Years of overhearing my parents' conversations with relatives and aunties telling me "Ze sikhon oiso!" had led my naïve young brain to assume there was only one way to speak Bangla. Little did I know that once I'd arrive in Dhaka, at the tender age of 7 years old, there was a whole bunch of dialects for me to find out about.
Many (non-Sylheti) people usually associate Sylhet with the fancy tea resorts and hotels that are popping up left and right in the division, but my mind always brings forth the picture of one of three possible places -- our home, my nana bari, and a house in Moulvibazar.
The beauty and charm of Sylhet can be found at every turn and my mum always made it so that we'd get to experience as much of it as we could. Like many others, I've been captivated by the enchanting and tranquil views of "Madopkondo" and "Bisnahandi", collected curiously beautiful stones in Jaflong, became mesmerised by the sunlight peeking through the towering trees of Lawachara and, of course, ventured through the infinite evergreen shrubs of tea gardens.
However, hidden behind those hilly tea gardens and down one of the many twisty roads, is the enchanting kingdom we call Kanihati. Now, I only say kingdom because (forgive the cheesiness) my parents always referred to my sisters and I as their "Kanihati Princesses", and my younger brother was later dubbed the little Prince. However, you can trust me when I say we certainly did not maintain the etiquette of royalty once the soles of our little shoes touched the ground after a 4-hour long car journey from Dhaka that had commenced at dawn.
Sylhet was always a blank page for my siblings and I to make new adventures and stories for ourselves. We could be anything we wanted – warriors or pirates with our swords made of bamboo and rope, explorers in the jungle on an escapade to find some vague treasure with a very poorly-drawn (but definitely colourful) map, chefs making a spectacular and very filling meal of starfruit with salt and chilli powder, or even the proud little builders of a house made up of mostly bamboo and banana tree leaves (which probably didn't follow any health or safety rules).
Then there was all the swimming, fishing, hours spent jumping around in mountains of hay, mud fights, walking our "pet" goats like we were the most refined little Parisian ladies with poodles instead, making fires and following about our almost-nannies Zee and Murgi Zee – we call her that even to this day because of her very chicken-like mannerisms – who would ask us "Kita koro re go, mai?" before going about their tasks and telling us how we should eat rice rather than "aloo siffs". A specific memory never fails to make me chuckle. The local kids following me around and shouting "laal saathi" because I always used to carry a small red parasol.
Looking back on those times, I had always felt like little Mary Lennox with my secret garden. And when I'm feeling homesick, the memories continue to comfort me. The last time I was there, it was nearly a year ago and in these difficult times, it's so uncertain when I'll be able to return to this place that I hold so close to my heart.
Ishrath Chowdhury studies Pharmacology at the University of East London. Find her at email@example.com