After Momtaz, Salam, myself, Ibrahim, and Tunu, my mother gave birth to four more boys: Ayub, Azam, Jahangir, and Moinu. But when I was nine, my beloved mother started becoming irritable for no apparent reason. Her behavior was increasingly abnormal. In her calmer periods she would talk disjointed nonsense to herself. For hours on end she would sit in prayer, read the same page of a book, or recite a poem over and over without stopping. In her more disturbed periods, she would insult people in a loud voice and use vulgar language. Sometimes she would hurl abuse at a neighbor, a friend, or a family member, but other times she would rant away at politicians or even long-dead figures. Her mind would turn against imaginary enemies, and then, without much warning, she would become violent. Often at night she would erupt in shouts and physical attacks, and I would help Father restrain her or try to protect my younger siblings from her blows. After such crises, she would often return to being the sweet, soft mother we remembered, giving us as much love as she could, taking care of the younger ones. But we knew that the recovery was temporary. As her condition worsened, she gradually lost track of our schooling and studies.
My father tried everything to cure her. He paid for the most advanced medical tests available in the country. As Mothers own mother and two sisters had suffered from mental illness, we assumed her condition must be congenital, but no doctor was ever able to diagnose it. In despair, my father turned to unorthodox remedies such as opium treatments, incantations, and even hypnosis. Mother never cooperated with any of these treatments, however, and none of them were successful.
At least we children found the treatments interesting. After watching a renowned psychologist apply posthypnotic suggestions to Mother, we performed our own hypnotic experiments on one another. We also learned to treat her condition with a certain humor. What is the weather forecast? we would ask one another when we tried to predict Mothers mood for the next few hours. To avoid provoking a fresh bout of abuse, we gave code names to various persons in the household: Number 2, Number 4, and so on. My brother Ibrahim even wrote a hilarious skit, in which he called our home a radio station, with Mother always on air, broadcasting her sermons in various languages and moods with active accompaniments.
The one who shone brightly through this whole sad period was my father. He adapted himself to the situation with grace and fortitude, caring for Mother in every possible way and in all circumstances for the thirty-three years that her disease lasted. He tried to behave as if nothing had changed and she was the same Sofia Khatun he had married in 1930, when he was only twenty-two. He was loyal and good to her all the fifty-two years of their marriage until her death in 1982.
Although Father did not mind spending money on our education and travels, he kept an extremely simple household and gave us little pocket money. In high school, the monthly stipend I received by winning the Competitive Scholarship Examination in the Chittagong District provided me with some pocket money, but not enough. I acquired the balance from Fathers drawer of loose change. Father never detected this. In addition to our interest in books and magazines, Salam and I had developed a weakness for movies and eating out. Our palates were not sophisticated. My favorite dish was potato chop, a roast potato filled with fried onion and sprinkled with vinegar. Salam and I ate these with a cup of jasmine tea at the simple tea stall around the corner from our house. Father was not privy to these outings.
The first camera that Salam and I bought was a simple box camera. It accompanied us everywhere. We researched and planned our subjects like experts: portraits, street scenes, houses, still lifes. Our accomplice in photography was the owner of a neighboring photo shop named the Mystery House Studio. He allowed us to use his darkroom to develop and print our black-and-white film. We tried special effects and even retouched our photos in color.
Excerpted from Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus Copyright © 1998 by Muhammad Yunus. Excerpted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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