Nov 4, 2016


NANA is what I called him, but to the world he is the late Lutful Quadir Chowdhury, a well-loved husband, father, grandfather, prominent in the respect he earned from his large extended family, and a highly-regarded elder statesman of the South Asian banking community. For a time he settled down and raised his family in then-West Pakistan, but when the time came he chose to migrate to the newly-formed Bangladesh.

My Nana was a foundational rock of my childhood in Dhaka. To me his spacious home compound, with its large bungalow, lush green back lawn, and giant driveway with two garages at opposite ends, were my personal domain to explore and play in. I have many happy hours of running, jumping, cycling, cricket, soccer, badminton, carrom-board, Monopoly ... and every other childhood activity there. I remember monsoon seasons when we would bring the storm shutters down and the family would gather for tea and watch the rain pour down outside through the wall-to-wall balcony windows. Hours and hours of poring through his rooms and shelves filled to bursting with books. To this day I have dreams that are set in that house.

Nana was a collector of knick-knacks that any hipster today would give his right arm for. Hand-powered ice-cream makers, spotless Swiss food processor sets, a video cassette recorder that he would bring out to keep me entertained, a slide rule he gave me when I showed signs of interest in math ... but books got the pride of place in his home. They were proudly displayed on his shelves, kept in storage in room after room, kept near his side of the bed for easy access. I would spend hours entranced by those books. Every subject you can think of, from Greek mythology to Somerset Maugham, O. Henry (The Gift of the Magi) to Khushwant Singh. I, a small child, absorbed as much of them as he would lend me, like a sponge. They awakened my interest in chess, algebra, calculus, mythology, history, essays, poetry, ... the world.

He would take me for fun-filled trips to the video cassette rental store, treat us out to fast food, order in food whenever we visited (we accidentally got cuttlefish once instead of his order of cutlets), show me how he recorded his expenses in his ledger, and all the while carry out his responsibilities as a busy man even after retirement.

He would receive many visitors, whether friends,  family, or others; to some he would give the help or advice they sought; with others he would enjoy a few rounds of chess; and from others he would procure various services: palm tree tappers, snake charmers, gardeners, hairdressers....

He would make the rounds of his home every evening, one of his well-loved flashlights in hand, checking that all windows were securely fastened, all doors were locked and bolted shut, and that all of his household were accounted for. He would discourage anyone from leaving the house after nightfall, and be up again in the early morning, making sure everyone was awake. I've never been a morning person, and he always had to spend quite a lot of time convincing me to wake up.

I think Nana, coming from a zamindari (landowning) family that lost much of its wealth to the turbulent times, had an idea in his mind of what his life should be as a patriarch of his family, and he made that a reality through sheer hard work and persistence. He created an evergreen world, a perfect world for a childhood.

In the years after that, I was away from Bangladesh most of the time. I didn't get the chance or take the opportunity to see Nana as much as I should have. For years I kept telling myself I would meet him again and we would have another game of chess. Earlier this year I finally saw him and we had our game. I told him I would come back and we would have a rematch, and he agreed. I told him my younger brother would visit him soon, and he was glad to hear it. It gave him something to look forward to. I'm so grateful I was able to keep at least one promise.

After his passing, my overwhelming feeling is gratitude that I knew him.