Published:  01:34 AM, 04 May 2017

Belief, the Murderer

Short story

Belief, the Murderer An artwork on the theme of Liberation War by Qayyum Chowdhury

Translation: Haroonuzzaman

The gawping glare of Osman's eyes turns shadowy, creating a pleasantly sedentary impact on his mind, and amid such an anesthetizing feeling, the image of a woman becomes hauntingly alive in him - after so many years of anguished waiting, he got her, absolutely as his own, in one evening, only. The amorously rhapsodic sundown episode contained all the tragic elements, exemplifying passionate tenderness in a song 'Ei rat tomar amar, oi chad tomar amar' in a Uttom-Shuchitra film titled 'Harano Shur', an all-time hit of Indian Bangla movie. Amid such weariness of human beings, barely could he realize that the blend of the unmatched song and the beauty of the evening scene of the lover's union in the film would be so painfully tragic! After that the war began. Everyone fell apart.
Now that woman exits in the blood cell of his dead soul.
Coming out of his reverie, he looks back as Altaf bhai calls him. Altaf bhai seems frighteningly anguished. Calling Osman into the room, he addresses everyone present there. 'You know I've heard that they haven't left the village; Tofael is a different sort of a boy, forgetful; I think it's not right to depend on him. His information wasn't correct. Their campsite is somewhere on the other side of the hill." Osman is fretfully restless: "What do you say? Then we could be in terrible danger last night. Who gave you this information?"

Altaf bhai resolutely says: "Look, I have to remain alert to this extent at least. By midday, I am going to get the confirmed news, and if it is true, then we have to launch an attack on them tonight. Till now, they are not fully prepared. I've heard that some more trucks will arrive by evening; we shouldn't give them the opportunity to get prepared. For the time being, Tofael should be punished for giving the wrong information." Osman's face turns pale. He has an adequate idea about Altaf bhai's anger. What shall Osman do with the innocent kid like Tofael! Being engrossed, he has been listlessly playing the palmyra-leaf flute.

Sorrowfully, Osman said: "He didn't do it consciously; someone might have given him the wrong information." "Osman!" Shouting at the top of his voice, Altaf bhai keeps saying: "This is not the place for emotion or sentiment. Did you realize what a potential danger we could be in for his ignorance? To rid him of this carelessly languorous behavior, he needs a lesson."

Thereafter, tied with a rope, he is kept hanging from a branch of the hunchback jack-fruit tree, till late afternoon. When he is brought down from that position, his face shows no sign of life to reckon with - his beautiful fair face seems to have gathered plenty of ash, and taking a swallow, he controls his tears only to enunciate his sincerity: "Till the last drop of my blood, I'll prove that I didn't have any lack of efforts in my job. I relied heavily on the peasant who was living near the hill, but he confused me." From then on, Tofael goes missing.

Turning the radio knob, Osman catches an Indian station, and he is aggrieved and disturbed, listening to the different news-items related to the atrocities that are being carried out by the occupation forces. News of how sorties are being conducted by Pak jests, how buildings, mosques, hospitals are being reduced to rubbles and matters like these keep pouring in, leaving Osman profoundly distressed. While they stay alert and prepared for a nightly mission amid such a grievously cruel and an apprehensively curious situation, the news of Tofael's disappearance renders Osman totally dejected.

"He is a damn fool." Altaf bhai's irksome and worrisome comment exposes his concern for Tofael.  "While a grown up person like him should be consumed by fierce fury of vengeance for the brutal torture meted out to him by the Pak Forces, he keeps playing the palmyra-leaf flute, instead. Do you think he has gone to commit suicide for whatever has been done to him? Not at all; this sort of punishment means nothing to him. I saw him going out giggling some time before; perhaps, he remembered something funny.

If the incident awakens him, then it has done something good to him. Osman, this is not our home; if you show your empathy for someone here, you are inviting disaster for yourself. Whatever the reasons may be, he is not fit. Why don't you understand that? Maybe something has gone wrong in his brain due to the torture. Did you see how he behaves like a kid? Get ready, Osman! We can't afford to lose our time thinking about him."

Still Osman cannot get rid of the internal pain that he is afflicted with. While the rest of the freedom fighters are getting together to launch an all-out attack on the enemy camp, Osman's ears remain anxiously curious to receive the news of Tofael's arrival back here.

There had to be something special in Tofael's face - Osman, his parents, and those whose faces were occupied that evening, with all their armed appetite.  Deep down him, everything remained fresh in Osman's remembrance, even he did not hide anything; he just could not see the wet seed underneath as it remained covered by the growing grass.
The night intensifies gradually.

