This is a text I am writing to inform my children and the children of my brethren and their children and grandchildren about their roots in Bangladesh. I write on my laptop on the kitchen table wearing my spectacles for pretty much the first time, when writing something. I am thankful to Allah for my thirty eight lunar years with good vision. I realise now the blessing this has been as my eyes have been troubling me quite a lot of late. I appreciate the hardship and extra effort made by those who have to wear glasses from a young age like my own brothers, my sister, my nieces and now my own daughter Saima. I hope that this text survives to inform the youth of my tribe after I am long gone; I am feeling the wear and tear of the years in my teeth, my joints, and my internal organs as well as in my eyes.
I will begin by describing what I have seen and what I have been told by my Father, my Mother, my grandparents and other elders of my homeland. I was born in a house on the border of Derai and Jagannathpur. The house was built by my grandfather Mohammed Taiz Uddin, who was also known as Taiz Ullah and Taiz Master. It was one of four houses built by the four sons of Gaus Ali, my great grandfather. My grandfather’s brothers were called Hashim Ullah (the eldest), Ashkor Ullah (the second) and Sayd Ullah (the youngest). The four houses stood in the middle of a ‘bari’ about half an acre in size.
As was the custom in these parts, the western side of this land was turned into a pond and the earth that was dug up was piled onto the middle of the plot to create a raised mound. The houses were built on top of the mound with the western slope between the mound and the pond and the eastern slope between the mound and the river banks used as vegetable gardens.
At first there was only one house built by Gaus Ali who lived there with his wife, four sons and his daughter, who was the eldest of the five. Before this, he lived in the ‘old bari’ with his parents further north towards ‘Jaliya gang’, the famous river in these parts. His father Barkat Ullah moved south of the old bari as there was no room for his growing family; Gaus Ali built the southernmost mound, while his brothers Ibrahim Ali, Shofor Ali and Jofor Ali built mounds in between his and the old bari. Gaus Ali’s Uncle Nasib Ullah moved to a mound further west with his sons.
The old bari was built by our oldest known tribal ancestors, The two sons of Abul Hiday, who moved there from the village of Akhalkura in Moulvibazaar in southern Sylhet near the Tripura region of India. Hiday, the older son was the grandfather of Nasib Ullah and Barkat Ullah (and father of Sheikh Nousha and three daughters), while Niday, the younger brother was the father of Sheikh Arza and Sheikh Mirza. As the families got larger, the sons of Sheikh Arza bought the hindu owned bari to the west of the old bari. His descendants are still living there and the bari is still known as the ‘indu bari’. Two of the descendants of Sheikh Arza now live in Manhattan, New York, USA with their families; they are my cousins Zulhash and Shahin.
The sons of Sheikh Mirza built mounds north-eastwards of the old bari until they reached the banks of the Jalia river. Later some of his descendents moved further north and established a new mound on the other side of the Jalia river and beyond the mound of the Chowdhury tribe. They called this new mound ‘Gayd-dala’. This new bari is opposite the village of Jaroliya (Jalia) on the east side of the river that divides it from Jalia. On the north of this bari is the village of Tongor and north west is the village of Tarapasha.
The village of Betauka consists of three sections. The part nearest to the Derai border, right next to the Market village of Nasni is called Nuahati (new area) built by the sons of Abul Hiday and consists today mostly of our tribe and a few houses of people who came later from other villages. The second part is the ‘Chowdhury bari’ and ‘Dash bari’. These two baris are the oldest parts of Betauka and are inhabited by people from other tribes. The newest part is the third section called ‘Gayd-dala’ built by the descendents of Sheikh Mirza and now contains half Sheikh Mirza’s descendents; the other half live in Nuahati. The three sections are separated from each other by streams of the Jalia River.
When My father, Mohammed Motiur Rahman brought us to England in March 1983, we lived in a flat, 31 Sceptre House, in Bethnal Green. One of my Father’s cousins from Gayd-dala was ill and he lived with us there for nearly a year. His name was Abul Hussain. Later he brought his family from Bangladesh; we moved to North London and they remained in the East End. He passed away while they lived in Carr Street, Stepney at the end of the last century just after my first child Jayedur Rahman was born. His wife now lives in Bethnal Green above the shops on Cambridge Heath Road where we used to buy our halal meat. Another of my Father’s cousins lives a few roads away. She is a descendant of Nasib Ullah from the western bari. Her name is Aydul, and she lives there with her sons Anhar and Monir and her three daughters.
My cousin Shahin, who lives in New York, is memorable to me because when we were both infants in Betauka, he cut me with a broken glass bangle on the left side of my chest. I still have the scar from that incident. I was between four and five years old, he was a year or so younger. His mother is the daughter of Hashim Ullah, my Father’s first cousin and his milk sister. It was summer, the flood season after the rice harvesting was finished and they were staying in our bari in his grandfather’s house on the northern side of the bari. Our bari is known as ‘Doke-ner bari’, which means ‘South Mound’.
My Mother went to visit his mother. My younger brother Mohammed Mohibur Rahman (Noora’s Father) was being carried by my Mother, while I held her hand. Mohib was wearing a green and red children’s ‘sari’! I was only wearing a half pant and my chest was bare as it was very hot. Suddenly, Shahin came and he described the clothes my brother and I were wearing and with a broken glass bangle he had in his hand, he placed the sharp point on my chest, just under my left nipple and pulled. I felt a sharp pain and cried out loudly. My Mother looked down and saw a lot of blood flowing from my chest. A panic ensued and in the end, when the cut did heal it left a deep scar, which I still can see, although it has moved further to the left as I have grown up. Of course we were both very young at the time so although the incident is memorable, there are no hard feelings about it.
Two other close cousins of my Father lived in Birmingham, where I studied at Aston University. My brother and sister now live in Birmingham too. My father’s close companion and older cousin Shonjob Ali passed away last year; his other cousin Angur Miah lives with his family in Sparkbrook. Both of them are descendents of Sheikh Nousha, Angur Miah is from the western bari and Shonjob Ali, from the mound directly north of our ‘southern bari’ was a grandson of both Gaus Ali and Ibrahim Ali; he was my Father’s first cousin descended from my grandfather’s sister. Shonjob Ali’s wife, children and grandchildren live in Birmingham. His oldest son, Abdul Majid from his first marriage lives in East London and he has a nephew Chad Miah who lives in Beckton with his children.
I do my best to keep in touch with the tribe in Betauka as well as those members who are spread around the world. This has been more difficult in recent years, so I am hoping that we could use internet and mobile technology to help the tribe keep in touch in the coming years. There are also the friends of my late Father and their children to consider. According to the final Prophet, Mohammed (peace be upon him), it is a service to one’s dead parents to keep in touch with his surviving friends and their children. I pray to Allah to help me fulfill my duties in these regards and I hope that I can teach my children the names and faces of these people, so they will keep in touch with them after my death. In addition, there is a need to keep in touch with one’s Mother’s blood relatives and her friends. The Messenger of Allah also used to keep in touch with the family and friends of his first wife, Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) and send them food and gifts after Khadija (ra) passed away. These are good practices that will benefit us to emulate in our own lives.
Mohammad Mominur Rahman