Abdul Hamid and Ranga mia
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.
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.
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!