Being Women

Memories Of My Childhood In Odisha : Melange Of Musings

Anindita Chowdhury gives us glimpses of her childhood in Odisha.

Picking up Bengali and Odia, simultaneously

I had learned Odia almost simultaneously as I started picking up my mother tongue, Bengali. Odisha occupied a large chunk of my childhood, as we spent quite a few years in the state since my father was posted there for some time. I was just a toddler when we were at Talcher, but by the time my father was stationed in Bhubaneshwar, I was about four years old.

Memories of the city, Bhubaneshwar

Bhubaneshwar in the late 1970s was a beautiful city with wide avenues lined alternately with Gulmohor and Krishnachura trees. Their huge canopies offered shade from the afternoon sun, and the red and yellow flowers painted the skyline in vivid hues of red, orange, and yellow. Our office-cum-residence was just a stone’s throw away from the Raj Bhavan. The road leading to the office from the main gate was lined by tall stalks of sunflowers, regally facing the sun.

Memories of our garden

The backyard had a vegetable patch, and one of my enduring regrets was that I was denied the chance to see the harvesting of the potatoes that I had helped the gardener sow and water only because the transfer order came sooner. Beyond the backyard was an orchard of cashew trees. The cashew apple was sweet, and juice dripped down my chin with every bite. Eating the raw nut (the actual cashew) hanging underneath was forbidden, though. A lot of my spare time was spent climbing trees, particularly the long and smooth limbs of a guava tree. Amazingly, after spending some years in Kolkata, my tree-climbing prowess deserted me completely, as did my command over Odia.

Memories of Mohanty – father’s peon-cum-caretaker

One of the most emphatic memories involves my father’s peon-cum-caretaker, Mohanty. I spent a lot of time with him and his wife, and since their grandkids were away, they doted on me. My mother had a pet name for me: Manti. Whenever she called me, it was funny to see Mohanty and me running towards her from different directions! Maa would then proceed to chide Mohanty for mishearing her call, but nevertheless, this happened several times a day.

Shops and stores in Bhubaneshwar in those days didn’t stock everything, and so whenever Baba made the trip to his headquarters in Calcutta, my mother would secretly hand over a list to Mohanty and some money. My father knew about it but didn’t intervene. Mohanty would painstakingly buy everything on the list, even a large photograph of Maa Kali from Kalighat, which still adorns our prayer room. I also remember my trips to the kindergarten school riding on his bicycle carrier. He was old, a tad slow, but very cautious about his precious cargo. Today, in my late forties, I can hardly remember his wrinkled and frail face, but my heart treasures his unconditional and gentle love.

Puri and an unforgettable incident

Our stay in Bhubaneswar was peppered with trips to Puri. Anyone visiting Bhubaneswar, be it my father’s colleagues, superiors, or relatives, knew that a trip to Puri was a must. It was far less crowded, though my memories do not extend much beyond Swargadwar. I remember the sandy beaches and a sea far more turbulent than those of Bengal.

Once my hand had slipped out of my mother’s grasp, I would have drowned if not for a young nuliya (men from the fishing tribe who are beach lifeguards) who realised the danger from afar and swam to save me as I went under, struggling to find the ground beneath my feet. It was a near brush with death, as I had ingested a lot of water.

My father’s way of speaking Odia

My mother had a way with language, while it was a challenge for my otherwise erudite father. While talking to non-Bengalis, he would lapse into Hindi, which was even more atrocious. Today, he might have been accused of being guilty of Hindi imposition! In those days, quite a few Odias understood and even spoke Bengali fluently, just as those on this side of the Bengal-Odisha border do.

One of the funny incidents I remember involves my father yelling at the top of his voice, “macchli! ei macchli,” disregarding my mother’s proddings to speak Bengali as the fish seller cycled away merrily farther and farther away. In desperation, my mother raised her voice slightly and called out “maccho,” and lo! He stopped and pedalled back furiously. I will never forget my simple homemaker mother’s triumphant smile, having bested her husband this one time.

Odisha handloom and silver

I don’t remember a single time when my mother’s wardrobe did not boast a vibrant kotki saree. And of course, the beautiful silver filigree set in her trinket box and the wall hangings of Pipli shared space with the Bengali calendar.

The silver filigree earrings and pendant have lost their shine, the kotki sarees are rotting away at the folds, and come September, it will be 28 years since my mother passed away, but the childhood days spent in Odisha blaze like a sun on a wintry day, ready to dispel all the chill that surrounds my lonely heart.

By Anindita Chowdhury

Anindita Chowdhury is a special correspondent of the English daily, The Statesman. She is based in Hyderabad. Apart from reporting, she writes short stories and essays with special focus on history, particularly the social and cultural aspects of the bygone era. She can be contacted at

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