We , my parents and my elder sister and I left Singapore to attend our cousins' weddings in Calcutta and we arrived in Calcutta towards the end of November.My father Dr Pradip Bhattacharya is the youngest brother of his family. His eldest brother.Romesh Bhattacharya is a prominent lawyer in Calcutta High Court and a very influential man. It is he who invited us to attend his eldest daughter Rachana's wedding. It is me and my sister's first visit to my parent's homeland. My mother Dr Rukmini Bhattacharya, a woman's doctor, is from Calcutta and studied together with my father in Calcutta.Although the second world war has been going on in Europe for more than a year now, Asian countries are still not involved in it. Yet there is a black out in Calcutta. In the evening, it is a dark city. It is quiet depressing for me.
We start living in our uncle's house as temporary guests. A very big posh house with adjoing tennis court in Southern
Avenue. It is warm like our Singapore. My sister and I regularly go to swim in Dhakuria Lake in the vicinity. All our cousins in India are older than us. My Romesh uncle's children are the would be bride Rachana ,a lecturer in English at a college in Calcutta and her elder brother Rajesh,an engineer who works and live sat Tata Iron & Steel in Jamshedpur with his family. My aunt,Lolita Ganguli younger sister of my father lives in Shillong in Assam. She is a widow now ,her husband an Indian Civil Service officer died in an accident. Their only son Barun is a magistrate now at Gauhati. He fell in love with an Assamese girl,his co-ed at a Calcutta college. Now they are going to get married in the first week of December .
We heard at the family breakfast that in spite of Rachana's strong protests, the family has made her wedding ceremony a memorable event.
On the wedding day my uncle's house is illuminated. And the tennis court is lighted bright. They have the permission from the police. Some of the English officers are the guests. They are served with special food my uncle ordered from some well-known Calcutta restaurant. They are served with alcohol. Uniformed waiters are serving them. It was really a sight in those days when the British officers with their wives attending an Indian family's wedding feast. Bengali guests are served dinner inside the house. But they are also served in the Western style. They are served almost the same food as that are served to a few English guests.The wedding ceremony is performed in the back garden. There we saw my cousin Rachana and the bridegroom Aniruddha in the midst of the priest performing the ceremony. At the entrance of the house on a specially erected rostrum the musicians played the wedding music with Sehnai , Sarengi and other instruments. I find it very lively. I think about a hundred guest is present. There my sister Deepika is chatting with a boy her age. I am quiet alone for the time being. When I come out of the dining place I find I am being followd by a pretty girl my age. She is wearing a knee-length frock and wearing her hair in a ponytail.
Hello, I'm Barsha. We are your neighbour.
But we don't stay hear , I reply and add,. My name is Asim .
Your cousin Rachana told us all about you. You folks
came from Singapore.
What do you do?
You know I study in Gokhle Memorial Girls' School in eigth form.
I heard a story about your school from a Bengali class mate in Singapore.
He said his father took his sister to admit her in the school when the school principal told him that many of her pupil would marry ICS officers.Bcause a job in Indian Civil Service is the most prestigious job and that's why the most coveted job for an Indian.
Thay both laugh.
It looks so cheerful today but tomorrow the musicians will play the sad music because the bride will leave her all loving family to live with her husband away.
Suddenly the young boy chatting with my sister Deepika appears and leave immediately . He looks very thoughtful .
That is my elder brother Kartik. He studys science in St Xavier's College.
I saw him chatting with my sister Deepika.
Do you address your elder siblings with their first names.
Yes ,I call my elder sister just Deepika.
How strange! In our Bengali soceity we address our
senior siblings with didi or dada. But I address my elder brother as Kartik his first name not as the usual custom Kartikda.
Are you folks very close to my uncle's family?
Yes. We are. My father's company supplied the sweets and curds to this wedding. My father is the managing director of our company D S Dutt Ltd. We have a chain of sweetmeat shops and other business in Calcutta . I 'll take you to my house someday soon if you like.
How long will you stay in Calcutta?
As far as I know, we'll stay up to mid-December. Because we are attending another cousin's wedding in Assam.
Yes I met your cousin in Assam. He is his your Rachana's junior.He is a magistrate in Shillong in Assam.
Have you ever been there?
Once Rachana ,my elder brother and I went to Shillong,the capital of Assam, a beautiful and cold place.
I have'nt seen your mother.
No. Unfortunately our mother lives in a sanatorium in Missouri because she had TB.
Is she better now?
According to medical report she is completely cured. But it is good for her to stay there for a little while.
My father did a TB specialisation in Wales in Great Britain for which he got a title TDD together with his FRCS in London. He told me that he treated a large number of TB patients in Malaya.
You know my aunt my father's sister, a widow still looks after us. She is a childless woman.
We are talking in a desolate room but suddenly one by one or in groups guests keep coming into the room and occupuing the chairs in the room. A low hum of voice starts filling the room. We seem to have lost our privacy.
After a time, Basha said , I'll come oneday when the guests will leave to take you to our house. Hey!
Suddenly I come upon a thought. Why can't we, you and me and my borther and your sister play badminton in our playing field. Shall we start soon ?
We both rise to our feet and leave the room. I head towards our temporary guest room . As I am entering I meet a tall handsome bloke in silk kurta and immaculately white dhoti . He greeted me saying:
You must be my cousin from Singapore.
So good to see you. I heard a lot about you. I just came here today from Jamshedpur.
I also knew about you. I heard that while studying engineering in England you became politically very active there. You wanted to join the famous International Brigade in Spain in defence of the republic.
