Posted by Jeff from d14-69-62-196.try.wideopenwest.com (18.104.22.168) on Wednesday, June 18, 2003 at 11:37PM :
Remembering an Assyrian lady
Alice A Islam
June 17th, 1978- a beautiful Assyrian lady, a devoted wife, mother and grandmother, shut her eyes for the last time bidding farewell to all those who loved and respected her in this world.
This beautiful Assyrian lady was my mother. Baghdad was her homeland and Iraq was the country that was in her heart though she lies buried in Dhaka. Bangladesh is the country which she adopted as her own and which she taught her children to love, respect and be loyal to.
Why she was in Bangladeshi is a romantic, sad and long love story which began with her marrying a Zaminder's son who was serving in Baghdad when the whole sub-continent was under the British Empire, and known by the name India. Young and very much in love, she did not pay heed to her brother's advice about not marrying a foreigner. She was told that he would one day take her to his country and make her a 'Maharani' of his Kingdom. But after that he shall maybe have an added number of wives, which was very usual in those days. Blind in love, she married him with the trust that he would never do such a thing.
Years passed and a few children were born to this happy couple. But a day came when the 'Rajkumar' sighed for his homeland and told her about it. Being a devoted and loyal wife, she bowed to his wishes bidding farewell to the land the people and the language which she loved thinking that she would be able to visit in future. But that was not to be. That good-bye was forever and she never managed to return.
Assyria existed about 2000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. It was a strong Kingdom and the people were a very proud race having their own language, culture and religion. Assyria has been mentioned in the Holy Bible several times. Today Assyrians can be found in Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and even in America. They try to maintain their own language as far as possible but the old religion does not exist anymore, as they are all followers of the Christian faith.
It is strange how my mother, Asnat Zia Ghosh as she was known, adapted to the different ways of life. When she first came to Dhaka (India), the majority of the people were Hindus by faith, but with partition of the country in 1947, the Muslims dominated the scene. She managed to get along with both communities in a splendid manner. During the Puja celebrations big 'thalas' of sweets used to be sent from the various temples for the 'Assyrian lady' and her family. She taught us to respect the religion of other people and made it a point to share all the sweets with friends who used to assemble at our house on those particular days. With the change in the environment came 'Eid' and that was again a great celebration in the house. Mother always had a ready-table for all that visited us on that special day, and believe me, there were many! Christmas, of course, was a great occasion with all the house decorated in a fantastic manner, dainties laid on the table and naturally a big cake adorning it. There were gifts for all the family and for close friends too. In this way, she taught her children that god is one, and the proverb 'Do in Rome as the Romans do', was always what she believed in.
She often used to talk to us about Assyria. In fact she was our first history teacher. She mentioned places like Babylon, spoke of the civilization and culture in those days. Names like Mosul and Basra were not unfamiliar to us in childhood and there were times when we could see a tear floating in her eyes.
How mother adjusted to her new life was amazing. She was simply fascinated by the long piece of cloth called Sari and wondered how the women wrapped it round their bodies in such an elegant style. She not only learnt how to wear it but also finally gave up her native dress and started wearing the sari instead. She looked beautiful in it. Her favourite colour was white which added to her dignity and beauty. As we grew up, she made it a point that we too should wear the sari. "This is your country, these are your people and you must be one with them in every respect," is what she put into our heads. Not only the clothes but we also gradually stopped speaking in Assyrian and Arabic as no one understood us and mother insisted that Bangla and English should replace them. She herself picked up Bangla and English to a certain extent. She spoke English with a heavy Arabic-accent and even today when I hear Arabs speaking in English, I think of my mother more than ever. The Bangla she spoke was enough to communicate with those who did not understand English, and it was really enjoyable hearing her speak in that language!
The more I write, the more I remember the rare qualities she possessed. She became a truly Bengali lady in every sense of the word. She picked up cooking the Bangladeshi dishes in a manner, which amazed those who were lucky enough to taste the food. The big prawns and the 'Koi' fishes cooked with cauliflower were fit enough to the set before a King. Not to speak about the Arabian dishes which she put on the table.
There were Tomato Pulao, Cabbage Dolnas, Brinjal and Tomato Dolnas, Minced Meat-Balls cooked in tomatoes sauce and many more mouth watering dishes for her family and guests.
No matter how much she tried to pave the way for us by showing good examples, and putting up a big smile, we at times caught her unaware with teary eyes reading her Assyrian Bible. This Bible is still in the possession of the family and considered to be a relic.
Twenty five years have passed since this great, wonderful lady left this world, and I take this opportunity of saluting her a million times not only as my mother, but as a woman of immense courage and vast mental strength from whom all women should take an example.
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