Noagaon in the soul

There’s a light that shines over Noagaon, around the memories that pop up every time I go there. Or even when I’m away from it

I carry Noagaon in my soul. On my walks wherever I am, at seminars I address at home and abroad, and on the streets of foreign cities, it is Noagaon that throbs in the recesses of my being. The reason is simple: Noagaon is the small, sleepy village where the voices of my ancestors speak to me. It is the hamlet where I have fellowship with the generations of my clan that came before mine. it’s home

There’s a light that shines over Noagaon, around the memories that pop up every time I go there. Or even when I’m away from it. I still hear that sound, father, calling to my grandmother, his mother – “Maa” – as soon as he reached the path, the rise by the pond that leads to the thatched hut that was the family home. The mother, my grandmother, heard the voice of her surviving son and rushed to fetch him to her bosom, too excited to tell him she had been waiting for him.

I looked at it, I was no more than six years old and I was amazed at this reunion of mother and child. There are other memories that come alive in the mind – or is it in the heart? – those that commemorate Bogi, the woman who edited the dheki to accompany their endless conversations. Not much was known about Bogi except that her brother lived somewhere in Noagaon.

Bogi once went into town and came back fascinated by the sights she encountered there. Grandmother, busy lighting a fire in the ancient clay oven, was delighted by Bogi’s story of all the lamps she saw around town, actually street lamps, and she wondered who put so much kerosene in all of them city ​​had done. That was naive Bogi.

I carry such stories in my heart. I keep such images in the gleam of my aging eyes – amused by grandfather at my terrified discovery of a pair of owls looking down at me from the heights of the coconut tree. Nothing to fear, he said, and went on to teach me the Bengali word for owl. Pnecha, he said.

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Grandfather prayed and read the Koran all day long, and the whole village looked at him with respect and came to him for paani-porha when someone in the family got sick. Where necessary, he prescribed treatment with herbs and leaves whose magical healing powers only he knew. When grandfather prayed, the waves in the pond played in front of him. Everyone who passed this path sought his blessings before proceeding. Grandfather was 113 years old when he died.

In Noagaon sleep those of the clan we once loved to be with, for they energized the village with the vibrancy within them. Fazlu Kaka treated the sick with homeopathy even while spending time in the village post office near the mosque. And the mosque, by the way, was built around the time, maybe just before or just after the Sepoy mutiny of 1857. It’s still there, a living testimony of the time. Many prayed in it and then went to their graves. Many find Allah in it every Friday, every night.

Fazlu Kaka’s daughters, my cousins, were not destined to live long. All but one died in a tragedy reminiscent of all the sad stories I’ve had to internalize through my reading of literature. There are other cousins ​​who share this graveyard space with you. To these tombs I make my way, and I hear the laughter that filled the air in Noagaon when they lived.

And I stand bowed in silent prayer before my parents’ graves, surrounded like the graves of uncles and aunts who were in the spring of youth when we were children. On summer nights the fireflies dance in this cemetery; and when at midnight the monsoon clouds part, the moon sprinkles its splendor over the stillness of all these graves.

Noagaon then moves into a different kind of beauty. A long time ago when floods swept the land – and that was before fertilizers came into play – my Rashed Kaka taught me how to remove all the Koi fish and all the Puti Machh that swim into the pond from the jute and rice fields catches . “Here, hold this gamchha like this,” he said, “right where the fish slide into the pond. They will slip into your gamchha.’

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It was a discovery for me. With all the treasure of koi and puti in my gamchha, I ran home and bragged to Mother about the feat I had accomplished. She fried part of the fish and cooked the rest. The family had a feast that night – grandfather, mother, my sister and my brothers. Father was in town. Grandmother was in her grave.

Noagaon resonates in my soul as I wait for a bus in a cold, windswept, foreign city. I think about the earring my little sister Baby lost while she was swimming in the pond. I imagine my brother Fayek happily wandering through the village and fraternizing with everyone along the way. I will not forget the tears that Nadeem, my youngest sister, shed shortly after Mother’s funeral in Noagaon one October day. I hear Makhan Dada, my feisty cousin, delighting us with stories in the moonlight beside the pond near the Jaam Gaachh that is no longer there. Our laughter at his sense of humor was heard throughout Noagaon.

Haider and Muktadir, nephews of our age, enjoyed this session, as did all of us. The brothers Haider and Muktadir died years ago. I try to picture them in their graves. Have they really turned to dust? I think of a cousin who spent hours in the pond because she loved it. A time came when she died. Rasek and I built boats out of banana bark in the rain and floated them in the pond.

In Noagaon we were – and still are – middle class. Our faith in God is unshakable. Everyone prays at the appointed hour and every Friday is a moment when male family members come together in the mosque. Laughter can be heard in Noagaon that once echoed through every house.

When my cousin Nazneen Apa married, a wedding gate made of banana trees, with the word “Welcome” prepared in legumes and glue, and lined between the two trees, greeted the groom, all duly holding his handkerchief to his mouth – that was what men did back then did to get married.

I told a cousin that “Well-come” was misspelled. He looked worried for a few seconds and then said, “Don’t worry. How many of us will know the spelling is wrong?’ He was right. Nobody noticed.

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My brother Shopan will be busy once we get to Noagaon. He contacts Cousin Zahed at his medicine shop in Shomajkalyan Market. The villagers chat with him over a glass of tea – there are strangers in the village cups – as he walks down to the market. At home, my sister Baby and my sister-in-law Bithi take care of everything that needs to be done. My nieces and nephew love to bask in the freedom that Noagaon offers after all those ridiculous days in town.

In Noagaon, birds wake us up at dawn with their incessant chirping. Deep at night the distant howling of the jackals can be heard in our huts. When a hen quickly gathers her chicks under her wings, we know a predatory eagle is nearby. Ducks waddle in the morning before jumping into the water. Fish are caught in the pond, bringing waves of joy to the clan and neighbors. It’s a celebration.

Noagaon is where the clan returns, for it is their home when the heart is driven by the urge to rediscover roots. We walk the dusty – and muddy in the monsoons – trails, the same trails our ancestors left their footprints on down the centuries. And we know that we are heirs to a rich and humble inheritance. Not all of us were born in Noagaon, but we will all be buried in Noagaon one day.

That’s the thought that hits us as we drink tea in Abu’s shop. A few meters away our ancestors, descendants of Syed Ahmad Baksh, sleep at the end of journeys made in piety, humility and noble poverty. The sun, meanwhile, prepares to set in the west – over the mustard fields, beyond the houses, where the smell of food cooked on clay ovens gently excites the senses.

Noagaon is in my soul. It’s the music we play every day. It is our claim on the past, our clinging to the present and our promise to the future. And depending on the season we drink Khejurer Rosh or Maathha.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a short story writer, political analyst and book reviewer