Dead Silence

Posted by Zubier Abdullah on 17-02-2020

[Scene 1: The father is sitting in Babu’s room. It is late evening. He has a cigarette in his mouth and he waits for his son to come home. His son does so. There are pictures of famous photographs here and there. A tripod is set in one corner]

Abba: Babu is that you? Why did it take you so long to come home? Babu: I was out dad. I had... Abba: It doesn't matter what you were doing. What you should be doing is making progress with your studies. [Babu doesn't reply. He walks away, a dejected look on his face.] Abba: Wait. Wait. Young people nowadays are always in such a hurry. Let me tell you something. When I was your age, I was busy with my books. I would spend all day, from six am to eight pm every day, just studying. I told myself that I would make something of myself and I have. Babu: But ... I was just. Abba: This is the most important time of your life. Right now you are building your future for the rest of your life and you shouldn't be out there wasting it away like this. Babu: I am not doing that Baba. I was just out with my friends taking pictures. Abba: Pictures? Pictures won’t put food on your table. Friends won't put food on the table. In the Quran it says that hard work in this world is rewarded in the next. Use this time well. (a pause) Did you apply for the medical coaching at Uchash? Babu: Udvash Baba. And no, they will start taking classes from the first week of June. Abba: Did you buy the books at least? You should be up to date with the syllabus before the first classes start. The best learning is self-learning. Learn it yourself first and then it will be easier to learn when you are doing classes. Babu (clearly lying): I bought a few of the books. I'll get changed and start studying soon. Abba: Good. Good. (He lights a cigarette and inhales thoughtfully). There is nothing I would like more than to see you become a rich and successful doctor. Except maybe a new car.Or a new television. [Abba leaves] {Babu walks over, takes his camera from out of his backpack and looks through the pictures he has taken.} Babu (talking to himself, as though another person is in the room): Hey ma. Hope you are doing well. I went out to meet with a few of my friends today. Took the camera and I got some really great shots. I got this really nice picture of Sadman kicking a football in mid-air. I had to use a really high shutter speed to do it and the sunlight is giving him a really nice glow. It looks amazing. I wish you could have seen it. [He moves throughout the room, while talking for this part. It is clear he is restless. He casts a furtive look at his table, on it is a calendar.] Babu: Abba wants me to study for the medical admission exams. I will do it soon Ma, don't worry.I have time. My A levels just ended a week ago so I want to take a little bit of a break and work more on my photography. Nothing that serious. Just go throughout the city and take pictures. Remember how angry you used to get when I would take pictures of you when you weren't looking and they made you look really bad? Well today I sort of did the same thing with this girl in my class – Rehnuma. She got so mad. She threw a can of Coke at me. Thankfully it didn’t hit the camera but my shirt got ruined so Sadman let me borrow one of his. [He chuckles, laughing for a moment and then as the laughter dies, his smile fades away] Babu: So about the photography project I was telling you about right? I want to make a series of pictures about Dhaka and I want to use it to change the way people talk about Dhaka. Everyone is always complaining about how horrible and unliveable this city is but I want to change that perception with my pictures. Despite it’s problems, it is our home and sometimes we should appreciate it. It’s going to be great. Babu: Anyway mom, I got to go. I hope you are happy and you are thinking of me. I miss you a lot. I'm sure Baba misses you as well. (Momentary fade to black to denote the passage of time) Scene 2: Babu is studying when his father walks in. Abba: How goes the studying? Are you working hard? Babu: Hmmmmm. (He doesn't reply, his face is screwed up with concentration) Abba: Your cousin also passed with you this time – Risalat. He will be giving the medical exam as well. I don't understand why my younger brother is making Risalat even try to give the exams. That boy barely passed kindergarten. The only reason he has even gotten this far is because of Tanim's money. I am sure the same thing will happen again. My brother will use his wealth and buy his son a position at one of the public medical colleges.(a pause as he pontificates about the higher truths of life) Allah blesses some people in life with everything and the rest he makes suffer. But know this Babu, those who live lives of idleness and excess in this world are punished in the Hereafter. Babu: Risalat isn't as dumb as you say he is. He is a decent student.
Abba: Good student? Has my brother been paying you to say nice things about his son? That boy is a fool. He didn't even get a Golden in his HSC exams.(He moves around the room, not making eye contact with his son, as though he is steeling himself to deliver something radical) Abba: Listen son, people like Risalat don't have to be smart and they don't have to work hard in this world. Your uncle is very well to do – so well to do in fact that Risalat can go through his whole life never having to do a job and still live better than a king. You, on the other hand, don't have that luxury. So it is imperative that you succeed. I did. I worked hard every day when I was your age and look at me now. [His father coughed – a long throaty cough reminiscent of a gunshot] Babu: Abba are you all right? Abba: I am fine. When you become a doctor, you can cure me of whatever this fucking cough is. Get me a cigarette from downstairs won't you? Babu: You are going to smoke instead of seeing a doctor? Abba: Yes I am. When you get your degree, you can diagnose me and tell me what’s wrong. (he leaves) Babu: I don't need to be a doctor to tell you that you should stop smoking. Abba: You need to be a doctor to get me to listen to you.(he says from out of earshot) (Fade to black again – the passage of time) Scene 4: Babu is studying. The lights are dim and he has a look of intense concentration on his face. He is visibly frustrated]

