Translated by Subarna Khan
The harmonium is massive in size. Antique and made of German reeds. Though time's whiplash left dark marks on it, its exquisite face still attracts its viewers.
Climbing down our family tree, it got me as its recent keeper. Antora Chowdhury, my great grandmother, was its original owner. In the days of the British Raj she was quite popular in the cultural circuits of Dhaka. I've heard that my great grandfather, landlord Khan Bahadur Ismail Hussain Chowdhury was mesmerized by her beauty and qualities.
The influence of his social prestige made it possible for him to marry her, even though she was born in a Hindu Kayastha family. In the wedding, there was also this custom-made harmonium from London along with sarees, jewellery sand other gifts.
Analyzing a few pieces of stories which I heard from my dad, I assume that Khan Bahadur Ismail Hussain Chowdhury was madly in love with Antora. He turned into a stay-at-home husband after he got married, and used to spend the whole day, lost in Antora Chowdhury's songs. And of course, Antora Chowdhury, brushing against the reeds with her soft fingers, kept singing to her one and only listener with endless love. However, this matter had a negative aspect as well. Right after his marriage, Khan Bahadur turned into an uxorious man, and started neglecting his responsibilities as a landlord. I heard it from my grandfather that after his marriage, Khan Bahadur became helplessly reliant on selling lands, sometimes for a living and sometimes for no reason at all. Even though my grandfather Hashem Chowdhury was very wealthy, he couldn't manage to recover the sold properties. In the meantime, British India got partitioned between India and Pakistan, bringing the zamindari system to an end.
My passion for music didn't go unnoticed by my grandfather. So one day he said to me, “Kabir, I've been cherishing my mother's harmonium for so long, and my knowledge of music is nil. You are the one in our family who have inherited this skill from my mother. You keep it; no one will understand its value.” Out of extreme excitement, I started playing it right away, taking it out of its beautifully carved box. It was totally out of tune. So I took it to Atulbabu of Yadav and Yadav Co., the best harmonium maker in Dhaka. He tried his best to revive it. Eventually he gave up on it saying, “It won't work. Its lifespan is over. But if you want, you can showcase it as an antique.” Since then it's been illuminating our living room with its elegance.
It's been ages since my grandfather passed away. My parents passed away too. I got married a week ago. Mousumi is quite a good singer. The night after our wedding night, she noticed the box kept in our living room.
Opening the box, she carried that in our bedroom. And I said, 'You didn't have to carry it all the way in here, it's out of tune. It's dead now. I'll buy you a new one tomorrow, okay?'
She gave me a mysterious smile and ran her fingers across the reeds. Then she started singing:
"Tomay gaan shonabo
Tai to amay jagiye rakho
Buke chomok diye tai to dako...."
('I will sing to you-
That's why, you keep me awake,
Oh! You, the one who wakes me up,
You startle my heart by your call.')
I was surprised to see how the harmonium kept playing in sync with her voice. She didn't miss a single note. I felt as if I was the landlord, Khan Bahadur Ismail Hussain Chowdhury, and she, my beloved wife, was Antora Chowdhury.
Do I feel like becoming henpecked too!
Mohammad Anwarul Kabir is a poet and micro-story writer, presently teaching Computer Science at AIUB; Subarna Khan is an avid reader and also publishes her poems and short stories and book reviews on G+, Mirakee, Wattpad and many online platforms.