মুখোশ খোলার দৃশ্যে — অর্কপ্রভ রায়চৌধুরী

Cover illustration

১.

এতদিন পরেও তুমি সমুদ্রের গল্প বলো। আসলে ক্ষোভ, দিগন্তবিস্তৃত মরা পাথর, ফিরে গিয়ে দেখবে বালি হয়ে গেছে। দ্বিরাগমনের লাভাPiece 1টে আলোয় তারাগুলো খানিক হাস্যকর ভাবে দুলে উঠতে শুরু করলে একে একে সব বিশ্বাস করা যায়- কি হয়েছে, কি হবার কথা ছিল। সেবারও ঈশ্বর খানিক ম্যানড্রেকের ভূমিকায়, বসা মাত্র রাস্তার ওপাশে আলোর রং বদলে যেতে লাগল, তোমাকে নামের মত করে চেনা তার পছন্দ হল না, ছবিওয়ালার ডাকে ফাঁকতালে জুটিয়ে আনা মাছ ফেলে পালাল জোড়া শঙ্খচিল। কিন্তু একরকম সুখ ছিল, বিশ্বাস করো, ঈশ্বর যত বাধ সাধে, ততবার মানুষ হতে ইচ্ছা করে। কিন্তু মানুষ বড় ভয়ানক, সে গেলে ফিরে আসে অথচ কোনো জল পাথর ঘেঁষে বসে না, যতদূর চোখ যায়, বিপত্তি পুষে রাখি চুপচাপ। এ পালানো, এ ধরা না-পড়া ঠেকে শেখা, কেবল কথা বলতে বলতে নিজেকে শুনিয়ে নিলাম অর্বাচীনের মত। ডায়ালগ ফুরোলে যখন দু’টো পৃথিবী হাত ধরে.. তখন নিরুদ্দেশের কোলে কোথাও একটা ছেলে ঠান্ডা মাথায়, ভিতর ভিতর অগ্ন্যুৎপাতকে সাক্ষী রেখে জলের হাতে ছুরি তুলে দিতে চাইছে।

২.

Piece 2তেমন কাউকে পেলে এতদিনে আলো উপহার দিতে। কারণ আলোর একরকম দাগ থাকে। কেউ নিজে থেকে এসে জ্বেলে দিতে পারলে তাই খুশি হও। উল্টে রাখা প্রদীপের পাশে বসে ওরা সর্ষেফুলের গল্প শোনায়। একসময় নেশাগ্রস্ত কাউকে ফিরিয়ে আনতে বিনা কথায় বাড়ি ছাড়ে। রাস্তা পেরোতে পেরোতে মানুষের চোখে পড়ে যায়। হাসে। আপনমনে কাঁদে। রাস্তা ছাড়ে না। ফিরে এসে দু’জনকে খেতে দেয়। পোশাক খুলে ফেললে মনে হয় গোলকধাঁধা। আসলে শরীর।

 

এত কিছু থাকতে তাই আলো বানাও। মাঝেমধ্যে দু’টো রং গায়ের জোরে ছিটকে কোথাও যত্নে আঁকা বরফকুচির ওপর এসে পড়ে, মনে হয় একটু গলতে দিলে ভাঙা-গড়ার সমস্ত বিবাদ মিটে যেত। আলোর আড়ালে তোমার অন্য কোনও পরিচিতি ঢাকা পড়ার সময় এসে যেত ততক্ষণে। এখন আসবে না। বরং বেলা পড়ে এলে ল্যাম্পপোস্টগুলো একে একে তলোয়ার খুলে ফেলার সময় থাকার পুরনো কথা নতুন করে মনে করিয়ে দেবে কেউ। যে-থাকা বলতে বোঝায় খালি আলোর জন্য থাকা।

৩.

ধরা যাক, সমান্তরাল কোনও পৃথিবীতে এখন লোডশেডিং। মানুষের মুখ আপাতত মানুষের মত না-দেখালেও কেউ কাঁদছে না, এমনকি মানুষও।

