Standing in Between

A few days ago, my father, while inspecting the spines on the bookshelves in the living room, decided to buy a copy of Amartya Sen’s autobiography, The Home in the World. Being the ardent reader that he is, every evening my father would sit in the living room after returning from office, holding open the white hardcover and moving his bespectacled eyes curiously from word to word.

My father is a fan of Amartya Sen’s lucid prose, which makes the book an easy and pleasurable read. It has not taken me long, fortunately, to realise that appreciating the beauty of the prose is not the sole reason behind why my father savours each page. In every chapter, he encounters a new world that he has never been to before. Naturally, he only moves on to the next world after making the present one his home.

Before moving to Kolkata, mainly in search of a job, my father belonged to the small town of Burdwan (Bardhaman) and was a stranger to urban life. As a young man, he grazed the streets of the city in the mornings and afternoons, trying his luck in various walk-in interviews. In the evening, his indomitable love for books and a need for taking a break from the exhaustion and anxiety of securing a livelihood would take him to College Street.

There, in the famous ‘Boi Para’ of College Street, he would attend innumerable literary events, cultural gatherings and even writers’ workshops. He landed a job at a reputed company but failed to get into the close-knit literary circles despite having published a few works. The job became his priority. His dream of becoming a writer was shoved inside a drawer of his study table along with a bunch of unpublished manuscripts. He entered the corporate world before he could make the world of words his home.

Now that his retirement from 37 years of corporate service is due next month, he often wants to know what I read as a student of English Literature. Among other things, we discuss migration and the diaspora.

“What is diaspora?” he once asked me at dinner. “It’s a kind of migration,” I replied, “when a community, or sometimes individuals in smaller groups, travel from their original homeland to another country, making the new ‘world’ their ‘home’.”

Also read: ‘To Long or Belong’: My Love-Hate Relationship With Delhi

“So, if someone moves from a small town to a metro, would it be considered as diaspora?” he asked again.

“Well, that’s a tricky question, I guess, if one is travelling alone and relocating from a small town to a metro within the same state and the larger linguistic/cultural community.”

Although it was wrong on my part to have assumed that my father was talking about himself, the assumption itself was not wrong. My father never refers to himself while talking about his life. We ate the rest of our meal in silence.

In Burdwan, my father lived in the quarters of the Telephone Exchange where my grandfather was employed at a meagre salary. During his initial years in Kolkata, he had to live in either rented apartments or spend a few weeks at a relative’s place. My father shared the dream – of owning a house – with the protagonist of V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas. Now that he has a house, he regrets having abandoned his other ambition — of exploring the world.

During the stricter phases of the lockdown, it seemed, to most of us, that the world was closed. The ones who could afford to work from home, out of compulsion and not choice, got bored of staying at home. The ones who did not have a house, or were for some reason away from their houses, like migrant labourers and a number of students and working individuals, felt stranded, quite literally, between their ‘home’ and the ‘world’. How many Bhisan Singhs (alluding, of course, to the protagonist of Saadat Manto’s Toba Tek Singh) collapsed on the ground that belongs to no one, unable to find the way to their homes?

Returning to my anecdotal reflections, my father too — here, in a less traumatic and more metaphorical sense — has always been standing in between: on one hand, a longing for the familiar ‘home’ and, one the other, a yearning for the unexplored ‘world’. This explains why I often hear him singing the lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Sesh Kheya’ (‘The Last Boat’):

“Ghoreo nohe, pareo nohe/Je jon ache majhkhane/Sondhyabela’ye ke deke neye taare?”

Daring to understand these profound lines in my limited capacity, here’s a rough translation that loses much of the original essence of the verse:

“Neither at home, nor at the shore/Standing in between/In the evening, who is the wayfarer called by?”

Dipro Roy (he/him), who is currently pursuing an MA in English at the University of Hyderabad, enjoys writing, reading novels and poetry, and going on long evening walks.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty