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

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They close in on him from all sides. In class, everyone stares at him. The department clerks, the cashier in the canteen, the waiter, the sweeper - they all watch him goggle-eyed. Has he lost his mind, the kid? He throws aside all the best subjects to meddle with old-fashioned physics? Oh, I couldn't take it any more. I couldn't suffer those mocking eyes! Oh, Amma! Where am I? Where? In Bangladesh.

A bunch of students from the geography department come to look for this new freak, a horde of chemistry students cry out, "There goes the intellec¬tual of the new era." Students of applied physics give him raspberries and the microbiology students yell out, "Pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-intellectual!"

Amma, why do they do this to me? How shall I study here? "Bear with it, thicken your skin, Kalo." Amma calls me Kalo, meaning black or dark, when she's sad. Amma is dark; she wants skin as thick as rhinoceros hide. "First you cross this dark tunnel, then you can be angry, Kalo." Ridicule rains down on me from all sides, non-stop. I must become as dead as a stone to survive this. Why me?

I gave up counting the days till the next hearing. I got used to the mosquito bites in the lockup. Learnt to live through those days that never seemed to end. And then, out of the blue, we heard that the case had been dismissed. What case? Why was it dis¬missed? It went over our heads. Returned home after one year and seven months, thin as a needle. Just like those hardened criminals who spend most of their hopeless years in prison cells.

After those long days of toil and tears, I found the household strangely prosperous. Lavish meals, expensive clothes. The third brother is running the show. He tells me that he has started a business. What business? What about the tailor shop? "You don't need to know," he tells me. I don't bother to ask again. I work on enjoying the good life just like every¬one else. Every day is a feast day. One day, Mother cooks korma with two dozen eggs and the next she makes a curry with ten kilos of beef. With a truckload of parathas to go with it. I eat, pack my tiffin and go to the town in search of a job. That dyeing factory says they won't take me, but I plead with them. I go there every day; I plead, browse the cinema posters, return home in the afternoon and eat the world's best food. Mother feeds me and says, "You'll find a job soon, don't fret." Then one day, after another round of pleading and cinema poster-watching, I come back to find the household topsy-turvy, everybody running around, tables, dishes, the stove lying all of a heap and a bunch of policemen in the porch.

I see Jalal, my brother's friend, with a rope around his waist, shrieking as the police shove a rod into his belly. What's up now? Why are the police here, in our house? Jalal points to me, "Sir, that guy there is my business partner." Allah! I have never had shady deals with Jalal. Why is he lying?

"Hey, Jalal, you skunk! What are you saying?"

No one cares to listen. They put the rope round my waist again; they kick and Push me into the van. Pigs! Vipers! Beasts! So that's the story behind my brother's sudden prosperity! The police dredge up piles of Phensidyl bottles from our pond. They file a suit, but they don't have evidence against me and so, after six months, I am released on bail. And I have to attend court again. What a wretched, Godforsaken place this is!

More trouble awaited me when I returned home. The local kids had grown up into young scoundrels.

"Hand over some cash, man!"

"What cash?"

"You want to be the only to get rich? You worm!”

Another day, a group of addicts hemmed me in.

"We need ten bottles."

"What bottles?"

"We don't have time! Give it to us now!'

"What are you talking about, you rogue?"

"This guy’s family is rolling in money and he doesn't know what we're talking about? Just give it to us."

"Son of a bitch!" I couldn't take it any more, “Bastards! I won't give you anything! Let's see what you can do!" And they all grabbed me! They punched, kicked and thrashed me. 1 couldn't take them on. How could I, on my own? And everyone in the street just stood there and watched me get beat¬en. It's a mother fucking country, this.

Faisal says, hey, Rakib, please give me your first year notes."

"Why? What use would they be?"

"I have to take the first year Improvement Test. Look at my percentage! It's not even third class!"

Oh-oh! 1 How did you do so badly? I felt so awful. In that depressive place, Faisal was the only one who talked to me. He sat next to me in class, had tea with me and we did our lab work together. I was grateful to him. How could he get such poor marks in his first year exams?

"Come on, Rakib! We're not like you! You always get ten more than the all-time-record!" he says angrily. Oh, all right - I don't need those notes any more; I can give them to him. He takes them all. 1 tell him, "If you need help, let me know."

I don't find the time to ask him how he is getting on. He is busy with his Improvement Test, 1 with my second year finals. Phew! Why does a student have to take exams? I hate this system - it has to go. Anyway, I steel myself and finish the exam. Don't have the time to lose sleep over the results. Third year classes begin.

And in the meantime, there is this new distrac¬tion. I have seen the girl of my dreams; 1 see her face in the depths of physics.