My hometown is Sylhet. I lived there until about ten, but after we moved to Dhaka, I gradually became estranged from Sylhet. This was partly because Shawkat House, my grandfather's sprawling estate of several bungalows where I spent my first eight years, was sold in 1973. With it went a lot of my childhood memories. Another reason was that I hardly had any friends left in Sylhet. Also, in the 80s and 90s, due to poor infrastructure development and population pressure, Sylhet became congested and unpleasant. This has improved significantly in recent years.
Since returning to Bangladesh I have made several trips to Sylhet to rekindle the relationship, as it were. Here are some pictures of the stomping grounds of my childhood.
The only remaining original Shawkat House bungalow. This was the "outer" building and my Father's office.
This gate led to the inner bungalows and courtyards. Unfortunately the entire inner structure has changed so much that I could not recognize it.
Across the street from Shawkat House is the pond where I learned to swim. I also did a fair amount of pearl-diving here at the ripe age of eight and gave the largest pearl to my Mother. She had a ring made around it and, years later, gave it to my wife.
Next door to our house was this "moholla" called Shekh Para. In the front there were several date palms and a large pond. I was happy to find a palm standing.
But the pond was filled in with sand.
Out of Shekh Para came several illustrious people, including the Qureshi family, now in London, which has three elected London City Councillors from the same family. Must be a record of some kind!
A few doors down from Shawkat House was Shadhu Babu's house. He is a friend of the family, and his daughter married R. P. Saha's son. (R. P. Saha was a prolific industrialist and a prominent philanthropist of Bangladesh. Both Mr. Saha and his son were killed by the Pakistan Army in 1971. Shadhu Babu is alive.)
The compound of Shadhu Babu's house had a massive "Bokul" tree. My grandmother and I used to stop there during our morning walk and pick the tiny, fragrant flowers. The tree is gone, leaving this patch of land.
My first school was Blue Bird School. The school moved several times when I was attending it and occupied this building - now a dilapidated government office - when I was in 4th and 5th grade.
Our Assembly took place in the hall just inside this entrance.
Nowadays Blue Bird (located in a nice new location) is a BIG school, going all the way to 12th grade :-)
Also within walking distance was "Nanubasha" - my maternal Grandparents' home. There were many children my age there. Hence I went there every chance I got. This is the entrance with the large "dalan" structure dating back to 1911. My Nanu, and several families of my Nana's relatives, lived in separate bungalows in the inner house, taking the path curving around the side of the Dalan. (My Nana passed away before I was born.)
Another view of the "Dalan", made in 1911 with stone, bricks and sand before cement became available.
Nanubasha is formally known as "Ahia Villa". Mr. Ahia, also known at Jeetu Mia, was one of the most colorful and eminent residents of Sylhet in the early 1900s, and the first one with a motor car. This is the tomb of Mr. Ahia and Sara, his first wife.
Two or three years ago, an incredibly ill-conceived government plan was drawn up to build another bridge on the Surma that would effectively destroy Ahia Villa (due to road widening required for this bridge.) It boggled the imagination that such a historical house - Gandhi had spent time in this house, Dr. Syed Mujtaba Ali had studied there - could be cast aside so casually. Luckily a storm of protests followed, and the plan, while still alive, has been slowed. It needs to be stopped.
Incidentally, if you write a letter to someone in Ahia Villa, it is enough to address it as "Ahia Villa, Sylhet" and the post office will deliver it. The only house in Sylhet for which you don't need a numbered street address!
(I am grateful to Dr. Shama Ali for pointing out the R. P. Saha connection.)