Passing through a long narrow alley, a wild square showed up in front of your eyes. A small tea house is located in front of a row of red brick houses, just opposite an alternative exit of a parking lot. A chubby dog who can do hand-shaking is swaying around the tourists, begging for food with her trick. The owner of the teahouse is brewing Assam tea leaves in the pot, adding a little tea masala spice, pouring milk in slowly, then simmering quietly. When the whole pot of tea condensed into a half pot, he began serving his long-awaited guests.
Guests chat or smoke during the long wait. A grammar mistake slipped from my tongue and made him raise his eyebrow.
“Are you come from Bengal? You just said ‘ashibo’ instead of ‘aonga’.”
“Right, I’m from Bangladesh.”
“Me too. Actually, my hometown was in Sonargaon near Dhaka.”
“One of my friends Masum lives there, in a Hindu community.”
“There were many riots in last decades, the one in 1964 was the most terrifying.” The man started to talk the story about his past. “In the past, regardless of any religion, we all lived together in peace. But after the partition, our temples, houses, shops, people started to be attacked by extremist… The 1964 incident was too much horrible, we have left Bangladesh since then.” Spoke with a windy voice. The tea maker has a thin and angular figure, without a big belly that usually South Asian men have. He must have suffered a lot, I think.
The largest violence in Narayanganj and many districts in Bangladesh was the 1964 East Pakistan riots, which was the massacre and ethnic cleansing of Bengali Hindus from the East Pakistan period. In that incident, the Narayanganj sub-division alone was about 3,500 Hindus killed, 300 Hindu women abducted, 31,000 Hindu dwellings destroyed, and 80,000 Hindus rendered homeless.
“First we took refuge with our relatives in Kolkata, for a couple of decades. Then 17 years ago, we decided to move to New Delhi.” He looked toward his teenage son who was playing with his mobile phone, “He was born in Delhi, and knows nothing about Bengali”. The boy didn’t seem to understand the language his father is speaking, didn’t respond at all.
“It was really tough during the pandemic. The strict lockdown was imposed for the whole two months, anyone who stepped out of the door would be arrested. The later waves of lockdown ate all of my savings. I survived but have nothing left behind.”
After having tea, we continued to tease the chubby dog genteelly. In this Subcontinent, everyone carries a new or old trace of leaving home, trauma, being perpetrators of violence, or being the victims, or both.