Every birthday is a step closer to death: Babita

Farida Akhter Babita
Farida Akhter Babita

Ever since the outbreak of coronavirus in the country, Babita hasn’t taken a step outside of her house, not even to the lift. Five months alone at home is taking its toll. She doesn’t feel like reading or even talking on the phone. A strange sense of loneliness has descended upon her.

She is gripped with anxiety, like anyone else, about how long it will take for this coronavirus to go away.

When speaking to her on Wednesday afternoon, a sense of depression was discernible in her voice. There was an echo of restlessness in her words. Much of this despondency was because she hadn’t seen son Aneek for so long. She would normally visit him twice a year in Canada, but now she can’t leave the country. She doesn’t want to risk it. So she stays in touch with Messenger video calls.

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Her elder sister Suchanda isn’t here either. She went to America and now can’t return. She has been stuck there for five months. Younger sister Champa is busy with her family. And so Babita is all by herself.

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Trying to cheer her up, I said, “Yesterday at the dining table suddenly two songs popped up on Facebook on my mobile. ‘Hai re kopal mondo/chokh thakite ondho’ and ‘Ami kothai thaki re/bot gachher pata nai re.’

She responded, this time with a touch of excitement in her voice, “‘Golapi Ekhon Traine’ and ‘Nayanmoni’!”

“Yes, I watched these movies as a kid, the cinema halls were packed,” I said, posing a question to keep her spirits up, “Which two movies of your peak popularity period would you choose to remake if you were asked?”

She gave the question some thought. She didn’t want to take Satyajit Ray’s ‘Ashani Sangket’ into consideration. “Manik da (Satyajit Ray) was so particular, there could be nothing to add to that film. Maybe I’d remake ‘Golapi Ekhon Traine’. There was an amazing line in that film – ‘amra shobai ek kelasher manush.’

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She went on, “I think I did well in ‘Alor Michhil’ too. Razzak bhai was a huge star then. It was one thing acting with him as a pair, but quite another thing acting as his niece. Many advised me against acting in the movie, saying it would ruin my career. But when I read Mita bhai’s script I realised this was an extraordinary character. I just had to do it! I didn’t listen to anyone and went ahead to do the movie. The people loved it. But that wouldn’t be the second movie I would chose to remake. I would choose ‘Dahan’.”

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“You have acted with so many actors and you have said before that all of them had some quality or the other that impressed you. But even so, if I asked you to name two actors you especially admired, who would you name?”

“Definitely Razzak bhai. And then Zafar Iqbal.”

“Two directors?”

“Without doubt, Zahir Raihan and Amjad Hossain.”

The sadness in her voice was replaced by a tone of vibrancy and she chatted on, “Do you know the mango tree I planted in a tub on the roof has grown so big that a dove has even made a nest in it! I often go up to my roof to see it and take pictures, but I take the stairs, not the lift. It makes so happy to see the birds. I have a mynah at home too and it calls me by my nickname, ‘Poppy! Poppy!’ Me and my birds, we are doing well.”

“How else do you spend your time? Don’t you watch movies?”

“Oh yes, I am watching Manik da’s movies all over again. I am watching ‘Pather Panchali’ again and again, then ‘Aguntuk,’ ‘Shakha Proshaka’ all of the movies. Then I am watching Swandip Roy’s Felu da series too. I am also watching a selection of Sophia Loren’s movies. I had watched ‘Two Women’ on the big screen before. What an amazing movie!”

“You had an extraordinary career in acting. Can you say something about those who are in the movies today?”

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“I won’t say anything about them, but something about the little details in acting. Once I wasn’t being able to cry properly in a scene and Subhash Dutta yelled at me. He said, ‘You aren’t supposed to cry from your eyes, but from your heart.’ When it came to dancing, I skipped lunch to go to Gauhar Jamil and Raushan Jamil. Then when I acted in ‘Badi theke Begum’, many asked whether I was trained in classical dance. We would always strive for perfection in our acting. I would ask today’s artistes to pay attention to that.”

“It’s your birthday on 30 July. You’ll be missing your son Aneek a lot on the day.”

“Aneek has a room for me in his house in Canada and he has furnished it beautifully. The other day he was telling me over the phone, ‘Ma, I sleep in your room because I can feel your presence there.”

There was a catch in Babita’s voice and this was no acting. She said, “I would think birthdays were so great when I was young. Now it seems every birthday is a step closer to death. But I keep happy with my birds, watching movies and old songs of Lata Mangeshkar.”

“Happy birthday.”

Babita’s response, “Let us all pray for this terrible time to pass.”

* This report appeared in Prothom Alo print and online editions and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir