Now Reading
A Nostalgic Trip To Sylhet

A Nostalgic Trip To Sylhet

Avatar photo

We shared an excerpt from ‘Unpartitioned Lives: Sylhet and After” on the publication of 6th of January. This narrative provides a personal account of the author’s early childhood in Sylhet, the impact of the Partition of India, and a nostalgic return to his ancestral home in Bejura. The story encompasses family history, cultural experiences, visits to significant locations, and reflections on the past.

I spent my early childhood, up to the age of about 6 in Sylhet, which was then a part of undivided India, but became, after the Partition of India in 1947, a part of  East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh. A year or so after the untimely death of my grandfather in 1927 at the age of only 52 years, my grandmother Thamma (an affectionate abbreviation of the formal Bengali word thakuma, meaning parental grandmother), who was about 36 years old, decided to move to Sylhet town with her 5 young boys and 2 girls (two of them were toddlers). She did that instead of going to live with her in-laws in our grandfather’s ancestral home in the village of Bejura, about 60-70 miles from Sylhet town. The reason for this decision was to provide her children an opportunity to get a good education since Sylhet town was known to have excellent schools and a very reputable M.C. College.  Initially, Thamma rented a house while her own house being built, which she financed with the life insurance money from my grandfather’s death. The house she was building was L-shaped, with a long veranda in the front, and a good size front yard and quite a large back yard, in an area called Lamabazar. As far as I know the house was completed in 1929. I have very fond memories of that house, where I spent my early childhood and being the first-born son in the family of 5 brothers and 2 sisters, living under the same roof, I had nothing but love and affection.

Although for many years I have been thinking of visiting our house in Sylhet town and also our ancestral home in Bejura, a village in the same district, it came to fruition  when my wife Sara and I visited Kolkata soon after my retirement in November of 2019.  Surprisingly, the house, which remained with Hindu families since we left in 1947, has not changed much from what I remember except for the filling of the pond in the back yard where a multistoried apartment building had been constructed.  Unfortunately, the mango tree in the front yard, which bore juicy mangoes and provided a nice shade, was no longer there and the front yard was much smaller since several  shops were built on that area facing the main road.  But the Manipuri communities, who are devotees of Krishna, were still present in the front and back of the house premises. We visited the Manipuri community at the back of our house and saw their Prayer Hall, where I remember going with Thamma at night after dinner to listen to kirtan (devotional song) or to watch Manipuri dance, the style of which is quite different from other Indian  dances.

We also visited our ancestral home in the village of Bejura, about 2-hour drive on the Sylhet – Dhaka highway. Our visit to Bejura was a memorable one. It was a sunny day and as we drove on the Sylhet-Dhaka highway, we saw many lush paddy fields and villages with ponds surrounded by banana plants with ripe and unripe fruits. Many large trees, including mango, jam (Java plum or Indian Blackberry) banyan and betal nut trees could be seen on both sides of the highway There were little shops and eateries along the highway. After about 2 hours, our driver stopped on the side of the highway where a signboard proclaiming “Bejura” was posted on an electric pole. I got quite excited seeing the signboard and immediately took a picture.  I couldn’t believe I was near my ancestral home, a place I knew only in my mind. Since we didn’t know the exact location of our ancestral home, our driver asked one of the rickshaw-wallahs lounging nearby whether he knew where the “Majumdar Family” lived.  To my utter surprise, the rickshaw-wallah knew the place and directed us to one of the side roads we should take to get there. The side road, which sloped down quite steeply from the side of the highway, turned out to be a narrow, unpaved clay path with big potholes. Since our car couldn’t be driven on this path, we were told by people lounging on the roadside to take an auto-rickshaw, which we reluctantly did. As the auto-rickshaw started to drive it lunged from right to left and at times Sara and I  feared that we might fall into one of the ponds on either side of the path.

Ruins of the Durga temple at the Author's ancestral home in the village of Bejura, near Sylhet town
Ruins of the Durga temple at the Author’s ancestral home in the village of Bejura, near Sylhet town

After riding for a short distance, we stopped at a corner tea stall where several villagers were drinking tea and chit-chatting. I told them that I was a descendant of Joy Chandra Nandi Majumdar family and grandson of Jogesh Nandy, and that we had come here  to visit our ancestral home and asked whether anyone would know the exact location of the Majumdar Family place. One of the middle-aged gentlemen at the tea stall, neatly dressed, came forward and told us that he was a “Nandi Majumdar”, from one of our clans, and would be more than happy to show us our ancestral home. He spoke English and was able to communicate with Sara. As he walked along, he called his young son, an engineer, to join us. Together, they took us to our ancestral place, where except for the remains of our huge Doshobhuja (Ten-armed Goddess Durga) Temple, no other building(s) associated with  our family could be seen. The Durga Temple was overgrown with trees and bushes, resembling Cambodia’s Ankor Wat Hindu Temple. We looked around the ruins and took several pictures but were afraid to go inside for fear of snakes. The gentleman who took us around was very friendly. He started addressing me as “Dada” (elder brother) and my wife Sara as “Boudi” (sister-in-law) and his son addressed us as Kaku and Kakima (Uncle and Aunt-in-law). The whole family was extremely nice with us, which made us feel very much at home. They invited us for lunch at their house, which we gladly accepted. We had a nice Sylheti meal of daal, egg plant fries, and  mixed vegetable and fish curries. The lady of the house told us that she was looking for a nice bride for their only son and  invited us to attend, which we were told would not be too far in the future.  They also showed us the part of the house their son and his future wife would occupy. Anyway, Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020, which stopped all foreign travels for the next 3 years, so we missed the wedding. They later introduced us to other neighbors and also  showed the new temple they built, where they hold weekly prayer gatherings and conduct other Hindu rituals. They told us that about 400 Hindu families still live in and around the village of Bejura. After spending the whole afternoon with the Nandi Majumdar family, we walked back to our car on the main road. During our walk back they told us about their intention to pave the road so we could drive to their house next time. We said goodbye to this very friendly Nandi Majumdar family in Bejura and drove back to our hotel in Sylhet town in the evening. It was a memorable visit I will cherish for the rest of my life.

