Sunspots




According to astronomers the red ball sun is only medium-sized. Among stars it is unimpressive yet to our planet it brings life.

It’s a standard arrangement, in Hatiya, in Bangladeshi villages, the central courtyard area of dirt surrounded by several modest houses of wood and tin or thatch. There are the mud verandas the women have patiently patted into place at the front of each house, where the roofs overhang the building; and the small windows of carpenter’s hands with frames that aren’t entirely square and shutters that don’t absolutely meet. There are trees including coconut palms and bananas in the patch of ground carved out away from the road amongst the rice fields. It’s typical, the household where Nobir and his extended family live.

In the evenings when the hurricanes are turned down in each courtyard house only the family members inside notice the illumination dim.

During winter when the rice fields are suitable for football and shortcuts it’s easy to cross from the road to the household even before reaching the canal bridge and turning to the left before it to find the main entrance. But when the rains come the short way is out of the question unless one wishes to give one’s lower legs to the mud and water, which Nobir and his relatives sometimes do. Even the longer way is difficult then for although the men try to maintain a raised aisle from household to the road it’s usually missing a patch or two and requires a tricky jump or a delicate step to the side to avoid deeper holes of mud.

Beyond the neighbourhood there are few to witness how the changes of season are marked in the access to that household.

Soleiman and Nobir, Rubban the daughter who decided to flout convention and bring her husband Selim to her home rather than settle in his, with the many cousins and descendants make a raucous crowd for visitors. They conduct themselves with noticeable freedom and more impressively, it must be said, inhabit an environment of familial love. It’s not an easy thing to describe how all household members are resolutely appreciated for who they are: how they care for each other; how close are their family bonds; and how that nurtures in them self-confidence, at least when at home. For despite the problem of poverty and the lack of opportunity in education and until more recently, employment, it’s by and large a good family.

Beyond the neighbourhood there are few to tell of that mini-republic where the tradition of respect for one’s elders mingles quite effortlessly with everybody having a voice, where in accordance with that most usual Bengali recipe each formality is tempered by love. 


Since Nobir’s father died several years ago his mother has been the matriarch.  It is her territory. A humble woman with enough shyness about her, she also has tremendous curiosity. She laughs readily and offers visitors such a heartfelt smile; her family’s interactions amongst themselves and with the visitors are her entertainment and her pride. There’s always been so much life in her.

Beyond Bangladesh it’s not perhaps just anyone who will properly comprehend when I say the energy of her motherly love infuses into the surrounding fields and roads beyond the household limits.

Nobir in Alauddin's tea shop

A visit to Nobir’s house is not a matter to be taken lightly since there’ll be food and lengthy discussion about the need to drink only one cup of tea since various household branches will vie to provide it and be disappointed if they can’t.  Everybody has a voice. Although there have been many visits over the years, with thoughts of not burdening the family there were many more occasions of passing along the road and not calling in; although if spotted there were always strong entreaties. Nobir’s mother has never been averse to running across the nearest rice field towards the road to extend an invitation.  And when there was nothing much available for visitors, Situ recalled, Nobir’s family would bring him a glass of water flavoured with a lemon from one of their trees.

There aren’t many people who saw that mynah bird the household adopted hopping about in anticipation of food.

I don’t suppose I’ve ever known her well in the traditional sense, Nobir’s mother, since for most of the years there were barely Bangla words within me; but the limits of vocabulary did nothing to inhibit feeling and even when passing along the road it is impossible to deny a calmness and happiness arising from the knowledge of her presence just beyond, in their island of trees. On the very few occasions I arrived at their house feeling quite horrendously for whatever reason I am very conscious of having left in awe at how with simple hospitality they’d altered my spirits so powerfully for the better. Just to think of Nobir’s mother is to feel joy.

Nobir's mother (centre) with grandchildren
There are few who can really appreciate that phenomenon, although in Bangladesh it is not entirely uncommon to know someone of a similar type.

I recall Soleiman’s words, relayed to me by Situ when I was in Sydney. They’d sat together in a tea shop in Azizia and I became the conversation subject.  Soleiman set about describing my character.  He said I was unlike many of the better-to-do locals because I never wanted anything from them. Even the politicians hoped for a vote, he said. He said a few other things too.  It was kind enough for him to offer compliments but what really impressed me was that despite our different languages and never having spoken on such topics with Soleiman he understood how I think. There was the knowledge of friends between us.

I recall when their grandmother passed away, how they cried at the graveside. I’d barely met her for in her old age she mostly stayed indoors but from seeing them so distraught it was not unexpected their tears would transfer to my eyes. And I know why. It’s in all the years. It’s in the discussions about needing only one cup of tea. It’s in Nobir’s mother’s smile.

Beyond the neighbourhood there are few to know how utterly terrible is last week’s news that Nobir’s mother died.

With several sons scattered as far as the Middle East pursuing employment, her longstanding illness took her. This time I was in Dhaka and I wasn’t there to attend the funeral. I didn’t see Nobir cry.

Everyday the sun will rise as it always has over those rice fields, the neighbourhood, Nobir’s family home. In its brilliance it will look unchanged; but the sun is never unchanged, not really.

Despite their size, up to 80,000 kilometres in diameter, it’s not common to take note of sunspots. Apart from astronomers people don’t normally mark the altering in the photosphere of the sun, when a section of surface cools and darkens and gradually moves out of sight. Events of such magnitude go largely unnoticed from our Earthly distance.


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