Grandma had a wooden box.
When I did something naughty or run waywardness through the house, the box provided me a secret pavilion. I used to hide inside it, until someone finally found me. It had enough space for me, bunch of blankets and pillows, and hundreds of grandma’s gems, BOOKS!
I’ve spent most of my childhood with her. It was a fun play for me to ramble around her things. She used to keep the box locked in the beginning, fearing that I might suffocate myself. Though when I started going to school, she threw her little lock away, allowing me to read as much as I wanted. I remember spending hours reading there, the books and their images engulfed me. Of course, I could bring the books outside and read them with sheer comfort, but I preferred the coziness inside it. The natural, mundane aroma of belongings, created just the right environment for cultivating a human bookworm. The box was like my second home, the soul within my body, my salvation.
My grandmother, Aleya Shamsunnahar, was the guardian angel who taught me to read and write. I read the first story book of my life when I was five. It was called, ‘Lal Ghora Ami’ (I am a red horse). I was dazzled with the thought that how could a horse write about its own life. I shared my queries with grandma. Showing the name under the title she told me that it wasn’t a horse that had written all that stuff, but a man who’d narrated the story. I was curious again, wheather a man knew how it’s like to be a horse. Caressing me softly she said, “Imagination dear. It’s the greatest of powers”.
You must probably now thinking that my old lady was a scholar of her time. I used to think the same. Not just because she had a treasure box, but everything about her reflected much wisdom. Her wardrobe was sophisticated. She used to bath in fuzzy warm water, wore clean buckram sari, and oiled her hair regularly. It took her almost two hours to shower as she slowly rubbed the soap in her whole body with fingertips. I do not remember seeing too many grey hairs on her head.
My grandma was class three pass. I discovered it when I was about to sit for my secondary school exams.
Grandma’s father, Wahab Munshi was a respectable man in the native province. He was a Mullah, a teacher, an arbitrator. People from distant places used to consult Wahab Munshi and seek his advice. Grandma was five years old when one day he was sought to Decca in a powerful man’s house. Wahab Munshi left with the words that he would be back in a day or two. Although one week passed, and there was no news from him whatsoever. Grandma’s mother sent men to inquire for him. They came back with a shocking rumor.
Wahab Munshi was attacked with extreme fever after reaching the center. He was admitted to the hospital and, something went wrong with the treatment. Wahab Munshi died. Alone. The dead body was handed over to Anjuman Mofidul, as no one there claimed it. They buried him in a municipal graveyard.
I couldn’t imagine the hardships and struggles grandma must’ve gone through that time. Apparently, the life of grandma and her siblings became a constant dilemma for survival. After a few years, at the age of nine, she was married off with a professor of Victoria College.
It was her first marriage. The professor was a good man but, fate was yet to convey grandma with happiness. Two months later, she lost her husband in a road accident. My grandfather was chosen by her first in-laws. She was reluctant to not marrying again but, the good people persisted. Grandma came to my grandfathers’ house with a wooden box, full with the books and journals from the professors’ shelves, the only possession from her past life.
In her last days, somehow grandma realized she was soon going to enlighten the path to nirvana. She asked to visit the old neighborhood she hadn’t visited in decades. I went with her. The villagers welcomed us with warm hearts. I had never been to my grandma’s village before so, their affirmations and affections amazed me. They told me that grandma was considered a hero in the village. She had saved the lives of 11 liberation warriors in the war of 1971.
That time, villages and swamp areas were less dangerous than big cities. Grandpa had sent grandma to her village as she was then seven months pregnant with my father. One day, crossing the swamp, some men came to the village. Grandma’s house, being just opposite the place they asked her for refuge. She acquiesced. The men warned her that the military may follow their track but, grandma told them not to worry. With all her senses she knew if the military came, they wouldn’t stay long. Grandma hid the 11 men beneath her choki. One lady, guarded 11 men with absolute bravery. The Pakistani military came and, after two days they went away finding nothing.
In life when my hope seems to be fading away, I think about my grandmother. My old gummy has been my iron lady, the source of irrefutable inspiration. Last year I lost my grandma. But for everything I am forever, I’ll be indebted to her. She lost her father, her husband, life had put her through such turmoil, yet she didn’t break. She found her happiness in my grandfather and lived to show the courage of saving the lives of our freedom fighters. My grandmother, class three pass, protected a box full of treasures her entire life.
Aleya means Light and Shamsunnahar means intelligent. My grandmother lived to prove these meanings right. One true Uddipto Nari that I’ll ever find, an epitome of a woman, a fighter, a friend.