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To my refugee grandad, who taught me to dream


To my refugee grandad, who taught me to dream

In this occasional series, we feature letters from people to refugees who have shaped their lives.
21 December 2022
My dear Dadu: Yash and his grandfather

Montage of Yash and his grandfather

Yash, 17, writes to his refugee grandfather, now deceased, whom he affectionately calls Dadu. His grandad fled his home located in current-day Bangladesh as a teenager in 1947 during the partition of India, leaving everything behind. The partition displaced over 14 million people along religious lines. Yash, who lived with his grandpa most of his life, remembers the time they spent watching romantic comedies together and dreaming about the future.

This letter has been edited for length and clarity.

Listen to Yash read the letter:

UNHCR, UN Refugee Agency · Dear Dadu – a letter from Yash

Dear Dadu,

I write to you in honour of a dream.

Several decades ago, you walked into this country as a young boy – not much older than I am right now – with the modest dream of making a living. You lost your home, your family, and your roots, and yet, you persevered.

Several decades ago, you became a refugee. You crossed the fence and worked day and night. You dreamt of a better life, and you made one for yourself. And when you left, you left me that dream.

When I was young, you’d tell me about the kind strangers who gave you food, who got you a job, who helped you grow. You’d tell me about the people who let you into this country and made this feel like home. You’d tell me about how grateful you felt to have been able to build a community from scratch. Today, when I think about the millions in search of a home like you once were, I realize how lucky you were.

Growing up, I always had you by my side. I would hold your hand when walking, and I’d always take your little Nokia and play games on it. You were a constant, and I’m grateful for that.

Despite the youth you lost, you did your best to give me a good childhood. I remember the nights we’d stay up chatting away about politics, and mum would yell at us to sleep. Those chats sparked my love for debate, which I enjoy to this date. Even today, when I argue about immigration as part of my debate club, I remember your words about compassion.

Then, there was our greatest bonding exercise: romantic comedies. No matter how our day went, every Saturday evening we met on the sofa exactly at nine. Nobody else dared come near the TV, for the next three hours were ours and ours only. The Princess Diaries, Pitch Perfect, and Love Actually were household names; we’d know every scene and dialogue by heart.

I didn’t know it then, but you loved those little leaps of faith because having hope was the story of your life. And that’s why you supported me. You supported me in buying ice cream, you supported me in getting McDonald's for dinner, but most importantly, you supported me in my bid to study abroad. When nobody else found it necessary, you told me that I must dream beyond the horizons of logic, and that whatever I dreamt of, you would support it. And so, you did.

I was 12 when you complained of chest pain for the first time. The two of us were alone at home.

I asked you to raise your hand straight, and you couldn’t. Thinking on my feet, I called an Uber—the first time I had ever done so without Mum. We rushed into the ER, and we were right on time. Perhaps I was too young, but I won’t ever forget the hours upon hours I spent in that lobby, waiting to hear that you’d be fine. And you were fine. You came back home, and you got okay. And we were proud of your recovery. For years, you and I continued to laugh in the face of time, though we didn’t know that it stared us down. Soon, it was my phone with you, Kishore Kumar’s hits blaring on the speakers.

And then, you fell. It was February, and your body wasn’t cooperating. Your lungs were filling with water, and you couldn’t get up anymore. But, you persevered. We moved from the TV to my laptop, but the rom-coms went on. It was my hand this time, holding yours as you learnt to walk again. And soon, you were doing well. You were doing so well.

April. We finished our movie, and I snuck you a gulaab jamun and a samosa. Those were two things you loved. I said good night, and I went to sleep. I never should’ve gone to sleep.

As I cleaned out my wardrobe last week, I found your Nokia, snake game still working. I played like I used to, and even broke my old record. Every time Kishore Kumar plays, I remember you. Every time I watch Anne Hathaway, I remember you. I write this letter to thank you for the dream you gave me. Today, as I apply to study abroad, I give back. I advocate for refugees, I volunteer with UNHCR, I help the elderly, and I keep your memory alive. There isn’t much I’ve done, and I’ve a long way to go. As I walk my road, I keep in mind not just you, but those who gave you food, got you a job, and helped you grow. Maybe one day, I will be that hope for someone. Maybe one day.

Love, Yash