“নক্ষত্রপুঞ্জের মতো জলজ্বলে পতাকা উড়িয়ে আছ আমার সত্ত্বায়।
মমতা নামের প্লুত প্রদেশের শ্যামলিমা তোমাকে নিবিড়
ঘিরে রয় সর্বদাই। কালো রাত পোহানোর পরের প্রহরে
শিউলিশৈশবে ‘পাখী সব করে রব’ ব’লে মদনমোহন
তর্কালঙ্কার কী ধীরোদাত্ত স্বরে প্রত্যহ দিতেন ডাক। তুমি আর আমি,
অবিচ্ছিন্ন, পরস্পর মমতায় লীন,
ঘুরেছি কাননে তাঁর নেচে নেচে, যেখানে কুসুম-কলি সবই
ফোটে, জোটে অলি ঋতুর সংকেতে।
আজন্ম আমার সাথী তুমি,
আমাকে স্বপ্নের সেতু দিয়েছিলে গ’ড়ে পলে পলে,
তাইতো ত্রিলোক আজ সুনন্দ জাহাজ হয়ে ভেড়ে
I met Shukhi in my DadaBari, my paternal grandparent’s village. Every other summer vacation we’d go to Dada Bari. I was hardly six years old when I met her first, she was a year or two older than I was, Maybe.
In the village, nobody could tell their actual age. People would say I was born in the year when the big storm hit the village or the year we had the bumper harvest… there was no shortage of food in the village that year.
Shukhi was born in the year when the mango and jackfruit orchards had the abundance of fruits, so she told me. The whiff from the fruits would engulf the surroundings of that tiny village. Remembering that her mother named her Shugandhi which means beautiful smell. Her father found it quite a mouthful and started calling her Shukhi… happy.
Both her parents used to work for my granddad. They’d come to our house even before the dawn breaks with honey dripping sunshine. You can really smell and taste the soft light. I could.
Shukhi would come in the afternoon and she’d call out my name. She lost her two frontal teeth by then. So whenever she’d call me it would create a whistling sound. I’m not quite sure when ‘friendship’ resonated with the sound of a whistle to me. Wherever I hear a whistle it gives me such comfort and I feel happy, without even knowing I smile.
When I was growing up my favorite time pass was to make silly rhymes and Abba, my father, was the victim listener.
“কুলুকুলু নদী/ থেমে যায় যদি
হাওয়া ঝিরিঝিরি/ অরণ্য গিরি
জোছনার হাসি/ পরদিন বাসি”
My love for the sound, smell and taste of nature I must have gotten from my father. He taught me to listen to a peaceful river… teerteer; the heartwarming sound of rainfall… rimjhim rim, rimjhim, rimjhim jhim, rimjhim; the sound of rowing a boat ’gently down the stream’… Chholat Chholat Chholat; the sound of silence of a sleepy afternoon when you can hear from afar the Ghughu birds go… kuu kuu kuu… which only intensifies the sound of silence even deeper.
I grew up with these sounds, smells, and tastes. They stream through my body like blood vessels and through my memory. I hold them in and I embody them. Anytime, I can just close my eyes and evoke the smell of burnt earth as it releases the aroma when it receives rainfall after a blazing day, I can evoke the sweet smell of Sheuli flowers in a misty winter morning and the taste of honey I can even suck it out from their orange stems, the aroma of cooking from next door – the coriander leaves – green chilies with ripe tamarind and licking fingers. I can close my eyes, anytime, and go back to the cornfields to pick a baby corn, pluck its leaves one by one to find a tiny corn sitting inside it like a shy bride. I can squeeze out all the juices from a sugarcane while riding on the back of our red milk-cow, — Rani – the queen – and the hails stormed afternoons — I can evoke that too — I run around to collect the hailstones and get drunk on them… These memories, these smells, sounds and tastes are all me.
