April 16, 2020
Today marks the 4th year since my sister departed for a better place. With the whole world captured with the deadly pandemic, I surely miss my conversation with my sister. I wonder to myself, what insights I would have received from her, what would have been her comments today, how would she respond to the panic, the system loss, the greed, the dirty politics. I can conjure most of my conversations with her, but this is one that I can’t. I know she would have offered some valuable piece of wisdom which I cannot offer myself, so i would rather no put words into her image in my mind.
If today were a normal day, we would have had a family gathering. But the reality is we are not. So let this be my prayer and offering to spend some moments remembering the moments I had with her.
I am not sure of my earliest memories with her. The memory that pops up is a birthday party on the paanch tola of elephant road, probably around 1994. No surprises that birthday party is the memory, for my sister and I were born on the same date, me following her 7 years later. Yes, birthdays were special. in the early 1990s, we both were children, so having a party thrown *just for me* mattered. In fact, that is how I acquired that valuable piece of information, that my birthday wasn’t mine alone. I remember ( or I “think” that I do ) Baba telling me I would have to celebrate my party a day before, on the 4th. I was annoyed, for my birthday is on 5th. Then baba told me, that apu also has her party on 5th, so mine has to be on 4th. Funny thing is, for a child of 5 years I wasn’t annoyed with that. I guess my subconscious knew the special relation I would be forming with her in coming years, though my conscious mind did not know it yet.
And that’s how it started. I knew there was another person who shared something special with me. And she was full of such specialties. I remember her rollerskating on the paanch tola yard. It was amazing! There she was, a real life girl, doing what i only saw other kids do on tv screens. I wanted to learn to skate as well. But I never had the tenacity that she possessed. So my rollerskating days were finitely numbered.
In 1998, she did brilliantly in the school finals. We went to congratulate her, and again she amazed me with her creations: She would shake up a Sprite bottle, and pop! Sprite foamed up just like from an exquisite champagne bottle. From that on, till 2005, I counted days to pop a sprite bottle myself when i would make a similarly brilliant result. She set my goals for me like that. She became the role model. Every time I didn’t do well in exams, ma would go pointing at her. Baba would talk about her. A child psychologist would say, I might have ended up hating her. No, I hated myself for not being like her. I could never hate her. Even when she would be angry with me. I would rather take clues from her wrath and improve myself, rather than talking back.
She knew how to make the best out of anything. Just like when she taught me how to make a pot of make believe payesh for our rannabati games. I used to gather the leftovers from kitchen, but she would collect leaves from the balcony garden, use some leftover flour and mix it with water color, and make delicious dishes of polao, bhaji, payesh and ice cream. her rannabati skills were so cool, that Abantee, who was just 3 or 4 at that time, nearly gulped a spoonfool of flour mix, mistaking that for melted strawberry ice cream. She would remind us to buy some tarabati so that the Eid in gaibandha doesn’t seem bleak with all those hartals and unsure political times. She could encourage the murubbis to participate in essay writing competition during family picnics to make it merry and not simply a food-centred dawat. She could do all that. I can’t inspire people like that.
She was the kind one. My child self was a menace in every sense of the word. I used to be sad because not all my cousins would like to play with me back then. It was only her and Rupok bhaia who never made me feel unwanted. Not that other did, but back then, I used to feel that they ‘like’ me. She introduced me to Feluda, nonte-fonte, and Tintin. She showed that collecting greeting cards was a thing, that is was chic to have your own collection of petites bouteilles de parfum. She made wearing wrist watches fashionable.
She also taught me simplicity. I was 17 and we were at Aarong for some thing. She suddenly remarked, Arpeeta, you often waste money. That hit me hard. I am sure she would be proud of me ( or freak out?) today if she saw my saving skills.
