I knew this lion of a man to be my own grandfather. He would come to our house and sleep on the sofa in the living room whenever he came to Barisal to argue a case,. And I used to play drums on his vast stomach, an activity that provided me with much innocent fun. But my parents were not very supportive of these cultural pursuits of mine. As a result my training in music both began and ended at that point in time.
My grandfather and some of the Bhondor progeny came to West Bengal shortly after Partition. One of his sons stayed on in East Pakistan to look after their father’s huge property. The Pakistani soldiers killed him during the war of Independence by letting him bleed out.
Bhudhar Das had a palatial bungalow in Comilla, built in the middle of a vast plot of land after the British fashion with a broad portico in the front. It was similar to the houses seen in Bengali films of the thirties, which usually served as home for the heroine’s wealthy father. My mother and uncles and aunts were raised in that house under their uncle’s care. He did not neglect his hapless sister-in-law and her children, But this busy man was unable to shelter them from the insults and scorn that are often the lot of poor dependents. He paid for the education of his nephews and helped them with their careers. He spent a great deal of money to ensure that his nieces were married into families of good means. My grandmother and uncles lived in a large house next door to him, possibly thanks to his generosity.
But they always had complaints against him. I have heard that my grandmother lay senseless for seven days after her husband had passed away during which time Bhudhar managed to get his newly widowed sister-in-law’s thumbprint on papers that helped him to transfer shares worth seventy thousand rupees owned by his elder brother into his own name. Even if this dramatic story was true, he must have paid that debt many times over by looking after the education and marriages of seven nephews and nieces.
I do not exactly know why I am expending words over something that happened nearly a hundred years ago. I can partly hazard a guess at one of the reasons. Despite his many faults, Bhudhar was still a great man; the kind of tremendously confident, perhaps somewhat proud, hard working man that is so rare these days. He was surrounded by a loneliness that is only found at the height of success. People used to say that he was secretly in love with the wife of a famous colleague of his. He spent some time each day with her on his way back from court. As far as I know, this lonely man’s illicit love affair did not progress very far. From a distance he seemed hardhearted, unemotional and unapproachable. But his true nature was expressed through his many acts of quiet charity. He was either unable or reluctant to show his feelings. That was the reason small children were afraid of him. I did not fear him as I understood that he did not dislike my playing the drums on his abdomen. Perhaps the ignorant courage of a naughty child gave him momentary respite from the pain of his lonely existence. My own grandfather had passed away before I knew him and my mother’s father had died while she was herself a child. Bhudhar gave me allowance if not love. That was my first experience of affection without the setting of rules. The unreasonable love I felt in return is possible only in childhood. And perhaps later, during teenage love.