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       Volume 11 |Issue 30| July 27, 2012 |


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Tree of Life

Syed Maqsud Jamil

Human life is nearest to a tree in its extension. It has much relevance for Bangladesh society where extended kinship carries much importance. Even the family of a third cousin is considered close. A gentleman was telling me that they had a very warm and effusive cousin visiting them on a regular basis. The visiting cousin called his father 'Sajon Mama'. He was a banker and he described in his inimitable style how much he was occupied between his house and his profession. It was strange that the gentleman never cared to find out how he was related to him. He died and the gentleman found out that he was his third cousin.

Such occurrences are common in our society. It was common knowledge among our friends that a celebrated politician during the Pakistan period was the paternal grandfather Dada of one of our friends. Later I came to know that the father of the editor of a popular newspaper magazine was the son of that celebrated politician. Once I raised the matter with the lady. She was happy but could not make out the exact relationship, perhaps because my information was sketchy. On enquiry I found out that the celebrated politician was the first cousin of my of friend's paternal grandmother. Yet my friend is close to the editor's father, his third cousin.

Even Westerners are interested in their family tree. In George Clooney's 2011 famous movie Descendants the lead character Clooney a solicitor and his large number of cousins had a reasonably large prime property in Oahu island of Hawaii. The property was the legacy of their great-great grandmother who was a native Hawaiian. When the solicitor Clooney was to take a vote on selling the property 150 cousins turned up!

Extended family however is not common in western society. American society is a melting pot of ethnic communities particularly from all over Europe. White Americans can naturally take interest about their ancestry, their family tree. So there are Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Polish Americans, Russian Americans so on and so forth. There is an American gentleman who told me that they have American Indian blood in their family, one of their forefather married an American Indian woman.

Shamsuddoha, Rhytham of Nature, acrylic on canvas.

Queen Victoria is the great-great grandmother of both Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip of United Kingdom. They are distant cousins. The only sibling of her father King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 and her father George VI became the King. Queen Victoria's three uncles did not have any children. She became the Queen in 1837 and married her first cousin Prince Albert in 1840. They had 9 children in the 18 years of married life; they were all healthy. Just the right number for the family to branch out. The lives of monarchs and royal families are always interesting subjects. But life that does not have a name and fame has a story too!

Many things have been said about life; John F Kennedy, who was born to wealth and fame, summed up the ironies when he said, 'Life is unfair'. Indeed the dispensations of life are matters to brood on. Excepting the fact that life is to end in death it follows no set rules. It is an enigma that 'puzzles the will'. Why too bad things happen to too good people and it is not infrequent that even too bad people prosper and get on with ways 'a little better than a beast'. Many questions take hold of the mind – why devastation visits the unsuspecting, why the time of celebration turns into lifelong punishment when the festivities of the world go on. Some branches bear fruits and flowers while there are scrawny dried ones with pensive birds perched on it. The tree of life in the fundamentals of its creation has its own plan for mankind.

My 80-year-old neighbour gave his pretty daughter in marriage to his sister's son, a handsome lad, so that the bonding would become stronger. Their boy, fair lovely and healthy was growing up well. He always drew my attention for his liveliness. A year back I saw him walking with a warped body, limbs deformed, his every step was a struggle that took utmost effort. It is a genetic disease that has taken hold of him. His mother soon became a manic-depressive that devastated her. The disease has no known cure!

One of my closest friends of youth was the only son of his widowed mother who lost her husband at a young age. My friend was gregarious and was supportive of his friends. The tragedy came when he was only 20 and had just done his graduation. He committed suicide taking an entire vial of sleeping pills. Why did he have to go? There were no 'pangs of unrequited love'. What went wrong to make life a load he no longer could bear? Life is indeed enigmatic; so inscrutable in its complexities.

Jimmy Carter will be 88 next October. In a recent interview he was asked how he looks at death. He answered in an unperturbed manner that he has settled the matter and added that during vacation every year he invites all of his relations to join him and bears all the expenses of the trip. Quite a remarkable way of bonding with life.

The tree of life has in its sweep so many tales. They raise more questions more riddles; the answers stumble on the frontier of eternity. There was a family in Wari with perhaps the largest and loveliest compound. The gentleman an income tax official tended trees and flowering plants all around the compound with great care and application. As was the practice of the time he had a large brood of children 10 in total, one of them died of small pox in infancy. He was not a cruel man but he looked grim and talked very little that these traits did not bring the children any nearer.

The mother was kind caring that brought the children and visitors near. She spoke in the mellifluous language of Bardhaman Paschimbanga that made her even more endearing. But the children with the lone exception of a daughter who was the replica of her mother turned out headstrong, rebellious thoroughly possessed by rage and even neurotic. Only one son studied to become a masters degree holder in geology. The rest floundered on this side or that side of school finals. With the exception of the lady with the looks of her mother and two belligerent brothers the rest died between the ages 30 and 60. Parcels of land were sold out by feuding sibling; the rest was covered with shrubbery. Thus fared the children of the man who loved trees and plants.

Human beings cling on to life with great ardour but for very few of them life turns out a well-tended garden. Through centuries it has been an eternal question from where the tree of life draws sustenance, what kind of power draws the plans and why is it so wayward in its plan? Yet, we love life and find strength in kinship even in its remotest extensions.


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