Archiving Family History

When we told our parents we were not into glitzy extravaganzas which Bangladeshi weddings by then had become, they respected our position. But Abba, Amma still wanted an `onushthan’. Being an only son in a patriarchal society involved cultural obligations. They organised a small reception, just for immediate family and close friends. This was the closest to a wedding reception in our lives. A simple gathering, akin to an extended family meal. No shamiana, no dais, no jewellery, no pagri or red sari. But Amma did insist on a video, though the lack of ceremony must have confused the videographers.

It was only last week, during spring cleaning, that we stumbled upon Amma’s video. Tracking down a VHS player, cleaning the fungus on the tape and getting the video digitised, involved significant research but what a find it was! Missing at the reception were Apamoni’s family and Khadem, who were overseas. Delower’s daughter, on my lap in the video, is now a mother. Saif and Rini’s son Ishan, a dad. Many have passed away in the intervening quarter century and more – Abba, Amma, Phupu Amma, Boro Khalamma, Shejo Khalamma, Boro Mama, Boro Mami, Choto Chacha, Mejho Chachi, Shejo Chachi, Choto Chachi, Choto Khalu, Choto Khalamma, Bulu Khalamma, Akhtar Khalu, Bhaijan, Bablu Bhai, Joygun and others. As we played and re-played the video, we lingered over their images, reliving their love and affection for us. My colleagues Irfan and Anis have also sadly gone.

The reception was not in a community centre but in their home in Dhanmondi, which also doubled as the Drik office in those days. The same house, where several years later, Shameem Akhtar shot her film ‘Itihash Konna’ (Daughters of History), a film on war children of 1971, where Rahnuma played a lead character, and I did a bit of the filming.

What strikes us as we look at the grainy video is the unscripted nature of the event, the fluidity of space and movement. No traipsing, no head table, no gift counter, no photographers with umbrellas directing us. Greeting, eating, pockets of adda, most murubbis sombre, setting the tone of the occasion, and a few impromptu photo shoots. The biriani had been ordered from Fakhruddin Baburchi, it was served by hired waiters, but the rest of the work was family-based labour. No planning and choreography by wedding industry professionals or event managers, no enactment of Bollywood-driven fantasies on our part.

Abba and Amma watch over us from above, as does Khaled Bhai. So does Rahnuma’s father who had passed away before we met. Only Ma is with us, blowing us daily phukkus to shield us from harm.

We now own a car so no more double riding. We no longer pore over wet prints but over digital images. Betrayed by civilian rule, we now long for democracy.

We still meet in the streets.