Last year while applying for my mother’s passport we got stuck at a particular column, - “Is your permanent address same as your present address?” My mother started living with us in 2009 after my father had passed away. We were no doubt very confused ... as to how to resolve this issue.
This took me to early 80s, when my elder sister came back unsuccessful, for not being able to complete her registration form for writing the secondary examination under the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. In those days, each candidate had to compulsorily fill-in this form before appearing for the secondary examination. An important column of the form was to declare one’s permanent address. My father came to Calcutta to study, but could never return to his ancestral home in East Bengal post the partition of Bengal in 1947. Though both of my uncles’ had settled comfortably near Kolkata, my father migrated to North Bengal in search of employment after his graduation in the 50s. On the other hand, my mother was born in Calcutta and travelled along with her physician father and spent her teens in the tea gardens of North Bengal in the 50s as well. They too had their roots in East Bengal.
Naxalbari of my childhood
Photo Credit: S. Banerjee
My parents started their life together from a rented accommodation in Naxalbari, where my mother took a job in the local high school. Both my sister and I grew up in several of our rented accommodations in Naxalbari and Siliguri – the nearby town since late 60s. And in early 80s, when the time came to declare a permanent address, we did not have anything else to declare as our address, rather than our small two-room rented accommodation in Siliguri. In those days one’s identity was linked to one’s permanent address. Naturally, the school authorities asked “But, how come a rented accommodation could be one’s permanent address?” We were left with no other option but to eventually declare our uncle’s address as our permanent address. Those were the days when I envied my friends, who had their own permanent accommodations or should I say permanent address in Siliguri or elsewhere.
The situation soon changed, when my parents built our home in Siliguri. This was couple of kilometres away from the neighbourhood, where we had been living earlier. Nevertheless, we were more than happy to get our own permanent address. When I moved to Kerala for higher studies, I remember I proudly declared my permanent address as 21 Gokhale Road, Siliguri. Later, on shifting to Delhi to pursue my Ph.D. I did not hesitate to ask the university authority to send my certificate to my permanent address - 21 Gokhalle Road, Siliguri. By that time, both my sister and I had left West Bengal leaving our old retired parents back at 21 Gokhale Road. What can we do? For my sister there was perhaps no matching groom left in West Bengal. All of them had left home and settled in different parts of India... Pune, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Gurgaon. And for me, nothing was left in West Bengal, except my memories and the place called home. Perhaps, I had no intention even to go back to West Bengal and fight for my jobs or rights. Anyways, when I applied for my first passport in 2001, I declared 21 Gokhale Road as my permanent address. When, a Delhi Police constable came to check my hostel address at 116 E Brahmapurta Hostel in JNU, I proudly told him to go and check my background at 21 Gokhale Road in my home town – Siliguri. I was so proud that I had a permanent address a symbol of a permanence and recognizable identity in this country.
21Gokhale Road, Siliguri
Photo Credit: Rajib Nandi
But, we did not have to wait long for another change, when my mother came to live with us in our rented accommodation in East Delhi. Our 21 Goklahe Road house was not locked completely. The ground floor was rented out to a young couple, primarily to look after the property. And the first floor was under lock and key, with the intention of coming back once in a while to spend our holidays. In the next five years, nothing changed at 21 Gokhale Road, but in the meantime we moved to our newly purchased apartment in Indirapuram.
Present inhabitation at Indirapuram, Ghaziabad
Photo Credit: Rajib Nandi
Incidentally, we realized that my mother needed to apply for a passport to travel with us to Thailand. The passport application had become much easier these days, on the condition that you should have your basic papers ready with you. You register with the passport site, pay your fees online, take an appointment and be present on a particular day with your original documents at the nearest passport office. However, one thing that I noticed had not changed at all, that is the question on one’s permanent address. Now we have our own apartment in NCR Delhi, and the old permanent address is under lock and key. But, what should be her permanent address? The place, where my uncle once lived and died? The house she built along with her husband and lived for thirty years before moving on to live with us? Even this place where we live now, is it our permanent address? I’m sure, we won’t think twice about moving to somewhere else whenever an ‘opportunity’ comes. Do we really have any permanent address? Do the aspiring middle-class families in India have any permanent address any more? All my cousins have already moved out from their respective permanent addresses to Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and further ‘down or above’ to Europe and North America. No one has either any scope or intention to go back and live at the places built by their respective parents or grand parents. The house where no one lives in - could that be our permanent address? Or the flat where we currently live in, without knowing how long we are going to live here?
The (Un) Intentional Wanderer
Where is Permanent Addresss????
The fact is that the urban middle class family does not have any permanent address anymore. Perhaps, they did not have any even earlier. We are the greatest examples of vagabonds roaming around all over without out any defined destination, but still searching for a living place.