They arrived just before evening. An enormous group. Not marching or anything like that. Merely walking in a disorganised manner. They had probably come a long distance. Each bowed down in weariness. Faces damp with sweat. Khaki clothes grey with dust. Almost all the villagers went into hiding. Only Crazy Bodi came forward with a smile. Gleefully, he shouted at them, “What’s up?”

The whole group stopped came to a sudden stop. Crazy Bodi clasped a red gamchha in his hand. Waving the red gamchha like a banner, he shouted, “Where are you going, eh?” He had never seen such a strange sight before.

The major was wearing sunglasses. He took his glasses off and asked in English, “What is this man saying?”

Rafiquddin replied immediately, “The man seems to be a madman. All our villages have one.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How can you tell that this man is mad?”

Rafiquddin kept quiet. The major had a very twisted sort of nature.

He could squeeze out ten different meanings from a single sentence. Crazy Bodi was running towards them. He was all smiles.

Rafiq snapped at him. “What the hell do you want?”

Crazy Bodi’s smile broadened even further.

Rafiq wiped the sweat off his forehead. He said in a thin voice, “The man is mad, sir. All our villages....”

“You’ve already said that. There’s no need to repeat the same thing two or three times.” Rafiq swallowed.

The major said in a cold voice, “I like this place. Let us rest a while. Everyone’s tired.”

“Sir, just five more miles, and we’ll reach Nabinagar. It’s a big marketplace, there’s a police station there. We should get to Nabinagar before evening falls.”

“Why? Are you afraid?”

“Of course not, sir. Why should I be afraid?”

The major turned towards the troops and said something – a soft hubbub arose. Within moments they were all sitting down, sprawling here and there. They began removing their helmets.

The major said in a low voice, “We need to tie up the madman.” He sat down on a wooden box and lit his pipe. Pipes and khakis don’t usually go together. But this major was impossibly handsome. Anything looked good between his lips.

The madman was lashed to a mango tree. He did not protest. In fact, he seemed rather delighted at being fortunate enough to stay near these people. No one paid much attention to him; they were terribly tired. Their gazes were vacant and without thought.

The major gulped down some water from his bottle. He pulled off his boots. He had a blister on his left ankle.

Rafiq said, “Would you like a green coconut, sir?”

The major spoke in a calm voice, without answering his question, “In the past, whenever we entered a village, there was always a small group of people with a Pakistani flag in hand, waiting to welcome us. They no longer come. Do you know the reason for this?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“They don’t come because they’re afraid. All the people from this village are now hiding in the jungle. Am I right?”

Rafiq did not answer.

Crazy Bodi said, “I feel like drinking some bottled water.”

“What does he want?”

“He wants to drink water from the canteen, sir.”

Even though all the villagers had fled, Aziz Master couldn’t because his sister had arrived from Ghonapota. She had gone into labour that morning. One cannot drag around a person in such a condition. Still, Aziz Master had said twice, “If we could somehow get her to the boat, then she could be taken to Shyamganj.” In response, Aziz Master’s mother had made an ugly remark concerning his cowardice. She had compared him to a cat with a broken leg.

Aziz Master did not protest because it was true. He was a terrible coward. Ever since he had heard that the army had entered the village, he had frequently felt the need to piss. He sat in his yard and started violently at the least bit of noise.

“Master, you home?”

“Who’s there?”

Several Nilganj elders entered the yard in an apprehensive manner.

“You should be going over there, Master.”

“Going over where?”

Instead of answering the question, Dabir Mia said in a low voice, “Who else can go other than you? You know English. You know how to speak proper.”

“You’re asking me to go to the military?”


“What could I do there?”

“You could tell them that we have no trouble in this village. Take the Pakistani flag with you. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Aziz Master stayed silent for a long time.

Dabir Mia felt irritated and said, “Why don’t you say something?”

“How can I go? We’ve got such trouble at home. Puti is having a baby...”

“There’s nothing you can do here, Master. You’re neither a doctor nor a kabiraj.”

Aziz Master said in a faint voice, “Where will I find a Pakistani flag?”

“Why, what have you done with the school flag?”

“Threw it away.”

“Threw it away? What for?”

Aziz Master did not answer.

Dabir Mia said in an angry voice, “Even if you have passed your IA exams, Master, you still don’t have much brains. What made you throw away the flag? Now what else can you do? Go on, then, go empty-handed.”

“I’m scared, Uncle.”

“There’s nothing to fear. These are neither tigers nor bears. You just go and be nice to them, say nice things. It’s a matter of a minute or so. What do you think, Azmat?”

“Quite right.”

“Don’t delay. Go before it gets dark.”

“By myself?”

“It’s better to go by yourself. Recite the Kulhu Allah in your mind three times and step forward with your right foot first. Repeat Yaa Muqaddemu in your mind five times. There is nothing to fear, Master. This is Allah’s sacred text. It has special and sacred significance.”

Aziz Master remained sitting with his head lowered. He felt the need to urinate again. Puti was whimpering inside the house. This was her first pregnancy and she was suffering.

