Staring at the world through my rearview
G. Sumdany Don
It was a dark stormy June evening at Dr. Shahin Huda's chamber in Dhanmondi when my father suddenly shouted with more power in his voice than the raging thunderstorms outside, “It's a boy!!” Immediately my uncles and aunts stopped sweating, my grandmother stopped praying, my youngest uncle stopped flirting with the nurses, and my grandfather stopped walking to and fro throughout the whole clinic and declared to name me Md. Ghulam Sumdany. The name Ghulam which means, “The follower” and “Sumdany” which means, “The prophet who swims in God's sea of love” did not impress my father at all, but he gladly accepted his old father's wishes, as I was the first grandson and the first descendant of the Azimpur Family. My father, Md. Ghulam Dastegir, thanked my mother, Mrs. Nasrin Dastegir, and told her that he was a smart man to choose such a beautiful woman like her to be his wife who presented him with such a beautiful son! As my father's name starts with “D” and my mother's name starts with “N”, they together decided to add “Don” to my name. Later that night, my other grandfather gave me a gold locket on which it was written in Bengali, “28th June, 1985” on one side and “Don” on the other side.
I grew up just like a prince, pampered with toys, games, cartoon video games and a closet full of matching clothes. I was a devil in disguise and had a hard time hiding my tail inside my pants. I therefore would torture everyone and everything that came into my sight. Though I never believed in astrology, I was a pure Cancerian and somehow inherited all of its features, creativity being one of them. My mother would arrange my toys and I would creatively throw them out of the window; she would cook vegetables and I would creatively pour water on them after the cooking was completed; she would invite the next door neighbor and I would creatively slap the neighbor's little girl for wearing pink and so on. My mother was always mad at me and would occasionally ask my father, “Is it really our son?” I would sometimes get slapped by both my parents in random discrete motion. Both of them played equal roles in my life from childhood until now. It was never like I would hide behind my father in fear of my mother as I wrestled with all my father's ironed shirts, nor I would ask for a lollypop from my mother only when daddy was busy. They were both equally persistent in my life.
My father was the eldest among eleven and struggled a lot in his life. He never woke me up from my sleep even if it was half past 10 A.M as his father never had let him sleep after the Azaan in early dawn. He made me cute and chubby by feeding me two eggs a day as his eggs were always divided into four. He was a self made man. He met this beautiful and unbelievably smart young woman during his younger sister's wedding. She was wearing sleeveless kameez and her shoulders were glistening under the bright yellow wedding lights. “ You know Don,” my father still says, “Nasrin was an angel without wings and I almost had a heart attack after seeing the smile she gave me while adjusting her long black silky hair”. My mother on the other side saw a medium built, short, fair and extraordinary good-looking man who needed to take classes on “How to flirt”. But she was utterly impressed by the fact that my father was only 25 years old and was covering all of the expenditures for the wedding all by himself!! Moreover, his charming personality captivated her and as a result they got married after a six-month love affair and Mr. Don was born just after a year of their marriage.
My parents were always free and frank with me and talked with me about almost everything from sex to science”. My mother admitted me in Maple Leaf, an English medium school. In order to do so, she fought with my father and my relatives who thought English medium kids were a “bunch of hooligans”. After studying A, B, C, D at home, the gigantic school was like a jail for me. Though being the naughtiest of all, I always somehow managed to keep good relations with my teachers and this trend still continues. I was an expert cheater during exams; I never liked studies and only studied because my parents wanted me to do so. However, I always stood 2nd or 3rd in class and was a good student, until I flunked my A' levels. But that is a different story.
My father was a rich man during my early years and his financial condition fell down the stairs as I grew older. By the age of 8, I had already visited India several times and tasted all the mouth- watering food, visited Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia and toured throughout Bangladesh. But I was happier when my parents went to India on business trips and left me in my grandmother's house. My grandmother, who is my greatest love, is the most influential figure of my life. She was the only one who protected me when I did the magic trick of disappearing my cousin's birthday dress. Instead of scolding me, she would cook kachhi birani for me and feed me with her own hands.
