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Ma had deep knowledge of her extended family. She also made sense of Baba's massive clan. Bunks, my brother, inherited Ma's encyclopedic knowledge and prolific talent for identifying complex connections between family members when lesser mortals failed. He totally deserved the name I bestowed on him: Bunkipedia.

In contrast, I am the family dunce.

While Ma and Bunks were around, I made no effort to understand our family trees. Now I want to know but the authoritative voices are gone and I am left to my own devices.

Recently, Ma's cousin dug up this photo from 1932 or 1933! The photo brought fresh waves of sadness at my ignorance and crushing regret for not showing an interest earlier.

Without Ma and Bunks, I am flying blind on who is who. After quizzing multiple cousins, aunts and uncles - near and distant - I've made some progress.

Everyone agrees that the littlest one is my mother and I am positive I will never recover from the cuteness overload! I am pegging the date of this photograph based on her age. Her father, Dadu to me, is to her right and her mother, Didu, is directly behind her. The two young boys are her brothers. An older sister is not in this photo and a younger brother was yet to be born.

There's disagreement on the rest of the ladies and gents. Perhaps they are Ma's father’s siblings or the man holding my mother is her grandfather or an uncle? Lots of theories, no certainty.

When this photo popped up on my phone, it immediately stopped me in my tracks. While Indian history and culture have been chronicled via photographs since the mid-19th century, it was not commonplace for families to be photographed like this in the 30s. I wonder who commissioned this and why.

If Ma or Bunks were around, I would have had long conversations with them about this photo and they would have authoritatively identified the folks. Without them, I am piecing a narrative from the stories Ma told.

Until this photo, I had not seen what Dadu looked like in his younger days. Ma used to wax poetic about the grandeur of Dadu's physicality and personality. I can totally see why - he was gorgeous! Dadu was a compassionate physician who passed away in his 50s when I was six months old. I am happy he got to meet me and sad that I did not register his presence.

Dadu was an ardent supporter of Ma’s education and encouraged her to study psychology. When her marriage was arranged, he spoke to Baba’s mother to seek assurance that Ma would be able to complete her undergraduate degree after her wedding. Ma was immensely relieved he saw her graduate before succumbing to ill health.

Didu was a calm presence and a sweetheart. I was lucky to have her well into my teen years. She gifted each of her grandchildren a handwritten recipe book as a wedding present. Not one book that was reproduced many times; she handwrote for each of the boys and girls separately. Eight times, imagine that! The first recipe is how to make rice, the last ones are about making pickles. In between are dozens of vegetarian, non-vegetarian and dessert recipes. The cousins in my generation are fond of cooking because of Didu’s generosity. For Tarun and me, her cookbook remains our go-to resource for traditional Bengali recipes.

Bunks was Didu's favorite grandchild and she unapologetically favored him over the rest of us - like the time I aced a math test and my brother got a letter from Didu commending him on his performance. My father’s mother, added chaos to this lopsided affection by telling my brother to fly without me because she was afraid I would perish in a plane crash! Ma and Baba alternated with their eye rolls, while Bunks and I milked this situation to the fullest.

Ma’s eldest brother, the little boy seated in the first row, was a gentle soul. He never recovered from the cruelty of losing his teenage daughter to meningitis. He visited us frequently and hung out with my brother and me. I remember him with deepest fondness and miss the unconditional love he showered on us.

Ma’s second brother, the one standing next to her, was a physician. When Bunks and I were in grade school, he lived in a home with a flat rooftop. On our visits in the summer months, we slept on the roof. Far from the city lights, the night sky glistened with the clarity of a planetarium. This is where Bunks taught me about the constellations in the southwestern sky - Orion, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. My uncle was a voracious reader and my first exposure to books like Roots and authors like Leon Uris came from him.

Dadu’s grandfather (my great-great) built a house in the city of Patna and christened it Swarnasan. The name was the combination of swarna derived from Swarnagram, the name of the town in Bangladesh from where the family migrated  and asan means abode. Multiple generations lived in different sections of this gigantic house. They dined together and celebrated milestone events as a group. Flanking the central courtyard, which was the venue for Ma's wedding, were rooms for storage and two kitchens to protect the vegetables from the meats and fish. Ma said people ate in shifts on the veranda at the base of the courtyard - school aged kids first, then the men and finally the women. Visiting Swarnasan in my childhood inevitably transported me into its heydays.

When I was very young my brother showed me a secret staircase inside a cupboard on the second floor in Swarnasan. Years later when I read The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it made total

sense that a cupboard should harbor a portal to another world. The staircase in the cupboard in Swarnasan led to the back of the property and was to be used by the women and children to flee in case of a break-in or political unrest. Bunks and I often disappeared into the stairwell until Ma commanded us to reappear.

As families moved away and occupancy dwindled, our visit to Swarnasan became infrequent. By the time I left Patna in 1981, only three families were still living there. About twenty years ago, the property was sold. A high rise now stands in its place, ruthlessly usurping the delightful memories of Ma’s life and our childhood.

The photo brought back a flood of memories and even though I don't know everybody in this photo, I am grateful for being part of this affectionate clan with a rich history. May our nuclear family in the US take cues from our ancestors and recreate some of the magic that infuses this photograph with promise and potential.

Thank you Ma for the delightful stories you told us. You sparked an abiding interest, albeit years delayed.



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