The first is born

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The time that I am talking about is January 1950 in East Pakistan.

This is the year after my parents got married. My father was in the Army: a captain. My mother was in high school when they got married.

Chinku bhaiya, our eldest brother, was born in Sylhet. Abba was on duty in Barisal when Amma realized that she was pregnant. Abba returned from Barisal, but before that, he went up north to get Dadi from Rashjahi (paternal grandma). My Dada was winding up from Rajshahi College / University to move to Dhaka and join Dhaka University. Dadi gave Amma an orange when she arrived. Abba or Dadi did not know that Amma had conceived. Amma did not have the opportunity to write to Abba about conceiving Chinku Bhaiya. Amma was expecting letters from Abba, but Abba for some reason did not write to her. So, my mother, a seventeen-year-old adolescent resorted to the exciting thought of giving him a surprise when he returned.

It was customary, then as it is now, a pregnant mother would stay at parents place when she was expecting. Amma went to Faridpur to stay with her father; my Nana. My Nani died after the birth of her last child, fifteen years back. I am sure Khilai ( a surrogate mother whose responsibility is to feed) fed Amma and took care of her, doing all that a mother would do. And Nana Bhaiya always gave a sense of comfort to his five children, though they were without a mother from a very young age.Amma stayed at her father’s place for a month and a half. Nana bhaiya was having severe gastric problems, and for the better diagnosis, he decided to go to London.

May 25th was their marriage anniversary. Abba got Amma a silk saree and a lovely brooch. Then they returned to Sylhet. In her pregnancy, Amma craved for chocolates from Dhaka. Abba got toffees and other sweets when he did not find any chocolates. Amma said these are the chocolates I wanted to have. Abba said these are not chocolates, they are toffees but alas for  Amma they were all the same. She had butterscotch toffees which she once had in Dhaka or maybe Calcutta.

In Sylhet, all of Amma’s sisters in law and the younger brother in law reunited. Every one for his/ her own reason. My Mejo phuppu to improve her health was sent to her brother’s place for “change.” This was widely practiced in those days. People believed a change in place and a change in weather will bring back health to the one who was suffering.

Abba fetched one suitcase full of wool. My phuppus ( paternal aunts) started knitting for the baby to be born.

Boro khala  ( maternal aunt) sent sets of clothes for the child to be born. My boro khala was very good at embroidery and knitting. All knitting and sewing were done with her own two hands. Boro Khala bought blue layette from Calcutta (satin mattress, pillows )and sheets that were embroidered and some laced.)

While my phuppus were knitting for Chinku bhaiya,  Amma was getting big. At the end of September Chachcha’s ( Abba’s elder brother ) was blessed with a baby girl; Riffu Apa. So all the baby clothes that had already been made were sent to the baby girl in Dhaka. Abba hired a tailor to sew the flannels at home for the newborns.

The merriment was in the background for Amma. She was not very happy herself. The little tensions with in-laws persisted, and she would go around with a long face. Dadi made her “chicken in a jug”  soup, but this did not give her the feeling of love. Amma’s mother had died in childbirth when my choto khala was born.

The baby ( Chinku Bhaiya) was supposed to be born in a nursing home and a qualified doctor was to attend. But Amma had pain at home and her water bag broke. Abba went to fetch the doctor so that the doctor could be with Amma. When the Lady Doctor came, she said that there was no more time to take Amma to the nursing home. Water was boiled and poured into the in a big enamel bowl. Sterilized water was needed.

Amma had three bouts of spasm and Chinku Bhaiya was born.

Amma became happy overnight. All her misgivings with her in-laws vanished. Abba would sit by the baby and stare at him in amazement. He would say, I will live through this child.

The experience of having a child was unique for the seventeen-year-old Kaniz Alia and twenty-three-year-old Captain Amin