Black sheep? He was hardly even a sheep. As one friend said, boundaries did not apply to him. My uncle traveled more miles, encountered more scandal and embarked on more adventures by the time he turned 18 than most people I know have in a lifetime. Sadly, I no longer have the chance to hear these tales from his own mouth.
One out of four sons in a litter of seven, nature won out over nurture with my dad’s brother. My grandfather’s near-asceticism didn’t keep chachu from literally marching to the beat of his own bass drum (music was strictly forbidden in the household, so you can imagine the fury unleashed when my grandfather spotted him rolling with the marching band on the street). My grandmother’s nerves were apparently fried worrying about chachu, especially when he ran away at 13 without a trace. Several years later, she found out from other relatives that he somehow worked his way to Kuwait via India and ended up in Sweden.
I didn’t realize just how much love he had for family until I noticed how he had pictures of each and every one of us, his nieces and nephews, alongside black and whites of him and his siblings, snaps of children and grandchildren; weddings, graduations, candids, the home a visible record of the Choudhury clan.
Among these is a photo in the dining room I try to sear into my mind: him and my aunt perched on a rooftop with what I imagine to be Stockholm in the background, embraced in a kiss with her long blonde hair and his thick black mane flying as if he had just pulled her in as the shutter flashed. It was young, unapologetic love like I could not imagine from someone in my family. That’s right: my Bangladeshi uncle married a Swedish woman, in the seventies. He was decades ahead of the interracial curve. On top of that, they had my Jenny apu before getting married. Sex–and therefore procreation–out of wedlock was and still is virtually unheard of in South Asian circles, so there’s another mold broken. We tend to forget all too often that the elderly were in fact young at some time and had lives as pressing and developing as ours feel now.
I see a sitar sitting in the corner of the living room and ask my dad if chachu played. No, but know what he did play? Harmonica and banjo, metal picks and all.
I had no idea about this uncle for the longest time. The uncle I saw at dawats was norom, soft and stout from age and poor health, who brightened up whenever I came to say hello. The last adventure I saw him pull was running his own Indian restaurant years back (which of course was still a feat). Sure, my aunt stands out in a sea of brown, but I got used to it and never questioned how they met. I hear tidbits now about how much she helped my uncle become successful in Sweden and how they struggled together to build a good life. This part is vague since these pieces, along with the majority of his life, are still missing to me. It’s not that my uncle has kept his life a mammoth secret from everyone (although some parts still are). He is a family favorite and his reputation for wilder days is well-known to most. I just never bothered to ask and find out for myself. Fortunately, he had been working on an autobiography recounting his experiences before passing away. Unfortunately, the ‘manuscript’ is rough– out of order in trying to recollect increasingly distant memories and written in broken Bengali. Several relatives have mildly attempted to get his work published before, but the pages remain uncomposed, put off and off for another time.
Going to his house tonight reminded me of how long it’s been since the last time I came, even though he often asked me to visit. He had my graduation picture on the kitchen counter and I can count with half a hand how many times I came over. woulda, coulda, shoulda, didn’t.
As I begin to learn about my uncle’s life far too late, he has shown me the truth of cliches by breaking rules and wandering willfully. He lived YOLO before Drake’s parents even thought about conceiving him.
Life is too short. Just do it. Live your bliss.
I miss you for the brief moments we had and for all the ones we never did.