Kolkata summer afternoons are for slumber: sweltering, sticky, dense. In the 1980s, when I was a child, I began to notice women on the street in starched crisp saris, carrying umbrellas, handkerchiefs and iced water bottles, walking with sweaty armpits, backs dabbed with talcum powder. Vegetable, fruit and flower sellers hoisted sheets of jute, marking them closed for the afternoon. We lived on Theatre Road, facing the planetarium, cathedral, three bus stops, the Victoria Memorial and the big Maidan (open field), where I witnessed thousands marching to the chant of “Inqalab, Zindabad!” — “Long live the revolution!”
Back indoors, my grandmother Indri and I were conspiring a tiny revolution of our own. Every afternoon, we dedicated my after-school hours to daydreaming: Indri would invite me to become someone different, offering a new fantasy every time. Between the ages of 3 and 10 I have been a school teacher, a medical doctor, the prime minister, a flight attendant and even an astronaut. While it was just the two of us in play, she gave me the freedom and power to imagine, dream and become.
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