Kulti is a little town in north west West Bengal close to the Bihar/Jharkhand border. During the early decades after Independence, it was a place bubbling with enthusiasm and energy with a steel plant and all the auxiliary government infrastructure that comes with it. A major portion of my dad's childhood was spent in this town, my grandfather being a government officer was posted here for a significant number of years. We had grown up listening to stories of the house where my dad and his 3 siblings had spent the formative years of their life but had never had a chance to see it yet at least not within my first meaningful memories. My cousin's marriage a couple of years ago afforded me an oppurtunity to visit this marker of my dad's past.
During a vacuum in the marriage proceedings, we as a family managed to sneak out of my uncle's house and drive a little down the road and up the hill where the house of childhood legend was located. When we got there, it was evident like the rest of Kulti this house too had seen better days. The paint was peeling, the garden was overgrown with weeds and the beauty of the spacious verandah was blighted by strings laden with drying clothes - all indicators of the less than ideal economic circumstances of the family residing there now. We didn't venture inside the house leaving it to its most recent residents and hoped that all the families that had lived in it and left since the 1960s when my grandparents moved out had found peace and happiness within its old walls. I looked upon the road below the hill which was quite some way down from where I stood on the path leading to the garden and the house, and contemplated some things which had never occurred to me before.
It is really easy to imagine mom as a child because like all women she is given to very visible displays of emotions, call them little displays of immaturity if you will. The pampering of my mom by my maternal grandparents right up to their last days gave me a clear enough picture of her as a child. The amount of time invested by moms in bringing up their children provides enough time for the kids to understand enough of their mom's nature to consider the possibility of her ever having a childhood.
But to think of the cheerful but notoriously stable guy who set out on his daily office trip like a man on a mission in the same uniform and in the same frame of mind, of having any other avatar was quite difficult. My paternal grandmom however had passed away before I was even born and my first memories of my dad's dad are those of a genial but painfully restricted and bed ridden old man. The only real display of my Dad giving in to emotion I can remember is when he let his stubble grow for a week's time on my grandfather's death, an unprecedented event in my dad's disciplined life.
To stand here on this ground was to discover a new image of my Dad's life. Of a kid who used to leap out of the back windows of the house when being punished by being locked into a room for some misdemeanour, the boy who would spend too many hours playing out in the sun with the family's pet Alsatian, Tiger pausing only when scolded back into the house at the end of the day, of a guy smitten by the huge American cars that plyed the roads those days and eager for any chance he got to ride in them, of the cycle trips that he and his classmates would undertake in what was then the wilderness of Kulti - all those much heard stories danced around me with vivid life. A child who I had never really thought existed was standing beside me and grinning.