-Syeda Jebeen Sabira Shah |
Decades ago, even before the birth of a neighboring nation, Bangladesh, a little girl was going through some Assamese newspapers. Her parents used to subscribe to many newspapers, magazines etc in Assamese, and English. Some in Bengali and may be one in Urdu too. She was excited to see the winners list of some All Assam literary competition for young children. Her best friend at that time had won, and there was another girl from a place called Gaurisagar of Upper Assam. And this little girl was in Tezpur, where her father was posted as the Superintending Engineer of Brahmaputra Flood Control, Irrigation and Investigation Department of the Government of Assam. If memory serves well, her father had started the Department in that undivided Darrang District Headquarter at Tezpur. The office cum residence was in a sprawling Bungalow on top of a hill by the historic Agnigarh of Princess Usha and Aniruddha fame, at a whistling distance from the mighty Brahmaputra river. This is not about Tezpur, but related to that girl from Gaurisagar, who was actually, pointed out to the little girl by her best friend. And a penfriendship started to blossom. She already had two penfriends from America, Deawn Jessup and Vicky Sweblom. Now came in Smritirekha. Letters would be exchanged for years. Not photos, though. She also moved to Guwahati after a year or two, when her father was transferred, and again, her father’s department would be one of the first State Government department to have moved it’s Headquarter from Shillong to Guwahati, as a new State Meghalaya was carved out of Assam, with the two tribal districts of Khasiya and Jayanta, and the Garo Hills. Her father had worked as a young Engineer in the remote areas of those hill districts, also in the State Capital Shillong, and also in the Lushai Hills, which would be another State called Mizoram.
After her Highschool Leaving Certificate Examination, before the results were declared, her father had to go on an official trip to Upper Assam, it was also Summer vacation for the younger siblings. So, everyone got into the car. After halt at Jorhat visiting one elder brother’s family at the ancestral home at Royal Road, and visiting other relatives in Jorhat and Kakajan, they resumed their journey Eastward. A roadside signboard declared Gaurisagar, and the teenager was very excited, and told her parents rather shyly, that her penfriend Smritirekha lived there in that town. That her father was the Principal of the Gaurisagar Boys’ Higher Secondary School, and her mother was at the Girls’ School.
“Could we meet her?”
“Turn the car,” the father told the driver. “Let’s go to the Boys’ School, everyone would know where the Principal lived. We will find the address.”
So we did!
It was the Neogs’ residence. They were so very delighted to receive a carful of strangers!
They had known their daughter had a penfriend. The daughter was at that time studying in College at Dibrugarh, she was a year or so senior to her visiting penfriend. But luckily for everyone concerned, she was home for Summer vacation. The guests were treated with utmost warmth and generosity. What a cultured family in that small town! The visiting girl’s father being a gregarious person himself, the family spent few wonderful, memorable hours discussing all kinds of topics under the Sun, sitting on the back porch overlooking the river Dikhow. What an ambience it was!
The lady of the house told them to always make it a point to visit their home, whenever they would travel through their town. And although the young girl never got to visit that wonderful home again, but her father did drop by many times during his trips to Upper Assam. And his sister would give him Gamosa for Bihu, and treat with Assamese delicacies.
Later when the young girl went to study in Aligarh Muslim University, the mother of her penfriend Smritirekha, started to write to her as well, and regularly. The correspondence continued, when she moved to New York. The letters must be somewhere inside some box with old letters and papers.
This morning, while still in bed, it all rushed through her mind, as she read the post by a Facebook friend announcing the passing away of his Minoti Mahi (aunt), who had brought him up, after her had lost his mother at 11 months. and that he had visited her at her Gaurisagar home just few days back in December.
“Oh my God! That was my Minoti Mahi, Smritirekha’s mother!”, thought I. Because that girl was me, and for me, a loving friendship had blossomed between two families. Smritirekha would visit my parents at our Sahib Tila home in Guwahati. I had looked for her in Facebook, but couldn’t find.
My late father had got to enjoy the love and warmth of a loving sister, Mrs Minoti Neog. Perhaps because of the spiritual connection with Minoti Mahi, I got to befriend her son like nephew, Indrajit Dutta on Facebook.
Rest in Eternal Bliss, Minoti Mahi.
Syeda Jebeen Sabira Sha ( New York)