Talk to Her

My mum used to practice long-jumps over carts parked next to the College Street market footpath (it was on her way back from school). In my 29 years of knowing her – and knowing her very well, I thought – I never knew that.

How much about our parents’ lives do we know really? How much of our mothers, especially? My grandmother, way back right after independence – that’s 1945, for you international folk – used to go from north Calcutta to central on her own late in the evening to learn spoken English, and come home late, just before the Bengali 10 o’ clock dinnertime. Think of an Indian 1970’s grandmother in her 1940’s youth. Did you think she’d do this?

Real people are so much surprise to stereotypes, and yet we know next to nothing about the ones in our own homes. Hable con ellos, while you still have the time. Watch your own bildungsroman unfold.



  1. Responses from Facebook:

    Dipali Taneja: I learn about my late father from conversations with my Chacha!

    Nayantara Roy: I was just thinking aloud last night, all four of my grandmothers brothers fought in Bose’s Singaporean (defeated) army, the whole family eats a hodgepodge of malay-singaporean-bangali food and I barely know the stories from their childhoods because she died (as I’m sure you remember) when I was young.

    Me: I’m not sure I want to “like” that comment – because I do remember – but I love that your family is so steeped in the south (east) Asian patchwork culture. Lunches at your place must be delightful.

    Shubho Sengupta: Wow, what a story!

    Nayantara Roy: Yeah, it was hard, but also, I had a great, delicious childhood. And I feel like I must investigate my family more, you know, as I grow older… Its what you said, how much do we know, after all.. My sister was born after everything was urban and witty.

    Nayantara Mazumdar: My paternal grandmother, born in 1919, got married at the age of 26. Years after her twin and her elder sister, because she wanted to take care of her father. Back then, it was unheard of, remaining unmarried well into your twenties. But she was remarkable. Also, my aunt (her youngest daughter) and she used to wake up at the crack of dawn every morning to go and tend to the wounds on the poor malnourished carriage horses at Victoria Memorial.

    So, so many stories. Don’t know where to start and where to finish. She was remarkable. And such a treasure trove of stories.

    Me: Nayantara, I think I remember you being close to your mamu – perhaps you can grill him and your mother over tea some day. Which reminds me, I must call my great aunt today. She’s pretty much the only one who was still around after my interest in my own people peaked, and most of what I know comes from her. Tara, Tara, since we never seem to see each other in real life, perhaps we should meet some day when we’re in the same town, and exchange family stories. That’d be very nice.

    Nayantara Mazumdar: Yes please.

    Tia Basu: My grandmum was the best sprinter in her school. I also had a great-aunt, who, at age 60, decided to do a course in medical transcription and start working. She aced her course. She was also a beautiful painter, and spent her evenings with good music and glass of whisky. My favourite person ever!

    Nayantara Mazumdar: Such remarkable women. We will never be like them. Not even close. And yet they were/are so proud of us. Like we’re somehow the best things that ever happened to humankind. The irony.

    Nayantara Roy: Priyanka, this is my father’s side, but yes, grilling my aunts and uncles or even tracing them down sounds good.

    Sanjay Guha Thakurta: True Rimi. There’s so much little struggle we do in our (present and future) lives. It is this toil that made strong generations and stronger nations. Wonder what the future would be. I see the same in Western countries as well – eg. UK was UK only because of the incredible hardship of their forefathers. Think about well-settled people living the cold land and working on deputation in the 17th century India (!). And also the industrialization. But the current conditions are so sad. Its clear that within 30 years they have squandered away everything they gathered in 500 yrs. Hope that doesn’t become of India one day.

    Ritobroto Sengupta: Well I come from a family of very talkative parents and I know quite a bit. Like my Baba had a gay friend whom my mom used to think was an eunuch, he had a very roga friend who was chrishtened Khnyecha-da and my Doon-bred Maa (not having exposure to the North Cal lingo) once called him just so in front of a gathering; or that my Maa could shoot flying wasps down with her Dyna .177 (which I still have, albeit broken down by my excesses in Class II). etcetera.

    Kiran Manral: My mom deserves a book. Maybe I should write one.

    Gautam Benegal: Everyone was young once. Their eyes shone with the same lustre we take for granted in ourselves. We forget that all to soon even as we dismiss the first tremble in our limbs.

    Ahona Panda: My didima was taught Bengali by Jibanananda Das. I meant to ask her more about it this summer, but she passed away just before I went back. There are many things I wish I’d asked her about literature before she left me.

    Lali Chattoraj Sengupta: My mom used to be an acrobat and perform in the club amateur circus in Bankura,- yes, Bankura. She could mono-cycle on a tightrope placed metres above the ground, with a kid on her shoulder who in turn would have a couple of sets of cups and saucers placed on top of each other. Till very recently, she could skip faster than any of us. She is so small and looks so helpless now….

    Me: That is one hell of a story, if only because it’s so very unusual. We’ve forgotten the days when there were local athletics club in the neighbourhoods, actual clubs where actual athletics was done, and not just goonda-planning.

    Pramurto Mukhopadhyay: ^^^ haha, city kids.

    Lali Chattoraj Sengupta: Ahona Panda… just read about your didima. What a lost opportunity!


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