Tag Archives: Calcutta

Calcutta Calling!

Oh, Calcutta. You beauty.

The moment I stepped out of the airplane, the air came down on me warm and heavy! My body knew it was in Calcutta before my brain could even decode the neural transmissions. I can feel dampness in my breath. My hair feels sticky all over. And my jeans feel like they’ve shrunk two sizes. Time to tie my hair in a bun. Calcutta, here I come!

As I walk down the too familiar lanes of the neighbourhood I was brought up in, I see known faces, known shops, the same muri seller, fruit vendor, cobbler, security guards and even beggars. I smile at them, some smile back, some don’t. Some remember me, throw a greeting, others don’t, wondering if the heat is playing with their mind. Even the graffiti on the wall seems the same! A wave of nostalgia washes over me again, yet again. I say yet again because every six months that I head back to town, I realise how little it has changed and how the comfort of knowing the place makes me feel happy and sheltered.

The more I look around, draw comparatives, recall memories of times spent in the nooks and crannies of the city, the more I realise nothing’s changed. Nothing’s changed and yet something has. The city has moved on without me yet it remains the same. I can smell the sweat, hear the shouts of the boudi in the bus, see the kids taking a shower under water tanker tap, feel the camaraderie only this city exudes. And yet I too have changed. The nostalgia washes over as waves but I know that I will swim through these too. Home still feels home but I don’t rush to read through my scrapbooks or run my hand over the trophies I’d won.

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Maybe, like the city, I too, am growing. Older and wiser, each day.

Graciously Yours!

Plunged into darkness.

Sudipto was driving home late one night – later than usual, at least. The clock was ticking closer to welcoming the new day. The roads, broad and empty of the never-ending stream of cars, lit with street lamps on both sides, white and blue fairy lights trailing the silver poles. There were no buildings, no civilisation laying home along this road – only roads, statues and a wide, green patch in the middle of the city, fondly called the city’s lungs. He pushed the clutch and rammed the car into the fourth gear as he approached Red Road. Parts of his twelve-year-old ambassador creaked at the engine speed falling a decade or so short of a ton. He could never drive at such speeds with a passenger at the back – they called it rash driving – but this was when he enjoyed his bread earning life choice. It was always the bus and taxi drivers who drove rashly, never the rule admonishing pedestrian or the swerving bikers and honking and overtaking private cars.

He took the circuitous path home through Red Road, choosing to enjoy the wind rather than hurrying to park the taxi in the garage. The window on his side was already open, so he leaned to the left to roll down the passenger window too. The wind rushed into the car from both sides, driving out the smells of the day – the food, the sweat, the leather. He threw open a few more buttons of his front open shirt, unzipping his pants. The sudden touch of air on his sweat-caked skin made him shiver, a rarity in the humid city.

The next right would take him towards home. As he approached the turn, he still honked on the deserted road out of practised caution. The next moment he got distracted by someone waving out from the extreme left side of the road – he saw it out of the corner of his eye. He had slowed down for the turn but his head was now craned towards the left to see if he could help the person. He saw glimpses of white and then nothing more. Just like that, there was no one there anymore. He blinked his eyes rapidly, not sure if he was hallucinating before or now. His hands turning the wheel right and legs controlling the speed, he’d made the turn and sharply looked right to check again towards where he’d seen the hapless soul but nothing anymore. He’d heard stories of hauntings before but had never believed in them. He wasn’t afraid. He dismissed the incident and looked ahead to find the lane plunged in darkness. As if on cue with his sight on the road, the car’s headlights flickered off and the engine sputtered to a stop. Now he was afraid.

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Graciously Yours!

Calcutta Feels.

I was brought up in Calcutta. I lived for more than two decades in that city and I came to love it for its views, its vices, its pace, its charm, its tea stalls and the addas, its humidity and its rabindra sangeet. There were days I couldn’t stand the lethargy in the air. Then there were days I would choose that as the city I wanted to spend my life in forever.

But life happened and I moved to Bangalore. I still don’t belong to Bangalore though. Over time, I probably stopped thinking about belonging somewhere. It was just the work, the book, the blog, the friends, the outings. But what about the feeling that a city is yours, that you can see it even with your eyes closed, hear it even when you’re miles away from it? Well, I felt that again, after long!

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Durga Puja, the biggest festival of the city of joy calls for Calcuttans, Bengalis and non Bengalis to come together in all parts of the world. After office, we travelled across almost half the city to one of the famous puja pandals set up here. Bangalore traffic is omnipresent and it is always a sore sight. But traffic around the pandal was different. It was made up of people decked in glittering jewellery and shiny garb set aside specially for the Puja is Calcutta feels! The red big bindis come out of the vanity boxes, the backless cholis are back, the umbrellas open up even when it is just barely drizzling, the starched kurtas see the night after long and the Jadavpur University jholas which can carry anything from bananas, water bottles, wallets and even a pair of spare shoes, maybe! I was staring at a mini Calcutta in Bangalore. My Calcutta.

