, can we meet somewhere else, then?" She said "Maybe", and left the scene.

Nadim was instantly star-struck. There began a courtship which was as romantic as it was tragic. She had no sophistication, and her language, mannerisms were very provincial. Her complexion was dark, she had a finely etched face but there were pock marks on her face. But more than anything else she was animated, engaging and had a way with words. None of her awkward social traits disturbed Nadim. It was almost as if her so called drawbacks were the very reason he was attracted to her. There was a chemistry at play between the two from the get go.

But she had no illusions about the stumbling blocks in their relationship. When he finally approached her for the possibility of matrimony, she said "Nadim, it is not going to work. You will not survive here and I will not survive in the city".

He said "In that case, we will go someplace else, where no one knows us". "You are speaking with your heart and not with your head; your parents are not going to take kindly to me. They will never see what you see in me. You will be fine whereas I will be left in the cold", trembling as she said all this, she was still holding on to him. He said "I promise I will work it out. If I have to stay in the village forever, this is where I will stay with you".

He proceeded to go with her to Amena's parents, and formally asked for her hand in marriage. Amena's father said, "Son, you are a good person, and we know you love our daughter, but you have no comprehension of what awaits you. Our daughter is the only educated person in our family, she is a nurse, and she is the one who will support us when we are old. She is precious to us. Now you want to take her away from us".

Nadim said "If I need to stay here, I will stay here; if we need to go somewhere else we will do so, but we will always be together. That promise I give you". Amena's parents relented finally and accepted Nadim's proposal.

Nadim called up his mother to say that he had fallen in love. "With whom?" asks his mother. "With a village girl" And the mother says "Oh, my God"! Shocked but not surprised by his mother's response, he says "This is the girl I will marry". The mother said "You have no idea what you are doing, your father will have a fit, and I will not be able to calm him down". "Ma, my mind is made up" As happy as the two were that they were going to get married to each other, there yet were an underlying sense of dread. They held themselves close together as if something was already tugging at them to break asunder.

Within a few months, Nadim married Amenain a simple ceremony in the village, with only the girl's parents, the village elders and a few friends of his. Amena's parents became close to the young man from the city who displayed such genuine love for their daughter. They were never apart. Amena became his assistant in the office, in the delivery room, and in examining all female patients.

One year passed by, the couple gives birth to a baby girl, Iffrat. In the meanwhile, Nadim's mother pleaded with him to come home to the city. She said that the father had asked her to call and make the plea. Amena's father was now worried sick.

He told Nadim "Son, you are making a mistake, your father will not treat my daughter nicely and you will also suffer to see her suffer". Nadim replied "I have to try, I have to give my dad another chance, and I also need to learn more medicine in the city to become a better doctor. I give you my word - nothing bad will happen to Iffrat and Amena: after all, they are my daughter and wife". Dutifully, Nadim, with his wife Amena and daughter Iffrat in tow set out to go back to the city of his parents. As they left the village, Amena's parents had  a sense of impending doom, but there was nothing they could do to stop 'karma' playing itself out.

The boy's intention on his return to the city was to make peace with his father, especially now with the new baby at hand.
(To be continued)

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