translation: SABRINA ISHRAT, AHSAN IMAN
The necklace is fastened around the dead body’s
neck. The hook is behind the neck. To unhook it, you
have to push your hand back of the neck. The hook
has to be unfurled. The task is not so easy, at least not
The dead body is named Salma Mehraz. She was
known to all by this very name until twenty to thirty
minutes ago, especially to her son Asad, daughter
in law Juthi and only granddaughter Maria. She won’t
be called by this name until she is put to the grave. As
soon as a human of flesh and blood departs, the very
identity bearing since birth becomes faint. The dead
person becomes a mere corpse.
Asad’s flat is on the 11th floor of Eastern Housing of
Panthopath area. The building is enormously big –
twenty stories. There are around two hundred and
fifty families as if it were a community.
They live in the south cornered flat of the 11th floor.
Asad runs a business. Sabina’s life revolves around
looking after Maria and going to the beauty parlour,
just like Mohila Somitee. Asad’s mother, Salma
Mehraj, was intolerable to Juthi. The religious woman
always objected to the reckless lifestyle of Juthi. but
Juthi opposed her in every possible way. This type of
behaviour creates difficulties between husband and
wife, but because of his beloved daughter Maria, Asad
has to put up with her bad manners.
Almost half an hour has passed, Salma Mehraz is no
more. It is 3:30 am. Untold sorrow is in the eyes of
Asad. Maria is still sleeping next door.
Around 3:00 am Asad hears a groaning sound from
his mother’s room. It comes repeatedly. Leaving Juthi
and Maria in their sleep, he rushes to his mother’s
room. He finds his mother tossing about in pain.
Sitting beside his mother, Asad touches her forehead.
She has a high fever. Mother desires a drink of water.
Asad brings water and gives her. She can’t drink
no more than a few drops. She holds on tightly. He
thinks twice whether he’ll call Juthi or not. He hesi-
tates to do it. Perhaps she’ll come and say, “Because
of you both, I can’t even have a sound sleep. I have
already told you several times to let Noorzahan sleep
on the floor in this room. If she wants anything, she
can attend her. Nobody listens to me.” Perhaps she
will rush to her room after uttering these words.
Noorzahan is the common maid of this building of
Eastern Housing. She is around fifty. She is always
chewing betel leaves. The betel leaf pot is always
found in her hand. Noorzahan frequently moves
around in these almost two hundred and fifty flats.
She performs casual household chores whenever she
likes. She chats with the homemaker and takes food.
She spends the night in any corner of the corridors.
For now, let’s leave Noorzahan aside and let us go
back to Salma Mehraz. She feels restless. She holds
Asad’s hands tightly. To see his mother struggling in
pain leaves Asad speechless. For a moment he thinks
about making a phone call to the hospital but there is
no way to leave mother alone.
He calls his mother repeatedly, “Mother, are you fe-
eling very anxious? Please give me a chance to make
a call to the hospital and make arrangements for
an ambulance.” Asad is stunned by grief but there’s
nothing he can do. The sound of groaning increases
in his mother’s voice. Being frightened, he holds her
He recollects the memories of his father. He was
the headmaster of a primary school. When father
died, he tossed in pain with his head on mother’s
lap. Asad can clearly visualise that specific scene. At
that time he had just completed Intermediate and
got admitted into DU. The younger sister Diba was
appearing for SSC. Two siblings were standing beside
the mother. Father passed away in pain, with his head
on mother’s lap. Father became lifeless with his eyes
open. The heartrending crying when mother closed the eyes
of the dead father.
Suddenly, Asad notices that his mother’s grip is loo-
sening. The head is leaning by one side. Asad realises
what it means. He wants to loudly call his mother
but doesn’t. The eyes of Salma Meraz are fixed to
the ceiling fan. Asad looks at the face of his mother,
closing her eyes with his right hand. Tears are flowing.
He can feel the earthquake inside. Juthi and Maria are
sleeping in the next room. Among the flats in Eastern
Housing, this flat is now calm and quiet. Not even the
sound of lifts going up and down is heard. Sometimes
the silence is broken by the whistle of the night guard.
Dogs are barking far away. At this late hour, the sound
of a plane reaches him suddenly. Asad is sitting and
holding his mother’s hands. Limbs are becoming
frozen. Blood circulation seems to have stopped.
