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Bangladesh
(From "Jeebaner Purono Brittanta" - Collection of short stories)

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Do I have a passion to hunt down my fellow countrymen, secure a corner of this country for us and create a mini-Bangladesh? No, I don’t. I just didn't feel the need to prolong the conversation with Riazul. Trieste is hardly a big city. I'm sure I'll see him downtown on the weekends, or at Piazza Oberdan. In these last seven days, whenever I have gone downtown, I've seen a couple of familiar faces. And since we have to take the same route, we'll defi¬nitely meet sometime. Oh, this is already getting on my nerves. I don't need a Bangali for company, not a single one. I want to find myself in a world where I don't need to utter a single Bangali word. I've had enough of it. I've seen millions of Bangali faces - I've been positively surrounded by them.

But look, Rakib, aren't you surprised that you can't forget anything? It's been seven days. You have traveled thousands of miles and plunged into your lessons. Seven days on, your mind is light years away from home and family. You were so adamant about breaking all the bonds - and yet you carry them all within you. They dog your footsteps. Very strange! I don't want to think about it. But I realise that my past has become the very blood in my veins. How long will I take to drain it off and replace it with new, fresh blood? How long? Hey, Adriatic, do you have any Idea how long it will take? Does the Adriatic listen to me? Can she hear me?

The Adriatic is on my left. That's where she will be till -I reach Miramare, the last stop. And just beside her stands my university. It's quite a distance from downtown. It's also quite far from Raiano, where that guy Riazul got off. I didn't really have to go down¬town today. But after classes, I felt I might want to go and get acquainted with the place - just to say hello to the streets, to get used to the smells of the city - and as I reached the stop, the bus was about to pull away. No. 36: if I missed it, I would have to wait for another twenty minutes, so I made a run for it. I lost my balance and got myself into this mess.

Despite my apologies, the man doesn't stop whining. And who does he blame? Sri Lankans. Funny. I know that my complexion strongly suggests that I am a Sri Lankan. I'm dark, very dark, in fact. Back home, I didn't have to worry about it. But ever since I left Dubai for Trieste, I have been asked a number of times - Sri Lankan? These days, I have started using `literally translated' Bangali. We don't talk like that back home. But why not start now? When I call Amma, I shall speak to her that way. I'll tell her, I have crossed over, all hurdles have been overcome, Amma, don't worry. No, I'd better say, brush aside your concerns, Amma. Which version sounds more robust? Anyway, this stupid brother in the bus was moaning away and calling me a Sri Lankan. Funny. Then I thought I'd shake him up a bit. That's why I spoke to him in Bangali - to see his expression. He was bewildered! Ha, ha! Now that I have crossed over, nothing could compel me to get back into the arms of a Bangali. I hate I hate I hate you Bangladesh my love... my love... my love...

Amma always told me, I'll see to it that somehow, by Allah's name, you cross over. Dear Allah, see to it that my child gets there, safe and sound. I felt like I was being torn apart by tidal waves. Where was I? Where? In my own country. In Bangladesh.

Even a second before I got off the bus, I hadn't thought that I might not want to go home. I had had to slog all day - the company had sent me downtown to work in a house at the far end of the city. I'm a welder. Just stood and welded and fixed all day. I'm fagged out, dog-tired. Normally, I'd just go home and jump into bed. But today, I want to go to a restaurant and have a coffee, or just walk or something. That guy in the bus has ruined my mood. Showing off, wasn't he? Snob! C'mon, we're all hard¬-working guys - do you have any idea how much each of us earns here, in Bangladeshi currency? And we would have been scholars too, if we had done the right things. I had had my chances in that wretched country, in my village.

I am standing under a rose-apple tree on a hot May afternoon. Oh, the sweet scent of its flowers. Bees buzz around them. I call out, Mother, come and see! This year, the tree will be full of flowers. On his way to work, Father calls out to me, Hey, Riazul, I want you to go to Nayapara at ten. There's nothing in Nayapara, only hosiery and dye shops. Why do I have to go there? Father tells me that I have to start work in Hosen Mia's dye factory. But I have school today! No school from today ,and with that he leaves for work. What can I do? We're ten brothers. All little bits and pieces, like pennies and shillings, one on the back of the other. My father desperately wanted a girl but every time, it was a boy. No girl or ill-luck followed us. I'm number five.

My eldest brother has no mind to work. The second one only goes from door to door, looking for a job. The third and fourth work in a tailor's shop and the one after me, he only wanders about. I'm the only one my mother has sent to school. I haven't yet got to the fifth standard and my father tells me to go work in a dye factory. I did just that. Sweated it out in that factory twenty-four hours a day. How long ago was that? Hey, Allah! It's been ages! That fellow - what was his name now? Rakib. Must be my age. Are there others like him, who has come from my coun¬try for their education?

Coming to Trieste to study was complicated, tricky and almost impossible. I had wanted to go to US. Johns Hopkins had invited me offered a very attractive scholarship, and it was my first choice. Amma insisted, Europe should be your first stop, study at ICTP. Oh well, forget Johns Hopkins this year. As soon as I began preparations for ICTP, advice started flooding in from all parts. Remarks, opinions, suggestions from my classmates, teachers, well-wishers from other departments, they never stopped. And what did they have to say? Ha, ha! I can recall every word they said.

Our Rakib is trying to hoodwink us, they said. Does anyone in his right mind decide not to go to the US and opt for Italy instead? C’mon Rakib, do you expect us to believe that Johns Hopkins has actually offered you a scholarship, and you've rejected it for Italy? Hey there, we're not morons! He's lying! He's bragging! Thinks he's very clever...

Amma, don't you see, I have to take this shit every time I step into the campus. All because of you. You told me, "Don't let them distract you. Get there first and then you can look back.”

But I need recommendations from these people. I get hit around like a table tennis ball by my teachers' opinions. Our senior most teacher is Dr Azhar Ali. Almost jumps out of his chair. No, no, Rakib, ICTP is no joke. You can't survive there.

Why not, sir?

Tremendous workload. You won't survive.

I go to Dr Shamsul Alam for a recommendation. Would he oblige, or would he make things difficult for me?

Well, Rakib, why do you want to go abroad now?

To complete my education, sir.

Even a second before I got off the bus, I hadn't thought that I might not want to go home. I had had to slog all day - the company had sent me downtown to work in a house at the far end of the city. I'm a welder. Just stood and welded and fixed all day. I'm fagged out, dog-tired. Normally, I'd just go home and jump into bed. But today, I want to go to a restaurant and have a coffee, or just walk or something. That guy in the bus has ruined my mood. Showing off, wasn't he? Snob! C'mon, we're all hard¬-working guys - do you have any idea how much each of us earns here, in Bangladeshi currency? And we would have been scholars too, if we had done the right things. I had had my chances in that wretched country, in my village.

I am standing under a rose-apple tree on a hot May afternoon. Oh, the sweet scent of its flowers. Bees buzz around them. I call out, Mother, come and see! This year, the tree will be full of flowers. On his way to work, Father calls out to me, Hey, Riazul, I want you to go to Nayapara at ten. There's nothing in Nayapara, only hosiery and dye shops. Why do I have to go there? Father tells me that I have to start work in Hosen Mia's dye factory.