Piece 3

কোথাও একটা হঠাৎ বাজি পোড়ে। বেওয়ারিশ কতগুলো ফুলকি অন্ধকারের খবর পেয়ে এতটা পথ দৌড়ে আসে। ঝিল চোখে তুমি প্রেক্ষাপট খানিক কালো করে ফের ঘেন্নায় মন দাও। আলো হতে না দিয়েই। একেকটা বজ্জাত তবু এদিকেই এসে পড়ে, পাল্লা নাড়ে আর পিদ্দিমের ভিতরের মাটি কেঁপে ওঠে। অভিশপ্ত! এইমাত্র ফিরে এল সলতে সেজে, এদিকে বাসি তেলও আগুনের খবর রাখতে ভুলে গেছে কতদিন হল। তুমি দেখেও দেখোনি, বলা ভালো অন্ধ সেজে বসে ছিলে কখন সকাল হবে আর পোড়া দুর্নাম সাত পাড়ায় ছড়িয়ে পড়বে সশব্দে! কিন্তু রাখা কথার ভার বড় দায়, পাড়া কোন মরণকাঠি আগলে বিশ্বাসঘাতকের মত দরজা জানালা সব এঁটে দিয়েছে, আসলে তুমি খবর না-রাখলেও অন্ধকারের অমোঘ ক্যাথিড্রালে তোমার হয়ে তোমার জন্যই রাখা মোমবাতি জ্বালিয়ে দিয়ে এতক্ষণে নিঃশব্দে সরে গেছে অন্য কেউ। তুমি মুখ ফিরিয়ে অন্যমনে আলোর জাহাজ চলে যেতে দেখছিলে ভরা বন্দরে, অথচ একরকম তান্ত্রিক আঙুল তুলে সবক’টা বাতিঘর জ্বেলে দিতে পারত সে-ই। অথচ এখন আর কিছু থাকলেও আলো নেই, তোমার ঘেন্নাগুলোও ক্রমাগত পথ হারাচ্ছে এপারে আসতে গিয়ে। তাদের পথ দেখানোর কেউ নেই, কোনও এক ইন্টারস্টেলার বেইমানির শিকার হচ্ছে সমস্ত যোগাযোগ, বাজি পুড়ছে অথচ আলো এতটুকু দাঁড়াচ্ছে না। আসলে আলোর মত করে কেউ এভাবে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকতে শেখেনি বোধহয়। তোমার চোখে ঝিল কেঁপে ওঠে, অথচ তা দেখিয়ে দেওয়ার জন্য আলো জেগে নেই। অন্ধকার ছিল। থাকে। অথচ অন্ধকার থেকে এতদূরে একটা পৃথিবীতে বসে থেকে আমি মনে করতে পারি না, কে যেন বলেছিল, “সন্ধ্যেবেলার ল্যাম্পপোস্টগুলো অন্তত দাঁড়িয়ে থেকে শ্যামাপোকাদের রুদালি শোনে..”

Poetry: Arkaprabha Roychowdhury

Illustrations: Subarnarekha Pal

What Even is Revolution but a Carnival of Hope? – Reflections by Barshana Basu

Ashiana. Ashiana, who has gained a following as the youngest ‘protestor’ has been sitting in along with her mother Rehana Khatoon and thousands of protestors, mostly Muslim women, for the last three weeks. The country wide demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act (C.A.A.), the National Register of Citizens (N.R.C.), and the National Population Register (N.P.R.) has witnessed overwhelming participation from people of all walks of life, even in the face of brutal state oppression and state sponsored violence, directed especially against the Muslim community. The last few weeks have been cathartic. Growing up in a leftist household and studying in an university known for its voice of resistance, I have walked in many “michhils” (‘rally’ or ‘march’ cannot contain all the emotions that a ‘michhil‘ is ripe with) and expressed my solidarity to others. But the protests of the winter of 2019-20 are different – this winter is of despair, this winter is of hope.

Protest 2

I have grown up hearing “ye azadi jhuta hai” (“this freedom is a farce”), I still believe that we are yet to achieve ‘freedom’ in its truest sense, but the current momentum gives me hope. Many like me have never felt passionately attached to the symbolic representations of India, be it the tricolour or the national anthem, but I have seen that change over this memorable winter. This winter, we are standing for the national anthem on our own accords. We are singing along because we wish to and not because the government dictated that one should sing along before watching a movie in a theatre. In the last few years whenever I went to watch a movie and the national anthem was played, I sat at the edge of my seat, anticipating with fear that I might just get lynched any moment for not participating in forced patriotism. Those 52 seconds seemed like forever, forever of defiance, forever of resistance, forever of fear. Whenever at demonstrations nowadays the national anthem is sung, I feel elated. I can finally stand for it without being bullied, I can finally sing along because I choose to and not because the Big Brother wants to force doses of Hindutva ‘nationalism’ down my throat.