Calcutta has makeshift pandals which boast of our creativity, culture, imagination and these days the latest social causes and trends. This one was none of that, with the idol being placed inside the permanent structure of a convention centre and the grounds turned into an exhibition venue with stalls of books, food and clothes lined up. I even caught a stall of German schools you can send your kids to. So Bangalore-ish!

But this was also all of that. The grounds were filled with advertisement banners – Calcutta brands like our beloved Presidency University, P.C. Chandra Jewelers, Aaj Kal and none other than Sourav Ganguly staring out of the posters at you, wishing you a happy Puja! The Daadus were carrying their grandchildren in their arms, showing them the fanfare of the Durga, the siblings twinning, the mothers dressed as festively as their daughters, live band performances to Kishore Da tunes and the Durga herself.

In that moment when I laid my eyes on the idol of the Durga, I could not ask for anything more. My heart was so full of love and happiness, it rushed out rolling down as tears from my eyes. I guess that’s what they call the power of the Divine. It brings out what you didn’t know you had in you, the best of you, the real you.

I am happy here but I also miss my city. And I know I still belong there. No matter where I live, even if I start loving another city, I will always belong to Calcutta. Calcutta feels abound!

Graciously Yours!

P.S. : Thank you A. For dragging me along. You saw in me what I couldn’t.

THOUGHT FLASH #5

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It has been heard that 5 years ago, Mamata Banerjee won the West Bengal CM elections by painting the ruling Left Party and their debt ridden decisions in ‘red’, much of which was not exactly unwanted.

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The Republican Convention seemed quite similar in how Trump was being backed, not because he was good, but because Hilary was (apparently) bad. If the people of USA keep getting swayed such, they might even ‘trump’ the mistakes which we Calcuttans made!

Good luck, America. You need it.
Good luck, World! We need it even more.

Graciously Yours!

P.S.: I wish I could have said I made those memes, but I did not. I am still working on my humour clogs.
[Update – P.P.S.: Hilary Rodham Clinton, you are a ray of hope in the vastness of bleak!]

The unseen face.

PST

 

They could not afford the granduer of the Durga Puja pandals which were stretched across the length and breadth of the city. Their idol had none of the splendor associated with the city’s most festive days. They were five women praying to the strongest woman deity they’d ever known, celebrating her stories, wondering if she still existed somewhere among one of them.

Not many of them prayed anymore. Over the years, the numbers at the Puja had dwindled. She didn’t blame them. After all, how long can you fight against your own destiny and hope that things will change, tides will turn and the unthinkable will happen? But she hadn’t been able to forsake praying. That is the one thing that she had wholeheartedly learnt from her mother – to pray.

They weren’t a part of the privileged – if she could put it lightly. Goddesses and prayers couldn’t be an element of their daily living. Far from it, in fact. They lived in areas, the others called red light areas. She never understood where the name came from. She always wondered if the red light signified danger – and if yes, then were they a danger to society or was the society a danger to them?

She seemed to have lost herself in the sounds of the conch shell and the bells. The fragrance of the incense sticks devoured her into a trance.  Someone banged on the door. Snapping out of her trance, she opened the door. “How much longer will you all be at it? It’s almost sun down. You need to get to work,” the lady at the door, said strictly. The lady was not a bad person, but she wasn’t necessarily good either. She was, unfortunately, just right.

“We’ll be downstairs soon,” she said ruefully.

Closing the small 10 by 10 feet spare room which housed a small idol of the Goddess of the season, the five ladies trooped to their respective rooms downstairs. Taking off her red and white bangles, she kept them carefully in a velvet clothed box. Her mangalsutra* lay beside it. She’d never worn it after her wedding day. Tears welling up in her eyes, she kept the box tucked far inside her wardrobe. She removed her red bindi and stuck it on the top of the box. They were to be used again after a long time. Slowly she took off her red and white sari, an attire which held no significance in the life she was living, an attire that was to be kept hidden away from her ‘customers’, an attire that shouldn’t remind them in any manner of the life that was awaiting them outside the red light area.

She was faceless to them. Nameless to them. They wanted it that way. And she wanted to keep it that way too. She didn’t want to think of what her life meant – either to her or to them. She wanted to keep her dreams locked away in that velvet clothed box.

She was a devotee of  the Durga. But she couldn’t harness the Goddess’ strength in herself. They were devotees of the Durga too. And they didn’t want her to harness Her strength.

Graciously Yours!

Picture Courtesy : Prashant from Just Spoken Thoughts. Thank you for coming up with the beautiful sketch in almost no time! Hoping that this post will allure you into further creative collaborations! ;)

*The black and golden beaded necklace that signifies marital connection and is a part of the married Hindu woman’s attire.

Clicking your way through groceries!

Living in Calcutta? Frustrated with the daily siesta of the shopkeepers here? Don’t wish to drag your butt to the grocery store after the long hours of work and longer snarls of traffic jam?

Look who’s here! Justshop24 ~ which promises to deliver groceries at your doorstep and damn right they do!