Babu: Ughghhg, I can't do this. This is too hard. [He gets up and moves towards his camera. He fiddles with it, takes a picture of his room and a smile lights up on his face] Babu: Hey ma, hope you are doing well. I am just taking a break. I've started studying and it’s harder than I thought it would be. The exams are four months from now and I think I will have enough time to complete everything before it begins. Abba is Abba. He keeps coming in everyday to motivate me and get me to work harder and I am. I've taken to waking up at four in the morning, making myself a cup of tea and then going through my textbooks. Of course, the tea is not as good as the tea you make - made. I wish I could have learned how you do it – I've been trying for years now and I still fail each and every time.(A pause) The photography project is going well. I’ve submitted it for consideration for the Andrew Schumman Scholarship. It’s this programme which gives you a great opportunity to study photography in New York City. I haven't told Baba about it. I don’t think he would like it that I am messing around with this stuff but I figured, why not try right? I have nothing to lose if I try and it is extremely competitive – they only award 50 candidates the scholarship in the whole world every year. (There is an aching sadness in his voice here, a pause, a silence, part of him wants to be comforted, to be encouraged but there is only silence – perhaps a 10 second silence as he thinks) Remember when I used to take pictures of you using the Polaroid camera uncle Tanim gave me? You used to tape them all over the fridge and Dad would always come home after work and say how you looked better in the pictures than in real life and you would hit him and laugh. [He stops, tears are streaming down his face and he becomes choked with it.] Babu: Sometimes I wish things would go back to the way they were. I know they won’t but I wish they did. (A pause) I'll go back to studying now. [He leaves the camera behind and sits back again at his desk. He doesn’t study – just sits there in the silence.]

Scene 5: Babu’s room. Babu is walking in with his camera in his hand and his books on his shoulder. Abba is sitting there, smoking a cigarette.

Abba: What are you doing? What is that in your hand? Babu: Just my camera. Abba: Why is it with you? Have you been taking your meaningless photographs again? Babu: Abba I like taking photographs. Abba: So what? Take photographs later when you are older. Now is the time for you to study. Now is the time for you to make something out of yourself, not waste your time taking pictures. When you are old and rich, you can take as many photographs as you want.I wish that Tanim had never given you that camera as a gift when you were younger. [Babu doesn't reply. The hurt on his face is apparent.] Babu: Abba....I.... Abba: I don't want to listen to your excuses. Go work. Now. All of this is getting out of hand. Babu: I am sorry Abba. Abba: Don't apologize. Don't waste any more time. Time is the most precious resource in the world and if you use time properly, you can do anything. Take a look at the Grand Canyon – have you ever seen it?
Babu: ..... Abba: The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Wonders of the World that Allah has given us. This immensely beautiful thing was made by a small river and by time. Each day the river cut a little bit of the rock beneath it and over a thousand thousand years, the rock became the Grand Canyon. [Babu leaves halfway through his father's speech.]

Scene 6 : Babu is walking around his room, book in hand.

Babu: (muttering under his breath) The powerhouse of the cell is the mitodondria – no. Fuck. It's mitochondria. Mitochondria. (He throws the book he was reading in frustration and wrings his head in his hands.) Babu: What am I going to do? The first exam is the day after tomorrow and I am not prepared at all. Ma, this is so much harder than I thought it would be. I feel like whatever I learn each day completely wipes away what I had learned the day before. Babu: I have to work harder, I know. That's what Baba would say – keeps saying and yet I am studying it as hard as I can and nothing is happening. Ma, I feel like I am running as hard as I can but each step I take sends me backwards. What am I going to do?
[He starts crying, wordless sobs] Babu: I have to work harder. I will get up earlier from now on. I will get up at three in the morning and start studying again and then, maybe I will make more progress.

