My fellow traveller
We met in the first class lounge of Heathrow airport while travelling from London to Dhaka by Bangladesh Biman. As my husband and I settled down with a cup of tea, a voice from the next seat made me conscious of the surroundings. The mobile phone conversation was aimed at the person at the other end, but it touched my soul. The conversation went like this:
'Imagine we are at a train station, waiting, knowing that the train is to arrive at a certain time. It is up to us to board the train, the train will come and pass with or without us anyway. Likewise God is watching and waiting for us, knowing that in Him is our destiny. He sent us to this world, gave us the power to choose between good and evil. It is up to us to make that choice and bear the consequences. So do not blame God for your own misconduct as we ourselves are responsible for setting our goals in life.'
This was a conversation between two brothers. The spoken words were from an elder brother to his younger sibling, both having lived in London all through their adult lives. But my fellow traveller was now happily living in Dhaka as a widower. Two daughters and a son stayed back, married to British (white) partners. The father was coming back to his roots. His children's roots were firmly grounded in British soil.
He said a retired life in Dhaka was much more rewarding and enjoyable. 'What is there to enjoy?' I asked. The answer came thus, 'You enjoy quarrelling, arguing about petty matters with family members, neighbours, flat-mates, say your prayers five times and the daily routine of eating and resting takes your day before you know it.'
'On the other side, life in the UK is all about work --- monotonous, dull and lonely. Wife died ten years, left a house in charge of the children who shared the rental income. Son and daughters living life as they please, better not to get too involved with them, better still not to get too close to the grandchildren either. It is the company of outsiders that you enjoy – where you are not tied up with any obligation.'
Yet he finds himself living with a nephew and his family, who are waiting on the sidelines, hoping one day to occupy the flat after the uncle passes away. However, there is no possibility of that as the children in England will be the rightful heirs to their father's property. As a British pensioner he is obliged to make two journeys a year back to the UK. Living in Dhaka with a British pension has enabled him to live a rich and comfortable life, which arouses envy in others.
What am I to learn from his experience……?
My life is between Dhaka and London, my home is between Dhaka and London. My family is between Dhaka and London. We go back and forth until one day when we take a decision and will not travel any more. But how far away is that day? Perhaps my roots in Dhaka will be my final resting place. At least, if I take a lesson from the life of my brother who passed away six years ago in Dhaka, I should do the same.
My brother Dr. Rezaul Haq Khandker lived an eventful life. Beginning with a teaching position at the University of Rajshahi, his long colourful career led him to serve his own country and government, in the Middle East and in Washington, serving the World Bank, or at the UN in New York. In his retired life he opted to live with his eldest daughter in Toronto. I have many fond memories of my brother passing through London and I was privy to many of his journeys. I saw him initially move to Dhaka for six months and spend the other six months in Toronto. A few years into retirement, he decided to move permanently to Dhaka. He took a one-way ticket, advising his children to visit their parents in Dhaka from then on instead of having their parents coming to see them in Toronto.
I will not go into the details of how challenging it was for him to make an entry into Dhaka life. I will only say that through his own entrepreneurship he found time to be busy with events in life, found out his expatriate friends in Dhaka, got involved with the Rotary Club and was very much involved with his family of seven brothers and two sisters. I missed him in his Dhaka life because my stay in the city was never for more than two to three weeks. In between I would go to my in-laws in Sylhet, shortening my time in Dhaka even more.
Now I find myself in similar circumstances. My family situation in London permits me to shift to Dhaka. My husband Dr. Jamshed S A Choudhury by dint of his sheer hard work in the last ten years has made a niche for himself in Dhaka society. But where do I begin? Will I need another ten years to make a breakthrough for myself? My son says I have worked hard all my life, and now I should be able to sit back and enjoy. Maybe I should do just that……………………….
Dr. Tahera Choudhury is an academic and Fellow at South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, Germany. She lives and works between Dhaka and London. She can be reached at [email protected]