Dhaka Diaries – Part I

Disclaimer: names have been changed in this post. P.C: @undisturbed88

My Aunt’s Home

When I eventually got to my Aunty’s house (in one piece, might I add), the vibes were great. My Mum was so happy to see her eldest sister! And my Aunty and Uncle, although they are in their 80’s and are slowly losing their mental faculties, were still well enough to recognise and receive us. Their kids – my cousins, were even lovelier. And as a family, they were all about the bants, which I loved.

With Bangladesh being a very tropical country which produces its fair share of coconuts,  it was only right that my experience in the country should begin with one. (Oh and FYI, those are coconut trees in this blog piece’s featured image).

It was my Uncle who took it upon himself to sit me down with a fresh coconut and a straw. And oh my goodness, the coconut juice tasted so good. Think Vita Coco Coconut Water times one thousand. After this, my Aunty put on the loveliest spread for lunch and the whole family had a great time catching up. They are such a jovial bunch of jokers, especially my Aunty and Uncle, who are a funny duo that provide great bants without even realising it. I loved it.

One thing I might have mentioned before in one of my blogs is that as a person, I don’t like spreading myself too thin. In short, what this means is that I’m very family-oriented insofar as my immediate family are concerned. These people, are to me, of paramount importance and make up my world.

Where extended family are therefore concerned, I don’t usually connect with them, especially given the distance between us (with most of them being based either in Bangladesh or the States).

So this visit to Bangladesh provided me the perfect opportunity to put faces to names and learn more about my wider family.

My Auntie’s family are a bunch of very successful athletes and sportspeople. Because although my Uncle spent most of his life opening up businesses, investing in and expanding his property portfolio and running a chain of hotels in the capital, his one true passion in life is gymnastics.

Accordingly, he nurtured each of his five children (his three sons and two daughters) to thrive in this department. As a result, we have, Hassan Bhai who is an international sports journalist (and the only one of these cousins who I’d actually seen before on account of the fact that he travels to London whenever there’s a World Cup or major sports event going on), Samir Bhai, who was a gymnast in his early years, and Hina and Kareena, the two sisters who for work, specialise in gymnastics and have roles in the Sports Ministry of the Government.

It was nice getting to know them all individually and listen to stories of their travels and what they got up to on a day-to-day basis at work. (This was most refreshing for me because back in the UK, I come from a very boring family of academics – I don’t have any creatives or athletes in my realm).

These cousins also had the cutest children ever. Hassan Bhai’s kid in particular, was the cutest, chunkiest little thing ever, who was evidently fuelled on sugar as she hyperactively spent the evening bolting across the room, stopping on occasion to cover my niece’s face in kisses, before charging off again.

That first evening in the capital was full of joy. I learnt a lot about my family and grew to like them a lot. As night drew to a close however, the conversation turned to the star of the family and it seemed as though a thick dark cloud had rather suddenly emerged in the air above us.

Remember how I said my Aunty and Uncle have five kids? If you re-read the bit where I tell you about each of them, you’ll note I’ve only listed four of the five kids. Where was the fifth one, I wondered?

He is the star of the family. This is evident if only by looking at the number of pictures my Aunt and Uncle have in their living room of him, a 12-time gold medallist gymnast and, at one time, bodybuilder. (There’s pictures of the other kids too, don’t get me wrong, but there seem to be more of him than anyone else).

When conversation turns to him, “You must pray for Shahed”, I am told. My Uncle, an octogenarian, who is evidently worn out by his old age and who I had noticed, already sat in a slumped position, slumps further into his seat before he addresses the whole room and says the next bit.

“Everything has changed”.

My Mum, Dad and brothers put their heads down because they already know.

“We’re old but not too long ago were full of life. Now Shahed is very unwell and it’s taken its toll on us. He can’t walk, talk, make gestures or respond to us. None of that. You should visit him please, before you leave and remember to pray for him”.

Not long after, I am accompanied into a separate part of the large compound which forms the ground floor of their home. I walk into the room to find my cousin, sat in the middle of the two paid-carers who take care of him, and he is sat upright in a wheelchair and he isn’t moving. You can tell he struggles with keeping his meals down – he is all bone and no flesh. He is very much a skeleton of the bodybuilder that he once was.

His hallowed eyes however, dart from me, where I am stood to the left of the room, to my Mother, on the right. I think, or hope at least, he has registered that it’s us.

Mum tells him “It’s me, your Aunty from London, I’ve come to see you” although I’m not sure how much of it he is able to register.

When the carers go to show Mum the way out of these quarters and into the main bit of the house, me and my cousin sit alone in silence for a little bit.

I feel awful and if I’m honest with you, I think I’m going to cry.

I saw a healthy man in the pictures in the living room and it’s upsetting me to see my cousin, who was interfered at the prime of his life and at the peak of his career, aged just 38, now a 50-year-old, completely crippled and debilitated to such an extent that he is now confined to one room.

We sit in silence for a bit because he can’t speak and I don’t know what to say. In the end though, I muster a: “I’m very sorry about the Parkinson’s. I’m sorry we came so late. I think your family are beautiful. God will make this better”.

Though I can’t be certain that God will make this better, I believe in the power of his qadr and hold out hope that He will. And then I leave the quarters.


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