Chui Jhal, a spicy meat curry is a must in Khulna, I am told. It's a preparation local to the western part of Bangladesh with the principal ingredient being a fragrant and fibrous plant stem that renders a uniquely piquant flavour to the mutton or beef that it is cooked with. Like in most parts of Bangladesh and West Bengal, it is accompanied with bhat, or rice, that also helps in soaking the heat. I am warned the dish is not meant for weak tummies, but after not being disappointed even once with the food in Bangladesh, I am happy to ignore the warning.
Like with most good things, finding the right place to eat Chui Jhal means you have to trust the locals' sense of taste and follow their directions. Such places do not hit you just with a dash of flavour on your tastebuds, they create a story. One needs to follow the trail, take the narrow gullies, walk through the crowds, drive through the empty streets and smell the world's smells to prepare the senses for the climax. The appetite gets worked with the body wanting the food as much as your brain. It's all part of the recipe.
Chui Jhal maintains that allure for the locals, including the numerous cricketers that have come from Khulna. Some say it is food worth dying for. Mashrafe Mortaza, who started playing his first-class cricket in the town, is quite a fan and ensures he makes the trip to the roadside shops when he is in town. On the night of March 16, 2007, one of his closest friends, Manzarul Islam, made a similar trip too, a trip that happened to be his last.
Along with his friend Sajjadul Hasan, Manzarul was headed for Chui Jhal on a motorbike but lost control and collided with a minibus. At 22, Manzarul was the youngest Test cricketer to die. Sajjadul, also a cricketer from Khulna, died too.
The Bangladesh team received the news of the accident just before their World Cup tie against India, in Trinidad. The team was distraught but Mashrafe picked up four wickets in the match to cause one of the major upsets. He had wanted to win that match for his friend. On March 16, 2012, Bangladesh defeated India again in their Asia Cup tie. Mashrafe was the leader of the bowling there too, with 2 for 44.
A promising left-handed batsman who bowled left-arm spin, Manzarul played first-class cricket for Khulna Division along with Mashrafe. After three seasons, he graduated to the international level, making his debut in an ODI against England in 2003.
"He was a hard-working cricketer, someone who could bat and bowl," Dav Whatmore, who was the coach of the Bangladesh side then, said. Manzarul went on to play six Test matches along with the 25 ODIs but could not make a comeback after being dropped in 2006. He came close to playing an international at his home ground that year but could not find a place in the XI. He spent the evening broken and upset at his house near the north-western corner of the ground.
Manzarul was the youngest of three brothers but his mother now lives alone in their family home, a short walk from the Sheikh Abu Naser stadium. A narrow concrete road with small, simple houses on either side, all belonging to the extended family, leads to Manzarul's two-storey house, the last one on the road. Manzarul's mother receives us at the door and walks us through the house. Right after the verandah entrance is a glassed cabinet with numerous trophies. "Some of them have been burgled," Manzarul's mother says before leading us to the first floor, to his son's bedroom.
Along with his friend Sajjadul Hasan, Manzarul was headed for Chui Jhal on a motorbike but lost control and collided with a minibus. At 22, Manzarul was the youngest Test cricketer to die. Sajjadul, also a cricketer from Khulna, died too
The room with pink walls, two large windows and a double bed is basic but it has been maintained in the state Manzarul left it. There is an autographed bat by the wooden mirror, and there are the parrot green Bangladesh pads with their paint chipping standing on one corner on top of a BCB logo-encrusted cricket kit. There is a Vampire bat next to it followed by a wooden rack that has a row of shoes, all wrapped up in transparent plastic. To the other side is a big chest on top of which are probably Manzarul's most prized possessions. His two Bangladesh helmets and encased in a glass box, his forest green Test cap. Behind them is a picture of him taken at Lord's.
His mother also brings us an envelope with some old pictures. "I don't know why I live," she says. "Two years after my son, his father, too, passed away due to cancer." The sadness can be felt in her voice but she maintains her composure as she talks. "Mashrafe pays me a visit from time to time. He considers me like his own mother," she says. One of the regrets that Manzarul had was that he never got to play an international here, she says, before adding that part of the ground was built on their ancestral land.
In 2012, the BCB president paid her a visit before the ground's inaugural Test and asked if she needed anything. "I asked for a stand to be named after my son," she says. The BCB obliged within two days, naming the stand closest to their house as Manzarul Islam Rana stand. After spending half an hour, we leave quietly. The family's local friend then takes us to the grave, made on a family plot next to one of their houses. It's an unassuming mound in an unkempt garden of a deserted house the gate to which is locked. There is no tombstone. Unlike the brightly-painted banner under the double-arched roof of the north-western stand in the stadium, the only marker to the grave is a marble plaque with fading lettering on the outside of the boundary wall. In Bangla, it says -
Former Bangladesh national cricketer
Marhoom Kazi Manzarul Islam Rana
May 4, 1984 - March 16, 2007