My strands of American Childhood

I was born and brought up in central Calcutta, schooled in central Calcutta, but then grew up to become the core Bengali who had an American childhood!

We Bengalis know the characteristics etched in someone from central Calcutta. Her strings are pulled from both ends. She owns the traits of the more settled in old North Calcutta while desirous for the contemporary South Kolkata (Eastern Kolkata wasn't so prominent then.)

We still lived in our hundred-year-old rented homes with 20-inch deep walls and cut-glass floors. But, we went to the top schools in the city. We religiously fed the street dogs, cats, and cows but reluctantly swapped our indoor plants for lack of water.

Though I have been a Central Calcuttan all my childhood, I was never pulled by either of these strings. I held on to an American fiber that tugged me on and off! My mom's best neighborhood pal was an American lady! Well, I know you could expect someone of British descent at that location and era, but an American was bizarre. Further sumptuous was that she made my mom her best friend. An ordinary Hindu woman now had an American bestie!

Whatever is going on in your mind now, I can vouch that she is not a story. She was real, and she was our firm backrest! When my grandfather was ill, or when my brother had a nasty head wound, or even at times when we had big tenant quarrels, she hurried to our home and stood steady by my mom's side. Speaking for my mom as needful and invariably allowing her to flop whenever she must!

I anointed her aunty. She didn't live alone but was part of the Gupta family. The head of the house was native to Uttar Pradesh, and he married my aunty. They had a son of Indian nationality, with American virtues - rosy lips and dimpled chin, curly hair, and very fair! And it was always a sight to watch the three of them ride their motorbike with an eloquent sidecar.

The Gupta family lived at Creek Lane, Central Calcutta. Husband and wife, their son, my aunty's mom-in-law, and their two cats! Nothing outstanding, but aunty being American made them stand out in the neighborhood. And our friendship with them gave us a distinct air!

I can very well recall aunty's piercing call to my name right from her kitchen window. And it always meant she needed my mom. She slowly but loudly voiced a few Bengali sentences in the weirdest of American accents. To that, I would run to summon my mom while others in the vicinity intentionally hooted, "oi, dak porlo!"

Whenever I visited them, plenty of things intrigued me. Their shiny red floor, high beds, peaceful study, and the pink refrigerator always made me smile! "These items were glories of an American household" as deemed in the neighborhood. And I never missed the opportunity to etch my pride with these sparkling gems! Several happy courses unfurled from this friendship, like birthday parties and baking recipes. I still crave to go back to those moments when my brother and I eagerly waited for the mixing bowl from my mom. She well incorporated the cake-baking recipe from aunty into our birthday celebrations. The finger-scraping to get a spooky-clean cake bowl was such a delight!

Such little childhood perks kept rolling in with this companionship!

I also developed an uncanny fascination with Rugby (aka American football) when I should have been passionate about `Mohun Bagan` or `East Bengal.` My spirit was sizably lured towards tackle, fumble, and touchdowns. Not that I didn't enjoy watching the enthusiasm of a truck full of 'Mohun Bagan' fans, but my strands of American childhood always clung to my Bengali cast. I am, nevertheless, an innate Bengali! Passion for Arts, 'Luchi-begunbhaja', Nolen-gurer Sandesh, Rabindrasangeet, and Durga puja - all still reside deep in my heart.

My strands of American childhood enriched me in ways I couldn't have done otherwise. It increased my acceptance of other cultures and traditions. That sense is now firmly rooted in me! Watching my parents embrace aunty and her family taught me how to welcome diversity and be one with it. To acknowledge and respect other habits and ways of life. Of course, interpretation becomes easier if you are besties like my mom and aunty.

Today, being an Indian in America, I realize how important our friendship must have been for the Gupta family. No surprise that the virtues of ethnic-inclusiveness reels out its magic!

By: Joyeeta Mukherjee

This article and the opinions expressed in it are personal opinions. It is not meant for imposing specific views or endorsing a particular way of life. Also please do ignore any errors or omissions that you might come across. We pledge to learn from them. Happy viewing.


Anonymous said…
Liked your story. Its a nice twist
Sanjoy said…
Nice childhood memories with neighborhood aunty described.
Sujata said…
Grateful to you. Valuable memories. Keep it up.

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