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|Volume 11 |Issue 04| January 27, 2012 ||
An Ode to Babbu
Today I talked to a cousin whose voice I hadn't heard in over a decade, and had a brief chat with my Cha, also after years. I had emails from my Phuppu and her daughter (my other cousin), and got to call home and talk to my 'rents’. I even managed to put in some face time with the brat (aka little sister) without one of us getting into a huff. It could have been a beautiful day, but it wasn't. Babbu was gone.
He's already sleeping near his parents, and I hope that has provided those who were there with some closure, but I'm sitting here miles away, and I never got to say goodbye, so this is it, one last memory trip before I let go.
My earliest memories of Babbu (a name that happened because little Sabs could not pronounce 'Bablu' the name by which his mom - my Dadi - called him) are intertwined with times spent with Roshana Apu, so this is much for her as it is for me. We spent hours digging in the garden, playing with the dogs, running our experiments in the kitchen (with Evy Chachi as our reluctant labrat), or talking Babbu into taking us with him to visit the farm he had at the time. It was with Babbu that I had my first ride on a deshi truck, and experienced the old-school buses, way before this fancy seating service came to be.
When the joint family split, and Evy Chachi and Roshana left, and then Cha, and Phuppu's visits with Phuppa and the cousins became rarer and briefer, and Pap was busy running back and forth from Chittagong on business, and Mom was teaching in school, Babbu was the one constant. He had stuff going on too, but he was always there when it counted.
I remember the many nights before my O levels when he'd be sitting in my parents' bedroom, helping me cram for my Physics exams, while simultaneously carrying on a game of Scrabble with Mom, and discussing cricket with Pap. Babbu was easily the wisest person I knew, and there wasn't a single subject I couldn't talk to him about without coming away feeling like I'd learned a lot. With his own daughter so far away from him, I believe he tried to compensate by showering affection on the other Taurean kid in the family. Me. He was always pushing me to learn more, know more. It was because of him that I developed an interest in things like numerology and astrology and dream interpretation and belief systems and went on to study Anthropology during my undergrads.
I went through a brief phase where I signed up with a performance literature group, and we put on a few shows. Every time I got on stage, I knew that no matter whether or not my parents or friends could make it, I could count on Babbu to be there, sitting as close to the front row as possible, and sometimes he'd even bring along a 'date' - Rezia Phuppi, Pitu Chacha, or Majid Sir, whoever he'd be able to drag with him.
Babbu wasn't perfect; I'm not going to gloss over his flaws just because he's gone now - because the one thing he always preached against was hypocrisy. His great sin was pride. He liked to talk big and didn't have much patience for anyone who didn't share his vision, and because of this, he didn't get along with a lot of people. He didn't shoulder a lot of his responsibilities, and sometimes created complications. During his final years, he had become very reclusive and more than a little batty. He was a deeply solitary man. But I believed it then, and I maintain it now - his heart was in the right place, even if his once-brilliant head wasn't.
This summer, when I went back to Dhaka, Babbu did something he hadn't for years - started joining us for iftar when Ramadan rolled in. We spent a whole month arguing about the relativity theory, and metaphysics, and a whole lot of stuff that went over my head. He even tagged along when we went to iftar with my Nani and Co. It was like he was trying to soak up as much family time as he possibly could.
The night before I set off, he gave me an embroidered quilt, which I initially dismissed as being too colourful, but then packed as an afterthought. As I type this, it's keeping me warm, as it has done ever since I moved into my sweet but drafty apartment. And even though this is the first time I'm living on my own, I don't feel alone. And I don't want to feel sad because he's gone now, because I'd much rather remember the times when he was there, and how my life was richer because he was. Vaya con Dios, Babbu. I love you very much.
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