Story: Three Dreams of Gafur

19 May 2017, 20:53

Mir Ariful Islam
Mir Ariful Islam

Sometimes I feel like a traveler who, after years of traveling, realizes that he lived his best days unknowingly on some distant land or shore. I look back and see – age-old trees with dense canopy, sleeping streets in late winter, sculptures of great promise and unfailing hope, and a sea of young faces with eyes full of passionate dreams. I lived my best days at university.

I stayed in a residential hall for several years at the beginning of my university life. The first day I went to stay there is still vivid in my memory. I saw a large, square complex with wide arches and yellow tiled domes. It had an inner courtyard dotted with different species of flowers and green, velvety patches of grass. The courtyard was divided at the center by a long, arched causeway which connected the northern and southern part of the resident. An azure, open sky was always watching over the entire area like a guardian angel. Eighteen years old, I just moved out of my small hometown, and I felt so relieved to find myself in such a heaven amid the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan city.

I was allotted a room with other freshmen. It was in one of the rooms that our national luminaries spent their freshmen years, too. In one of these rooms, a budding poet wrote his first verse of love and nature; a future historian studied bygone dynasties with all his heart to observe the causes of their downfall, and a young scientist dreamed of discovering a groundbreaking law that would benefit the entire humankind. At night, our seniors would tell those stories of passion, struggle, and glory in such a passionate manner that we could see the figures of their narrative just before our eyes.

Someday in the middle of Baishakh, the first month of the Bengali year, I met the most secretive fellow in the entire hall. He would also live in such a room and always be around us unobtrusively. His gaze would always point at the ground while he talked; his shoulder would stoop a little as he walked. He was frightened even of any friendly encounter and kept himself aloof from all of us. When I learned that he was also a freshman, I tried to talk to him one evening, but he remained silent to my friendly queries as he did with others. For this many of us commented frustratingly that he could not get out of his ‘village cocoon’ yet.  

Sometimes political seniors would gather us in a large room to know our mind and the political bent, and teach us a thing or two of politics. The gathering was commonly known in vernacular term as ‘guest-room’. This ‘guest-room’ would often be so large and crowded that we had to crane our neck to see the political seniors, sitting miles away and talking indistinctly. And they would dissent with each other and make enough noise and confusion, so we would not know what they were actually talking about, or who was talking to whom. One night during such an assembly, a disembodied voice asked from the back of their row, what our dream of life was, where we would like to see us after twenty years from now, and the like. Such questions were unsettling for many of us, because we often like to keep our dreams to ourselves, or sometimes we simply do not know what we dream, or where we would like to see us after twenty years. So we began to reply willy-nilly. Suddenly, Gafur, the most reticent fellow among the freshmen, made a historic revelation. In a mild but resolute voice, he said, “I have three dreams in my life: first, receiving higher degree at university; second, falling in love with a girl; third, getting a prestigious job after completing my study.”

Everyone looked at him in total disbelief as if he committed some sort of crime or completely lost his mind. It made such a huge impact that the whole assembly assumed a silence of graveyard for some moment. After a minute or two, one of the seniors broke the silence, clapping his hand heavily to recognize this historic statement, and we all followed him with a round of plaudits.

In a teasing tone, the same disembodied voice asked him humorously, “You have already fulfilled your first dream. What about the next, little brother? Have you found someone to fall in love with you?”A streak of laughter rippled across the gathering, followed by nonstop whistles and loud talk. Now that he realized what he just did, Gafur stammered out a response to this difficult question while some fellow cheered him up, pressing their hands on his shoulder. His reply could not be heard thanks to the noise, and soon the topic changed as someone else from the front row opened an even more interesting thread.

From that day on Gafur was a name of a dreamer. Some weeks later, rumors went around in the hall that Gafur was pursuing a beautiful girl, and he would be successful in any day in his romantic venture! “Don't you see he has changed his behavior a lot? He now talks looking at our eyes. Imagine him now and before, can't you remember how hard we would try to make him speak just a couple of months ago?” I overheard some of my friends’ gossip while I passed by them. I could not rule out the rumor, because it was true that Gafur had started talking to everyone after that assembly. I also had several encounters with him. One day in the afternoon, I sat with him on the grassy lawn, and for the first time, Gafur, fixing his big eyes on the skyline over the big square dome, told me of his life in village.