Scene 7:Babu’s room. Abba is sitting there waiting.

Abba: How did the exam go? Babu: It went all right. (he looks tired – there are dark circles under his eyes) Abba: It cannot go all right. It has to be much better than that. You have to be the best. Babu. What are you doing with your life? (he smokes a cigarette and coughs immediately.) Babu: I'll do better in the next one. Abba: When is the next one? Attitude like that is why Bangladesh is the way it is. That next time will never come. If you keep putting your responsibilities into the future, soon they will catch up to you. You are a grown man now. You have to make your own decisions and you have to realize that your decisions have consequences. Right now it seems as though what you are doing won't matter but it all does. It all matters. Your actions define who you are. If you don't do well in the first exam then you won't do well in the second exam. If you don't do well in both, you won't get to be a doctor and it will all have been for nothing. Babu: I will baba. Don't worry I will.(this part should be said as though he is trying to convince himself more than convincing his father) Abba: Good. I have to go see your good for nothing uncle now. Be the best in your class - After all we have done for you, that is the least that we can expect. [Abba leaves] (Babu on the verge of tears – he moves towards the books on the table and tries opening one. He is shaking, visibly shaking. He opens the book and his copies and tries to read them but a few moments later, he throws them away in frustration) (This part is spoken softly, almost to himself, in desperation) Babu: I don't know what to do Ma. I really don't. I didn't tell Abba the truth about my results. I did very badly. Bottom ten percent of the class. They didn't post the individual marks but I knew. What am I going to do? Even if I get a perfect score in the second exam, there is absolutely no chance that I am going to get in Dhaka Medical. Absolutely no chance. And I don’t want to apply for the private ones either – I know we don’t have the money and I don’t want to ask Baba for it either. The funniest thing is the Schummann people emailed me – they accepted me in their program. Can you believe it? I want to go – it would be so good for me to study there but Baba won’t let me. I know he won’t. I don’t know how to tell him. What am I going to do? I wish you were here. I wish you were here to tell me that everything is going to be better but you aren't and it sucks. I don't want to disappoint Abba and I don't want to disappoint you but I can't do it. I don't think I can. Every time I sit down to study it’s like my mind is torn into two … I need to go out. I can't do this. I can't. (He puts his face in his hands He punches the wall.He lets out a howl of pain and frustration, staring at the wall. After a long moment, he looks up at the audience) Babu: I don't like medicine. I don't like medicine at all. I don't want to study it and I think I've been too afraid to admit that to myself. Is that why? (He becomes excited – as though he has just reached a Eureka moment) Maybe that's why its been so difficult to do this. Maybe that's why, no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to make any headway in this field. Is that it Ma? Is that why? (silence again) It’s because I am not suited for it. Oh god. Why didn't I see it before? I would much rather take photographs and be a professional photographer than a doctor. Thank you Ma. I have to tell Abba this. I have to tell Abba that I don't want to a be a doctor and that I am going to take the scholarship.

