Concealed Behind The Henna Patterns

It was but a weird feeling.

It was not because I am a male and she was a female; or because I felt attracted to her; neither was it because of the charismatic manner in which she spoke but refused to look at me in the eye.

But talking to Rina Afsara was a very weird feeling indeed. I was floundered by her beauty and the youthful maturity in her speech. And as she lifted up her dupatta from her kameez to modestly cover up her hair when we conversed, I imagined the terrible realities that awaited her.

Rina’s immediate maternal aunt was my mom’s best friend, and together with the lady, my mom had set up a good marriage for the 13 year old girl. The girl’s age was questioned by the bride’s family; but as soon as the 30 year old man had had a look at the girl and spoken to her, he had acceded to the marriage. And besides, child marriages are nothing new in this part of the world. The girl’s family, who lived in a remote village in a small district of northern Bangladesh, had stopped her schooling recently after the local goons started following her to school. In short, everyone was happy; the bridegroom’s family was happy to have found a young, charismatic, conservative bride; while the bride and her family were happy to have thrown off the goons from their trail. My mom on the other hand was happy to have arranged a marriage for a damsel in distress.

But there was something in all this happiness that I could not concur with. True the girl was in danger. Village goons are a particularly problematic part of the sub-continental society, and especially so for families in the remote areas with unmarried, young and beautiful females. And I also acknowledged that those who understood the ground realities in this situation, despite the pompous speeches given by our politicians and feminists about how Bangladesh has successfully eliminated a lot of gaps between males and females through free education for girls, economic empowerment etc, would have proposed an immediate action to save the girl’s life from destruction. But was it okay to marry off such a young girl, who had yet to see the world around her apart from her childhood fantasies and television channels? Was it okay to allow Rina to be in the hands of a man more than twice her senior, at a time when she had yet to cross her teenage whims, in a city where she did not have the comfort of her community and the entourage of her family and friends?

But I also considered my mom’s stance on the issue. “She needs to save her life and honor for heaven’s sake,” she had told me when I asked her how she would have felt if either she or the daughter she had never given birth to were in Rina’s position. “But she is just a child!” I protested to her. “Rina agreed to it. She knows this would save her life,” my protests were numbed by her bland logic.

In fact, I am sure that anyone from South Asia who knows the terrible realities and limitations of the society here would have said the same thing. But what my mom and Rina’s family were doing was definitely going to rob Rina of both her childhood and her future life. Her dreams, perhaps of becoming a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer or even a woman’s rights activist would forever go unfulfilled. Instead she will have to lead a life of dependence and ignorance, and will have to occupy a place in this universe in which she will eventually be left with counting the days to her demise only.
At a family dinner the night before the wedding, I told my mom what I had in my mind.

“I am going to call the police. What you are doing is illegal,” I told her.

According to Bangladeshi law, no girl or boy can be married before they reach the age of 18. Cases of the police and district courts handing out jail and monetary sentences to the organizers and families of such illegal marriages have been frequent.

My mom scowled at me. My father stopped mixing his rice abruptly.

“WHAT?” It was my younger brother who asked.

“This is wrong,” I pointed out to my mom. “You can’t do something illegal and so immoral and get away with it. You are going to destroy the promising life the girl deserves to have.”

“So now you are going to teach ME morality? Oho no,” my mother broke into a sardonic smile. “It’s actually the air of Dhaka that has destroyed your perspectives. You see freely-roaming women wearing the shortest skirts and high heels in this city and you think that’s all about this country?”

“You can’t do this. The police will make a scene and the newspapers will report the incident.” I have done something like this before already and wasn’t afraid of repeating it. When an officer at a government ministry asked me for bribe for the release of a document, I called up newspaper reporters I was in contact with who then arrived and made a scene that culminated in the corrupt officer’s eventual dismissal from office. In this occasion I was hopeful that my mom would realize that the event would tarnish the reputation of her friend’s husband, i.e. Rina’s uncle, who was a prominent politician in the city.

“Okay let’s see you do this. Rina Afsara will be lifted from oil and thrown into the fire. If you achieve what you want to do, due to her broken marriage she will never be able to find a suitor again, and will probably commit suicide if not kidnapped by her many admirers.” With that my mom decided to end the discourse. She went back to her olive-dal and mixed them up with her rice.

