Grave and faith

Grave and faith


by Rajib Nur

translation: Debashish Deb

Unable to repeat the same dream for the
third time, he left the bed and stepped
down on the floor, he was shivering. In
three steps he reached the earthen pitcher
placed in the corner of the room, and pour-
ed down a glass of water incessantly into his
throat; and then his chest felt severely hit by
something, like when water falls on hot ground
and it discharges vapor. He patted his chest
gently; then remained fixed in darkness for a
while. The sunlight coming through holes in the
fence was as white as a shroud. Saleha stood
in front of him, and he started reciting Doa
Yunus. Saleha sighed, ’Haven’t you come yet! I
can’t stand it anymore with our son.’ She was
wearing a white shirt; or did she come with a
shroud?Saleha took a wooden chair to sit on
and said, ’I am very thirsty, would you help me
with a glass of water?’ Kalim didn’t understand
what to do; or his fear was beyond everything
else he felt. He hands Saleha, his wife, a glass
and pours water into it. Asking Saleha if she
wanted anything else to eat, Kalim remembe-
red that they had nothing in the house.

Kindling is forbidden in the house of a decea-
sed. Leaving Saleha in the grave yesterday af-
ternoon, Kalim first cried when eating rice in his
elder brother’s house. A number of rice husks
were put into his mouth, filling with tears and
snivels. Boiled coarse rice with potato-potal
curry got stuck in the center of his chest. Saleha
was buried scented with perfume and roses. By
the scent of perfume and roses standing on the
eaves of Saleha’s grave, and having glimpsed
her for the last time, Kalim was, for a moment,
lost in time and space. Knocking at the door
of an inevitable memory, during the spasm of
feelings one night – was a girl veiled in a tiny
red Sharee. Her soft physique was warm to the
touch. In the late afternoon the sun beauti-
fied her, and she became more graceful and
charming in death. Saleha disappeared behind
the bamboo fence. With trembling hands Kalim
flung the first layer of soil into the grave, which
took time to fill, and immediately Saleha was
lost in the abyss of darkness. Did Saleha say
to Kalim in her last words, ’You do get another
marriage after my death’?Or was there a
twinge of hatred in her two pollinated Kadam
flower eyebrows! In fact, when he ran to Radha-
mani Dai’s call, she only touched Kalim’s hand
once and collapsed on the bed.

Kalim – returning from the field at noon of the
Bengali month Chaitra with a demon-like hung-
er – saw Saleha in deep sleep, and the smell of
burning curry and murrel fish – cooked with a
fry pan – spread throughout the house.

He became furious and blood-thirsty, and for-
got that Saleha was sick. Actually he wouldn’t
have been so angry if he didn’t meet Raisuddin
on the way home from the field. Kalim was a
share cultivator of Raisuddin’s land. Raisuddin
decided not to pay for the power pump and
told so to his share cultivators. Hearing that Ka-
lim lost his temper. The problem was tiny and
solvable; also Raisuddin had always an affec-
tionate feeling for Kalim. But, at that moment
Kalim was so enraged, and lost all rationalities.
Raisuddin was coming towards him from the
opposite direction with a folded umbrella kept
under his arm.

Kalim shouldn’t have talked to Raisuddin just
then, he could place his appeal later, in a
calmer situation. Kalim could say later, ’You are
my guardian, if you don’t look after me, where
will I go?” But seeing Raisuddin, he suddenly
became frantic and spared himself no time
to calculate the situation; there was already
anxiety within him from when he saw that his
milk-cow – his only earning source – was dying
early in the morning when he was going to
field; anger which was increasingly fueled by
other farmers.

So, he got excited seeing Raisuddin and made
a mess on the road instantly. Raisuddin tried to
stop him in a feeble tone saying ’Hey! Don’t be
audacious, you’re mad!’

He became uncontrollable, or the entangle-
ment awakened courage in him; he indulged
himself in naming Raisuddin’s paternal figure.
Raisuddin’s grandfather was a bought slave,
and all this he said in the gathering. True or fal-
se, there was a mixture of belief, but now eve-
ryone in the village knew, but no one had the
courage to bring it out of their mouth. It was
in that mess Raisuddin took back ten Bighas of
land from Kalim, which he would cultivate in
share, and redistributed among other farmers.

This situation was enough to make him mad
with rage after seeing Saleha sleeping when
the smell of burning curry reached his senses.
Moreover, before entering the house, he saw
the cow lying dead in the yard. Kalim pulled
Saleha up from the bed, grabbing her hair in
his hand with vehemence. Saleha was shocked
and did not understand anything. She didn’t cry
at all, she kept biting her lip with her teeth and
endured the torture; she only moaned once
before losing consciousness when Kalim kicked
her hard in the lower abdomen.