“গলিত কাঁচের মতো জলে ফাৎনা দেখে দেখে রঙিন মাছের
আশায় চিকন ছিপ ধরে গেছে বেলা। মনে পড়ে কাঁচি দিয়ে
নক্সা কাটা কাগজ এবং বোতলের ছিপি ফেলে
সেই কবে আমি হাসিখুশির খেয়া বেয়ে
পৌঁছে গেছি রত্নদ্বীপে কম্পাস বিহণে।
তুমি আসো আমার ঘুমের বাগানেও
সে কোন্ বিশাল
গাছের কোটর থেকে লাফাতে লাফাতে নেমে আসো,
আসো কাঠবিড়ালির রূপে,
ফুল্ল মেঘমালা থেকে চকিতে ঝাঁপিয়ে পড়ো ঐরাবত সেজে,
সুদূর পাঠশালার একান্নটি সতত সবুজ
মুখের মতোই দুলে দুলে ওঠো তুমি
বার বার কিম্বা টুকটুকে লঙ্কা ঠোঁট টিয়ে হ’য়ে
কেমন দুলিয়ে দাও স্বপ্নময়তায় চৈতন্যের দাঁড়।
আমার এ অক্ষিগোলকের মধ্যে তুমি আঁখিতারা।”
The spirit of Baul music, the lyrics of Robi Thakur, words of Bengal poets who are richly flavored with our six seasons, our rivers, our folklore, our Sufis, our Bondona, our prayers, our language, our struggle, our freedom are also me. I am deeply defined by them too.
Once like many other times, I’d gone to the great Sufi Baul Fakir Lalon Shah’s shrine in Kushtia with my family. The boy I loved at the time broke my heart. So my father took me there hoping this visit would give me peace. Before visiting Lalon’s shrine we went to Rabindranath Thakur’s country house in Shiladaha, Kushtia – not very far from Lalon’s shrine. It was built by his grandfather Dwarkanath Thakur and it’s popularly known as KuthibaRi.
There is a deep, beautiful pond inside the Kuthibari compound with stairs that touch the water level. While wandering towards the pond we heard someone singing. We rushed there and saw a young Baul Singing Robi Thakur’s song. That was the first time I experienced that in Kushtia – a Baul singing Thakur’s song – it was enthralling. He was singing…
“ওরে আগুন আমার ভাই/ আমি তোমার-ই জয় গাই
তোমার ঐ শিকলভাঙ্গা/ এমন রাঙ্গা মূর্তি দেখি নাই”
“O fire my brother/ I hail your name
I have not seen such image of breaking shackles/ and red flames like yours.”
By then a number of visitors stood in a circle around him. All of a sudden he stopped singing and looked straight at my direction and said, ‘’ This girl is surrounded by water’’ and he stared at me for a second or two then went back to singing. I felt an overwhelming chill inside by body; it shook me profoundly. We couldn’t stay there for long. We left. But after a while my father went absolutely manic to find him, talk to him. We looked for him everywhere we even went to the shrine but he had vanished into thin air.
Then after a decade or so and my father passed away by then I saw him again at the Lalon Fakir’s shrine in Kushtia. I couldn’t recognise him of course, but he spotted me straight away. He called out, “পানি কই?’’ Where is the water’’ – then he went on saying: ‘No water is good, also not so good.’’
I have many jewels like this one in my memory bank. Once in a while I take them out, look at them in a different light, rinse them with tears, and put them back in.
“এ বড় দারুণ বাজি তারে কই বড় বাজিকর
যে তার রুমাল নাড়ে পরানের গহীন ভিতর॥”
The loss of unworldly treasures has always been haunting the immigrants’ minds as it has mine for the longest time.
So where do I belong? Which country, city should I call home?
I never wanted to live abroad but then again I find it irony of fate when I think about it that London is the only place where I lived the longest time at a stretch in my entire life. Because of the nature of my father’s job we could not stay in one place for more than three or four years. I was truly blessed to see most of Bangladesh because of him.
It’s been nineteen years that I’ve lived in London. Since I started living here I’ve always had that intense desire to go back home… I’d feel a continual pull, rather fatal, to go back to Bangladesh.
In 2010 I went to Bangladesh to perform in a play on British Council’s invitation. One night, nearer to the end of our tour I was really feeling unsettled, quite restless. I found myself saying in my head, ‘’I need to go home’’. To my utter amazement, thinking of home, I actually meant ‘London’. I can’t possibly explain how that had made me feel at the time. I felt like I betrayed myself. I felt terrible and the feeling of guilt was overwhelming. I thought the constant emotion of guilt only happens to mothers for their children. Obviously, I was wrong.
I then consoled myself thinking – Well, I feel London is my home because my children are there. Once they grow up I’ll come back.
“কী আছে তোমার দেশে? নদী আছে? আছে নাকি ঘর?
ঘরের ভিতরে আছে পরানের নিকটে যে থাকে?
উত্তর সিথানে গাছ, সেই গাছে পাখির কোটর
আছে নাকি? পাখিরা কী মানুষের গলা নিয়া ডাকে?
কী আছে তোমার দেশে?”
But I am at peace now. I am making memories here, in London too and I’m lucky to have two places next to my heart which I call home.