The stillness of the pre-winter season permeated through our open dining room. In a way the silence seemed to underscore my helplessness.

The next day, I witnessed Rina Afsara escorted into the marriage stage by her female cousins. She sat with her bridegroom and when the mullah asked for her consent in the marriage, she loudly articulated ‘kobul’ in the traditional style. After the people around her had left, I went to her. I noticed a happy tear glisten down her beautiful, childish cheeks as she looked sideways at me and smiled. I opened her fists to see the henna patterns on her palm.

Through the intricately woven designs, the henna foreshadowed Rina Afsara’s upcoming life of illiteracy and inferiority. Soon the concreteness of urban Dhaka would engulf her sorrows and broken dreams, and none of the occupants of the city except me would play witness to the well-deserved life she had let gone because of her social constraints.

I will be able to go forward to touch my dreams, get an excellent education and eventually accomplish my lofty ambitions of touching the sky. But what will Rina Afsara, who deserved nothing less than me, be able to achieve?

That night I realized how privileged I was; and how important it was to dismantle unjust social norms.

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The Tale of the Immortals——a flash-fiction about soldiers in a battlefield

US army officials withdrawing from Iraq after a bloody invasion that slaughtered thousands of civilians and troops and resulted in a new source of instability and sectarian war in one of the world’s most culturally rich ancient civilizations

As dawn approached and the sun’s silky rays gradually tainted the blankets of the night, I remained hidden under my cover along with the rest of my soldiers.“They are firing again,” I heard the soldier beside me agonized.Hours have passed since we were ambushed by the enemy tankers. In the darkness of the night our foes have shelled our base and reduced our camps to rubble.

Most of us had been slaughtered by the gun-shots and bombs, and the ones alive had been mutilated beyond repair. Our radio waves have been intercepted by the enemy; thus hindering any communication with the mainland for help.

“It’s time lieutenant,” one of my bravest warriors told me from his cover.

“What do you mean?” I asked him, appalled.

“Death shall be my beginning sir. My life is for my motherland only.”

“Officer, I order you—-“

But looking at his eyes, proud and resolute, I knew it was in vain. He raised his hands for a final salute.

Exposed, with the little amount of ammo he possessed, he started firing randomly at enemy soldiers. It didn’t take him long to collapse in an ambush.

“I don’t want to die sir,” one of the younger soldiers moaned. All of us were out of ammo already. There was no question of fighting back.

“Shut up for heaven’s sake!”

“I miss my mom, dad and my girl. I promised to marry her after my enlistment was over.”

I noticed his glistening eyes. This is what recruiting 19-year olds for battle gives you. I made a mental note of complaining about this whining kid to my superiors if I escaped alive today.

I recalled I had a family too. It’s been years since I last saw my children and their mother. I missed home, my mom’s cooking and my father’s commands. Before Japan had entered into the war to consolidate our beloved empire’s power over the east, I used to be a husband, father and son.

But I brushed away those thoughts. Everything now was as distant as the night’s vastness.

I knew death was imminent. But the question was, how? Would it be better to cowardly let it come to us, or should we proudly embrace it with our courage?

I saw the young soldier scribbling okasan, the Japanese word for mother, on the soil. It was at that moment when I decided that the time had come.

“Lads. It’s time,” I told my soldiers gravely. “But remember, we are dying like soldiers. We are not giving up; rather, we are sacrificing ourselves for our motherland.”

I could discern from the tension around me that, although concisely, I had articulated my point. Everyone gathered up whatever they had. Bamboos, broken rifles, gun, everything.

And I decided to lead them from the front on the run to death.

“Bon Sai!”

With a tumultuous roar, we advanced along the enemy lines, ready to face death.

Moonlight’s Story

The Story Behind this Short-Story:

My mom acquired Rahima a few months back to work for her as a domestic worker. Although it is clear that Rahima is definitely younger than me, even at this age she is already a single mother of a 2-year old toddler. Her husband left her and their daughter to remarry and never returned to her, leaving her with no male guardian since her father has been dead from a long time back. Her story epitomizes that of many young females in Bangladesh. Although my story is entirely fictitious, it was inspired out of the many Rahimas living and mixing with the crowd freely, keeping their stories to themselves and constantly struggling with life.

