An Emotional Closure
An hour ago, I signed a document, in receipt of a token sum of a lakh of rupees, as advance, towards the sale of our family’s business- a printing press in Calcutta. It took just a few seconds, to bring to a definitive closure, a lifetime’s emotional journey. This press was the identity I was born with. It defined my father half his life, and all of mine, till signing this document; the other part of my identity is as a retired professor’s daughter. The part of my identity I just relinquished, the press, was bought in the year 1964 by my father, as a small unit, that he slowly and meticulously scaled up singlehandedly.
As a child, I visited the press randomly with mother and sister, to pick up father on the way somewhere, perhaps a movie or dinner, during our school vacations. While at the press, sister and I, we romped around, yet gave steady instructions as the owner’s daughters, to staff who humoured us, on what colours and material we wanted all our text books bound, which fine letter paper we wished our names printed in, the brand of stationery to be selected for school or the font we wanted them named for that matter.
At times, we went over with father to the press, waited for him to wrap up some work at hand, to take us shopping- which he did with great aplomb, allowing us to take our pick of what we liked, usually at the AC market on Theatre Road. We went around choosing, setting aside clothes, shoes, stationery, while he hobnobbed with corporate clients in offices located above in the same building. Then once he was done with the public relations for that day, he would go around, at times accompanied with friends from the offices above, paying up and collecting all the stuff we had set aside at the market, most of the shopkeepers knowing us well.
There were those visits to New Market too, where father would briskly accompany us to shops, leave us to choose clothes and shoes, as he disappeared to wrap up meetings with vendors in other parts of the large market. Then he would come back and pay up, cursing our bad choices as he referred to them, even as he sometimes swapped our picks with expensive ones- believing always in quality over quantity. We would then drive home, munching on rolls from Badshah or confectionery from Nahoums, he would have already picked up while we were in confusion over what we wanted to buy.
During Vishwakarma Puja, when all equipment is worshipped, our entire family would spend the day at the press. There was an elaborate Puja followed by a grand lunch, this was also the time when neighbours, clients, vendors and ex-employees visited the press, each treated to a meal or the prasad at least. All in all, as a child, the press in my mind stood for a place for a rendezvous during our school vacations. It was when I was in my 9th standard, as part of my economics project, that I pinned father down to taking me through the basic working procedures of the press and only then cared to understand it stood for business and our family earning- at least a major portion of it.
After I completed my Bachelor of commerce degree, while pursuing a course in public relations, simultaneous to learning German, mother insisted I learn the ropes of the family business, and compelled father to take me to the press with him when I was free. He was reluctant, father did not see it as a place fit for a lady, far from envisioning me running it, much rather preferring I marry and settle down as a housewife or simply study more.
At the time of my father’s passing, my mother by then retired from service, was running the business, though far from proficient, what with her teacher’s attitude and lack of tact, having less business acumen than anyone I know. It was only in the last couple of years, that I tried to wean out of her aged hands, the control of the press she now clung to as vestige of her husband’s life, as one would dolls an older child clings to, much beyond their years of playing with them. In taking over the reins, since husband and I were planning to move to Calcutta, and I was deeply attached to this press as one is to one’s home, I put all my mental, physical and financial resources into reviving it, but now with my personal stamp on it.
I looked upon it as a home away from home, a place which would truly define me, where I could even stay over if I did not wish to go home the night. So now in addition to new machinery, furniture and smart printed stationery, there was a grilled balcony with plants whose pots were painted colourfully, smartly framed paintings and photos lining the staircase and offices, sofas overlooking the balcony beside a pantry well stocked with snacks, beverage makers and pretty crockery. In effect, you knew on a visit, the place was owned by a woman, but more so a daughter from the portraits of my parents that hung about you.
It was after putting all of my dreams into this project, not the least of which was the efforts into hiring more people, making corporate client presentations and signups, that husband declared his inability to move to Calcutta, the impracticality of it now- in his view. So here I was back to sacrificing my dream all over again, for in no indefinite terms it comes anywhere before family for me. When you let go off your dream mid-flight, after all the effort in taking off, you crash land emotionally. It is as painful as amputation of your limbs, let’s say in this case it be your wings you are brutally eliminating to bring you quickly to hard ground reality.
Then in this case, my dream balloon was also wrapped in my childhood memories, fuelled by longing for the essence of my father’s hands, upholding his aspirations for the tree-house he had built (as he had lived atop the Press in the attic till he married) in the lonely woods he walked into coming alone from Dacca, in erstwhile East Pakistan.