Dear Abbu, I love you
By – Zakir Hossain Khokan and translated by Ranak Zaman
I was really very upset when I first arrived here in Singapore. I missed my country, my family, but the person I missed most was my father. Many moments I used to hear his voice: Khokan, Khokan! I would stop and look for him, where are you, dad? Why are you calling me? And how are you? Some nights I woke up from my sleep thinking that he was calling me or he was standing near me. But he was not there! I cried out some nights like the child I used to be once, a long time ago. I can recall that morning when I heard his voice in my head and I wrote a poem after that about this.
“I can’t see the mornings anymore hearing the birds singing.
Like my father called me and we, then, used to go to mosque for morning prayers.
My dear Abba,
Oh my dear Abba,
A thousand years I have not seen you!”
The poem I wrote about my dad was published as a lyric in a music album named ‘ Exile life’. Singer Shoriful Islam from Bangladesh sang the song.
It was 2003, when I came to Singapore. It was not easy then, like now, to call long distance and talk an hour to my family. So I used to write letters one or two times a month and in those letters I mostly wrote about my father. I don’t know why, but those letters were never sent to him.
I thought I would give them all at once to him when I would visit him at home. I wanted to surprise him, or maybe just wanted to see his reaction when he would read them. But all those letters got lost when I changed dormitory once. I could not go to work and couldn’t eat well two days after that. My boss scolded me for my absence, so did my foreman. They asked me the reason and when I told them why I was upset they were astonished and they said that I was a fool.
I never wrote any letters to my father after that.
If anybody asks me about my favorite personality, I answer without thinking twice—my father, of course. I have met many people in my life but never found a person like him. His personality, works, thoughts, philosophy and his humanity and his care to the family keep impressing me all the time.
In my school life, I had to write essay about ‘Your favorite person’. I read in books about the writers, scientists or prophets but it has always been my father who is my favorite personality. When I asked my teachers if I could write about my father, they replied no, ‘you have to write what have you read in the text book.’ But one day I wrote about him nonetheless when I was in high school. I can remember the day when my headmaster called me to his room and my father was there—standing, trembling fingers and a smile full of tears in his eyes.
In 2011, Zarif came to the earth and I became a father myself. But I was here, in Singapore, doing my jobs, with so much guilt. I promised myself that I would give him a better life, as my father did his best to give me. But my son is growing up without me. He use to say to his mother that he smells my scent in his pillow. He asked my clothes that I left behind, take me on your lap, dad!
He is growing up without his father. This is one of the saddest thing for a son—I can’t even express this in words. I tried in my poem, ‘Blade of kisses’ which was published in a poetry anthology with eighteen Bengali migrant poets. The anthology was named ‘Migrant tales’ and edited by me and Monir Ahmod.
I submitted three poems to the first Migrant Worker’s Poetry Competition Singapore in 2014. Those are ‘pocket-1’, ‘pocket-2’ and ‘pocket-3’. In pocket-1, I wrote about my son Zarif and my country, Bangladesh. In pocket-2, I wrote about my lovely wife and in pocket-3, about my father.
Pocket-2 won first prize. Ms Raka Mitra’s company ‘Chowk’ performed two days dance event titled ‘From another land’, based on my these three poems and runner-up poet Rajibs ‘Shades of Light and Dark’ at the Esplanade. The performance touched the audience’s heart and made them cry. It was a great arrangement where audience were amused and mesmerised what was really great to me. I felt happy that day to see the Singapore was loving my poems.
On holiday, back to my land, I see the country with my son.
We see the open sky, the white cloud, the flock of flying birds.
Water lily, green fields of crops and yellow mustard flowers in the flowering good.
We see the memorial monument, and the Shahid Minar, the love of the people.
Putting all of them aside, I need to come back here.
I find a piece of paper in my pocket
Seeing it with my teary eyes
A flag amateurishly drawn by my son
a flag—red and green
the Flag of Bangladesh
‘Dad, standing down the flag at school
When all my friends sing the national anthem: Oh my golden Bangla I love you
Then I sing –
Oh my dear Abbu, I love you.”
Every morning in my childhood,
When dad was set to go to the office,
I jumped on his lap and put a hand in his pocket.
Took some coins and I said, I’ll buy some chocolate, dad,
And I laughed and he laughed.
He put his hand on my head and used to say,
This boy will be a great man one day.
With the rhythm of the sound of coins when I moved,
With that happiness I moved from here and there and
After a butterfly—I ran and ran and I’m here now
As a migrant.
Now, when I go to sleep with much loneliness
In my sleep, I hear—some footsteps and that butterfly’s wings sound
And a voice of my dad.
I wake up every time and notice the dawn in my door,
I realise, this is not one like my childhood mornings were,
This is a colorless canvas, with so many watermarks of life—hard to see.”
Long live every child and father with so much love and passion.
Happy father’s day.
Zakir Hossain Khokan is a writer, poet, journalist and photographer. Born in Dhaka and a graduate of the National University of Bangladesh, he moved to Singapore in 2003 to work here. Presently he is a quality control project coordinator in the construction sector. Zakir’s poems are extremely well- received, winning the first prize for two consecutive years at the Migrant Workers Poetry Competition in both 2014 and 2015.
An established Bengali writer, Zakir’s has published not only poems but also history books and song albums. He has published poetry anthologies, titled, “Lover heart” and “The river reaches in city”. Using his journalism skills, he has also published a non-fiction book entitled “Singapore riots and a love story”. He has also published a song album “Emigrant Life” in Bangladesh. Finally, he is editor of “Migrant Tales” an anthology of poems by migrant Bengali poets in Singapore.
Zakir is a prominent spokesperson for the migrant worker community in Singapore and has been invited to speak at many events. His poems, articles and interviews have appeared in journals and anthologies in Singapore, Bangladesh, and Taiwan and international media. He was rewarded for journalism and poetry in Bangladesh. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article got written for the celebration of father’s day this June but got delayed due to the need to get it translated. Since fatherhood deserves to be celebrated every day, we publish it now for you to savour.