Crossing Chowringhee

When people meet me for the first time, they won’t know that I . . .

~ Swallowed my mother’s wedding ring when I was about four. Sucked it off her finger while playing with her hand, lying in bed.

~ Landed barefoot on jagged tree stump while playing in the garden one summer afternoon and yelped into space with part of the stump piercing the bottom of my foot.

~ Fell off a Calcutta State Transportation Corporation bus making a turn at Dalhousie Square as if it were a sailboat in America’s Cup race. Cracked my watch and bruised myself. Have worn a watch with the dial on my inside wrist ever since.

~ Learned to ride a bicycle on a gravel driveway by practicing for half a day and stood victorious, happy and proud and, of course, scraped and bloodied at the end of it all.

~ Went to the movies instead of the final high-school year prize-giving ceremony where my parents were present, and I was getting three prizes in a row.

~ Have lost both my grade school through high school best friend and my college best friend.

~ Have evaporated from relationships and dashed toward others till I resemble a toddler trying to keep his balance.

~ Wasn’t near anyone in my family when they were dying, always after the fact

~ Wept, through fogged-over goggles when I saw my first-born emerging into the stunningly bright delivery room.

~ Refused to jump a red light at the bottom of the BU Bridge when my second wife was in prelabor contractions and angry that I’d stopped at a red light at 1 a.m. Looking left I saw a solitary police car.

~ Smoked two and half packs of Malboros every day for decades and then stopped cold turkey

~ Treated liquor like a clandestine lover till that too I stopped cold turkey . . . not without support

~ I often thought in my life that the next turn would reveal a glorious Homeric horizon till I made one too many turns and found myself waist-deep in prosaic sludge.

~ Have come full circle: I remember being maybe five or six. Holding my father’s left hand. We are going to cross the widest street in Calcutta at that time ---Chowringhee, in what the Brits called “white town” where stood the Great Eastern Hotel with its florid staircases, Firpo’s, an Italian-run tearoom in the sweltering tropics, Motwani and Sons, the watchmakers, where we were probably headed. Though Calcutta at that time only (only?) had 3 million people, the traffic seemed whirling to my child’s eyes. I grip his hand, mine disappears in his palm. I feel his hand clasp my wrist and we propel ourselves into what seemed like six lanes of traffic but was probably only four made frightening by the lack of lane markers. I fervently trusted Baba to get me across unscathed.

~ Have learned to look left and then right and left again . . . CROSS.

Photo credit: Author