With the nip in the air, and the year drawing to its end, I suddenly feel nostalgic… It’s time for the Christmas bells to ring, and those familiar chimes – or the absence of them from my present life – take me back to the winding bylanes and labyrinths of my childhood.

Growing up in the proximity of a church meant that, for seventeen years, my Sunday mornings were synchronized with the ringing of the bells – ding-dang-dong instead of the usual ding-dong. As a child I was elated; and I would rush out of bed and run to our Scottish tenant, Mr. Clinton. My earliest memories of the church are, walking every Sunday along the dusty road from my house to Don Bosco, with my little hand carefully ensconced between Mr. Clinton’s fingers, and attending the prayers, during which I would only stare wide-eyed at the towering crucifix, the beautiful candles, the intimidating musical instruments and the rows of friendly neighbours. Often when Mr. Clinton’s daughter, Fiona (who was studying in the hills and was two years younger than me) would come down to the plains to spend a short weekend with her father, she would join us on our weekly tryst. We made quite a spectacle I guess – two tiny children, one blonde, the other black-haired, one on either side, with one of their hands outstretched, clinging on to the massive palms of a towering gentleman.

Strangely we never knew the name of our neighbourhood church. We always called it the ‘Don Bosco Church’, probably because it happened to be either built by the authorities of the school or maybe simply because it lay near the school. Anyway, the absence of a proper name never bothered us, and even after Mr. Clinton and Fiona had moved, I spent a large chunk of my childhood, playing in and around the church with my friends. It’s unassuming, yet looming Gothic structure welcomed us and the well-manicured garden was the perfect spot for us to play hide-and-seek and get lost among the bushes. Those were the days of carefree childhood, before the internet had come to keep us occupied. We spent long afternoons frolicking about, slyly opening one of the massive windows to see how the sleepy church looked when there was no one inside. We climbed the winding stairway to the terrace, only to come rushing back again, or simply sat on the grass and watched the already long shadows growing longer.

Beside my first alma-mater, Auxilium Convent, which was nearly opposite the church (save for the winding road which led to it), was the infamous graveyard of the parish. All of us had conjured up horrors related to it, but would still venture out before it got dark, maybe to just savour the fear of standing in front of a graveyard. I imagined many romantic stories related to it – stories that I had read in long-forgotten books having fantastic settings… Till I left for Kolkata, I would often stand on my terrace at night and look at the red light at the church’s spire, and wonder how peaceful it was then.

Kolkata greeted me with all its hustle, din and activity, and my earliest days here were spent in a tiny room on Bidhan Sarani, overlooking the busy street as well as (coincidentally) the not-so-high towers of Christ Church, adjacent to Bethune College. In the new city, I was acquainted with many other kinds of sounds, and my day began by waking up to the rumble of one of the innumerable trams. My varied acoustic platter provided no room for the familiar “ding-dang-dong” and before long, the memory of those chimes vanished to be replaced by the new sights, sounds and perceptions of this amazing city. After I had shifted to a different and quieter neighbourhood, for many months I couldn’t decipher the reason for my emptiness every Sunday. It was only before my first Christmas here that all the memories came flooding back…

I haven’t been able to visit the church for nearly four years now. I have no touch with those childhood playmates; I don’t know if the church still looks the same; if it still has the red light looming every night; if the graveyard still gives that familiar chill mixed with a strange sense of longing…

Ding-dang-dong always rang the bells of the church. It wasn’t long after I had deciphered the reason for the difference in its chime, that I moved to Kolkata. The familiar chime from the ghost of my childhood reminds me of passing time, of the innumerable journeys that I have to make, and that time is running short.


~ by Samraghni Bonnerjee on December 24, 2009.

5 Responses to “ding-dang-dong”

  1. A perfect prelude to Christmas…

  2. innocence,memories lovely joy

  3. somehow,having just read this piece,i am wondering about all the memories of my childhood that i can no longer recall.as for you,samraghni-sublime,would be a complement too inadequate!great going!!

  4. poignant…with a bit of the icy taste lingering on the tip of your tongue…

  5. you really know how to get tears in one’s eyes with all those days of yore… childhood days are not to be forgotten… they are created to be cherished till, as Landon Carter says, they fade away with the smells and scenes of those times…

    Great blog…

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