Urban Utopia

Source: Exhibited at The National Art Gallery


F I C T I O N


Jannatul Ferdous Tulona


Despite February coming to an end, winter is still reluctant to leave the city. Mornings and alarms are ignored and students and corporates are inevitably late by an hour. Today, however, except infants and the ill, everyone is awake at six. A fog as thick as the mane of an adolescent woman, wraps around the buildings and streets, making it an alien land for those unfamiliar with it.

Ratul and Rafat, neighbours, brothers are the first to step out. They walk fast with their heads held low; their ears warm with an unspoken excitement even amidst bone-chilling winds. Soon, Meher Ali, their landlord, Rokib Uddin, the colony’s tea-stall owner, Ator Mia, a bus conductor, and other familiar and unfamiliar faces flood in as they hit the main road. They all look alike in their black and white mufflers and jackets, a flock of penguins making way to an important event.

A very important event, indeed, is due. History is about to be written, by a grand gesture of order. There had been no official announcement for the occasion, of course, no one had told anyone, yet everyone knew as sure as the Sun, it was Judgement Day. Most have not slept the night before, in fact, in anticipation.

Soon, they begin to sweat and talk as they draw in closer to Bahabag.

“When do you think it will happen?” Aftab is the first to tempt the question to an unknown elderly man walking beside him.

The man looks up at the sky as if he were contemplating fate from the angle of the sun for a few moments and snaps, “Not before 4, hmph.”

Aftab doesn’t argue. The crowd has its own sort of unity. In a deaf daze, they are remarkably agreeable to each other. But it is difficult for them to keep mum for long. A few break into hoots now and then, followed by a slogan. A man slaps a boy for that, and the matter is taken care of. No one dares to break the order again.

The air is lukewarm as they arrive at Bahabag; a breeze blows over, carrying hushed murmurs. A sea of men squirms about like worms to find seats. The ones that are lucky enough to find in the front are too excited to be seated though, and they deprive the audience behind of the spectacle ahead.

A wooden log holds the centre of unwavering attention of thousands in the middle of the circle. To it stands tied the most fascinating of all creatures—a woman. Despite being covered with a filthy white sheet, she has an effect such that the men forget to fight, or even whisper. They stare as if she were a prop for a magic trick—waiting, drooling.

A prolonged state of staring later, the spell loosens and they begin to move. Bahabag becomes an elaborate fair-ground in an hour. Flies and crows squander over their heads with hope, as the men wash down their stale adrenaline rush with tea.

“This bitch is awfully quiet today!” Ator Mia spits out at one point.

“Probably lost all her heat last night,” Milon Mondal, a funny banker fills in. The crowd explodes into cackles that scare off the crows.

“Where’s your Mojnu?” one front seater cheerfully taunts the figurine of interest, taking advantage of the lightened atmosphere.

Nobody really knows where her lover is, as it is discovered after the question echoes around for a while. His teeth roll around their feet, unable to remind them—just yesterday, he was broken on the same ground.

A young boy, whose patience has been tested, throws pebbles at her, to which fresh spots of vermillion appear on the white sheet making a tie-dye. The boy claps in amusement.

An unfortunate man sits in the front row too, mummified in multiple layers of shawls. He is unable to sip tea or munch on paan and the ripe gossip for the bitterness that clings to his tongue—frozen. Everything inside him is empty, except a feeling of restlessness—for ruin. He waits for the woman to be stripped and thrown off on the side of the road, just like the others, but with a red shawl on his shoulders waiting to hold her fall. Every time he imagines the terror, he has to look up at the sky to dry futile tears. His eyes sting from crying too much, but he knows his repent shall not bleed off in water. After all, he is the father of a sinner.

Maintaining clockwork, right at 12, the crowd is silenced with a shrill pitched noise. A mic malfunctions and attracts their attention. Over their loud hearts, a man with a voice solid as steel disregards the mic and begins to speak on a makeshift stage.

“We have all come here, brothers, to bring…,” he pauses like an expectant mother testing obedient children. His disciples, however, do not even realise that is a question—they are in another world altogether.

“Justice!” he booms, answering himself. They get it now and erupt into a thousand echoes, “Justice, Justice!”

“For years, brothers, we have protected our wives and daughters and sisters and mothers from the vile ways of this world, the treachery of LUST and PROMISCUITY by strict and simple ORDER!” His moustache jumps angrily at every word that has betrayed him. “This woman that stands before us today…”

Before he can finish this time, the crowd is aroused, “Whore! Shameless slut! Scum of the earth! Shame in the name of a woman!” The accused has a hundred names.

“She!” Their leader has to avert their attention again, “Dares to come and sit with a man on the streets in broad daylight! The Audacity! The filth!” The men shake heads and bite their tongues, deeply dishonoured. The crowd becomes an animal, from a thousand flared nostrils breathing out flames. They can smell the blood of their prey, too close.

“Tell me, my brothers, what would you do to such a woman?”

The question itself breaks all hell loose—they scream in unison, “Rip her apart! Set her on fire! Let the bitch burn!” Their hands itch to do it all.

“Brothers, we must not forget, today we are here to serve justice,” their leader solemnly reminds them. “What she has given to us, shame, we shall return, righteously.”

His words make perfect sense—they cannot protest. Their minds chant all at once, “The moment has come.” The verdict served, time now tells them to pounce.
There is not one woman out there to howl in horror as it happens. The billboards which once wore lavish pictures of brides, now stand scratched clean; statues of soldiers that held their arms high clad in sarees, are demolished to headless halves. They instead scream at the moment that passes before the wreck. Someone, or twenty of them, drags down the sheet from the body. A shudder tumbles down from spine to spine and gasps are shot in the air like bullets.

The woman is a heinous yellow, nothing resembling a human. Her lower lip lolls in a black bulge; arms and head are dropping out like a stringless puppet. Flies land on her faster than a man can, in swarms. It is a blessing that her eyes are shut. Nobody wants to look at her anymore, let alone rip off the tattered dress that covers the rest of the ‘freak’.

The bravest of them all, their leader, rushes up to her, panting. Trembling, he grabs her bony wrist—his last semblance of hope. Her state seems to be contagious—his mouth drops too; face is losing colour as fast as lightning.

Some of them can already guess what he knows, and he does not have to find words, thankfully; the others refuse to believe, making mayhem in confusion.

He tries to wake up the corpse by tugging on her hand, this time, desperately. He cannot try too long—her hands are intolerably cold. He hears her wailing, begging them to let her go, and in the end to take her with them, just like she had, last night. But her wails turn into hiccups of hysteric giggles and he figures he has been mocked, robbed, and rendered an idiot.

Torn between what to curse—the corpse, the cold, his fate, or the cumulative idiocy of him and his men, he stands there a long time before someone tugs on his hands impatiently.

“What about the justice now, Sir?” A young boy asks impatiently.

 


Jannatul Ferdous is a procrastinator by day, and a poet by night.

 

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