Sankari Halder, And The Marble House With Chandeliers She Left Behind
Partition is a niggling pain, a scar that refuses to heal. Even so many years later when my memory fails me, it’s a tough ask to go back to my girlhood days in Bangladesh, walk back to my first home in Khanjanpur village of Bogra district. It’s been a long time and the memories are anything but pleasant.
I didn’t know what Partition meant. I was an infant when it happened. But I knew it meant losing home. And family. While most of the family had crossed over to Hindu-majority India (my elder brother and sister were completing their higher studies here), my father refused to leave.
I was in Class IV at an American missionary school, when my life took a big turn. Though as a child I was spared the details of the horrors inflicted on Hindus who stayed behind, I do recollect sensing a feeling of discomfort, of fear and horror. We belonged to the land-owning class; we had a big house, a palatial one with white marble, balustrades, ponds and a garden that didn’t seem to end. And courtiers.
I didn’t know what Partition meant. I was an infant when it happened. But I knew it meant losing home. And family.
Earlier, they would sit in our courtyard for Baba to hear them out, solve their daily problems. Later, I remember them, those same people (mainly Muslims who would till our land) who would directly walk upstairs, to our drawing-room, and talk to my father rather insolently.
For the safety of our family, Baba decided to leave behind his beloved land and everything he owned. We (Baba, Maa, me and my younger sister who was born just after the Partition) set forth on a journey to an unknown land and an unknown destiny. We were accompanied by some of our Hindu courtiers. I remember my mother hiding all the gold she had inside her saree. She looked as if she was pregnant.
We came to Siliguri in North Bengal, and then moved to the place which would be our next home (if you could call it that). It was in a remote corner of Siliguri, with no transport to take us there or bring us back to mainland. It was a forest with a patch cleared to build huts. We walked long stretches. Sometimes truck drivers took pity on us and give us a ride.
Why did we go there? Well, we couldn’t afford anything else. And even for buying that plot of land in the wilderness, Baba had to sell off all of Maa’s jewellery.
From a marble house with chandeliers we shifted to a mud house with thatched roof. The nearest school was two-and-a-half kilometres away. With my books held close to my chest, I would walk that distance every day. On some days, some kind public bus conductor would give me a lift without a ticket.
To make ends meet, I started giving tuitions when I got to Class VII. For teaching three small boys in the neighbourhood, I would earn Rs 30 (which was a decent amount then).
My elder sister, after completing her higher studies, took up a teaching job in Siliguri and took me with her to live in the school’s staff quarters. The teachers were kind and give me books as my parents had no money to buy them.
In college, I used to help others with their PhD research, jotting down pages after pages of research material. There was no Xerox then. In return, they would buy me books that I couldn’t buy. I never bought one book in my entire academic life.
I got a gold medal in Economics and a hefty scholarship as I completed my M.A. I gave the money to Baba. I had no personal luxuries, no desire ever to buy anything for myself.
My teachers wanted me to pursue a PhD in Economics and stay in academics, but fate had something else in store. I had taken an examination for a bank probationary officer’s job and got through. I joined as a probationary officer in the United Commercial Bank. Indira Gandhi had just nationalized banks and it was considered a good profession to be in.
It was a cushy job that would bring much-needed financial stability to my family. We could finally look beyond the uncertainty of the past. Since then I have moved cities, left Siliguri to settle in Kolkata and bought apartments. But home still remains that lost land. That marble house with the never-ending garden of wonders.
As told by Sankari Halder, to her son Deep Halder.
Sankari Halder retired as Deputy Chief Manager from United Commercial Bank after 30 years in service. The views expressed are the author’s own.