When we reached the airport it was a total chaos situation, children crying, people sleeping on the floor waiting for flights out of Dhaka, finally our tokens were accepted and we boarded a flight to West Pakistan via Nepal. When we reached Karachi my mom’s niece and her husband came to pick us up and we stayed with them for 5-6 months or longer , in the meantime my oldest married sister came with her 2 kids both under the age of 2, we owe a lot to my aunt and uncle,they are both deceased but we always pray for their Eternal peace. Later after my parents, my older brother and grandma all came to Karachi one by one and we rented a two bedroom apartment and moved in. The life of struggle began once again for my dad and older brother, at first my dad started a hosiery waste factory, and later bought a medical store in Mohammad Ali Housing Society which my brother started to run, my oldest sister found a job as school teacher to help support her family, my other sister who was studying to be a doctor got admission in Lahore, in Punjab province of Pakistan and left to study there, I started to study for my SSC (secondary school certificate) exams and my younger brother got admission in elementary school.
Slowly and steadily we started getting used to our new surroundings and a new country. Let me tell you it was not easy. The year was 1971 and it was a new beginning for all of us.
Thus we left friends, neighbours and birthplace (my Jonmobhumi in Bengali ). It’s been 40 plus years and I have not gone back but I have noticed that as I grow older I remember more and more my years and way of life in Dhaka. Maybe someday I will travel there to see my old school and home. My sister Choti aunty went there about 5 years ago and said everything was different and she said the memories are better left alone. What a strange thing memory is, it can make us happy ,sad, elated, we can choose to live with it in happiness or wallow in pity. There are days when I remember my deceased parents in happiness and there are days when I cry at the smallest pretext thinking about them, but I am thankful for my memories.
I have so many thoughts in my mind but just can’t seem to sit down and put it in words, sometimes I have morbid thoughts about how disabled I have become and how I have ask for help for little everyday things, can’t drive so again someone has to drive me (in a way I am being pampered ) and I should be happy but I keep thinking what a burden I must be. I think that is enough melancholia for the day, on the bright side the sun is shining and my daughter is graduating from university on June 14th, and my daughter-in-law has a birthday on the 13th and then my daughter’s birthday on the 28th, yeah, fun things to look forward to and count my blessings for such a big hearted family.
Back to my childhood memories of Bangladesh, when there were no gadgets to play with, so we made our own straw dolls, and made clothes for the dolls with scraps of old dresses, played with marbles, and game of 7 stones, or roll old richshaw tires on the street. The only other thing before we got TV was an old Bose radio and gramophone player and everyone would sit around it to hear cricket commentaries and news. On Sundays all of us had to wash our canvas shoes and then once it dried in the sun then we had to polish them and then my dad would check for spots, as school teachers were very fastidious in those days and more so because we went to convent schools.
Everything started to change in 1970, when there a revolution brewing in the air, us kids were not worried as we were born there and all our friends and neighbours were Bengalis, but our elders were worried as we were the minority Urdu speaking people now, every night there were demonstrations and clashes, suddenly we were not allowed to go out and play and were mostly confined in our homes, schools and colleges and universities were having strikes and lockdowns, we were very scared, and then in beginning of 1971 the war broke out and now our parents had to decide what to do, immigrate to West Pakistan and start all over again thus become a mohajir once more or stay put in Dhaka. As the situation started to worsen one of my dad’s Bengali friend told him to send my sister and myself and younger brother to relatives in Pakistan immediately, I was 14, my sister was 19 and my brother was 8 at that time, so through another friend dad got us tokens to get out of the country, I still remember the day we left, my mom took us to the airport, we were stopped twice on the way and my mom said she was taking us to an uncle’s house, my dad was standing near his shop in Bait ul Mukkarram and waved us goodbye as our Richshaw went by, so with one shopping bag of clothes for the 3 of us we left our country, leaving behind family, friends and childhood.
It’s been a week since I last wrote something, and since all my children are asking me to write more about my childhood I am retracing my steps back to the time I was growing up, as I have already mentioned that we were living in an open style house with a courtyard downstairs and upstairs between the rooms and we had a water-well downstairs, one vivid memory of that house is the day my older sister slipped and fell into the well, it was evening and we were getting ready to go to Jamat Khana for the evening prayers (I still remember it was Chandraat that day )and suddenly we heard her voice calling for help, everyone started looking and her voice was traced to the well, in a panic all of us were screaming for help and our neighbour’s servant came running and had a quick sense to climb down and bring her up safely, we were forever grateful to him and to this day we talk about that incident and how she was saved.
The other thing which has stuck with me was how my oldest sister used to take care of us and especially me, I was very very attached to her as she was the one who would talk to our father on our behalf and he would always listen to her, so if anybody needed permission to do something or go somewhere we would ask her.
My older brother was the one who would always be bringing new comics for us to read and would bring these paratha sheesh kebab rolls that were to die for, to this day he knows where to buy the best street food in Karachi.
My younger brother was and still is the baby of the family, he was such a cute fat baby and was born in Bangla Bazaar hospital, I remember the day he was born even though I was only 6 at the time, he was born during the monsoon season, it was pouring rain and my grandmother and I were at home and my grandmother was cooking something and suddenly there was a fire in the kitchen and once again the neighbours were there to put out the fire, these memories are something I cherish of my grandmother and how she doted on my brother and would take him to all the baby shows held back then for the healthiest baby in the community, he won tons of prizes, he is still healthy, no one better call him fat, he is healthy….
