It was during my summer vacations, usually spent in Bangladesh. I must have been around ten. Now, when I used to travel from the Middle East to Bangladesh, it would mean losing connection with all my friends for two months, as well as giving up my favourite TV programs. I am talking before satellite channels (and the internet), and all of Bangladesh used to have one channel - BTV (still does). The only good program on BTV was Wednesdays, 10 pm, MacGyver. And this was if I was in Dhaka, and the power was there. For three days on every trip, however, my parents would go to our ancestral village. Which meant, for me, not even TV.
I used to be quite bored while in the village. First, as I mentioned, no TV. Second, the
So there I was, at midday, sitting all alone, reading my Tintin comic for the fourth time, when my dad walks in.
"What are you doing?" He asks.
"I am BORED." Little spoilt me complained.
"Well, your Riaz bhaia's playing football." My dad offered.
I looked at him in shock. "It's raining outside. And the ball is not even Nike!"
My dad then had a bright idea. "Tell you what, why don't we make a family tree? It will teach you a bit about our family. We are descended from Isa Kha, you know.
So he asked me to get a piece of paper. Which proved easier said than done. At that time the only papers one could find there were newsprint papers attached to school notebooks, which my cousins were reluctant to part with (for some reason there was always paper when the elders were playing cards). I finally
"Ok," my dad said. "Write your great-grandfather's name down. It's so-and-so."
I wrote it down.
"Now we are going to note the names of his kids."
At that moment my uncle popped his head into the room and asked us what we were doing.
"Making a family tree." I replied. I had to explain what that was.
"Oh." My uncle popped his head out and started to shout, "Maqsud! Shamim! Faiza! Poppy! Rana! Come here! WE ARE MAKING A FAMILY TREE."
Suddenly there were 10 people in the room. I drew four lines under my great grandfather's name and asked, "so how many kids did he have?"
"Wait." My uncle interrupted. "There was 4 ... no 5 ... but that was from his first wife. From his second ..."
"He had HOW many wives?" I asked incredulously. At that age polygamy was unknown to me.
"Three." My dad replied quite matter-of-factly. I quickly added a few more lines under my great grandfather's name. 17 kids, to be precise. I was going to need the whole notebook.
And that's how it continued. It was funny how everyone 3 generations ago had 2 or 3 wives and atleast 15 kids (not counting those that died in infancy). The next generation may have children in single digits (like 9) but could still have 2 wives. The following generation had 1 wife and only 3 or 4 kids.
When we were finally done, half the village was in that room. Everyone kept reminding me of someone I had forgotten "but what about Kamal the son of Quddus the ...". It had taken 13 papers, 2 hours, and we found out we were related to the village MP's eldest daughter-in-law.
I still have those papers. And come to think of it, that one afternoon was some of the best 2 hours I had spent.
Tags: Bangladesh Desi