Oh joy. We've been waiting for Nilanjana to post her Calcutta essay, which ran in Seminar.
It was when we heard about Argha the mali selling the books that we finally accepted the house in Calcutta was dying. The house was of a type once common in Calcutta, now increasingly rare, the few specimens left either already crumbling, already neglected, or looking strangely out of place, forlorn bungalows dwarfed and flanked by multistoried buildings.
But when we grew up, it was the apartment buildings that were rare, especially in South Calcutta. There, most of the families we knew lived in houses like the one on Rowland Road: gracious, sprawling, one-or-two-storeyed bungalows in red or white or cream brick, the louvred window shutters painted in green or blue.
No one in our tiny corner of Calcutta would ever be crass enough to discuss family money, but it was easy to see who had it and who didn't. The ones who still had trust funds and deposits and prosperous folders of share certificates had their houses painted every year, the silver polished every week, the red or black stone floors swept and swabbed to a high gloss, the Irish linen or Bengal Home tablecloths washed, starched and returned in pristine condition by the family dhobi. For burra khanas, the plate and china would come out from pantries, the chandeliers or the candelabra would be dusted, the old portraits would receive another coat of varnish, the latticeworked iron door and window grills repainted--even the gravel on the driveway would be shampooed.