(In the age of cultural insularity, Salil Tripathi reminisces about his love for another language, another culture and simply another way of living … What unfolds is a story of journeys through books, streets and memories seeped in Bangaliana …)
I was born in Bombay in a middle class Gujarati home where my parents seemed to have had distinctly non-Gujarati priorities. Acquiring wealth or money was never their goal, and there was never enough of that either. For example, it took my parents 19 years to buy their first refrigerator (I have memories of going to our neighbours’ to get some ice when needed; of my mother going to keep leftover food in their fridges, to be brought home the next day and reheated). We had to wait for a phone connection (though the blame for that could be laid at the doorstep of the government because we had been waiting in a queue to get the connection); and we were among the last to buy a television set in our apartment complex – a full six years after television arrived in my city, just in time to watch Sunil Gavaskar score two centuries against Pakistan in a series India lost 0-2 in Pakistan.
But there was wealth of another kind – the books in our flat – many books – of philosophy and sociology (my mother’s subjects at the university), management and business (my father’s subjects at the university), and there were novels – in Gujarati and English. I remember my mother reading out stories of Tolstoy and Tagore to me. Instead of worshipping Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, our home was in awe of Saraswati, the goddess of learning, although we did not have her idol either. And as with many Indians of their generation that turned nationalist under the influence of Mohandas Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, my parents looked at Bengal for inspiration.
Even before I was born, my mother had decided that if she had a boy, his name would be Salil, after Salil Chaudhuri, the Bengali music director of Hindi film songs; and if a girl, she would be named Sujata, after the Bengali director Bimal Roy’s eponymous film. (Eight years after I was born, my brother was born, and his name was decided -Utpal, chosen after Utpal Dutt, the Bengali thespian whom my mother first saw in the film Bhuvan Shome. Two years later, my youngest brother was born, and he too got a Bengali name – Pranav.)….