Friday, 16 August 1996

The Pocket Watch

Mizan Rahman  
A present from Grandpa)

I am writing to you because your first birthday is coming up and I still couldn’t decide what present to give you. Birthdays are always special, but the first birthdays are more special than others. It is the only birthday when you will have absolutely no idea what the fuss is all about, yet this is one birthday that your parents will cherish most the rest of their lives. The first is always so special because it goes so quickly and never returns. I myself would not be in such a quandary if you were not my first grandchild and if it were not your first birthday. You deserve something very special.
      I know your parents are planning a big party for you. They have rented an entire park in the town to entertain 300guests to a bar-b-q dinner and an evening of joyful dance and music. You will be the center of attraction of the whole party. You will not know about it, and, after a while, you may even start fretting about all the noise around you, but you will be the reigning monarch for one full day. It’s too bad that I won’t be able to join you there. Your grandma is too sick to travel such a great distance and I can’t leave her alone in the house. But I still have to give you something.
      It would be easy to go to a store here and buy a toy that you might like to play with. Perhaps a monster robot, a remote control car or a screaming monkey that hops around the floor. But you already got most of that stuff from your parents, and those 300 guests at your party are going to bring 300 kinds of toys for you anyway. Grandpa’s toy might be a bit special but it will still be just another toy that you would soon grow out of. Then what shall I give you?
      Oh yes, I know what I’ll give you. It just dawned on me. I’ll give you a very old watch that doesn’t work anymore. I suddenly remembered I kept this watch in your Grandma’s jewelry box safely locked in a bureau. It belonged to my father before he passed away. He didn’t give it to me; I just picked it up from all the worldly stuff he left behind, which amounted to nothing really worthwhile. It has no market value at all, totally useless. Yet this is one worldly possession of his that I consider my most precious treasure. Your Grandpa is obviously a sentimental man, but there is more to it than just a bagful of old-fashioned sentiment.
      Nowadays nobody keeps a watch in his pocket. Everyone would laugh at you if you did. But in my father’s days watches were supposed to be kept in pockets. Jackets and shirts were specially tailored with inside pockets so that small round shaped watches could be carried in them. Wealthy people would attach gold or silver chains to them. Sometimes even the watch casings were made of pure gold. But my father’s watch had just one purpose—show time. His watch was tied to a black ribbon with his shirt button. He was not rich enough even to afford a jacket, so he had nothing to show off.
      I still remember some of the rituals of our household in my early life. My father used to come home from work at dusk, take off his watch and hang it on the bedrails behind his pillow. He used to wake up around 4:30 in the morning, look at the watch, wind it, and then wake me up. We would go to the mosque to say our prayer. Then we would take a long walk by the side of the river Buriganga and return home by 7:00¾everyday, on the hour, by the hour. It became such a habit that we hardly needed the watch. But the watch was always there with my father, like a beating heart. He taught me that a watch does more than just keep the time. Being on time is like keeping a promise with someone, honoring a word. Punctuality and reliability are two sides of the same coin. He told me that a watch teaches you to synchronize your mind and body with nature. It helps raise your consciousness about continuity and regularity. It reveals some of the most profound symmetries of nature. I don’t know how my father with so little education acquired so much knowledge and insight but he tried to explain some of that abstract stuff to me when I was very young. Obviously I didn’t understand anything at that time, but they must have made enough impression on me that after so many years they have come alive again in my mind.
      I am grateful that my father didn’t and couldn’t leave any wealth for his children. I feel quite rich that I have his watch and all the memories and values attached to it. This is the legacy I wish to pass on to you. It has absolutely no value at the shops but I hope its value will keep rising in your mind as you keep growing in your age.
      I wish this watch would start showing time again. But I couldn’t get it fixed anywhere because no clock-smith exists who can repair these old watches. They are obsolete—as obsolete as many of the old values they are associated with. They are too worthless to the commercial consumer of today. But it still seems like an ideal gift for my grandson on his first birthday. I know for sure that you will never grow out of it. You can only grow into it.

August 16, 1996

Mizan Rahman, মীজান রহমান