Tag Archives: childhood

Remembering childhood

Summer afternoons have this amazing quality of transporting me back to my childhood. A magical, magical place! Of course, I was not aware how magical it was at that time. It is in retrospect that the present looks magical.

I think the best part of the afternoons was between five thirty and seven. The sun would have set by then. If we were lucky, the trees would start to wave and blow some wind. My brother and his gang of players would be playing cricket on the green slice of field in the middle of the neighborhood. Sometimes these balls would end up hitting the tin roof or the wooden windows of an annoyed neighbor and he’d be rushing out of the house with angry eyes, asking, “Who has the audacity to hit the ball on my roof again? Today, if I don’t stop this game of yours, my name is not So-and-so!”

When there would be no right answer from the boys’ gang, rather loud pleas for the ball to be returned, he’d just fetch the ball from the courtyard and scream that the boys could wave the ball goodbye. They could go buy another. Better yet, they should stop playing altogether.

Some of these neighbors now have kids and grand kids of the same age as my brother was then. I am not there to see how the cricket games are unfolding these days, but I am sure the scenario wouldn’t have changed much. It would just be fresh set of annoyed neighbors, and another bunch of enthusiastic kids. That’s probably one thing that is still unchanged about my hometown, the fields are still played in.

I was never a part of these games, rather a spectator from a distance, from my balcony. Or sometimes, after I got my bicycle, I would be circling the neighborhood, with the air flowing through my shoulder length hair, watching the kids play, tasting my own kind of freedom.

There were days when there were storms, when the kids would be forced indoors. At the onset of the storm, the dry dust would rise up, almost choking us and blocking view. With the dust rose stray plastics that were strewn all over the neighborhood. On those days, my brother and I sang our hearts out, as we watched from the balcony the trees bend with the vigor of wind and rain. The air smelled so sweet, sweet from the smell of mangoes and the smell of moist Earth. Throughout the storm, my mother would be shouting to close the balcony door and get indoors, because the water would come inside. But who would want to pay any heed to her? Besides, closing the doors meant pitch darkness inside, because the storm always meant no power, and a solid hotness inside the house.

Where I live today I don’t have a balcony to sit and enjoy the rains. Today, there are thousands of miles between that balcony and me, but in that space, the heart is still the same age as in those summer afternoons. A bunch of simple children who wanted to do everything but study, a bunch of parents whose simple aim was to get the children to study and do well in life. I am sure most of us are doing well in the expected sense of the word. But somewhere, we are still stuck in those afternoons, refusing to accept that we grew up.


The best teacher of my childhood – Teacher’s Day Special

They say,the teacher is like a candle. It consumes itself to light the way for others. Today, let me introduce you all to the person whom my consider the best teacher of my childhood – my uncle**. I wish a Happy Teacher’s Day to all the teachers out there, and that includes all parents and guardians who shape a child’s life. I wouldn’t be writing this if my mother hadn’t taught me the alphabet. As I watch little kids struggling with identifying letters and numbers and multiplication tables, I am reminded of the hard work and patience my parents and teachers had once put for me. Where would I be if not for them?

**This piece was originally written as part of a series of personal essays. For a little bit of my personal history, please read this article.

After we came to Durgapur from our ancestral place, my uncle, Aunt Polly’s husband, took over the duty of teaching me from my mother. My uncle was born in Bangladesh in the early 1940s. He had to leave the country to avoid the wrath of communal riots and came to India with an unfinished college degree. (A fragment of his life there inspired a section of the title story in my ebook, Bound by Life)

When we came to Durgapur, my parents had no clue where to put me in school. Uncle took the responsibility of my admission. I remember him giving me a sheet with a list of words and sentences for me to remember.

“What is your name?”

“What does your father do?”

“Who is the President of the country?”

On and on it went in his small, cursive handwriting.

Since my admission until my fifth grade, Uncle taught me. He was not a teacher by profession. But he liked to teach young kids very well. He had a curious mind and was a life-long learner. He had answers to every question I had!

His most successful trait as a teacher was that he never made me memorize anything. He would dictate answers to the questions in my textbook and I would write them down. While revision, he did not expect me to vomit his answers. He encouraged me to write my own. This habit had stood me in great stead in higher classes. I have seen many of my friends struggling in the exam hall while writing answers to longer questions. If they forgot one sentence, they couldn’t write anything after that. Fortunately, I never faced that sort of problem.

Until my fifth grade, my Uncle lived a kilometre away and visited us every evening to teach me. He usually arrived at 7 p.m. to teach me and continued until 9 p.m. If by any chance he were late to arrive, I prayed, “God, please make Uncle stay at home today! Please let him not come. Please!” I chanted this repeatedly while standing in the balcony, waiting to see if God listened to me (As you can guess from this, like every other child, I was hardly fond of studies at the age). Sadly, that rarely happened, as rare as perhaps once or twice in a year. Punctuality was another of Uncle’s remarkable traits.