Come 2000. Chayabithee was prepping to celebrate a grand Eid that year. So we knew we had to do something special. She was the mastermind. She took just a few hours to cook up a classic bangla chayachobi story for home production. It had everything: class struggle, rich girl poor boy love story, elopement, double crossing villain, and- a commercial break for us little ones to perform who didn’t fit in that PG 13 rate theater. So Mollika apu, Tazin and I brushed up our singing and dancing skills, and gave a convincing musical promotion for Nasir Gold cigarette. So convincing, that post production, a neighbour from gaibandha was moved to protest that Chayabithee should not have accommodated a cigarette commercial in such a grand performance!
The 2000 Eid was also special for another reason. Didu had gifted all the cousins our Eider jama, and my dress twinned apu’s. it was, as if, even the wider family was signalling that we were connected deeper than others.
She was there for everything. After my tonsillitis surgery, she made sure to drop by with fried rice. After we came back from our 7 month stay in USA, she came by to help us settle back, dolling up Aunim. She used to call him Aftaab, after the Bollywood hero. Does he even remember that?
After getting into Uni, things changed a lot. I was suddenly considered a grown up by my family. I guess it was sometime around then that we started sharing more intimate issues. I remember she told me about Shekubhai around that time. we sister were sitting together, and we decided that for a English graduate, apu’s husband must be connected with Shakespeare, and we coined the name shekubhai for him. We laughed about the poor fellow who might end up with apu, but deep inside, we all knew, it had to be our Shekubhai, Khalid, and not just some random fellow. And I fervently upheld that belief. I stoop up for her when she was pressured to wear saree for a family event but she didn;t want to, because she wanted shekubhai to see her wearing her first saree. She coulnd’t say that to elders, so I simply shouted that her choice needs to be respected. She made me a feminist long before I even heard that word.
She was our confidante. We would speak to her first about crushes, heartbreaks and more. She taught me the difference between infatuation and love. She taught me how violent love was a sign of patriarchy. During the BDR carnage, she explained to me for the first time, why conflicts would always see women getting raped by soldiers. She introduced me to a lot of theoretical concepts that I could not learn on my own back then.
She was matured. After baba was in ICU from his MI, and I was the loneliest, it was her I would talk to. We didn’t have the convenience of viber or whatsapp back then. So I used the landline. Ma was going through a tough time ( now I realise), and she raged at me for being selfish and irresponsible to be making expensive overseas call to Canada when baba was sick. I froze on the spot, because I knew apu could hear. I was ashamed at what she might think. But she understood what her Munni chachi felt. She calmly asked me to hold up and go with Ma. How much maturity and patience does one need to be so steadfast!
She was innocent. She was the one who fell asleep while her friends were enjoying adult gossips. She was the one who would shudder when i would matter-of-fact-ly talk about sensual crimes and abuses. She would celebrate when i got proposed by someone who would later bail out. She pacified me when a friend proposed , and on my declining, turned micro-aggressive and verbally aggressive. People judged me all around. She didn’t. She knew. She could sense the guilt and innocence in people unlike other who were always too quick to judge.
She never let me feel she was away while in Canada. She never made me irrelevant. She discussed her thesis with me, her arguments. She would defend her position after I would question her logic. We knew how to have a healthy debate. She was the first person with whom I spent a whole night on call. People do that with lovers. I did that with my sister, who I surely love.
Even when she was fighting, and exhausted both physically and mentally, she never said no to my depressive outbursts. my parents didn’t help me, my brother was never there for me, my partner was away, I was sinking lower and lower to some dark abyss. I called her and broke down. yes, I was selfish. But she wasn’t. She would give me her wisdom even while she knew end was near. In her last text message, she told me, money will come and go, but experience is what matters more.
She promised she would take care of me once she was able to move back to Bangladesh. And she has kept her word. Her body is now with didu and dadu, in Bangladesh. And she has taken care of me. I battled my depression, and in times of confusion, i often ask myself, how would she react? And I try to act likewise. I don;t often succeed, because I am not as good a human being as she is, but I can at least bask in self-soothing that I am doing the right thing.
And that is how, my sister keeps her company with me.