THE SHARK THE RIVER AND THE GRENADES
Translated by: Abedin Quader
Published by: Bangla Academy, Dhaka
First Edition: April 1987
As she was the youngest of twelve children, her father named her Buri. It was supposed to be an affectionate name. But Buri was never sure of that. Since her childhood, she has been known by the same name, and she has never liked it. It pains her to hear the name called because Buri means ‘old woman’ which she doesn’t want to be. If only she had a nicer name : one which makes one happy to hear it uttered and pleases the ear when spoken. Sometimes, she pleads with her father, weeping on occasion: ‘Please change my name.’ But her father ignores her. She even requests her playmates: Please, stop calling me Buri. But they would not listen either : No, they say. You are Buri. Buri, Buri, Buri.
They think it is fun to call her by that name. It is easy to make her angry that way. And Buri remains Buri for good, branded with a name she hates.
Buri’s mind is deep and green and impervious, like an aram leaf where water cannot stay, Finer sensibilities and subtleties of the heart do not touch her-she easily gets through these hurdles.
Buri knows nothing outside of her home in the village Haldi. She knows only the road that goes towards the station to the west, the canal to the east, and the large fields to the north and south of the village. Neighbours’ children often go to visit relatives, but she never has the chance. Not that she ever complains because she is afraid of the scolding that she would surely receive from them. Her mother is always busy with household chores, her father never takes anyone along with him when he goes out. Buri is lonely and depressed. She cares little for playing with other children. It is hard to tell what she is thinking, and no one tries to do so. No one would understand, anyway, because her mind is always changing. When running back from playing, sometimes she stops suddenly, and stands lost in thought. If anyone were to call her at that moment, she would get angry. Sometimes she gets angry without any reason at all.
Later on the anger subsides. She stands alone on the bank of the canal. A breeze shimmers on the water. Bright green insects perch lightly on grass half submerged in the water. Buri tries to find her reflection in the murky depths. She fails. But oh, how soothing the water feels!
Intensely curious, he went one day to the railway station with Jalil. To Buri’s imaginative mind, the station is a fairy land, a world she knows nothing about. She is eager to know everything about it. But the mail train steams by just as they arrive. It does not stop at such an unimportant station. But just to see it makes Buri’s heart thump. She clasps Jalil’s hand in excitement. The train fades away in the distant, but Buri remains standing on the track. She breathers quickly. A strange pleasure grips her.
“Jalil, where is the train going?”
“Far away where?”
“How the hell do I know? One day I’ll get on that train and never come back,” Jalil vows with eyes ablaze.
“I want to go, too. Will you take me with you?”
“Shall I take you? What a stupid thing to ask! Get lost,” Jalil says as he makes a face at her.
Buri is depressed. “Still”, she grumbles, “one day I shall get lost”. She gathers handful of pebbles. Jalil loiters around the station-master’s office looking for a chance to jump on a train. Some day he will succeed. Buri is helpless, wanting so many, many things, but unable to have them. Her wishes run wild and fade away as fast as the mail train. Buri will never taste the world beyond the village Haldi.
But Buri’s is a disobedient mind untamable, wandering to distant places. One day Jalil fails to be, with her. He has gone somewhere else. Buri goes back alone. The pebbles she picked up at the station make a smacking sound as they rub together in her pocket. The sound makes her happy. She tosses the pebbles away with regret. She kicks a mimosa bush. The foot is hurt. But she is happy with the hurt. Pleasure out of pain. Buri is drunk with the rhythmic sound of the train.
The sound of the train keeps her awake at night. Her eyes wide open, she waits for the night to be over. What else is there to do? Buri’s mind stands still like a clogged engine. She must know what is at the end of the road and the mouth of the canal. Her mind heaves like a flooded swamp.
Buri is far ahead of everyone else in Haldi. Children of her same age do not understand her. Her schoolmates don’t even want to play with her, and the adults don’t want to talk with her. She ignores her mother-mother is always in the kitchen doing house work. The lonely canal and Jamrul trees fascinate Buri more, and this separateness keep her distant from her mother. Sometimes her mother calls her for dinner but Buri does not hear her. Frustrated with her failure to bring Buri close to her, she fumes with rage. “Never have I seen such an awful child. What is the use of her?”
Buri sprawls among the wet bushes, licking a tamarind rind with a snap of her tongue.
She forgets about lunch. What a lovely pleasure to be alone.
When guests crowd her house, she feels safe. In the crowd she is forgotten.
Buri’s father dies when she is in her teens. She understands nothing about death, his absence seldom disturbs her. Before her father’s body is taken to the graveyard, the sheet covering his face is lifted for a while. To Buri it seem that he looks the same as before. He looks as if he is sleeping. Following others she weeps, but not from pain. She had never been close to her father. She has no ties with him, no clear memory of him. It does not trouble her. She was growing up well enough without him. It makes no difference whether her father is alive or not. Buri’s busy days are full of wandering through the fields. She swims in the river, collects pocketful of rocks. Her days and nights keep her happy.
