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Sunday, June 06, 2010

NO LONGER PERSONAL

Angry, frustrated, agitated-it only took a moment to give up on life. This wasn’t like last time when this writer had tried to take the ultimate step of doing away with life.

This happened at 10 o clock at night in Dhanmondi on Saturday, 24 November. Something that I witnessed just shocked me beyond bounds. We were moving houses (for which reason I was fortunately carrying an Arabic English version of the Quran). That’s what I ran away with, blinded future.

Now I am not an escapist. I was just too angry with myself for letting it happen. Frustrated- I got nostalgic about how it all started. Who’s to be blamed and how to reach a conclusion? It was one of those moment when two and two make four. Thoughts about my mother who had borne my sister and me for so long, about my good for nothing relatives-puppeteers to this patriarchal society (who simply abhorred my mother’s great ‘crime’ of divorcing) and about my friends most of whom had lately fallen into trouble became of me. At least I shouldn’t have been so naïve and should have more careful especially when I knew my family’s rivalry with some very influential network.

As I ran with tears rolling down my cheeks, one thing that was certain was that there was nowhere to go so late at night. I looked for some place as I sat to just think over – a mosque! But it was closed. The nest hit was a madrasha- but even there no response. I was exasperated. Wasn’t there any place in this specious world for a girl to just sit and cry? The Kidney Hospital under neon lights pulled me out of me thoughts. I stammered to its occupants some silly tale about “my uncle whom I hadn’t visit for 8 years.” Judging my situation, they asked me to sit in the waiting room which was practically empty. Nobody asked any awkward question and I gave a round in the ward rooms twice just for the sake of “looking for somebody”.

Around 11.45 pm they informed me that the place was about to close down. I came out to find myself near Dhanmondi Lake. To be roaming around at that time didn’t seem like the right thing for a 20-year-old woman. Not that I was scared. Even if I was a kung fu master, there is this social stigma which wouldn’t have been there if I were male. But there wasn’t time to philosophies about gender disparity, as I had to think quickly. I took a rickshaw, and once on board did some brain-storming. I heeded for a newspaper office I was familiar with thinking that it just might stay open all night. The guy in reception recognized me.

I didn’t want to bother him with details like the fact that some people were after me, so it was unsafe for me to stay at home. So my plan was to stay at an office to write an exclusive report on that gang. Much to my disappointment he informed me that the place was about to close down at 3 but he asked me to give a try at some television channel office.
I reached one of the offices and went upstairs. The person in charge of the crime beat was sympathetic and bluntly asked him whether I could stay and if the regulations didn’t permit that, I would be happy to leave. He gazed up, thought for a few seconds and nodded a “yes” which actually left me quite surprised as that wasn’t what I had expected. Again I started with the story, rather softly, but he didn’t seem to be curious or anything. He just put a shawl around me with paternal affection and asked me to relax-relax?

The following day was a hunt for the answers. Just as everyday the sun rose, people commuted all over the road, regardless. To the whole world nothing had changed, but there was a storm in my mind’s world. Things started happening in rush. Like I had opened a new world to explore where I knew no one. The television journalist was pretty helpful. But I didn’t want to be helped by anybody so when I departed I did it unnoticed.

There was this one thing that kept bugging me all throughout the day. How to inform my family of my well-being. Asking my TV journalist friend to call them when I would meet him next (and anticipated last time) seemed like a good idea. Here I must relate an incident. One particular incident is worth mentioning. There was this old man in the bus who approached me with a benign smile and started to ask me about the Quran in my hands. He started giving lectures of how the youth this day should be that I fully appreciated. He seemed like a “guardian type” in my isolated world. But at length, he changed colors, like a shrewd chameleon. “Where do you live? How do I contact you?” “You’re a stranger” was my curt reply. But he superficially introduced himself, handed a card to me and added “You’re a girl-very vulnerable. You should be careful” I plainly told him it didn’t matter to me much if I was a boy or a girl. “But, you see, it matters to me that you’re of the opposite sex.” Then he related an unlikely tale of how his friend had married his grandsons’ friend. And whether I had ever visited Cox Bazar. I distanced myself at that point. That’s it! The last time I take a senior citizen in blind respect. Again doesn’t necessarily cleanse a dirty mind!


