Drawing vivid images of her childhood in Amritsar during the tumultuous 1950s, actor-painter Deepti Naval kept the audience glued to their seats at a literary meet here as she shared tales of emotional turmoil and tribulations in the aftermath of Independence and Partition from her memoir 'A Country Called Childhood'.
Naval, who was in the city to participate in the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival, read excerpts from the memoir at one of the sessions on Saturday, describing the lanes and bylanes of Amritsar, her convent school experiences, and the lessons she learned from her parents.
"We would go to Manali during summer vacations and stay at a hotel there for Rs 50 a month. I would call it the apple cottage because there was nothing else available around other than the fruit. My mum would include apples in all meals," she said, walking down the corridors of memory.
Talking about the maternal side of the family that hailed from Burma (now Myanmar), Naval, who made her debut in Shyam Benegal's 'Junoon', shared the ordeal her mother, grandmother and other relatives had to go through when Japan invaded the country during World War II. Her eyes lit up when she narrated how her grandmother refused to let go of her gramophone despite all the struggles she had to endure to cross the border and enter India.
"The gramophone still sits in my painting studio. I should bring it to Kolkata sometime," Naval said. Her stories of India-Pakistan war, and the horrors of Partition, as told to her by her father, struck a chord with the Calcutta audiences, who have heard similar tales from their forebears. The 70-year-old actor also recounted that it took one Balraj Sahni's play for her to decide that she would either be an actor or a nun.
"I was in the awe of this tall, handsome and most elegant human being. It was then I decided that I will be an actor, and if not that, a nun," Naval, who was deeply influenced by the educators in her convent school, said. Asked why she called her childhood a country, the acclaimed actor said, "Childhood grooms you, nurtures you and makes you who you are. Only a country can do that."