As far as I know, Thamma, with her 5 sons and 2 daughters, moved into her newly built house in Sylhet town in 1929 and lived there until we fled to India after the Partition in 1947. My father, uncles, and aunts all attended schools and college in Sylhet. My father, my uncles, and my elder aunt, whom I called Pishi also received their bachelor’s degrees from the university after going through the required courses at the M.C. College in Sylhet. Sara and I visited M.C. College during our trip to Sylhet in November 2019. The college was built on rolling terrain with pine trees and large shrubs. Each department had its own building, and was all well maintained. The large library building had beautiful old shelves filled with books and periodicals. We saw a number of old text books and they were nicely preserved. The librarian was very cordial to us and showed us around. As we were about to leave he asked us to sign the guest book and also requested me to write comments. I became very emotional thinking of my father, my aunt and uncles who studied there  always talked lovingly about their college days. During our walk through we visited the English department where one class was in session. The professor invited me in and I explained  him the reason for my visit, after which I was allowed to take a few pictures of the class with students.  While walking through the long veranda-like corridor we came across a group of girls clad in various attires from salwar kamiz to full burka who greeted us with huge smiles and invited Sara to sit with them while I  took a few pictures. We thoroughly enjoyed our brief encounter with them. Even though our visit to M.C. College was not a part of my life, this visit gave me a new perspective on the lives of my elders.

See Also
we the nature lovers

Adhip Nandi Majumdar alongwith his wife Sara in front of M. C. College Library
Adhip Nandi Majumdar, alongwith his wife Sara in front of M. C. College Library

Sara got very interested to see tea plantation in Sylhet, which is the birthplace of the Bangladesh tea industry and where most of the tea is grown. The tea industry accounts for 1% of Bangladesh GDP. I have been to tea plantations before when I lived in Silchar, a town in Assam, India.. Silchar was surrounded by tea gardens, which were, at that time, mostly owned by the British. Anyway, going back to our visit to a tea plantation in Sylhet, our driver and the young man, who was showing us around decided to take us to one of the tea plantations that was near to the Sylhet Airport. It was in early afternoon when we drove to the tea plantation. The drive was relaxing as  it drove through the rolling hills of Sylhet. As we were approaching the plantation area we drove over a stream and  saw children playing in the water and men and women washing themselves. Finally we reached the tea plantation, which was large and idyllic looking. We walked around the plantation and then came back to the office area, where our car was parked. There we saw several women, whose primary duty was to pluck tea. They were taking a break and enjoying each other’s company in the sunshine. From my agricultural science study I knew that the plucking process occurs when the tea bush pushes out new leaf shoots. For a fine black or green tea, the pluckers will take the first two leaves and one new bud. Tea is harvested mainly by hand because it preserves the quality of the leaves. There are several Assamese songs about the plucking of tea leaves and a bud. I asked a couple of women, sitting there, to demonstrate us the way they pluck tea leaves. Surprisingly, all of them were from Odisha (Orissa), India. Two of them got up quickly and with a hearty smile attached their baskets on the back and showed us how two leaves and a bud were plucked. The most common way of plucking tea leaves by hand is palm down or up, grasping the tea shoot using the thumb and forefinger, with the middle finger sometimes used in combination.  I took a few pictures as they demonstrated of plucking tea leaves.  I was happy to give them some tips and left the beautiful tea plantation in Sylhet,  a sight to remember.

Tea harvesting by hand in a plantation in Sylhet
Tea harvesting by hand in a plantation in Sylhet

I don’t remember much of my life in Sylhet as I was too young. But I remember it being nothing less than idyllic. What could be more idyllic than being showered with love and affection by my grandmother, parents, aunts, and uncles; going with Thamma to the Manipuri Prayer Hall at the back of our house in Sylhet,  watching Manipuri dance and listening to kirtan. I remember going with my younger aunt, whom I called “Pishimoni” to her friend’s house at the back of our house to play with a boy of my age. I remember Pishimoni returning from school and sitting with her in the kitchen while she ate her late afternoon meal. I remember getting and biting on a very sour star fruit from the tree at the far end of the backyard of our house.  I remember the pond in the back yard, which sometimes would overflow after heavy monsoon rain when I could see fish splattering in the yard in shallow water. I remember the “neem” tree in the inner courtyard of our house. All of this ended when the rumblings of Partition took over normal day-to-day life. We began to see processions of Hindus chanting “Vande Ma Taram” (Praise to Motherland, Mother) and Muslims yelling “Allah Hu Akhbar” (God is Great). Then came the Hindu-Muslim riots, when people got killed. These upheavals led to the referendum to determine whether Sylhet should remain in India or join Pakistan. With a Muslim majority, Sylhet voted to join Pakistan and became part of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). We were heartbroken, to say the least.  Thamma sold her beautiful house at a rock-bottom price, and we all left Sylhet for India.  I don’t remember who went where, but my younger brother Manji and I went with Thamma and Pishimoni to Nagoan, a small town in Assam to live with my older aunt “Pishi” and her husband, whom we addressed as “Pishamoshoy”. Our (mine and Manji’s) unsettled life began after leaving Sylhet. For the next the 5-6 years we moved from one town to the other, until we finally settled in Shillong, then the capital of Assam.

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top