creative writing

Londoni house and howling of an ill-luck owl

by Akash Nabik

Deep, silent, dead night. Choytro’s (the dry season’s) piercing hot sun has turned the fallen yellow leaves into harsh-crispy flakes …hence even at soft footsteps, the crunching sound of breaking leaves knocks at the eardrum. And sometimes the echo of his own menacing shouts.

The sudden howling of an ill-luck owl made vigilant Jain Ullah splatter a curse into the air.

Khobordar! Beware! Breaking the silence of the dumb night Jain Ullah’s shout warns the dacoits, bandits. In his left hand he carries a long sharp spear and in the right a powerful six-battery torch-light. Every fifteen minutes he releases his warnings into the night – Khobordar! Beware! Though not wearing a watch, he does not miss an interval. His internal clock reminds him to blast his warning precisely every fifteen minutes. It has become a habit. He has been a night-guard at this Londoni house for five years.

Around the house stands a six feet high wall. Entrances are through two gates – one at the south and one at the north. Jain Ullah visits the both gates in turns; there are brick-built benches next to the gates. Jain Ullah sits on a bench for a few minutes keeping an eye on the wall. It is not unusual for bandits to get into a house by leaping over the wall. It is over a month since the Londoni (one who lives in London) has returned from London. Hence, Jain Ullah is more alert now.

The south gate is more susceptible to bandits, as it is not the main gate. Though daring, bandits usually do not use the main gate. Hence, Jain Ullah’s major attention is on the south gate.

Khobordar! Beware! Jain Ullah transmits his message into the silence.

Jain Ullah flashes his torch into the night, trying to pierce as far as he can into the dried, defunct paddy fields. No unusual movement is detected on his radar. Relieved but alert, Jain Ullah sits on the south gate bench.

Jain Ullah starts humming .. oh my beloved… can you not hear the sadness of my flute.. where are you … oh my beloved .. the sky full of stars.. the night is silent for you and I…oh my darling…let the night be yours and mine… Drowsiness engulfs Jain Ullah.

His internal alarm reminds Jain Ullah of his duty. Piss off you fucking sleep – Jain Ullah stands up. Khobordar! Beware! yells Jain Ullah. A cup of tea would be nice, Jain Ullah tells himself – and that would certainly alleviate the drowsiness. A teenager of the house studies until late. He might still be awake. Jain Ullah becomes a little cheerful, a cup of tea is now a possibility.

The teenager is still awake; the light is on in his room. Jain Ullah knocks at his door.

The teenager replies – who is it? Jain Ullah?

-Yes, what are you doing? Studying?

The teenager opens the door. The teenager understands the reason for Jain Ullah’s arrival. Jain Ullah pulls up a cane-stool and sits on it. The teenager pours a cup of tea from the flask and gives it to Jain Ullah – have a cup of tea – it will drive the sleep away.

Sipping the tea Jain Ullah asks – what’s happening to this country? People cannot go to sleep in peace… all these robberies…muggings… stealings.

The teenager jokes – if these stealings stop, you would lose your job, how would you survive then?

-I’ll get another job, that’s not a problem, but at least people can go to sleep in peace.

-Well, you won’t go to sleep in peace, the people who would go to sleep in peace are those rich ones, not you, understand?

-No one gets peace in this world. After one headache comes another headache. No one is happy in this world. The definition of Peace and Discord, Happiness and Unhappiness is not clear to this 14 year old boy. Jain Ullah’s comment raises a question in his mind. Is it true that people don’t get happiness? As one get older, as the burden of responsibility falls on one’s shoulders, does the web of unhappiness entangle the person? His inquisitive mind wants to know the answer. It seeks to explore – what was his origin? What will be the end? Did he exist before the existence in his mother’s womb? If he did, in what form?

Seeing the teenager preoccupied with some thought, Jain Ullah, says goodbye – you do your study, I’ll see you later.

Jain Ullah goes to the north gate. Distant footsteps can be heard. What! Oh my God! Only a hundred yards away. They are coming via the main road. Jain Ullah thinks, he could shoot down quite a few if he had the gun. The shot-gun is with the owner’s nephew. The order is to call the nephew if there is any sign of bandits. Astounded Jain Ullah becomes dumb, speechless, not knowing what decision to take.

A voice calls out: Jain Ullah, it’s me!

The familiar voice assures Jain Ullah. Jain Ullah goes forward- Oh, it’s you Mr. Chowdhury! What makes you visit us at this late hour? Nearly gave me a heart-attack!

The stranger is none but a member of this household. He is a lawyer by profession, living and practicing in the city. And apart from being a lawyer, he is also a politician. Keeps himself busy with public service, doing good works for the common folks. And because of his hard work, a wide road has been built connecting the village to the motorway. He is also the person who brought electricity in the village. Jain Ullah wonders, after doing all these good works why some people talk against this good Mr Chowdhury. Some have brought allegations that Mr. Chowdhury has stolen a few tonnes of wheat during the road construction. All the allocated wheat for the road construction was not utilised, a big chunk went into Mr. Chowdhury and his chums’ stomachs! However, others overlook these allegations, – has stolen a few tonnes, so what? He has constructed the road! Now rickshaw, car, even Jeep or Land Rover can come to the village. But the accusers argue- he has built the road for his own use! So he can come to his village house driving a car. Lawyers are greedy, they always look after their own interests!