Her father left no impression on her mind. Sometimes she thought her father knew nothing about her. She never felt the need for his love and affection. Much better, she thought, to respond to wide open nature the green bushes and the winding road to the end off the horizon are painted as if with her blood, Slowly and imperceptibly, Buri in thrown and of the domestic orbit.
When she becomes a woman, Buri is married of to her first cousin Gafur. Her mother hesitates a little in making the match because Gafur is much older than her. But that made no difference to her older brother, her guardian.
“Mother, who will tackle your wild daughter? Nobody bothered when she was a kid. But she is growing up now. Sometime soon she will make trouble.” Her brother is furious; Buri looks on helplessly, mother tries to understand.
Her face grows helpless, despondent.
He lowers his voice : “It will not be that bad to marry her off to Gafur, Because she will always be near us, which she wouldn’t be if she is married elsewhere. That would drive you mad. She would ruin your family’s name.”
Mother says nothing, so the elder brother wins the argument. His only wish is to get her married and let her off. He neither likes Buri nor her manners. Buri is silenced by the argument, but in her mind she refuses to bow down to her brothers will. No one is important to her, and a husband will not make much difference. Buri has little physical desire. The idea of marriage made her hope only that she might travel to another village, to escape from the prison of boredom in her own village. She longs to be in a different place. Her marriage to a man in a different village would have finally snapped the bonds to Haldi. On her way to distant land she would sit in a boat, casting a longing glance at the world outside. That would have given her peace. From a boat’s roof she would have thrown a steady enamouring gaze.
An unknown hairy hand will place a milestone on the way of her life and change its direction, Buri thought. But now, nothing is left for her except betel-yellowed teeth and old age. None of her desires will be fulfilled. She has been deprived of the robin’s fledglings, the pot-herb field, the wagging of Doel’s ails, water lilies and the violet flowers of hyacinth’s violet flowers. Though she lives among them, they are now far away from her.
Her marriage to her cousin won her only a passport to leapfrog from north to south of the courtyard between Gafur’s house and her mother’s. Her days change-Gafur already has two sons, one six and the other four. She gets herself on well with them. After running around they used to take refuge in her lap. Buri feels odd having become their mother through marriage, and she is often ashamed-what a misbegotten mother she is! She feels like throwing the children in the pond, but sometimes she loves their innocent faces.
She knows nothing more than these sensations : Husband, parents-in-low, the everyday environment. Nothing has changed. Rambling only at night when a pair of hairy hands grip her with desire, she understands something is changed. She removes the hands gently, and turns to sleep sometimes she goes for a breath of fresh air.
Intense pain suffocates her, but she cannot cry. She returns to her bed when the night owl hoats, and nestles close to Gafur, There is nothing else she can do. No matter how precious she is, she cannot overcome the limitations her body places on her.
When Gafur senses this absence of mind, he asks, ” Where did you go, Buri?”
“Just out of the room.”
“For a breath of fresh air-I couldn’t sleep.”
Gafur doesn’t prolong the conversation. He falls asleep. Buri spends the rest of the night tossing and turning about in bed.
She is freed and thoughtful when she keeps herself away from him. it brings her mind to the sweet rhythmic sound of the train. She folds her in a gentle embrace, and caresses him tenderly like a fond cat, and is tamed and quenched under his pungent thirst. But she is depleted; she cannot respond to Gafur’s thickened proximity. Buri is lost to the infinite world, fading away with the sound of the train Nobody can touch her; she is beyond their reach. She cannot express this pleasure to anyone.
Sometimes Gafur gazes on his adolescent wife with eyes wide open with wonder and amazement. He had never imagined that she would be his wife. But the moment she reached her puberty, she arrived in his life. Almost as a joke. It makes him ashamed. He cannot rest his eyes on her face, and keeps his gaze away from hers. Buri bursts into laughter.
“Why do you look at me like that?”
“Are you content, Buri?”
Gafur knows she will never reply.
Gafur cannot keep pace with her curiosity. He can’t imagine how a girl born in such a small village can ask so many endless questions. He wants to avoid the topic and asks for his water pipe, feeling a lump in his throat. If he can’t answer, Smoking solves the problem. Buri knows that. She knows she is not content. Does contentedness mean cooking, eating and sleeping with husband? If it is, she is content.
It may be confluence of a stream of conventions, or may be like collecting pebbles through the long journey of life. Gafur represents an experience of her life like gathering eggs and collecting sheaves of paddy from the field. In the depths of her mind there is neither bewilderment nor pleasure. In fact, Buri never feels anything.
She obliterates anything she does not like from her mind.
Any other woman would have taken marriage as a turning point in her life. But Buri couldn’t. There was no such metal in this village which would make her an iron-lady. But she hangs on. Her mind was never as damp as their village itself.
