Monday, December 21, 2015


Dadumoni loved his coffee, even though, due to health issues, coffee was a strictly regulated treat. That was a pity, because every time he drank coffee, he told me stories about Dhaka. To this day, Bangladesh evokes memories of sitting on top of a large dining table, sharing a bowl of muri and an occasional sip of coffee, listening to stories about countries torn apart; countries mended.

My earliest memories of my grandfather mostly involve that very large dining table. He would sit at his customary chair and tell me stories about the "homeland" across the border. About graduating, and struggling for a job. About being friends with Bhanu Banerjee and being taught by Satyendranath Bose and Mohitlal Majumdar. About being stuck in the "wrong locality" during a Hindu-Muslim riot, and about his thrilling escape after running into his Muslim dentist. He spoke about the interminable journey from East to West, when there was so much emptiness inside, but not much outside. He made "bhush bhush" sounds with his hands while talking about the packed steamer from Goalondo. And he smacked his lips when he spoke about the delicious chicken curry to be found aboard those steamers.

Dadumoni was a writer. The house was full of diaries where he wrote about hilarious real-life anecdotes. Stories about how he bluffed his way through exams, helped his sibling shelter truant freedom fighters from the British police, and made friends at work. Dadumoni taught me to love afternoon soaps, Sri Lankan batting, and the “lyaja” piece of the fish. He taught me how to sharpen pencils with a piece of blade, how to create elaborate collages by cutting up old pictures and newspapers, how to craft greeting cards for every occasion, and how to laugh without restraint. A belly laugh, he called it. He gave me my very first copy of Charles Lambs' "Tales from Shakespeare", and was the first person who read to me from Wordsworth.

He was also usually the first person to get up in the morning, generally by five. He would go about brushing his teeth and entertaining my infant brother by lustily singing "Dhono dhanyo pushpo bhora" or "Tomarei koriachhi jeebonero dhrubotara" at the top of his voice. (Even today, lines from these songs remind me of groggy winter mornings and a smiling grandparent.) Eventually, he would totter off to the market, with his walking stick and his precious bajaarer bag in tow. I learnt my first "bajaar skills" from him (always check the gills of the fish), and my first Nojrulgeeti (“Mohakaler koley eshe gouri holo mohakali...”). Everytime you went somewhere with Dadumoni in the picture, you had to build in an extra fifteen minutes, because he would invariably delay you with his inane anecdotes and his insistence of waving at you from the main gate whenever you left the house. (He couldn't walk fast due to acute arthritis. Not that you ever heard him complain.) And on exam days, when I would quickly do a perfunctory pronaam and try to rush out of the house, he would always take his time blessing me, whispering "Hori hori hori bolo/ Ajker porikkha bhalo/ Buchu porbe bhalo/ Buchu likhbe bhalo" in my ears. Strangely enough, the days that I insisted that I didn't have time for the prolonged blessing were invariably the days when the question papers seemed particularly tough.

Like millions of others, he immigrated across the border during tumultous times, and went on to live his life with unapologetic aplomb. He sang songs, drank coffee, hosted get-togethers, and opened his doors to guests from all over the world.

Dadumoni collected coins. He would give away shiny two-rupee coins every poila baishakh and bijoya. Once, on my birthday, he gave me a chocolate box full of old coins of various denominations. I carry around a few coins from that box till today. They are my lucky charms, my hereditary talisman.

My grandfather, Arun Kumar Sen—fish lover, Partition survivor, Ranatunga admirer, belly laugher, collage enthusiast, adda addict, Wordsworth aficionado—passed away in his sleep two days ago. But that's not how I imagine him going. I imagine him striding into wherever he is right now, demanding coffee, adda, loud songs, Goalondo chicken curry, and an uninterrupted cricket match. And sometimes, I imagine him looking down at me, and smiling, as I curl my fist around my lucky coin, and demand the same from life.

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