Thursday, September 07, 2006

How green was my valley....

I was looking at some photos my cousin sent me from his recent trip to Calcutta. Photos of the city, of the people I love and grew up with, of places and times that I left behind when I came to the US. And as I went through photo after photo of known places and loved ones I was gripped with pain and sadness. It appeared to me that every little thing I knew and remembered was changed and different now. The city looked old and dirty, the people looked tired and aged. And nothing seemed to be the same anymore. And suddenly I realized as a sharp pang of regret shot through me that the only thing that was probably changed and different was me and how I viewed things now. And I wept. For times that were gone and lost. For family that I had moved away from. For days that I had spent growing up loving a place, missing it every single day, only to realize how distant I had become and how things were not the same anymore.

I left Calcutta with happy memories of my childhood. Of growing up basking in the love and affection of an extended family. Of sunny days and warm memories. Wild adolescence and much awaited adulthood. The joy of being able to do everything I wanted to, of being anyone I wanted to be. Of learning, maturing and being who I am. That is what I hold in my heart. That is what makes me smile everytime I remember home. When I think of Pujo. Poila Baisakh, Christmas, Bhai phonta.

And then yesterday happened. I saw the photos my cousin sent me. Photos that he had taken from the balcony of our house. Photos he had taken of familiar places. Of that shop down the road where we would buy stationery from. Or the library where we would get books from. The dhobi who ironed our clothes. The bus stop where we would wait endlessly in the scorching sun. The uthon-bari where we would play kumir-danga all afternoon. And they all looked so different. Everything looked old and moss-covered and like they had been picked out of some ancient bangla movie (see below views from the balcony and a house down the street). Like it was some suburban township in the middle of nowhere. Yet this was very much Calcutta. In the heart of the metropolis. There was a picture of a waterlogged street (see below). Something I had never bothered much when I was there. But now it bothers me. Why, oh why?

I looked into the faces of my uncles, my aunts, my grandparents, family friends. And everyone looked so much older than I remembered them. It was such a rude awakening. It felt like I was stuck in time and everything else had moved on without me, aging and withering away. It made me cry.

My Dad tells me that Calcutta has improved over the last few years. There are flyovers and less traffic jams, spanking new shopping malls and multiplex theatres. The city is cleaner and better. And I am sure it is all true. But why do I not see it in the places I love and want to remember that way? Why is the street still waterlogged after a shower? Why is the uthon bari not painted or the dhobi shop not fixed up? Why does looking at the photos after all these years make me want to cry? For myself. For having changed. And for finding everything else changed. I wish I had an answer.

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Blogger Cacophoenix said...

There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
O earth, what changes hast thou seen!
There where the long street roars, hath been
The stillness of the central sea.

The hills are shadows, and they flow
From form to form, and nothing stands;
They melt like mist, the solid lands,
Like clouds they shape themselves and go.

But in my spirit will I dwell,
And dream my dream, and hold it true;
For tho’ my lips may breathe adieu,
I cannot think the thing farewell.

This is a part of Lor Tennyson's "In Memoriam". This was the first thing that came into my mind when I read your blog. I have been going through this phase since I came back too. I am now partly resigned to the fact that time, distance and circumstances have changed me and my perspectives. I assauge whatever grief that hits me because of these chanes by thinking to myself that I have plenty of happy memories of the place I left and will cherish in whatever moments that were given to me. My people there are changing too and inspite of the difficulties that I think they have there, they are beeter off than they ever were. I am not sure if this helps, but this was the best I could. It is heart breaking to see people you come to know be miserable...Hope you feel alright soon :-)

2:09 PM  
Anonymous bongopondit said...

One of the memories I carry from my adolescence days in Kolkata, is me telling a friend: 'its simply not possible that I will ever leave Kolkata...I love this city too much to ever leave it !'. It was said with the innocence (and the vehemence !) of a seventh grader.

Of course, in time I did leave the city - even developed a slight antipathy when I compared its chaotic nature with the compartive discipline of Mumbai - and now as you say, the City is a bit of a stranger. Much like that best friend you used to share the deepest secrets with in your childhood, but life happened in between and now you only carry on polite conversations on general topics.

2:29 PM  
Blogger it wasn't me! said...

I totally empathize with what you are feeling. I have wondered myself why I miss the place of my childhood, and in fact do I really miss the place, or do I just miss my childhood? By that I mean the people, the carefree attitude, the pranks, the fights, the everything! Would you feel the same way if you were still in Calcutta, but, all the people that you most cared for were not?

