Sunday, June 19, 2016

Radhuni // Passionate Cook

The following story is a part of a longer transcript of my family history I'm interested to share and archive. This one's about my father. Glossary included in the end of the text.

In December 2015 I visited my father’s home in rural Chittagong, Bangladesh. It’s a mud house that was built almost 100 years ago, housing my Dadi & Dadu* upon their marriage and six kids, among which my father is the eldest. The mud house is mostly empty now, preserved by my youngest Chachu*, disabled and unemployed, with Chachi* and their three sons. We call Chachu Baba. Baba is a synonym for father in Bangla; I was raised to love my father’s brothers as my own father. My grandparents are dead. I had seen them once in '97 and upon return, I was forbidden to visit their grave because I’m a woman and getting too close can invoke sorcery on their souls, y’know cuz women carry magic like that. My Fufus* are in the bustling town about an hour away with their families while Mejho Baba* is in Oman.
Married. 1989.
In February of this year, my father decided to rid the mud house and replace it with a concrete duplex building. 
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During my four-night stay in the mud house, I had not been stung by a single mosquito. I was their meal-time favorite especially in Chittagong’s town or Dhaka’s city concrete homes and in the open. Waking to the fog and incense of mosquito coil or spray became routine. The mosquito net was secure but it meant no bathroom breaks or learning to slip out of the bed in snake-like dance.  

The air temperature inside the mud house is cool and remains that way year round. I also achieved plugging out  technology free in the home, the millennial’s dream. There was no reception indoors and if I needed to call or check Facebook, I had to step out and away from the house and be near the khejoor gaach, date tree, and the pond it sits near or the roof, also a walk, that sits above a brick-made kachari ghor, a sort of village living room. My only issue was the outdoors squatty potty. Using it took preparation. Given my Lupus hips and delicate as Cake Rusk dunked in cha joints, and inability to squat the way one would, I asked Baba to purchase a seated commode. Every time I needed to go, the entire house, now filled with village visitors, came out with one kid bringing over the commode while others acted as watch-guards. This is the most I’ve been celebrated to use the bathroom.
Dadi'r bari. Grandma's house.
But what more can I tell you about my experience in a mud house when I’ve lived within Brooklyn’s concrete walls with full bars?
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While the clay roots stand strong, Baba fears the day a cyclone or monsoon wipes them out, he says the house has been difficult to care for with Bangladesh’s tumultuous weather. It was visible that since my last visit to the village in 2007, there were more concrete buildings this shows wealth. Villagers who left to earn for their families, send funds so they too can return to their birth homes. These funds have built concrete homes, remodeled like the ones the wealthy in bidesh, the foreign, own and live in. Baba also dreams of slabs of concrete and for years has pushed his brother, my father, to cement a home with the American dollar, bills that blossom in trees rooted in tough soil.

My father was one of the first in his village to leave for bidesh. He was a ship worker and jumped when it made way into NYC. He stayed. The year is 1980 and he’s 22. At 24 he falls from a ladder fracturing his talus while on the job. A nail sits on his right ankle. He probably spoke no English then while navigating the medics at Kings County Hospital for surgery, though his English now is still kacha*. He worked as a restaurant worker, construction worker, construction boss, moving into selling and buying homes in Brooklyn, owning a Bright White Cleaners laundromat in Bay Ridge years ago, and Little Bangladesh Restaurant in the neighborhood, now rented out as Radhuni, which means passionate cook in Bangla, which metaphorically describes the NYC Bangladeshi men whose journeys mirror his. 

His visit to Chittagong in January 2016 was close to 30 years later. For 30 years he did not visit his home.
Unmarried. Year unknown.
I’m not sure if these 30 years were his rebel years. But his stories of migration and making home, most of which I’ve gathered from my mother over the years and his cousins during my trip because ours is a relationship with the eyes, show that leaving or escaping home, making home, and returning home is messy. Maybe I’ll never learn from him the missing pieces of leaving his village Fawthikchari, building a home in Brooklyn, returning to his birth home after 30 years, and now rebuilding that to mirror our Brooklyn home. It makes me think if I too can make homes outside of the one that raised me.

Glossary (all words in Bangla):
-Dadi & Dadu: grandmother; grandfather (father’s side)
-Chachu: uncle (father’s side)
-Chachi: Chachu's wife
-Mejho Baba: middle father (this sounds funny in English; he’s my father's middle brother and we acknowledge that)
-Kacha: unripe