In the village he would work hard to till his ancestral land to produce monsoon crops. “I would till”, he said, “the piece of land we had with a pair of oxen and a plow. During the harvest season, I would reap a whole acre of paddy field all by myself and carry the paddy bundles all way the home. I was the only son of my parents, and my father had a very fragile health for tuberculosis and some other perennial diseases. My mother would also work all day long with the threshing machine to separate grain from paddy stalks. I could not attend classes in my school oftentimes for such heavy work, especially before the rainy season and late autumn, when I had to work all day long. But soon I decided that I would change my lot and my family by receiving a higher education at university. I knew, one day, it would help me get a good job in some big office…” He paused for a while and smiled at me innocently. I asked him where his parents were now and how they were living. He replied that his father had died of tuberculosis, and his mother, leasing the only land to a village figurehead, was living on the yearly revenue she received on it. At some point, I also asked him how, living in complete solitude and fearing to speak to anybody, he could reply that question at the nightly assembly. He smiled once again and said, “Maybe I expressed myself that night in a fearful fascination. When it came to dream, I could not remain silent. I didn't know that I was speaking to the whole gathering, and when I realized I felt very nervous of my action.” Stillness spread across the horizon, the last light of the day’s sun came through a thick veil of cloud and touched our feet and knees. He didn't speak anymore, and the silence allowed me to imagine the sketches of his life he just drew before me.

As I passed my adolescent life in some urban city, whose course was crafted carefully by the respected elders of my family, Gafur passed his life in a completely different reality. He dreamed and created his own course of life, and he nurtured them with great passion while he silently plowed the parched land in his village, following his ancestral vocation.  

Time seemed to have elapsed quickly as I engaged in some youthful activities. I spent the whole freshman and sophomore years acting in some poorly directed plays, writing some esoteric poems which I couldn’t understand later, and going on countless trips to different parts of the country. Gafur steadily pursued his second dream when we frittered away our time without any definite aim.

And the rumor became true finally. Gafur pursued a girl successfully and made her fall in love with him! We celebrated his success in many ways; we spread the news in every nook and corner of the hall and started teasing him all the time! At our repeated request, he divulged some of his private phone conversations with his beloved one, but he didn’t reveal the secret of his successful pursuit, the Holy Grail that we needed most. We excused him anyway, for we knew he was like a turtle that would never show its neck after hiding, however hard you poke the shell. So we had to leave him at our dismay to his own world, but we discussed his romantic episode all day long.

He came with a shy face one day and sought our help. He asked how he could impress the girl despite his reticent and shy nature as he decided to meet the girl for the first time in person. His candid appeal impelled all of us to help him, and the fellows with past relationship experience, who remained indifferent to this whole matter so far, now came out at his call and began to advice him from the best of their knowledge.

Before leaving, Gafur made a more interesting request. He insisted that we make frequent phone calls while he would be with the girl, for it would make him appear an important figure before her. It was amusing enough for all of us, but then, when he even requested to call him bhai over phone and ask solutions to multifarious issues of our hall and the university, we were completely astounded by the extent of his tactic. He made us laugh a lot, but eventually everyone felt sympathetic to help him fulfill his second dream. Even a deal was proposed and ratified by the oral consent of the existing fellows that everyone would help each other in similar situations. And on the university campus, if any fellow could be seen hanging out with his beloved one, we would pay him a benign respect with salam and call him bhai too! The whole prospect of such future events amused us, and we credited everything to the genius of Gafur.

We did everything we promised to him while he was gone. He came back with a bright and cheerful face. “The mission accomplished”, we all shook our hands happily and flooded him with so many questions. Gafur became a celebrity in the hall. Soon, he started advising other lovelorn fellows who wanted to succeed in their venture, too. I also consulted him on some occasion and sought his advice to turn some possibility into complete love episode.

Life continued in the hall. The azure sky I saw on the first day changed its color many a time. We entered in the fourth academic year. Gafur became silent once again as he had been in the freshman year. But if someone approached him and asked something, he would answer smilingly and without any hesitation, engage himself in all sorts of discussion, from political stalemate to the prospect of science in the coming decades. I learned that he started going to the central library of the university regularly.

In the early morning, with a heavy bag on his back, he would leave the hall and return at night, tutoring a girl of seventh or eighth grade in some part of the city. Everyone said Gafur was on his way to fulfilling his third dream. But this time we couldn’t help him, for he had embarked on a lone journey to the realm of history, geography, science, mathematics, and many other branches of knowledge. We knew that he would never swerve off his path. He must fulfill his third dream. He must find a job. 

One winter, I left the hall before completing my full residential duration. For my new business, I did not have enough time to frequent the old campus. Or was there any other reason also? Perhaps I avoided going there as the place was full of so many good memories that it would make me feel nostalgic and sad. But in late autumn afternoons, when no excuse could be found to keep myself busy, I would go there and meet my friends. There I could see Gafur one day. He was returning to hall from library. Stooped, exhausted, he didn’t look around much. A great anxiety shrouded his face, yet something heavenly, something hopeful could be seen in his tousled hair, in the perspiring muscles and strong sinews. I wanted to talk to him, but a strange feeling told me to let him walk alone, to fulfill the last of his three simple dreams.