A Boy and a War
S R Shuja
As soon as dad returned to work he was posted in Jessore. He felt he couldn’t go there leaving me in that condition. He applied for reconsideration explaining my situation. He was reassigned to Dhaka Cantonment. We all sighed in relief. Dad rented an apartment in Mirpur 1. There were several multi storied apartment buildings there. We moved to the building numbered ‘E’, on the fourth floor. There was no chance of us getting a suitable housing in the army quarters. We tried to get settled in our new apartment.
A lot of families lived in these buildings. Most apartments were quite small. Ours was a one bedroom unit. We placed a bed in the living room and converted it into a second bedroom. The one good thing was that every renter also received a small piece of land for gardening behind the building. Mom didn’t waste any time. She prepared the soil and quickly planted varieties of vegetables. In my absence Rushi gave her a hand. Lying down on my bed I got progress report from her on daily basis. There were kids in plentiful, which was something that both Rushi and Milky really appreciated. There was a girl about the same age as Rushi lived right next door. Soon two of them became best friends. The good part about it was that Rushi’s crying and nagging reduced to a comfortable level.
The broken bones in my leg were on the way to heal. After coming back to Dhaka the plaster was reopened. Some additional tests were conducted and my unfortunate leg was wrapped up in plaster again. The highly qualified doctors who examined me opined that even though the bones were not fully aligned and would probably attach to each other slightly overlapping, it wouldn’t have much impact in the long run considering my young age. Over time I would be able to use the leg in a way as if nothing had ever happened. Dad’s primary concern was whether one of my legs became shorter than the other. He was told such concern was unfounded. We all hoped for the best, especially me. Would I be able to play soccer with a leg shorter than the other?
Lying on my back I anxiously counted days. Dad bought me some books to help me pass time. Slowly I started to get consumed into them. The translated children’s books from Russian literature amazed me. Receiving the book ‘Malachite’s basket‘ as a gift I could barely stop my tears. I didn’t know how many times I had read that book. Very soon I drifted from the reality of the world and started to fall in love with the magical realm of stories. Beside my bed books piled up like dwarf mountains. Finally three months passed and the happiest day of my life arrived. The plaster was cut off my leg. Doctors examined my leg and confirmed that everything was fine. First few days I couldn’t walk at all. I was even afraid to put any pressure on that foot. It didn’t even feel like my own leg. Slowly the fear disappeared. In couple of weeks I was running.
Surprisingly, I found out that even though crowded, living in a colony wasn’t so much of a bad thing after all. Within days I made dozens of friends. In the open fields of Mirpur we roamed around in bunches, played soccer for hours, visited the nearby zoo or ventured to the river, a tributary of Buriganga, which flowed not too far from our colony. Suddenly life presented me with all the gifts that I had always asked for. Who ever imagined that here in the big city of Dhaka I would get such portal to nature? I slipped out of the apartment escaping mom’s watchful eyes at every opportunity I got. Finding a company was never an issue in the colony. We ventured in new directions every day. No matter how much mom scolded or pleaded it never was enough to stop me. My boyhood and Milky’s childhood together built a wonderful mixture. He loved me very much and followed me like a shadow. I didn’t want to go anywhere without him either.
Dad admitted us in a private school located in Mirpur 2. I was in grade four, Rushi two, Milky in the play group. An employee of the school walked us to the school and brought us back after school. I made some more friends, boys and girls, played tags during the recess in the playground. After returning from school I rushed through the homework and waited eagerly for the late afternoon when all the boys would come out to the field. As soon somebody called my name I jumped up, slipped into my shoes and ran out of the home. Milky knew things would happen too quickly so he usually had his shoes on. Before mom even had a chance to stop us we would be way out of her reach. There were vast fields on the other side of the narrow uphill road that went into the zoo. That was where we, fifteen- twenty boys, played soccer until it was too dark to identify the ball any longer. We roared, screamed, yelled, sometimes even fought, but above all had the fun of our lives. Upon returning home mom would grab me by the ears.
“Didn’t you hear I was calling out for you?” My distress was Rushi’s pleasure. She would giggle cheerfully.
Very soon we had a bigger change in our lives. Dad didn’t like to work in the army any more. First of all, many of his junior officers were either senior to him or ranked same as him. Secondly the freedom was limited. There was no telling when he would get posted where. There was some agitation during Captain Sujon’s trial. Captain Sujon and some of his friends tried to scare the witnesses off. Dad wasn’t a person to get intimidated so easily. He did become a witness. However, at the end somehow the case got settled. All together, dad lost his interest to serve the army any more. The problem was getting out with honour. He joined in 1970. Normally he wouldn’t be able to retire before 1980. Fortunately in mid 1974 Bangladesh government provided an opportunity to voluntarily retire from army. Dad took it.
After retiring from army he started to work as a medical general practitioner. He was practically unknown as a physician in the area. The economic situation in the country was not very good either. People didn’t have much to go on. Dad sat in a pharmacy mornings and evenings as a resident doctor. He got few patients. We started to have difficulties in meeting the ends. I had to beg mom just for ten cents to buy a tamarind treat. However, that didn’t stop us from anything. Good hearted vendors gave us treats in advance. At an opportune time I moved a quarter from dad’s money bag and paid them off. The feeling of guilt was there but wasn’t strong enough to sacrifice the delicious sweet and sour treats and the milk ice creams. I couldn’t just buy for myself! I also had to get something for Rushi and Milky if they asked which they always did. Being an older brother wasn’t an easy thing.
Life went on. We lived through bad and good times, made friends, played cheerfully in the open fields and slowly but surely became another small stream in the collection of millions of streams that combined made our beautiful and independent country. Along with innumerable kids we three siblings continued to grow and eventually became part of the larger existence.