Morning and evening, the light dances on the broad leaves of the mallenda as the breeze stirs the waxy white blossoms. The mango trees whisper around their burden of unripe fruit. Shadows soften equally the garden and the distance across the river. Tiled roofs, brick kilns, haystacks and a temple sit astride their broken reflections along the far shore. One man in a pink vest and a conical straw hat poles his bobbing coracle towards mid-stream. As evening draws in, the other bank fades to a smudge in the half-light.
Only the country boats that chug past are clear. Lives float past as I sit by the window, lives defined by their clothes – colourful saris, the ‘bush-shirts’ and nondescript trousers of office-goers (perhaps some are returning from the long flat house downriver, built by the Dutch nearly 200 years ago, where I went to work for some years), the faded photuas and dhotis of the men who work with their hands. Bicycles, nets, shopping bags. And the beat of the thumping engines floats up to us some seconds after the boats come into view, like somebody beating clothes very fast at a distant ghaat.
Jackfruit trees seem to generate their own shadow. The bloated fruits hang in the bends of the trunks, the leaves especially dark green, an air of faux mystery shrouding these pretenders that are sometimes vegetable, sometimes fruit. Not fair. Only the mango trees should have that dual identity, sometimes dark and sometimes a glistening green, the fruits invisible in the dark of evening but light and bobbing in the light of day, clustering with a promise of plenty that makes the teeth ache as one remembers summer holidays and chutneys from childhood.
Memories. Of course that’s what this morning is all about. From the brilliant colours of a child’s paint-box –jacarandas a startling violet, yellow and red on the other trees – that recall long summer afternoons roaming round Salt Lake in the ’70s, to the orderly flower-beds and hedges that remind me of the years I worked in this district and visited this place ever so often, and the hum of the AC and the faint brown-paper smell of the carpet that bring back every ‘guest-house’ I have stayed in over the last 30 years.
Memories. Lines of coconut palms, their fronds glistening in the afternoon sun, the occasional crow floating into one with its wings spread and feet outstretched like landing gear. Bringing back memories of aching lonely afternoons as a probationer in Chinsurah, sitting in a little clapboard cubicle with a lazy fan, nibbling at a cold ‘vegetable chop’ and waiting for 3 o’clock when the little swimming pool outside would fill with children and their clamour.
The luchi at breakfast and the aromas of lunch on the boil downstairs, gobindobhog rice and mutton curry, bringing back a thousand Sundays in a hundred different places. Family sprawled on sofas and beds, desultory conversations, the television alternating between
Back to the present. I’ve made a start on my resolution to write a little something every day, I need a shower and my beer is going flat. More tomorrow. One hopes.