Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Amra tumari Kolkata


This post is a belated birthday present to her.

A hot sultry summer. I was seven, my uncle was investigating the noble Harshad Mehta’s intentions and so we took a long vacation to Calcutta. My first impression of Bengal was water, lots of it. My second impression was of greenery. Sweets. The Bengali language. I was smitten even before I saw the Howrah bridge.

Calcutta then seemed to me as suffering from a massive colonial hangover (yes even at seven, I had such thoughts, I am exceptionally intelligent). I heard of the teeming poverty, and the black hole of Calcutta, in a huge apartment, cloistered from the harshness. Lazy afternoons, walking in parks, mishti dohi for treats. Lots of books and patient grandparents.

I still remember the day we took the metro. I was thrilled to bits. Imagine! An underground train; this is what foreign must be like. A fascination for the subway born then, and even after several rides in various megalopolises I yearn for that first ride from Kalighat to Esplanade. Amma and I took the tram. I look positively cute in those photographs (sigh!) and the city looks Orwellian. Huge buildings loom over and trams amble insignificantly, tracks gracefully merging, separating and merging yet again.

Tushanga was my first friend in the city. I was absolutely in love with her, the long hair and her cute Bangla. To me the language sounded like pearls dropping in milk. We played every day, the silly games of an innocent era, long gone. She lived in a huge building, devoid of an elevator and I ate sweets her mom fed me.

Dakshineshwar was scary. Huge. Full of beggars and strange men. I was strangely captivated by the aarti. The dhol pounded, cymbals clanged and the conch blew out, calling to the Goddess. Ancient tunes, designed to rouse primal emotions and mere mortals could only sway to the rhythm. Mesmerizingly captivating, antithetical to the silent placid Hooghly flowing beside it.

I wish to go back again. The years may not have added wisdom, but I am more knowledgeable now. A part of me wants to gaze shamelessly at hot girls, another wants to make sense of communism. Addas. Rabindra sangeet. Absorb literature. Take the metro. I want to roam the streets, savour mishti dohi again. Bite into a roshogolla. Be enchanted by the aarti to Kali maa. Listen to a beautiful girl's thoughts in Bangla.

I want to go to Calcutta.

23 comments:

Elusive said...

Never been to Kolkata, this makes me want to pack my bag and hit the city.. though i've always held an affinity towards it because of the brilliant literature genius's it has produced.

varali said...

Ah, prose that is like poetry!

sthitapragnya said...

Just an observation - on the one hand you say u were exceptionally intelligent even at 7 and then go on to say the years have failed to add wisdom? Isn't that self-contradictory? :P :D Anyway, about Kolkata, this post dug up old memories! I remember walking out of the Howrah station, taking a cab and marveling at the RT Sethu until it went out of sight! What a spectacle! I remember collecting little pebbles with my cousin in front of Victoria Memorial! The metro ride, the Dakshineshwar temple, the squalid lanes. The Hoogly was in full spate when I went, far from placid! The boat ride was called off. Aaahh! Amaar shonaar bangla! aami tomaae bhalo bhashi!

Coconut Chutney said...

Your post was as sweet as sondesh :)

gauri said...

What's stopping you? :-)

-g

Fat Gujju! said...

"sounded like pearls dropping in milk"
dude for this one comparision i will come down hug u...
beautifully written...
splendid!!

maxdavinci said...

wo gaad, perals and milk! watay analogy...

All i can think of kolkotta is hilsa fish and rosagollas! (childhood)

Now my memories are of sloshed women in the discotheque of the Park Hotel! They'd come, change, dance drink and then change and head home before their moms woke up!

buddy said...

@elusive: go go..also do the northeast and come!

@varali: honoured. thanks

@karthik: u of all ppl must understand the difference between knowledge and wisdom..pah!

@chutney:taste mishti dohi..madness guaranteed

@gauri: distance :(

@fat gujju: come come..we'll roam

@max: fish, sloshed women..u need a crash course on the Gita ASAP

Vivek said...

Distance stopping you??
:-D
Its sooo similar to the I wanna go home tune!
NIce.

padmaja said...

Never been there. You make it sound so interesting.. :)

sthitapragnya said...

aaeeyii! Wisdom comes from intelligence, knowledge only adds to it! You said you were exceptionally intelligent and yet failed to become wise, in spite of being knowledgeable. I think I've made my point, and I now realise how lame we are to be arguing on something so silly! Sorry, but I had to clarify! And yes, max soooo needs a brainwash, not just a crash course! The dusht paapi brahman that he is!

swatimala said...

1st of all, thank u 4 the birthday present...

and tht was 1 of the most beautiful pieces i have ever read bout kolkata

swatimala said...

tumi khub bhalo likhecho :)

likhte theko aar kolkata aabar jeo

chocoliciousgal said...

nice one
'pearls dropping on milk ' bala :) ?? but even the aarti and the hoogly comparison was awesum :) :)
Oh yup and my fav...gulab jamun and rosagollas :) (dont drool on the computer screen will u :P)

buddy said...

@vivek: Missing India at several levels

@padmaja:You must visit once

@karthik: im ignoring you, and max mama is bhrasht

@swatimala: :)

@chocoliciousgal: gulab jamun is not Bangla!! grrr..and i spilt cereal on my office laptop! woe is me :(

neha vish said...

Somehow, I've always understood Bangla rather easily, despite never having learned the language. And all my closest friends have been Bengali. And I am frequently mistaken for one. (Round face, love sweets and talks with mouth full)

Liberal said...

nice post...made me think of the city I had visited but was too young to remember it now...i just remember the metro

gradwolf said...

nice one! All I know about Calcutta is from whatever was written in A Suitable Boy!

buddy said...

@neha vish: lol

@liberal: metro seemed so posh back then no?

@gradwolf: you managed to finish it? wow

maami said...

Ish!Tumi etho Kolkata bhalo basho?
But I have to say this:The Bengali woman is like the hilsa:appetising, stimulating, delicious but she demands a lot of patience-no grabbing and chewing her- you'll end up with knife-like sharp bones in your throat no less!

buddy said...

aah..advice from the elders...will keep that in mind
nice analogy!

vitruvian said...

amaar kolkattaar sambandhey kichchu monei nai...
but i would be willing make new ones at the drop of a hat after reading your sketch of the city!

Historiophile said...

hmm...one of the first things that wud strike you as you move from mumbai to kolkata is that life become slow..almost slow motion as if you are not watching a live match, but its replay.
If you want to reach a place in half an hour instead of walking for 15 minutes, then you take a tram..so slow it is..
so its no wonder Bengalis are such great observers of the life at its mundane...they get and they take so much time to observe it
And yes when i visited Dakshineshwar, I too was a bit scared...so much khachakhach crowd, beggars and all..and I was at the ripe age of 23 then. It was somewhat sad bcos the temple has such great architecture but the filth around gets you irritated.
The Belur Math is awesome ...probably the best place to see in Kolkata and you really feel spiritual there
And I agree the best thing about Kolkata is its Metro.
With regards to Kolkata, i may sound like a bit like VS Naipaul vis-a-vis India, but I am not that bad :P and neither is Kolkata