[The author is my friend. He writes prose and poetry in Bangla. I am happy to share one of his reminiscences with you. The translation is mine. - SSC]
The year was 1978. A friend came to my office to inform that Amal, one of our close friends, was ill. He had been hospitalised because of food poisoning. I said I would drop in at the hospital in the evening.
After reaching the hospital, I came to know it was not food poisoning; Amal had had a cerebral stroke and his condition was critical. After returning home that evening, I went out again, to spend the night at the Medical College Hospital.
Not that night alone, we were at the hospital every night until the fourth of January, when Amal left us. But this story is not about Amal. It’s about someone else.
We spend the night at the hospital and come home in the morning, after a quick bite, go to office; on the way home, drop in at the hospital, and then go back again to spend the night there. That was the routine for ten of us during the time. We spread old newspapers and slept under the stairs. Another group of young men used to be there. Their patient was a boy of twenty/twenty-two years. We didn’t know what his problem was, but he would walk out of the ward to chat with his friends. He talked loudly, and often, in filthy language.
We were preoccupied with our friend and ignored his volley of profanities. But one day, we ran out of patience. A big fracas followed. The boy, who was the patient, shouted the most. One of the members of his group was Mir Kasim, a well known footballer of Kolkata at the time. After some time, when the temperature cooled down slightly, Mir took the boy into the ward. He came back and told us the boy was his brother. He was afflicted with blood cancer. None of us knew much about blood cancer then. Mir told us that the doctors had said his brother wouldn’t survive beyond a few days.
We felt awful and apologised to Mir. He said in a calm voice, ‘No, how would you know?’
Days and nights trudged past. Our friend’s condition fluctuated; he was better one day, and worse the next. We stopped reacting to the boy. On the contrary, we became friends with Mir and others of his group. One day, the boy even came to us and apologised for his rudeness.
One day late in the night, I woke up to find everyone sleeping. Someone was singing in a beautiful voice. The tune was perfect. A friend and me climbed up the stairs and saw the same boy, leaning on the banister of the first floor landing. He was looking at the dark sky beyond, and singing with his back towards us:
Tum na jane kis jahan mein kho gaye,
Hum bhari duniyamein tanha ho gaye …
Towards the end, when he sang
Loot kar mera jahan
Chhup gaye ho tum kahan, tum kahan …,
we too became a little emotional and returned to our place.
The next evening, a coffin was brought to the ward. We saw our companions for almost twenty days, Mir Kasim and his friends, crying bitterly. We were young then. We too hugged them and cried.
The boy who had been singing just a day ago came out as a corpse. That was the first time I covered my head with a handkerchief and put my shoulder under a coffin. The cortège left with him. The words “tum kahan, tum kahan” reverberated in my ears.
Exactly twelve days later, on the 4th of January 1979, we carried the remains of Amal to his home. We shouted “Hari Bol” on the way.