Suranjana Choudhury teaches literature at North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.…
“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest”
‑ Joan Didion.
And thus it is that an absent candle factory in a small town of the writer’s childhood has become a never-seen identity
An absence often times redefines its own orbit of non-existence. It pauses, it strays, grows big and then with time, finds itself in the realm of everydayness.
Kali Candle Factory is a fantastic example of such an absence.
Desha Bandhu Road, the lane where I grew up had a candle factory, it was called Kali Candle factory.
Desha Bandhu Road is relatively a minor neighbourhood in the bigger picture of Silchar, a small provincial town.
If one were to write the history of this town, Kali Candle Factory would probably never be described or even be mentioned anywhere.
But all things don’t necessarily have to exist in the map of writing and of memories. I would want it to be preserved in an unpublished map.
I never saw the factory when I was growing up. It had ceased to exist then. I did not know what had happened to the factory, whether the cause was some compulsion or only a whim, I did not know.
I had never cared to find out. I believe most of our neighbours did not know either. That time had vanished for them.
I was told that the factory was set up by a family broken by Indian Partition of 1947, when they came to this side of the border to start life anew.
Very often an absence, a past is experienced through photographs preserved in an album, or through the lost tune of a song being suddenly played on a radio channel. These episodes make us aware of wearing out of old attachments and accepting them as they fade away and dissolve
The area was sparsely populated. The factory perhaps had reconstituted some lives wrecked by that cruel displacement.
After all, many of us know that Partition had caused such multiple ruthless displacements. I asked my father about the beginning of Kali candle factory the other day.
He remembers little about its history. We hardly care about beginnings, it is the end that matters and bears consequences. It was an absence which was never perceived as an absence.
Very often an absence, a past is experienced through photographs preserved in an album, or through the lost tune of a song being suddenly played on a radio channel.
These episodes make us aware of wearing out of old attachments and accepting them as they fade away and dissolve. Kali Candle Factory had expanded itself into something bigger, something interesting.
This seemingly insignificant landmark had given our lane an identity which would remain with it forever. I never saw any building that bore its name, but I had been shown the spot where it had existed earlier.
Its absence had replenished itself through everyday references and conversations. Kali candle was our mythical signpost. It amuses me to realise that whenever I say, I love my home town Silchar,
I mean not its contoured location in a map, rather I mean its freedom from everything that is cartographic and geography-oriented.
The territoriality of a cricket match, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose or Swami Vivekananda birthday celebrations, euphoric Puja processions or biweekly arrival of kerosene vendor would remain crucially connected with its reference.
A barber’s corner, a tailor shop, a paper house, a homeopathy clinic built around the tip of our lane could never acquire that cult position.
A puny, dilapidated tobacco shop around the corner could claim slight competition.
Whenever a Kaku, Pishi or Mama residing in our neighbourhood would refer to the past of the locality, he or she would very often draw upon some story that was intimately connected with that spot.
The richness and complexity of these stories emerged from something that was at once endearing and unknown.
Kali Candle Factory had something added to it through the narrator’s imagination. The factory became an entity that was partly real and partly imagined.
This absent landmark contains more than just our past and present, it also suggests a possible future. This is how an absence arrives, randomly and curiously.
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Suranjana Choudhury teaches literature at North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Her essays and reviews have been published in Scroll.in, The Wire, Biblio, The Statesman, Café Dissensus, Humanities Underground, Coldnoon Travel Poetics and Elsewhere. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org