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Moonlight’s Story

 

The virgin sun of the morning rose up majestically, turning the sky into an endearing shade of an aesthetic yellow hue. Symbolizing freshness and tranquility, the sun was also serenaded by a gust of refreshing, celestial breeze blowing directly from the heavens. The city’s occupants, oblivious to the morning preparations of the sun, were still engulfed by their slumbers where they dreamt of happiness and ambitions at this particular hour of the day. The birds, however, were already awake, breathing their share of the wind that had been bequeathed by the Heavens themselves.

As the sun fretted over its newly achieved aura, inside one of the many slums of Dhaka a shabby bamboo hovel was stirring up slowly. The sun, seizing its opportunity, penetrated through the countless cracks of the shack and used its rays to illuminate the different corners of the humble hut. Sporadically, as the rays shone upon them, the rats and roaches began to move out and dispersed themselves off to their darker hide-outs.

Other than the parasites, the hut also housed an eighteen year old single mother and her two year old daughter. The mother was named Khadija, after the Prophet’s beloved wife, while the daughter was called Fatima, after the Prophet’s daughter. The two of them were sleeping peacefully, dreaming their dreams of happiness, of finding love, shelter and all the other necessities of worldly life.

As the chirping grew louder with an increased frequency, Khadija woke up with a start. Affronted by the glistening sun’s rays entering into the hut, she gasped for breathe.

It’s late again, she muttered as she got up and rushed outside.

Getting an ablution, she entered back into the hovel and unfurled her prayer-mat in front of the dawn’s silky rays.

Every prayer of hers since the last two years has been but towards one objective.

Please, my Lord. Let me and my daughter live the day as we had lived the day before. Let us survive through the next day without losing each other’s company. Do not separate us until you command death for one of us.

By the time Khadija’s prayers are done, Fatima wakes up routinely to greet her mom with a pair of morose eyes. The two of them then bathe using the waters from the tube-well before getting properly dressed. Powder-puffed with the cheapest talc, Fatima escorts her mom as the two come out of Korail slum to enter into the streets of Gulshan.

Mother and daughter are greeted by the glitz of Gulshan—the towering skyscrapers and the huge number of BMWs on the roads that symbolize prosperity in this God-forsaken country—-as they walk down the pavements that support the wealthiest tax-payers of the nation. They need to enter Khadija’s work-place soon; otherwise her mistress will not fail to reprimand her.

It was a beautiful summer Friday afternoon. The decorations were complete and the village elders were all set. The noon prayers had been accomplished and as soon as the bridegroom arrived the marriage ceremony was commenced by the local Kazi. Dressed in her impeccable best, and with henna painted over her brown face, hands and feet, the 14 year old bride was married off by her poverty-stricken parents at a meager dowry. Yet, everyone was happy, even the young bride who had resigned to Fate and was still too young tobe able to gather what was happening to her. 

The mother and daughter sat down in the kitchen and Khadija began to roll out the dough in order to start making chapattis for the family she worked for. It was still very early morning, but soon everyone would be up awake and breakfast should be available on the table.

It was on the wedding night that the couple consummated their marriage in accordance with the tradition. The girl felt safe in her husband’s arms; arms that were at least ten years older; and the man found that the girl could be trusted to serve his naiveties. So he took her off to the capital city where he worked as a day-laborer. They lived in an overcrowded slum by the side of Buriganga, and while the man toiled hard throughout the day the girl maintained his house and kept whatever frugal possessions they had abreast. A year passed by in bliss, and happiness. Albeit, a short-lived happiness.

“What’s taking you so long?” the mistress asked Khadija referring to the chapattis, and then “You,” pointing at Fatima, “How many times do I have to bloody tell you not to sit against my newly-painted wall? Get off and go to the balcony.”

To which Fatima silently obliged.

The job is a blessing, Khadija thought. How else could I have earned 2500 taka working throughout the day! We would have starved to death without the job. 

But mistress wanted everything picture perfect. And fast. Mighty fast. Punctuality was on the top of her agenda.

And so Khadija worked faster to appease the mistress.

It was around a year of marriage. Khadija founded out that she had missed her most recent period. Blushed, feeling ashamed and happy at the same time, she confessed her pregnancy at first to her neighbor. But there was something wrong on the middle-aged women’s face. “You don’t know?” she countenanced. “Know what?” Khadija enquired, perplexed. “Your husband fucks whores all the time. He won’t ever father your child.” 

