A Serenade of the Sedulous | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 30, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:21 AM, July 30, 2020


A Serenade of the Sedulous

She was named Karina, but not after the popular Indian actress. She would come to know about her namesake and be compared to her constantly - which would at first evoke pride in her, and eventually a guised dismay of being aeons away in every aspect from the perfection portrayed on the silver screen.

Her name was the amalgamation of the names of her parents – Karimul and Rubina. The name of the child was kept even after Rubina bled to death within hours of the arrival of her daughter, due to childbirth-related complications. Her child was torn away from her womb and the process damaged some of her vital organs as well. Rubina passed away quietly leaving her daughter and the last half of her name as the only bequests of her brief, insignificant life. Her mother Morsheda was never the same again. It was the second child she lost.

I was there when Rubina got married. The ceremony was held in the shabby structures made of tin and wood hoisted in a piece of borrowed land where the members, ex-members and half-members of their family elbowed each other to make enough room to dance to the song being blasted from a rusty, rented speaker. Rubina was beaming as Monalisa, our neighbour, did her makeup. She was barely recognisable, which wasn't a bad thing. Maybe her life too would change, she thought; for better, and for worse. And it did, briefly. After the ceremony, she moved away to a city an hour's drive from her home.

For the first few years of her life, Karina lived with her father, who had remarried shortly after her mother's demise. Karina would oscillate between her mother's home and her father's. Her grandmother Morsheda worked at five or six households, including ours. She coddled the child, a reincarnation of her lost daughter. When she worked, Karina would frequently be seen loitering around, shrilly screaming, "Nani! Nani! Nani!"

Little Karina came by our house, and mum let her sleep on our sofa, and always pushed a ten taka note into her hand. Trying to befriend her, I would turn on the TV and find a channel with cartoons. I would initiate small talk, but get bored a while later, and then retire to my own room.

Years later, old age and sorrow would hit Morsheda one after one; sometimes like a tsunami, a hurricane at other times. The fragile woman would curb into an even smaller frame, and Karina would be her barricade. She would mother her grandmother back with a love fiercer than she had ever received.

Mum told me over the phone that she had to find a different domestic help because the people who originally owned the land asked Morsheda and her family to leave.

"Where are they living now?" I asked mum. She told me that they had moved to their native city.

"Did they cry?" I asked. Of course they did, it was a stupid question to ask, they had lived there for over a decade. I never thought I would see any of them again, but of course nothing in my life goes according to plan.

It had been raining since four in the morning and was a drab, dreary day. Dreading that I would definitely find no transportation, I began listing excuses but decided to give it one last try anyway.

A few stray dogs swam across the road. I sighed. I hoped hard for a miracle and made a few promises in my head I had no intention of keeping. But then a bright yellow minibus showed up, and I reconsidered my stance. The bus was surprisingly clean. I felt bad for dragging the mud from my shoe inside, and sat on the seat next to the door.

After I had settled in, I looked around and realised it was a female-only bus, probably a new entry in this route, which explained the cleanliness. The driver was a young girl, and beside her an elderly woman sat quietly, her limbs folded in.

"Zubeida aunty?" I asked, shell shocked. The woman stared blankly and shook her head no. "Oops," I muttered and tried not to look embarrassed, but the woman looked familiar, so familiar–

"Morsheda aunty?" I asked again, hoping I didn't misplace the name this time, the woman looked curious this time, and then the driver turned to look at me. She didn't look familiar at all, and I stared blankly even after she exclaimed, "Tara aunty?"

I nodded unsurely, then she smiled at me, "Aunty! I'm Karina!" It took me a while more to adjust my brain to find out who that was supposed to be.

"So how long have you been here?" I ask after exchanging a few meaningless pleasantries. "Oh, it has been a while. I worked in a garments' factory, but that hampered my studies."

She then told me that she had enrolled herself in a polytechnic institute, and was trying to get a degree. She moved back here with her grandmother a few years after they left town, and her grandmother didn't want to keep her unattended, so Morsheda sat there while she drove.

"You know," I said, opening my backpack. "Maybe I will work from here today, listen to your story and write something on it."

Karina told me that her grandmother saved up to buy a piece of land, but it was in the name of her husband who willed it to his children from his first marriage, and that was when they moved. There was some trouble with the thugs where they lived, who demanded money and would harass people.

"That's when I took up self defense lessons," her eyes shone brighter. I thought of how I still half run the dark part of the alley to my home if I'm running late. She then told me how she started supplying paper packets to shops from her school days, then the multiple times they had to change places.

"Aren't you ever scared?" I ask her.

"Who isn't?" she laughs "But I can't really afford hiding away in fear."

Karina waved at a passenger getting off the bus. I tucked my pen and paper inside and watched the rain slow down to a weak drizzle.

Upoma Aziz is a slouching-crouching-grouchy time bomb now, and she goes off without any detonator whatsoever. Poke her at your own risk at www.fb.com/upoma.aziz


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