On hunt for roots
41 years after separation from family, a Danish citizen of Bangladesh origin returns to Pabna to look for his loved ones
Mentoo, who was formerly known as Mintoo, reached into his pocket and drew out a sepia-toned photograph. “I have a childhood photograph and can recall the name of Nagarbari ghat in Pabna's Bera upazila. Nothing else,” he said in crisp English.
Mentoo is a man on a mission.
He has returned to his birthplace after 41 years of separation, the memory of which remains foggy in his head. All that remains from his past is the photograph depicting a smiling Mentoo surrounded by what appears to be his friend.
Now he wishes to discover his roots. “I have shown the photograph to many people,” Mentoo Carsten Sonnich, a Danish citizen of Bangadeshi origin told The Daily Star, adding that as of yet no one had been able to help him find out where he actually came from.
The story of his journey to Denmark remains foggy too, making his mission an even tougher one.
According to him, on 12 April, 1977, a man travelling to Dhaka through the Nagarbari ferry terminal found Mentoo while he was roaming the area alone. He was six at the time and he remembers having lost his way.
The man, Chowdhury Kamal Hossain, then brought Mentoo back to Dhaka and took him to Terre Des Hommes, a non-government organisation, working for children.
While there, Mentoo's first passport was made using Kamal's Dhaka address. Later, he was sent to Denmark where a Danish couple, Ole and Benfe, adopted him.
“I grew up in a Danish family. Now I am a Danish citizen but I had always been eager to get in touch with my roots,” he said.
To this end, a now 47-years old Mentoo Carsten, along with his wife Anette Holmelhave, came to Bangladesh last week. Their visit first took them to Dhaka's Thataribazar as this was the first documented address he had. However, they found no trace of the mess there and nor anyone who could offer any information.
“I have visited the spot but found nobody at the address. I then came to Pabna and checked into a residential hotel in the district.”
For the last four days, he has been visiting the Nagarbari port and speaking to the locals to find some trace of his history.
He shows his photo to people, hoping it jogs someone's memory. He has even taken to distributing leaflets containing the picture, the last strand connecting his past and present together.
A painter by profession in Denmark, Mentoo believes he must trace those who were present in his past, as they can be a source of pride for him.
“Now I am a successful man but I don't know my past. This is a matter of disappointment for me and sometimes I get upset [thinking about] having lost my root so I am eagerly waiting to find it,” Mentoo added.
Anette Holmehave too is eager to rediscover Mentoo's past and meet her husband's biological parents. “I feel his pain so I accompanied him,” she said.
Shadhin Biswas, a Facebook friend of Mentoo's, contacted him and offered to be his guide in Pabna.
“Mentoo is eagerly waiting to rediscover his past. Few people came to us [claiming to know him] but they were not convincing,” Shadhin said, adding that if someone's story was convincing, they would then opt for a DNA test to remove any doubts.