With the morning chores over, Khadija began to do the washing and the cleaning. She mopped the floors religiously, while Fatima stayed silent on the balcony.

She has been trained to stay silent, Khadija pondered and breathed a sigh of relief. A cry-baby was the last thing she could have managed.

“What garbage are you talking about old lady?” Khadija began a storm of assaults at her and breathed out madeup stories about how the lady’s husband sees the girl living in the next quarters and how she was sure that the lady should be managing her own home before destroying another. But deep down inside, a fear lumped down her throat. A fear that was a multipleheaded ferocious monster. A fear that weighed her down and caught her fervently…….

She meandered away with her lunch, so that Fatima could be apportioned enough to fill her hungry stomach. Gulping down the remains in one go with several glasses of water, she again set to work while her daughter resumed her old position in the balcony. By then, the maiden sun had been replaced by a more ferocious one. The glaring Dhaka heat was drowning out all of Khadija’s energy.

………….”Do you or do you not?” she enquired after her husband. “Fuck whores? Of course not; I am your husband, can’t you see? I took a dowry from your father.” But his eyes emitted an indistinguishable glare of pretense which the young bride could easily discern. She called after him as he was leaving for work diffidently, “I am pregnant.” The husband stopped dead in his tracks, rattled at such a sudden news. Without flexing any muscle or turning back he said grimly, “Well, we’ll see about that later on tonight.” He strode away confidently, denying a wife her right to a husband; denying a daughter the right to fatherhood; denying a family the very fabric of society……

The family had completed its dinner. The leftovers were dumped for the servants and drivers. Each took their own share. Khadija had to share her own with Fatima once again. But seeing her child eating voraciously was enough to feed her hungry stomach. After the eating and resting was over, they left for Korail once again. Climbing down the stairs, Khadija felt a strange nausea of pain on her ankles. But she had trained herself to accept, and to survive. It was just a matter of getting used to.

On the pavements, the two walked hand in hand as a yellow taxi cab stopped beside them.

“Hello there, lovely ladies!” the driver of the cab began, “Need a ride? It’s free. Only the older one needs to bounce on my lap. Okay? Agreed?”

“Back off motherfucker,” Khadija shouted back at the top of her voice, “Fuck your own penis if you feel so hungry, you fuckhead.”

With that the mother took up her daughter and ran into a dark alley to take the shortcut into her hut.

It was a serene moonlit night. The drunkards were singing out loud at the top of their voices, while the drug addicts were using needles to get into a daze. As she opened the façade of her hut she found it slightly opened. “Anyone there?” she called in. But there was no answer. “Must be a cat,” she thought.
Closing the doors from the inside, she laid down Fatima and sang her back to sleep. Exhausted, she then laid herself down on the mattress to get some sleep before morning creeps in once again.

Immediately through the moonlit rays entering into the hut she frighteningly discovered that a dark black silhouette was moving squarely across the room. As the figure approached her she could discern that it belonged to a fully-grown man. The man placed a hand on her face and cupped her mouth to drown out her remonstrations. With the other hand he reached beneath her kameez and began to open the knot tying her shalwar.

Forced to fear the worst, inside the dark gloomy hut through which countless rays of the moon were at that time dancing with the love of life, Khadija felt the stranger’s body descend upon her. She prayed to God this wasn’t happening in reality.

But alas, reality happens to be one of the most enigmatic substances of existence.

With the moon’s rays as the only witness over the act, the man entered into Khadija. He did not need to drown out her voice anymore. By that time fear and physical dementia had wired her out and teleported her into her wildest nightmares. It was all done smoothly and quickly, with only a few breathing moans emanating from the man and his victim. No neighbor would ever be able to enunciate that. Wobbly and tired, the man then entered out and panted heavily as he tied back the straps of Khadija’s shalwar and got up to leave.

The eighteen year old, however, lay lifeless on the mattress, with her eyes closed; refusing to believe what had happened to her; hoping time and again she wouldn’t have to bear the fruit of injustice once again.

But injustice, also, happens to be one of the erudite forces governing subsistence.

It will be a new sun tomorrow; a new dawn. And both Khadija and Fatima will have to go on as if nothing had happened under the wistful eyes of the moon that night.

There was nothing that the moon could do, except hoping time and again that injustice would not have to bear a new fruit in their lives because of that fateful event.

