Sofia was only 17 years old when she got married. She used to study in college and her finals were knocking on the door. Her subtle round face and her small innocent eyes were only a small part of the reason why the groom’s family liked her. Also, her studies had zero part in that. The main reason, they chose her was because she did not have a father and her mother was helpless and poor. Her father was an education inspector who died when he was only 35 years old, leaving behind Sofia and her two brothers. He was the first person who introduced arts and colour on the educational books used in schools in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
The groom was a handsome and tall young man called Piyal. Piyal was very different than the average young men at his age. Even though, he was not that bright in studies, he loved fashion and style at that time. Most of all, he loved and honoured his father’s younger sister who he called Bubu. Bubu was like a mother figure for him, as his own mother died when he was only 9 years old and then his father married again but his second wife never cared for him like Bubu did. Because he was not that bright, his father gave him a pharmacy to handle and arranged a two-story house for him. Whatever profit the pharmacy would provide was the only source of income Piyal had and he used it to pay rent for the house and pay for the groceries.
Bubu had only one son, Siam. Siam and Piyal were of same age and they did everything together. Thus, Bubu sent Siam to live with Piyal and asked Piyal to give a share of his pharmacy to Siam, as he was also not bright in studies like Piyal was. Piyal, happily agreed. Siam was not only his cousin but also his best friend. Bubu also brought in her mother-in-law to stay with Siam and Piyal and gave her one share of the pharmacy. So, there was three shareholders of the pharmacy. This way, slowly, the two-story house was full of people, mostly Bubu’s in-laws. There would be music coming from the house, Piyal would play Harmonium and sing while Siam played Tobla (drums). When, Piyal got married and brought in Sofia, the festivity increased in that house. Sofia, who came from a poor family, enjoyed every moment of it until later her blindfold of joy slowly started to wear and she started to witness the reality behind all the music, all the festivity in that house.
She realised that all those people who stayed in the house did not pay a penny for the food. All the money came from the pharmacy of which her husband, Piyal and Siam had share but she never saw one note of that income. All the profits, they received went straight to Bubu, who claimed that the boys did not have the knowledge to spend the money wisely and thus she did all the grocery shopping and sent the food to that house and bought everything necessary for the house. Astonishingly, Piyal and Sofia had no cash at all. When Sofia started to question Bubu’s action and started to get suspicious, Bubu, who was obviously very clever than Sofia, started to light a dangerous fire between the couple.
Meanwhile, she also understood the risk of Piyal getting out of her control and so, she moved her in-laws and her son Siam from that house and into a separate house on rent, leaving Piyal and Sofia all by themselves in that two-story house without even a notice. They had to pay for the whole house themselves with Piyal’s share. However, luckily, Sofia was friends with the house owner’s daughter who was the same age as her and so the owner, who lived just beside that house, welcomed her and Piyal in his house which had two spare rooms for them to rent.
After a few months, Piyal’s father died leaving him a huge property in their hometown and his late mother’s brother with whom he grew up, gave him a small part of his property in Motijheel. But his envious Bubu, did not like it one bit. She grew jealous and convinced Piyal to give her the property in Motijheel as she needed it now more than him and she would pay back in increments later. Piyal not only got convinced to give her the property but also to build her a house in that. Bubu asked him to sell parts of the property which he got from his father and to buy items for construction as she did not have enough money then but promised to pay all back when the building was built.
Piyal’s uncle who lived beside that house, used to witness Piyal managing all the workers and the construction. Sadly, he could not say or do anything as Bubu, persuaded Piyal and Sofia into believing that he had bad intentions and he was a bad person. On the other hand, due to all the work in Motijheel, Piyal lost track of his pharmacy and his income.
When the house was built and they all moved in including Sofia and Piyal, Bubu decided to sell the pharmacy for 60,000 and would give all the shareholders equal share of the amount they would receive. Piyal, who was so humble and completely blind towards his Bubu, had no idea that he was being completely ripped off whatever he had and would be only be left with 20,000 tk which would be his share of the pharmacy. When Sofia asked about their future, he replied, he would manage something with it but she knew her husband very well and knew that he would spend it on unnecessary things and eventually they would be left with no money. Sofia did not waste a second and ran to one of her cousins, Khaled for help who was well established at that time and a government officer. She accused him of destroying her life by making her marry a guy who never thought about their future as he was one of her guardians in the marriage. He made her calm down and told her to go back home and he would look through the matter. In the evening, Khaled went to their house and spoke to Bubu. He told her that Piyal would be keeping the pharmacy all by himself. When Bubu asked him that where would Piyal get so much money for buying the whole pharmacy from her, he replied that he would pay the rest of the money and the issue settled. Khaled gave the couple 5000 tk and 10,000 tk loan from the bank and asked Sofia to arrange the rest of the money herself. Sofia, who had nothing at that time, went to all her relatives’ houses and begged them to lend her some money. Finally, all the money was arranged and Piyal got the whole share of the pharmacy.
