It was five in the morning. In the dim yellow light of an electric bulb Saeed was all concentration on sewing buttons on to clothes that were piled in front of him. In the background the holy chant of quran was being broadcast from the nearby mosque. He worked for nearly twelve hrs a day. He was the seventh amongst eight children. His parents Rubaiya and Sarfaraz both worked for a garment factory at the outskirts of Dhaka and would undertake private jobs when they were not working in the factory which the children helped with. This was the only way they could feed themselves. The year was 1984. The garment business had just taken off and many like Sarfaraz who previously were daily wage workers with no source of constant income suddenly had at least some constant source of income however meager that might be. Making ends meet was challenging. The income from the factory could barely feed them but for all other needs like medicines and savings to marry off his four daughters, all of them had to work. Sarfaraz was in his late forties, was weakening from his sixteen hrs of work. His only extravagance was his beedi that helped him relax but stressed his already weak lungs. Rubaiya was a typical Bengali house wife who had to manage the household besides raising the 8 children. Recently she managed to get a temporary work in the same factory “Aashiana” that Sarfaraz was working in. By doing menial jobs like hemming clothes she was earning a few rupaiya’s that always helped. Saeed grew mostly in the care of his elder sister Safina who was very caring and was actually his mother in many ways. Saeed all of six was a sharp child. Very happy with his family that was closely knit and bonded with love. He was too young to understand the challenges that his parents or his family were facing financially. An obedient child who would go about the daily chores as was instructed. He was an introvert who was happy in his own world. He would watch children in his neighbor hood play on the streets. Safina would push him to go and play with the children but he was too shy and was happy lending a hand to help his family. The family did not have many visitors. Mushtaq, Saeed’s maternal uncle used to frequent their home and was always busy chatting away with his father. He however eagerly waited when his uncle would occasionally bring some semolina sweets to eat. It was just another day when Mushtaq uncle visited them and yes he brought Saeed’s favourite semolina. Soon Mushtaq was engrossed in some serious discussion with Sarfaraz and Rubaiya. The discussions ended in some heated discussions with Rubaiya leaving them hastily and she was crying. Saeed who was happy finishing of the sweets his uncle had brought was concerned for his mother. Ten days passed by and in those ten days Saeed found his parents having heated discussions and there was an unusual tension in the house. When he asked Safina, she would say you are too young and would then leave him with tears in her eyes. It was around ten in the morning and surprisingly both his parents were still at home and not in the factory. There was a strange calm in the house and everybody seemed sad and quiet. A car pulled by and out came uncle Mushtaq with two strange looking individuals. He had never seen anyone so fair and the color of their hair was strangely red. Tea was served and Saeed was summoned to the room where the guests were sitting. The man and the woman smiled at Saeed and later left. The calm and sadness continued over dinner. It was usual for the entire family to dine together. Rubaiya was missing. He went looking for his mother who was sitting by the burning woods in the kitchen, sobbing uncontrollably. As soon as she saw Saeed she drew him by her chest and was now crying loudly. Safina had come to console mother and take Saeed away. After a week one morning Safina was packing his clothes into a trunk. The same car pulled up in front of the house. His dad came up to Saeed and told him that they are sending him far to have a better life. He held his hand and told him someday he hoped he would understand and left the house. His siblings had all gathered to see him off. Safina was not there, she was probably hiding somewhere to escape reality. His mother was crying and yelling that they were ripping her heart away. Uncle Mushtaq who had come in the car took Saeed and his trunk and they drove off to the city. Uncle Mushtaq kept telling me that it would be alright and that it was for Saeed’s own good. Saeed was experiencing a numbness that he would remember for a long time in his life. The car reached a plush hotel in the city that looked like a palace. He was taken to meet the same strange looking firang (foreigners as they are called) waiting for him at the lobby. The lady approached him and held his hand and was comforting him. She had happiness and compassion in her eyes. Uncle Mushtaq briefly hugged Saeed telling him to take care and said don’t forget me. Before leaving he told Saeed that these were his new parents. Saeed was confused, worried and too shocked at all that happened in the last few days. He only remembered his crying mother and missed Safina who was like his real mother. He felt strange in the company of these new people in his life and had no expectations. They took him to their room which was filled with luxuries that he had never seen or heard off. Hunger had replaced his sadness and he was feeling sleepy and tired. He spent the afternoon lying around after having a haughty meal. He dozed off only to wake up at around nine in the evening. He looked outside the window at the beautiful night sky filled with stars that were gleaming and instantly they reminded him of the tears that welled up from his mother’s eyes. He could not sleep the whole night and spent most part of it staring at the night sky and the moon that seemed to be his only companion in all his loneliness. Next day he had breakfast and was then taken to shop for new clothes, shoes and all the nicest things he had never seen or dreamt off. His new parents Mishkin & Svetlana were hoping these goodies would bring happiness and make him forget the trauma that they thought the child must be going through. Little did they know that Saeed was too young to realize what was happening to his world. The next day they left for the airport. His Russian parents had arranged for his travel documents in the last week and they now arrived at the airport. He kept looking around to see, if he could find his family anywhere around. For the first time he saw planes that appeared very large in comparison to what he had seen flying in the sky from the roof top of his house. He could not believe