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At War With the Fireflies

Drunk with a stillness that resuscitated itself with every turn of the wind, the night imposed an eerie atmosphere into the components concealed under its gigantic blanket. Here and there, the green fields, pregnant with corn and rice plants and seedlings, resonated a belated exuberance for having met the recondite creatures whose enigma and incandescence had eluded them forever.

Intermittently, the fireflies moved among the plantations, and my eyes could distinguish them as they moved.

As if under an aphrodisiac, the fireflies worked their magic with the light that the Creator had so skillfully architected into them.

The lights are on.

The next instant they are turned off.

Again, the lights regurgitate themselves over the fireflies’ tiny exoskeletons chaotically.

Attempting to bring order from chaos, the flies turn them off again. Trying their best not to give themselves up to my eyes.

The cognitive processes inside a firefly’s brain occur faster than those inside the human brain. And you don’t need to be a PhD-holding scientist to be able to discern the aforementioned fact. The frequency at which fireflies are able to turn their lights on and off is a direct observable evidence that nerve impulses travel at a much more rapid rate inside their bodies. In a way, they are actually more advanced than the average human species.

In a way. Yes. That’s the correct phrase.

“But why do you digress, eh? Fireflies aren’t your specialty,” the Pessimist that lived symbiotically inside me, told me that my time was precious.

“Why do you care?” I snap back at the Pessimist, “You have made me what you wanted me to become.”

There is a strange stillness in the air.

As the autumn wind blows past me—–raging a war against my subtle nostrils and ruffling my already messed up hair——I revere the evanescent illumination of the fireflies with a piety and religiosity unprecedented in my life. Affronted with a desire and a need to be my own self for a few minutes in my mechanically secluded lifestyle, I had rushed into these open fields tonight. I do not know what it was that had accrued me towards these fields at 12 o’clock midnight for an arduous two-hour drive from my comfortable apartment equipped with all the urban necessities. And neither do I have any idea what it was that I was going to take back with me through this visit.

“Here is an antecedent to your feelings,” the Pessimist began, “The fireflies will fail to bring you any food.”

Yet I stare at them continuously. Discounting the omniscient Pessimist, I find something in those lights. I see them as they are, in their natural surroundings. Where they truly belong. I use my prescience to discern their likes and dislikes, their needs and wastes. Discontinuous, discreet particles of matter enter into my vision. For a while, inside my mind, they cast a beautiful castle of thought and splendor, of wealth and wisdom, of sense and sensibility. But keeping in line with their discreet nature, the particles leave immediately leaving everything behind a blur.

Despite my bluntness in poetry and philosophy, there was something in those regular periods of light and dark that fascinated me. That told me that no, everything was not lost as yet.

Being a man of pragmatism, and one who believes in worldliness and flesh and blood, I do my best to win against these fireflies. I hedge my bets against them and try to barricade them from entering my thought process. I strive hard to shun them away. I make myself reason and weigh the facts at my disposal. The poison must not enter into my life. It might just destroy my prosperous, urbane existence forever, and so I must win this war against these wicked creatures.

I had forgone a lot already. And tonight I must not lose any more to these enchanting beings.

I decide to strike back at the Pessimist inside me.

“All hope is not lost as yet, you idiot!”

Yes, there is hope. There is still hope amidst my dream-less life. There is hope for a better truth; for a more illuminated fly; for a firefly that remains alight for a longer period of time; for a firefly that proudly upholds its shimmering rays on its suggestive breasts.

There is hope for a better enlightenment; for a better light to be reached.

Yet there is a strange stillness in the air. And on this particular occasion the stillness is making me numb with an exodus for peace and tranquility; for hope and dreams; for simplicity and serenity.

Like me, the moonlit night had also begun to reciprocate its infatuation for the winged beasts. The flies, however, did not countenance at either of their suitors. They had a more important task at hand, and all those courtship rituals could wait.

But for me, there is still hope for a better survival, towards an existence unmarred by desire, towards a lust that was yet to be consummated, and towards a piety without any shred of sycophancy.

Still, it must be said, that there is a strange stillness in the air.

“You bloody fools, how dare you wage a war against me? You can’t so easily destroy the castle I have built with such skill and perseverance.”

