My Mom belonged to the Pre-Independence era, born in 1943, in the idyllic small town built by the Britishers, for their booming oil extraction business, a place called Digboi, situated in remote Assam. Her father, happened to have migrated from Bangladesh in those days to this small town where business was flourishing and jobs galore. His education found him a place in the All Boys’ School set up by the Assam Oil Division for the offspring’s of the employees of Assam Oil Refinery and true to his stature in those days when teachers used to be more of an authoritarian figure than a friendly mentor, he was a strict disciplinarian.
He was a man of principles and in those days when having half a dozen children was the usual norm, he was proud of his three daughters, Mom being the eldest. His strict demean our was however a bit off-putting for my sensitive mother, in her initial years and much of her early upbringing was done in the hands of my paternal widowed aunt, who shared home with them, after her husband’s untimely demise along with her sons.
It is these sons who took around my Mom wherever they went, cycling, swimming in the creek, hiking in the hills and she developed a love for the outdoors and everything adventurous.
However, her fondest memories took her to the idyllic fields of Bangladesh , just post-partition, My Mom’s maternal grandparents were natives of Bangladesh and since the country got demarcated, families stood separated on both borders. Fortunately the lines were not so strictly drawn and movement from one side to another could be affected on foot or on horseback with no need for permits or visas. My mom recounts her experience of having crossed the borders surreptitiously at the dead of night, in the shadow of security vigil to cross over to her grandparents’ place where her vacations were spent in languor and fun amidst lots of love and pampering.
Her grandfather was a doctor. The spirit of patriotism in the days of British Raj had made him shun his government job in a Medical College and take up private practice in the village for a pittance. He was fondly called by the ‘Horseback Doctor’ for riding his legendary horses, one being white to be used during night and the other black for daytime. He would go on his diurnal visits, come hail, come storm and perished one day when he was caught in the throes of one and thrown off-balance in a ditch.
Those idyllic haunts stopped soon after and most of the family then moved on to scatter in the different pockets of Assam, in search of jobs and business prospects. The storiesof her being caught by my Grandfather one day while trying to cross a heated petroleum pipe along with her cousins and being whacked all the way home makes for an interesting anecdote.
Life in the small hill town of Digboi, seems frozen in time, as Mom recounts all this and more with such aplomb, now in her waning years. Her childhood abruptly came to a halt with the untimely loss of my Grandfather to cancer. She, then, went on for the next 8 years to assume responsibilities of her mother and two sisters and watched them all settle down in life before finally moving out of that place, for good. Nostalgia still keeps drawing her back and perhaps one day, very soon she might make a return trip to walk down the memory lane once again.