As soon as they thought, their problems were subsiding, a year later, the pharmacy made a huge loss and the couple went bankrupt. Sofia, started selling her jewelleries to pay off the loans. She tried day and night to bring in some food for themselves. With the money from her jewellery, she bought a very small property for only 5000 tk. After a while, there was this offer going on about another property which was selling for 12000 tk and they also offered to build a house in it with that price. She sold the previous property and collected money on lend again and finally bought the new one. After two years wait, they finally had a beautiful house to live in and within the years the couple had three children, two sons and a daughter.
Pain would not leave Sofia and her family behind as in 1971, there was the war of liberation and the Pakistani soldiers looted their house and their pharmacy and left them bankrupted again.
Sofia’s struggle continued but this time it was worse. As years passed by, they had very little money coming in from the pharmacy and there would be times, the family had to starve. She used to buy 10 biscuits for 1 tk and used to have 2 biscuits each for meal. They only had daal (lentil soup) and rice for meals and sometimes just mixed rice with water and swallowed it. The children grew up, with a very big heart and never complained about their condition. Their mother used to wear a torn pair of sandals and so the children lent some money from their neighbour and bought a new pair of sandal for 16tk and waited for their mother to return home. When Sofia returned, she saw the eldest son and the daughter each had one single sandal on their hands upon her arrival they made her wear that and felt proud of themselves. It was the one of the happiest moments she could remember and she kept the sandals for years and years. Each of Sofia’s children were blessed with talents. The eldest son was very good at arts and once he even won a national prize and had to go to Bangabondhu hall for receiving the prize. It was a very formal place where every other winner wore shirts, pants and shoes but he had to wear rubber sandals to receive the award. When he finished his college, and went into university, he only had two pairs of t-shirts, one blue and one red and used to interchange each colour each day.
As for the second son, who was also very talented, had his share of difficult times when his
SSC was near and his test results just came out.
Sofia was wondering where her second son was, as it was time for him to return and he was never this late, so she hurried to the school fearing for him not getting selected for SSC exams. When she reached the school, and read the result notice she found her son’s name on the 35th number and was selected. Even though she was a bit sad that usually her son secures the top ten positions in exams but this time he only scored 35th. When she asked his friends for his whereabouts, they told her he as upstairs in the class and was very upset. As she walked in, he saw her son, his head rested down on the desk and he was crying his heart out. She hid her tears and went to him and calmed him down. When they were walking out of the hallway they passed the staff room and few of the teachers there recognised her as they knew Sofia’s eldest son. They came forward and as they learnt the result of her second son they explained that students now had private tuitions and those who attended them scored better results than him. When Sofia explained the family’s financial state, they were surprised and replied that they would never ask for money for teaching such a brilliant student. And so, the second son started going for private tuitions and after just one and a half months sat for the SSC exams where he scored 94, 96 and 98 in physics, chemistry and maths and in 90s in other subjects.
Lastly, the daughter, she used to love reading books and decided to be a doctor. With the help and security of her brothers, she did not face that much difficulty and got married to a son of a very established family.
You must be wondering about Piyal? His contribution was very little compared to Sofia for the family. Whatever money he used to get from the pharmacy, he made expensive clothes for himself and gave very little to spend for the rest of the family. As for the pharmacy, most of the time it incurred losses due to the carelessness of Piyal who never went in there to check the management or maintenance of the store. He trusted the manager, who stole large amounts of money when buying the medicines for the store and built an apartment for himself while Piyal’s family starved and lacked a comfortable and secured life until now.
This was the story of a very proud mom whose eldest son is one of the top architects in Asia and designed many well-known buildings in Bangladesh, a lecturer of BRAC University and a Gold-medal honoured graduate of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), her second son is a Computer Engineer at Siemens in New York and recently bought his second car worth 1 million takas there and her daughter is a doctor in Canada. Sofia is now 81 years old and lives in a flat in our apartment. She lives alone in the flat with a girl from the village to help her. Even though she gets everything and all the help financially from the established and very busy children, she cries to sleep every night.
Disclaimer: The names used are not real.