Visiting grandparent’s house had always been fun. Indulgence, good food, meeting cousins, never ending celebrations and grandma’s stories were the major attractions which we cherished and longed for. My maternal grandfather died when I was very small and I have faint memories of him taking me to the park and buying toffee. But grandma and maternal aunt were the ones who used to tell me stories and we travelled together in an imaginary world.
My maternal grandmother had a two storied house in Bhawanipore behind Chakraberia high school. My mother is the second amongst four sisters. My cousin Tublu was the the second son of my Boromashi (the aunt elder than my mom) and we were the best of friends. Bublu and Tublu were names that rhymed and were given to us as we came to this world just two months apart. Dida, as we called our grandma, used to say that we practically grew up in the same cot.
Boro meshomoshai (elder aunt’s husband) was a surgeon and was posted in Jalpaiguri. During summer and puja vacations they used to come to Kolkata and during that time I too went and stayed with my grandma and mashi’s.
Vacations were full of fun. I and Tublu accompanied Dida to Kalighat temple, watched movies with mashis and occasionally went shopping with them.
We naughty souls were full of energy and that endless energy also drove us to resist sleeping at night. We always thought that sleeping early would mean missing out on all the fun. We were new travellers to this world, in search of experience and like desert sand absorbing everything that came our way. When Ma and mashis gave up, Dida happily took over the duty of putting us to sleep and with her opened a secret door. Every night she came up with new stories of fairies and kings and queens, trolls and goblins, lions and jackals. We happily listened to those stories lying by her side, thinking them to be true. How innocent and trusting we were then.
At the end she used to tell us stories of foxes and jackals. These were clever jackals who lived in a small jungle close to her house in Bhawanipore. At night they used to sneak out of their holes in the jungle and roam around the city in search of young boys and girls. If they found any of them awake, they would break open the window panes and take them to their dens. She never ever said that we would be caught for being awake. But our innocent minds believed the story and we slept immediately, identifying ourselves as those kids. We were so innocent those days, we never questioned the premise that there could be a jungle in the vicinity of Bhawanipore.
My mashis were no less in creating beautiful stories and those were picture stories. Two mashis were in college and were much younger than my mom. Rina mashi (or Phunu mashi as we called her) was extremely good at free hand drawing and weaving stories around the drawings. She never went to any drawing school and never gave serious thought to writing stories. She has now forgotten that she ever told me those stories. But now when I look back, I really think she was gifted and could have pursued her artistic inclinations with better conviction.
Phunu mashi used to start off with drawing a Bengali hut and then take the story ahead step by step. She placed the drawings and the pictures as and when each story progressed. Even now I vividly remember that progression from a hut getting surrounded by trees, a winding mud track road, continued with a pond in the distance. She then used to add fishes in the pond and then some hens and ducks roaming around the place, followed by hay stacks in the meadows and farmlands with farmers working their ploughs, followed by village ladies fetching water from the pond and young kids playing in front of the hut with some goats and cows grazing in the fields.
The picture story used to get completed after depicting complete picture of the village life in Bengal. Stories like this enabled us to feel the essence of a village life. Each day she used to take us to different places with her picture stories – from snow capped mountains of hill stations to deserts to a seaside. We travelled to cities, villages and courts of kings and queens and those memories imprinted those pictures in our minds.
Those pictures were made only by ordinary ink pen on ordinary writing paper. No colour or fancy paper was ever used. Now when I remember, I realise how talented she was. She was an inspiration for me and those memories subconsciously prepared me to imagine and create my own paintings later on in life. I remember she used to present those pictures to me and I also kept them safely for quite a while. However, with the passage of time those pictures got misplaced. I really regret losing them. If kept properly they could have been priceless mementos of our golden childhood days.
Cover image is a painting by Aparna Mondal