The mechanical life of Dhaka city poisons Asad’s
mind. Under the same roof there are two hundred
and fifty families.There is no connection among the
families except one or two. There is no tradition of
sharing and caring. When children play in the parking
lot, they know and talk with one another. That’s all.
Such relations can’t have any impact on their parents’
relations. Because everyone is very busy. The faces
are familiar only because they often meet in the
lift, but even then there is no conversation. On the
Pahela Baishakh or any other occasion, they meet
on the roof or the parking lot of Eastern Housing.
Most of them gather there well dressed. Time passes
by through different programs and dining. After
attending the program, they greet and go back to
their flats. Sometimes a child is born at the north flat
and at the same time an old man passes away at the
south flat. The news of birth may not reach all the re-
sidents. On the other hand, the news of death reaches
all. The security guards announce the death through
intercom including the details of the dead man, his
name and where he is going to be buried.
For the last two months the security guards have
not announced any death news. A meeting was held
among the residents. Most of them were of the same
opinion: if news of death is announced at the very
beginning of day or night, it hampers mental prepara-
tion for the day’s activities. Such days people can’t go
on with their normal procedures. So it is decided not
to announce death news in mikes, but there will be a
notice on the board downstairs. Every single detail of
the dead man, his burial – all will be written there.
Asad is confused. Diba is his only sister. She lives at
Dhanmondi with her family. Asad wonders whether
he should inform her over the telephone or not. He
decides to do it early in the morning. Asad gets up
from the bed and opens the flat’s door. He glances up
and down the corridor. Noorzahan is not there. She is
supposed to be at the corner of the corridor. The lift is
not in operation yet.
Asad walks down the stairs and reaches the ground
floor. At the last corner of the corridor, he finds Noor-
Noorzahan wakes up by the sound of Asad’s footste-
ps. He reveals everything about mother’s departure.
Noorzahan utters the name of Allah and follows Asad,
remaining silent. Restlessly, she enters the room. She
stands by the bed of Salma Mehnaz with Asad .
“Where is Apa?”asks Noorzahan
“She is sleeping.”
“Haven’t you called her?”
“What’s the use of calling her? It would just cause
problems. She’ll come to know in the morning.”
“There’s been such a mishap in the house, but my
sister is sleeping?!” is what Noorjahan wants to say
Because she knows Juthi can’t stand Salma Mehraz
“Brother?” says Noorzahan.
“You better take ablution and recite the holy Quran by
the side of Aunt.”
“Is there incense at home?”
“Perhaps there is no collection.”
“It’s okay. I’m taking measures and going to call in
“Who is Saleha’s aunt?”
“Don’t you know her? When a man dies, she performs
the rituals. She lives just beside Rajabazar Mosque. I
should go immediately.”
The conversation between Asad and Noorzahan wa-
kes Juthi up. Drowsy, she comes up to them. “What’s
happened? Why are you talking so loud at this hour?
Noorzahan, what are you doing here?”
Both Asad and Noorzahan keep quiet.
“Why are you silent?”
Asad starts weeping sitting at the feet of his mother.
Juthi stands still. Now she understands what has hap-
pened. She can’t utter even a single word. Speech-
less, she stares at the face of Salma Mehraz.
Juthi didn’t like her conservative and backward
mother-in-law. They used to quarrel frequently.
Juthi’s reckless movements and free mixing with boy
friends, made Salma Mehraz speak ill of her.
She also wanted Asad to make her understand, to
tackle her smoothly. But Asad could not tell her off.
The reason behind this is that Asad runs the business
with the dowry he has got from his father in law.
As soon as Noorzahan leaves, Juthi calls,” Where are
“I’m going to meet Saleha Aunt. She can perform all
“Put the corpse on the floor. It’s not right to keep
a dead body on the bed,” says Juthi, sitting on the
Asad feels like his inner self has been pierced when
Juthi identifies Salma Mehraz as ‘Dead Body’. He
looks at Juthi with eyes filled with tears. Suddenly
Noorzahan stands up.
