A loss of heritage and memories

On November 16, 2020, I lost my father’s sister, my Pishi. She was not just my Pishi. She was also my maternal grandmother’s sister-in-law. My father had three sisters. The youngest passed away many years ago. She was loved by all. I was barely 10 when she passed away. I don’t have many memories of her. The eldest sister passed away in East Bengal. I had only come to know about her earlier this year when I had been released from the hospital following surgery. I was sitting at my brother's house in Calcutta. My cousin had come over to see me. She told me about an aunt I had not known about for the past three decades. She was many years older than my father. My father doesn’t have many memories of her and never spoke of her. My father is a man of few words.

As such, this Pishi was the only aunt I knew from my father’s family.

She was a very good cook. It’s not that I remember much of her cooking. I have heard stories of her cooking from my father. She was born in Opar Bangla. She got married and moved to Calcutta. She took care of my father and her brothers. My father’s mother died when he wasn't even a teenager. She was the mother that my father remembers, figuratively.

She was close to my Duma (my mother’s mother). My Duma was the only child. Her father passed away long before independence. She spent most of her childhood living with relatives — her uncles and their families. And one such family was my Pishi’s. My Pishi loved my Duma and so did my Duma. 

It was weird growing up hearing my Duma call my Pishi as ‘Boudi’ (it means sister-in-law in Bengali). I remember calling my cousins as Mama and Masi for a very long time until I was corrected. It was very complicated but she was always my Pishi. She was never my mother's aunt or my Duma’s Boudi. 

When my father came to India from East Pakistan (Yes, it was still called East Pakistan), her house was where he lived. He was 13-14 years old. My Pishi and Pishemoshai supported and took care of my father and his family (a huge band of brothers and my paternal grandfather), till one by one the boys turned men. My father was 16 when he was drafted as an apprentice working for MoD. 

My Pishi and Pishemoshai would still keep an eye on him.

She also loved my mother. My Pishi and Pishemoshai are the ones who arranged my parents’ marriage. That itself is another long story. After marriage, my mother would find herself surrounded by many of her in-laws who found pleasure in poking fun at a new bride. My Pishi never did. 

I don’t have vast and numerous memories of her but these are the memories I have. These are the stories I grew up hearing. I last met her at a cousin’s wedding. She always had her band of sisters and sister-in-laws around her. She fondly remembered enjoying my brother’s wedding. She had stayed over at our place. She was very happy. 

She lived a long and probably a happy life — I will never get to know whether she did. I will never get to hear stories of Opar Bangla anymore from her or enjoy her food. And this doesn’t make me sad. It makes me hold on to the memories even more tightly. These memories that I have of my Pishi and a bygone distant past that we seem to neglect.

Through my Pishi and her stories, we have lived a past that once existed. They are stories for my generation and the truth that they had lived. One by one, the storytellers are withering away. Two years back, we lost Duma on the auspicious day of Vijaya Dashami. On November 16, 2020, a few days after Kali Puja/Diwali, we lost Pishi.

And slowly but surely, we will lose the heritage they are leaving behind and what will remain are just memories of yesteryears in long and forgotten tales.

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