<%-- Page Title--%> OneOff <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 153 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 7, 2004

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Of Abdul Hamid and Ranga mia

Aly Zaker

In a distant village of Noakhali, during the reign of King George the Sixth, the father of the present Queen of Great Britain, there lived a man named Abdul Hamid. There’s not much that could be known about him except that he was a great story teller. He could make a story about anything. His famous story, though, was about his trip to England. No one knows if this was a true story or not, but people who have seen him and are still around, do say that he was indeed away from the village for about a year when, as he had said, he was working in a ‘sea going ship’. This could well have been true because those were the days when many Bengalis used to go abroad on the ocean going vessels to various countries. Quite a few had stayed back and a few of them had returned to their native land. Abdul Hamid is reported to be one of those returnees. Well, let’s turn to the story about his visit to England, a story that travelled through generations and is still remembered. He would, for a cup of tea in a village tea shop bought by a benevolent listener, say this story with the pertinent frills that are usually associated with them.

Abdul Hamid was very keen to meet the King of England for a long time and that’s why, he said he had taken a job in the ship. On arrival in London, to put in Abdul Hamid’s language, he sought out the ‘king’s House’ and went to meet him. And then? And then? Asked the people around him. “Well it wasn't easy you know, what with so many Darwans and all,” said Abdul Hamid. “I told them to go and tell the king that India’s Abdul Hamid was here to meet him. The King immediately asked his men to fetch Hamid where the King was and apologised for the little delay that was caused to him for all the formalities.” “And where was the king when you met him,” asked a tiny boy. “Where else? He was sitting by his pond watching the Queen wash the rice to be cooked for their meal that day.” Some one else asked, “And what did the king tell you?” “He did not tell me any thing. He yelled at the Queen and told her that India’s Abdul Hamid is here, add one more morsel of rice and then asked me to sit by him on the steps of the stairway to the pond.” Abdul Hamid’s story of meeting the King might have been woven in imagination but that he was real and he used to tell this story is true as borne out by a very close friend of mine from the same village.

‘My story’ which is real, is a little different. I was riding on a bi-cycle on the Ashulia road on a Friday. This used to be a favourite past time with me until the road became mad in terms of speeding traffic by the thousands. When I reached the point where an embankment forks out to Mirpur, I felt tempted to explore that route. I felt that this embankment would definitely lead me to the Botanical gardens adjacent to the Mirpur Zoo. It’s just that I was not sure. There were some young boys loitering around there. So, I asked one of them, “Will this road lead me to the Chiriakhana (zoo)” I thought, young as they were, they would have little knowledge about the Botanical garden. They said in a chorus, “Yes, yes”. “How far is it?” was my next question. “Very far”, they replied. “How very far?” I asked. “Very, very far”, they said. I was still not satisfied. I wanted to measure the distance. But they, obviously, did not know it. At one stage one of the boys, the most ordinary looking of them all, came up to me and said, “You will really be hungry by the time you reach there”. This made me speechless. What a simple but realistic statement it was. “You will really be hungry by the time you reach there”. For these boys there was nothing more real, more telling and more expressive than hunger. I asked the name of the boy. He said his name was Ranga Mia.

If you took into account the difference in time between Abdul Hamid’s story and my encounter with Ranga Mia it will quite easily be a few decades. And our lives, especially those of the Abdul Hamid’s and Ranga Mias, were still bound together by a morsel of rice or the still indelible hunger. How easily the most real things in life get by passed so easily when our stomachs are full!



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