Media, lawyer, human rights’ activists, NGO were all in my list and I had a pretty long day at my disposal. As night fell, there was again the challenge of lodging. My last drop was another television channel where I was promised “Eternal” help if I would just go back home. Adamant as ever, it seemed to me that they were just wasting my time. I was grateful to them for their kindness, but it was getting late. “I’ll let you know what happens” and with that I moved on only to find myself in a dark, deserted road of Gulshan. All the shops were closing. As I had already used up all my money, I didn’t carry a bag, no cell and therefore no phone numbers, so it was time for me to panic! I could borrow but it had to be from somebody who knew my story, who was powerful enough to mach my rivals (so not my friends). At one o clock at night this was a tricky business.


Finally I decided to take a cab to go to the airport and on the way I tried some offices in the media but couldn’t get the people. As I approach the office of a photographer whom I had met through work, I thought that it was stupid. What would he be doing there at that time? As I knocked he was the one to open the door. He fired a dozen of worried questions at me and I implored him not to tell the folks at home. He made me get the cab driver’s number and give it to him. Later when I was on my way, he called on the cabby’s cell. “Is the driver shifty? Are you sure you will make it? Are you ok?” that made me realize that I was back again to the social world. A world where people care. I smiled to myself and looked out into the empty road in the dark sky, thinking about my mother and my sister whose glimpse I had caught on my way to Gulshan. They were obviously looking for me, but they looked clam.

It was a good thing that I had taken a cab so I was dropped off at the departure lounge of the airport. Once there a guard came for a little chitchat and I got impatient at his irrelevant questions. (What was my name, address, contact number!)? Shaken and definitely with a resolution to get me for scolding him, he went and consulted with his fellow crewman. Ok that meant trouble, as I had contradicting information to the guards here- one I had said I had come here for departure and the for picking up my two khalas were on their way here to join me. I realized that I was pretty conspicuous as I was a young girl all alone.

Walking along I found a seat beside two hijab-clad women. They were going to stay here till morning. I told them that I had come from U.S a week back and hadn’t known anybody in Dhaka, so I had come alone that night to pick my sister up from the airport. Moreover her flight was at dawn, I said, and I didn’t want to wait downstairs as it was risky. I felt bad about lying to such nice people but I had no choice. One of them was very exuberant and kept talking to me, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The other lady however eyed me with suspicion and did not really speak to me until dawn approached by which time her skepticism had dissipitated. She smiled warmly and asked while I was about to leave. “We have spent such a long time tighter, but I didn’t even know your name.” Well that was the only truth I could convey to them-my name, so I did.

After what seemed like eternity, the Azaan started and bidding my companions goodbye I made my way out. Immediately I regretted the decision as there was not a single soul out in the whole main road and it was still dark. A CNG drove past so I got on board, but it started to move like a turtle and stopped frequently (for extra payment). So I left that one, and with serendipity another one passing that instant. But the driver did exactly the same thing and this time I gave him a piece of my mind. Luckily the shops were opening and by then the street getting filled so he dared not get me back. In a total I had to pay TK80, 40 each for a not such a great distance.

When I met my benefactor at the TV channel, I was shocked to hear that somebody had kept calling him, from the phone shop I had called him from – and informed him where I was about to go. That guy even told him that I was going to Gulshan-2, but that’s something only I knew. I was being tracked all along!

So I was still under the purview of my enemies. None of this made sense-51 hours of not eating, not sleeping, and a whole day still lay ahead. I began musing and planning as I sat under the bright morning rays near the Shahid Minar. Actually this was the first time I had ever been there. It was also the first time I had spent so much time away from my family. Usually I have a bad case of not remembering directions as I always rely on my mom to pick me up and drop me to wherever I had to go, so I couldn’t believe how I had managed all these days.

This particular day my photographer friend told me over the phone that I would be hunted too as a missing report had been filed at a police station earlier that day. So I asked him to bring me a different colored jacket/shirt and a cap in the hope of disguising myself. He asked me to visit his office where many of his colleagues who knew about the whole thing, started to convince me to go home and abandon my reckless plan. I got impatient and asked one of them why it mattered to anybody when so many people are dying out there everyday-we frequently come across such grotesque news across the paper. She defiantly replied that it was because by that time I had become someone she knew and cared about. Coming from somebody I had known only for about a month, I was touched, yet stubborn. Later as I spoke to another colleague, somebody I had met only the first time in my life he somehow was able to make me aware the importance of going back. As impulsively I had taken the decision to run away, I opted for coming back.

Then they called home and outside as I was waiting for ma mother and sister, I felt the card that the old man had given me the other day in my pocket, gave it a last look and tossed it away. Then I made my way towards my family. And here I was once again –as clueless and frustrated as ever! As for all the people who helped me including the solicitous, well-intentioned team at the newspaper magazine, for good reasons I would not approach them anymore concerning this.


The End........

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