Her crying made people pity her but she never asked for help. For such a little thing at least. Superficial changes don’t matter; dejection deep inside makes her wail- A dejection that keeps her reminding the futility and meaninglessness of life. A sensation of an event sometimes stirs her. But at the same time her mind may be ablaze with another unforgettable incident. In her childhood, while gazing steadily on the rainbow colour-red birds, she would forget to respond to her mother. The mother would roar in anger, “What the hell shall I do with this impertinent girl? Buri, mind it, there are a lot of problems in store for you. Come back immediately.” She would ignore her mother and run away, grinning, leaving her mother’s shouting behind. She had to leave before she got caught in the household cage. Buri knew what was coming and tried to escape it. Mother could not tame her, and dreaded trying to marry her off. Mother is happy because she thinks Buri had changed after her marriage. She tells her son : I never thought she would be like that. The son smiles with the air of self-satisfaction, and replies : I knew it all along.’ Whatever they do before marriage, but once they are married, women are tamed. Buri, eavesdropping on their conversation, chuckles. In fact, Buri’s agonzing mind keeps her in constant pain. Nobody can sense that mind. They see that she is good or bad, problematic or stupid. But she doesn’t reveal herself to others. She has an inner source of strength, and fidelity to herself. She cultivates her inner acres herself, grows crops, hoards grain in her own storehouse. No one else is necessary for her.
So, Buri is married, with a husband of a good disposition, who may disagree with her, but never scolds or quarrels with her. Rather, he tries to please her, as if he is busy preserving the holiness of some divine thing. They never quarrel around the house. Gafur bows obsequiously to her will. She never harps on something she wants, she cherishes no desires. It makes Gafur grateful.
Sometimes, though, she is unhappy when he caresses her, pulls her face to his bosom, and says, “marrying you was not right, perhaps?”
“Why?” Buri asks.
“I’m much older than you.”
What difference does it make? You do look after me.
“What are you talking about?”
“There’s a saying : If you are fed properly, you must accept all beating and scolding.”
Gafur is silent. He cannot tell whether Buri is proud or complaining. To argue with Buri, Gafur must stop in the midstream; He cannot continue talking somewhere halfway through what he is saying. Buri stops the flow. Gafur is bewildered, irrespective of the significance of the topic. Suddenly she stops. It pushes Gafur to the edge. Sometimes she only nods in response.
Being despondent, Gafur says, “Fill my pipe, I feel a lump in my throat.” Buri laughs and disappears.
Buri has no complaint about Gafur’s age. She never pays attention to it. Before the idea of a sighing old age begins to form she becomes serene, living in Gafur’s shadow. Not to worry too much – Gafur is a good man. Rather, he is good enough. One plunges into gambling with the mind. Rather, he is good enough. One plunges into gambling with the mind. Gafur asks little of her. He rarely disturbs her. Nevertheless, she cannot endure Gafur’s presence. And the silence of her mind becomes impatient. She feels like running away, alone. She throws herself out in to the chilly night of Kartik. Gafur’s physical warmth bores her. The birds sing in the melancholy darkness, the leaves of the leaves of the morunga tree tremble.
Frost falls on the dense leaves of the forest trees. Buri stretches herself. A chilly squall dances around her like someone from her childhood had come to play hide-and-seek with her. Buri is intoxicated with the morning. Gafur calls her to come back to bed. As he is so much older than her, he loves her protectively. He never flexes a muscle to bend her will-but she yields easily any way, entangling herself in his affection.
Sometimes in the late night they go out fishing. The village which is so familiar in the bright daylight becomes something unknown and mysterious at night, when the cousin becomes the husband. The mud beneath the water, the forest, huts and paths, undergo a change like the cousin. Buri’s simple mind runs momentarily poetic. Gafur seems to be sitting at a great distance, an image fading into oblivion. The people close to her lose their familiar identities. Her mind, too, alters during such outings. Her face flashes with some now light which will become dull again once she reenters her house. In the open air, a grace and sweetness scintillate in her young face. She then snuggles close to Gafur’s bosom.
Gafur brings her onto the boat with a sudden jerk on her arm, pulling her onto the seat where he sits sternly upright. The boat rolls on the water. Gafur makes it rock back and forth some more to irritate Buri. She is more delighted than frightened, and becomes playful. She wants to be reckless. If the boat sinks, he thinks, she will go into infinite nothingness, leaving all the troubles of life behind.
“Are you frightened, Buri?” Gafur asks. “What is there to fear-you are with me,” she replies, clinging to Gafur’s knees and breaking into laughter on the rocking boat.
“You always change a lot in the open air; you seem so sad at home. There you are a mystery; you never talk openly,” Gafur complains.
“This wide open space is my home. My mind is free in the open air.” Buri says.
“That’s why I take you along with me,” Gafur replies smugly. This time it is his turn to outsmart Buri in the conversation. He is filled with pride at having made a clever answer.
The boat glides along on motionless water. Gafur draws Buri to his bosom, leaving the paddle aside. In Buri’s mouth is a burning sweetness. Gafur frantically digs out the intoxication, biting into her lips, tender as flower petals. He forgets the surroundings and the direction in which they were going. Buri is warm, her flesh soft and her manner charming. Oh, why isn’t Buri always like this! The boat whirls about and Gafur pulls at the helm, but Buri remains quiet like a tamed baby. She is calm within herself…