 

The skyline of the recent protests has been an interesting site – it has been a vibrant milieu of flags of all hues  embodying diverse ideas. All the michhils that I  have walked in in the past have mostly been adorned with red flags (‘rokto potaka‘ if you may), some since the first Pride parade I attended a few of winters back, have been dotted with rainbow coloured ones. The only instance I can recall of marching with the tricolour being present is on one damp cold school sports morning. That wasn’t a michhil, that was a mandatory march past, and it was devoid of any emotion. I can hardly recall having any sort of feelings, let alone strong ones at that, about the tricolour. However, in the last few weeks, the hundreds of michhils that reclaimed the streets, demanding azadi, demanding an end to state sponsored bigotry, an end to fascism, saw the active and enthusiastic presence of the tricolour. On 19th December ’19, for the first time in my life of 22 years and hundreds of michhils, I was voluntarily a part of something that celebrated the tricolour. There were scores of tricolours fluttering unfettered, people of starkly diverse backgrounds waved their tricolours as if in a trance, all the while chanting slogans of azadi. It was hypnotic, the last few days have been that way. In all the michhils since then, the tricolour has been a permanent fixture. Talking about flags, the omnipresence of the rainbow pride flag and the blue Bheem Army flags speaks a lot about the particularly inclusive nature of this movement. Protest 1While the red flag has been a global symbol of resistance for decades, it’s heartening to see it being eased of the solitary burden. The red, the blue, the rainbow, and the tricolour have raised a riot of resistance against the somber winter sky.

 

This winter has been of grief, this winter has been of resilience. Every visitor at Shaheen Bagh is bombarded by a retinue of questions from the women who have been braving the bitter Delhi cold in their fight to save the Constitution – “Have you had anything to eat?”, “Why haven’t you eaten anything?”, “You have come from such a distance, please have something.” The women of Shaheen Bagh belong to all ages – from 20 days old Ashiana, to nonagenarian Asma Khatun. The women of Shaheen Bagh raise slogans of azadi, the women of Shaheen Bagh sing songs of resistance, the women of Shaheen Bagh take care of each other, the women of Shaheen Bagh forge friendships while basking in the warmth of shared blankets. The women of Shaheen Bagh are often seen to break into impromptu dance sessions. However, swaying in resistance is not their exclusive forte. When a massive michhil culminated in Kolkata’s New Market area, a group of people started singing, dozens joined them, they held hands and went around in circles. While the  adivasi anthem of “gao chhorab nahi” (“we won’t leave this village”) was being sung, a local man, perhaps in his forties, sporting a big grin and tattered clothes, made his way to the centre of the circle and started dancing along the beats of the song – a song of resistance which in all probability he was hearing for the first time. He swayed in a manner as if the people around has been his closest friends since ages. A similar imagery was witnessed in Mumbai. A group of protesters, mostly students, had gathered at the Gateway of India. While slogans were being raised, an elderly gentleman, sporting a cap from under which fluffy white tufts of hair were peeping, started swaying along. In that sporadic moment of exuberance, arguably the youngest soul of the crowd made the demonstration a hundred times merrier.Protest 4

There has been passive participants galore. In one of the michhils in Jadavpur area of Kolkata, I caught the sight of a woman who was on a video call. I stole glances at her screen, and there were around three or four elderly women in a huddle. The active participant of the michhil tried hard to keep the women on the other side abreast with the michhil and the slogans. At one time one of her virtual audiences raised a clenched fist keeping in mood with the michhil. As we marched forward, a friend of mine drew my attention to a second floor balcony by the road. An old man sporting unabashed glee was holding the receiver of a landline phone of the bygone era, with his other infirm hand, he was holding the rest of the bulky phone. He was trying to capture the sounds of the michhil for the person on the other end – perhaps an old comrade, perhaps a forlorn lover, perhaps both at the same time. I would like to believe that he was reminiscing his old days, days when he was out on the streets, fighting on the right side of history. How dare I exclude that clenched fist on that five inch screen from the michhil! How dare I say that the man with his telephone was not matching his steps with ours!

 

Protest 3I have always identified more as a  Bangali than as an Indian. However, standing today, I can vouch for the fact that I have never felt more Indian before. We are standing on an oddly weird crossroad – at the very moment that the state is trying to mark us as non-bonafide infiltrators of the nation, we are feeling the most at one with that very nation. At the risk of resorting to a cliché, one cannot help but seek refuge in Dickens –

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

 

It’s a wonderful epoch when we are reclaiming the tricolour, the national anthem, the constitution, and at large the nation from the clenches of fascist goons. It’s a beautiful time to be alive, it’s a beautiful time to be out on the streets. Undoubtedly this is the darkest period in postcolonial India’s history, but this period is replete with the promise of a better future, perhaps a free India, an azad India in the truest sense of the poignant word. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I would like to believe that we are standing at the threshold of a revolution, for what even is revolution but a carnival of hope?

IMG_20190802_142754.jpgBarshana Basu completed her graduation from Jadavpur University and is currently pursuing her Masters in History from the same. Her areas of interest include the sociopolitical and cultural history of Kolkata in the colonial and post-colonial period, its built spaces, and migrant communities. She also harbours a strong penchant for Gender Studies. She’s a Citizen Historian with the 1947 Partition Archive. If not buried under a pile of books, she’s most likely to be found loitering around the labyrinthine alleyways of Kolkata, clicking pictures of odd edifices.

