Last year, my father fell severely ill.
Abba has had a stroke and was not doing too well; he had lost his gag reflex and could not eat or drink anything. He spoke very few words because even the simple act of speaking was too painful for him. Although one is never mentally ready to lose a parent, I somehow knew my time with him was numbered and I wanted him to know how much he meant to me so I wrote a tribute to my dad on Father’s Day. He was too weak to read and asked me to read it out to him. When I finished reading it, both of us were crying and my father just took my hand in his hands and I knew he appreciated every word. He did not speak much after that and passed away two weeks later.
It is his first death anniversary today.
Abba has had an eventful life. A few years after Pakistan came into being, he, a mere teenager, decided to move to a new country on his own when he realized that my grandfather would never leave India. He got admission in GC and supported himself by living with a family as a live in tutor and some other odd jobs. His early life taught me the importance of independent thinking and the value of hard work.
Fast forward a few years, Abba was working for State Bank and was posted in Dhaka when Pakistan army surrendered the Eastern half of the country. A day before Dhaka fell; Abba had to go to Rajshahi to attend some business and he left his young wife and little daughters – my mom and older sisters – in Dhaka. Mukti Bahini was on a revenge rampage and was killing any non Bengali person on sight. My dad’s colleague – a Bengali man – hid him in a barn in for a few days to keep him safe. When he came back to Dhaka, he saw his house taken over by a member of mukti bahini and his family was nowhere. He later found out that they were taken to India as prisoners of war. He crossed the border to India on foot, managed his way up to Nepal and was flown to Karachi with assistance from Red Cross. It was after many months that he found out that Ammi & my sisters – along with my maternal uncle and grand parents – were in Meerut as PoWs. My parents were reunited after 22 long months (thanks to Shimla Accord) in 1973.
I was born many years later, but I had always been fascinated with this story and made my parents repeat it again and again with all the details so that I can visualize about times and lives that were so different from my life of typical urban middle class monotony. Although both my parents had lived tough lives, lost everything they owned except for clothes on their backs, lost their way of life and had to move to a city they both never lived in before and spent so much time apart in anguish, not knowing whether the other person is alive or not, but they never said anything bad about Bangladeshis. My dad just remembered that one act of kindness and was forever grateful of his colleague who hid him in his barn and spoke fondly of his time and his neighbors in a place that is now called Bangladesh. Needless to say that it was my parents who taught me the value of optimism. Now that I am older and both of them are gone, I feel so blessed that I had such wonderful parents who always saw the best in everyone, who remained upbeat against all odds and lived a happy fulfilled life.
Generally, my luck is horrid, but I know I won the ultimate lottery in the parent department by having been blessed with Abba and Ammi who were both such good natured, loving, decent people. They taught us the value of human life, importance of patience and tolerance, the ability to laugh at oneself and that respect has to be earned and cherished when it is earned. I never had a chance to tell my mother how grateful I am for everything she had done for me because she passed away when I was just a teenager, but I am glad that I managed to tell Abba what he meant to me while there still was some time. My heart still aches terribly but I am also happy that they have had a good time here and left a legacy for us.