But the castle was already disheveled. And it was a matter of time before it was finally dismantled to the ground along with its pride. The dexterity of the handless fireflies was too superior. The forts had been destroyed and the ammo had already been exhausted.

It was too late to win.

Yet, hope was still there. And it definitely was the one thing the fireflies were unable to win from me.

Amidst the stillness of the night, under the moonlit sky’s green eyes, with the corn plants hitting puberty as my witnesses, I confessed my defeat to the winged creatures. I swore defeat and proclaimed my allegiance to their periodic impressions of light and dark. I pronounced my faith and responsibility towards their superiority and their immaculately beautiful existence.

I announced my abstinence from dreamlessness and betrayed the Pessimist in order to coexist with Hope symbiotically.

I swore that I was conquered. Conquered by trust, by lust, by the desire for existence.

Conquered by the debauchery of the fireflies.

Conquered by all, except the darkness and the stillness that stopped escorting me from that instant onwards.

And instead I was supplanted with hope, dreams and aspirations for a worthier life. Everything was superseded with a belief in a Moderator, and my timorousness in the face of superior beauty was truly evident to me.

 

The girl who was in love with the mountains

Of all the things Zainab wanted to achieve, mountain-climbing was the most important and perhaps the most idiotic dream a 12 year old could have. It was not only because of her abject poverty—a state from which people like her will never be able to escape—but also because she belonged to the dominated sex in a male-chauvinist society. Yet at English class when Mr. Kumar asked all his students to write a 300 word essay on ‘Reaching my Dreams’ the eccentric girl felt no hesitation in talking about an imaginary expedition to a hill-top.

Living in a lowland village where television had not as yet set its foot at that time, Zainab was unaccustomed to having seen any mountains in her short life. Ironically she did not even know the proper difference between a hill and a mountain despite her regular attendance at the Geography class. And yes sir, it was far superior from her knowledge that the world’s highest peak was located in one of her neighboring countries and also the fact that the river she used for drinking, bathing and playing actually originated from that mountain. These were things that her geography teacher had not as yet covered and so Zainab eagerly anticipated the time when she will be told more about her love in the aforementioned class.

So how do you think a girl who has never seen mountains or even read about them actually became infatuated with such an existence? It was her brother. Her dear brother, the most precious person in her life after her father, was a soldier in the army and also the one paying for all her tuition fees and petty yearnings. He was the one who had seen mountains and trained among them in extremely hostile conditions. The name of the place was Boderbon, no Bonderban. Gosh! She could not even spell or pronounce it properly. According to her brother the place was more than a week’s journey from her home. But once you reached there it was bound to feel the most heavenly place on earth. It was like you are the most special and the only one living in this universe. Nothing else mattered. Everything was for you to use and command.

But the English master Mr. Kumar was up to no such romanticism. He taught his students with iron-clad rules——both in terms of grammar and the students’ behavior——and always believed in grounding up facts. For him therefore, ‘Reaching my Dreams’ was supposed to be an essay about what you wanted to do in the world of pragmatism. Whether you wanted to be a doctor or an engineer. Or a policeman or simply a house-keeper. And outrageous as it was, mountain-climbing could never be a factually-grounded student’s dream. And never so in the case of a girl born in the cradles of the destitute.

And hence, slapped with an F in the English essay with a detention to boot during the tiffin break, Zainab was unable to enjoy the hide-and-seek matches during the break period today.

The village she lived in was located in the outskirts of a district that had never seen urban life in its entire existence. The only buildings composed of cement were made by the government in ‘a plot to bring the people under a legal system’ as described by the leader of the village council. As for the government, no one was really bothered about them. From the building bearing a huge ‘Department of Agriculture’ placard, men in clean and expensive English clothes occasionally came to the fields owned by Zainab’s father and the other locals. They called themselves the ‘agriculture scientists’, although what the profession meant or demanded was a huge point of entertaining political debate in the road-side tea-stalls and shops for the illiterate villagers who remained sitting there most of the time engaging themselves in every single conversation they could get hold of. The so-called agriculture scientists inspected the crops and the fertilizers and advised the farmers on the what-to-dos and how-to-dos for maximum output. Although most of the locals eyed these English-dressed Bengali people with skepticism fully encouraged by the village leaders and clerics, Zainab’s father knew better the value of education. Although a complete illiterate himself he had educated his only son till the 12th grade—one of the very few young people in that particular village to have achieved such a feat. And so it was with great pride when he had enrolled that worthy son of his at the Bangladesh Army to serve the country. The entire village had proclaimed him to be a model father of a model son, and such was his value in the rural community that he was always the center of attraction at every single village occasion.

