My memories were all I had of my past, and privately I thought about them over and over, trying to ensure I didn’t ‘beget’.
Some of these memories were good, and some of them bad – but I couldn’t have one without the other, and I couldn’t let them go.
The people in the station weren’t people at all, but a great solid mass I couldn’t make any impact on, like a river or the sky.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me had he not taken me in, or had I refused to trust him.
Today, there are perhaps a hundred thousand homeless kids in Kolkata, and a good many of them die before they reach adulthood.
It was only a couple of years after my period on the streets that the notorious ‘Stoneman’ murders began in Calcutta, following the same phenomenon in Bombay. Somebody started murdering homeless people bedding down at night, especially around the city’s major station, by dropping a large rock or slab of concrete onto their heads as they slept. Thirteen people died over a six-month period and no-one was ever charged (though the killings stopped after the police detained a psychologically disturbed suspect). Had I stayed on the street, there’s every chance I wouldn’t be alive today, and certainly not writing this book.
I later learnt that Ganesh is often called the Remover of Obstacles, and Lord of Beginnings. I wonder whether that was why the girl chose to give it to me. (Ganesh is also Patron of Letters, and so, in a way, is the patron of this book.)
That initial disbelieving desperation to get home – that feeling that, unless the world was immediately put back the way it had been, I couldn’t survive, couldn’t exist – had long faded. The world was now what I saw around me, the situation I was in.
Instinct, memory, doubt and excitement were all coursing through me at once.
Even at this first meeting, though, she told me she was grateful to my parents who had raised me in Australia, and that they had the right to call me their son because they had raised me from a child and made me the man I was today.
‘Everything is written’: destiny takes its inevitable path.
I would never have imagined when I left here that I would one day willingly return, yet here I was now, looking over the place, a tourist of my old terrors.