Rootlessness – a few drifting thoughts
Posted by bangalnama on May 6, 2009
A couple of weeks back, my parents had come to spend a fortnight with me*. After they arrived, my father asked for something from me. He wanted to get a colour printout of a particular area of Bangladesh from Wikimapia or any other site that provides detailed political maps of any country. He said he was very troubled after hearing from somebody that the small town in Bangladesh, where he had spent his childhood, had been washed away by flood, more after the devastating attack of Sidr, the mini Tsunami which hit Bangladesh last month. He said he was losing his memory gradually, and didn’t want to forget his utopia of childhood, and as a last resort, wanted to get a coloured printout of the area in the map – which I knew, would in no way compensate for or stand up to the verdant memories of childhood.
Wikimapia didn’t provide us with enough detail of Bangladesh. It was strange, because when it comes to India, we have got very good results – Wikimapia even showed clearly the lanes and by-lanes of the small town where I come from – I had earlier shown that to my parents; it was surprising to see the zooming option coming to a standstill when we searched for Pabna district of Bangladesh. So I started searching for detailed maps of Bangladesh, and ended up without any satisfactory result.
My father got upset; I felt helpless for the time being.
A few days back when I was recalling the incident I realised once more, one meaning of the term “rootlessness”.
Rootless/rootlessness was a term I first got introduced to while in my Post Graduation. As part of the course, to study some texts, we had to study the concept of rootlessness. Many famous writings and films have dealt with the sorrows and ensuing problems of rootlessness, which often mankind doesn’t choose by will, but are forced into – due to wars or natural calamities. History has long lists of such incidents, from days unknown to our very known partition of India and Pakistan.
My father was born and spent his childhood in a small town in Bangladesh, which was more of a village than a town perhaps. As far as I have heard, from stories of the place from my grandmother and my father, it was a warm little place, filled with happy sunlight, surrounded by yellow fields of mustard and an wide and arrogant river flowing by. Like most families of yesteryears, they too were part of an extended joint family, where everyday, there were more guests and visitors than the total number of family members who had lunch and dinner at the house.
Like thousand other little boys of his time, my father too, was sent away to Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta), in search of a better and secured educational life, when he was studying in class five. Like many others of his age, who share the same story, he got refuge at his maternal uncles’ house, which once again was another extended joint family, got admitted to school, then to college, passed out and got a job in one of the post-independence newly developed industrial estates. By this time, one by one, his full family shifted to Kolkata, and that small town of Bangladesh went out of touch for ever. Bangladesh was now a new and separate country, and to visit Bangladesh, one needed to have a passport and a visa!!
Circumstances never allowed him the chance to go back to his “motherland” anymore. The land he loved so much remained in his heart, and slowly seeped into our hearts through the stories he shared with us at times. Though I have never been to Bangladesh, never seen the country or the town where he grew up, yet, with closed eyes, I can still see the landscape vividly. Snippets of memories from my grandmother and my father has helped me create the vision, which I think, was supported more by the numerous famous novels and stories of Bengali literature that I read, which so often described in details, the radiant beauty of Bengal.
I proudly love to declare myself as a “Bangal” (one whose ancestors used to stay in Bangladesh), happily indulge in mock fights with the “Ghotis” (those whose ancestors stayed in West Bengal and are often still staying in ancestral towns and villages) in the superiority quarrel, and am ready to bet and win on the divinity of Bangal cuisine!! – somewhere down the line, I love and cherish the idea of being a Bangal.
My father’s extended family finally settled in the suburban township of Chandannagore in Hoogly District, where they managed to buy a fairly accommodative house, with a big garden full of fruit trees and flowering plants. My childhood memories of summer and Puja vacations are all associated with this house and the people that stayed in that house, co-incidentally, till class five again. My grandfather died when I was studying in class five. He was the pivotal head, and once he was no more, one by one, everybody chose their own ways, and finally, the house was sold off the very next year.
When I look back, this was my first experience of being rootless. That old house, with its red cement floor, big green coloured windows, wide staircase and mossy walls, along with the garden which was a treasure trove for collecting wares for my doll’s house, was my utopia. I couldn’t think of a summer or Puja vacation without thinking of Chandannagore and the house. When we stopped visiting the place all of a sudden, I had felt a pang in my heart. I remember I couldn’t express my sorrow to anybody. The celebrations of Puja at our hometown didn’t seem to match that of Chandannagore in any way at all. My only respite was that most of my immediate relatives used to visit us in the vacation, as my grandmother had come to stay with us – so atleast I found the house chock-a-block with people I loved.
I felt the restlessness of being rootless once more, when I came to study at a college in Kolkata and stayed in hostels. I had many roommates, who had come from small towns and villages, which were their ancestral homes too. Many of them spoke of extended families and acres of ownership lands which their family used for farming. Somehow these information made me feel sad, though I knew very well, that my ancestors at Bangladesh were not into farming ever – most of them were into civil services and law. But perhaps the mention of wide open fields, ponds and gardens made me long for the same experiences, which I knew I could have had also, and have lost due to no wrong done by me or my family. The time I felt most sad was when they were often sent specific homemade delicacies, which are normally not available in the market. I knew, they were something which even my mother or grandmother could make for me when I went home, but I somehow knew those would still lack the flavour of roots.
A few years back, I saw a compilation of short stories by the eminent Bengali writer Tarapada Roy, titled “Bangladesher Hriday Hote” (from the heart of Bangladesh). After reading the synopsis on the jacket, I guessed this would be a book that my father would like to read and bought the book out of sheer instinct. I was right. Both my grandmother and my father loved to read the book. They said they could relate to all the stories and incidents described by the writer, who has actually put in short stories, his memories of Bangladesh as a little boy. My father was so overwhelmed that he sent a letter to the writer thanking him for writing the book.
My father doesn’t want to visit the country anymore, as he says he wouldn’t recognise the places anymore. I think I should try and find out if it is possible to buy a detailed political map of Bangladesh and gift it to him.
-by Mahasweta Ray
*[This account was written in December 2007, a month after cyclone Sidr wreaked havoc in Bangladesh. Bangalnama sincerely thanks Mahasweta for sharing this with us, and for telling so poignantly the tale, that is the story of so many rootless souls.]