I wake up to the distant rumble of thunder. It’s already dark outside. I get up and get into the washroom to splash some water in my face. My extended siesta has left me exhausted. After some time I’m outside on the road. Parts of my brain feel like they are still waking up. Need tea, I decide. It’s dusk. A wind howls through the city, trying but failing to cool the heated concretes and asphalts. It was an unnaturally hot day but now it’s getting cooler. Perhaps it’s raining somewhere and soon it will reach this part of the city too.
As the heat creep down couple of degrees people of Uttara starts getting out of their homes. The road gets crowded. Mothers with their kids returning from a stroll in the park pass by fat men and health conscious slim women on their way there. Columns and rows of windows light up in the early dusk. Looking up at them I feel like an ant in an elaborate ant hill. I always feel like this in these urban residential areas of Dhaka. I shuffle through the joggers, overtake kids in there bicycles and enter a relatively empty road.
In Dhaka there are tea stalls in every other bend of road, in most empty lots, cross roads and the gap between two buildings. The one I’m walking in stands in such a rare vacant lot near my place. It’s just a tin roof supported by four thick bamboos in one corner of the vacant land; two benches stand in the shed with a single bed of cheap wood sans the mattress in the middle. Djinn Chacha, a middle aged man with a white goatee, usually makes tea sitting there in front of a kerosene stove. I sit there and ask for a cup of tea.
“Baba, there is no tea today. Have a cigarette.”
“Chacha, I don’t smoke.”
“Oh.” He seems a bit saddened. “How about a Paan? Have a Khili Paan then with sweet spice and Jarda.”
I think for a second, chewing beetle leaf in empty stomach right now doesn’t seem a very good idea. “No, no, may be another day.” I say. “So how that is there’s no tea today? Business is that good, ha?”
He exhales slowly. “No. I have some other chores today so I offed the stove early.” He pauses for a second and says,” Paan is something Rajahs and Badshahs would enjoy. Now you people say it’s not good for health. My father used to chew Paan everyday of his life. He was a strong man when he died. Never have I seen him sick for a day. Worked in the fields and ate like an elephant. He died a strong man, at ninety-five.” I notice a plate with Paans on it decorated in a rainbow pattern.
“What’s with all the paans?” I ask.
He smiles but do not answer. His eyes dart at the road as if expecting someone to show up. I decide to leave. As I step out some men come in; two of them holding one by hand between them and dragging his feet on the asphalt. I stand for a moment to look at them. Chacha gets down from his podium to greet them. They sit the man down on the ground. Chacha starts instructing them about some ritualistic arrangement. I realize Chacha closed the stall early today for his other job. You see, he is an exorcist too and he will exorcise some Djinns today.
Djinn Chacha is something we call him. His real name I don’t know. May be my friends who also frequent him know that. He sells tea by day and exorcises Djinns by evening, though infrequently. There are rumors about this particular lot too.
They make the possessed man stand in front of the shop on the ground and stick some incense sticks before him. Chacha stands in front of him (his head now covered with a cheap white Topi) and start reciting in Arabic. In the gathering dusk the air rises carrying with it a chorus of voices from the flats looming over the vacant lot and chattering of crowd from road and mixes it with the rhyming Arabic. I look up. Dark clouds come flying from Ishan Kon of the sky; a part known for its all destroying summer winds. I should go, I think. But I stand there.
“Waqul rabbi aAAoothu bika min hamazati alshshayateeni.”
The man starts talking.
“There used to be a very old tree over there. It was Teak. There isn’t any teak tree anywhere near, so where did it come from?”
“WaaAAoothu bika rabbi an yahdurooni.”
“I brought it from the orchard of the king of Arakan. I planted it here in this place which used to be an opening in the jungle. I watered it and took care of it. It grew fast. In the vicinity of Djinns time flows differently. Every couple of years later I would come and rest in its shed. Then the great river changed its course and farmers came. They cut the trees and cleared the jungle.”
“Qulna la ta-khaf “in-na-ka “anta al-“a-‘la.”
“A daughter was married off to the marsh lands of north and a bed made of teak was among her dowries. Her father had a couple of stores in Chawk Bazaar. He prided himself of his Iranian lineage. His grandfather was actually a peasant in Murshidabad. He looted the burned indigo plantation when the Sahibs left. The blind beggar who was fed among some other poor people when the man first opened the store was the one with a respectable ancestry. His forefathers rode through the desert and then sailed in the Buri Ganga, daughter of the Ganges. Their caravan rested in the Choto Katara. The blind man begs for alms in front of the Caravanserai not knowing once his ancestors walked down the same steps. The irony of it, huh…”
He starts laughing. Chacha stops reciting and blow on his forehead. Then the rain starts. Big fat drops of water fall on the asphalt. I come out of the trance and turn around. I need to get back to my room. I leave the tea-seller and the fire spirit behind. A new night has arrived. Dry ground soak up the first rain of the season. The air smells petrichour. My glasses become foggy and through the hazy lances for a moment I see a phantasmal tree standing by the road. Black figures walk beside me, spirits of old or people of this new town? I walk along.