Learning About My Mother Land Through Stories
moment that I could talk. So, the rule was to speak Bengali with them at home, while English
would be used in school. It is a rule that opened my mind to the culture that I was absent from,
but wanted to be a part of.
just two years old. I spent a wonderful few months with my relatives, who always spoke to me in
Bengali. By the next trip, I was speaking in fluent Bengali and addicted to the local library in our
American city. My mother and I had a favourite pastime of bringing home stacks of books and
talking about the stories we had read. When my aunts and uncles realised that I spent most of my
waking hours reading, they decided to buy me my first Bengali books. The problem was, I had
not learnt to read or write in the language. I said as much, but the adults reassured me that they
would read me the books. And they did.
Rabindranath Tagore’s nephew. More than the rani (queen), I was quite amused by the monkey
and the idea of a doll made of sugar. In fact, I asked my mother if we could keep a monkey.
When she said no, we made a sugar doll together, which broke apart too soon to my dismay. But
then after a few days, I couldn’t forget intricate details of the story and the beautiful illustrations.
I wanted to know more about Indian queens and kings. My mother surprised me with stories
about old and more recent royal family members in India. I wanted to visit Indian palaces and
meet royalty on my next trip, I’d said.
Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder was written way back in 1907 but is still read to and by Bengali
children even now. I believe that it was translated into other languages as well. A collection of
folk tales and fairy tales, this book had me intrigued. My mother re-read it to me for many years.
A particularly memorable story was that of Saath Bhai Champa where a young princess finds out
that her seven brothers were turned into flowers, and then turns them into princes. I remember
asking my mother and father if they had experienced such things in India. They laughed and said
no. I didn’t believe them.
would immerse myself into my English stories. The issue was resolved during another trip to
Kolkata. My mother and aunts appointed a teacher to teach me how to read and write in Bengali.
She came every day and I didn’t complain about the early mornings. Learning from the picture
books, basic words like dog, cat, notebook etc. was boring me. “Be patient,” scolded my mother.
I grumbled but had no choice.
Jhuli myself. Although I got stuck at a few words here and there, it felt liberating. My mother
and I were carrying back a suitcase full of Bengali books too.
started reading some of my mother’s books which had difficult vocabulary but taught me about
Kolkata’s history and society. I studied at an international school where I excelled in Bengali. I
also developed a love for Rabindrasangeet even though my mother and father still had to explain
some song lyrics to me.
childhood set the path for my adulthood – I read books. I write stories and books. Basically, I
breathe books. I’m even trying my hand at Bengali and English poetry these days.