“Mother... O, mother,” Asad bursts into tears. Noorza-
Saleha Begum is also well known to all in this area as
Noorjahan. She has passed sixty. She is efficient in
delivering children and performing religious rituals
for dead women. She has been practising these two
very important jobs for many years. Her life history is
also known to all. She is on good terms with Noorza-
han. It is always she who delivers news like these to
Saleha Begum. She gladly accepts what people give
her, though she never asks for more.
Nowadays the number of child deliveries have de-
creased. Most of the patients go to clinics, hospitals.
It has become a common phenomenon. Noorzahan
always assists Saleha Begum whenever she gets an
opportunity. She can also earn a small amount.
Juthi is sitting silently on the chair. Suddenly she feels
repentant. It has been ten years since they got mar-
ried. During the last ten years many incidents have
happened between them. Everything comes to an
end today. When Maria was born, she looked after her
just like her own daughter. She managed everything
single-handedly. In this family, her mother-in-law
arranged everything properly in numerous ways.
The void widens after the disappearance of man.
Hundreds of memories gather in Juthi’s mind. Asad
is sitting, holding mother’s leg. He weeps in intervals.
Stormy emotions being unleashed from the depth of
his heart: “Mother, if you go away, who will look after
us? Who will wait for me, who will attend me if I get
sick? Who will encourage me?”
It is almost dawn. Saleha Begum and Noorzahan put
Salma Mehraz in north-south posture on the floor. By
this time security guards have collected all the infor-
mation and hang it on the notice board. Women from
surrounding flats gather here. They show sympathy
and repentance, then they leave.
Asad again recollects the memory of the very day of
his father’s demise. When the news of his death was
announced through the mosque mike, hundreds of
neighbours gathered. All the relatives, known and
unknown, cried aloud.
But the scenario is different today. The polished resi-
dents are devoid of emotions, they have become like
machines. They have no time to stand by the side of a
sorrow-stricken family. Not even Asad and Juthi have
any extra time.
They have a schedule of schooling for their children,
the preparation for their husband’s office. Moreover,
many women are job holders. Everything follows a
certain routine. There is no way of getting out of it,
they don’t even have the courage to do it. They go
through everyday bearing in mind the long list of
expenditures each month. Diba has arrived with her
family. Diba cries for a long time hugging her brother.
The sound of crying lets people in the flats nearby
know that someone died in this flat. Relatives start
showing up one by one. By this time Noorzahan has
lighted incense. One or two are reciting the holy
Quran by the side of the dead body, some are praying.
Saleha Begum is preparing to bathe the dead body.
Noorzahan puts a pot on the oven to boil water.
Suddenly Juthi leaves the chair and walks up to the
dead body. Pointing at Saleha Begum she says, “Aunt,
unfasten the necklace from the dead body.”
Her statement leaves Asad, Diba, Noorzahan, eve-
rybody present shellshocked. With eyes full of tears
Diba says loudly to Asad, “Brother, I want to keep the
necklace. It’ll remain as a memory of my mother.”
Asad looks at Juthi and realises instantly that Juthi
also wants the necklace. Almost five years ago Juthi
said about the necklace, “The necklace of your
mother is fully pure gold. Nowadays such type of pure
gold can’t be found any more.” At that time Asad said,
“The necklace belonged to her grandmother at the
time of her parents’ wedding, grandmother gave it to
Asad finds himself in a dilemma. He doesn’t know
whether he’ll fulfil his sister’s wish or his wife’s claim.
Juthi can’t control herself when she finds Asad quiet.
She says, “According to law, the necklace must be in
my possession.’’ After listening to Juthi, everyone’s
like spellbound. Tears flow from Diba’s eyes. In her
mind Diba thinks “Mother, not even after death have
you found peace.”
Saleha Begum breaks the silence, “Sell the necklace
and give the amount to an orphanage. The prayer
of orphans will give peace to the departed soul.”
Nobody reacts after hearing her talk. Saleha Begum
herself unfastens the hook of the necklace and gives
it to Asad. Asad kisses his mother’s necklace and
bursts into tears. Perhaps the departed soul of Salma
Mehraz keeps smiling from the perpetual world.
Mohammed Moheuddin is editor for
Golpokar, a literary journal based in Dhaka.
He writes fiction, drama and is Secretary Ge-
neral, PEN International Bangladesh Centre.