The term relative is quite a misnomer. Lexically a relative is someone who is related to us. But practically the term is used only in reference to people who have a blood relation with us. The Sanskrit term ‘Atmiya‘ for ‘relative’ is more philosophic. Literally it means ‘of soul’ or rather someone who has a relation with our soul. I’m not sure of the origin of this word. But it would have surely meant something more than just people linked through a common blood line, even though theoretically it’s always possible to find a common blood link between any two people in the world, especially if they are staying in the same geographical region and having a common culture and tradition. Often persons without any blood relations can be the best soul mates, and in truest sense they are indeed Atmiya.
Our extended family is a large one with the blood lines flowing in quite diverse directions. Though we all are related to each other, but still not all of us are soul mates, as many of us rarely meet due to practical reasons. Just consider this. My grandmother had six children with my grandfather. Of these six siblings, of which my father is fifth, the eldest one, my eldest uncle, has five children, the next one, my eldest aunt, has four, the third one has two, the fourth one four, the last one three and I’ve a brother of my own. Barring just one, all of my cousins are married and each of them have one or two children. Well, that’s not all. My grandfather had four children from an earlier marriage with his first wife, who had an untimely death. So technically my father has a total of ten siblings. The subsequent mathematics is quite trivial. In any of our marriage ceremonies, even if we discount our neighbors and friends and the innumerable in-laws of our cousins and nephews and nieces, just we ourselves, who are all direct successors of my grandfather, make close to a few hundreds. By the way, did I say that my grandfather had four siblings, out of which three were married and had kids, if not as many as my grandfather. If you count my father’s cousins and their families, that would add another hundred. Next there are all those people, who may not have any blood relations with us, but were part of our parents’ growing up in Calcutta after they all had fled Bangladesh during the partition. Those many years of staying together in a small room – sharing everything, whatever was left with them, learning to be happy with the simplest things, struggling every day for everything from food to shelter to education to entertainment, learning to take life as it came, learning to accept that conventional happiness is just a fantasy, coping up with all the hardships at tender ages devoid of motherly affection and fatherly controls, and finally knowing that a relative is not just a blood relation – created many more Atmiyas, who are also inseparable portions of our extended family. This would add to another hundred. Well, I haven’t yet mentioned anyone from my mother’s side!!
There are quite a few interesting things. I became a grandfather at a tender age of ten when the eldest daughter of the eldest child of my grandfather, from his first marriage, had her first grand kid. My own brother was not yet born then. I have plenty of nephews and nieces older than me.
So that’s about our extended family. It’s not possible to be in touch with all of them. But few people are really very important to me and my parents. My father had to flee Bangladesh during the peak of communal riots during partition. He was just seven years old then. He and his two year elder sister were accompanied by his seven year elder brother in a long and arduous journey that lasted for weeks. The three kids, the eldest fourteen years and the other two seven and nine years, reached Calcutta just by sheer luck, because millions were just lost or killed in the way. In Calcutta my father stayed for the next two decades, till he had a job, with his eldest sister, who was married to a clerk with the Calcutta Port Trust. My father didn’t see his mother for the next seventeen years and never ever saw his father. He grew up at his sister’s place along with so many other people who had also, just by sheer luck, landed up in Calcutta and were given shelter by the very extra ordinarily unusual and struggling couple – his sister and the clerk brother-in-law. That’s when and where all those people staying in that dilapidated house in a south Calcutta suburb became the closest relatives, and my father’s eldest sister and her husband became the parents of a bunch of orphans. Quite interestingly many of them did acquire deep interests in music and literature despite the conditions under which they grew up. Perhaps those were the only free forms of entertainment that they could afford to. Most of my cousins sing quite well and music is a very important thing for all of us. Whenever we meet, though quite rarely now-a-days and restricted mainly to marriages or other major events, we do have a musical nite.
Time has moved on. So did the people. But that place remained a very sacred thing for all those who stayed there.
Later my father built his house just beside his sister’s place. His sister has four children, all girls – my cousins whom I call my own sisters, all of whom are married and well settled in their lives. Their kids, my nephews and nieces, are my most adorable ones. My father’s elder brother, who had brought him from Bangladesh, also stays nearby. I grew up with the stories of my parents’ lives. Their lives had just struggles. But very strangely, till I grew up quite big, I never understood the reality. The way they grew up – all in a small place, sharing everything, and trying all ways to be oblivious of the sorrows and pains – appeared to me as a fantasy. Perhaps that was the biggest lesson we learnt from their lives – nothing is bad and nothing is the end, every new day is a beginning.