Finding My Long Lost Uncle
We were naturally thrilled when we boarded Sagarika Travels, a luxury bus from Kolkata's Hogg Market bound for Dhaka. It was the first time that my wife and I were visiting a foreign country; it was not a foreign country in the strict sense of the term for me since my forefathers had migrated from Barisal in 1947, when our motherland got freedom and the country was vivisected into two sovereign countries, India and Pakistan. Again, Bangladesh became an independent country in the year 1971.
"For how long will you be staying in Bangladesh?" asked the Visa officer at the Bangladesh Consulate in Kolkata perfunctorily after I had submitted the visa applications.
"I shall be staying for a couple of weeks in your lush tropical green and friendly country; and the Gateway to South-East Asia. My wife and I shall definitely try the Hilsa fish which is the most succulent in your country and also savour the many varieties of delectable pithas (rice pan-cakes)."
The Visa officer was seemingly pleased at my reply and added that I must not miss visiting Cox's Bazar which had the longest natural beach in the world as well as the Sunderbans, which had been declared a world heritage site. I nodded in agreement and thanked the diplomatic official for his travel tips.
We reached Dhaka in the afternoon to catch a bus for Barisal, the land of rivers, lakes and marshes; a veritable Eden in the south of Bangladesh. When we reached Barisal I could make it out without anyone telling me, due to numerous rivulets, streams, lakes, and profusion of coconut and nut trees in all its glory and lush paddy fields.
After checking into Samaddar Babu's hotel in Kath Patti, where in a bygone era all the houses were constructed of wood brought all the way from Burma, we ordered the hotel boy Suman to fetch some tea and snacks. All of a sudden, my wife declared that the long travel from Dhaka to Barisal had given her a horrendous headache. We went downstairs and asked the receptionist the way to the nearest chemist and were told that it was only a few metres away.
We went to the medicine shop to buy the palliatives for my wife. For some uncanny reason the shop with ancient wooden-wall panels looked immensely quaint and friendly. The pharmacist who was dispensing the medicine could make out from our body language and speech that though we were speaking in pure Bangla, we were certainly not from Barisal. He looked very inquisitive and was peering at both of us time-and-again through his thick horn-rimmed spectacles, and was not at all interested in dispensing the medicine. I felt that maybe for a long time he had not seen anyone from overseas, so he was very interested in us folks speaking in formal Bangla, which he was not accustomed to hearing in Barisal. The conversation that ensued went like this:
"From which place have you both come?"
"We have come from India to see the ancestral village of my forefathers. They had migrated from this town in 1947, to settle in India."
"You are Indian, Oh I see! Your forefathers migrated from Barisal in 1947 and settled in India?"
"Yes Kaku (Uncle). My father was working in the Customs Department in Ambala, in Northern India during the partition."
"Oh I see. My forefathers also migrated to India. One of my own brothers was also in Customs."
"My father was very fair and had an Adonis physique."
"My brother was also very fair and he had a very good physique. Tell me did you have any aunt from your father's side."
"Yes, but only one and she is now married and settled in Krishnagar in India."
"I also had one sister, the youngest of our siblings. Tell me about your grandfather, since we seem to have many similarities."
"My grandfather was a Zamindar and he was also an Honorary Magistrate of Barisal."
"How strange my father was also a Landowner and Honorary Magistrate. He was also very fond of hunting especially migratory birds roosting in lakes and marshes during winter."
"My father was also a keen hunter; he had a single-barrel American shot gun. Now, please tell me about your grandmother."
"My grandmother was a housewife especially good at whipping up fine dishes, especially Mughlai cuisine. She also used to make delectable fruit preserves and other relishes."
"Oh how strange; my mother was also an excellent cook and my father's British friends used to relish her meat curries and sweets. She also used to make good pickles and preserves in winter."
"Was your grandmother originally from Berhampore?"
"Yes. Again, how strange; she was the daughter of a clinician, a person holding Bachelor of Medicine degree from Calcutta, which was very rare in those days."
"My mother was also the daughter of a doctor holding a Bachelor of Medicine degree from Calcutta Medical College. Where was your father's original house in Barisal town?"
"I have not seen it yet, but I was told that it was near the main street of the town. In front of the house there was a big pond with ducks and water lilies."
"Our house was also near the main street in front of a water body as you have described!"
"These are too many coincidences. Was your house single-storied?
"Yes it was a big rambling house but was single-storied as all the houses in the road. Now please tell me was the house bang opposite Barisal Govt. College?"
"Oh yes. I am feeling dizzy thinking of so many strange coincidences. Was the house named 'Rakta Shapla,' a name christened due to the crimson water lilies in the pond?"
"Yes dear; our house was also named the same as you have referred to; the house belonged to my father Mr Sukumar Ray."
"That's my grandfather! That means you are related to me. You are my Uncle."
"Yes, with all the strange coincidences, which are no longer coincidences, I seem to be your lost uncle who was very young when he went missing during the partition upheavals. I could never find my family and I was brought up by a benevolent Moulvi, as his own blood relation; he is now at peace in Paradise. You are my eldest brother Pulak's son. I don't know your name; I am a fool how should I ever know your name, having lost contact with my family many years ago when I was a small boy, and almost forgotten about them, and I am seeing my dear nephew only today and that too in Barisal."
"Oh dear you are my Bancha Kaku (uncle). It has been so long! I used to hear about your childhood pranks from my father and other uncles. They still become emotional when they refer to you and keep thinking of what became of their dear brother."
I fell at his feet in respect and we both hugged each other. We couldn't stop crying. I almost sprinted to a phone kiosk huffing-and-puffing, to tell my other uncles and aunts that I had at last found my lost uncle and their youngest brother who happened to be still staying in our very own ancestral homeland, Barisal.
The writer is Administrative In-charge, Assistant High Commission of India, Chittagong.
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