if these large monsters as they appeared could ever fly. In the next hour he was flying off in one of those to a destination he did not know. It was a very long flight and he had dozed off. When he finally left the airport his Russian parents insisted he wear a fur coat they had carried for him. He soon realized the winter outside when he saw the beautiful snow everywhere. This was again another first in his life. The drive from the airport was long and chilly. He saw frozen water droplets from the leaves of trees that reminded him again of his mother’s tears and for a moment it was as if time had stopped on him. They reached his new home which was a mansion. It was very big for just the three of them. He was shown to his room and was asked to take rest. Most of his communication with his new parents was in the language of signs. For the next 3 days he spent most of his time sleeping and wandering around the house. Unlike his home in Dhaka he could not see any neighbors nearby. Houses were far and wide from each other. He could not see children playing or making noises on the street nor could he hear the quran on the speaker. This was a world of silence. It was scaring for he could most times hear his heart beat and the grumbling in his tummy. After about a week his parents introduced him to a man whom they called his teacher. He started giving him private lessons in Russian and some Math. Two years went by. Many times during those two years he wanted to speak to his parents in Dhaka, meet them and ask his father why he let him go. Every time this thought occurred his heart would become heavy and there was a strange pain that would shoot across his chest that made him feel like crying. Soon these bouts resulted in him becoming angry and he decided that he will never talk to them again. He however missed Safina his loving sister and in many ways his mother. He hoped that he would get to see her very soon. One morning in April 1986 almost two years after Saeed who was now called Sergei by his parents, woke up to loud sirens. His parents rushed into his room asking him to pack some clothes and essentials as they had to leave. He did not understand what had happened. Svetlana was telling him that there was a large fire nearby and that they had to leave. Outside on the street he saw families gathering near buses that were transporting people to a safe place. The city he and his parents lived in was pripyat that housed the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear power plant. His father had a flourishing business as a supplier to the nuclear power plant and was close to the government. One of many businesses he owned. He asked his mother in the little Russian he had learnt over the two years as to when they would return. His mother said quickly. They were all taken to a nearby village in Kiev where temporary shelters were put up and many were housed in government offices and in schools. A week passed by and they soon realized that they would never be able to return to their home. The news of the nuclear disaster was being broadcast on radio and they were told that the government would make alternative arrangements. His father used his contacts and soon took them to a new town Kiev. Since his father was rich and resourceful he organized a house and Saeed and Svetlana never felt the woes. Svetlana however was very disturbed at losing the house and all that was near and dear to her for many years in one night. Saeed on the other hand felt numb. He had been through this once and moreover he never thought of their home in pripyat as his own. His private tuitions started yet again only this was a new teacher in a new town. Three years went by, Sergei was eleven and relatively proficient in Russian. One day his father came home and said he would like to chat with him and Svetlana. He proposed that Sergei alias Saeed needed a better education and he felt that this would not be possible in Russia. He had organized for Saeed to study in an International boarding school in Bordeaux, France which had just opened. His friend who owned a vineyard would be his local guardian. Mishkin also had a thriving business selling spirits and this friend in France was also a business associate. Svetlana was broken. She had just lost everything that was dear to her and now they were taking away her son whom she loved more than anything else. Mishkin explained to Svetlana that besides giving love and affection to Sergei they had the responsibility of grooming him to be a nice young man. Preparations began for yet another journey. Saeed thought that this was how it was meant to be. Saeed was taken by his father’s friend to Bordeaux with Mishkin joining them. Now he saw tears in Svetlana’s eyes. He wondered why people around him ended being unhappy and sad. He had respect for both Mishkin and Svetlana, love he did not know or understand anymore. Journey and new cities had become the norm for Saeed. His new destination Bordeaux was beautiful. It was by far the most beautiful of the cities he had lived in. He had another challenge French. His destiny not only challenged him in terms of relationships but also demanded him to become a linguist. This however was to be a long pit stop for Saeed/ Sergei. Sergei completed his schooling in Bordeaux and went to college in Paris to complete with a degree in mining. Ironical for even in his real life it seemed that he was digging and in search/ pursuit of something. The tunnel of life had taken him to three countries and cities experiencing different cultures and learning many languages. His French was excellent, probably the best of all his language skills. He could speak a little bit of Russian and only a little bit of his mother tongue Bengali. During his stay in France he visited Kiev every two years. Both Mishkin & Svetlana were growing old. During those trips twice he was informed by his parents that they had received calls from his family in Dhaka asking if they could speak to Sergei. He was angry and would not react to those messages. The thought of reaching out to his family in Dhaka kept crossing his mind every once in a while. Especially his sister Safina’s face remained constant in his memory only he did not know how she would look after all these years. Interestingly when he would think of her, his own reflection would be that of the six year old boy, as if, life had come to a grinding halt in Dhaka when he left. During his schooling and college days Sergei as he was called had very few friends and even those who knew him only knew him as a Russian who did not look like one. He was a closed person and would not share his feelings very much. His sincerity