Bishad Sindhu or An Ocean of Sorrow is a work of fiction by Mir Mosharraf Hossain (1847-1912), a Bengali novelist, playwright and essayist. It is the first substantial work of fiction by a Bengali Muslim writer, and one of the earliest Bengali novels. Fakrul Alam, who has translated into English this Bengali classic soon to be brought out by Bangla Academy, will talk about the book at the DLF 2016. Here we carry an excerpt from the novel’s BOOK III.
Why is there no one around there? Why is no human being on view? But there are still those in the rooms set aside for them. No changes were visible thus in the quarter where Lord Husayn’s kinsmen and women had been kept. From here a cry could be heard, the wailing of a woman, a tragic-sounding tone, laced with pain at what had happened, but the perspective unique as was the voice and the thought being articulated.
“Alas! Where am I, where is Zayneb? The loyal wife of a small businessman, a man from a poor and impoverished but respectable family? The spouse of an ordinary man who once used to earn a small sum of money through his labors? What did we have to do with royalty and kingly dispositions, with a member of a family descended from royalty, who pursues pleasure and satisfaction; what did I have to be involved with him and his pleasures? Why did I end up in the king’s zenana? That Zayneb would be seen inside Medina’s holy palace was an astonishing development; that she could be a prisoner in the royal prison of Damascus was an even more amazing twist of fate for her. What do I have to do with this prison? Alas! Alas! If anyone chose to examine the events of my life closely and reflect on what had happened to me, he would find evidence that would lead him to conclude that this unfortunate woman was the prime cause of the ocean of sorrow. It would seem that it was Zayneb who was the chief cause of all these cataclysmic events. Alas! Alas! It was for me that the family of the Prophet of Light, Muhammad, had to suffer such torture! Oh, woe is me! Where will I find a place to be in now? I am a sinner! I am an ogre who had devoured everything! For me the doors of hell are wide open! How agonizing! It was I that induced hatred in Zaada, who had hitherto been so soft a person! It was this unfortunate wretch’s beauty that intensified the flame in Zaada’s mind till it burnt with double, treble and even five-fold intensity! How much more will this unfortunate and weak heart have to endure? How much will this woman who was so loyal to her husband have to go through? Can the flame that burn in one’s mind be doused without one’s own spouse? Ultimately, it leaves the spouse and scalds the husband. When one wants something, and if fate has willed that it shall be so, how long does one have to wait for the desire to be fulfilled? To seek is to find then. To satiate Maimuna’s wishes, Zaada was necessary. To fulfill what Zaada coveted Maimuna was necessary. In time the two met and both felt that they had struck gold. To find a woman apply poison – oh unbearable deed that one cannot even talk about – poison – poison of the most virulent kind!” (Silence)
[Fakrul Alam is Professor of English at the University of Dhaka and a member of its senate. His publications include Imperial Entanglements and Literature in English (Writer’s Ink: Dhaka, 2007); South Asian Writers in English (Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2006); Jibananada Das: Selected Poems (Dhaka: University Press Limited, 1999); and Daniel Defoe: Colonial Propagandist (University of Dhaka Publications, 1989). Among his most recent works is The Essential Tagore (Boston: Harvard UP, 2011; co-authored with Radha Chakravarty)]