This photograph was one of many on a similar wall, and I had seen it all my life growing up. Albeit for some odd reason, what should have been so obvious in this photograph, was a blind spot to me; and it took a school friend to gasp and point out that, “that is a German Swastika!” in the background.
My grandmother was only four years old when her family first left for Dacca from Sylhet but when the family continued to feel threatened, they decided to go on to Calcutta (now Kolkata). For the safety of their family, my great grandparents sacrificed all their assets and properties they had in Sylhet and Dacca. My grandmother would often say that she never thought Bangladesh was strong enough to offer them the secure life they sought. A mugging incident reinforced the impression when she was visiting Dacca with her young son (my father) and they were robbed in broad daylight right outside the airport. My grandmother was deeply upset with the incident and from then on could not find anything worthy of being nostalgic about her “roots”.
These are four images of an amusing and perhaps strange family tradition that our family has followed over decades and it continues until today.
In the 1950s, the Assam Government cracked down on Communists, and my father became a 'Most Wanted Man' with a bounty of Rs. 10,000 Rupees on his head, dead or alive. My father kept moving from state to country lines under the radar across the region, Myanmar, Bhutan, Tibet and present day Bangladesh, hiding himself among the people, while also earning their trust and faith.
According to family knowledge, My great grand-parents, Balwant and Laxmibai’s relationship was considerably strained. Four years after their marriage, he married again, for the second time, to a lady named Kamalabai, because he thought that Laxmibai was not beautiful enough and that the marriage was arranged against his wishes. Consequently, Laxmibai’s life was riddled with difficulties and illness, compounded with eight pregnancies of which only three children survived. While Kamalabai would accompany Balwant in his travels to Calcutta (now Kolkata), Bombay (now Mumbai), and Delhi, and she attended to her husband throughout his life, Laxmibai had to stay home, and look after their kids. Ironically, the conspicuous absence of Balwant’s second wife, Kamalabai in family group photographs could be for the fact that she was unable to bear children. Both women suffered discrimination in different forms. Having said that, Kamalabai looked after her step-children as her own, even after he passed away.