Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I had Chacha called from the kitchen because I wanted to interview him.
"Interview me? Nothing to interview me about! I'm just a cook," he protested. I needed to know about the 1971 war, I explained. About what happened to him. He must remember something?
"Remember nothing."
"Remember something? You couldn't have been that young,"
"Only seven or eight. Remember nothing," he insisted.
I gave up. Maybe he really did remember nothing.
Ten minutes later, while I was still seated at the dining table with the rest of the dinner guests, Chacha came back in, offering dessert.
"I remember one thing only. My father was in the army."
"The Pakistan Army?"
"Yes, he was a fauji. But they killed him." I was served a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
"Who killed him?"
"The army. I don't remember why. I think because he didn't speak Urdu."
I asked him again for an interview.
"Remember nothing!" The kitchen door swung behind him as he left. I followed him out, abandoning my dessert bowl on the table and pleaded my case for more information. Chacha smiled apologetically into his off-white apron and wiped his hands on it. All he remembered, he said, was that his father was an army officer who was killed for not speaking Urdu and his brother was a Mukti and became estranged from them and ran away to India and he's not sure what happened but now he's in Pakistan and he remembers nothing. Nothing. Of no use to Baji and her project. Just a cook.
Perhaps Bua could tell me more, I ventured? Chacha scowled. Of course she could. The useless aged woman had probably been old even back then. She must remember everything. From the corner of the kitchen, Bua smiled serenely back at us, not having heard or understood what we were talking about.
I repeated my questions for her.
"What happened in 1971, Bua?"
"War. Fighting."
"Who was fighting?"
"The army...and the other people," She followed me back out to the dining room, still smiling, still slightly confused.
"What did the army do?"
"Was the army good or bad?"
She looked across the room at Dada, who was absorbed in thought. A once-fauji, now-Dada.
"I think maybe they were good."
Uncomfortably, I moved my spoon around in the bowl of melted ice cream.
"My brothers were shot dead when we ran, though," Bua added.
"Where did you run?"
"I don't know. Far. Very far. Maybe India. Maybe not. I had only one pair of shoes and they killed my brothers. We walked for a long time,"
Dada spilled ice cream on his shirt. Two people scrambled to find a tissue.
"What part of Bangladesh were you from?" he asked, unbothered by the spill. She told him. He cleared his throat.
Chacha stood behind my chair. I turned around and saw him scowling at his kitchen nemesis. He told us that Bua was senile anyway.
"Life was very difficult," Bua continued. I waited for the story. Instead, she sighed, then gave a bright unexpected smile and shuffled out of the room back into the kitchen.