Saturday, July 15, 2017


Sangeeta Brajabasi 

On an average day, our itinerary is so crowded that to find time to escape the maddening crowd of regular duties and re-enter another zone of crowded memories is not easy. So, the initiative to make this journey and delve into 'Back to roots' comes with the first few gingerly doubtful, hesitant steps. The thought though must be nestling somewhere in the crevices of our mind to even contemplate on 'Back To The Roots '.   Back to the roots, got me thinking exactly how far down the road or root should I go to reach the roots. Do I get back to the childhood home where I grew up playing with my little kitchen set. Do I digress and start wondering why did I play with the kitchen set and not a toy car ! No, I did not play with toy cars, mechanics or even a football. Instead I had the most amazing dolls house, many dolls and the kitchen set. This is digression, but only to bring out the fact that often in life lack of options or the lack of knowledge of existing choices shape our thoughts and decisions. Was my destiny being written somewhere while I toyed with my toys in complete ignorant bliss? Yes, destinies are written without your permission. No one comes knocking your door to politely ask you, will this and this suit your life? Will you be okay doing this instead of that? It does not work that way. Life happens and we learn to settle in. Like it has happened with all the people whose roots have changed and not by their choice - no one bothered to take their permission or consideration. In my first memory my home was my fortress of freedom, in that home I was playing with toys of home building, as we all do, till one day we have to move out from that home. And of course, I have long digressed from the first question, how far I rewind the tape to reach my roots.

Should I get back to the day when a young doctor (my father) fell in love with a beautiful girl with two plaits (my mother) and wrote his first love letter. Which decided on their life together, of two people coming together, of two families from different roots joining in matrimony to start a new tree of life. Or should I trace back my story to my mother's childhood stories of her Rangpur Girls High School. The place where she laughed and lived her years through girlhood to womanhood, was that place my first root? If we are born of our mothers then their roots matter in shaping our lives the most. I still have with me a silver medal with my mother's name engraved in it (she had won it for her scholastic aptitude) - does that medal hold a trace of my root? The medal rests in my Godrej locker along with my father's old, frayed stethoscope, because for me these are my special mementos which bind me to my roots. I have heard tales of zamindari, I have heard tales of rich lands in a country now called Bangladesh. Do I go back to those days of glory and wealth and the luxurious life my forefathers had earned, inherited and enjoyed?  They fail to impress me. To me they are just like stories from someone else's life. No matter how hard I try I cannot feel any sense of attachment or connect with these stories, yet they are the stories of the material richness of my roots. But there is also pain and pathos hidden in these stories, they move me to tears. The story of changing fates, changing life, abandoning homes, resettling in another place, another city and making it home. When I recall my father's deep voice resonating through our sitting room reciting "Udbastu " (meaning the refugee ) I wonder does this one word hold the key to my roots?

When the destiny of a nation changes, the destiny of the people living in that nation also changes forever. When political boundaries draw lines dividing nations, the ordinary people are seldom taken into consideration. This is true of my country and other countries which have gone through divisions of geographical boundaries, but that is a subject of political history. With the 'stroke of the midnight hour' of 15th August 1947 when India was born, the 'Roots' of thousands of people forever changed directions beneath the ground they walked upon. The going back to the roots for those men and women would never be the same ever again, not easy geographically, not easy emotionally. Another partition happened in 1971, another nation was born and another set of roots changed their direction forever. Unlike my forefathers my generation can talk of going back to the root with much more ease, for their roots are within the boundaries of their rightful idea of nation. And my next generation perhaps will not think so agonizingly about going back to the roots. They will be growing and spreading their roots far and wide rather than holding them to one place.

