Dear Dada (grandfather), when you left this world, I lost my beloved friend and the grandfather. Taking care of me from the age of seven months was no easy feat for you and Dadi (grandmother), I know for sure.My earliest memories start with you waking me up from sleep, holding up the mosquito net, your arms extended while you recited self-composed witty rhymes in our home in Bongaon, Sylhet. While my mind would already be wandering off to climbing trees, swimming, and playing, you would remind me that I had to sit for my home tutoring. Dadi (grandmother), late Syeda Zebunnesa Khatun would not let me go out without finishing the lessons. You would promise to take me when you went to your daily rounds of land supervision. At times you would mention my Great grand-father, Late Khan Bahadur Dewan Muhammad Wasil Chaudhuri, and how he handled his affairs with an iron hand as a landlord of his time. But you were humble and cared about the farmers who tilled our land.
We ate together, went for fishing, explored our orchards, and sat under the moonlit sky. Our lunch with ‘kochur khatta', a dish made of arum leaves was a favorite shared meal. We would have poor little boys and girls hanging around the open doorway while we ate. You would call them one by one and hand them food from your plate. Dadi (grandmother) would worry that you are not eating enough, and so you would make sure that she was not around when you shared your food. That was one secret between us. In the late mornings when you went to check on the farmers and the lands they were working on, you would show the crops and tell me which ones were ready to be harvested. The way down to the paddy fields from our hill was tricky and you always held my hand, and if the path was slippery from rain, you carried me. Not a moment did you take a chance of me getting hurt. We would walk around the paddy fields, ones that were near harvesting, some getting new crops planted. The farmhands would be deep into the neck with work, wearing ‘lungi' and bamboo hats that were so like the sombreros. I found your life more exciting than Dadi at home and so I followed you everywhere. You were my hero with stories of tigers, wild boars and more.
You loved to go for bird hunting on the nearby hills and of course, I would nag until given the permission to join. Though now I am sorry for taking lives of the birds, I am sure your times saw hunting differently. It was no different to you than fishing. Summer was about going fishing together in our large pond below the hill. My fishing rod was only for small fish but we would count to see who got more at the end of the day. Fishing required endless patience and now I wonder how the restless little girl that I was, had that patience. One day my bait got a big fish, and I managed to pull it up. After taking out the bait from its mouth I fell over it and held on with all my life. It was too big for my small frame. The struggling fish hit me right in the face with its tail, and as I loosened my grip, it jumped right back into the water. Remember how I cried till you said it will come back the next day? Alas, the fish didn't ever come back, Dada.
You and Dadi (grandmother) taught me to believe in myself. When I wanted to swim across the whole pond, you just let me. If I was too tired to swim when half way through, I would be rescued, but you would not stop me beforehand. Because wild animals came down from the nearby mountains, you always had a loaded gun in the house. When I was around 10 years of age, I wanted to learn shooting, because I wanted to learn everything that you did. We had an air gun too, and so instead of saying no, you allowed me to practice shooting with the air gun.
Evenings were spent with you helping me with my school work. We used kerosene lamps at that time and reading at night was not easy. I disliked studying history, and it was a dilemma for you as you enjoyed teaching me about the Mughal Empire, the British Raj and more. To avoid history, I pretended to be sleepy or sick. And the day I got the new textbooks, I would tell you that I just wanted to flip their pages and not study. I knew that you could not say ‘No'. We would sit for long hours on the balcony of our bungalow, watching the ‘haor; that had boats sailing like toys in the east, and wonder about the unknown world beyond the mountains. Below our hill, paddy fields stared up at the sky in different hues of green. Well, Dada, by God's grace, I have traveled a bit and seen so much of this wonderful world. But I missed you with every step and even now, far in the land of America, I wish you were with me. When I see the evening star through the window panes, I know you are up there, sending me love and light.
I left you and Dadi (grandmother) to join my parents in the late 6o's and came back in the early 70's. I no longer was the little girl to be carried in your arms then. But you were there for me and still never said ‘no’ to my dreams. I wanted to ride horses and be a photojournalist. When I was ready for HSC exams, you promised that if I had a good result, you would get me a horse and a camera. On this February of 2018, tears fall on the keyboard of my laptop. You had come to Dhaka from Sylhet and were visiting us. One day you tripped and fell and then suffered from a fever. I was sitting near you, studying while you rested. Suddenly there were a few hiccups and then you were no more in this world. There was so much left to be shared with you, but God had other plans. Your physical being is not with me anymore, but the love you hold me with will keep me warm in this world as long as I live. May your soul find heavenly peace in your eternal abode.
(Tulip Chowdhury writes from Massachusetts, USA.)