Calcutta Diaries..Life in Kolkata.
I was recently asked a couple of straightforward questions by one of my close relatives ,
“How long are you planning to stay back here, son? What about your plans to move to England? There’s nothing left in here…Kolkata is a junkyard of lost dreams!”
She went on with it for another ten minutes or so…to magnify all the reasons why I should start packing immediately with a voice thumping with energy and a hint of sarcasm in it when it came to the third and final question ,
“Are you ever going to leave?”
Well , I found no answer , but a smile. Am I ever going to leave? Can I ? A tough one , indeed!
Good Old Days
I can’t really present myself from Kolkata (Calcutta). Yeah , I was born here , but at the mere age of around one month , I had to shift to Dhanbad , Bihar (now in Jharkhand) with my parents. Having spent over thirteen years of my life in the coal — capital of India , I felt nothing for Kolkata.
After moving to Kolkata , I used to miss the lush green fields of my colony , the over-crowded hellish trekkers moving through the roads which felt like the cyclone ride of Nicco Park , the rush of dirt and sand in the eyes…it was different , it was sweet. The first few years in Kolkata were the struggling times , trying to tune in to a different air , a different weather , different people.
I didn’t quite love my city life.
A View At My Native District of Dhanbad
I made some friends. Some guys from my new school in Kolkata and sensed a slow stream of love and interest cruising through my mind.
I was growing up.
I started visiting places , loved them..but not quite like I used to love in Dhanbad. Years passed and things started to get serious.
I was growing up.
The brain started to work more than the heart. The raindrops stopped being sweet and the “andhi” ( Nor’ Wester) storms after a hot summer afternoon became extinct.
I was growing up.
This city taught me that “love” isn’t really all lovey — dovey and easy as in the films. It taught me that one loses more than one earns , to lose again. I understood that we wouldn’t eventually have a ‘fairy tale’ ending. I got the smell of petrol and smoke…I fought the tears and fought to smile.
Yeah , I had finally grown up.
But , am I ever going to leave?
A Lost Dream?
A metropolitan city.
Millions of heartbeats.
Millions of births.
Millions of deaths.
How do people survive here? I wonder. The luxury of the high rise skyscrapers reside hand-in-hand with the miseries of the slums of the paara. A Mercedes rushes past the broken hand-driven cart of a construction worker.
A place where one curses the auto drivers for blocking his path during peak office hours, but eventually finds an auto waiting for the late night passengers returning from their jobs at 12 am. A city where no matter how much you howl , curse and cry at the top of your voice box at a bus driver to speed up , he keeps his ears dedicated to an antique FM system. But , the same driver is surely going to pick you up when you are helplessly stranded in Bypass , all alone , miles away from the stoppage.
Not enough space to rest your long legs when you find a seat? Take the last row or stand and travel…Kolkata has grave problems and the easiest of solutions. (Take it from me… above six feet and I find it best to avoid the mini-buses. Neither do my legs fit , nor does my head).
The public transports are damn cheap! You can have a tour of the whole city for less than 10 rupees.
But the citizens generally don’t have any time for all that...
Kolkata loves its heritage. Reason? The trams. Nowhere in this world will you be able to trace such a tramway system which can be as slow as a sloth..continuously threatened by the encroaching cars and buses. You can get run over any time while getting on or off a tram in the midst of a wave of traffic. But , taking a short trip to Dalhousie with your lover’s hand on your lap , with the rain splashing against the window pane…priceless!
I witness the crowd near Hudco , Ultadanga at 11 pm , while returning from my work place. Can’t be less than thirty to fifty people , and an equal number scattered , running after shuttle taxis and private cars.
“We can try that lorry…”,
a whisper rings in my ears. Source? A fellow unfortunate soul like me…all drenched in sweat and anguish! Wait! Is that a CTC bus to Tollygunge? You bet YES! Time? 11:30 pm. The service continues even after midnight. But even then, I heard passengers discussing ,
“Ei vanga chora bus gulo j ki kore era rastae namae…chi!” (How can these people still continue with these shattered buses? To hell with you!)
