The mirrors to a child’s earliest memories are undoubtedly his parents. The lucky ones who remember a few snippets tend to add limbs and appendages to their own taste as time progresses. But then again, this is not something undesirable!
I was born in a suburban town on the outskirts of the city of Calcutta, (as it still was when I was born and still is in the heart of many), in a hospital which was subsequently shut down after my birth and now operates (as of 2013) as an educational institution for nurses. Some friend of my father commented that the hands of the labourers responsible for erecting the Taj Mahal were cut off, a comment which to me had seemed out of the context even after I was made aware of it on becoming older. However times changed, and as my new friend Piyush says, our sarcastic and witty part developed to the extent of ‘getting’ things and adding a ‘literally’ to phrases for avoiding the double meaning.
I was named as a combination of my parents’ names – my fiery mother Sharbani, the very embodiment of Shakti after whom she is named, and my father Sritanu, whose honesty, integrity and resourcefulness never cease to amaze me.
My mother was always overly protective of her only child, as is the Bengali stereotype. Obviously I have no reason to complain! She and my father ensured I had all the comforts of a moderately well-to-do middle class family in India of the economically liberalized 90’s. Meticulousness in work was a habit of hers then, as I realized on recently coming across a book where she recorded my antics till I was two, along with the date and time. It includes the instance when she first scolded me severely, when I first drew something on my own, ( I reportedly drew a huge pot-bellied portrait of the Hindu deity Lord Ganesha in one of my earliest attempts at putting stuff on paper, which became one of my hobbies! Henceforth I was obsessed with said deity and love to collect memorabilia depicting him even now.) the first time I was taken to the zoo, etc. She was also responsible for my tryst with books. I remember her telling me about the tradition during Annaprashan (the ritual when a child starts on a solid diet, of ‘anna’ or rice, the staple in this part of the world.) wherein a child is presented a plate with things like money, the Gita, rice grains etc and the thing I choose would determine what I liked most! And, no prizes for guessing, it was the Gita, with its bright cover and the words Srimadbhagavad Gita emblazoned across in Bengali, that I chose, possibly because of the said attractive appearance. That implied, to her at least, that this lad was going to be a bibliophile and possibly a spiritual person. And so she took it upon herself to set me upon the path.
I allegedly could read Bengali quite well by two years of age and could write by copying out the texts I saw in books and newspapers. However my mother was hell-bent on getting me a good education in the English language and in the Western style. There were no schools nearby that met those criteria, but then we were near the cultural icon of the east, the city of Calcutta. So, beating all odds and the usual discouraging apprehensions from relatives, she got me admitted to a preschool named Rainbow at Jadavpur, 25 kilometres away. The easiest way to get there then (as well as now) was the Great Indian Railways, and so started my tryst with this institution!
More about it in the next post…