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            Volume 11 |Issue 14| April 06, 2012 |


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Drifting Away

Syed Maqsud Jamil

The five boroughs of New York City in prehistoric time were one landmass. They drifted away to form five boroughs, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Long Island and Staten Island. They will never come together. Human families in increasing parts of the world are also breaking away and no longer live together.


There was a time in America and in Europe when a family had Grandpa, Grandma, Dad, Mom, and the kids. Grandpa was the patriarch of the family. He was generally not a stooped figure but a man of active habits smoking a cigar or a pipe reclining in armchair. Kids would get a dime from him to see a freshly released movie. The family was full and the joy was shared. Those days are gone. An American gentleman visits his 86- year old mother in Florida once in a year on her birthday. She has dementia.

In fact the bond in all families is the same no matter in which part of the world they live. Change is inevitable. The change is also coming to Bangladesh but not to the extent of the western world. The bond has yet not become a calendar event or the days earmarked for father or the mother's day. Here the family is still a matter of identity and tradition; building blocks of society.

There are still people who remember a time when the grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, uncles, father's unmarried and widowed sisters and the grandchildren used to live in the same mansion or in the same homestead. The grandfather ambled around with a walking stick, and a strong wooden chair to sit on. The landed gentry had horses to go to places and to the village market (hut).

My memory of childhood is a world that I laze into with great fondness. My father's maternal uncle, my grandmother's only brother younger to her was a blessed landowner with flowing white beard who galloped to the village market riding a white horse and lived to be 88. He kept his only son, daughters, mostly married to cousins, his nephews and grandchildren all around to make his homestead humming with activity and joy. My grandfather, a police official, died long ago in 1932.

In those days, my grandmother use to sun in the corner of a column crushing betel leaf preparation in a wrought iron mortar with a thistle. The children used to huddle around her and she regaled them with 'kissas' (fairy tales) - there was a King and Queen they had a paragon of beauty daughter Kankabati, but a pall of gloom enveloped the land for the princess had been put to sleep by an evil old hag of a fairy, Hiramon - a dashing prince braved all odds to get hold of the jion kathi (life restorative wand) and the princess woke up and they were married. Her grandchildren were left in a trance. These were tasks that gladdened her heart when a flickering life was nearing its end. My 'Dadi' used to put some mashed betel leaf preparation into my mouth and my heart melted. My grandmother died. Her sons-her brother's nephew drifted away, his only son was a purring cat, not a crown prince. His homestead and mosque were devoured by the mighty Padma. He stuck gamely against the howling wind of the sandbank (char) of Padma. My father was in a way similar to his Mama. He was a simple and ordinary village folk, who tried to strike a root in Dhaka, but did not succeed and kept returning to the char. When change comes, a family that was becomes another country.

Image: Courtesy
Photo: Courtesy

The lady that stands out for remarkable resilience in attending her family duties is a renowned author who lives in a dimly lit two-storied grimy building in a corner of Wari along with her physically challenged daughter a notable painter herself. Her family is here and the voyage must go on.

There is a gentleman from Gaibandha who looks after his struggling business in Dhaka and has a brood of middling students of children. His brothers and sisters are scattered all around. The eldest brother, a school teacher, stays home and looks after their bedridden mother. The gentleman laments but rationalizes the realities of life, bujhlen na (don't you understand) life is like a bird, it builds a nest, lays and hatches the eggs, the chicks are raised, the bird helps the chicks to learn to fly, and one day they soar on their wings and never come back to the nest.

I live in a small house with my wife and daughter. Our only son, a banker lives abroad with his wife and three children. There was a time when I used to whine to my wife that the house was crowded. I was downright selfish! Three years back he got a new career opening abroad and left with his wife and three children. Now they are gone! The small house looks brooding and solitary.

For grandparents, the hardest reality to face is to be far from grandchildren. My eldest grandson often used to call up my cellphone pleading for DVDs on video games. He immensely loved Alfred Hitchcock's Birds, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Chronicles of Narnia and Slumdog Millionaire. On returning home with the DVD I used to tell him to close his eyes, to put his hand forward and then told him to open his eyes. He used to prance around with the DVD. His happiness reminded me of my childhood.

It was my habit to bring home seasonal fruits after Jumma prayer. He liked sofedas and occasionally jamrul. He used to ask the names of the fruits. I told him these are Banglar Phol (the fruits of Bengal). From then on all local fruits became Banglar Phol. I no longer bring Banglar Phol. Who would appreciate that? He is not there.

When he comes home, he shares my room. We talk past midnight. He likes geography, history and a little bit of English language. He wants to know so many things about geography, like which is the highest waterfall in the world. He loves pets, particularly dogs, like his grandpa. My dog died in 2005, and I have promised not to raise any dog for the neglect that savaged the one that died.

Every child is to drift away, so has my son, so will his son. Kahlil Gibran's couplet on Children aptly describes this. “Your children are not your children / They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. / They come through you but not from you, / And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. / You may give them your love but not your thoughts. / For they have their own thoughts. / You may house their bodies but not their souls, / For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

We are all drifting away to the destination that has no boundary. We arrive alone and leave alone leaving behind prints of memories in the hearts of those whom we call our own.


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