You are bound to come across ,
“ O dada , garita thik vabe chalan na! amra manush na goru verar dol…Eto jore chalachish…maal khechish naki?” (Hey You! Are we passengers a herd of cattle? Stop driving so fast , you moron! Are you drunk?)
We Kolkatans tend to forget to note the time…12 am…and the driver is a human being and he too is in a hurry to return to his family after a long day behind the steering , almost dead in the strangling heat of the engine.
Oh , and one last thing. No matter how packed the bus is , there is always a
“dada vetor e dhukun na. puro fanka roeche vetor ta r sobkota gate er samne natok korche!” “e vai , na namle sorey darao , pechone manush e namte chesta korche” “Ei j samner conductor , ebar ki bari theke tule anbi naki lokeder?” ( Hey move inside , will you? It’s damn vacant in the middle and look at all these duffers fighting at the gate…Move aside! We are trying to get off the bus…You bloody conductor! Are you going to abduct people from their home now? How long will we wait? )
Be it the bus or the metro rail , if you don’t fight and participate in stampedes while boarding and descending , you are not the fittest, your possibility of survival is quickly fading away. You have to call names , push , then get pulled , kick , punch and then give up and move with the flow. You have to get on and off the coaches all together…at a time , twenty people if possible , through a single gate. People can hang by a finger on to a bus. Thank Heavens that metro train has an automatic door lock system!
Falling In Love
Kolkata has a fragrance of its own. One has to have a nose to smell it.
It’s nice to saunter down the sidewalks even when no one is there to accompany me.
I descend at Central Metro station. A couple of minutes walk through the ever-deafening B.B Ganguly Street…a right turn to reach Robert Street and voilà…a mini London reveals itself…Bow Street. According to the singer Anjan Dutt, “The elegy of an old sunshine!” The Barracks , the old China Town , The Armenian Street with the old Synagogue , the Persis…the days of glory they had.
Kolkata has treasures to offer the food — fanatics. For the citizens , there’s nothing in the world like having a round of phuchkas with friends after school or college.
One can stumble upon a Chinese food stall at every more. Forget about the hygiene…the sheer smell of an egg roll or a plate of biryani can make every mouth water. A second year BSc.lad from Rajabazar says “I like it better in the stalls. Who spends hundreds in five — star restaurants when it’s so much fun in here with mates?” The porota — kosha mangsho of Golbaari , the chholey batorey of New Market , Firpo’s , Chacha’s , syrups near Lighthouse Cinema , the roshogolla , malaai chomchom , jilipi , singaara , beguni ar alur chop of North……never been to a paradise? Try Kolkata!
FOOTBALL...East Bengal. Mohun Bagan.
The never– ending battle between the bangaal (East Bengalis) and ghoti (West Bengalis)!
A foreigner is bound to rub his eyes while experiencing the insanity this city preserves for the game , who can imagine that India has kind of reserved the 160th spot for itself in world rankings?
“Kolkata manei football ar football manei Kolkata!” ( Kolkata means football and football means Kolkata ) , exclaims a junior player.
You can meet a hell lot of them rubbing the mud off their shorts. They come regularly to Maidan after school during the monsoon. How can they manage to dribble in the puddles? Well , that’s an expertise they treat as their birth right since the day they get to know the game.
Cricket and Sourav Ganguly! Sachin Tendulkar! Juboraaj ( Yuvraj )! Dhoni! These are not just names , but heartthrobs! This city could forget being Indian for a day and support a foreign team when they dared to drop Sourav from the national squad. The pain in the eyes of Rahul Dravid…I guess some of you still remember that! Kolkata doesn’t give a damn. You dare drop a Bengali? We are going to drop you!
