The August sky outside my window is a shade of royal blue. White, cottony blobs of clouds float in that vast blueness. In the countryside of West Bengal, soon kash flowers will start to bloom, announcing the arrival of Durga Puja, one of the most celebrated festivals among the Bengali.
Even though I spent the first few years of my life in Guptipara, a small rural town in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, the more conscious memories of my childhood are engraved in the soils and air of Durgapur, my present hometown. Durgapur being a city, you won’t probably see sprawling kash fields by the riverside. So, for me the arrival of Durga Puja in Durgapur was marked by the bright blue skies filled with blobs of white clouds. To this day, the sight makes my heart leap with joy, because it is associated with my childhood. It reconnects me to my past.
My fascination for the white, cottony clouds date back to when I was four or five. At the time we were still in Guptipara. We lived in a house which was home to a big, joint family. Our family had to itself two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom separate from the house, a well for drinking water and lots and lots of trees: wood-apple, litchi, mango, jackfruit, banana plantation and teak. There was big yard surrounding the house on three sides.
All our neighbours had the same surname. The ones on our left were especially close to us. My mother says the grandpa-like figure of that house loved me a lot and I spent a lot of time with him. One day, I walked up to their house, attracted by a blobby, white mass on the ground next to their verandah. There was no one watching me at the time. I knelt down beside the white mass – it resembled the clouds up in the sky that I loved to watch. The clouds have descended to the ground! Wow!
I checked to see if anyone was looking and sheepishly touched the whiteness. It felt wet. Suddenly, someone came and said, “That’s shaving foam, sweetheart. Go wash your hands, it is dirty!”
As I write this, I feel numbly certain that this incident had happened but I can’t exactly be sure that it happened the way I am writing. Was there really no one around at first? I have a feeling that I was indeed alone. Did someone actually tell me that it was shaving foam, or did I realize it myself? Again, I am not sure. There are memories like this embedded in the cells of my brain of whose existence I am vaguely, at times seriously convinced of, but can’t bet on them.
Do I really remember things as they happened? Or is it some dream that I believe to be a memory? These anomalies bite at the back of the writer’s mind; she wants the truth. She wants to see through the sepia-tinted lens of time and find out what little Arpita loved to do, who she played with, what she played with.
At times, I am certain of the events that occurred, but cannot point them to any particular year. I have tried asking my mother, but her memory is weaker than mine with respect to such anecdotes. She is one happy little woman who is content with the present. I have never seen her speak to us about the past nostalgically. Even when I ask her about it, she is factual about what she remembers. I do not see any hint of the sentimentality in her that according to poets, are associated with memories.
My father wasn’t exactly there when I was growing up – when we were in Guptipara, he stayed in Durgapur, manning our medicine shop, visiting us once a month. Even after we came to Durgapur, I saw very little of him as he was at the shop the whole day.
The only persons who might have told me about the first few years of my life, my paternal grandparents, are dead. I lost both of them before I was ten. I will revisit their story in a subsequent chapter.
Sometimes I feel sad, not being able to construct the first few years of my life. Somehow for me, understanding the past holds the key to understanding myself in the present. I can’t accept that those years have simply slipped off my cognition, alive only through some feeble memories on whose authenticity I am not sure I can rely.
Perhaps that is why I look for the broken toys in the few old family pictures we have, because they bring back memories of something that had been, something more tangible than my fading memory.
Copyright © 2015 Arpita Pramanick. All rights reserved.
Note: This essay is part of an upcoming anthology. To read my fiction pieces, please check out the Short Stories on this blog. You may also buy my Kindle ebook, Bound by Life on Amazon. It is available for only $0.99 until 19th August, 2015.
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY
TO ALL MY FELLOW INDIANS!
JAI HIND! VANDE MATARAM!