Scene 8: Babu is pacing the room. He is nervous and wants to talk to his father. His father arrives angry. Abba: Babu make me some tea would you? I have had such a terrible day at work. Babu: Yes Baba. (Babu goes and brings a cup of tea for his father – the Baba is pacing the room in the meanwhile, alone. He looks at the pile of books on his son’s table and a small smile is on his face) Babu: I want to talk to you for a moment. Abba: What is it? (He sips the tea, savouring it) Babu: Abba …….. Abba: What are you doing here? You should be studying now. This is the most crucial time. The things that you learn in the last one month will shape your future. These are the things which you will remember the most well during the exams. Babu: Yes baba, this is what I want to talk to you about... Abba: Don't disappoint me. I've always been so proud of you. Compared to my brother’s idiot son, you are a treasure. Did you know what that fool is doing now? He wants to be a writer. (laughter) What a joke. While good, honest people are working hard every day to put food on the table, Risalat will sit at home, spending his father’s money and be a writer. I am surprised that boy even knows how to put a few sentences together. I told Tanim – don't worry. When Babu is a doctor, he can treat your son for free. You should have seen the look on Tanim's face. (he laughs again). I know it is wrong but I find it greatly amusing that my son, business tycoon and toast of Dhaka city, does not have the talent to raise a half decent human being. (Abba sits down now and starts reading the paper.) Babu: I want to talk to you about something. Listen,(he steels himself) I don't want to be a doctor anymore. I don't think I ever have and I don't think I am suited for it either. The only reason I am even studying medicine is because of you. I have no interest in studying it and I don't want to do it anymore. I would much rather be a photographer. I love photography – whenever I am behind the camera, I feel as though I am free. I’ve received a scholarship for a program in America and I want to take it. It’s one of the best photography programs in the world. Ansel Adams helped found it. [Abba continues reading the paper.Listening] Babu: I want to make a living as a photographer and I know that it is something that I am really interested in and something which I really care about. I can't say the same for being a doctor. Babu: (pauses) I know that it hurts to hear this but this is what I want to do. I don't want to disappoint you Baba but I don't want to disappoint myself either. I know that I can make a living as a photographer – maybe I won't be able to make as much money doing this as I would have done if I had been a doctor but it’s what I really want and it is something which I think will make me incredibly happy. [He waits for his father’s reaction] Abba:(turns over the paper.) Did you say something? I wasn't listening. I can't believe the gall that the Prime Minister has. How dare she. You understand something son. This nation is run by a bunch of thieves and liars. Babu: Abba listen. I don't want to be a doctor. I want to be a photographer.I’ve gotten a scholarship I want to make a living doing something that I enjoy, that makes me happy. I don't want to waste my youth shut up in a hospital. Please Abba. Listen to me. Don't make me study to be a doctor. Please. [Abba looks at his son – it looks as though some realization creeps into his face and then it is gone] Abba: Why are you standing here? You won't get into Dhaka Medical College if you spend all day staring at me. [Babu leaves without saying a word, tears in his eyes.]

Scene 9: Babu is studying. His camera is nowhere to be seen. His room is stark and is filled with books.

Babu: Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine and Guanine are the four base pairs. The chemical buildup of glucose is C6H12O6. The arm is made up of the ulna, the humerus and the ........arrghgh. (He pounds the table and runs his fingers through his hair. He looks deranged) Babu: I can't do it. I can't do it. I can't do it. I am a failure. I tried talking to him Ma, I really did. I told him and he didn't listen to me. He didn’t hear a word I said. He kept reading his stupid paper like he always does. I tried telling him what I wanted to do with my life and he didn’t even flinch. It's like he couldn't hear me. I tried a couple of times but it seems like he can't or won't listen to me. I can't do this anymore Ma. (he becomes quiet) Babu: I am sorry. (a pause – a silence, to build up the tension) Babu: I am sorry to you and to Abba as well. I am sorry that I am not the son you wanted. I know what is going to happen tomorrow. I can see it so clearly you have no idea. I am going to go to the exam hall and then whatever I write will not be good enough. When the results come, Abba won't even talk to me – he will just look at me as though I am a stranger.I will be worse than Risalat in his eyes. He will think I betrayed him. I can't do it. I can't bear to have him look at me like that, I don’t want to be a disappointment to him or to you. [He sobs for a long time and then he grows quiet.] Babu: I won't have him look at me like that. (his voice grows resolute) [Babu moves the chair in his room. He finds a belt and loops it around the top of the door frame.] Babu: I won't have him see me like that. [The scene fades to black. Sad mournful music plays in the background – sort of like the music from Requiem for a Dream]

Scene 10: Abba is sitting in the drawing room. He has a thousand yard stare. A cigarette is smouldering in an ashtray, filling the room with smoke. (he goes through the motions – he gets a cup of tea with shaky hands and drops it. He opens up a paper and tears it trying to do so. Eventually he sits down, his only companion, the silence.) Abba: (in a timorous voice) Is he with you, my love? Is he up there as well? (pause here) I miss you both so much. I'm sorry I've failed you. Shamina, my heart, if you see our son, could you ask him why? Why did he do it? He didn't even leave behind a note or a letter. Just a bunch of pictures of Dhaka on his computer. They were so beautiful – I never realized how talented he was. Can you ask him for me please? I've always wanted to motivate him to do better, to not make the mistakes that I've made in my life and to make a good future for himself. I was being a good parent wasn't I? (He cries here). Abba: Could you ask him why he didn't just talk to me about what was bothering him?

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