‘Snails’ by Dibakar Barua is a powerful story from Bangladesh, covered under the book ‘School Timez’ edited by Ruskin Bond. The story takes us back to the times of Bangladesh liberation war of 1971. Quite wonderfully a theme of war and its ramifications are incorporated into the story.
Thirty miles south of the port city of Chittagong, a chill has come down on Manpur village where men and boys of different religions gather after dusk in secret, segregated societies. There they discuss the war crimes carried out by Pakistan Army on the people of Bangladesh. They live in fear and getting their men killed by the army has become a thing of acceptance for them. In short, they are miserable.
As the story advances, it narrows down on the story of two Hindu brothers Ajoy and Bijan – they worship Buddhism. Because of the war their lives are torn apart and there are many widows that lament death of their husbands every night. Ajoy doesn’t like this lamenting. The village is in trouble because of war. Pakistan Army is busy capturing the port city of Chittagong.
Bijan works in Telephone and Telegraph (T&T) office and it has been two nights that he has not come home. Her mother is worried. Chances are that he has been taken away by the Pak Army as rumours have that the army is killing uncircumcised men. Ajoy’s mother is worried about her son, thus she says to him that grief is worse than death.
After some days have been passed, Ajoy grows worried and restless about his brother. He walks here and there but to no avail. The kind of miserability that war throws on innocent people is a pure untoward agony. He sees Yusef Malek, one of his confidents, and from him it comes out that his brother has been taken away by the Pakistan army. And the worry is that they cannot find him.
Feeling miserable, Ajoy jumps in a pond, and in the eerie silence of the night he broods about life and the lamentation of the widows. He feels life is inexplicable proposition. Though the story doesn’t see any action for a war-torn country, but the kind of affliction it depicts is indeed praiseworthy. War-fiction lovers will love it.