Albele Din Pyaare Mere Bichhde Saath Sahaare
Haye Kahan Gaye Haye Kahan Gaye
Aankhon Ke Ujiyare Meri Sooni Raat Ke Taare
Haye Kahan Gaye

Koi Lauta De Mere Beete Hue Din
Beete Hue Din Woh Mere Pyaare Palchhin

4:56 PM  
Blogger sapna said...

Ah! One of life's truths. Behind all our everyday distractions!

8:06 PM  
Blogger Pallavi said...

Those pictures are nice..:)

8:11 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

immigrant angst?

10:34 PM  
Blogger Brazen Head said...

We all keep returning to this, endlessly. A few days ago, when I was sitting in a cafe in Marrakech I met an older Pakistani gentleman and we ended up talking for a long time. What was interesting was how we looked into our different pasts with such nostalgia. In the end, we both agreed that parts of Morocco was more Indian (pr Pakistani) of our memories than Indian now is. Isn't that strange. That brins up an interesting question: Is the nostalgia of the time more important than the nostalgia of the place.

Just wondering.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Dadoji said...

Even nostalgia isn't what it used to be. *sigh*


1:48 AM  
Blogger Medha.. said...

Awwww.. i miss calcutta now!! :(
The food, the streets, pujobadi, oh and bhai phonta.. i have 7 cousin brothers and have not had a chance of celebrating bhai phonta with them for the past 10 years! Isnt that pathetic! :(

4:47 AM  
Blogger Grafxgurl said...

you know going to Cal again on the 11th for a month...and somewhere inside me... i never want it to change...all this makes up for its Old World character...and if it turned out like Bombay or Delhi i wouldnt love it so not sure if i made sense there....but ...somehow.. even if i dont like the dirt..i dont want it to change.
and waterlogging will ALWAYS remain in India....when we had the Chennai floods.. i was stuck in my house for a week!

8:16 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ cacophoenix that was said so beautifully that it made me sadder actually. Thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts with me. It made my day.
@ bongopondit well yes the city does become a bit of a stranger but the love and pride and expectations probably are far deepseated than we imagine. Which is why we jump up and defend it when someone says nasty things about the city. Or we weep when we find that our expectations were unrealistic. Or we feel a sense of pride when we get an email that sings praises of the city and its people and end up forwarding it to a dozen more. Conversations polite for the most part get intimate and personal often. which is when we end up hurting.
@ it wasn't me! I am sure it is more a case of missing the time than the place. When I go back to visit it never feels the same. The circumstances are so changed. The friends all gone, the family all broken up into factions. I'm no longer the same. Nothing looks or feels the same anymore. And I feel like I'm trying to fit into someone else's boots. And that is painful.
@ pearl there's no harsher truth than life's realities. Hope you're doing okay now.
@ pallavi are they? I mean yes i see the trees and the green and places I have known all my life. Yet somehow it seems so ironic at this point. Because all I see now are the mosscovered walls, the dirty courtyard, the waterlogged street and how shabby it all looks. And i hate myslef for not being able to overlook that.
@ tabula rasa or may be guilt. And heartache.
@ brazen head "Is the nostalgia of the time more important than the nostalgia of the place." Of course. Because even when we return to the place things do not feel the same. we go out and do the same things and its great. But they lack the flavor of yesteryears. I miss my childhood, my school days, my years in college, my growing up. And i know I'll never be able to revisit that part of my life. It's like you close a chapter of your life that you can never ever return to.
@ dadoji right on. It isn't :)
@ medha glad to see you back here. It's been too long :)
@ grafxgurl yeah in my heart even though I'm happy for all the progress and technological advancement happeniing back home I always hope that things will be the same. For selfish reasons. Because I want to go back to the place and feel at home. Familiar. The warm fuzzy feeling. But when I realize that things haven't changed but it is "I" who has, it hits pretty hard. And I cannot forgive myself for feeling this way. have a nice time in Cal.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Cacophoenix said...

Your last comment to grafxgurl made me do another post on something I read. It was just something that crossed my mind andthought you would like the simplicity of the last two lines.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

thats such a wonderful made me sad and nostalgic.
I really am at a loss for what else to say....

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Just Mohit said...

Please don't apologise for changing...i think it's an inevitable consequence of growing up!

12:46 PM  
Blogger Jinguchakka said...

Nostalgia always hits hard, pulling no punches.
And physically away from the place makes it tougher. Say, if you were to stay there in Calcutta even now, you wouldn't feel that much as change would happen right in front of your eyes.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Thivai Abhor said...