in his studies and hard work earned him a job in a multi national company that was mining across the globe. He worked hard and was excelling in his career. After three years he was given the challenge of an assignment in Gabon, Africa. He did not even blink for the only thing that was constant in his life was change. He informed his parents who were concerned for his security but they knew he was tough. However this was one journey where he was happy for this was the first time he was travelling on his own free will not following someone to a new city. Gabon was very different in all respects from every city he lived in before. The only comfort being there was a reasonable amount of French speaking population. He did not have to learn another language. His company offered him with a comfortable quarter that was close to the site and all facilities including transport and security. He put his head down and got to his job. His past time over the years had become reading. He read a lot about Asia particularly Dhaka & Bangladesh. Every time there was a mention of Bangladesh in the news he would drop everything and would be all ears. In those days when he was alone and there was not much for him to see around he found the friendship of Erica who used to work in the canteen at his workplace. There was a mutual attraction from the very beginning. If Sergei was attracted to her loving and caring nature, Erica liked his quiet demeanor. Erica could speak French as there was a large French speaking population at Gabon. She would cook him some extra’s which she had noticed he liked. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Slowly their friendship grew into companionship and then love. He told his parents that he wanted to marry Erica. On the next trip he took Erica with him. Both Mishkin & Svetlana were very happy for him. Erica brought changes in Sergei’s life that he was not expecting. He had never loved anyone so much. Perhaps he was yearning to love and be loved for all these years. He for the first time opened out to someone. The day he told Erica about his childhood, he wept like a child. It was emotions that had been fortressed within him for many years. Erica while comforting him was very clear about what he should do. She told him you must visit your family in Dhaka. She made him understand that the anger within him was actually love. Your anger stems from a primary emotion called love. One is never angry with someone that they do not love or care about. Sergei felt like he had lost a lot of weight, he was feeling light. The next day he first tried calling the number his Russian parents had given him but got no response. He was not sure if that call was made from a public phone and anyways it was many years ago. He was in the administration department to enquire about his eligibility for leaves. He applied for leave and was busy planning his trip to Dhaka. Erica told him that he should visit his family first and then she would join him later.
It was a long flight to Dhaka. He had to first fly in to Doha and then fly out to Dhaka. The journey was the longest he had ever undertaken not physically but mentally. He was both nervous and excited. He reached Dhaka in the night and checked himself into a hotel. His Bengali was very poor and he realized that his birth city was as alien to him now as all his previous cities when he first got to them. The night was spent starring outside the window at the night sky with gleaming stars. It was all too familiar. Memories of the night he spent before leaving Dhaka came rushing in. He had grown but only physically. Standing there in front of the window he was still the same six year old confused, perplexed, scared and nervous about the next day. The only comforting thought was Erica whom he called to say he had reached safely. She said that she will pray for him and his family and that everything will end well. He woke up to the chanting of the quran and the first thought that came to his mind was to start sewing the buttons and then the faces of Sarfaraz, Rubaiya and Safina flashed across. Tears welled up in his eyes and an acute pain across his chest. He got up, got ready and went to the lobby to enquire for a guide to the city. He had the address that his Russian parents had given him. The next two hours were spent enquiring and searching for what was his home. The city had changed immensely and he could not recognize or place any of the locations he saw now. The traffic was unbelievable even so early in the morning. He was wondering if this was development or simply more people. Finally they reached the address they were looking for. One look and the memories came flowing in. The house had become very old and looked withered. He knocked on the front door and stood nervously. A lady clad in a burkha opened the door and enquired who he wanted? He mentioned Sarfaraz and Rubaiya begum’s names. The lady for a moment did not answer. Then slowly gathering herself she enquired who he was? He told her that he was their son Saeed. The lady broke down crying. She held his hand and took him inside calling names he did not relate to anymore. Soon the room was filling up with people including several small children. She said Saeed Iam Safina your sister. He instantly held her palm and was weeping like a child. Soon his brothers joined them and he was being introduced to their families. He clenched safina’s hand tightly and asked her yet again about their parents. She told him in a heavy voice that they were no more. His world shattered. He felt the same pain across his chest only this time it felt like his heart would burst. He sat down on the floor with hands on his head and was very quiet. He was in a state of shock. Safina was consoling him but he kept asking her why? The why meant many things all at the same time. Why was he, not told? Why was this happening to him? Why was he deprived of his parents love? But why was he let off by his parents? Why was it him? Did they not love him? Who would answer these questions? He spent the next few days in the company of his family. He then took their leave and promised them that he would visit them every year. On his way back he realized that most of his siblings were still struggling to make ends meet. They had ambitions and dreams that looked distant. On the other hand he looked at his life and realized while he kept ruing about what he missed he never appreciated all that he got in his life. The words of his father rang in his ears and he was now asking himself did they actually love him more than the others? It could have been anyone of them, why him?
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