This fair and kind lady from old Dhaka usually loved cooking, quarrelling with her daughters-in-law, arranging religious ceremonies, scolding my three uncles for ruining their huge inherited properties. But, above all, she loved me! Those days I still value and recall fondly. I guess my communicative skill, my forgiving nature and my “do something for your people and your country” attitude came from my dearest grandmother. Her house was always like Disneyland for me with my grandmother and a dozen cousins running around and freezers full of ice-cream until my youngest uncle and my best friend, Bappy mama, died.
Bappy mama's death was the most tormenting, influential and the most sorrowful moment in my life. He complained of chronic fever but nobody really paid any attention. Take one paracetamol tablet and it would go away, was the treatment. But it came back, again and again, and it was already too late when he discovered that he was actually suffering from blood cancer. Singaporean doctors said, “At best 3 months”. The news shook me and I spent every evening of those cold, nightmarish months visiting the 28-year-old extraordinary handsome and fun-loving man, and imagined how did he feel when he knew he would die so soon? My mother always told me, “Whatever Allah does is for our good” and I began to ask myself “Is this for our good?? An old mother will lose her youngest son, brothers and sisters will lose their brother and I will lose my best friend…IS THIS GOOD???” After about two and a half months, he was taken to the CCU. His condition became so bad that I once witnessed my mother screaming to Allah during her prayers “Please Allah take him to you quickly. I can't stand to see him suffer like this. Or shall I take a knife and cut his throat myself? What do you want me to do?” Soon his body swelled, he could not talk and could not move, except for those brilliant white eyes that carefully looked at all his loved ones and shed silent tears. I still remember those eyes. Those two eyes. It was a cold January morning of the millennium when those eyes finally stopped shedding tears, sending my grandmother into a coma, making his girlfriend half mad, and turning my blood into sand. The disquieting questions had turned me into an atheist after his death, forever making myself ask for explanations of God's purpose.
When my second brother Danny was born in 1990, I was very upset. Furthermore, when the third one who is short and fat like me, Donny, was born six years later, I was infuriated. “What is this?” I asked my mother. “I wanted a Diana or a Daisy but not a Donny! Why another brother? And why do you have to have the D and the N in all our names?” Anyway, now Danny and Donny have become like spices in an Indian dish. Without them my life just would not be “life” anymore and I can clearly see myself sitting, yawning and killing mosquitoes if these two mischievous brothers were not there.
In my teen years, I started to work in the media and performed in about nine television advertisements, music videos, hosted a cartoon show and did several works for the print media. My father also pressured me to start working and from the age of sixteen, I started teaching students. The number of students has risen over the years and currently I have about ten young kids calling me “Sir”. Now I realize why he had always deliberately pushed me to do hard work, to teach students, earn my own money, burn my own money, ride local busses and so on. These were done to teach me the hardships of life so that later I can enjoy the pleasure of success.
But when everything was going astray over the next couple of years, two great things happened in my life. One, I fell in love with this wonderful girl right before I was supposed to join a university; and secondly, I joined my university, ULAB. She is and will always be my true love and hopefully we shall marry as soon as both of us have jobs with decent salaries to support ourselves. After this guardian angel came into my life, everything changed for my betterment and once again I began to enjoy life. With constant support from this girl, my parents and ULAB, I once again became one of the very best. I became focused. I now dream to become the greatest film-maker in the history of Bangladesh. I have learned that success is to be measured not by the position that someone has reached in his life, but instead by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. My life is on the positive side. I forever loved my teachers and now I love my university. As a result, I have been recently awarded full scholarship with stipend, which is the highest honor given by the university. For all these reasons, today the sun shines brightly after the rain and I can see glimpses of heaven right here on this earth. There have been many ups and downs in my life, but now I look at it as a very interesting life. Life has been good so far, but as someone once said, “Miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go”, I realize that more exciting events full of pain, joy, laughter or sorrow are still to come. Till then, I just cherish the love I have and cherish the life I live.
(The writer is a 3rd year student of ULAB, dept. of Media Studies and Journalism and he has dedicated the article to his teacher and mentor, Dr. Kazi Anis Ahmed)