“We have been together for the last 66 years; make sure you take me with you, wherever you go”. This was the last time Bordi* spoke to Nanu Bhaiya* before he was wheeled off to the hospital. Nanu Bhaiya did not respond and continued to stare at a distance. This was also the last time they saw each other. Bordi was admitted to the same hospital, under a different wing a day later. Within a week, Nanu Bhaiya made sure he did what he was told. He always listens to Bordi.
My grandparents have both been struggling with their health for the past month. They were admitted to the hospital for old age complications. However after their admission and much to our shock, they were both tested positive for Covid-19. While Bordi was a little stable, Nanu Bhaiya’s condition worsened day by day. He was not responding to treatments as well as we had hoped. I have been constantly on the phone with my mom, listening to the horrors and the struggles for treatments of Covid-19 in Bangladesh- the scarcity of ICU units, the climbing hospital bills, the exorbitant medicines and the hunt for O -negative blood plasma, which has become somewhat of a business.
Bordi: The Sun to our Solar System
Nanu Bhaiya and Bordi are very special to me and I know I share this feeling with most of the people in their life. That’s the magic they cast, especially Bordi. She had a way of making each and everyone of us who knew her, feel special; as if we were singularly hand-picked for her undivided attention, love and care. Her face would light up when you visit her and she would hold on to your hand throughout the whole time you spent with her, listening to you most intently. I don’t think I ever got out of her room without a treat in my hand. She had the most amazing stories and hilarious poems- some of which she made up herself- to share and could bond with any given age group.
Bordi loved dressing up and was very selective when it came to her sarees . This made all her children and grandchildren nervous about shopping for her- her sarees had to be of specific materials, the paar*, a certain width. She would only wear selected colors- red was on top of that list, Nanu Bhaiya’s favourite. She enjoyed gatherings and celebrations and would rather stay up past her bedtime- much to Nanu Bhaiya’s annoyance.
Nanu Bhaiya: Stickler for Rules
Nanu Bhaiya lived his life by the clock. His life was a routine- praying five times a day in the masjid (until he couldn’t), punctual and portioned meals and limited TV time. He felt very strongly about his routine and despised experimenting with it. You should have seen his face when they served food late at the weddings he attended. Pretty sure he walked out of a few events for that!
Watching a cricket match with him was a treat, especially when Bangladesh and Pakistan was playing. All the wisdom he would impart madly at the TV and how he would turn it off if his team was losing! There have been more than one occasion when for some change of events his team ended up winning and we had to ask him to turn the TV back on!
As different as their personalities were, together they were one of the most beautiful couple I have ever come across- anyone who knew them well would tell you the same. I grew up hoping for the kind of love and marriage that they shared between them. They were not the kind who would shower each other with compliments and display of affections. I suppose that is a generational trait. Their language of love was acts of service and that is how they would both show and receive love for one another. I can tell you with certainty that Bordi never knew what medicine she had to take at any point in her life. It was always Nanu Bhaiya who kept track and chased her down to take them in time, grudgingly and lovingly. As for Bordi, whenever there was a family event where dinner was bound to be late, she would sneak into the kitchen and send food to Nanu Bhaiya.
Nanu Bari Memories
Our Nanu Bari* postal code has changed three times – from Naryanganj to Mohakhali DOHS and finally to Purana Paltan; but wherever it was, the visits to Nanu Bari (which some of us cousins jokingly call headquarter) was always a delight because of the two of them. While Nanu Bhaiya would impose rules, Bordi would spoil us rotten. All of my cousins have not-so-fond memories of Nanu Bari stay, when Nanu Bhaiya would turn off the fan or the AC in the early morning. His rules: either the fan/AC or the blanket but it never made sense to him to be using both! We would wake up laughing, trying to explain the comfort of using both together but he would scoff and walk away. In the evening, he would return with treats for us. Always.
Bordi’s rules were of different kind- First Iftaar* was always at their place when we would all gather in the living room and share iftaar platter together as a family. The fight for an extra alurchop* and beguni* was popular! On the second day of Eid, the entire family (and we are a pretty big one!) was invited for lunch at their place. Mandatory attendance. Then there was the Pitha Utshob* in winter and she would send mangoes and jackfruits to everyone in the summer.
We have fond memories of planning innumerable events at the headquarter- our only Mama’s* wedding, Nanu Bhaiya and Bordi’s 50th marriage anniversary celebration, dance rehearsals for many of our cousins’ Holud*, Chad Raat*, wearing henna and designing coordinated outfits for Eid- you name it, we have done it all under their roof. I imagine Bordi entertained all of these as a way to keep us all bonded together. As everyone in the family grew, separated by distance, circumstances and varied opinions, it was Bordi’s efforts that would always bring us together to the same table. We all revolved around her, around the both of them.
They both loved and shared and gave with their hearts open, celebrating each and every member of their family and their small and big achievements as their own.
Many in the family don’t know that my husband received a seal of approval from Bordi before the two families formally met. I had taken Bordi to a restaurant to meet him in person. Bordi had a box of Ferrero Rocher with her that day and said she would only give it to him if she liked him. She happily came back home, empty handed. The fact that my husband is from Sylhet, the city where Bordi’s only son was born, may or may not have anything to do with it. I have so many of such beautiful memories with her- the gold earrings she gifted me when I did well in school, helping her practice her signature, sitting beside her in the landing on my way back from work to share our day and always being nervous when buying a saree for her.
In the early morning of August 10, 2020, my Nanu Bhaiya drew his last breath. My Bordi followed his footsteps moments after, although officially we got to know about her hours later. Bordi did not know of Nanu Bhaiya’s passing but Nanu Bhaiya kept his promise; he always listens to Bordi. They have been together for 66 years, there were not going to part ways now.
Yousuf Ali Dewan and Feroza Dewan have left behind 7 daughters and 6 son-in-laws, 1 son and the daughter-in-law, 23 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren. We mourn the end of an era, an indelible loss to the family.
Bordi: short of “Boro Didi” which translates to “Eldest Sister”; our grandma always wanted her to address her as Bordi; she didn’t like feeling old 🙂
Nanu Bhaiya: what we call our grandfather
Paar : the border of the saree
Nanu Bari : grandparent’s house
Iftaar : The first meal after a fast in Ramadan
Alur chop: Potato cutlet
Beguni: Eggplant fritter
Mama: uncle (mother’s brother)
Pitha Utshob : Pitha is a type of rice cake from the eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent, common in Bangladesh, Nepal and India. Utshob translates to festival
Holud: an event common to a Bengali wedding
Chad Raat : Eve of Eid