Thursday, June 23, 2011


The first time I shifted house was a time I cannot even remember. I was all of one-and-a-half. My father had been posted in Santaldih, where he was working as an Electrical Engineer with the West Bengal State Electricity Board. So, after the mandatory hospital-stay and the two-month recuperating period at her mother's house, my Maa turned up with me in tow at my father's single-storey government bungalow in Santaldih.

There I stayed for around eighteen months, growing up in sunshine and running around in mica-encrusted fields that glittered in the dark. Our front garden had flower beds and the back garden had vegetable patches where Maa tended over seasonal delicacies. I have an old black-and-white photo of me wearing a smock and oiled, neatly combed hair, squinting at the sun and smiling, dragging my tricycle on the cobbled path leading to the main door.

Apparently, or so my Maa says, I was a very stubborn child who would scream and shout if she took me to any other bungalow, although all the bungalows looked the same, even before I was a year old. My ever-patient Maa interpreted this abominable ill temper as excessive attachment to my Santaldih home.

Santaldih was a peaceful outpost, with not much available in terms of shops or markets. Maa and Baba had to go to Jharia in Bihar by train/jeep to buy essential domestic supplies like milk powder and even sweet limes (the juice of which is regarded as good for young children), and this was a day long affair that recurred every fort-night.

I have no personal memories of Santaldih at all, only a store-house of tales told by Maa and Baba that I have, in turn, handed down to my daughters and spouse. And a few sepia photographs that evoke more with their borders than they do with their contents.

We did re-visit Santaldih once again when I was a young girl of about nine or ten. But, much to my mother's disappointment, I could not recognise our old bungalow, or any other thing. I only remember the strange scattered glitter of mica in the dark, as it is ingrained in and spread over the rocks and stones of Santaldih.

At the ripe age of one-and-a-half, I shifted en family to Barrackpore. As expected, I shouted the house down on arrival, clinging to my Maa and screaming to get back to my home in Santaldih. It was a temporary outburst, and I soon settled down for the next fifteen years, moving out only when I was sixteen to stay in Lady Brabourne College Hostel during my Higher Secondary years.