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When Hope Died

When Hope Died

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Published by Masud Khan Shujon

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Published by: Masud Khan Shujon on Sep 15, 2010
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09/15/2010

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“Nupur, come home. We don’t want to lose you both. Come homeand be with us.”I heard my Boro Mami’s voice on the telephone; she sounded soclose, as if she was calling me over for tea next door, instead of crying for me to come home. Hearing her cry on the phone, all of my resolve, my fight, went out of me; whoosh, as if I was punchedby some jinn delighting in stealing away my strength. I wanted torun out of the Embassy, out of Libya in the first flight out, and lie onmy Boro Mami’s bed in her house in Dhanmondi and gossip away alazy afternoon.I slowly sit down and look at Mr. Ehsan, the friendly but intractablefirst secretary of the Bangladesh Embassy in Tripoli. His head wasbowed as he was busy signing some form that will get lost intriplicate, to fly into that inter-dimensional warp hole, the “sorry, Ican not find your application” netherworld, where all applicationssent by the disenfranchised, the unconnected masses to theirgovernment servants disappear. A drop of sweat hangs on for dearlife on Mr. Ehsan’s furrowed brow, signifying his concentration andthe gravity of the matter in front of him; the bead drops on hissignature, blotting the ink (thus providing the excuse to later rejectthe application or ask for extra money to process). He looks up andI return his phone, thanking him for letting me use it to call home.He nods and gives me a sad “I am sorry, I am powerless to doanything” smile perfected by bureaucrats all over the world. Hedoes not speak, not wanting to give me a reason to again vent athim, to beseech him, to demand that he do something, get off hischair and help me find my only brother, my little Bhaia, my Chotonlost in the unrelenting heat of Libya. But, I say nothing. I want togive up, I no longer can manage to keep on going. I put my face inmy hands, sigh; I am defeated. I ask Mr. Ehsan if I can sit in hisoffice for a while longer. He grunts, gets up and leaves me tomyself. I sit there, holding back the tears and feeling the waves of self-pity drown me in darkness that I have not known for almost 20years.
“Nupur, where are you?” Shaila Chachi’s voice called out from our living room. I was taking a break from my O’Levels studies andlying on my bed and reading Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar (Shermeen, my cool, older friend from our A’Levels section recommended it; thebook’s protagonist, Esther lived in a world that was alien to me, but I was fascinated with the anger and depression she felt—emotionswhich I have rarely felt in my then sheltered and happy life-- to the
 
 point I could not go back to my studies). I walked out to the livingroom to see what Shaila Chachi wanted; she ran to me and huggedme, her wails deafening me, her tears soaking through my shalwar.“Chachi, what happened, why are you crying.” No sense of urgency or panic, as I knew my Chachi tended towards drama, and couldburst into tears for almost any number of things, including her usualstrife with her household staff.“Shona, come upstairs. Your Chacha wants to talk to you.” The first hint of something larger than Chachi’s melodrama, a slight taste of dread seeped in. Chacha is Abbu’s eldest brother, andresides in the top floor flat’s regal study, where the children of thehousehold are barred entry unless they are called forth to receivehis instructions, sometimes given with a life affirming slap or two tothe face. Chacha had never called me up before, for I was the star  pupil in my family, the child who was used as the role model by allour elders when they scolded their own kids (and, of course, my cousins teased me miserably to counter my larger share of parentalaffection and respect). Chacha only called us up when we didsomething wrong, and as I could not recall doing anything evenresembling imperfection, I felt fear constricting my chest as Irealized that Chacha may be calling me about some other news; my initial taste of dread turned into bitter bile, my sweat glands poredout their anxious tears into my clothes as I walked up the stairs totalk to Chacha.
I shake myself out of my reverie, and stop my painful walk throughthe dug up, cratered lane of the years that came after my talk withChacha. I look up at the clock and note that it was a little pastnoon. Mr. Ehsan’s not altogether unpleasant odor lingered, lettingme know that I am trespassing on the poor man’s domain, hiskingdom of files, clips, pens and towel-draped throne. My rage,frustration, the almost virulent hatred I felt for the man for the lastfew hours dissipated; he did not have the skills, motivation or powerto help me, and his incompetency and inefficiency may have beenexasperated by being faced with a woman of higher education, class(and perceived power and influence) then him. I feel the coolness of reason come back to me, driving out the despair that I felt only afew minutes back. Mr. Ehsan may not be able to help me findChoton; he may be a duffer sent by the Foreign Office to the sandy,madman dominated outpost in Libya, whose lifelong reaction tomost questions may be to respond with a safe “no;” but he was kindenough (or scared enough of me) to have left me in his office to waitout the afternoon heat and plan out my next course of action.When I am in motion, when I feel that I am getting things done, Ifeel less vulnerable to that defeatist’s cloak being thrown over me,that dark self-pity crippling me. When I take action, I rejuvenatemyself. I grab a pen and paper from Mr. Ehsan’s desh and start
 
writing; I start formulating my plan of how I can continue with mymission now that I have hit a wall on my first day in Tripoli.
“Choto Ma,” that’s what my parents used to call me. That’s howthey also started treating me from when I was about eight yearsold, right after Choton was born. Not only was I a little mother toChoton, looking after him, watching over the ayah to make sure shecleaned his bottles properly, checking on him right after school sothat I could change him, bathe him and powder him; I instinctively became a little mother to my parents. Abbu and Ammu were very  young when they had me, and were in love with each other, their lives and their friends. Right after they were married, Abbu startedworking for my Nana at his car dealership (my Mamas were already working in my Nana’s other industries). Abbu did not follow hisbrothers into professional careers or, in the case of Chacha, into the pedantic non-pursuit of useless knowledge. By the time Choton wasborn, Abbu had grown the business and was running it with the helpof professional managers; he did not need to spend as much time at work anymore, and Ammu and Abbu grew even closer and startedenjoying their times together, living the lives they would haveotherwise lived when they were younger. Little mother that I was, it was not uncommon in our house for me to go up to Abbu and ask him to spend more time with us, or scold both my parents for coming home too late the night before and waking up Choton withtheir giggling. I relished my role as little mother; I loved theresponsibility, and my parents trusted me, respected me and weremore than willing to relinquish more and more responsibilities tome. When I was much younger, Abbu taught me to take notes andwrite out action plans for each day; I developed the habit and it became a part of me as I took on more and more on my youngshoulders. By the time I was in Class 9, I was running the householdand handling all of the accounts at home; I also used to visit theoffice with Abbu on Saturdays and attend all his meetings with him(he used to schedule all important meetings on that day so I couldsit with him). Also, without any pressure from my parents, I used tocome in top of my class. All of this was fun for me; while other girlsin my school got their kicks from gossiping, bunking class, smokingin bathrooms or kissing boys, I got my highs from helping Chotongrow up, letting my parents have fun without a worry in the world,and managing all of the things in my life.The ultimate high, however, I got crossing out the completed tasksfrom my daily task list every night; this was who I was, I did things, Ihelped people and it made me very happy. Since I have been ateenager, the only time I have not reviewed my task list andcrossed out my completed tasks was the night when Chacha gaveme the news that Abbu and Ammu had died that night, killed by aspeeding truck.
I prepare my plan. First, I write out the facts that I know. The name

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