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“Look! Look over there by the gates! Khokon Mama! He’s there!” My mother shrieked, her voice an octave higher than usual. I placed the navy blue suitcase that was filled to the brim with my belongings- the only thing I was familiar with in this unfamiliar place- onto the brown and tan tiled floor, a floor that contained stories for every scuff mark from every suitcase that had ever trekked across it.
As my parents and I rolled our luggage carts towards the gates, a man came into view, his neatly ironed, crème colored pantsuit and rectangular shaped, gold rimmed glasses instantly leading me to believe that he was related to my prim and proper mother. His round belly and warm, chocolate brown eyes that was surrounded by small wrinkles from years of laughter both could have convinced me that he was another Mama, another brother of my mother’s.
Khokon Mama greeted us with a reserved smile on his face as he took my mom’s luggage cart and started rolling it towards the doors. I took a deep breath as I stepped out of the barely air-conditioned Calcutta Airport and into the hot, sticky air of the place I would grow to adore in just a few short days. I took a deep breath and readied myself to experience people and places I had never seen before. I readied myself for Calcutta.
Though I promised myself that I would stay awake for the two hour car ride to Bardwan, the town where my Khokon Mama resided, I pathetically gave up on that promise. I woke up to find the sky a deep orange and realized that I had missed all the scenery I wanted to take pictures of, all the scenery that I simply couldn’t forget because I needed to remember as much of this trip as possible. However, moments later, we passed by a small lake with a red water pump at its end, and right then my mother immediately realized the fact that we were a mere block away from Khokon Mama’s home; she was able to recognize the water pump by recollecting a memory she experienced as a young girl. “I remember that pump,” Ma began, her eyes glazed over as she relived her childhood, “your Tota and Bulu Mama (other uncles of mine) and I used to play there as kids all the time. Your Nana (grandfather) would be livid whenever he would see that I ruined my clean dress by playing in the mud with your uncles,” she chuckled. “I’m surprised that pump is still there; everything else here looks so different. Why is this one thing still the same?” I pondered her last words as we pulled into the driveway. After days of anticipation, we were finally there. I had a feeling then but was not able to confirm it until after: my life would never be the same after the Bardwan experience.
After arriving at my uncle’s home in Bardwan, the first thing that had to be done was well under way: my parents and I had to be fed. It was customary that people should be fed whenever visiting other Bengalis, so my parents and I were not surprised to walk through the doors of the house to see that my Batashi Mami, my uncle’s wife, had a steaming three-course meal already prepared for us. I was in awe as my Batashi Mami and my Nani (great-aunt) bustled around the kitchen, delivering bowl after bowl of steaming curry. The aromas of the spicy goat curry, thick lentil soup and spiced vegetables loomed around the house, waiting to be installed into my mind as a memory for whenever I would think about Bardwan. I immediately woke up from the initial I’m-In-India shock as I took a bite of the food that was piled onto my plate; this curry was not like anything else I had ever eaten before. My eyes wandered around the table looking for more, but all I saw was a cooked fish head staring right back at me. I wasn’t going to touch that. I kept eating more and more with my silver, rarely- used fork (it’s possible to say that I wasn’t cultured enough to be eating with my hands, in a customary fashion) and the Indian food kept tasting better and better. I commented on how incredible the food was and how this curry was by far the best I had ever eaten in my fifteen years of existence. I was then thanked by my Nani, who then went on to attempt to persuade me to stay in Bardwan, learn how to cook and get married. “You can get married to a nice, smart boy,” she exclaimed, “though I’m not sure if he’ll be as tall as you, but still! He’d be smart! Consider it; the best boys are from Bardwan, I can assure you of that!” I chuckled as I left the room and prepared to get rest for the following day’s festivities.
I spent the next day in awe of my mom as she so easily bonded with her cousins that she hadn’t seen in over thirty years. I truly hadn’t ever seen her smile the way she did with them; my mom was usually one to never lose her poise. She was always the woman that stood in her neatly ironed clothing with her scarf placed gracefully around her head, ready to conquer the world with a bang but with modesty, also. Ma was reminiscing with her cousins so effortlessly, speaking about her days as a young girl when she would visit Bardwan from her home in Dhaka. She would constantly recall specific memories regarding the time they spent together, always ending her stories in laughter. I wasn’t used to this side of my mom, seeing her be carefree for once in her life. My mom was always the over-stressed woman that was constantly juggling one activity or another, whether it was running to drop me off to school or to work or to my aunt’s house to help with something or another. I was ecstatic to see Ma this happy again, it was a reminder to the fact that she was once a child too, and that she hadn’t always been my mom. That realization alone helped me understand that there’s so much more to a story than just what I see, that details that are left unspoken for are often the most precious of them all.
I spent my last day in Bardwan picking fresh lime from Khokon Mama’s garden and touring Bhatra, the village where my Nana grew up. I walked around in my flip flops, my hair in a messy braid as my bright yellow cotton salwar-kameez swayed in the wind. I was without internet or any other modern technologies for those few days, so that time in Bardwan really consisted of me, my parents, my newfound family and my camera. Though I had a hunch, I can now easily confirm that my trip to Bardwan didn’t just consist of visiting family. I saw my mother at her happiest moments, which are some of my happiest moments, and I was able to find a few of those precious details that made my life story that much more meaningful.





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