When I start to write all the memories come to haunt me and how all 5 of us siblings grew together, how we used to spend time, playing, fighting and laughing together and what a turn that we are now all over 50 and 60 years old and all of us are so far from each other. 2 in Karachi, 2 in two different states in the USA, and me in Canada, but thank goodness for Skype we can keep in touch with each other regularly
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I am still typing with one hand due to the sling on one hand so I don’t write as often as I want to even though I have enough time on my hand ( excuses,excuses as my children would say), I am still not getting a hang on how to express in words all the millions of things I would like to write.
I will continue with my journey from Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) to Karachi Pakistan. It all started at the end of 1970, by that time due to my dad’s hard work he was finally able to retire from the bank and buy a medical store in Bait Ul Mukarram, a big shopping complex, my older brother was running it after he completed high school and then both of them ran it together.
All this time my mom was a big social worker in the Ismaili community, she started girls guide movement at Karimabad Jamatkhana and was the captain for 18 years and till she passed away last year all the old acquiantances used to call her Captain Bai. She was also a member of the local council, the Ismaili Academy for girls and many other institutions, she would often make me go with her to the evening meetings where I would be sitting nearby with my books and snacks.
Then it was 1970 and we kept hearing about a separate State for Bengalis, people started talking about a new state which would be called Bangladesh and it would be for Bengalis and that they wanted nothing to do with Pakistan, soon we kept hearing about militant groups who did not want Urdu speaking people in their country and so the country where my brother and I were born and which my parents and thousand others had made their home was not ours anymore.
My dear children, I will now begin to tell you how we crossed my home continent Asia and reached a whole new continent North America. But before I do that let me tell you something about the way I grew up with my 4 siblings. We were a normal middle class family and my dad worked hard to provide for our family of 9, and since my parents had opted for the then East Pakistan after the partition of the Indian subcontinent. My dad first tried a hotel with a partner, the hotel never had enough people to visit or eat there so it was not profitable. Then he tried a trucking business where he bought 2 trucks to transport materials from one town to another. Again he tried hard but failed in all the ventures and lost all his money. So here is what I remember, he started working 7 days a week, starting at 8 in the morning. He would start at the bank as the manager, then go to the medical store for his part time job. Like this he would go from one job to another and on weekends he worked at the racecourse. He was very strict in our upbringing, I remember we would be very very quiet when he would come at night, he would check our homework and then we would go to bed. It is now that I understand that he must have been so stressed all the time. One day he brought me a windup princess doll that would spin in circles. She had blonde hair and an exquisite sky blue gown. I was only allowed to play with it at certain times as my mother feared I would be reckless and break it. Loosely translated she would say “you can’t play with it all the time, it’ll break!” Looking back I laugh because my children had such an abundance of toys that they broke with little appreciation but back thenI had this one doll that I had to look after and not play with so it was preserved for life.( I guess everyone has a Suzy)
At the time we were growing up we had no TV or VCR so we grew up listening to the radio and reading and playing and fighting amongst ourselves , best of all I loved to read anything I could get my hands on be it comics, books, newspaper. Always we would be fighting as to who would be the first to get their hands on it. I remember we got our first TV in 1965 during the time of the 1st war with India. All the neighbours had gathered in our house, there was no room to sit so people were lined up on the stairs and at that time the channel would go off the air at around 10 or 11with the singing of the National anthem and everyone went to their respective homes then.
The war was fun for us kids as we did not understand much except the blackouts and the sirens and we would take shelter under the staircase and hear the planes fly overhead, this war did not last long but it was the war of 1971 when East Pakistan seceded from West Pakistan that we had to migrate to Karachi.
I will continue about that soon.
( to my son, I am not a writer so please disregard my punctuation marks and continuity and grammar and just read my blog as my daughters do)
For a person who has been working for the last 30 something years sometimes I feel so useless with a broken arm and to not being able to do everything myself, (it
is at times like these that one is thankful for all the parts of your body that work with so much precision) but I am thankful for my family and friends who are there for me.
Sometimes I can wallow in self pity instead of enjoying the time off given to me by Mother Nature after all I did fall on a patch of black ice.
Coming back to my childhood, the house we lived in had an upstairs and downstairs, not very big but we had a patio in the front and back of the house and we also had a water-well to draw water from everyday for the household. My mom says that for 25 years we lived at this house then went to another house which had running water and shower. I remember it was on the 2nd floor and was an apartment facing the street, little knowing how everything would change in 4 or 5 years after our move and how we would try to flee out of there at the risk of our lives.
My oldest sister got married at this house in 1968.
Between day 1 and day 2 there has been a gap of many days, which includes a stay in the hospital for 2 nights to fix a broken arm, after a fall in January, the one good thing which happened was that due to my husband’s insistence with my family physician about my sleep patterns at night I was monitored for checking out if I had Sleep Apnea, the results reached the hospital on the day of surgery ie the 24th of April which showed I had severe sleep apnea, and was given a machine to hook up at night and breathe through it (it does make me feel and look like an alien from outer space)but it has made a huge huge impact on my life day and night, because now I sleep at a stretch of 4-5 hours a night which I never knew was possible, so I now know how most of the people in the world sleep, with me before the machine I would be tired the whole day and doze off talking or sitting, which was so embarrassing but didn’t know why, never had any energy but all that is OVER. Enough about my sleep apnea.
Something about my childhood now, I was born in Dhaka Bangladesh, the fourth of 5 children, I have 2 older sisters, one older brother and one baby brother. We grew up in a big old house with my parents, grandmother and uncle. To this day I remember the address, 34 Roop Lal Das lane. I tried to find it through google earth but could not find it, but I found my school, St. Francis Xavier’s high school, it always seemed so big and daunting, but google earth shattered all that, or my perception was wrong, in your childhood everything is gigantic.