You probably remember from last week that to celebrate my mom’s life, I went and visited every single house she had ever lived in. Three of them were in Durgapur.
You probably saw them as very big houses with colorful walls. Which is what they are now. When we lived there, they all looked the same. They were the living quarters given by the steel factory that my dad worked in. Eventually, they let the residents buy out their quarters and then add their own improvements.
Growing up, they all looked the same. And the walls would come in only one of two colors – yellow or red. Now, for us, who lived in Durgapur, finding a house was very easy. All we needed was the address. It being a planned town, the roads usually ran in the cardinal directions and intersected in roundabouts.
The very first house we lived in was 6/2 North Avenue. All you needed to figure out was where was North Avenue. Once you found that, it was very systematic. The streets came off the road like a fish bone. Odd streets sequentially from 1 on the left and even streets sequentially from 2 on the right. Once you were in the street, similarly, houses in the left would be odd numbered and on the right, even numbered. So, once you got to North Avenue, the third street on the right would be our street (6th) and the first house on the right would be our house (6/2). In case you had any doubt, there were helpful markers at the beginning of every street and every house.
By the way – and this is relevant for the story – where our road started from, about a hundred yards offset from that were the only two cemeteries in Durgapur. One for the Muslims and one for the Christians.
You would think that would make finding a house to be a breeze, right? Yes, if you were from Durgapur. No, if you were not. Our relatives who would visit us from the big city of Kolkata or the small village of Debipur were more used to instructions like “oi saamner do-tola bareer paas diye je gali taa jachche – oi galitey – laal baaritar porer baaarita”. (“That two story house you see? Take the lane next to it and you are looking for the house next to the red house in that lane”).
This would lead to some hilarious situations. Like the one in 1974 or so. My grandmother and my great aunt were visiting us to attend a wedding (my dad’s mentor’s – Sen jethu – daughter – Kasturidi – was getting married). Both of them wore white sarees like you see in the picture. My grandmother of course wore it due to prevailing social customs (she was a widow). Not sure why but I had never seen my great aunt in any other color but white.
One of those evenings, they had gone out for a walk together and managed to get themselves completely lost. It was getting dark and a sense of helplessness was drawing upon them. It did not help that every house looked exactly like the next one. They were truly lost.
My grandmother apparently asked a couple of passers by if they knew the house of “Damu”. Now Damu is my dad’s pet name at home. Nobody calls him by that name other than in the village. But in that intense moment of being lost, my grandmother completely lost sight of the fact that she had to give his real name.
According to my great aunt, my grandmother was on the verge of crying. Which my grandmother completely denied. My great aunt had a brain wave. The one anchoring point she knew was a the cemetery. From there she knew how to get to our house. Both of them approached a bunch of young kids who were still playing in that last bit of dusk – “Babara, amaader ektu kabarkhanay pnouchhe debey?” They pleaded the kids to accompany them to the cemetery.
You have to imagine the situation. It was getting dark. One small street light thirty yards away was offering some respite from total darkness. And there are these two characters completely dressed in white asking to go to the cemetery…
It took only one kid to ask the question that was at everyone’s tip of the tongue “Bhoot naki re?” (“Are these ghosts?”). And before you could cry Uncle (or great aunt for that matter), each had high tailed like their life depended on breaking the then Olympic sprint records. I understand the kids waited till daybreak to come back and retrieve their danda-guli (play paraphernila) that had been unceremoniously dumped the previous evening.
Eventually, the two old ladies entered a nearby house and asked if they knew the house of a school teacher called Manju. They were escorted dutifully and reached home in a matter of minutes.
That evening, as they narrated the story to us, the peals of laughter that roared from our house could be heard from a long distance. Even from the cemetery, I am sure.