Friday, November 14, 2008


In our old higgledy-piggledy house in Barrackpore, there was a chileykotha (attic), built atop the bathroom on the first-floor landing. Unlike today’s lofts, which are prosaic tiny spaces atop bathrooms/kitchens where every manner of rubbish is hidden behind closed doors, our chileykotha was a full-fledged room (in length and breadth, if not in height) of wonderful secrets accessible only to us children (because adults had to crane their heads very uncomfortably to stand in that low-ceilinged chamber).

And there were no doors barring our entry, either. We had to climb on to the huge black bookcase-bureau in the drawing room and lift ourselves behind rose-patterned curtains to enter the attic (the unplanned rooms of our house would horrify any architect).

And what an attic it was! Full of stuff that spelt history, wove magic to us as we poked and pried, discovering treasures abandoned by matter-of-fact adults.

There was an old sofa with its cover torn and springs broken, a perfect place for a secret meeting (of us cousins pretending to be detectives, referencing Enid Blyton – that stirrer of fantasies) or a solitary cry-my-heart-out (emerging with tell-tale eyes as red as the roses on the attic-curtain).

There was a stack of framed pictures with broken glasses, each a testimonial to the artistic talents of my father, uncles, grand-uncles and other cousins, each relegated to the attic as better (and newer) pictures were painted and framed and hung up on more-viewed walls.

There were many many rusted iron trunks, full of dusty delights. Moth-eaten velvet bags holding mystery-histories, tattered silk clothes to dress up our fancies, bent-and-chipped utensils for our make-believe kitchen…

…and, most excitingly, there was a whole trunk-full of handwritten family-magazines. These magazines had been written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by members of my father’s huge joint-family in Naogaon in what-was-then East Bengal (now Bangladesh); each poem, essay, witticism neatly calligraphed (is that the right verb?) between bound covers. There were contributions by my uncles, granduncles and other hoary ancestors who I never knew except by our common surname. This treasure-trove of family history and familiar literature had travelled all the way to Barrackpore, surviving the toss-and-turn-and-trauma of the Partition and had found its way into our chileykotha. Not all the editions were there, of course, some must have travelled with other members of the family when they parted ways after the Partition of Bengal.

I spent hours and hours poring over the fading ink on the sepia pages, not caring about the uneven literary merit of the writings, thrilled only to be able to literally touch my family’s past.



Aleta said...

I remembered when my grandfather passed away.... The family members (they had 8 children) were there to hmmm.... take the items from the house hold. To divvy up the furniture and china, etc. amongst their 8 children (my mom being the 5th of 8).

The house was a mess afterwards. Dad and I came into my grandparents' home to help clean up and most of the relatives were gone.

At one point, Dad turned to me and pointed to a rusty old file cabinet. He asked if anyone looked through it. Nobody seemed particular interested in old papers.

Dad and I started sorting things out and then he said, "Your aunts and uncles left the most precious gift of all." He handed me a stack of papers.

Stories my grandmother wrote and not just stories, but letters that she exchanged with her mom, my great-grandmother.

I ended up typing up the letters and stories as the ink was fading. I shared what was there with family.

Dad was right ~ it was the most precious of items in the home.

Paul Bernard said...

I can't say I've ever unlocked a chamber of family secrets, but I do have a love of attic spaces.
Ever since I was a child I liked to climb the ladder and peer into the strange lighted world of slats, beams and fibreglass that made up the loftspace.
Then, one of my best friends had a bedroom in the loft! How amazing. Later, as a far too tall student, I took the attic room in a shared house. Blissful days with the skylight blessing the room with dappled rays, I remember.
I've tended to live in top floor flats ever since. Perhaps the light of the attic room holds a strange and wonderful secret in itself?

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Thanks so much for letting me enter into the secret rooms of your past.

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

Secrets, no. Even attics, no.

But I do remember basements, the four tile squares, probably of soft linoleum, in the center of the basement floor of my mother's parents' house, each square bearing the design of one suit from a deck od cards. ("My mother's parents." How English suffers for the poverty of its vocabulary of family relationships!)

I loved that club, heart, spade and diamond, but the real magic was in the basement of my father's father's house -- and earthen-floor basement. To be able to touch the earth while inside a house was a thrill, the most strongly I have ever felt that I was in touch with a secret realm!
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Hi Peter,

what a truly magical room for a child's fantasy. The earthen one must have held a lot of tactile pleasure; we are familiar with earthen floors, as many Indian huts have such floor and walls, with the roofs made of red caly tiles, or straw.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I seem to recall the small of the earth, though that might be my memory playing tricks on me. Mainly it was just the idea that this basement was a combination of inside and outside, or maybe that it was own private tunnel to the center of the Earth -- though I never tried to dig there!
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

Mampi said...

I am so excited about your family literature.
Get it scanned and stored for posterity on your hard disc.
i am working on a project on 1857, maybe your literature has references to it. Maybe we could translate it.
Why am I getting so excited about it.