The little 'gunj' ( meaning very small town) hidden in an obscure district of Bihar where I grew up speaking fluent local dialects of Hindi, where I went to a Hindi medium school,  priding myself to be a born Bihari , was where I grew my first roots. That was 'home' to me and I had known no other home till then. My roots changed soon, shifting from a gunj in Bihar to a big city in West Bengal, Kolkata. For the better part of my student life I grew up in Kolkata. My bonding with the city was becoming stronger with each year of my school and college life. Roots shifted once more. Today when I use the term ' home' the only place my heart wants to get back to is the city of Kolkata. Is this the city of my roots? I question myself. My children have not grown up in this city. I try to instill in them that home means Kolkata. That is completely my bias and my love for a city where I want to finally anchor my floating roots. But I cannot force my children to love a place they know so little about. They are my children, yet their roots may grow in a totally different direction from mine. There is a large cross section of Indians who had become foreign nationals decades ago, their children and grandchildren are born foreign nationals. No matter how many times they visit India, whichever way they try to hold on to the cultural connect, these children will never feel any serious connect with their Indian origin. So, where will these children go to in search of their roots?

We are living in a time where the world can easily be seen as a global community. Our children will feel the pull of roots from the place they have loved most. My grandparent’s homeland does not feel like my roots or home to me, it is essentially a foreign country where my forefathers lived. Similarly I cannot imagine my children ever feeling their filial obligations towards any nation other than the one they were born in. But that may change with time. They may feel torn between two cultures, two homes, which will grow onto them later in life. Very few families today can say that they have lived for the past four generations in the same city. We are not trees, after all, we do not stand in one place for centuries holding on to our roots while our leaves fall and new leaves arrive.

The heart aches even after understanding all the realities of rooting and uprooting. Our life, job, some simple choices take us away from the place we call root. The new place and the new home are very dear to us yet we pine deep down for something more. What is it that we pine for? Is it only a city / town or the people of that place or simply a brick and mortar structure? What is home for us is difficult to fathom. But it certainly is a place which we hold very close to the heart. No matter how far we move out we can always come back to the roots from time to time to give our restless heart some soulful time with things so dear.

The answer to the question of what is root or back to root can never be simple. I am what I am today, (we all are what we are today) and that has to be the result of an amalgamation of the various social, cultural and geographical influences. Drawing analogy with the roots of the tree, my roots too run deep and wide. When I need to think of going back to the roots, my mind starts building this beautiful maze of roots entwined into each other. Caught in this maze of roots from all directions (claiming a hold on my being) I suffocate. The sense of entrapment and confusion to single out one root above the other makes me want to break free from this self-created maze .I cannot deny my connection to any one strand of my root, that would be dishonoring my very entity. To me my roots are more than my lineage; it is the multiple influences upon my personality from over the years of my growing up until now.

A lot of this (the search for roots) has to do with age. Youth is that elixir which fixes all problems and energizes one to keep going. We do not ponder over roots when young; it is the time to spread branches.  But when age catches up, the potency of the elixir diminishes, our tired senses yearn to give in to that ultimate pull of the roots. Some of us can get back to the roots while the others try and find new roots. For at the end of the story there is no happily ever after, every story just pauses for a while and then the new chapter is written. Roots spread in whichever direction it gets space to grow for life indeed is a big tale either growing away from the roots or growing back to the roots.

The agony of separation from the roots creates unrest in the mind. Going back to the roots happens with all of us at some point of our life. We wonder is it the search of childhood after reaching middle age that pushes us into searching for our roots. One tragedy of growing up is gradually losing the people who had cared for us, who had loved us unconditionally. Important people from our life die, like shedding of leaves, leaving behind a few bare dry branches. In our eternal search of back to the roots we forget that even if by some magic we can reach back our roots the same magic of childhood cannot be recreated anymore. That which stood symbolic as our root has long been withered away in the hands of time. The same comfort can never be found from that which we have once left behind. The past is always more glorious in our memory. Past revisited is often tainted with disappointment, heartache and emptiness. The long arduous journey tracing back our steps to reach back to the roots may not end up being as rewarding as the promises of nostalgia. Time and again daring the chances we always go back in search of our roots. We can end up in utter misery and disillusionment. On the other hand, if we are lucky, we may trace back our roots and get to feel the smell of deep cold long forgotten earth holding our identity like a buried treasure! No matter how different we are from one another culturally, ethnically, all of us will always have one common desire, to find an identifiable root, to connect to the self in this vast world of diversity.  It is this seeking that never lets us rest and keeps pulling us back to the roots.  The pull is strong and undeniable, the question is when we recognize it and at what point we give up the tug of war and allow us to get pulled back to our roots.

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