Fragments of Memories: Some Raw, Disorganized Nostalgia about Xulhaz Mannan

It is not just one murder. It is actually two. Xulhaz Manna, and Tonoy.

    They killed Xulhaz in his own home. If they would choose to kill him on the road instead, perhaps we could demand to build a memorial for him, at least a few decades later.
    This was an apartment house. After a few decades, it might not be there. It might be sold, damaged, demolished, reconstructed. It might not exist that long.

    I don't remember the day I first saw Xulhaz that clearly. I called him Xulhaz vai, which means brother Xulhaz.

    But perhaps it was December of 2014. He arranged a film exhibition in his home, the same home where he was killed yesterday. And I was invited there. I saved the schedule in my instagram. That's how I remember it. It was either 19th or 20th.
    Still, I don't remember whether I noticed Xulhaz vai that day or not. What I do have well-preserved in my memory was the cat. The fluffy, ash-colored fur of its body.

    I happen to be a cat lover. But I forgot to pat it that day. It belonged to him. I will never have the chance to pat it anymore. I won't go to that house. I won't need to, simply.

    This is midday over here, in Bangladesh. A few hours ago, I checked the news update again. The news said, they hurt him on his head. Not on his body. They chose the right spot. The spot that would make it sure.

    I'm grateful to the photojournalists. They did not take any picture of that. I wouldn't want to see him drenched in blood, skull cut open, the brain hanging out. I don't want to see it. I don't want that memory to exist in my mind. I would rather know him as I did. The same tall guy, with that air around him. And that attire. That would be enough.
    I don't want to remember his dead body. Not a bit.

    It was 2015. Suddenly the news came one night, that Avijit Roy is dead. He had been murdered, pretty much the same way.
    At first I couldn't believe it. Slowly, I looked into the thing.

    I stayed up all night.
    The very next morning, I was supposed to attend Youth Leadership Program that Roopban arranged. Xulhaz vai's Roopban.
    Slowly, the dawn came. 5 AM, 6 AM, 7 - the clock moved forward. I was trying to stop crying. And I stopped.
 One year ago, I made a girlish dress. While I was in Birishiri, a tribal area of Bangladesh, mostly remembered for a poet named Rafiq Azad. I'm not a cross-dresser. But I wanted a dress like that. I looked for it in my basket, and took it out. And I put it on, for that day.
    It was winter. So I wrapped a shawl all around my body, to hide it. I had to, if I wanted to go in public wearing it. It must not be seen or shown.

    I uncovered it an hour later, when I reached the venue. I was with Roopban, this dress would not cause much fuss there.
    I first met Xulhaz vai that morning. I knew his name, recognized his face, shook his hand. At least my memory tells me so.
 The next day, the last part of the program was to be held. I did not wear the dress that day.
    It was my second day with Roopban. The morning's session begun with Suchi Apa. Suchi Karim. A radical feminist, just like me. Exactly the kind of person I was looking for.
    She was such a magical creature! Her speech was hypnotizing, and mesmerizing. Feminist or not, everybody enjoyed her company. And everybody was calling her Suchi Apa, which means Sister Suchi.
I raised my hand to speak, in the middle of the session.
    Inwards, I was broken to pieces already by then. It was Avijit Roy's death that sucked up my soul that day.
    Somehow I managed to ask what I wanted to ask: why should we go back to our oppressor? Just because society demands us to respect them? No matter who they are, they might be our mother, our father, or whatever-  but if they are our oppressor, if they are the ones responsible for all the traumas of our life, why should we return to them? Why?
    This is not exactly what I said. But this is close enough. To what I can still remember. I just remember the first sentence vividly: why should we go back to our oppressor?

    While speaking, I had a glance at Xulhaz vai's eyes. His eyes were sparkling, literally. He looked so happy that I stood up, and I said what I wanted to say. The bliss in his eyes was telling me that.
    I won't forget that look, ever.
    It has been a year since then. I did not know him before that.

    One year is not long enough for breeding memories.
    But some memories are born anyway, in this short period of time.

    I'm just regretting one thing. If I knew he would leave the world like this, I would ask him. I would ask him, do you know Xulhaz vai, people who die this way are considered holy in the market? Do you know the people who sell victimology turn dead bodies into icons? Perhaps I did not know you that much. But do you know Xulhaz vai, after your death, you are the most divine face of this country now? Would you love me if you were still alive? Would you?

