Sunday 19 May 2024

Memories of My Father - Part 1


What I now understand by "library" was something different when I was young. Until ninth grade, I thought a library was a bookstore where books were sold. My father had a library, meaning he had a bookstore. It existed even before I was born. During the Liberation War, the Razakars burned everything to ashes. Despite being ruined, my father painstakingly rebuilt his store, and in one corner of it, he set up a small library. Thus, a significant part of my childhood and upbringing was filled with various school textbooks. Somehow, through browsing books, I learned to read. It’s not that I did nothing but read books all the time – quite the opposite. After engaging in all sorts of games and mischief, I sometimes had to sit in my father's library – as an assistant.

My curiosity began from there. Gradually, I read all the stories in the Bengali textbooks from grades one to nine, one after another. The ones I liked, I read repeatedly. The ones I didn't enjoy, I never looked at again. There was no obligation in reading for pleasure. 

However, when I entered high school, my father started a new trouble. At that time, the English Rapid Readers were not published by the board. Various publishers gave my father sample copies of English Rapid Readers for different grades. He would ask me to read those English stories. He himself had studied up to the fifth grade during the British era and didn’t recognize English letters properly, yet somehow, he knew which English book belonged to which grade. Reluctantly, I would spell out the words in the English stories. My father didn’t understand English, so I thought he would get frustrated and let me go. He would let me go, but not out of frustration. I would only be freed when a customer came to the shop.

After a few days, the second phase of trouble began. Now, I had not only to read the English stories but also translate them into Bengali. I didn’t know the meaning of all the English words. As for my father, there was no question of him knowing them. If I had to look up the dictionary repeatedly while reading, it would take all day, and I didn’t have that much time. The allure of going to the field to play football was greater than reading “The Boys and the Frogs.” So, if I didn’t know the meaning of a word, I started making up my own. Even if the story got distorted, I didn’t care. 

One day, I was reading "The Boy and the Wolf." The English sentence reading and Bengali sentence forming were going on in turn. When the liar shepherd boy’s cry of “Wolf, wolf” was found to be false, no one believed him when the real wolf came the last time. No one came forward to help him. The wolf ate him. The story ended. As I was closing the book and getting up to leave, my father asked, “Didn’t the boy’s father come forward when he cried out?”

“Why would he come?” I asked back. “He had come and gone back several times before, hadn’t he? The boy was lying.”

“Even if he was lying, couldn’t his father come one more time?” 

“Why would he? Who would believe a liar?”

“Even if no one else believes, his father should have. If he had come one more time, the boy’s life would have been saved. Even if the child lies, why wouldn’t a father respond to his call? What harm would it have done to believe once more? The boy’s life would have been saved. What kind of stories do they write?” 

At that time, I didn't understand my father's words. Now I do. It seems that all fathers in the world think like my father. Parents never lose faith in their children.

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