Jahir, the boy and the comrade

This is an extract from ‘The Changing city Men’
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Professor Jahir Saleh Majumdar was born in the year of 1956 in Chittagong, to Rahim Saleh Majumdar, a member of the 60’s intelligentsia, a lecturer in Chittagong College and Momota Begum, a plump house wife, whose primary passion was making Rashgollas. As a child growing up in an educated Bengali Muslim family, life was always not so easy, there was always a constant fight between the old and the new, the west and the east, the medieval and the modern. He remembered going to the Friday prayers as a young boy, with freshly pressed clothes and perfumes called attar, but even at that age he felt queasy, uneasy in the surroundings, sometimes. His father always said, ‘bear with it, son.’ He for one could not find a reason why he couldn’t be friends with the Hindu boy, Romon Das, a scrawny bucktoothed boy whose father was an accountant of the college, with whom he played with almost every day, in sunshine and rain. The mosque-khatib had said so in the sermons, being friends with the infidels was not an option god prescribed. He later understood the dissimilarity he had with his friend, as they both dropped their shorts and exposed the differences, the skin around the tip being it. Yes, that is what the differences were, the differences with the organ, the difference between friends and foe. He grew up to understand that half of the world’s problems lie with the penis, get rid of it and the world would be a better place to live in.
The scrawny-boy Romon, with his unavoidable upper central incisors and short shorts, left with his family before the 1965 war and went to India, when Hindus had officially become an enemy-suspect of the state and young Jahir never saw him again. He later learned, a decade and half later, that Romon had changed his name and had become a film hero in the Calcutta cinemas, which surprised Jahir, as he seemed like one of those people who were never supposed to be in the movies, never mind a star, but that he somehow seeped in and slipped through the cracks. A success story: the son of an immigrant accountant, from far beyond the other side of the Padma, kisses beautiful heroines on screen. Not on the lips, but on the forehead, as kissing on the lips was too risqué. Although, the new Ranjeet, the film star, the old Romon, did not look malnourished anymore, his teeth were ever prominent because when Jahir saw a poster and the movie subsequently, years later, he knew the hero had to be his long lost friend. The career was short lived; from drug use and sleeping with random women, the movie star contracted AIDS, a much unknown disease back then, and shortly after which, on a 1983 uneventful July morning he drove himself of a cliff near Shimla. While his car remains were discovered, his body was taken elsewhere by a river and was never found. Only thing that was scavenged from the car was his two upper central incisors, stuck to the car seat fabric.
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In 1965, crushed by this early leave of his only friend, young Jahir distanced himself from religion and the state, and by the age of ten, he decided he did not believe in god or in Pakistan, but for the sake of his mother and the society around him, he never uttered a word about his disbeliefs. Although his childhood was mostly uneventful, it was surrounded by political upheaval and distress. His life, starting from the establishment of the first Islamic Republic in the world, had seen the rise of a dictator, civil disobedience, the Indo-Pak war, conspiracy cases, mass unrest that led up to the fateful war.
That fateful war changed nearly everything, as his father, who was maintaining a low profile since after the war started, was dragged out of the house by locally recruited militias on the eve of mid December 1971, never to be seen or heard of again. The war part-orphaned him and the comfortable middle-class life, with coca-cola weekends, he was leading up until that year, came to an end and hardships followed. Life in the 70s was harsh with the new country starting with nothing, no reserve, no food, not even good clothes; a pair of jeans was rare as anything. With poverty and misery, he leaned towards the leftist movements like every other university students did. Workers of the world unite!—he remembered, was the slogan.Marx and Engleswere like the deities,Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto were like the Bible, Lenin and Trotsky were like prophets, and Che was like a martyr. He read all the literature he could get his hands on; Mother, Ten day’s that shook the world, he read, even Russian literature that did not have anything to do with socialism, became the staple reading. He read them, memorised them and swallowed their essence. He, Comrade Jahir, like a lot of them considered himself to be a Moscow leaning leftist, not the Peking leaning, China made him uncomfortable. It was humoured—that if it rained in Moscow, the Marxists would open the umbrella over their head in Dhaka (spelled ‘Dacca’ before 1983). There were even rumours that they lived in a soviet bubble and even named themselves in names ending with ‘-ovsky’ in secret, Samir would become ‘Samirovsky’ and Solomon might have become ‘Solomonovsky’, being examples of such, although these rumours were always quickly dismissed. The leftist movements soon lost its steam within the next half a decade as the military Junta soon sidelined it and tackled it with injecting military-friendly-religion-based-politics (which had been banned by the government after independence) into the mainstream. He had watched the ones who, like magicians, could make people dream of a society free from exploitation, of revolution, with their oratory skills, fancy poems, unkempt beards and simple living, turn into corrupted power hungry individuals, going from the irreligious to downright fundamentalist. Maybe revolution and reality were two different things. A change he feared would have overtaken him, if he stayed. But, those were his bygone years, the time which would never come back and he lamented that fact.

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24/05/2014  , movie poster: Roudrochaya( Uttam Kumar), Communist poster, source: internet

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