Farida Hossain :
It was the month of December 1971. Nima was standing on the terrace of the house in Patla Khan Lane in old Dhaka. The soft light of the late afternoon gently lit up her eves and face, and lent a golden touch to her hastily made disheveled chignon.
Outside in the lane, there was an unusual aura of excitement. Neither the shopkeepers of the nearby shops nor the rickshaw pullers who were waiting in a disorderly manner were focusing their attention on the terrace of the building. On any other day, they would have been on the lookout for the girls to emerge on to the terraces of the buildings.
But everything seemed to have changed. Even the densely populated by-lanes of old Dhaka were infected with the sense of joy and erupted in loud uproars. The victorious freedom fighters were returning in overcrowded vans, jeeps, and rickshaws with stem guns in their hands, hanging behind their backs and dangling from their shoulders. They were in high spirits.
What excitement for both young and old on both sides of the lane. What a rare sight! It was unbelievable unless seen with one's own eyes. The same excitement was also reflected in Nima's dark, shadowed eyes.
Had the color of the afternoon sun ever been so beautiful? It was so soothing and comforting. Why had she never felt like this before?
Nima's tired eyes drank in the sight of the excited crowds below, jubilant with victory. She did not worry whether the rickshaw pullers in the lane or the shopkeepers in their shops were staring and laughing at her or no. Even the wayside Romeos no longer bothered her.
Nima felt as if she must run down to the lane and join the victory procession. For a long time she was drowned in the sea of happiness and excitement. She forgot all about herself. About her shame, her humiliation, her guilt.
Suddenly she realised that, like these victorious freedom fighters, Hasan too would return, return proud and victorious, return with a sten gun on his shoulder. He would stretch out his strong arms towards her and call out, "Garland me with the victory garland, crown me with your love."
Hasan had told her before leaving to join the liberation war, "When I return victorious, I want to see the impatience of anxiety and waiting in your eves, I want to see the longing of love and separation in your eyes."
"You will come running from that corner of the terrace, with your hair flowing in the wind and with your sari anchal sweeping the floor. Your lovely, smooth cheeks will be full of joy, and when I touch them, my suffering, my wounds will be calmed and soothed."
The building in old Dhaka was rented out to tenants. Nima and her old, indisposed father occupied two rooms in one corner of the first floor. Nima and Hasan would meet in a spot hidden away from public view, in the privacy of the terrace.
Nima used to study at Central Women's College, and Hasan used to work in a private firm. He gave tuition at night. They had agreed that they would get married after Bangladesh gained independence.
While leaving for the war, Hasan had said many things to Nima. His last words had been, "In case 1 do not return...." But Nima had not allowed him to complete his sentence. She had covered his mouth with her palm and said, "Don't say such things. You will have to return."
Nima felt strangely uneasy. Her heart beat rapidly.
Hasan was alive. He would return. That's what the local boys had told her.
Nima waited to meet Hasan exactly where he had told her to wait-in the corner of the terrace. She waited, with disheveled hair, disarranged, uncombed hair and a face bare of makeup.
Her eyes flooded with tears. Everything would be all right. Hasan possessed a romantic nature. He was different from other people. He wasn't an ordinary person.
Sometimes Nima used to laugh and say, "You are a rustic. Your love is not like that of others."
Hasan used to reply, "The person I love is also not quite like others."
Then they used to laugh together.
That same Hasan, that Hasan who was different from others, Nima's Hasan, was going to return dressed like a freedom fighter.
Nima's head felt dizzy Her eyes blurred. She could not remain standing any longer to see what was happening in the lane below. She burst into tears.
The sound of the victory slogans in the lane merged with Nima's sobs in a strange symphony.
Slowly evening descended. The magrib azan rent the cool of evening. Nima remained where she was, in the corner of the terrace, sitting motionless, unperturbed.
The past flashed before her eyes.
When things had heated up, almost everybody left their houses for safer places. Even the tenants of Nima's building left a month after the war started. The whole area was deserted.
Nima and her father could not leave because her father was too ill to be moved. They had to stay back in the building despite the danger they were in. Nima could not protect herself, even though she apprehended the imminent danger.
The whole locality was deserted. Only a few wealthy old people remained.
One day the soldiers entered the house. The sound of trampling boots could be heard ascending the stairs. The soldiers ransacked the building from top to bottom.
Nima's father moaned helplessly in bed. Nima crouched in a corner of the terrace.
The soldiers noisily entered the terrace, banging the door open. Nima was petrified. She could not even call on Allah for help.
The inevitable took place. One by one, the soldiers forced themselves on the cowering girl. Dead with shame and pain, Nima fainted.
It was quite late at night when she regained consciousness. She remained where she was, shocked and motionless, for the rest of the night. There was nothing to be afraid of any more, neither the horror of blinding darkness, the incessant wails of street dogs, the sound of the military vans, nor the sound of trampling boots in the lanes.
Nima had no more fears. What more fear can remain in a young girl who has been outraged by brutes?
It seemed as if Nima had even forgotten to cry!
Next morning, after having taken control of herself; she slowly entered her father's room.
Her father asked her, "Dear, did you hide yourself when the marauders entered the building?"
Nima replied, as normally as she could, "Yes, father."
"That was good. We could not escape because my illness."
Nima tried to hide her deep sigh. Her father had no idea of what had happened to her the night before.
Since then, about a month had passed. Nima could not worry about herself due to her preoccupation with her ill father. Her father's respiratory disease had become acute in the chilly winter. He seemed so bad that it appeared that he would die at any moment.
Nima could only count the days, which she did.
When would the war end?
When would freedom come?
When would Hasan return?
And when would Nima be able to rest her head and hide her face in Hasan's bosom to cry her heart out?
News came trickling in from all quarters. The freedom fighters started returning in groups and batches. Nima's impatient wait was getting more and more difficult. How would Nima be able to stand up and face the victorious warrior? How would she talk to him looking into his eyes? How would she explain to Hasan?
Feelings of guilt and shame consumed her. What was she to do? She wondered what would happen. How would Hasan accept her?
One day her father asked her, "Do you know when Hasan will return?"
Nima's heart skipped a beat at her father's question.
She replied, "He will return when he can."
Her father commented, "What a remarkable achievement, is it not?"
"The fact that our youngsters united to free the country. Their achievement is so amazing. Actually, there is nothing that our youngsters cannot do. What do you say?" n
To be continued...