“You are a poor cattle thief! Do you not know that last night was the very last night of the month of Ashvin? I mean the last night of autumn -the ‘gasbi’ night. You thieves are not supposed to thieve at this night. Instead, you steal grave soil, this night, to carry on your stealing business whole the year successfully. You throw this soil dust on the sloping corrugated tin roof before burgling in dwelling houses. As you believe that, the grave soil will lull the householder to sleep then like a dead man. Shit! Why do the villagers surrender these thieves and swindlers to the police stations? You are a stupid rustler! You have gone to lift cows, particularly at ‘gasbi’ night when all the villagers celebrate it as a festive night.” The jail guard of the ‘prisoners’ gathering room’ was saying these words to a lame man of more than fifty years old. “You don’t know, this festival is no longer observed in the villages due to climate change. Now Seasons do not follow the printed calendar-you know,” the lame man answered fearfully in a broken voice. “I am afraid that no mate of any ward will buy you! Wastage of my time, nothing else- you get lost! Run from this end to that end-you crippled crook as long as I do not say you to stop.”The jail guard shouted. The gathering room of the accused persons is about sixty by forty feet in size and crowded with prisoners. An officer with the help of the jail guard will divide these prisoners to the different wards of the jail within a very short time as his daily routine work. The crippled man is hobbling dragging his left leg from one end to another end of the room and gasping for breath. Shefin-a chauffeur was listening to the jail guard words minutely and looking at the lame man until now who has come here today perhaps hereditarily. Shefin is the last man in the queue. The jail guard has been haggling with the mates of the wards of the jail such a way that it seems to the chauffeur that it will take much more time be summoned by his name to appear before the guard.
After hearing about the ‘gasbi’ night from the conversation between the jail guard and the lame man Shefin has become nostalgic remembering some memoirs of a ‘gasbi’ night of a great many years back when he was a boy of sixteen years old. Still the night looms large in his mind and his body becomes creepy. Shaoli the younger sister of Shefin has made the center part of the big yard of their home perfectly plain by coating with cow dung mixed mud. She along with her companions has made a frail hut at an end of the yard using four pillars made of banana trees and a mud oven in the center of the hut. They will cook rice in broth in this oven with the handfuls of rice they have already collected from homes around the homestead of the Chairman of Sakhipur village. Shaoli will serve this rice broth to the elders of the house in the next morning –the first day of ‘kartik’, commencement of the fascinating late autumn. The harvest is coming forth. The young man of the house will gather energy recovering from all sorts of diseases by eating this rice broth cooked by Shaoli and will enjoy better harvest. This year sugarcane has grown very well than expected in the lands of the Chairman. This has added new colors to the ‘gasbi’ night as well. Shefin’s father-the Chairman of Sakhipur has decided to start producing jaggery in his traditional sugar cane mill. The main attraction for the children who are the principal participants of ‘gasbi’ festival and the enjoyment of the ‘gasbi’ night is hiring of a circus party by the honorable Chairman. Another attraction is the arrangement of a musical program of ‘Gambhira’ songs sung by the oldest man of the village-everybody’s grandpa and his grandson as well.
In the afternoon while Shaoli is busy with her friends to cook picnic food for the elders, the male members of the Chairman house and the workers are very busy in collecting juice by entering small pieces of sugarcanes in the pulleys. They are in a hurry, perhaps, the Chairman will rebuke them if he does not find enough juice for producing sufficient jiggery or molasses. The workers, of course, are not much worried today. A few days before, they had extracted some juice from the fast grown sugarcanes reaped by the Chairman himself as the start of the sugar cane harvest. They have already kept the juice to ferment naturally by the yeast from the air. “Don’t be anxious, I think the juice I left to ferment is now sufficiently alcoholic to produce enough feelings to our chairman.” One worker said. “I know- Chairman doesn’t need much content of alcohol for being intoxicated with feelings.” Another worker replied laughing. An old horse powers the Sugar cane mill of the Chairman. The horse is very lucky in the sense that it is the only horse in this village. Many villagers specially the children would come to Shefin’s home to see the horse. Shefin’s father -the Chairman used to tell as a lie that he had hunted the horse in the deep forest. Though Shefin knew that his father was lying, yet he boasted for having the nice horse when the children of his age used to visit their home to see the horse and say, “wow! Look father, how big and beautiful the horse is!” The horse is walking in a circle pulling a strong beam of wood making a squeaking sound and turning the wheel of the mill. The workers were feeding the peeled sugar cane carefully between two heavy rollers.
