These two things--the river and the train--continue to fascinate me. Their sounds--and their silences--seem deeply woven into the texture ...

Atrai and the Communist Manifesto : A Note by Azfar Hussain

11:55 PM Editor 0 Comments

These two things--the river and the train--continue to fascinate me.

Their sounds--and their silences--seem deeply woven into the texture of my daily experience. I keep hearing the river stream by--and the train whizz by--in my head and even in my dreams. I'll never forget that full moon over the river Atrai--the river of my childhood--where the fresh eternity of silver played with the tiny infinitudes of those ripples--cadenced, lighted, mud-colored. Nor will I ever forget the sight of a train wet in the afternoon rain in Atrai.

How can I forget you, Atrai, my river and my place? Atrai is simultaneously the name of a river and the name of a rural place in Bangladesh. I had spent part of my childhood in a landless peasant community near Atrai, which then was a politically charged site, even a sensational site, of Maoist activism--a site that was declared an "independent zone" during the National Liberation War of Bangladesh. To tell you the truth, when I was around 13, one grey afternoon, it was actually one of those Maoists in Atrai--my uncle's friend--who handed me a soiled copy of _The Communist Manifesto_ in a Bengali translation and urged me to read it.

And, as far as I can remember, he did not immediately give me those little red books circulating with a vengeance at the time. So, at 13, I puzzled over and struggled with many things in the Manifesto, but ended up clinging onto two words at least--bourgeoisie and proletariat--making probably a feeble sense of them, while having a vague idea of what the class struggle might mean. Even as a kid, however vague my ideas remained at that time, I immediately identified with the proletariat, thinking that we must combat the bourgeoisie for a better world.

Yet the river and the train as well as the full moon over them didn't cease to fascinate me then. But, true, I also saw the river--Atrai--drenched with blood and replete with corpses while I saw the full moon heavily bleed in the prison-cell of the sky. And I heard the train groan by, packed as it was with nothing but disposable numbers--the brutal anonymity the powerful excel in multiplying. I also saw how the rain became a raging gust, an ample burst of dark petals in the night, a destroyer of peasants' mud-huts in Atrai, near Atrai, around Atrai, and elsewhere. And I recall with absolute clarity how my grandfather's thatched roof fell apart! The rain did not seem beautiful then.

And guess what? At around 14, I began to see the river and the train and the rain and the moon themselves in the pages of the Manifesto, realizing--my many vague and deeply struggling ideas notwithstanding--that even the moon must be liberated from the bourgeoisie, from the oppressor!


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