Anyway Jain Ullah thinks very highly of Mr Chowdhury. In his eyes, Mr. Chowdhury is a good man. Jain Ullah respects him. At the last election Mr Chowdhury was an MP candidate. Jain Ullah and his whole family voted for Mr Chowdhury. But ill-fated Chowdhury failed to score against his rival candidate.

Seeing Mr Chowdhury with half a dozen police at this time of the night Jain Ullah becomes totally dumbfounded. Jain Ullah tries rationalising that in his mind – maybe they have come to arrest an accused…a criminal.

Pointing to Jain Ullah Mr Chowdhury says to a Police Officer, that’s him! Two Police Officers immediately take hold of Jain Ullah. Frightened and shocked Jain Ullah manages to murmur a question: Sir, what have I done?

Kicking Jain Ullah with his boots a Police Officer warns – Shut up! Indicating that he has no right to question. Jain Ullah silently looks into the darkness, and then slowly fixing his eyes on the ground, Jain Ullah’s mind goes in search of the crime he had supposedly committed.

The teenager comes out of the house upon hearing the commotion near the gates. Sees his cousin standing at the north gate with half a dozen Police Officers, one of whom is handcuffing Jain Ullah.

The teenager is also stunned with the suddenness of this event. Is the reality faster than the dream? He cannot comprehend anything. The teenager asks his cousin – why is he being handcuffed? What has he done? What’s his crime?

The teenager’s questions irritate Mr Chowdhury. Don’t be nosy! – go to bed! – Mr Chowdhury orders his young cousin.

Jain Ullah might have committed a crime, may have been involved with robberies or stealing…the teenager wonders… but he does not look like a criminal…. for now it remains a mystery to the teenager.

The Police escort Jain Ullah to his house. It is not far from the Londoni house. Two small dwellings separated by a court yard. In one Jain Ullah lives with his family and in the other one of his younger brother Aman Ullah lives with his family.

Once upon a time Jain Ullah’s family was also fairly solvent. They had a small farm, and had enough cows to do ploughing on their paddy fields. And by cultivating their small farm they could maintain their families. But in trying to become rich, they have now lost virtually everything. Aman Ullah attempted migrate to a Middle Eastern country but was not successful. To meet the cost, Aman Ullah had to sell all the lands they owned and handed the money to a manpower agent. After robbing the wretched Aman Ullahs of the world, that fraudster fled the country, now no one knows of his whereabouts. And to survive the both brothers now work as servants at peoples’ houses.

The faint hope of going abroad had not yet disappeared from Jain Ullah’s mind; an opportunity arrived, everyone had been talking of flying to London on Visitor Passports. Jain Ullah was carried away by an aspiration, and started dreaming: He has a house like Chowdhury’s. Bought a house in the city. Kids are being educated in a good school. In one word, life has become cheerful and enjoyable.

To materialise the dream Jain Ullah sold his last possession, the homestead, to the Chowdhurys.

At last Jain Ullah did manage to step into Heathrow. The intense cold wind of London raised Jain Ullah’s hopes: oh, at last! At last in London!

However, did not take long for these hopes to shatter. Jain Ullah was put on the next flight home. The fraudsters at the Travel Agency had assured Jain Ullah that there would not be any problem entering the UK. The owner of the Travel Agency is a relative of Mr Chowdhury.

The Police knock at Aman Ullah’s door. As soon as he comes out, Aman Ullah is handcuffed as well. Crime? No, he also is not aware of his crime.

Jain Ullah expresses his wish to see his wife and kids. A Police Officer responds by caning Jain Ullah on his backside: Move! Move! Move your fucking arse!

Jain Ullah stares into the open sky and takes a deep breath. Who knows for how long he would be eating the jail-rice. Imagining the helplessness of his kids and wife, Jain Ullah’s soul starts crying – oh God, God please look after my kids and wife.

The next day on his way to school, the teenager sees that the roof of Jain Ullah’s house is being pulled down. The cause of last night’s Police raid becomes apparent to him. He can now see the reason why Jain Ullah and Aman Ullah were arrested last night.

To solve the problem which could not be resolved by Panchayet, the village court, his cousin had resorted to the Police. The summary of Jain Ullah’s response to the Panchayet was: yes, it is true that I have sold my house to Mr Chowdhury. But it’s his relative who conned us. And where could we go after leaving this house? With these kids and family, who’s going to provide us with a little space to lay our heads in? For the time being, could we stay, as the Chowdhurys’ don’t need this house now? And sometime in the future we will move out.

The cunning advocate had understood that forcefully taking possession of the house was not a good idea.

Jain Ullah and Aman Ullah’s wives are putting their belongings into sacks. Who knows where they would be going…probably to their parents. In the courtyard, sitting on the grass, a few kids are crying. Agitated by this inhumane act, the teenager approaches Mr Chowdhury: You’re rich, have lots of money… by bribing the Police you have arrested the men of the household, and now you’re cowardly pulling the house down, you are so ugly cruel!

Categories: creative writing

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