Now, Shaoli along with her companions is decorating the smooth circle by colorful winnowing and high-rimmed wicker trays with small openings. She has put woven jute fibers, olive leaves, turmeric roots, flowers of curcuma longa plant, holy basil leaves, neem tree leaves, cane stems, bermuda grass, coconuts and different herbal vines in the trays. Shaoli will make a paste from green turmeric and mustered oil. The next morning, Shefin, the only son of the householder will dab the paste on the paddy plants in the hope of a better crops. The Cowboy of the house is getting out the kernel of the Palmyra seeds that have germinated a few days before. These stones of the ripened Palmyra fruit were stacked in the back yard of the house after taking the yellowish viscous juice from them. The children have been waiting for the meat of the palm seed with patience since the cowherd is trying hard to bring them out fully. It seemed very difficult to them cutting the stones and get the flesh out properly. The Chairman also loves to eat it. Like the other members of the house, the cattleman is also doing his best to satisfy his master.
As soon as the dusk has appeared in the yard of the house, the observance of the ‘gasbi’ night starts in the Chairman’s house. The air and the heaven of the whole house resounded with the cheerful uproar of the children. They are whistling the flutes made of banana leaves. Beating the tin pot, they are reciting their own poems:
Ghost is my son,
Host is my father.
Hag is my daughter,
Bag her, my mother.
God is in my heart.
No ghosts will destroy
They are perhaps driving away the fear of ghosts by reciting the poems. They are circling the smoother portion that Shaoli has made plane with muck mixed mud at the central part of the yard in the noon.
At the outer part of the house, Jaggery makers have fired three big mud ovens with the bagasse. They have put the juices into the trays made of copper over the fire of bagasse. The juice will take at least one to two hours for foaming and turning to yellow color. The workers come to this house from other regions every year before the harvesting of the sugarcanes. They would stay in the house at least for a month for the completion of cutting of the sugarcanes, producing of jaggeries and making sugar cane wines for the Chairman. The workers have already become free with the family members of this house, as they have been visiting the same house for the last four years. Therefore, they are also observing the ‘gasbi’ festival with the Chairman family to ensure a better harvest as family members and enjoying all the arrangements made for the merriment on the last night of Ashvin. They are now singing loudly with freedom:
Wake up the ‘Gasbi’
Wake up fully.
Wake up the Cornfield,
Wake up the Fish farm,
Wake up fully.
Oh, Shefin, Oh, Shaoli,
Wake up fully.
Beat your tin drums
In front of me.
Wake up ‘Gasbi’
Wake up fully.
The Chairman is not in the house now. Therefore, everybody is talking and singing enthusiastically. Even the married women are also taking part in the gossiping and singing and the ludu playing with the children. However, they do not stay much time, as they are afraid lest the Chairman comes back to the house and rebukes them seeing in the yard of the house since there are now many unknown people at home roaming to enjoy the circus show. The Chairman is also waiting in his office room for the circus boys who have claimed that they have recently taken circus training from a district circus party. So far, the Chairman knows that the boys actually went to a remote village a few days before to enjoy circus shows taking his permission after hearing from people that a big circus party came to that village to stage few shows. Now the boys are saying that they have learnt many feats of circus. They have compelled the Chairman not to bring the big circus party from other districts by spending a lot of money. “We will show you many feats. You need not give us any money. I am Shefin’s friend. Uncle, you know me very well’’ an obese boy said. The obese boy- Shiplu was the leader of the boys who went to watch the circus shows. Though Shefin and Shiplu are almost of same age, Shiplu seems to everybody an aged stout man for his obesity and fatty tummy. The Chairman could recognize him very well. He has been sick from his very early age. His father-Asif Ali once competed against the Chairman when he participated in the union election for a member post. The Chairman triumphed over him so awfully that the election commission for his low vote casting forfeited Asif Ali’s security money.
Asif Ali took Shiplu to the town several times for his treatment yet Shiplu did not come round from his illness so far. The Chairman knew it from Shiplu’s uncle. “Chairman Uncle, have you ever thought that I could do circus. Well, here is your chance to get a taste of what circus skills I have learnt from the circus party” Shiplu said. “I know you are very sick. You cannot do that taking perhaps a half-day circus skill course ’’The Chairman replied. “I assure that it will be entertaining. We boys will show you many feats. Specially, we will make a human pyramid for you and it is very difficult to make-you know.” Shiplu said. “As I am the strongest boy, I will be at the base of the pyramid.” he added. “ You are wrong. You are a fatty boy. Obesity is an abnormality. It is not at all a sign of good health. Your illness may exacerbate by any strenuous activity.” The Chairman replied. “I am taking the challenge. You can stand even on my belly if you wish.’’ Shiplu said. The Chairman agreed to his proposal thinking that each year he has to spend a handsome amount of money by hiring a big Circus party from other district. “If our village boys can do the circus, well why I shall spend my money that will ultimately go out to other people of other districts? Our money will be in our village in near future if we can make a circus party with our own village boys.’’ The Chairman was soliloquizing.