I would like to extend an invitation to you to join in on a collective blogging section of our upcoming winter issue of Reconstruction

Here is the original call:

Theories/Practices of Blogging

Our intent in this section of the issue will be to collect a wide range of bloggers and link up to their statements in regards to why they blog (something many of us are asked) and any statement they have on the theories/practices of blogging.

If you already have a post on this you can feel free to use it, or, if you are interested, you can submit a new one.

We will link to each statement from the issue at our site, with the intent of creating a hyperlinked list of statements on blogging that can serve as an introduction to blogging (or an expansion of knowledge for those already blogging).

If you are interested please contact me at mdbento @

9:36 PM  
Blogger Pallavi said...

Yah I still like the authentic feel to it.

9:54 PM  
Blogger qsg said...

Great post - I do think though, that we tend to romanticize our past, and our selective memories play games with our heads - everything is perfect in our memories. And that is my favorite comfort food (for thought!).

10:43 PM  
Blogger Priya said...

M, Cal's changed but our memories of it haven't. Guess that adds to the misery. I think the older generation looks more aged than they are and are lonelier, thanks to the sudden burst of youth and all things youthful in the city. It's weird, very weird.

4:45 AM  
Blogger hutumthumo said...

buDro hoye gechi tabuo gaan shonayi
madhukari brata ekkhono udjyapon
kolkata aami tomake tomake chayi
jodio aamar chole gechhe joubon

12:43 PM  
Blogger Point 5 said...

Humans by nature do not take kindly to things that they love being altered. We associate nostalgic memories with certain things and wish it never changed...but unfortunately thats never the case...

2:48 AM  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

I think people and places change but our memory of them remains the same, as though stuck in some time-warp. Maybe this is some kind of defence mechanism because in acknowledging that change we must also acknowledge that we have changed too. That we have moved on. And, we don't always like that.

Besides, reality is not a patch on nostalgia, is it? :-)

Nice post.

2:50 AM  
Blogger Prerona said...

your post made me feel a little wistful and a little damp in the eys. yes, i know about missing home; about having walked away, with one moment, frozen, held tight in the palm of your hand; of opening your hand ages later, when you dare to and finding the moment has gone ...

ki bhattachhi. but yes sweets thats the way it goes. time passes. we yearn for the days that are gone by, for childhood and the people and places and times we grew up in, but imagine, we if had to stay frozen in childhood forever?

kolkata has changed. i dont think its for the better. i fear its becoming like any other city and losing what made it special to me.

the water logging, they say is less now than in used to be ...

beautiful post, heart wrenching in places, compelling the reader to think, to feel, to see

5:29 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ cacophoenix I read it. It was simply beautiful. Thanks for writing it up.
@ szerelem sometimes you don't need to say anything to be heard. Thanks!
@ just mohit may be I'm just apologizing to myself. I'm disappointed with my expectations and my perspective.
@ jinguchakka I guess not. But then I'm not in Cal and all I have are my memories. And I never thought I'd be apologizing for them. I guess when you love something or someplace too much you have a lot of expectations which lead to heartache.
@ thivai abhor thanks and mail sent :)
@ pallavi :)
@ qsg well of course we remember only the good parts and throw out the ones we do not like. And yes we also romantisize the memories which make them rosier at times. But we love a place and we have such lofty expectations from it and get hurt when they disappoint in some way. And then you realize it wasn't the place. But it was you. That is a tough one.
@ priya I agree completely and I feel so lost.
@ hutmuthumo dhonyabad padadhulir jonno. Joubon chole gechhe kina jani na tobe Kolkata ke thik shei bhabeyi pete chai jemon she achhe aamar moner majhe.
@ point 5 change is never welcome and change is disturbing. Because we love to cling on to what we love and hold dear.
@ ghostoftomjoad that is exactly the point. I hate to realize that I have changed. Esp where it comes to the place I grew up in or the people I have been with all my life. Reality bites.
@ prerona I'd love to hold your hand while you weave us through layers of sweet memories. I always look forward to read what you have to say because it is invariably beautiful. Thanks!

8:09 AM  
Blogger karmic_jay said...

Loved your post. I identify the most with this..

The city looked old and dirty, the people looked tired and aged. And nothing seemed to be the same anymore

That's how I feel when I visit Bombay. The fact is also that I have aged but seeing your parents age is probably something that hits you the hardest.

7:51 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ karmic_jay Yes because we don't see them everyday and even though age creeps in gradually when we meet them after a while it hits hardest.

8:53 AM  
Blogger ichatteralot said...

Change is the only thing that is constant - I dont know if this is a city thing but recenly I went back to Delhi (where I grew up) and I got the feeling that all that I had left behind had progressed faster than I had and I kind of felt that I was left behind

9:09 AM  

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