Abu Ali the Bangaali at the Bullfight

by Mohammed Mominur Rahman.

{This is based on a true story; only the names have been changed.}

It was the day before the Mela (Fair) which Abu Ali the Bangaali was going to visit with his uncles and his teenage cousin Brook. Abu Ali stood inside the cow shed as he watched his uncle Hark sharpening the horns of his prize bull with a broken bottle top. He felt a little scared watching the sharp edges of the glass scrape along the bull’s horns. He was also afraid of the sharp points of the horns. Despite this, he stood still, bravely watching Hark repeatedly scrape the horns till they were as sharp as drawing pins.

“Where are you Abu Ali?” shouted his mother, “it is time to wash your feet and go to bed!”

“Coming, mum!” Abu Ali called out to his mother, “I will see you tomorrow.” he said to Hark as he ran towards his house.

“Make sure you wake up with the early birds!” Hark reminded Abu Ali loudly as he tidied up the cow shed.

The next morning, the sky was overcast with occasional drizzle making the road to the Mela muddy and slippery. Abu Ali was so eager to see the Mela he moved his little legs fast so he could keep up with the teenagers.

“Abu Ali’s legs are moving so fast it’s hard to see them!” said Hart, who was Hark’s older brother.

“Yeah” agreed Nayek, “it’s like when the fan is spinning and it becomes see-through!” They all laughed as they carefully navigated the thin, winding, slippery mud-track to the field by the market where the Mela was buzzing with the excited voices of the people from the ten villages around the Guptapur Market.

When they arrived, the six boys split up into two teams. Nayek’s younger brother Noir and Brook were given the task of looking after Abu Ali, who was only seven years old. This was the first time he had come to see a bullfight; this was the first time he had come to the Guptapur Mela. Nayek and his two cousins took Hark’s bull to get it ready for the fight.

Abu Ali’s cousin Brook was older than Hark, but younger than the other three, who were over sixteen. Nayek was in charge; he was the oldest. He had to take his cousin Hark’s bull to the officials, so it can take part in the competition. He also had to make sure everyone returned home safely. If anyone gets hurt it would be his job to find a doctor or get medicine from the pharmacy at Guptapur Market. Nayek felt confident; he felt like an adult. He had seen the bullfight at Guptapur Mela a dozen times; he was nineteen.

The field was muddy. Short fat grass blades grew thinly throughout the meadow. Here and there, weeds like the ‘twisted flute’ or the ‘elephant’s trunk’ poked out of the wet ground. The Mela was a maze of colourful stalls and exciting and addictively interesting games. Some people were selling popcorn, poprice and candy floss. Others were selling boiled sweets, rasugullas, jilabi, nimki, finger sweets, nakuldana and seasonal fruits. There were long sticks of sugar cane and bamboo staffs for fighting and herding cows. They looked so similar that Abu Ali wondered if anyone tried to bite the bamboo staff by mistake. He laughed quietly to himself as he pictured this in his mind. Abu Ali was good at picturing imaginary things; he was always playing back movie clips in his mind in full colour. Some stalls had card games and dice games. His father had told him that people used these things to do gambling. Gambling was forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Abu Ali remembered that when he had asked his father for some money to go to the Mela, Abu Ali’s father gave him a green paper note with a picture of jute farming on it.

“Make sure you don’t lose it on one of the gambling games!” Abu Ali’s father had warned sternly,“ don’t forget to bring something home for your little brother Abu Mali and your little sister Kotola”.

“Yes Abba.” Abu Ali had replied respectfully.

Abu Ali walked past the dice and card stalls. He saw people throwing rings at a wooden board with money and prizes arranged on it. Another stall had people throwing coconuts and one of them had air guns! Other stalls were selling tiny kitchen pots and pans or small clay figures of people and animals decorated by hand with brightly coloured paint. There were plastic dolls of fat, light-skinned women wearing red saris and red bindis on the foreheads. He smiled when he saw the stall selling cork-stopped rifles and small kerosene-powered boats. He wanted his cousin Brook to ask the man how many takas they cost.