The Chairman, the pivot of the house and the ‘gasbi’ night as well as of the village has come to the yard of the homestead with the circus boys. The other family members also could recognize Shefin – the team leader of the circus boys. “Shefin will show us circus, Chairman, you have made me laugh. He is the sick son of Ali who failed in the union election against you as a member candidate. The boy remains sick whole the year. He has a fatty tummy, nothing else, except the diseases in his whole body – as if ‘a king without his sword’.” Shefin’s mother Sophia was muttering to the Chairman.
In the meantime, the juices of the sugarcanes have formed brownish froth on the tray. The jaggery maker has been collecting it in a container. The workers are poking the fire by adding more bagasses. The Chairman is now in the house. Therefore, they are not now singing vociferously. They are trying to finish their job as soon as possible so they can enjoy the circus of the amateur boys. The sounds of laughter after giving very short intervals are reaching their ears floating on the air from the main yard of the homestead. Suddenly the Chairman has appeared in front of them. “Kaif, how long will it take to get your full jaggery prepared?”The Chairman asked. “Not much time, Master” Kaif-the chief worker replied. “Give me a spoonful of molasses. Let me taste the sweetness of it.” The Chairman asked another worker. “Master, have you taken your supper? I have already kept your favorite fermented juice ready.” Kaif said. “Good! That is why I hire you every year to work in my mill. You make the ‘betsa-betsa’ very fantastic. I get feelings. Okay! Kaif, Bring the tank and my goblet in the outhouse.” The Chairman said. “Master, you go to the outhouse. I will do all the arrangements.” Kaif said. “Do not add bagasses more in the furnace. The heating of the juices, I think, has completed. Pour the juices in to the tank from the pan. I am going to the outhouse to attend the master. You know, if he becomes satisfied, he will give us at least some money more than our remuneration. Then you all go to enjoy the circus.’’ Kaif told his co-workers.
One of the boys is pantomiming like a clown and giving amusement to the spectators. The spectators are cachinnating and one is falling swingingingly on another’s body failing to control the motion of his or her body. Exactly at this moment, the Chairman has appeared in the midst of the gathering. The spectators have given him a standing ovation and then the Chairman has signaled them by shaking his hand for sitting down. “Where is the boy – Shefin’s friend? What is his name? I am failing to recollect just now. What do you call him, oh yeah, I have remembered- Ship…Shiplu. Hey, Shiplu come here, Let me see what circus skills you have learnt from the district circus party?” the Chairman said in a grave voice. The boys have come before the Chairman and made a human pyramid and then a human tower for him very promptly. Shiplu was at the base as he is a fatty obese boy. Everybody is applauding the boys’ performances. Now, the betsa-betsa perhaps has inebriated the Chairman. “I want to join a move of the circus –Shiplu, you urchin, come here sharp? Show me what I can do with you?” the Chairman said in a strident voice. Shiplu-the tenacious boy has immediately laid down on his back as of dorsal position on the yard and taken such a pose so that one can stand in his ‘hands half arm floor’. Then Shiplu was instructing the boys to show up the Chairman how to stand on the half arm floor. The boys have been standing on the half arm floor of Shiplu one after another for a very short time and demonstrating the Chairman of how to stand in hands. Now the turn of the Chairman to stand in hands half arm floor. The Chairman, an old obese person, has stepped up in the hands floor of Shiplu and stood in fear and trembling but could not keep his balance and fallen on the boy with a thud.
Everyone is clapping in enjoyment forgetting that it is their Chairman and without thinking the outcome of the accident. Only Sophia has come forward to the boy and tried to lift the Chairman up from the Shiplu’s belly. “What you have done chairman? He is a sick boy. And it is well known to all. You have hired him to save a small amount of money. God has given you a lot. Do not be a miser. God does not like the misers. Have you forgotten that he is the sick son of Asif Ali, who competed against you for the member post? If anything happens to the boy, Ali will not spare you this time though you are the Chairman of the village to mitigate his malice toward you.” Sophia is muttering. Now all the boys have come forward to help Sophia get the fatty Chairman up. Now Shiplu also has got up from his position. “I am quite okay. This has not made any affect on me. I am stronger enough to bear the total weight of two or three persons as like as the Chairman Uncle.” Shiplu assured the spectators albeit he has been still gasping. The ‘gasbi’ night was enthusiastic by the hullaballoo of the men, women and the children of the village in the Chairman house with songs, comics and chitchats.
