Thursday, April 17, 2008


I don't, actually. I was born in a nursing home, which was actually the ground floor of the doctor's two-storey house. I remember seeing the place a number of times and my mother pointing it out, but I do not remember anything about the interiors.

My first memories of home are of of my family's haphazard, added-to-in-bits-and-parts house in Barrackpore, which is a small town near Kolkata in West Bengal. [The town was so named because of the barracks built for the British soldiers when the East India Company set up their first cantonment in India in this place in the eighteenth century.]

It (my home, not the barracks) began as a two-room house built when my grandparents came over with their four children during the Partition of India in the 1940s; the plot of land purchased after selling most of my dida's (father's mother) gold wedding ornaments. Such stories are common to many people when they were all uprooted during the Partition upheaval.

When my father got married, a room was built on the roof : this became our room, our corner of the house. More rooms were added later, when my cousin (my uncle's son) got married, when it was decided to have a "drawing room"....During the early years of my growing-up, the house seemed to be frequently under construction - rooms added, verandahs (balconies) elongated or grilled, a jalchaad (special roofing to keep the house cool in the very hot Indian summers) added, the red clay tiles covering a section of the house replaced with concrete roofing. As the inhabitants of the house got jobs/promotions and began to earn money, this new-found affluence would usually result in a new add-on (which was also an accepted way of impressing the neighbours).

The house was white-washed every two-years, usually in summers before the rains came; I remember the hullabaloo which this would cause. The workmen would erect bamboo scaffolding all over the place, climbing up and down the unsteady makeshift ladders quickly and easily, balancing paintcans and brushes. I envied their lithe grace; and I remember that once I climbed up a ladder but was too scared to come down till somebody rescued me. My dadu (granddad) hated moving out of his chosen spot in his downstairs room, so the workmen would have to paint around him, all the other things in the rooms shifted elsewhere, or shrouded in plastic sheets/old newspapers to protect them. Yet the paint would manage to fleck the furniture anyway, and for days afterwards we (my brother and I) would scrape bits of whitelime off cupboards and beds.

I liked the smell of the freshly-painted rooms, the golden-yellow of the kitchen and the blue-tinged white of the other rooms. I liked the way the house looked from the road outside, dazzling white in the sunlight. I also liked the fact that the new paint would keep away the lizards (geckoes) (for a few days at least), which would otherwise crawl all over the walls and ceilings in the evenings, catching insects, hiding behind light fixtures in the daytime.

How do you remember the home you spent your childhood in?


Anonymous said...

Nope and yes. There were so many.

Your grandfather must have been an interesting guy, though.

Neelakshi said...

I was literally born in a house(!!!) my maternal granny's house!As usual I was in a hurry even announce my entry to the world; couldn't even wait till I could get to the hospital. Anyways, my mother was brought up in a small village called Ugar Khurd in Belgaum dist. of Karnataka state in India. It definitely happens to be my favourite place of visit almost every summer vacation then. I happen to be the first grandchild of the family so obviously enjoyed all the pampering I used to get from all.
Moroever the place was actually very interesting. It was a small house with sloping roofs made of brick tiles...more popularly known as Mangalore tiles here. The walls were built with mud, hay and bricks. These were then smeared with cow-dung...not even paints. These helped to keep the flies..insects ..mosquitoes away. But that was not the reason why cow-dung was used ..its just that it might have been too expensive for my grandparents to afford and it was never very easily available in places as rural as Ugar then. I think after a few years they started to use limestone mix; remember leaning against the walls to sit and getting the white patches all over our dresses.
Even the floors were not tiled..they were mud floors smeared with fresh cow dung.... diligently everyday.
I know cow-dung sounds quite yuck..but surprisingly it never smelled foul. That house had a huge courtyard.. there was a small shed which my granpparents reared two buffaloes..two goats and I think there were some chickens too. My brother and I simply loved going to the cow shed ..trying to feed the animals with some fodder .water ..bathing them and all during our summer visits. I actually miss it now.. now my grandparents have their floors tiled.. cemented walls and roofs; all painted etc. Those houses were definitely more charming.
Its amazing how all that seems so distant now ..the place..the people...the experiences.
I cannot help getting fascinated at the simplicity and the beauty of that life. And I could just go on and on.

mm said...

I don't remember much - about the first house -or the office quarters. Durgapur Hospital must have been the place where I was born - but I have never heard any discussions around that - so....
Maybe just a couple of memories in my mind - the first one from the night my sis was born. Well she was born early morning at 6am but I remember one July night my dad and my mom leaving me at our neighbor’s house with al my books and toys etc. I liked them quite a lot and so it was a celebration for me.
And then off they went to some place in a scooter. I remember waking up next morning at my neighbor’s place and wanting to show them all my books and toys and my father waiting to get me ready for school.
The next thing I remember is when we left that house and moved to another office quarter which would be within walking distance of my school. It was just a couple months after my sis was born. I remember me and my mother - with my sister on her lap - riding a rickshaw from our old house to the new one.
These memories are not really related to that first house- but then this is all I remember about the house where I spent the first 4 years of my life.

tina said...

i love your descriptions. always so vivid; your memories live on in your words. keep writing them down, i love reading them :)

i've known only one house throughout my life. it originally had only two bedrooms, one for my parents and one for my brothers. when i arrived my parents had a new room built for them; my brothers moved into their old room, and my crib was put into my brothers' old room. my mother says i was too afraid to sleep by myself when i was a toddler, so i slept in between my parents until i was around seven, when they finally kicked me out. unfortunately, since i'd been sleeping in my parents' bed for most of my seven years i didn't have a bed of my own, so i slept in a folding bed for a few days until my new wooden bed was delivered and assembled in my room. i remember sleeping soundly in the folding bed, but being unable to sleep for about a week in the new bed. it was strange, having all that space to yourself; i imagined the night pressing in on me, forcing my eyes open and stealing the sleep from beneath their lids.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

thanks everybody, for being a brick and building a house full of memories.