I find it amazing that a boy your age has so much information not only of his cousin but also of international events. I already met your parents after so many years and just met your sister. Hope to see you at family breakfast tomorrow. Bye.
I hear the wedding music is going on in full swing. Although I wanted to stay among the wedding guests a lttle more time, I felt very lonely. Even I did not see my mother. I deceided to go to my room. When I enter our guest rooms I see my sister's room is lighted. Perhaps she heard my footsteps. Deepika came out in her house-coat smiling.
So it's you. Where is father? Have you seen?
I saw him talking to some guests at the backyards an hour ago.
Did you enjoy yourself I saw you talking with what's her name.
Yes, Barsha Me too. I saw you chatting with her elder brother Kartik.
How do you know his name?
Barsha told me.
So you two became friends. But we're not staying here long.
I know it is sad. I cant do anything about it.
Me,neither, Deepika says it and laughs.
Barsha suggested that we all four play badminton on their court.
This is how we try to not to face the sad realities of life by not thinking of them by getting engaged with other pleasurable activities.
But soon we are going to Assam.
You know,mother told me she and i would not go. It has been deceided that you, father,Rachana, her mother and father will go.
Rachana is just married !
Her husband will work and Rachana will take leave from her job. I think Rachana loves you very much.
I guess your newly aquianted friend Barsha loves you and she wants to kiss you,says Deepika and winks at me.
We both laugh.
What about you?
I wont let him.
You never klnow.
I know Rachana loves me too. But she likes you because you talk so much about English literature with her.
Good to know.
Our mother appears suddenly.
I felt knackered. So I came back. Have you children enjoyed yourselvs, mother says.
After a few days Barsha comes to my room and accompanies me to their big posh house a few blocks away. Their house appears to be almost empty save the domestic servants. Barsha walks me directly to her room in the second floor. There she has her bed and a table with two chairs. We both sit down. On the table her books and excercise books are lying. There is a book-shelf at the corner with her books, both her textbooks and other books. She begins:
What sorts of book you read outside your textbooks?
I like mostly literature. Great fictions and books of poems by John Donne and his contemporaries.
Me too. I like Dickens and D H Lawrence's novels.Rainbow, Two Women, Sons and Lovers, I even read his prohibited book Lady Chatterly's Lover.
I read the fictions of Lawrence you just mentioned.
I like his Two Women immensely because the ending is so unexpected. But what is good about Lady Chatterly?
In my opinion Lawrence has exposed the prudery of
upper class people in English soceity. And his sympathy for a very lonely and helpless lady.
You're an interesting person to talk to.
Thanks a lot. I really enjoy your company. But it is sad that you will leave shortly.
I get up and go to the bookshelf and take a book called Ulysis by James Joyce and while standing there flip its pages and starts browsing .
Barsha gets up from her chair in a gusto and comes close to me. She embraces me and kiss my lips. It is a warm kiss I have experienced for the first time in my life. I feel a great good feeling for the first time.
Do you like me,Barsha asks.
O f course I do. I feeI I owe you so much for our temporary happiness.
I learn that you folks will travel after you are back from Assam in a week. So,I'll see you again before your final departure and that will be a sad moment. I've a a class exam to-morrow.
I hope to see you soon.
Yes,so long, bye.
The next day my father,my uncle ,Rachana and aunt Purnima and I are driven to Sealdah railway station by my uncle's car driver. They reserved a first class compartment to Gauhati in Assam mail. This is my first rail travel in India. Early in the evening sitting by a window Rachana and I see the train passing through different landscapes in speed. If something important comes to our view Rachana will tell me what it is. My father and my uncle are reading magazines while aunt is dozing on a bed.Next morning we have our breakfast of tea ,toast and egg-fried. When our train enters east Bengal,we see long acres of paddy field. No hills come to our view. There are many big rivers and our train sometimes runs through the river bridges making a heavy sound.
In the evening we eat dinner and then next morning we get up to find our train moving through a mountainous region. Eventually we have to cross the mighty Brahmaputra river which in local parlance is called Luit,by a steamer. Then again from a station called Pandu we arrive at Gauhati station where we meet my cousin Barun Ganguli and his folk. We are driven in a station wagon to my cousin's house in Uzanbazar. It is a big house where we guests stay.
Next day after a sumptous lunch we are driven to Sibsagar where the wedding will take place. A fleet of cars carrying the bridegoorm folks are now heading towards Sibsagar. Rachana and I sit side by side in a car.We are passing through lands full of hills and sometimes forests. We arrive at Sibsagar around six in the evening. It is really a unforgettable sight. The whole area is illuminated.The same musical sound of Sehnai to be heard. The bride' s father,brothers and other close relatives welcome us. After a time we the bridegroom folks are invited to a splendid dinner. Then we see the priests performing the wedding ceremony near a bowl of fire. I see both Barun and his bride Geeti are walking round the fire bowl while the priest are chanting Sanskrit mantras. Geeti looks unbelievably pretty in her bridal dress. A group of women sing Assamese wedding song in chorus---
What flower have you blossomed
What a fragrance
That enchants our lad.
Nextday we meet the bride..
Are you Barun's cousin who lives abroad, Geeti asks me in her melodious voice in English.
Yes . I am he., say I and cannot help saying ,I have never seen a beautiful girl like you.
She gives me a coy smile. Then she pats my back affectionaly, and say, Hope we will meet again soon.
After five days we are in Calcutta at our uncle's house. It is eighth of December 1941. There is a commotion in my uncle's house. We all see the daily newspapers carrying the heading.
IMPERIAL JAPAN DECLARES WAR AGAINST BRITAIN & USA.
Suddenly we become home-less.