In the late morning of the first day of the month of kartik and the late autumn, the Chairman with the other members of the family has sat in the dining room. They will eat sweet pies, cakes and pastries that the housewives made yesterday for festival as breakfast. Shaoli will serve the rice broth first at table. Formally, the Chairman will have the first morsel then the others will start gobbling. In the meantime, the policemen from the local police station have reached the yard of the Chairman house. “Is the Chairman at home? We have come from the police station,” one said loudly. Five years ago, in the early morning of the first day of late autumn after the ‘gasbi’ night, a few police man came to this house with a warrant of arrest.”Sophia has begun to speak. “To arrest the dealer uncle,” Shiplu said. “During a salt crisis in the village, he was made a scapegoat by the former chairman!”Sophia continued, “would you stop telling this history, let me see who have come to my place and why?”The Chairman yelped at his wife. “History repeats itself” Sophia replied
“I am Baten, the sub-inspector of the union police station. Mr. Chairman, you have been charged for murdering a sick circus boy Shiplu last night. You have killed him getting up on his tummy willingly in a festive environment. Each and everybody witnessed and enjoyed the event. Shiplu’s father has filed a lawsuit against you at daybreak. Mr. Chairman, sorry! I have to arrest you in charge of Shiplu’s murdering,” SI Baten said. The tear is rolling down the cheeks of Shefin. SI Baten was handcuffing his father. This was appearing in his mind repeatedly. Many things happened after that. The Chairman was, of course, exempted from the charge in lieu of almost all of his wealth.
Being directed by an officer, the jail guard has been carrying on his business as well as scolding by calling prisoners one after another. The mates and gaol birds as well of the wards of the jail are his customers. They are bargaining with him to settle the price of each prisoner. They will then exploit these prisoners to make their profits. Now, Shefin has perhaps perceived that if a mate can somehow understand that a prisoner’s relatives would be careful to him and make no hesitation to spend money for his ease and comfort and for kind attention of the mate in the cell, he buys then the prisoner at a high price. To understand the fact the mates probably consider the countenance, statement and the offence of a prisoner as indices. Shefin has recognized two of them- Bhola and Lalu, two jailbirds from his village once accused of a triple murder case when Shefin was a mere boy. He heard after that they had been sentenced for a life-term imprisonment. Though they are in jail, their families are two well of families in the village. Every month, Bhola and Lalu send to their families a handsome amount of money from the jail. How?-Now Shefin has got some idea about the fact. Bhola and Lalu also could recognize the Chairman’s son Shefin.
Shefin is now thinking about Rebecca. Rebecca was a cousin of a full minister of the present parliament. Rebecca’s face is appearing as a fairy again and again in the canvas of his mind. Her reddish cheeks, amorous gestures and postures, pouting lips in displeasure, the black mood and the rebukes have been creating images constantly in the mirror of his mind. Shefin now and then misunderstood Rebecca’s amorous bickering with him for pleasure for her feelings toward him. After sometimes, Shefin could understand her bickering. Rebecca is an amusing girl. Shefin hence used to keep himself alert at all the time considering his present position. At length Shefin could understand that Rebeca has an affair with her house tutor-a brilliant university student. Once Shefin could read a love letter of Rebecca stealthily before passing it, that Rebeca had given him, to the boy.
Yesterday morning Shefin came to Sakhipur to see his ailing mother taking leave from Rebecca whose limousine he drives. In the whole journey by train Shefin couldn’t forget the beautiful aspect of Rebecca. Rebecca is a teenaged girl of class twelve. Shefin knows- teenage girls are hot and full of levity. They are masters of flirting and teasing.‟. Above all Rebeca is awesome handsome. Smileys always stick to her lips.
“Shefin Shams” the jail guard is calling Shefin by his full name. “You man, what have you done that has pushed you to come into the prisoners’ gathering room? Looking your face, it seems to me you are perhaps an offspring of a good family. The jail guard added. “I know him. I will buy him.” Bhola shouted at the jail guard. “Keep quiet Bhola, otherwise I will lock you in the dark confined cell.” the jail guard yelped. “I have eloped with a minister’s sister” Shefin replied. “You brave man, come in my ward” Lalu said vociferously slapping on his back.