    I'm telling the truth. If I knew it would happen yesterday, I would go visit him, before the killers come. I would die with him, with pleasure.
    After all, how much blood one can take? One dead body after another, and another. I'm just watching.

    I played a song on my laptop all night. Rajprasader Bondee, which translates into The Prisoners of The Palace. Anupom Roy composed this song. This is the most beautiful song written on LGBT issue in Bengali language so far.
    And I watched a film. In high volume, so that anyone awake nearby could hear the dialogs. Chitrangada, a film of Rituparno Ghosh - perhaps he needs no introduction.
    This is all I could do. So I did what was within my ability.

    I searched for another song, Pokkhiraj, which means Pegasus. A song written by a band, named Cactus. I couldn't find it. Not even on Youtube. It was another gay song I loved.
    This is how my night has passed.

    After waking up, I discovered I'm crying.
    It didn't take long before the tears dried up. But I was still feeling totally
    stiff. My mind, my body, all were stiff. I was still feeling moonstruck. Only my fingers were making the fork dance on the plate. Grain by grain, I was eating. It took me half an hour to finish a plate of rice.
    This was way too much distress than usually what I feel. Too much fatigue. I rarely feel like it. I rarely feel this things this strobgly.

    The memories came on their own.
    It was Pohela Baisakh of Last Year, the first day of Bengali New Year. Xulhaz vai invited me to Roopban's gay pride.
    That day, I had to locate them by asking them repeteadly on phone where they are. They were on the streetside gallery in Shahbagh, called Chobir Hat. Xulhaz Vai was busy with the props & costumes for the rally. He was having a rough time managing them properly.
  He told me clearly, "No sarcasm for today, Tamoso! Not today, not one."
   "Okay! Fine!" I said. I got busy with another friend.
   I didn't talk much with Xulhaz vai that day, either. Only one thing I remember vaguely, the bag he was carrying on his back had the flag of America on it. Or perhaps, it was his tee-shirt. I don't remember which one. Either of them.
         When I got back home, I saw the news. There has been a rape attempt right at the place where we gathered. Just a few minutes after I left that place.

    This was April. I went to Roopban's program in the month before that as well. In 27 Number of Dhanmondi. They published a poetry collection, called Rupongti. As much as I can remember, they invited the poets to recite their work that evening. I too got invited, without having a poem published in that book.
    I took a copy, got home, and finished reading it.
    That book is now resting somewhere in my attic, amidst the cobwebs. I will have to find it. I definitely will.
    Xulhaz vai also wrote a poem. And I do remember one or two lines from it. Something like this: "Some says, on the other side of the river, there lives my beloved mermaids, too."

    Two months after Pahela Baisakh, I got another invitation from Roopban. Ramadan was going on, and it was an Iftar Party.
    As always, he invited us all to his home.
    At that time, my kitchen was messy. I was living alone, and I could never manage my errands. Still, I cooked some sweets for the party.

    When I entered his home, six or seven people were present there. They were playing cards. Not exactly traditional cards. It was UNO. A game I never heard about before. The three letters, U N O, were printed on the backside of each card.
    Xulhaz vai asked, "Wanna play with us?"
    I declined. I said, "I don't know the game."
    "It's easy. Just watch for a while, and you will learn how to play it."
    But I did not play. I took a book instead. A magazine or something, on Nepal or Bhutan.
That room was always dimly lit. I went to his home twice. Both times, he kept a faint, though rather lovely light there, coming from a lampshade. I was reading that mag with the help of it.
Suddenly, somebody switched it off.
         "Hey, mister! I was reading it!"
    Xulhaz vai said sorry, and put on the light again.
 Then came the Last Letter Game. The usual rule of this game is, one has to start a song with the same letter with which the last song has ended. Somebody proposed to modify the game a bit. Perhaps it was me bringing up the proposal. Perhaps. I don't remember.

    We decided we would play with film names instead. Everyone would try to tell a film's name using signal language. His team members have to decipher it.
    One of them whispered a name in my ear, Jara Bristhite Vijechilo. They drenched in the rain. The name translates into something like that.

    I tried my skill best. Xulhaz vai, Tonoy vai, everyone tried to figure out what I was telling them. Rain, Drenched in Rain, Umbrella, Them, Those people etc etc - they did come up with the almost accurate words. But no one got the actual name of the film.