Saleha said, ’I am going. You come quickly.’
At that time Kalim couldn’t realize whether
the presence of Saleha was in his dream or in
reality. He could remember drinking a glass of
water after waking up from his third dream.
However, to be sure whether he was sleeping
standing up or not, he tested himself in various
ways – such as pinching his body, walking a
little, rubbing his hand on the fence etc. Seeing
Saleha leaving, Kalim suddenly felt that she
couldn’t be let go like that. The veins on both
sides of his forehead kept pulsing, and as if jet
planes were running in his ears. In the meanti-
me Saleha opened the door and reached the
yard. Kalim went out behind her. Leaving the
outer area of the house, Saleha kept walking,
dipping feet in wet grass. Kalim was running
briskly, but the gap got longer and longer. The
fringes of Saleha’s Sharee were flapping in the
wind like a flock of white herons.

After the night a gray dawn was breaking when
Kalim knocked on his elder brother’s door. In
the course of recounting the dream three times
to the elder brother, he struggled, and created
a foggy narrative. Salim became surprised to
hear about the arrival of a dead person in the
younger brother’s house, and therefore he re-
mained speechless for a while. Of course, Salim
did not want to believe that at first; but when
his wife raised the light of the hurricane lamp,
Salim saw blobs of sweat showing just like pox’s
wounds all over Kalim’s face. Kalim’s physical
appearance made his narrative more convin-
cing. Salim proposed going to the mosque in
an attempt to pacify his brother’s troubled and
miserable mind.

Kalim recounted his dream after the prayer.
Witness Salim said that he himself saw half of
a glass of water in the glass in which Saleha
drank water. Then the worshipers became
suspicious; curiosity arose among them; they
glimpsed at one another in the gathering sus-
pecting an answer which was unknown to all.

Salim said, ’A piece of white cloth is stuck on
the nail upon which cot Saleha sat on.’
A mass of voices resonated in the mosque. The
Imam of the mosque was caressing his white
beard with his hand saying ’for such an incident
to happen is not impossible’. He wouldn’t be
surprised if he would dig up the grave and find
pregnant Saleha giving birth to a child there. He
then told the mass the story of Prophet Yunus’s
survival inside the stomach of a fish, the throne
of Prophet Solomon and the magic stick of
Prophet Musa. These stories were heard many
times, but no one was bothered at all. Mr.
Imam’s melodious voice was ringing.

Rajabali’s wife must have cooked the break-
fast-meal by this time and was waiting for him;
the labourer boy was also expected to have
arrived by then. He was supposed to plow the
land for the first time today in the new season.
Abu Karim should have started to avail for the
first train heading to the city; in the last thirty
years he had not missed the train without any
special leave; he was awarded also once for
honesty and discipline during the Pakistan era.
Samad, the vegetable seller, also should have
left then if he felt the necessity of reaching
Phultali Hat before dusk.

Not only Rajabali, Abu Karim or Samad, many
other people crowded in the graveyard. Their
ears were alert; they were waiting for so-
mething supernatural. There was flaming sun-
light on the new grave; carefully planted grass
had become yellowish – nearly dead. Everyo-
ne’s plain or meaningful gaze was on the grave.
Yet none was seeing the twinkling of the sun or
the playing of the sun on the grass. Men gathe-
red there formed a circle around the grave;
and small groups of three or four in the circle
were talking about another similar incident;
they scrambled memories like silent treasure
hunters; and those who were creative built
new stories. Time kept passing in indecision.
Thinking himself a murderer, Kalim kept wan-
dering off being disgusted with himself, though
his thoughts were not at all linear. Suddenly a
feeling arose in him that everyone knew that
Saleha died from his beating! A robust young
man, Saleha’s younger brother, was coming
from the district town with the police.

Senior Moulana sent news – the grave couldn’t
be dug. A senior student of madrasa was
reciting moulavi’s statement with a strange
expression on his face – Allah can do anything
if He wills, he can make a river into a desert or
a desert into a river; But Allah does not violate
the rules.’ Everyone gathered was waiting for
news from Maulana; now they feel tired. The
student also said, ’Allah does not send the
dead to the earth again. Who has ever heard
of a dead woman giving birth in the grave?’
The Imam started jumping, being excited for
nothing, saying ’didn’t God resurrect Jesus
from death?’ Irrefutable logic; but these people
didn’t find any interest in such an argument for
nothing. Those who had been so eager inclu-
ding Samad, Abu Karim, Rajabali and others
started to walk away slowly, heading their ways
to individual endpoints.

The gathering around the grave was redu-
ced under the shade of the trees next to the
cemetery. They talked to each other, someone
was exclaiming Kalim’s inertia, and he himself
would not have sat for so long after such a
dream. Suddenly Kalim reacted; he reached the
grave with quick steps and sat silently beside
the grave, making the gasping people there
frustrated. After a while they kept talking to
each other about the immutability of Kalim —
the context of the grave and the torment of the
grave. They all expressed their confidence in
Saleha’s purity.
Kalim’s wife was a very nice woman. She must
have been good, as her parents were good. The
elder person among the gathering was busy
telling how much Saleha’s father and grand-
father were known to him. The mass quickly
returned to the previous contexts, that is
Saleha, Saleha’s grave and heaven-hell perspec-
tives. All these micro-fictions were spread wide,
branching, graced with foliage — the white
horse, the horse that used to come came to the
cemetery every night to graze; those who heard
that story first in the middle of the noon of
Bengali month Jyoshtha next to the graveyard,
and those who had heard it before, became
stirred. Nobody noticed Kalim’s return; he said,
’Wearing a white sharee Saleha started flying
in the sky and then a white horse came to her.
Saleha went flying on the back of the horse.’
No question came to Kalim whether he saw
a horse in the morning while standing in the
corn field. Now, certainly he was seeing Saleha
wearing a white sharee on a white horse flying
through the vast sky.

