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     Volume 8 Issue 88 | October 2 2009 |

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Black and White Eid

Nusrat Jahan Pritom
For the old and forgotten only a place like Arunima offers solace.

Eid is a special day to celebrate with friends, family and loved ones. We put on our brightest clothes and happy smiles, and there are exchanges of hugs and warm greetings everywhere. The festive spirit of Eid is noticeable from the night before (Chaand Raat) when everyone gets exuberant and homes and shops buzz with people, music and food.

But far away from all the colours, a black and white Eid waits for some. They are the elderly people who live in the old homes.

What is the greatest gift according to most people in this world? Well, most would say it is parenthood. Spending this day with parents/children is, one can say, the main joy of Eid. But there are some unfortunate parents who are not even visited by their beloved children, for whom they have given up everything in life.

Fifty-four-year-old Maryam (not her real name) is one of the few inhabitants who was left behind in Arunima Old Age Home's Shyamoli branch this Eid-ul-Fitr. Although the administrators-- asked her to go to the Savar branch where many other old people reside, she refused saying, “I know my son will come here--he doesn't know the address of that place. So I will stay here.”

An embodiment of patience, Maryam is a perfect example of a typical Bangladeshi mother. Even though the home has staff to serve her, she tidies up the place and does all kinds of chores by herself. She keeps herself busy with these domestic duties at least in the 16 hours of her day. Although she does not need to do them, she searches every corner to see if something is not put right and treats the old home as if it is her own house. She said on Eid day, “I called my son last night at 2 am. He is busy you see, has too much work. But I am happy that he will come today.” But the son never turned up.

Arunima administrators say, she is one of those abandoned women, who, despite her previous life's sacrifices and hardships, is treated by the son as a 'useless' burden. Compassionate, hardworking, Maryam is all that a mother can be. As she grew older, she became more talkative, a tendency observed while aging. This began to irritate the son a lot. He used to snap at her when she would want to talk to him. In the son's eye- the meek, diligent mother quickly transformed into an acquiescent over-emotional parent. The mentality and behaviour as well as attitude of the son deteriorated, until he started to treat her like a servant. Finally a day came when he and his 'family' decided to kick her out.

Despite the truth, Maryam still believes in the goodness of her son. She candidly talks about her happy days, when her son won the first prize in school, got his first job, etc. She says them over and over again, tirelessly. Then in the middle she breaks off into stories related to her life, like the one about a Bangla cinema that she watched long back where the widowed father took a lot of pain to raise a son who only became a demon in time. In the story, the well-to-do wife of the son rebukes the husband and puts him right when he misbehaves with his father. Unfortunately for Maryam the truth is even bitter as neither her son nor her daughter-in-law misses this old and forgotten responsibility. Maryam also longs for all the playful times she could have spent with her grandchildren.

Sometimes strangers make better companions.

Like Maryam, all the other elderly people but two members spent Eid at the old home of Arunima's Savar branch. Many of them are high-profile who have seen a lot and earned a lot in life but are torn apart from a big, happy family. No gifts come to them nor do any visitors. “We tried our best to give them the best food and entertainment here, it is still a tragedy that none of their families came forward. Even the gifts they received were only from Arunima," says Salina Akhter founder of Arunima. Yet, in the words of the elderly residents, this was the best Eid they had, one which was different when compared to those they had in their own homes during the remaining days there. Maryam says, “I feel like I have been picked up from hell to be dropped into heaven. Here in the old home, there is so much love and respect. If God takes away something, He always provides another in a different way.”

In Probin Nibash, Agargaon, there were fewer staff members than usual, as most of them had gone to enjoy the day. Unlike most places of Dhaka, there was no music, no laughter, no celebration in the home this day. There was only emptiness and a longing and waiting for a loved one. Some were in the emergency ward. Nurjahan is such a patient. Her whole body except her face is paralysed. Nurjahan urgently needed blood and even though blood was managed, as there were no doctors in the hospital, her treatment had to be postponed till after Eid.

Although Eid has a special meaning for us, it was a mediocre, saddening day for some. Just as it was raining outside, in some people's hearts, it was also raining.



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