Let Me Tell a Story


F I C T I O N


Sarika Saiyara


I am the testament to all the changes and changed, the revolution and the evolved, the darkness and those who drove it away. I am what the farmers plough with their hopes and pray that I withstand the calamities. I am the field. Which field? You would know that soon. 

But before we proceed, let me tell you a story very close to my heart. Being here all the time, one thing I have learnt is that a great story is one that has significant context, not one with unstated rhythmic chaos. Hence, we start from the beginning. 

The Beginning 

In the beginning, there was nothing on this ground, everything was empty, it was just me and the sky… Sorry. Did it just get boring? Let me start anew. 

The Beginning (which is relevant to the story) 

1971 is a year written in red letters. But like everything else, the strong mango orchard under which the leaders of the provisional government administered their oaths was in red letters too. You see, one of the benefits of being there for a long time (and having friends all over the subcontinent), I know things you might not know. The mango orchard was near the site of the Battle of Plassey, closely associated with freedom. It seemed as if the leaders swore to never go under the shackles of a foreign ruler again, and it worked.

However, much like how the orchard didn’t grow in a day, neither did our zeal to make ourselves independent. One singular movement was the language movement; an event that went into international celebration of linguistics and culture. It was to pay homage to the 1952 language movement martyrs. To commemorate the day when the movement reached its peak — 21 February — Chittaranjan Saha orchestrated history by laying a mat under a mango tree on my grounds to put a display of 33 publications of his publishing house: Muktodhara Prokashoni.

The birth of Muktodhara Prokashoni’s book was out of the minds of great intellectuals who had crossed over to the then Calcutta during the raging war of ’71. It was there when Chittaranjan’s publication released their first book Roktakto Bangla on the horrors of war by prominent writers Late Zahir Rahman, Late Ahmed Sofa, and others in the fleeing. It is ironic how we can make history with the simplest of things that, however, require thought, persistence and gallons of courage. 

In case you have not guessed yet, I am the field of the famous Bangla Academy and this was the story of how the annual Ekushey Book Fair began. Since almost a century, I have seen the Bangalis fight, and die: die for their language, die for their homeland. 

In these difficult times, we are fighting a different war of uncertainty and danger.

But, let me tell you that I miss the readers and writers, the glistening smile of the children and the youth, the wise and the ignorant — all wrapped up in an air of festivity and joy. My chest beared the enlightened ones, often in their way to a seminar or evening cultural programme. These programmes were not held to stimulate sales, in fact, it was to create new writers, and new readers; and to sustain old ones. It helped build a better nation.

“How?”

I hear you ask.

You see, a book fair like the one on my premises bore the testimony of refined tastes and represented the enriched culture of my lands. It reminded me of how these books can change the entire outlook of one and make one superior, yet more humble, in their domains of knowledge. These people reminded me of all these and more.

The literal human floods on Fridays, street artists greeting you and asking to draw a little something on your hands or cheeks to commemorate the day, and people all ages sporting a little bit of a face art to signify their time — are all things I miss. I miss the relentless young adults rushing to pursue their favourite authors for autographs. These presences of the writers increased sales and, at times, the lifelines of these bookstalls cueing for attention of the readers. 

I am the unpaid host to all, and honestly I don’t mind. However, a little part of me is glad that there hasn’t been any programme held on my premises yet. The usual mismanagement results in some people polluting me at places, causing me to cough and choke on these plastics. This little sacrifice on my behalf, on the collective good it does, is truly not much. But I wish Bangalis had started rising above this and evolved. Had we not evolved, we would not have survived the torments of the Ice Age and continued living onto the Holocene. 

The question, however, remains: which part of our “culture” do we discard to evolve and which one do we continue embracing? Such questions do not have a definite answer and it’s alright if we do not know the answer straight away. I have learnt patience and you should too. Whatever happens, the Bangalis have not changed their rebellious ways, and probably never will.

And I will tell you a secret: this is what I admire the most about them.

 


Sarika Saiyara likes to describe herself as a “glowing ball of passion and persistence”, and devours conversations on anthropology and physics.

 

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