But what about a girl’s education? Now that was somewhat of a dilemma for the illiterate father. Although Zainab was being given lessons on the religious doctrines at home by a female teacher and also had been sent to the primary school for learning her letters, he was doubtful whether educating the girl would bear a fruit. It was the soldier brother who had asked his model father to think better. Not only would educating the girl allow her to contribute to the village community in the near future but also make her a good mother and house-wife, and also a good religious devotee. And besides she could even join the Bangladesh Army or the Police to serve her nation. Although the man was not really idealistic about the latter, he eventually gave in and decided that Zainab should continue education, learn about mountains, write essays in English, read history and recite poetry. And so yes, in a way you could blame her father and brother for Zainab’s depravity at the English class.

After the class was over, on this particular Spring afternoon as Zainab came out along with her class compatriots she was surprised to find out a piece of paper lying folded on the bench in front of the headmaster’s office. Actually this was not a single piece of paper. It was a bunch of papers all folded together in an extraordinary fashion to preserve all the pages inside it. For us city-folks, one look at it would suffice to tell us that this was a daily newspaper. But for a 12 year old who had seen cement buildings for the first time only two years back, who had never even seen or heard about televisions or radios, newspapers were definitely something she was unaccustomed to. Her family’s and other neighbor’s only connection to the outside world was through people like her brother, who came home only once or twice a year with tales of unseen forests, religious extremists who made bombs, robbers who had evolved into political leaders and of course, the usual mountain-clad stories which fascinated the young Zainab most.

So the girl, perplexed with the printed pages that bore a strange semblance to her free books, tried to decipher what they said.

This was no ordinary book, as she realized. It was abuzz with tales from around the world. But the first thing she noticed on the top of the first page was the image of a young girl with heavy glasses and clothes as if she was in an extremely cold vicinity, at least much colder than the winters of her village as judged by the heavy clothes she was wearing. In the background of the woman what she saw made her heart skip a beat.

It was a huge land turned ninety degrees or more to one side. The land was covered with a bed of green grass, or perhaps, forest. It was impossible to tell from the distant photograph. The land rose up slanted and at many regions was covered by a prevalent layer of something brilliantly white. Gradually as the land ascended from the ground it emerged into a peak, a peak that seemed to point towards the Creator who had created it with such artistic hands, towards the Architect who had built it with such classic beauty, implicit precision, impeccable appearance and the enormous possibility of touching the sky.

Except that it did touch the sky.

The weird woman was standing atop one of these peaks holding a flag, which unmistakably belonged to her country, and a smile on her face boasted her achievement of having reached the sky.

What lay behind those rotated green fields? The silly girl wondered. Maybe a huge djinn or something?

By then all her class-mates had left her and gone ahead. If she did not catch up with them she will have to walk the three miles to her home all by herself, something she really did not want to do.

But still in deep consternation, she still stared at that image.

As if someone had merely whispered it to her she immediately understood what those rotated lands represented.

Her eyes gleamed with a light of warmth, pride and disbelief as her thoughts were confirmed by the headline below the photograph: “Bangladeshi woman climbs the highest mountain ranges”.


Eyes glistening with a pride and passion more fierce than anyone looking at her at that moment could have discerned, Zainab gently put the newspaper back to its resting place. Unknowingly her hands reached her soft cheeks and quickly rubbed away the tear that had manifested itself all of a sudden. It was as if she was filled with a bliss of the dreams that she saw every night. As if the diaspora of her heart to meet the mountains was not going to go fruitless after all. As if she knew that if this woman could do it, there was no reason why she couldn’t.

Except that the woman had not merely climbed mountains. She told herself. She had touched the sky.

For the first time in her life, Zainab had seen mountains, albeit in the way she least expected.

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This fictional post is dedicated to Wasfia Nazreen, the female Bangladeshi mountain-climber whose achievements make all of us proud. The impetus for this piece was derived from Aminatta Forna‘s brilliant novel Ancestor Stones when one of the characters described her feelings of having seen the sea for the very first time in her life.