I was born in India, in a pretty little hill station called Shillong. My parents, however were from different worlds and the time came, when I was about 10, 11 months old, to leave and settle in my mother’s world. My father struggled to adjust and reminded me daily, from as far back as I can remember, that I was what he lived for. I got him through those years of depression and loneliness in a foreign world. I bore that weight proudly and went through my childhood, sometimes resenting my mother for causing my father so much pain and forcing him to come this land. And sometimes I would forget and just enjoy being a child. But something always weighed on my mind. Would we be better off there? Would my father be happier and less prone to the Bengali melodrama, I didn’t know he was programmed for? Would my mother be happy?
We didn’t return to India for 9 years! We couldn’t afford it. We still couldn’t afford it but my father was determined…he hadn’t seen his parents in all that time! So we got on a plane and landed in Kolkata.
At first, I hated it! It was dusty, smelly, hot! People talked too loudly. The electricity kept cutting out. We had to rush to the toilets (holes in the ground) every half an hour with unbearable stomach cramps. I did not want to be here! I remember my 4 year old brother crying in pain from the ear ache when we landed in Bangladesh, to change planes. I felt awful for him. But we got there!
We eventually reached the cooler climes of Shillong from Kolkata and there things were completely different. There were still the frequent trips to the toilet, there were still holes in the ground, we were cold and there was no heating but there was so much warmth and love. I was overwhelmed! Never before had I felt this loved. No burdens, expectations, just love!
My grandfather stayed in bed all day and only got out to eat, use the bathroom (for all its various functions) and to visit the market. It was cold and this way he stayed warm. He would let me climb in next to him and he would allow me to help make his homeopathic globules of sugar pills. He would treat his patients for free and they would gratefully bring gifts; Some fruit, a notebook, sometimes a some homemade sweetmeat. They would return telling of how their son was cured of a rash or that their daughter was no longer depressed. It made me see my ‘Dadu Bhai’ as some kind of saint. Best of all, I just had to tell him I injured myself and he would wink and smile and slip me some Arnica.
My grandmother, a tiny, withered lady, with silver hair beneath a snow white veil of her sari, used to bring out the stove, fueled by coal. She would kneel on her haunches on the bare wooden floor and stir a pan of milk for hours. Eventually she would add some sugar. The consistency would have to be just right and then she would take the pan off the stove and let it cool. She would then call me over and I would help her mould small amount of this moorish fudge into beautiful shapes; a flower, a conch shell, a fish. She used to hide them under the bed in a tin, taking one out every time she wanted to indulge me, which was often. She also knew that I would steal these sugar biscuits and help myself, much to the annoyance of my mother.
I couldn’t understand why we would want to go back to the UK. As far as I was concerned for the 3 months that I was in Shillong, I was home.