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.
DO YOU REMEMBER ANY SUCH ROOM ESPECIALLY FULL OF WONDERFUL SECRETS?