I lost my Baro Mama (eldest maternal uncle) on Monday. He was ninety years old and bedridden since quite some time. In a way it was good that he was relieved of the pain, however, we not only lost our Uncle but the anchor of our family. He was like that huge and ancient banyan tree that gives shelter to birds, animals and humans alike. Mama was an intriguing personality and I have never seen anyone like him in my entire life.
My maternal grandmother gave birth to nine kids, and barely a few months after the ninth delivery she died of anemia. It seems odd to hear that someone could die of anemia but back in those women did die of anemia. She was being treated by the legendary doctor Bidhan Chandra Roy, who was not only a phenomenal doctor but also the first chief minister of West Bengal. It is tragic even he couldn’t save grandma. When she died my youngest Uncle was barely a few months old and Baro Mama was in his teens. The family had recently shifted from the Mymensingh district of erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. They had left almost everything back in Mymensingh and were in dire financial crisis. My grandfather was the only earning member and he had nine kids and four brothers to feed. Grandma’s death brought about added misfortune. That is when Baro Mama stepped in as the de facto guardian. He took charge of his siblings and also gave up his studies and took up a job. Later on, he completed his education through correspondence.
To his siblings, he turned into a strict disciplinarian, and they feared him like hell. They were so scared of them that they didn’t even have the courage to speak to him. I remember during my childhood I never saw my younger Uncles and Aunts speaking to him directly. Out of his eight siblings barely three spoke to him but the youngest five never ever spoke to him directly. Whenever they wanted to tell him something they used to do it through a messenger, it used to be my Mami (his wife), his kids or his nephews and nieces. Even, my granddad was afraid to speak to him directly.
I don’t recollect any memory of my mother speaking to him till she died. Even though Baro Mama was a strict disciplinarian, he loved his siblings like crazy. I remember one incident where I saw this love. When my Ma was hospitalized, one day she expressed her desire to eat rice, she was hardly eating anything and therefore it was a big deal that she wanted something to eat. It was early in the morning when she wanted to eat, Baro Mama came home and found everyone else sleeping. He didn’t want to disturb anybody, he went to the kitchen, he used to never enter the kitchen but that day in the wee hours of the morning he cooked rice and took it to the hospital to give his dying sister.
Even though he was strict towards his siblings, he was the most fun person with his nephews and nieces. None of us were ever scared of him. In fact, I always found it strange that Ma and others were so scared of him. My favorite childhood sport was punching Baro Mama hard and pulling his hair. Whenever I used to come for my vacation he used to be my punching bag, kicking, punching, scratching, biting and all kinds of torture I used to inflict on him. When we grew little older I started getting the taste of his dry humor. So many times he had said something with a nonchalant face and all of us have burst out laughing.
My son used to be extremely hyperactive as a kid. One day he broke my Mama’s torch. Mama called me with a serious phase and said: “porer bar cheleke niye ele security deposit diye asbi” (next time if you come with your son, please deposit a security amount). He was equally playful with the grandkids and my son also did the same fun things with him that I did as a kid.
Baro Mama’s house was no less than a dharamshala. Throughout the year it used to be full of guests. At any given time there used to be fifteen people. I don’t remember finding his house empty ever. His siblings used to come all through the year but also numerous others used to come. Some were distant relatives; some were cousins, neighbors, and friends. The house used to bustle with chats and laughter all the time.
With him, a part of my childhood went away forever. Few of my happiest memories were linked to him. So many stories would remain untold because it went away with him. An entire generation and its memories went away with him. May his soul rest in peace.