How come a dog snarls in such a waste land!
During the last operation, Osman team was accompanied by allied forces. But this time the whole program is based on the quick decision of Altaf bhai. As a result, an additional pressure has been created on each member of the team. Surprisingly, nobody wants to let his fellow fighter know about this.

Right after the sundown, they move out. It is chilling cold! After crossing different barriers like thorny thicket, open space and jungle when they reach very close to the enemy position and are waiting for directives from Altaf bhai, a question comes to Osman's mind all of a sudden - are the enemies stationed in there or are they near the hill already? Like a ghoulish apparition, darkness is gritting its black teeth.

How come will there be no lights at all, with people living in? In darkness, a camp like thing is somewhat visible, but it is unclear.  They have come up to this position so skillfully that even if the enemies keep a strong vigil on the surrounding area, having all their sense of perception and action alert, the enemies will not be able to understand anything. Osman wants to convey this assertion to Altaf bhai who is standing some distance away from him. Suddenly, Osman's persona undergoes a transformation - with a sense of entreaty, the sound of the scene setting the eyes blinking at the camera stir up a clattering noise deep within him and his skull.

In excitement, the severity of the wintry chill disappears from within his malicious abhorrence. It seems someone has shoved a furnace down Osman's throat. He has the uncanny feeling that these animals, sitting in the unseen tent, are masticating the dead bones. Within moments, the surrounding trees and plants, engulfed in inky darkness, starts tottering. It is as if Osman's hand will subconsciously press the trigger of the gun, without any order.

When the situation is like this, counter attacks begin in a flash, rendering everyone awestruck and stupefied.  From that dark position starts the loud boom of guns in several columns. "O my God!" Saying this much, Altaf bhai falls prostrate and changes his position, immediately.

Along with others, Osman's benumbed body stays leaned against the heap of grass. What he could only remember was that the whole sky had turned into a small star due to a magnetic charm. Thereafter, he was into a state of inebriety, with fractured dreams flooding his memory - he was crossing hills and rivers, carrying the dead body of Tofael on his shoulder, and looking at him, the woman of that evening asked him why he was looking like a wolf.

Discovering him alive amid the half-dead people in the hospital, what becomes important to him is a special question: "What happened the other day." From then on, this only question that has become potentially murderous keeps piercing through the dense mist and pitch dark night: "What happened?" 

What a ceaseless flow of seemingly unending wails!
"Where does it float in from? Or is it my mother's solemn recitation from the Quran?"  Her voice sounded like plaintive moans as this was the only tone he had been hearing while he was in reverie.  Osman lets his eyes to be wide open. In here, barely visible is any person who has a complete form; everything seems to have been engulfed by bandage, sticking plaster and other surgical dressing materials. Osman felt it was better if he did not have any conscience!

Osman's brain has been smashed into a multitude of distressing curiosities, and the physician pushes an injection to sedate his nerves.   So peaceful! Can death provide more peace than this? Also, death is a sort of endless sleep, of which he has torn apart the bud to be with the departed souls. Before everything becomes shadowy, his lips move slightly: "Who is going with the plough?"
"It's me."
"But why?"
"To till the hill."
The hill, the wintry chill at night, Altaf bahi's 'O my God', and then sleep. It is as if flint-glass appears before him, with a dazzling intensity. In it the face of Indira Gandhi comes into view. Who is with her? The man has a huge mustache!  Waking up, he even cannot shake off his drowsiness. Is that man colonel Osmani? What are they saying? Eagerly awaits his tormented ears to listen to something - they keep saying, like the noise of cloud and rain - we will get our freedom within this month.

Which month is this?
Topsy-turvy passes the half-sleep half-awake night while he makes an effort to have a calculated appraisal of the month. "Tofael, play the palmyra-leaf flute once again! Look…look…how I am sinking down…! Osman clutches somebody's hand.

"Who is that?"
"I am Saiful."
'Who is Saiful?"
"Can't you recognize me? Together we fought for so many days!"
Subsequently, like wind some more words slam Osman's ears: "Osman bhai, Altaf bhai was killed while fighting face to face with the enemies. Guttu and Bablu are not there, too. Tofael was their spy, and collecting all information from us, he would give those to the enemies."

"Stop! Stop!" While trying to shout at the top of his voice, Osman loses his consciousness, and from then on, excepting the white ceiling, nothing comes to his view.  With excruciating pain, repugnant monstrosities fill his voice, and he cries out in affliction: "O Allah! Where is the filthy light coming from? You people, throw me into the hellish cauldron of fire. It is I who believed him, and it is I who committed the murder."
The translator is a novelist, poet, researcher and an essayist teaches English at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).

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