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A daughter's search for roots

india Updated: Oct 30, 2010 22:59 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya

So the number of word files on the laptop keeps going up. They are lists, these files, lists of things to take, things to do, places to go, stuff to eat, books and DVDs to buy.

A week from today, we shall be off on our annual visit to Kolkata, the city in which my wife, our daughter, and I, were born, and the name of which resonates with the three of us in different ways.

Our nine-year-old girl is getting organised about getting organised about the trip. School has broken for the Diwali holidays, and the excitement and fervour about the holiday are multiplying by self-replication.

My wife and I are full of consternation — as we both always are in this phase of the preparation — of what lies in wait when Oishi will progress to the next stage: getting organised. After which comes the packing…

But the end of the beginning is always the beginning of the end, and this frenzy will be consummated on arriving at the airport in Kolkata. After which, life will acquire a different rhythm.

For me, these brief trips to Kolkata are to do with slothfulness, de-stressing and debauchery. Living at my parents' is like having round-the-clock room service without having to pay for it, and I make the most of that.

For Oishi, these trips are to do with indolence and deregulation. But they are also to do with discovery; or, perhaps, to do with a sense of quest that she hopes will yield some sort of a find. I am not sure what she finds. But I can tell, more and more with each passing year, that she searches.

Every time she goes, there happens to be a request to see something "from olden times": my school, the house in which my father grew up, the college my wife went to.

Home, for her, was where her parents live. This is different. She seems to be looking for a notion of 'hometown' that can be defined by a physical space, by a set of external things that don't have to do with the people she loves. The notion of a hometown or of one's roots is complex and fraught, and offers no easy answers, especially if you are child in a family as peripatetic as ours.

Oishi has now spent more years in Mumbai than in Kolkata. She has lived elsewhere, too, and has seen more countries than has had birthdays. But she is looking for our histories, and where else will she find that but in Kolkata?

I suppose she is keen to find about what formed us, her forebears, how we became who did, where we came from, what shaped our thoughts, our actions, the circumstances in which we became the adults she now sees from the children she knows we must have been.

Trying to excavate the past, to rummage in the stories of what came before us, is a deeply atavistic urge. That is probably what the child succumbs to.