Once one of my cousin brothers and I were staying at Uncle’s. Uncle told us a story about an ant and a dove (the one in which the dove initially saves the ant from drowning in a river and later the ant returns the favour by saving the dove from the arrow of a hunter). He wanted both of us to translate the story in English. I started it with enthusiasm.

With the first draft, I thought I was finished. Little did I know how far from it I was! Uncle had many suggestions for improvements in the first draft. I incorporated those in the next draft and then, he had further suggestions. In total, I think he made me write the story at least thrice! Once he even said that he liked the previous draft better (imagine my frustration!). I was thoroughly bored and exhausted with the exercise. But now that I think of it, I realize that Uncle had already given me the training required to become a writer: write, edit, rewrite and never be absolutely satisfied with the final product. There is always room for improvement.

As I have grown up, my relationship with Uncle has changed. He is in his seventies. Now, I am not afraid of him. Now, I don’t pray to the gods to keep him at home. He accompanied me during my admission in college as well. People thought he was my grandfather!

To this day, Uncle would remember some story that he had read out to me during my school days and ask me a question. When I would say I don’t remember what happened, he’d say, “That’s too bad! I remember everything.”

Of course he does. He was always known for possessing a good memory. In our childhood, we called him an elephant for his memory!

On growing up, education, personal finance and nostalgia

Yesterday, I woke up in the afternoon to a clouded sky. It had rained heavily few hours ago. I live in the first floor of a flat building that is part of a continuous row of identical flat buildings. facing our row of buildings there is another identical row and behind ours another and so on. Most of these buildings have been painted a long time ago and are now blackish. During cloudy days, these buildings appear like specters of a dystopian world – sad, isolated hollow accommodations with no hope or smile.

Housed inside this dystopian exterior, however, there is a different story. Each of the flats has two rooms, a kitchen, bathrooms and a balcony for those who live on first floors. For a family of grown people, it is rather small. But it feels like only yesterday when the house was so big for my brother and me. Growing up, we never complained of lack of space.

This table where I am typing out on my laptop was only four years ago piled with scores of books. I was in my final year of school, preparing for school-end and college entrance examinations. I had a hectic schedule. If there is hell, it is those two final years of school for me. I was studying physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer, English and Bengali and there were just so many textbooks and reference books that if I were made to stand beside the pile, I would soon be dwarfed. I slept little and complained much. I was continuously irritated and shouted at everyone. I had no time for myself, let alone anyone else.

In college, I moved out of my home. The first two years were miserable. I hated the place I stayed in. One of the walls of my room was plywood and it carried over the noise that my housemates made. I shared the tiny square room with two others and would wake up in sweats in the summer – it felt that the fan was miles away from me. Even in the daytime, we had to keep the light on. The food was gross too, but that I adjusted with, eventually. Not a day passed when I wanted college life to end as soon as possible, so that I could finally earn and live in a better place.

The last two years were comparatively better. I moved to another accommodation which was a lot airy and well-lit. Most of the boarders were working girls, and after a busy period in the mornings, the house would fall strangely silent. Of course no place is without its problems, and I had my share of pathetic experiences there as well, but I lived better there.

Life at college improved too. I met a great teacher who inspired me to do new things. I guess the learning curve was steeper towards the final semesters in college that the first four.

When I left the Kolkata, the city of my college, and returned home on the last day of June 2015, I was worried if I would miss the independence that I enjoy while living alone. But as much as I prized my freedom, I loved to spend time with family because I was soon to realize that the time with my family was going to end soon. Soon, I would be shifting to another part of the country and would probably visit my parents once in six months. There would be no eating together as a family and no endless soul-baring chats with my mother. The worst part is my family would be sadder than me when I leave.

My parents were never that successful with their finances. My grandparents were first generation immigrants from Bangladesh and could not provide well for their eight children. My father and his siblings did not receive proper education or food or clothes. By the time my father started his own family, he inherited nothing except few antiquated copper utensils. My grandparents lived with us until they died. Both of them were bedridden for about one year each before death. It was a huge strain on my father’s finances – my mother tells me now that at that point of time, our shop had literally become empty – they was no money to buy goods to sell. What a difficult time it must have been for my parents – to take care of my ailing grandparents and my brother and me.

The good thing about being educated is that you have more control over your finances. When you are well-educated you make smart investments, take informed financial decisions. My father provided for my living costs while I was in Kolkata, but he couldn’t make enough to cover my tuition fees. Whatever savings he had made went towards my admission. I took a loan which has now surmounted to an obscene amount with interest. Ever since my first year of college, I have felt perpetually weighed down with the burden of student loan – I worried when finally would I be able to pay it back.

As I start my career, I think of the same thing. Thankfully, I am more aware of my finances than my father. I do all my banking work myself – something I was fearful of when I started college.

Every year more and more millennials are moving out, flying to different parts of the country or different countries, altogether. When I look back now, I see the child version of myself hating every moment of childhood and wanting to grow up. Now, I am grown up and no matter how much I wish to squeeze Time in my hand to make the moments with my family longer, the days end. So do months. And soon, it will be October and I will move to another part of the country, to officially start my career.

I wish I never grew up!