This is an extract from ‘The Changing City Men’
Labu, If not for photographs, could swear she would not have remembered how her mother looked like, not clearly at least. The curve of the face, the waviness of the hair, the way she dressed, the way she stood, the way her hair fell over her shoulders and how her eyes gleamed of mischief. However, Labu remembered the smell. She would be able to spot her mother whilst blind folded and her nose would lead her straight to her Ma. Maybe it was all in the biology of things, instinct, and people just had not realised it yet. Would she be able to recognise her voice? Maybe not, she further confirmed, she did not have the ear for it. Her father would have probably, but not her. Her senses did not extend that far.
She would imagine love stories of how her father and mother had met, if it was love at first sight or not. Maybe Ma was the one who approached Baba, as Baba was too timid, too odd, too much of a fool to make a move. Ma was said to have been more steadfast, full of naughtiness. Whereas, he was more of the quiet intellectual, who would listen and simply nod. There was a possibility that Baba simply nodded when Ma confessed her love for him, it was a strict possibility. Labu did not have much information about her mother, very little from her own experience of course, to base her scenarios on; they were mostly variations of what she heard from others, from Baba. She did however play out all sorts of dialogues, lines her father would have said; perhaps he would sing a song no one had ever heard or hears to this date, ‘you and me babe—how bout it?’ was something he would probably sing; she heard him play it on the tape-desk on many occasions.Perhaps, he would recite Tagore poems, perhaps recite the-not-so-interesting Shelley or perhaps he would make up some odd Haiku or two.
Love me forever
Even if clouds darken
And time passes still
On the 8th of July 1990, at the same time as seventy three thousand people in the stadium in Rome and millions around the world watched the telecast of a disappointing world-cup final between West Germany and Argentina, the professor and his wife, who was also his ex-student, were in bed, in coitus, while having the new Panasonic colour television turned on, showing Maradona, Diego, who was not yet a god, running around, wasting time. Whilst Andreas Brehme took the penalty kick, scoring the only goal, the professor in another part of the world, in the bedroom of his residence in Chittagong, shot his load into his wife. In their sleep that night, the swimming seed met the egg, forming a life. Some nine to ten months later, Labonnyo ‘Labu’ Majumdar, on the night of 29th April 1991, the night of the infamous cyclone that killed more than a million people, was born As her mother thrashed about on the bed from pangs of imminent childbirth, at home (going to a hospital had been nearly impossible with the typhoon and a midwife was sourced), the storm coincidently intensified, rattling the building, shaking the foundation, as if the house would be taken up any moment, in the air like the one in Wizard of Oz. With the eye of the storm passing and the eerie calm about to end, the crown began to show, stretching the mother, unleashing another round of screams and teeth-gritting agony, further unleashing the wrath of the storm on innocent humanity. By the time the little form that was Labu painfully slid out of her mother, the cyclone was dying and it dissipated soon after. Her father had secretly wanted a daughter; he aspired to make her the fittest of them all. Being a father to a daughter was a challenge in such a masculine society and he wanted to take up that challenge. He wanted her to grow up to be the strongest, the bravest and the truest.
She, born amidst a storm, became quite a storm herself. She once imagined herself to be a super-hero like Wonder Woman, clad in a racy outfit, with the name Tufaan. Miss Typhoon, with a logo of a football on the chest.
Labu leaned on the balcony railing, her thoughts scattered, and as she turned her gaze from the skies to her father, her hand tightly gripping an old photograph of her mother, she asked, ‘Baba, do you remember every detail of Ma? Her looks, her sound, her smell, her tastes, everything, do you?’
Her father, not to be unfazed by such a question at this late hour, at this very moment, out of nowhere, simply nodded.
She turned her gaze back at the night sky, which was failing to show any trace of the moon. Her mother used to call her by a special name and she could not remember it. Her memory was playing tricks with her, not sleight of the hand, rather sleight of the mind, as if she was an old lady, who forgot faces, names, even herself, but she was nothing as such. Then suddenly, as she was rewrapping the shawl, which was at the verge of falling off her body, around herself, it dawned upon her; the name came back to her out of nowhere.
Labubaby. Labubaby this and Labubaby that. Labubaby, oh baby oh my baby; I would bring the stars for you, my child. Want to hear a song?
I would love you like the stars above, I will love you till I die.
artwork, Mrittika Barua