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

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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 country 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.

Let me tell you, it's a mistake. Big mistake. You've topped the class in your degree course. I suggest you complete your Masters here. Because when you come back, you won't have any influence in the department and won’t be able to join it. It’ll be very tough to get a job. You can go abroad later for research, after you join up. Getting a job is your first priority', research can wait. You have to secure a living first, right?

Oh yeah. I am of the starving classes. I don't have the right to dream, I want to tear myself apart! I keep forgetting that I am a man. Men shouldn’t cry, right? But tears roll down my cheeks in a stream. I don’t need knowledge, I need nothing, I only need to fill my belly... Now don’t be upset, just wait, get out there and then we’ll – Amma weeps with me.

In the dye factory, I stamped prints on shirts and vests al day, packed them up, dispatched them and received new stocks. The days crawled by. In the evenings, I relaxed with friends. My mother used to doze off as she waited for me with my dinner. “Why do you waste your time in the streets?” she chided me. Didn’t I need to hang out with friends once in a while? I nosed around for new openings, but it was useless. Brother number three had finished his training and was now the master of a tailoring shop. Earned okay but splurged on food and clothes. It he had cash in his pocket, he blew it up on a dozen chickens and the best rice in the market. Took the whole family to the movies. A new shirt every day, counted his money all the time. How did he make so much from tailoring? The local guys barked at us in the streets: "Swelling up like a balloon, aren't you?" What balloon?

They talked crap, but the police came in a huff one day, abused everyone and packed us off in a van. Why were we arrested? Those locals at the teashop had told the police that we were involved in a robbery or something. We sat smelling the litter in the lockup and on the assigned date, we were taken to the court¬room with a rope tied round the waist. We stood with palms joined in entreaty in what looked like a cage made of heavy iron rods. The case didn't move an inch; only new dates were given at every hearing. A whole year went by. No sentence, nothing, only new hearing dates. A lawyer was arranged, said he would get us bail. We didn't see him doing anything and there was no news of bail. We lived on crumbs in the lockup and cried ourselves hoarse. I couldn't figure out why the hell I was in prison.

I had always dreamed of being a physicist. I would walk the path of pure knowledge, walk all the way up till I was among the clouds - that was what I had promised myself. But at the entrance interview, l dis¬covered that 1 had sinned in preferring physics. Pure physics, at that. The interview board scorned this madness. Why would such a brilliant student want to study physics? There are so many tempting subjects on offer! He should go for computer science or pharmacy or applied physics. Or even microbiology. Physics! Why pure physics. Hello! Have you gone crazy? You want physics?

Look here, my boy, are you from a remote vil¬lage? Isn't there anyone in Dhaka who could counsel you? What would you do with physics? There's no job guarantee. The kid wants to ruin his career.

Rakib has no choice. Rakib wants physics; he wants to be ruined in this way. The board members sneer at his foolishness; one or two of them shake their heads in disbelief. They make a last-ditch effort to bring him back to his senses - by threatening him. We want you to understand that we won't allow you to change your subject later. We are making a note of your name and roll number.

You will never get a second chance. We give you the last chance, will you take computer science?

Rakib wants physics. Hey, Physics, hey! Have you heard what they say about you? Oh, purest knowl¬edge, don't be angry - Rakib wants you.