Friday, April 24, 2009


It began life as a piece of land sold to my grandparents. It was the 1940s, that turbulent decade when India was pulling free from the British yoke. Bengal had already been ripped into two. Many Hindu families, originally from East Bengal (later East Pakistan; now Bangladesh), were fleeing to the West (West Bengal, which remained part of Indian territory). [The opposite – Muslim families moving to East Bengal – was also happening.]

Dadu and Dida (my father’s father and mother) were part of the thousands of families that came, looking to build a new life. They came to Barrackpore, a small town near Kolkata, because my Dida’s father lived here (he was a District Magistrate). They bought middling plot of land by selling off some of Dida’s gold ornaments. [The ornaments would stand our family in good stead through hard times – right down to paying for my father’s engineering college fees.].

Some more sold-off-gold helped to build a small two-bedroom house with a red cement balcony. There was a haphazard garden with a well at one end. My grandparents moved in with their four children – my Jethun (uncle), Pishis (aunts) and Baba (my father, the youngest).

Over the decades, the house changed shape many a time, swelling to suit the needs of its inhabitants. When my father got married a room was added on top, and the house officially became a do-tala baari (two-storey house), enhancing its status in the para (neighbourhood). One of Baba’s promotions resulted in the creation of a proper drawing room and an attic.

Dadabhai’s marriage meant another bedroom. The red-tiled kitchen at the back got a change of roof; new bathrooms were added, as were balconies. Gradually, brick by brick, the house metamorphosed into a sprawling seven-roomed house. What it continued to be, for over six decades, was a HOME to all of us living there. My home.

But, the residents also changed. Some grew old and died – my grandparents – some died before their time – my aunt, father, uncle. Some grew up and left – my cousins. Finally, my mother, brother and I, too, shifted to a new apartment, near the railway station, for convenience and easy conveyance to the city. The lure of the city won over our loyalty to the home.

The house, lonely and left behind, brooded into decrepitude. A family of distant relations stayed for some years while we followed our destinies elsewhere. The termites had an uninterrupted banquet. The memory- heavy rooms, once witness to our evolving histories, remained dark and shut. Cracks grew in the walls and weeds grew in the cracks. Creepers, intertwined with echoes of our laughter and quarrels, grew over the vacant balconies. The trees in the garden cast longer and longer shadows and began to hide the house like Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

My grandfather had left behind a lot of memories, but no legal will. So, the amicable and consensual transfer of the rights of the house to Dadabhai, my cousin, took a long time – more than a decade – and endless visits to the court.

Now the knots of legalese have been unraveled. Dadabhai, who stays in Bangalore, told us last week that the house has been handed over to some promoters, who will break down the old structure and build a multi-storeyed apartment (what else?) in its place. My daughters will never be able to visit it and see for themselves the rooms and garden that shaded and shaped me.

Ironically, each flat in the new building will have two bedrooms - which are what the house originally had, to begin with.

Maybe the happiness I felt there will be transferred to the new owners, multiplying as the rooms have multiplied in the flats, making the residents cherish their homes, just as I did, so long ago.


Friday, April 17, 2009


The first time I forgot something was a long time ago. When I was five years old, to be specific. When I was sitting in a classroom, writing a Mathematics class test, to be even more specific. Mathematics, in those uncomplicated childish times, meant a simple progression from number 1 to number 100. No arduous additions, stupefying subtractions, maddening multiplications, devious divisions or other complicated calculations that continue to haunt us in later life.

But even then, as now, I was numerically challenged. The very shapes of the numbers challenged me, especially that of number 3. I was confused: were the pointy bits on the left and the rounded bits on the right, or vice versa? Frowning and chewing my pencil (most of my pencils looked like they had been attacked by woodpeckers), I tried to visualize the shape of 3. But like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, the shape of the mystic number eluded me.

Not willing to give up without a fight (Maths was, and continues to be, Academic Enemy No. 1), I came up with a solution. I had to write from 1 to 50, so I had to write the number 3 a total of 15 times ( I just checked it out twice, counting on my fingers). Each time, I meticulously alternated the sides of the pointy and the rounded parts, so that 33 ended up looking like an 8 broken down the middle.

Needless to say, my score in the test was unmemorable, and I have duly forgotten it.

Though I remember my first instance of forgetting in photographic detail, the subsequent instances and too many and too frequent to remember.


Saturday, April 11, 2009


College is such an important part of growing up that it is sure to leave behind deep imprints in the road to self-discovery.

Some lucky ones, like Chetan Bhagat, write books on their college days (Five-Point Someone) and become rich and famous.

Not being Chetan Bhagat, however, I hope to write about my college memories in this blog. In bits and pieces, fragments and filaments, as is my wont.

Pritam, the very resourceful editor of the e-magazine Pentasect, very kindly allowed me to indulge in an all-expenses-paid nostalgia trip back to my college days in Presidency College of what-was-then-Calcutta. If you want to come along for the ride, do click here.


Saturday, April 4, 2009


In Mumbai, the sun and the rain are like a quarelling Page 3 couple, they never appear together. It is always an either-or situation, either it is swelteringly hot (as it is now), with summer stretching for endless weeks; or it is raining, in drip-drops or deluges, for months without any sun in sight. I know that I am exaggerating, but that is what it feels like.

When I was child in Bengal, the sun and the rain had a different relationship, especially in summer, more especially in April. They were like an amorous couple, chasing each other throughout the month. The daytime would see the sun, all melting-concrete-hot and blinding-eyes-yellow. Coming back from school would mean a long walk in the sapping afternoon heat, when the sweat would seem to drip from our eyelids into our eyes and the schoolbag would leave a wet patch where it stuck to our backs.

But in the late afternoon, the white wispy effeminate clouds floating in the sky would be replaced by black billowing clouds which meant serious business. Even as the sun would hurry to the western horizon, the clouds would hustle the winds to sway the trees and rustle the leaves. In relief and gladness, we would come out into the balconies and courtyards, feeling the wind lift our hair and dry the sweat on our brows.

And then, riding on the back of the wind, would come the rain. Blessed, beautiful rain would pour down in huge drops on the parched soil and the hot rooftops, cooling us all. This was the Kalboishakhi, the summerstorm which was Nature’s own relief-measure and heat-control mechanism.

Sometimes, we would be allowed to get wet in the rain, especially if we had prickly heat rashes (as the first rain was supposed to be a miracle-cure for itchy heat-rash). Sometimes there would be hailstorms, and the roofs and gardens would be white with hailstones. Some would be tiny, melting in our hands as we tried to gather them. Some would be as big as golf-balls, which we would reverentially gather in bowls. Their cold crunchiness was a delight to taste.

Another epicurean delight of the Kalboishakhi were the green unripe mangoes which would fall off the madly swinging branches of our neighbour’s mango tree (which overhung our garden wall). We would rush out with laal gamchhas (thin red towels), unmindful of the fruits pelting down on our heads, eager only to collect as many fallen mangoes as possible before the rain became too heavy.

After discarding the tiny inedible ones, we would then peel the rest of our booty, and sit with outstretched legs in the balcony, eating our stolen goods with salt and red-chilli powder, watching the rain pour down. The next morning the sun would be back, in all his fierce glory.

The word Kal in Kalboishakhi probably refers to the 'black clouds which bring the rain', but as a child I always thought that Kal referred to 'tomorrow', and that Kalboishakhi meant that there would be another summerstorm tomorrow, to take away the heat in the evening and give us some more green mangoes.