By Farhanaz Rabbani
“Jethi Maa..you have lost your son! He will never come back home!”
With these words, Kalam entered the old hut where his Jethi Maa was cooking lunch for her family. Having lost her husband at a very young age and with no financial support of her own, Chand Banu had to let her elder son stay as a jaigir in faraway homes so that he could continue his studies. Once he got admitted to Jagannath College in Dhaka, the whole village was elated. Habib would go to the big city Dhaka to do his ISC ! Habib, the eldest son of the family was always a bright student. His local schoolteachers wondered at his intelligence and diligence. Coming from a very poor family, Habib never gave up on his dreams. After his father’s death, the additional burden of looking after his mother and siblings was thrust upon him when he was only in Class 4. He used to sell peanuts when he was not at school. Never averse from taking in new challenges, Habib did all kinds of manual jobs from his childhood — some of which would shock some of his colleagues much later in his life.
In Dhaka, he was struggling to find a place to stay. He needed to find a place soon or else he would jeopardise his studies. A family finally agreed to keep him as a jaigir. They liked the quiet and humble boy who was full of dreams and ambitions of his own. As the days went by, they began to appreciate the intelligent young man and decided to let him tutor their children at home. Later Habib would recount how the mistress of the household would force him to eat more and to have milk everyday so that he could study well. Gradually they embraced him as a member of the family and began to see him as a prospective son-in-law for one of their daughters. Habib of course had no inkling about their secret plans. He was too intent on earning his keep and focusing on studies. Every month he used to send the extra money he earned from his private tuition classes to his mother. His goal was to sit for the ISC exams.
On a pleasant spring day, when Kalam informed his Jeti Maa that he was going to Dhaka on an errand, he took Habib’s address. Not knowing how her son was doing, his Jeti Maa held his hands and tearfully told him to see how her beloved son was doing.
Reaching Dhaka, it took a few days for Kalam to sort out his affairs. Finally, after three or four days, he went to meet Habib. When he knocked on the front gate of the house, a young girl opened it. As soon as she heard that he was from Habib’s village, she let him in and took him to Habib’s room. A tiny little room with a desk and chair at the corner was lit by a hurricane in the mellow evening. Kalam stepped into the room and said “Habibullah! Are you here?”
Overjoyed with this surprise visit from his cousin, Habib jumped up from his chair and embraced him. It felt as if the whole village of Kafilatoli had come to see him! How he missed his family and friends back home! Taking Kalam’s hands, Habib urged him to sit down on his tiny bed and asked him about his mother, brothers and sisters.
Kalam was happy to see Habib in good health and spirits. But, as he looked at his cousin animatedly describing his experiences as a college student of Dhaka, a strange ominous thought entered his mind. Kalam noticed how the family was taking care of Habib. He was well fed and was treated as a beloved member of the family. And furthermore, he also noticed that there were three young beautiful girls in that family — all students of Habib. It did not take long for Kalam to understand the true motives of the family. Back in those days — in the 1930s and 1940s, it was not unusual for parents to marry off their daughters to well behaved and academic jaigirs. It was generally known that these young boys were destined to shine later in life either as government officers, doctors, academicians or reputed scholars of the country. Many parents successfully married their daughters to these bright young men with the hopes of ensuring the best future for their daughters.
Kalam left for his village early the following morning. Hurrying into his Jeti Maa’s hut, he did not waste any time to beat around the bush.
“Oh Jeti Maa! You have lost your son. He will never come back home again!”
Shocked, Chand Banu dropped the wooden ladle on the terracotta stove and ran towards him. “What do you mean Oh Kalam? What happened to my Hobu?!”
As soon as she heard about the family of three daughters with whom her dear son was staying as a jaigir, her whole body froze. The grim image of her dear son being bewitched by an unknown strange Dhaka family — people who belong to a totally different region – was agonizing to her.