“Bhaisaab!” he called. But before he could say any more there was a loud shout followed by more shouts and people started running. Noir and Brook also ran. Abu Ali watched the tall men and tall teenagers run towards the bullfight arena. The competition had started! He also wanted to see the fight but he could not see anyone he knew. People were pushing and a circle of tall people surrounded the bullfight arena. He could not see the bulls; he just heard a lot of shouting.

Abu Ali was frightened. He was small, alone and lost in the middle of the Mela surrounded by strangers. He looked around silently, scared and sad.

“How much money have you got?” a small boy startled Abu Ali, who turned to face him. He did not know this boy, who was wearing a pair of shorts and a dirty white vest. He looked a little older than Abu Ali, maybe nine or ten years old.

“How much money have you got in your hand?” the boy asked again. Abu Ali did not reply. He held his green paper note tightly in his hand. He knew it was twenty taka, but he did not want to tell the boy. He did not trust him. He did not know what to say and he did not know what to do. Everywhere he looked he could see strangers and most of them were bigger than this boy. He did not know which way was home or which way were his lost teenage relatives or which way he would be able to run away from the boy.

“How much money have you got?” the boy asked again, a little louder this time.

“I don’t know?” Abu Ali lied in fear. He didn’t think he would win if he wrestled with the boy and he hadn’t even heard of Kung Fu, Karate or Judo!

“Show me and I will count it for you.” offered the boy. Abu Ali knew this was not a good idea. He did not want to show the boy his money. He did not trust him. Like a zombie robot puppet he was helpless as he felt himself hand the twenty taka note to the boy. The boy pulled the money from Abu Ali’s hand and ran away into the crowd. Abu Ali could not see him anywhere. Abu Ali felt sad and ashamed at how easily he was tricked. Or was he mugged? The boy did not threaten him; why did he give him the money? Why did he not just say, ‘No!’ Abu Ali repeatedly told himself off in his mind and at the same time wondered what he would say to the others.

After a very distressing half hour, which felt like half a day to Abu Ali, Brook and Noir reappeared as if they had materialised through a portal from another dimension. Abu Ali said nothing; he just looked sad all the time. He did not want to eat anything and he did not want to buy anything and he did not want to talk. His father’s four cousins and Brook asked each other what was wrong with Abu Ali. He was not normally so quiet nor so sombre. They expected him to be enjoying the Mela, laughing, talking, eating and buying presents; he had enough money, thrice what other children his age take to the Mela!

On the way home, Abu Ali walked slowly, his feet felt heavy as they trudged behind the bleeding bull along the winding, wet slippery road home. Abu Ali was hungry. The only thing he had to eat all day was one samosa that his cousin Brook had given him. Everyone wondered why Abu Ali did not buy anything from the Mela. Abu Ali’s lips were sealed.

When he arrived home, Abu Ali’s mother washed all the mud away from his feet and gave him some sandals to wear.

“What did you get for your brother and sister from the Mela Abu Ali?” his father enquired. Abu Ali was silent. After repeating the question twice more, his father was annoyed; he scolded loudly,

“You didn’t get anything from the Mela? No toys for yourself, no toys for your brother, no toys for your sister? No food for your younger brother or your baby sister? Did you eat twenty taka all by yourself Abu Ali? I didn’t realise how selfish you are!”

Abu Ali’s eyes filled with salt water and tears rolled down both cheeks and he sobbed. His mother heard him and came and gave him a cuddle and asked softly, “What happened? Abu Ali, why are you so sad?” Abu Ali started crying loudly now. His mother hugged him tightly to her chest and wiped the tears from his cheeks with a corner of her green cotton sari.

“Don’t cry Abu Ali.” she said, “have some rice with an egg I just fried for you. We can talk about this when you finish eating.”

At bedtime, Abu Ali the Bangaali told his mother and father the whole story; Abu Mali and Kotola were already fast asleep. Abu Ali’s father felt sorry for shouting at him so he said consolingly,

“Don’t be sad Abu Ali, I will give you another twenty taka note so you can go to the Nasni Mela next week and it’s on your eighth birthday!”