“How can I leave my sister in such a state?”

“What sort of talk is that? What can you do at home? Always talking like an idiot. Get up now.”

Aziz Master got up.

The major stared at him for a long time through narrowed eyes. It was growing dark. His face was hard to read. He was sitting on a large wooden bench with his legs spread wide apart.

The major asked in clear Bangla, “What do you want?”

Aziz Master was taken aback. This guy spoke Bangla? How strange!

“What do you want?”

“Well, I don’t really want anything.”

The major said, in English this time, “If you don’t want anything, why are you here? To watch the fun? Is this a circus?”

Aziz Master began to sweat. The rest of the conversation was carried on in English on the major’s side – Aziz Master answered in Bangla. It didn’t create any problems. The major understood Bangla.

“What do you do?”

“I am the Primary School teacher here.”

“So, there’s a school here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What else is there?”

“A mosque.”

“Only a mosque. No temples? Where the pujas are held?”

“No, sir.”

“Tell me the truth. Is there a temple here or not?”

“No, sir.”

The major lit his pipe. He said something in a cold voice to someone in Punjabi or some other language. A man walked over and slapped Aziz Master hard on his cheek. Aziz Master fell flat on his back. Trussed to the mango tree, Crazy Bodi uttered in surprise, “Oh, Master, get up then, get up.”

The major asked as if nothing had happened, “What is your name?”

“Azizur Rahman.”

“Azizur Rahman, do you have freedom fighters here?”


“Everyone’s Pakistani?”


“Well, that’s good. You yourself are a pure Pakistani, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“If you’re all Pakistanis, what are you afraid of? It seems to me that all the villagers have fled in fear. The women are all hiding in the jungle. Am I right?”

Aziz Master didn’t answer. His head was reeling. He was feeling nauseous. With great difficulty, he controlled his urge to vomit.

“Do you think we will take your women away?”

Aziz Master remained silent.

“Why aren’t you speaking? Is your wife also hiding in the jungle?”

“Sir, I am not married.”

“Not married? How old are you?”


“Forty and not yet married? How do you cope then? Do you masturbate?”

Aziz Master wiped the sweat off his forehead.

The major roared, “Answer me.”

Rafiquddin said in a thin voice, ‘Sir wants to know whether you masturbate. Answer him, man. Sir is getting angry.”

“I don’t.”

“Really? Is your equipment okay? Let’s see, take your pyjamas off and show everyone.”

“What are you saying, sir?”

“I told you to take your pyjamas off and show your equipment to everyone. Well, hurry up, don’t delay. I don’t have much time.”

Aziz Master looked at Rafiq in surprise.

Rafiquddin said indistinctly, “Take it off, man. What’s there to be ashamed of among men? Take it off. Sir is getting angry.”

The major said something in a low voice. Someone came and jerked down Aziz Master’s loose cotton trousers.

The major said, “Take his shirt off too.”

Aziz Master tried to cover his nakedness with his hands. The soft hum of laughter arose around him. Someone threw a ball of crushed paper at him.

The major said, “Do you love Pakistanis?”

“I love them.”

“Good. Do you love the Pakistani army?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good. You must love me too. Don’t you? Go on, tell me.”

“I love you, sir.”

“You love the man who is forcing you to stand here naked? You seem to be a lover of the whole world!”

A flood of laughter erupted around them as the major made some remark in a low voice.

Goggle-eyed in amazement, Crazy Bodi said, “Master, where are your clothes? Hey, Master.”

Aziz Master looked at him with muddied eyes. His nausea had gone, leaving him with an intense and sharp pain at the back of his head.

The major said, “Azizur Rahman, you are lying out of fear. To save your life. Tell me the truth, and I will let you go. Do you like me?”


“Now we’re getting the truth. Do you want this to become Bangladesh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So, you’re a traitor. Traitors should be put to death. That is what I would like to do. Or do you want to live?”

Aziz Master did not answer.

“Don’t delay. Tell me if you want to live.”

Rafiquddin said in a frightened voice, “Say it, man, say, I want to live. Why are you acting like this? You’re only bringing down danger upon yourself.”

Crazy Bodi spoke again, “Hey, Master, put your clothes back on. You’re naked.”

Aziz Master did not move.

The major said, “Put your clothes on. Put your clothes back on and get out of my sight. Clear out.”

Aziz Master did not put his clothes on. He spat. The spittle fell on the right leg of the major’s trousers. The major lifted his eyes and stared. There was dead silence.

Aziz Master stepped forward and spat again. The spittle fell on the major’s shirt.

The major said in a calm voice, “We have rested long enough. We must start moving again.”

The troop of soldiers march forward. The major’s face is impossibly colourless. Behind him stands a naked man, his head held high.

The Demoness: The Best Bangladeshi Stories, 1971-2021

“Nineteen Seventy-One” by Humayun Ahmed, translated from the Bangla by Shabnam Nadiya, excerpted with permission from The Demoness: The Best Bangladeshi Stories, 1971-2021, selected and edited by Niaz Zaman, Aleph Book Company.