Lost Father (hood) in Calcutta


Lost Father (hood) in Calcutta


Will you believe me if I say Calcutta is a city of sadness?

21st October 2021. I woke up with pain in my chest. Not the one that would take me to the hospital. Not the one that would make me cry, either. I called my therapist, asked her if I could talk today, and booked an 11 a.m. appointment. She asked me what it was about and if I was okay.

“I am prepared to talk about my father. Today.” I spoke.

She replied, “Very proud of you. Happy Birthday. See you at 11.” We hung up.

I had decided that I would go to Calcutta and meet my father after 5 years, visit my house which isn’t mine anymore. It took me a week to figure out if I was ready for this and if it wasn’t another impulsive decision I was taking. I booked the tickets for seven days later. I decided to call my father. I felt dark clouds inside my chest. I did not have his phone number but somehow the last number that I knew refrains to be erased from my memory. I dialled. It rang. A woman picked it up. My breath stopped for a while but I managed to ask her if I could talk to the person with this name. She handed me the phone. I said, “I am…”.

The phone call lasted three whole minutes and 39 seconds. I got to know that he lives in Baranagar, a small town a few kilometres away from Calcutta and the house in Central Calcutta was empty now. So, I asked him if he could talk to the landlord and ask him to let me stay there for a few days. I would pay him any amount he liked.

The next day my father called and gave me the phone number of the landlord and asked me to contact him directly. I did not waste another minute and called him up. The conversation lasted for a shady minute and he agreed to let me stay for three days.

7th November. I took the train. What an anxious journey it was! After 10 years I will be going to the place that once threw me out and didn’t care to call back. Our relationships with a place often resonate with our closest human relationships in that place. Calcutta is my father’s hometown. It was supposed to be mine as well, that house without sunlight was my first place to live, and that city was supposed to be my city. For the longest time, I associated Calcutta with that house in Moulali, with my father, I still do and perhaps that is why it is the saddest city for me because that tiny and damp house only gave me bags full of sadness and terrible memories and I could never really understand why it is the city of joy. Some said it is a city of heritage. What about my spatial heritage? The inheritance that my memory is darkened with? People make places, after all.

The train journey was all about joining the darkest threads of my life and the strongest desire to overcome the suppressed pain and anger. I cannot live with them anymore. I want to forgive my father for abandoning me. I want to forgive Calcutta for being my home but for failing to make me feel loved. I landed at 8:20 a.m. My nervousness started piling up. I called up K and asked him to stay online till I reached home. I met K in 2020 but his absence has always been present with me since I started observing things. I took a yellow taxi, and while I was passing through the known roads, I realised something. My Calcutta does not have any romanticism. It does not have the glee of a college street and coffee house. My Calcutta is real with lots of crises. A crisis, an absence, a void that created my existential plane. My Calcutta does not have poetries about the chaos at Park Street and a 9 a.m. Rabindra Sarabar metro station. My Calcutta shouts with emptiness, a desire for a father, a family. My Calcutta does not have the satisfaction of Bharer Cha. My Calcutta had the stale motorshutir kochuri left unattended in the next room while I was praying to not lose my family.

The taxi halted in front of the lane that I was supposed to enter. So many years, and I still have the same question. Why doesn’t sunlight care to enter this lane of Entaly? I walked through the congested street. It’s scary, the old houses and the damp smell seem to succumb to me. If the traumatic memories of my father had an embodiment, it would be this lane. For sure. It was a 2-minute walk, and I finally reached the house. It’s just the same. 52/A Entaly Kolkata 700014. That broken green door has now turned brown. I called up the landlord and he appeared on his balcony upstairs and threw me down a pair of keys. I entered. The broken door still opens up to the dark passage which leads to the portion of the house that was ours. Perhaps not mine. “Ours” in past tense. When you are living your trauma, you do not have a language for it but your post-traumatic state becomes your language. Earlier I did not have a language for this passage but now that I realize that this is an abyss that gulped me down and took me to a factory that constantly produced pain. I opened the house with the keys, and it opened up to a space with the memories of the furniture, the Sal wood bed, the broken sofa, the black and white television set and the tube light that inappropriately sufficed as an alternative for the sunlight. The house just has this large bedroom, an extended kitchen, a bathroom without a tap and a place to wash clothes. A Kurl-On was rolled and kept there for me. I received a message on WhatsApp from the landlord saying that I have to manage my food, they are not going to provide any. Not like I expected.

I made a bed and lay down. I felt a thud in my chest. I felt freezing from within. I had flashbacks but they all overlapped each other so frequently, it felt like a dream sequence from a Wong Kar Wai movie.

I checked the kitchen after some time, and there wasn’t any gas. So, I ordered food. The moment the delivery guy stood in front of the building, I felt relief in my head. I just made a new memory in this house. A memory that did not cause any pain. I called Ma a little while later, I described to her the place, and I told her, the house was innocent. Perhaps it’s just the lack of sunlight that distorts the people residing in this house. I tried to sleep, but the time after dusk was difficult. I could hear voices. The sound of the fight when I was 5 echoed and the walls haven’t been whitewashed.

It's 8 p.m. and I called up my father. I asked him if he was free tomorrow. He told me he is free later in the afternoon and won’t be able to come down to Calcutta, and I have to go all the way to Baranagar. I agreed. My purpose was more significant than his. It’s always been so.

