Saturday, November 1, 2008

My grand mother

I've been always waiting for this day to write something about my family. In school we had to write essays on family. I still remember how much I hated all those days. It used to be the most boring thing to do. Days and years have passed and then suddenly I felt the urge to write something about my family. I don't remember what exactly I used to write in the essays back in school. But I'm sure I never wrote what I'm going to write now.
I'd really love to write a novel some day about my family...
Let me start with my grand mother, my father's mother, Saraju Bala Das. She had died in 1986, when I was just 13 years old. I never spent much time with her. But I grew up with fascinating stories about her since my childhood days. Her life is one of the most enchanting ones I've ever heard.
She had lost her parents at a very early age and was brought up by her maternal uncle. This part of her life is least known to anyone in my family because perhaps she herself never told anything to anyone. None of her children had ever seen or heard about any of her relatives. The only time that she went to her uncle's home after her marriage was when her uncle had expired. She had taken my eldest aunt, then a toddler, with her and this aunt happens to be the only one who had seen at least a few of my grandmother's people from her maiden life. From the very fact that she was kept illiterate till marriage - and she remained so till her death -  we all could deduce very well that she didn't have a good life with her uncle's family. She was married off to my grandfather, who had been already married twice by then and had four children three of whom were even older than my grandmother at the time of her marriage. The first marriage of my grandfather had been sometime in the early childhood and the first wife had died even before he became an adult. The second wife survived longer and bore the four children. After the death of the second wife people had advised him to marry once again just to have someone to take care of the family. It was an arrangement, that my grandmother's uncle had done in lieu of some financial benefit, that my grandmother got married to Rajendranath Das, my grandfather when she was still in her early teens.
My grandfather never had much time to spend with my grandmother. He was a practicing Ayurved and stayed away from home for most of the time. My grandmother adapted herself into his family. All his three daughters, all older than my grandmother and already married with children, did welcome her into the house and called her 'Ma', something which even I remember. Very soon she engrossed herself completely into the various household activities. She became famous for her culinary skills and very soon she used to be invited to cook for the whole village in marriages - something that she kept on doing relentlessly.
Gradually she had six children, my father being the second youngest one. Her kids never got much of her time as she used to be always busy in work. My father was raised by one of her step-sisters, the youngest one from my grandfather's second marriage.
Gradually her kids grew up and got married. My the middle of 1940's the eldest two kids, one son and one daughter were married and settled in Calcutta. The other four kids were still in our ancestral village of Gaila in the Barishal district of present Bangladesh, when it was getting more and more clear that staying in Bangladesh would become difficult in coming years. The political unrest had already begun, communal riots were getting more and more common. People were hearing harrowing stories of Noakhali riots, where Mahatma Gandhi himself had to go in person to calm down tension. Finally when the partition happened it was decided that my father and his elder brother and sister would leave for India for good leaving behind their parents and new born toddler youngest sister.
I still remember how many times I wanted to hear each and every details of the last day at Gaila. My uncle, father's elder brother, remembers each and every minute detail of that day even after sixty years. After that fateful day my father and his two siblings never met their mother for the next seventeen years and their father ever. My grandfather had decided to stay back in Bangladesh despite the threat to their lives because he preferred that more than the ignominious life at relatives' place or refugee camps in Calcutta. But he didn't want his kids to risk their lives. But there was no one to take the three young kids - my father five years old, his elder brother and sister twelve and nine years old respectively - to Calcutta. So finally they sailed off on their own, banking just on their fates, to India on an eventful and never ending journey on steamers and trains amidst all unknown and hostile people and fear of getting killed anytime. I believe my father was too young to understand the enormity of the events. My uncle had a much tough time because he knew where they were headed. He knew very well that he might not see his parents ever in his life. At the tender age of twelve my uncle seemed to grow up a hundred years just in a few days.
The days in Calcutta were full of hardship but filled with life and hope. The next decade, when India was also struggling through its infancy after birth, shaped the life of my father and his siblings. Away from their home and parents, they were raised by their elder sisters. Finally by the mid sixties my father had become an engineer from Jadavpur University and his elder brother joined the shipping corporation in Calcutta. That was when my grandfather had expired and my grandmother came to Calcutta along with her youngest daughter. My father saw his mother and sister after almost eighteen years. It's beyond my imagination how my father would have felt when he met his mother after so long. I never asked him about this. Neither did he ever say anything about the day.
After that my grandmother survived twenty more years, saw each of her kids getting married and settled in life. She had seen all of her grand-sons and grand-daughters and also a few great-grand-sons and great-grand-daughters in her lifetime.
Till the last day she remained illiterate. But she never lacked any maturity. All her kids used to always seek her advises in most of the family matters till the last day of her life. Even I never felt that she couldn't write her own name. She knew most of the mythological stories to the finest details. She used to enthrall us with so many stories with moral values that I kept on wondering what actually she would have lacked in not getting a formal education.

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