Bear Trap Heart – A Story by Vasundhara Mukherjee

The last time I had called, it was a winter night. You told me I had woken you up from a deep sleep. Waking up almost made you tear up a bit. I guess, your dreams had taken you to a faraway place, farther than your daydreams ever could. A land so far off, you didn’t want to return and yet you had to. The phone kept on ringing and they just wouldn’t stop. I didn’t want to give up on the dreams we had woven together like a quilted blanket to wear on a cold night. You woke up and picked up my call and I felt that familiar tug in my heart.

“Hi.”

“I was sleeping. You could’ve just left a message.”

“I wanted to hear your voice. I don’t know how much of that I’ll be able to get anymore.”

The silence that erupted after this pause was so heavy, so full. It could’ve drowned us both if it had gone on any longer than I’d let it.

“My mother was asking about you. She didn’t see you yesterday at the party. She loves you.”

I don’t know why I said that. I didn’t want her to feel like she had to stay because my mother loved her so dearly.

“What happened to us?”

“I don’t know. One minute we were holding hands so tight, it hurt. The next minute, our hands were in our pockets, freezing cold. Did we just grow apart and didn’t realise when that happened?”

“You are a part of everything I feel, you know? I don’t know how else to step forward without looking if you’re walking beside me.”

“What’s next for us then?”

“I guess, we stay friends.”

But we were friends. I don’t think we could’ve been this close if we hadn’t been friends.

It’s been five years since this phone call. Thousands of leaves have changed their colours and fallen from the trees since then, many clouds have changed their shapes and drifted to some unknown, distant land. It’s another Christmas Eve today. Our conversations had met a dead end after that phone call that day but in my dreams I’ve caught you watching me from a distance. It kept me warm on days when all I wanted to do was just give up. I got to know about you from our mutual friends and although I tell them that it doesn’t bother me when they speak your name, I am lying. Wars break out in my skin, the very places your lips have kissed. But my face smiles so much, it makes my jaws hurt. The pretension kills me. “Why won’t they stop talking about you? Can’t they see that my life stopped after you left and I’ve been trying to walk in circles ever since? Can’t they see that my lungs are aching to take in your breaths but I can’t do that and it feels like gasping for air to breathe?”

“She used to talk about you,” one of them said.

“Oh yeah? I hope she said nice things.” I say.

“She never stopped talking when your name came up”, another followed.

I left.

I’m walking down this road, the same coffee shop where we had our first can’t-get-our-hands-off-of each other date, I’m making my way to the flower shop from where I bought your favourite flowers, the ones you’d make sure to keep forever by pressing them inside books, I’m walking down the path to your home. And I don’t stop.

Ever wondered why places and paths find a memorial space in our brains? It’s not the coffee shop or the late night favourite take out place that makes me stop in my tracks when I pass by. It’s how your eyes followed me back home every time we went to a place. I miss one piercing set of creamy, hazelnut coloured eyes watching me stride past the newspaper vendor. Did I mention how I developed a taste for hazelnuts since we got together? Now when I sit down sometimes to have a cup of hazelnut flavoured drink, I can never recall if I liked hazelnuts before you came into my life.

I reach my house. A small house with one bedroom and a kitchen with just enough room for one person bathroom. I take out our pictures and glance over them. I turn back one of them.

“We were alive in this moment. We lived, even if the ‘us’ died.”

I can’t keep it in anymore. The floodgates come open and I’m bawling. I know your number by heart. I dial it.

“Hello?”

There’s silence. It’s hanging in the air. Shall I speak? It’s your voice. The one I wanted to wake up to. The one I didn’t get to hear for so many years.

I can hear the muffled sounds on the other side.

“Mom, who is it?”

I hang up and wipe my face. I lie down on the floor and look up at the ceiling. There’s cobwebs in the corners. I’ve seen them in the morning light.

There was a single, endless scream inside of me. Summer nights dim the cityscape’s noise but not nearly as much as their winter counterparts. The ticking of the clock becomes more pronounced, the train whooshing past somewhere becomes more palpable. The hustle and bustle of the day manages to smother this scream during the day but at night, this scream howls so loudly, I feel like I’ll wake up the neighbourhood even though the scream is voiceless, rendering it “screamless”.

And suddenly, on this Christmas Eve, five years since that last phone call and today’s “Hello” from your side, I realise that I don’t miss you as much anymore. I get up, pull out a cigarette from my pocket and looked out the window. I listen to the embers of the last five years.

The river flows without you.

 

Vasundhara Mukherjee photo

Vasundhara Mukherjee is  a Masters student of International Relations at Jadavpur University. She dreams to live and reads to escape. More often than not, you’d find her with a pen and notebook in her hand. She is an introvert in person but an extrovert between the lines of a story.