18 December 2021

Daily routine… interrupted (1)

The clothesline clips have been sitting there for a full year without being used. Mom was finicky about hand washing clothes everyday and putting them out to dry. Which caused dad a heartburn of no small measure since they would obstruct his clean view to the outside world!!

In fact, during my daily phone calls, I could accurately gauge the weather in Kalyani from my mother’s response to my innocuous question about how had the day been. “Good” means the sun was up and the clothes had dried up. “Not good” means the clothes could not be put out due to rains outside and she was worried how were they going to dry.

There was a third response “dhoor dhoor dhoor“, which can be roughly translated to “Terrible”. That would undoubtedly mean that the sun was up but the rains suddenly came in rendering all her clothes wet all over again!!

18 December 2021

My mom’s college

The last stop in Kalna was to visit my mom’s college. I am not sure how it looked in those days (certainly it was not as bright looking with the fresh coat of paint and the marble entrance now) but I do know how my college going mom looked from this old picture of hers that I have.

She did Political Science and Economics as I recollect in a degree that is called B.A. Honors, I think. If I am not very mistaken, it was a 3 year course. She got married right when she was finishing her last year.

18 December 2021

My mom’s high school

Since my grandfather had moved the family from Upalati village to the town of Kalna so that his kids would get better education, I had to go find out where is it that my mom got her education…

Once I got the name of the school from her elder sister, locating it on Google Map was fairly easy. When I reached there, I had no issue getting inside and taking pictures. School was not in session. I am sure the building did not have such fresh new paint those days but I was impressed with the fact that it was established in 1901 !!

To put the inception year in perspective, most people in the world did not bathe daily, the world just got to know about the Nobel prize and Australia became a new born country!!

18 December 2021

Following in my mother’s footsteps – chapter 2

When my mom reached sixth grade, my grandfather decided to move his family from the village of Upalati to a nearby town called Kalna. He figured that it would be good for the education of his four kids. (He had 2 more later).

This is the house in Kalna that I have great memories of. This is truly a Bengali’s “mamabaari”. The last time I had visited this place was in the 1970s. It took me about half an hour of phone call with my uncle (mom’s brother) to try and pinpoint the house in Google Maps.

Turned out that once I was nearby, I recognized all the small markers – the two ponds, the left and right turn in the alley – in spite of the fact that modern civilizations had penetrated even this town – at least in terms of asphalt roads instead of dirt roads and covered drains instead of open ones.

Introducing ourselves to the current residents wsa less of an issue. They are the descendants of the original owner of the house. My grandpa had rented the house from him. And we are somehow related to them – multiple times removed, I am sure. I found out that the original owner’s name was Haradhan Pan. Which reminded me why my dad always made me write “C/O Haradhan Pan” (Care Of Haradhan Pan) every time I wrote a letter to my grandpa and put his name first in the address line.

I was amazed how much of the house has remained the same. The owners invited us to go around the whole house and take pictures. Which I did. Every step brought back a flood of memories… remembering the excitement when my aunt (mom’s sister) was getting married, the running to the rooftop to wave my grandfather goodbye as he hurried thru the alleys for his 7:55 train, the sleepy dinners sitting on the floor by grandmother’s kitchen under the watchful eyes of the pet cats. There was no electricity those days. It was all lanterns lit by kerosene lamps and hand fans!

As of today, I marveled at the idea that this dilapidated house is where my mom spent her time as a teenager. While I had the chance to take my mom to her birthplace once, I never had brought her back to this house!!!

This will remain, unfortunately, in my wish list for ever.

17 December 2021

Following in my mother’s footsteps – chapter 1

“Upalati gram to kon dikey?”

After 3 hours of driving – mostly weaving thru village roads (long live Google Maps), my brother and I arrived at a place that we thought should be very close to my mother’s birthplace. We saw a few elderly people gathered around the road and enquired where the village called Upalati was.

We were obviously very close since instead of giving directions, one of the gentleman asked us

“Whose house are you looking for?”

