A Calcutta Story

yellow-tram_5616315654_oWhen the haath rickshaa turned towards Dhaka patti, it felt, as if, for a long moment, that time was fluid and this moment suspended mid-air, waiting to drop into an ocean of other moments like this one. The momentary realisation atop that mobile throne, that here, humanity moves like one giant ocean wave, was all it took to break the spell that Bada Bazaar cast.

A not-too-quick halt at a relative’s and then onwards to bring Isar and Gaura home. The bazaar itself was a perpetual celebration of sorts. Everywhere you saw colour – bright, festive, happy. Thousands of Isar and Gaura dolls waiting, in hundreds of shops, to be taken home.

“Is that where you got this from?”, I asked her, handing her, what I thought was Isar, intact in his bride-groom glory; smelling like everything in Naani‘s cupboard did – a curious mix of lavender and well, of Naani; of everything sweet about my childhood.

And then, that phenomenon I’ve not understood yet – tears of joy – happened on my mother’s face. She hugged her new-found treasure.

Sixteen days. That’s how long it lasts – the Gangaur festival. And those sixteen days passed in a daze of laughter, songs, jokes about future-husbands, and all the finery – see this?

She handed me a stack of pictures from a metal trunk. The lack of colours of the photograph did not dull the happiness bursting through. It never ceases to amuse me to see my mother as a girl, a child. Here, singing with all her sisters, and here, meticulously dressing up her Isar and Gaura. She hummed and then her singing filled the empty house with a burst of sunshine

Isar ji to lyaaya bataasa,
Gaura bai karay tamaasa o raaj,
Mhey Isar thaari saalli chhyaañ

(a marwari song sung on the occasion of Gangaur, teasing Isar about Gaura’s tantrums.)

She was smiling now as she cleared all of Naani‘s sarees, she found a little potli with Gaura‘s jewels. She stood the dolls near the old dressing table and got busy decking Gaura up in all her finery.

Didi, ukil babu aeshechhen“, (the lawyer’s here) Ramji informed her. Ramji was the 60-something-years old domestic help at Naani’s home. I wonder what would Naani think of the empty silence shrouding her bustling grihasti. With Naani gone for so many years and my uncles having decided they wouldn’t again live in that house, it fell to ma to clear it out before they proceeded to sell it.

“What would you do at the end of this fest then?” I asked her when she came back, carrying a big folder of the house-papers. With the last of the furniture gone, and the house cleared, it was time for us to leave Hindmotor, and Calcutta.

“A reluctant, teary, farewell, mostly, from the Howrah bridge”, she smiled. “It’s as hard as letting go of your daughter, when she’s all grown up, and would leave home. Like the time when you left…”

“Why, do you think, Naani would’ve saved these two?” I asked, afraid, as our taxi neared the newer, Vidyasagar Setu, that she’d stop that cab and bid farewell to these last remnants of her childhood too, as she had done with all the rest of Naani’s possessions – donating to some charity, or passing on to an eager cousin or neighbour.

“So I could see you living my childhood for me someday”, she said. And to my relief, and joy, we drove straight on.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Supriya says:

    What a beautiful piece. So reminiscent of Calcutta..and reminded me of the Gangaur I celebrated as a newly married bride 🙂

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