Someone among the congregants expressed
doubts about the presence of a child in the
grave, but Kalim’s belief had not been quen-
ched. He went to the grave again. The assembly
reached him there while he began to dig up
the earth from the grave. Being confused by
his restlessness, others could remember the
Senior Maulana’s prohibition. The elder brother
tried to stop Kalim; `Kalim, listen to me, a bit.’
Kalim’s hands worked faster. Some people
hugged him. The people who had been gathe-
ring with deep concern for a long time became
confused by the suddenness of the incident.
The elder said, ’Hujur is a wise man, would it
be wise to disobey what he said to us?Listen,
don’t increase the suffering of your wife in the
grave. Listen to the words of the book.’ As he
was talking about the book his voice became
unusual or took on a new dimension – he
spoke in weird mixtures of words concerning
verbs. “During the time of the Prophet, an old
woman saw in a dream one night that her dead
daughter was burning in a big pit of fire in hell,
and angels were inserting iron nails into her
feet. Her hands and feet were chained. She was
screaming and crying. Mother asked, `Why is
your suffering so austere?You haven’t worshi-
ped less in the world! The girl said, `I have
worshiped; but I was also the cause of a lot of
troubles for my husband. I used to speak angri-
ly to him, I used to go out of the house without
his permission, and without his permission
I used to donate household items to others.
That’s why Allah did not accept my worship.’
After waking up the old woman went to her
son-in-law’s house and apologized to him. But
her appeal was not accepted. Then the old wo-
man went to Rasul’s court. Holly Rasul called on
the son-in-law of the old woman and requested
him to forgive her. He then forgave her. That
night the old woman dreamt that her daughter
was very happy in heaven. Hooray Golmans,
servants in heaven, were serving her.”
The assembled people reached Kalim’s house
just after the end of the elder’s rendition of the
book. Some other gatherings also came to the
yard of the house. Suddenly Kalim feels feve-
rish. He entered the house and took to bed.
Someone forbade him to lie down that late
afternoon. It was almost evening. He wrapped
a Kantha, a patched quilt, around him when he
felt cold. Saleha spent a long time making this
Kantha. She hummed songs while stitching the
cloth when making the Kantha. She would stop
singing after seeing Kalim. Kalim used to say,
’Amar Kala Bhomra, the black beetle, why did
you stop singing? Please sing.’

And then he would sing himself in a croaking
voice. He remembered the book from which
he heard the rendition given by the elder
brother. Did Saleha commit any crime to him?
Being angry with him after one year of their
marriage, Saleha left Kalim’s house and went
to her father’s house; it was one of the concei-
vable wrongdoings. He used to eat many betel
leaves; his lips would always be as red as ripe
Patol. She takes half or a handful of rice aside
from the household food every day to make
money for betel leaves. She could not bear the
agony of others; so various things would go of
the house to others’ ownership. Even though
Kalim showcased anger towards Saleha over
those sorts of faults or virtues, in truth, he felt
satisfaction for her generosity. Saleha’s red lips
made him intoxicated; he became impressed
by her kindness. Caliph’s begum bought hea-
ven in exchange for gold. A piece of torn and
dirty paper of a madman was the document
of heaven. Caliph became angry at begum’s
stupidity. But, begum easily reached the best
heaven – Jannatul Firdaus. Could the begum
approve the entry of the Caliph to the heavenly
house?The mad man is not the seller of hea-
ven, the buyer of faith.

It was at the dead of night; and for a while, the
sleeping village could have seemed like a dead
town discovered in archaeological research.
Then the lights were lit in every house. The
sound of a few pairs of boots, waking up the
village, came to Kalim’s yard. He was uncertain
of the time, but at the sound of boots on the
yard he entered into a dialectical moment.
Tak...ta...ka. ra.kuu…ku…u..jhak.jha..ka…ra..
railway car.

He jumped down from the running train near
an unknown house. Running away, running
away – leaving behind a small village, a village
haat-bazaar. Then a river appeared in front
of him, he swam across the river; he got to
a green forest after climbing across a very
difficult hillface. Five flashlights flashed on and
off; and night again; and day again. He became
transformed into every drop of water in the
river and every tree of the forest.

After many days, Kalim remembered that Sa-
leha had called him once. Saleha used colorful
yarn to make a colorful kantha for their unborn
child. After the acute pain, he reached a tunnel,
he didn’t do wrong to recognize it; but another
tunnel led from the empty grave to an unk-
nown path; and simultaneously he and Caliph
Harun kept walking through that path – with
pebbles under their feet, rocky walls were on
either side. The path kept becoming narrow
gradually; and at one point it became as thin
as hair and became dangerous — as it was the
bridge of the last day – the Pulsirat.

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