The scorching heat , the sweat , the water — logged Amherst Street during each and every monsoon , the Akashbaani’s special transmission on the dawn of Mahalaya , the first pujor dhaaker bol (a special drum used during occasions) , the cold winter mornings…All mingled up much like the people. The diversities in language , culture and tradition is unique in the world.
The citizens of Kolkata have a special interest in politics.
You talk about state , national or international politics , we can make a whole evening pass in a blink over a cup of coffee!
The rocker addar thek , bhaar e cha ar lero biskut (the evergreen chit chat sessions usually held in any possible place one can come up with…steaming tea served in earthen cups)…the boimela and the guitar bajie gaan…you don’t belong to Kolkata if you don’t know what these mean.
A teenager , too scared to approach , still affords to wait for hours in the boipaara (College Street) to have a glimpse of the girl laughing her heart out with her friends. A group of old pals still manages to walk miles sharing a couple of cigarettes and takes pride to have saved the fare…to spend it all on cigarettes again.
The Coffee House
Who says that the epitaph of the adda culture is being laid? Ranging from literature , arts , politics , sports , cuisines etc.to the ‘slightly more serious’ pnpcs…checking out a pretty girl or the handsome sober boy by the railing , it goes on and on. How come the younger son of a relative’s uncle’s colleague marry an aboriginal girl , whether there is excessive sugar in the coffee , the newly — acquired Bangla slangs , pondering over a script or the opening lines of a poetry…it just goes on.
Will we ever leave?
Music and the City
From Hemanta Mukherjee , Kishor Kumar , Mohammad Rafi , Manna Dey , Lata Mangeskar , Asha Bhosle to Nachiketa Chakraborty , Kabir Suman (Suman Chatterjee ) , Anjan Dutt , Shilajit Majumdar , Monomoy Bhattacharya…music is in the veins of this city.
Bangla band. A sensation among the young generation. It can range from slash to folk…but again it’s different.
One can definitely argue whether the magic is still as captivating or not…but the music is. It’s not just a few strums on your fancy guitar , but a life , a dream , a revolution.
KOLKATA — A SACRED LAND OF CHARITY , RELIGION , SCIENCE , ARTS AND LITERATURE. The city of Rabindranath Tagore , Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose , Mother Teresa , Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay , Jagadish Chandra Bose , Vivian Derozio , Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee…the list continues and the achievements require thousands of pages to cover. Patriotism is implanted to the roots of the megacity.
Satyajit Ray , Mrinal Sen , Uttam Kumar , Suchitra Sen , Jahar Roy , Rabi Ghosh, Soumitra Chatterjee , Sandhya Ray , Chhaya Devi… the names were the childhood excuses to skip a sunday afternoon tuition.
The Bengalis are not only educated when it comes to the films , but they indeed have an appetite for new releases every single Friday.
The Legacy Continues!
The industry is developing each and every day. The change in the mentality of the fans has been urging the directors to come up with newer innovative ideas. The modern constellation of stars does have some bright light and the casts can cause a riot in front of the halls on the release days.
Will Tollywood be able to be one of the best in the country?
The stage looks all set!
What will attract you to visit Kolkata?
The hand — driven rickshaws , the narrow lanes of the North , Victoria Memorial , The Monument , the old mansions on Ripon Street , the first tram moving along the green Gorer Maath…history still speaks around every corner.
Don't Stop Believing!
This city has taught me yet another lesson. You will never get what you want , at least not at that particular moment. You will get what you don’t like at all. You got to give in , not give up. You got to hang around , keep breathing and wait for some fresh air.
It’s not just about surviving , rather keeping that flame alive in the midst of storms.
You have to live with all the problems a human being can possibly endure. But you can’t leave. You got to return. No matter how lifeless , stinking , dirty this place can get , you can’t close your eyes forever. It keeps calling you back , calling me back.
Can I ever leave?
The smoky horizon smiles back at me. It does so every day. Dawn approaches. Another day , another fight. It’s about time we wake up.
It’s our soil. It’s our sky. It’s our Home.
It’s my Home.