I just spoke to my mother. Facebook has brought joy to my life by allowing me to talk to her, in real time while seeing her and my father sitting in our front room in the Calcutta house. As she speaks, the curtain behind her tells me the time of the day in India by being lifted up and high to allow the light into the room in the mornings, or being down and restricting the western sun from heating the room any further in the second half of the day.
When their wing was planned, there was no architect who was consulted or any real thought given to the orientation of the rooms. My father merely paid for the construction from where he was in Africa. It came up in the garden in front of a house that he had bought in 1963/64. The front room faces the west and bakes all summer till the sun goes down and freezes all winter thanks to the winds from the north. Once there used to be a bed in this room. But now that my parents are on their own and in the process of downsizing, this room has become the sitting room and they watch TV in it. The only bed in the house is next door.
My mother has always hated the summer heat coming in through the two western windows. Recently, well about five years ago, the neighbours sold their house to promoters and she was very hopeful that the house that would come up would block the sun, finally! Unfortunately the promoter is not the kind with ready money in their pockets and so they build on five rows of bricks at a time, when the money is there. Now my parents are in the process of selling their own house and there is every possibility that they may do this before the bricks rise above the level of the window.
But to me, that window still manages to bring all the sights and sounds of a South Calcutta morning to life, right here in my Adelaide home. From the tinkling of rickshaw pullers’ bells (how I wanted one of those when I was younger, still do), the cawing of crows when our kitchen window is open and they smell the fish fresh from the market, the barking of dogs when someone unknown walks past the ‘para’, the feisty banter of the local maids, the loud Howzzats of the local cricket tragics who are no longer the boys I remember, but their sons, the unnecessarily loud throat clearing by old Mr Ray who had three daughters and a gangling son, the distinctive sounds of the travelling vendors hawking their services – sil kata-a-a-o!(the stone grinder), bel phoo-o-o-l!(a flower vendor), purono purono kapor becho!(a man with an assortment of steel and plastic utensils you can get in exchange for old things of your own), kulpi baraf!(ice lollies) and the twanging of the quilt maker’s bow in winter.
And then, despite all the wonders that Australia is said to have, my life here seems sadly boring and almost beige in contrast.