‘My eyelids were puffy. My eyes were barely visible. Abbu wrote, ‘If she has stars in her eyes, they are even more distant then the stars in the sky’. Did I arrive in the land of Bangla with my eyes closed? Did I arrive on Earth with my eyes closed? ‘
First published as ‘Abbu k mone pore’ by Bangladesh Shisu Academy in Bangladesh in 1989 and again by Agamee Prakashani in Bangladesh in 2000, ‘I Remember Abbu’ was translated from Bengali by internationally acclaimed translator Arunava Sinha and published in English by Amazon Crossing in 2019.
Born at the cusp of revolution, our narrator reads her father’s journal for the umpteenth time, years after he has been murdered. Years that have blurred the first six years of her life with her father — the exact shape of his face, the colour of his skin, the feel of his lips on her cheeks.
But as she reads along the journal, through her father’s boundless love for her — the day she was born, the day she stood up on her own, the day she learnt that all newspapers do is bring news of the dead, all the memories came rushing by. She remembers how it felt to go outside for the first time.
Now, she craves to go to ‘that’ outside.
the loss of a father – being on the brink of not remembering him and at the same time, seeing him everywhere
With walking barefoot towards the red sun that was submerging into blue flowers, the journal slowly moves towards the liberation war of Bangladesh. From a pride for the beautiful mother tongue of Bangla, to leaving Dhaka behind in fear of the ‘demons’. From unfurling Bangladesh’s own flag to hastily stitching a moon and star and them back to the red sun. From East Pakistan to Bangladesh.
The narration is rather innocent — the feelings and emotions of a six year old, understanding of war and independence of a twenty two years old, gathered from the words of someone who has run away, fought and then died to free their country.
The father daughter bond, the loss of a father – being on the brink of not remembering him and at the same time, seeing him everywhere is absolutely heart wrenching. The foreword by Azad’s daughter in the beginning also has the same effect.
A lot of emphasis has been made on the Bangla language– of how important a part of one’s identity is their mother tongue. Thr story felt more personal as I share the same mother tongue- our sweet and stubborn Bangla; and how wonderfully could I relate when the father called his daughter ‘thou’ instead of ‘you’.
If you are starting out or are generally interested about partition and the incidents in 1971, this would be a perfect read, from the perspective of someone who has lived through the war and died for it, in a very easy flowing and lyrical literature in just about a 100 pages (ebook).
Also, if you want to read fiction set in the backdrop of the Pakistani side of the ’71 war, do check out ‘Kartography’ by Kamila Shamsie.