The following day, I scheduled an Uber from Calcutta Medical College to Baranagar because earlier in the day, I wanted to go to College Street and get some books and also sit for some time at the coffee house. Around 10, I left for College Street. I took the metro from Central and got down at the next station. It was kind of early so I took my time and sat at the tea stall just before Presidency University. In 2018 when I was applying for my Master’s and taking several tests, I stayed in this city for 3 months on the other side of the town, in Jadavpur. I felt terrific how those three months here could be so different from the entire childhood that I have lived here. Anyway, I went to my favourite lane of second-hand books. I surfed around the book stalls, took pictures and sent them to K. The graffiti on the walls of Calcutta University has been whitewashed. It’s easy, right? To whitewash Art? And so challenging to whitewash the pain in the walls of that damp house. So, is my pain my art? Or not? Maybe pain is just pain, the experiences can be art but not for the Self. An otherwise version of my Self can treat them like art. Funny right? Your Self goes through the Trauma, and your Other makes it into Art.

I bought a copy of Poe’s poetry, and then I entered the coffee house. I took 3 three cigarettes from the shop below the coffee house that sells cigarettes and books together. In short, everything that intoxicates you. I went upstairs and got myself a seat on the balcony, and ordered a cold coffee and a sandwich. I took my laptop out and started writing,


The Dead lives on the assumptions of the Un-dead.

Cremation is a choice of the Un-deads!

I have been living like a dead for a while,

The Un-deads told me I would like some comfort in the times to come,

They tell me whom to love and when to not love anymore.

I do as they say-

I do it on my own but for all the wrong reasons.

Dying is a pretentious living!

The little alive share of my heart knows-

I am living the wrong life,

A wrong Time.”

It was almost time to leave for Baranagar. I walked to the medical college gate and after a lot of hustles found my Uber. The car had just been out of the chaos of the city and I received a call from the landlord. He told me that they are willing to renovate the ceiling of a particular portion of the passage in the house and for that demolition shall begin tomorrow. He asked me when I was leaving tomorrow. My train tomorrow was at 6, but I told him I would be out by 3.

Two hours and a lot of traffic later, I reached the address my father had sent me. He lives in the same house that belonged to my grandmother. I called him and asked him to come downstairs because I didn’t feel the need to enter that house. Although I liked this house as a child because it had an extremely large window and a parrot sat at the parapet.

He came down. He has almost gone bald. My last image of him was at the sessions court, and then there was zero similarity. He smiled, but he didn’t look at me. My father asked me to come inside and meet his family. I suggested that it would be nice to go to the ghat nearby because I would be more comfortable there and leave soon. He agreed. Before walking away, and looked up at the big window and a little girl was peeping through it. I believe she was tiny as she was struggling to look at me. I asked him, “Is she your daughter?”. He nodded. “Your own?” He said, “let’s go.”

We went to the ghat. I asked him if his health was okay as he didn’t look really fine. I learnt that he has been suffering from pancreatitis lately. He asked me a lot of questions about Ma. I thanked him for leaving her life. Finally, he asked me the question that I thought he would never ask. “Why did you want to meet me all of a sudden?” I told him the truth. I told him I wanted to see the person who made us suffer, the person whom the world thinks is my father. I wanted to meet the man who abandoned me, the man who was supposed to care for me but didn’t, the man whom I blame for the emptiness of a father’s place in my life.

He didn’t look at me. I did. I felt the monster in his eyes had disappeared. Lastly, he asked, if I needed his financial help. All my life, he never offered to help, and now that I have more than he has he asked me if I needed help. Several times I had imagined this conversation and played and re-played it in my head. I thought my anger might succumb to me; I might get into a nasty fight. But nothing of that sort happened. I somehow felt he was a responsible man now. I deliberately want to believe that, for that little girl up at the window. I told my father that I did not need any kind of help but everything I needed back then I wish she got it.

I left the place. I ran to the nearest bus stand. I knew I could cry any moment now.

I returned to the damp house and realised I had forgotten to get food again. But where is hunger? I called Maa up and cried. I said- “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

I slept hungry with a peaceful sadness. The memory of pain is an indescribable emotion. I felt as if one of my selves just multiplied itself. My Self can see my fading self who was hurt and in a lot of pain. Freedom from suppressed pain is a very liberating feeling.

The following day, I woke at noon to the thudding sound of hammers. The labourers had come, and they had already started breaking one portion of the ceiling. I took a bath freshened myself and fed myself from a packet of leftover biscuits from the last train journey. I sat in the room with lights off for a while. I wanted to take the memories of being in this room safe with myself, just to ensure that this house was innocent. I hoped that this house erases all that it has ever witnessed and makes it home to whoever comes here next.

All my stuff had been packed by now and while I was about to leave, I paid the rent to the landlord digitally, locked the door and left the keys on the key stand by the door. As I was about to leave, a faint ray of sunlight hit my face gently through the ceiling that was being broken to be made again. It was for the first time in 26 years this house had let sunlight in. What if this house was suffering from the dampness because it craved forgiveness so desperately? Anyway, I am relieved that finally, it’s ready to be a home for the next family who comes to reside here. I left. The landlord called me from the balcony and asked, “You are leaving? You came here for work, right? Is it done?”

“Yes, I came here for very important work,” I replied. “It’s finally done”.

“What was it?” he asked.

“To never return here again,” I said and walked away.

I took a taxi and moved towards Sealdah with no idea what I would do for 3 long hours.

“I think it’s going to rain; the weather is changing. It seems Kalkatta will bid you good buy with cold weather.” The taxi driver said in his U.P accent. I looked at the sky from the window, the air was getting cold and a drop of rain fell on my nose. It was overwhelming. I felt as if the city finally welcomed me with a goodbye.

I reached the station and hurried to the food court. I hadn’t eaten for a long time and wanted to eat as much as I could. While waiting for my food and then for my train, I started writing this story.

You don’t have to believe me if I say it’s the saddest city. It is the city of letting go of the pain, if not joy.


Ria Chowdhury


Ria Chowdhury is based in West Bengal, India. She is a published author and her first book was published in March 2023


  1. So well written...heart touching...hugs... only love ❣️

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