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Taking up the ‘root’ cause

My father makes a long-distance call to my eight-year-old every evening. On one such occasion last week, I heard her firming up plans to go with him, when she next visits Kolkata, and see the house in which he grew up, writes Soumya Bhattacharya.

india Updated: Sep 06, 2009 00:28 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya

My father makes a long-distance call to my eight-year-old every evening. On one such occasion last week, I heard her firming up plans to go with him, when she next visits Kolkata, and see the house in which he grew up.

This is a new one. But it’s not such a new one. When we last went to Kolkata a year ago, Oishi went with me to see my school and college. (She found both underwhelming.) She is very familiar with one of the houses in which I spent many of my boyhood years.

But this urge to go further back is new. I suppose this is true for many children, but I can speak only for mine.

On the one hand, Oishi is so absorbed in living in the moment that even next week seems too remote to her. When we tell her something like, “You’ll have to do this tomorrow”, she immediately agrees. I know why: tomorrow is too far away, she won’t have to do it right now, she can forget about it for the moment and see what happens when the time for her to do whatever it is that we have asked her to does actually come by.

On the other hand, she wants to have the past brought alive for her. “Olden times” is Oishi’s way of referring to anything that happened before she was born. (She makes me sound almost prehistoric, but I am not complaining. Imagine what my father might feel...)

She gasps (eyes dilated, breath held in and, then, very slowly, let out) when I tell her that when I was her age, there was only black-and-white television; that there were no computers and no internet; that there were no mobile phones, and hardly any long-distance phone conversations; and that, when I lived apart from my father for several months, we used to write each other letters in blue aerogramme envelopes, and each often took as long as a fortnight to reach.

“God, you lived in olden times, Baba,” she says, and I nod. It seems quite true.

So a lot of this curiosity about the past comes from this fascination with “olden times”. Some of it, I suspect, comes from the delight of listening to stories in which people she loves are the main characters. (Again, I suppose every child does that — and loves that.)

But I suspect there is something a little more complex going on here, something that she hasn’t quite articulated because she doesn’t know how to do it.

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

Trying to excavate the past, to rummage in our own histories, is a deeply atavistic urge. That is probably what the child succumbs to.

My father makes a long-distance call to my eight-year-old every evening. On one such occasion last week, I heard her firming up plans to go with him, when she next visits Kolkata, and see the house in which he grew up.

This is a new one. But it’s not such a new one. When we last went to Kolkata a year ago, Oishi went with me to see my school and college. (She found both underwhelming.) She is very familiar with one of the houses in which I spent many of my boyhood years.

But this urge to go further back is new. I suppose this is true for many children, but I can speak only for mine.

On the one hand, Oishi is so absorbed in living in the moment that even next week seems too remote to her. When we tell her something like, “You’ll have to do this tomorrow”, she immediately agrees. I know why: tomorrow is too far away, she won’t have to do it right now, she can forget about it for the moment and see what happens when the time for her to do whatever it is that we have asked her to does actually come by.

On the other hand, she wants to have the past brought alive for her. “Olden times” is Oishi’s way of referring to anything that happened before she was born. (She makes me sound almost prehistoric, but I am not complaining. Imagine what my father might feel...)

She gasps (eyes dilated, breath held in and, then, very slowly, let out) when I tell her that when I was her age, there was only black-and-white television; that there were no computers and no internet; that there were no mobile phones, and hardly any long-distance phone conversations; and that, when I lived apart from my father for several months, we used to write each other letters in blue aerogramme envelopes, and each often took as long as a fortnight to reach.

“God, you lived in olden times, Baba,” she says, and I nod. It seems quite true.

So a lot of this curiosity about the past comes from this fascination with “olden times”. Some of it, I suspect, comes from the delight of listening to stories in which people she loves are the main characters. (Again, I suppose every child does that — and loves that.)

But I suspect there is something a little more complex going on here, something that she hasn’t quite articulated because she doesn’t know how to do it.

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

Trying to excavate the past, to rummage in our own histories, is a deeply atavistic urge. That is probably what the child succumbs to.