Although she was illiterate, Chand Banu was an extremely astute and wise mother. Despite her poverty, she knew that her Hobu had much more to offer to prospective brides in her village. Her frantic search for a Noakhali girl for her dearest Hobu began. She told Kalam, “Go and find a suitable bride for Hobu—from the nearest villages—so that he never deserts us. We must make sure that he starts his family in his home—in Noakhali!”
Habib’s mother never allowed her adverse financial condition to hold her back in dreaming and aspiring for the best for her children. She knew of a reputed family in Meerganj — the Meer family — who had several eligible daughters. Long before Habib left for Dhaka, Chand Banu had a secret desire to welcome one of the Meer Bari daughters as her daughter-in-law. She had heard that the eldest daughter of the Meer Bari  had been married off to a cousin, an educated head teacher of a local High School. The second daughter was next in line.
Chand Banu did not waste any time. She knew that the Meer family valued education more than anything, they would definitely want an educated son-in-law for the other daughters. She summoned her extended family to consult with them on how she could send a proposal to the Meer family. Unfortunately, one of her neighbours informed her that the Meer family had already decided that their second daughter would get married to a rich chilli merchant’s son of the same region. They were extremely wealthy and boasted several warehouses all over Meerganj and an impressive three floor ‘paka’ house in the region. How could Chand Banu compete with them?
Imbued with an immense fear of losing her son to the strange city of Dhaka, Chand Banu decided to take a huge risk. She sent a representative of the family, Selim Miah, an elderly neighbour, who was a mutual friend of both the Meers and her family.
The Meer Bari, as it was known and is still known today, was one of the most reputed families of the region. They were one of the few families who had acres of land, ponds, a huge mansion and dozens of families working for them all throughout the region. They had several silos or warehouses to store the rice harvested from all their fields!
On a warm and humid summer morning, Meer Saheb was sitting at the verandah watching his men drawing in fishing nets with catch from the large pond behind his home. When he stepped onto the verandah, Selim Miah found him in a good mood, because his second daughter was due to get married the following day. Greeting each other warmly, the two men sat down to have a friendly conversation of fishing and farming in general. Meer Saheb was especially in a good mood. After a few furtive glances towards Meer Saheb, Selim Miah finally mustered up the courage to convey Chand Banu’s message to him. Meer Saheb turned towards Selim Miah and looked intently into his eyes.
The following day, the chilli merchant and his son came to Meer Bari with twenty other members of his family. The whole mansion was decorated to the tees and the groom was looking exquisitely handsome in his satin white sherwani and silk turban. As the guests arrived, the ladies of the household quickly ran inside and allowed the men to greet them. The very tall Meer Saheb, elegantly dressed in an off-white punjabi, payjama and white tupi, stood in front of the guests. Accompanied by the senior members of the family, Meer Saheb, requested that the guests be seated. After they had all settled in, Meer Saheb took a deep breath, and apologised to the chilli Merchant. Bewildered, the groom and his father looked inquisitively at Meer Saheb. Then the news was given to them…the news of Meer Bari’s second daughter getting married to Habibullah of Kafilatoli village just the night before!
A few miles away, Chand Banu was rigorously fanning her terracotta stove so that the flames could cook the meat quickly. She did not have much time left. She finished sweeping the yard earlier. Her eldest daughter was in charge of cleaning the only two rooms of her dilapidated mud hut. The local boys and girls were making handmade streamers out of cheap coloured paper to welcome the new guest.
Chand Banu’s daughter-in-law was finally coming. Her dear Hobu’s bou was coming!
 Father’s elder brother’s wife – aunt. Translation from Bengali
 Meritorious young men from rural regions staying with a host family in the city
 Intermediate of Science
 Fourth grade at school
 House or family home
 Made with cement and bricks
 Long coat
 Punjab …tupi: Kurta…Cap
Farhanaz Rabbani loves to chronicle interesting stories and events that happen around her. She is an avid listener.
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