“Well, my grandfather – Harendranath Pan – used to live there. But I do not think it belongs to his family any more”.

Realizing that I was not making any good connection in his head, I rattled off my mom’s name and and then all her five siblings’ names. With each name, the head nodding became more vigorous. He knew what I was talking about!!

But instead of giving me directions, he told me that of course, he knew the house. But none of them live there any more.

In my mind, I was going “No s***, Sherlock. I belong to that family”. But I told him that I just wanted to visit my grandpa’s house.

Soon enough, I was standing outside the humble abode that my mom was born in – circa 1944. It was surreal to realize that this is exactly where my mom came to this world. Four fifth of a century later, there is still a goat tied to the pillar in the house and the poster on the wall advertises a mobile number to call to clean out (“pressure wash” is what it says) the latrine.

Sometimes I let myself forget my own humble beginnings and how much I owe back to this world.

17 December 2021

Following in my mother’s footsteps – chapter 3

After moving from Upalati to Kalna for her school and college, my mom’s next stop was Debipur. Back to village life from town life. She got married at the age of 20 to my dad who lived in Debipur with his brother and mother. It was one small compound with two huts – one for my uncle and his family and one for my parents. Grandma stayed in the same room as we. This is where I was born!!

Debipur was our third stop too! The hut is not there anymore – but you can see a picture of it in the small image below that I had taken in 2012 when I visited it after forty years. It subsequently got burnt down. Only the back wall remains.

I have a lot of memories of the very first few years there and the annual trips to go see grandma during the Puja times.

My mom stayed in this hut for about half a dozen years. Dad had already revolted against his family and moved away from farming. Got a day job in a steel factory that was being built about 100 km away. Eventually, he pulled my mom and me too to Durgapur once he was allotted a permanent job and a living quarter there. That would have been around 1970 or so.

28 August 2021

First time there was no reminder on his birthday!

Every Aug 28, at about 9AM my time – 6:30PM his, the following conversation would happen:

“Dad, it is your birthday today, right?”

He would fumble for a few seconds like something hit him from the left field… “Today is my birthday???”. And then he would give up and after clearing his throat loudly ask my mom over the sound of hissing oil of something being fried in the kitchen.

“Koi sunchho? Aajkey aamaar jonmodin?” (“Can you hear me? Is it my birthday today?”).

Mom would diligently do the math – August. 28th. Yes, that has to be his birthday!!

After establishing that it was indeed his birthday, I would then wish him. At which point, he would usually come back with some variant of the same message – “At my age, nobody celebrates birthdays. I am waiting for my final day.”

A few more minutes of conversation later, I would talk to my mom and then the next phase of the drama would start.

I would call my sister downstairs and remind her that it is dad’s birthday. She would excitedly scream at everybody and sundry how did everybody forget that. My niece – always the quiet person who gets things done – would in the meanwhile put in an order for a cake.

Then would be a call to my brother. Who undoubtedly would be pacing up and down at his house. (That is what he does when he does nothing else. Or anything for that matter). He would, in a matter of fact way, register what I just said and then move on!! Not before I would tell him to ask the nephews to call up dadu (grandpa).

Usually the whole thing would end by me receiving a WhatsApp message from my niece – with some pictures of dad reluctantly eating a cake surrounded by smiling mom and sister’s family.

This year too, I had to remind my sister’s family and my brother’s family.

There was no picture of cake at the end, however!

26 July 2021

All nothingnesses are not the same

They try telling me that you came from nothing and you eventually became nothing. That I came from nothing and that I will go back to nothing. So, why think about it?

But this is where I agree with Eric Weiner’s words and disagree with the world.

The nothing that was before you were born is not the same nothing that is now that you are gone. One is a nothing that was always nothing while the other is a nothing that was once something. That makes a difference.

The void in space is not the same as a mine in the earth. Both are nothingness. But those nothingnesses are different because they are defined by the proximity to what was.

And what still is.