June 9, 2010

The Bengali language has always featured prominently in memories of my childhood. My grandfather and his children spoke it fluently thanks to years (1940something to 1971) spent in East Pakistan. I can follow a conversation in Bengali almost the same way I follow Punjabi, Sindhi and, recently, Pushto. For a time, I’m told, I could speak the language. Perhaps with more time and exposure I could learn again, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been surrounded by conversations in Bengali. It’s been a long time since I’ve been at my grandfather’s clinic (once upon a time I used to go there to do my math homework every day, after school) and it’s been a year and eleven months since I went inside my father’s office.

Maybe I’ll get my chance to learn a little more Bengali this weekend when I hit Dhaka for a conference. It’s a one-day event and – given that I’m slotted to return on the 16th - I get barely two full days to absorb a tiny bit of the country my father called home. But as someone very wise once said, two days is better than nothing. So hey-ho-a-merry-oh, off to Bangladesh I go.

I’ve been to Bangladesh only once before, almost 15 years ago, enroute to India with my family. I remember very little about the country itself. My most vivid memories are of monkeys (so many monkeys) and of eating rice-I-did-not-like. The rice, since you ask, is not like the Basmati we’re used to. It’s called ‘mota bhat’ literally ‘fat rice’ and that’s what it is. I also remember it to be somewhat tasteless and in dire need of extra salt. But then I was an awfully nitpicky little snot when I was young, chances are this time round it shall be wonderfully delicious. I remember being awfully annoyed at the amount of seafood they ate, those Bengolis - almost as if it was a personal insult to my allergic-to-seafood self. But that was more than compensated, I remember, by the joy of eating  fresh, beautiful pineapples straight from the tree, into my plate.

Food aside, I also remember (of all odd things) walking down Coxs Bay (reportedly the longest beach in the world) and then going shopping (I was never, I believe, too young to shop) in Cox’s bazaar. I remember a green, green drive up and down hills from Dhaka to Narainganj (is that how its spelled) to Chittagong to Cox’s bay and then back. I remember the house my father grew up in. I remember hearing stories of a farm (which we did not see) which had a stream running through the back they all used to swim in a long-long time ago.

I remember meeting uncles, and aunts and little cousins (all of whom are still there). Actually, I recall very few of them, except one cousin who had just gotten engaged (actually, maybe he was my father’s cousin). I remember the engaged couple particularly because there was sort of event and my cousin/uncle’s fiancée sang a song for him, an old Indian song that said (among other things) ‘humein tum se pyar kitna, yeh hum nahin jaante, magar ji nahin sakte, tumhare bina’. I fell in love with the song, and my love (for the song) outlasted theirs. Last I heard, she left him for some man in India. But oh-well, such be life.

Na?

9 comments:

Lonely Perverted Soul said...

Yea such be life... :)

shahrukh said...

Our families probably crossed paths in Dacca. Spent most of my childhood there. Enjoy your visit. The sweets (mithais) are literally to die for. TC.

Anonymous said...

Interesting! Never been to BD myself but our neighbors were from Dhaka or Chittagong (not sure) and I literally grew up in their home. Plus my best friend's family is from Dhaka so I have eaten and loved machchi bhat.. yummy! :)

Aneela Z said...

fuck i am away from dhaka just as the neighbourhood got interesting...i return from melbourne on the 18th...any chance of you extending that visit?

Xeb said...

I have readers in Bangladesh? How utterly-utterly cool is that! :) Unfortunately I won't be able to stick around (booked back for the 16th) but I have a multiple entry visa, who knows I may pop by again soon! :)

Aneela Z said...

hey remember me? formerly of Melbourne? in Dhaka for the year?you used to visit the blog in its pre-mommy avatar.
pliss to visit dhaka before the visa runs out.I am trying to rope in Tazeen as well...apparently there is a little bit of Bangladesh in all of us.

Xeb said...

I still visit your blog regularly, I just forgot where you were. I'd love to come back for longer... here's hoping :)

Anonymous said...

U should try bhartas with the mota bhaat. AWESOME-NESS...and daal, of course.

Shankar said...

such is, sadly, life.