But now shrinks the place where you stand: Where now, stripped by shade, will you go? — Paul Celan

My Father Would Have Been 87 Today

My father would have been 87 today.

Even in illness, after suffering a stroke and eventual dementia, he was intellectually curious. The day after he suffered his first major stroke, he woke up and claimed that he had been turned into a bug. Very few people around him understood the reference to Kafka’s fable of metamorphosis in my father’s statement. Kafka, a writer he didn’t admire, somehow gave him the vocabulary to express what he was going through.

As Borges once said of his father’s library, I can also say that my father’s library was one of the most important events of my life. His library was (and still is) studded with books from a variety of subjects. He never discussed it but one of his interests was in erotic literature, a taboo subject in Bangladesh. Growing up, I read from his library, the Kama Sutra and the Perfumed Garden, those two gems of erotic literature from Hindu and Islamic cultures.

He was also a man far ahead of his time in his outlook. When even in my generation there are still people in Bangladesh who view homosexuality as a perversion, I have found in his published columns a defence of homosexuality. His depth of erudition and reading was only matched by his compassion.

After his initial stroke, he recovered and I believed that he went into a depression because he rarely smiled. But he never complained and continued to immerse himself in books. Whenever a new book came out that he found interesting he would ask me to bring it for him. Thus he even asked me to bring him ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ (which I did).

A story about his modesty and his compassion. On a journey back from Chittagong on the train I once met a ticket checker who had worked under my father. When he learned the identity of my father, he sat down and told me a story. During martial law, this ticket checker (TT as they were called) was arrested by the army for fining a junior army official who travelled on the train without a ticket. According to the TT, my father intervened. He told the army commander that the TT was carrying out the order of his (my father’s) office and so the army should arrest him instead of the TT. The commander, sensing an unnecessary embarrassment, let go of the TT. My father never mentioned the incident to us. I asked my mom and she said he had never told her about it either.

My father liked an occasional drink. I wish I was having a beer with him today.

Happy birthday, Abba.

16 November 2020

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