Raza Ali’s personal essay is like a walk down the memory lane, to a time now gone by, among people no longer around but the warmth of their being defines our memories.
April 1949. Calcutta.
I was five years old when for the first time I met my grandmother in the city where my mother had been born and where she grew up. We lived then in Dacca, now spelled Dhaka while Calcutta, of course, is now Kolkata—both changed spellings a better reflection of the actual pronunciation of the names in Bengali. The capital of what was then East Pakistan was not the teeming international city it has become. Calcutta, on the other hand, was a place of glamour and sophistication in our minds, with streets and places whose very names evoked the glory days of Empire—names remembered partly from a subsequent trip to the city—Mayo Road, Park Street, Wellington Square, Minto Park, Victoria Memorial. Calcutta too was a city with established and reputable hospitals and this, in fact, is what had brought us there. My mother came to Calcutta to give birth to her fourth child, a daughter as it turned out. Killing three birds with one stone, you might say, we were also there for my brother and me to be circumcised. My brother was then almost two years old. We also had a sister, the eldest child, who was two years older than me.
I don’t recall much from that time. Is it just my imagination or was I chloroformed before I went under the knife? I seem to remember being given something to inhale and then drifting into some weird reverie. I also remember getting some presents though I can’t remember what they were. A colouring book comes to mind. What I do remember well, however, is my grandmother taking care of me while I was recovering and while, no doubt, my mother was in the maternity ward. We used to call her Nanibibi or Miss Granny, “Nani” being the word for one’s mother’s mother.