    After this, we went to the dinning table. This was dinner time. I made a small trouble. While taking the food on my plate, I dropped some on the floor. Everyone got irritated. And they were asking who did this.
    I did confess to some, it was me.
    Someone came, and wiped it off from the floor with a tissue. Was it Xulhaz vai? Might be. He is gone now, probably each one in my memory is now looking like him. It might be someone else, too.
 After finishing the dinner, we came back to the drawing room again.
    Xulhaz vai asked me, "What do you do all day?"
    "Well, I just roam around, here and there. With this guy or that. Anyone I can lay my hands on, at all."
    I did give him a vulgar reply like this. We talked for a few more minutes, I guess.
  This was the last time I saw him. I did not know it was going to be the last time.
  But I did talk with him after that, on Facebook.
    I chatted with him for hours, sitting in a cyber cafe, after a few weeks or months.
    I will keep those messages. Its impossible to erase them. Because it was him, in those messages.
    We last talked ten days ago.

    It was Pahela Baisakh again. And he invited me to the Gay Pride. And I wanted to go.
    At first I wanted to print a tee-shirt for the occasion. I wanted to have the cover of Avijit Roy's book, Samokamita - printed on it. The title of that book translates into homosexuality, the first book ever written on this subject in this country.
 I tried to make a tee-shirt like that. I couldn't. People who work in the tee-shirt printing business were either not available, or the cost was too high. So I had to settle for a rather ordinary tee-shirt this time, though it was new.

    The Facebook event said the Pride rally would start at 7:30 AM. I reached at Shahbagh fifteen minutes later. The street side gallery was locked.
    I looked for them everywhere. From this corner to that. They were nowhere to be found.
    I gave Xulhaz vai a message, and told him I did come, but I couldn't find them. So I am leaving.
After I got home, I got the news. Four had been arrested from Roopban's rally.
    Xulhaz vai replied to my message two days later.
    That was the last word I heard from him.
One by one, ten days have passed since then. One two three four five six... One by one.
    Three days ago, I heard a noise on the roof of my kitchen. A bird was flapping its wings.
    I went to the roof, to see what's the matter. I knew the bird was being hunted down. Either a cat, or an eagle - something was hunting it. But there was no sign of blood. But the bird did fall off from the roof, before I reached there. It was just a bird, nothing else.
 Last evening, suddenly I saw a status on Facebook. It said, two had been murdered, along with the editor of Roopban.
    I went to the Facebook page of Roopban right away. Only one article came since then. Dhaka Tribune published it.
    And the evening darkened, I looked around. All the lights nearby were blown out.
    It blacked out.
    I went to the roof.
    I was just walking, and asking myself, "Aren't you feeling anything Tamoso? Where's the grief?"
    I don't know what name is proper for these feelings, grief or something else. Soon enough, an emptiness devoured me.
    I've finished three packets of cigarettes already. I do have a little vodka left in a bottle. I'm thinking whether I should finish it as well.
  Xulhaz vai is dead.
    I won't celebrate any Pahela Baisakh ever again. No one will look for me that day, to the least.
    The newspaper said, he will be buried today. Well, I don't want to go.
    Life moves on. Death is lonesome. One has to go away alone.
 I saw some people commented on his last status, hope this brings real change in Bangladesh.
    What change? There's nothing to change, and nothing  will.

    These memories are totally personal.
    If I could, I would write a song on him. Or an elegy or something. But no music is coming to me at this moment. With blood before your eyes, music takes leave.

    Now I'm waiting for one another invitation from Roopban. For a protest rally.

    People are protesting his murder in America. Why won't we protest in Bangladesh? No matter how little, there will be some protest somewhere.
    And then, people will forget him. When the time comes.
    But will I ever forget him? Will I ever be able to?

    I will have to carry on this death all my life. As long as I live. I won't be able to forget it, even if I want to. Besides, there's no need to forget it.

    I did want to write it all a little more neatly. I couldn't neaten 'em up. It's
    not happening, at this moment.

    Now the lights are out again. The sun is blazing. Burning. The earth is burning, too.
    Only a little heat is touching my body. A few fangs of fire.
    Just a little hot air, carrying the breath of the dragon far away.

4:11 PM
26 April 2016