The inventory lists at Justshop24 range from the basics of rice, dal, flour, salt to beauty products to organic foods to even sanitary napkins! It is literally the neighborhood kiraana store breaking physical barriers and becoming home delivery friendly for you.

They also offer recipes of snacks and desserts which don’t take much time to whip up. You can place an order for the recipe of your choice and they’ll send across the products you’d require for your cooking. Options to modify the ingredient list is open. I wish the number and variety of recipes provided were more because I can’t wait to try my hand at more dishes other than the ones I ordered for – cheese balls and beans on toast!

What’s better is they also have defined time slots for deliveries which you can choose from. In case you’re still unsure of your availability at the time of delivery you can add delivery instructions in case of your absence.

Now that I have received the ingredients I wanted, I can’t wait to get to the kitchen to work on them! (Don’t get your hopes too high. I’m more lazy than I am excited. 😉 But I will come around soon and let you know how cheesy those cheese balls were! )

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Graciously Yours!

Of bad singers and good ad campaigns.

The laws of Calcutta seem beyond my grasp at times. It’s almost midnight and there’s a live musical performance going on right behind my place for no reason whatsoever! At least, there’s no festival I am aware of. Christmas doesn’t call for such celebration and Durga Puja is a good ten months away!

Singers have been shouting into the microphones, speakers have been blaring, peace is being held hostage for the past five hours. At least. Why am I so irritated? Because good songs and better singers are welcome at such shows. But when the singers sound like they have bullfrogs bellowing inside of them and the noise they’re creating is on the higher side of the allowed decibel level, sleep is tossed out of the window (panes of which are vibrating!) and the post which is published is probably the tenth draft of the fourth idea which struck me while I was trying to clamp my ears with cotton, mufflers and pillows.

Distracting myself to write this post and I end up writing about what I am supposed to distract myself from! Silly me.

So you think diamonds are a girl’s best friend? And that if your fiance, husband or even boyfriend doesn’t gift you diamonds, his love for you isn’t forever? (Because diamonds last forever – forgive the analogy. All that noise is slowing me down.)

Well, congratulations! You have been duped by a very long continuing and massively successful advertising campaign started around the mid 1900’s to ensure the sudden bounty of diamonds being mined do not lose out on their previously high prices! The advertising campaign emphasized on the non-existent necessity of diamonds to be an intricate part of the holy matrimony! And thus began the race to buy diamonds, the end line of which is far from visible even today.

This reminds me of another advertising campaign which saved an entire brand from getting ruined. The Nestle India Maggi campaign! An offshoot video that I found is worth the time and smile. Specially for those who love both Maggi and Bollywood.

Graciously Yours!

P.S. : In case reading this post will result in future savings in your bank account, don’t forget to send me a thank you note! 😉 You’d make my day.

We want bans.

Of recent, the Indian Government has been ridiculously infamous for banning a lot of things in India. A few instances which flash momentarily when I think of the word ‘ban’ are the ban on Uber, ban on the BBC documentary India’s Daughter, ban on Nestle Maggi and the latest in the series is the meat ban!

Since it seems like the nature to ban things won’t change any time soon, here’s a list of bans which could make the Government look slightly better in the eyes of the common people. Free PR advice! Take it more than you leave it.

  • India is a multicultural, multilingual, multiracial, multireligion (if such a word exists) country. The number of Hindu Gods alone are 330 million. One can barely fathom truly how many festivals India celebrates in a year. Here in Calcutta, almost each area has a separate pandal (makeshift bamboo structures, often elaborate and adorned) which house bigger-than-life-sized clay structures of the Gods and Goddesses as per the occasion. And there are speakers installed at each one of those which play music almost all round the festival day. Which music, you’d ask. Spiritual music, you’d expect. They play Bollywood songs. Most of which had been created by the music directors purely for the purpose of being danced on after downing a few shots at the pub. This needs to be banned, if not to spare us mortals, then at least to spare the Gods from listening to that rubbish. (A friend tells me that even blood donation camps organised by some local clubs are a flimsy excuse for playing loud music all day long.)
  • There’s a beautiful and talented cousin, Sarita, who thinks it would be a favour to ban indecent and tasteless ‘creative’ musical content produced by some artists rather than crackers on Diwali! Hers is a strong demand but then of late that is exactly what we’ve been treated to. For all those who’re unaware of what I am talking about, here’s a short list :

Laila Teri Le Legi

One Two Three Four

Dhating Naach

Saree Ke Fall Sa

Aaj Blue Hai Paani

On a serious note, I’ve met kids, both affluent and poor, who recite these crude lyrics faster than the multiplication table of 13. And if that isn’t a cause for concern, then I’ll have to look up the meaning of concern again.

  • Vartika, a friend, complains about the usage of footpaths as roads by two wheelers. (Another friend was travelling by a three-wheeler auto when the auto driver chose to drive on the footpath scaring the life out of her!) Neha from Joie de Vivre wants hawkers to be removed from footpaths. What’s happening to our pavements? They’re being used by everyone apart from pedestrians. Surely the transport ministry would want to look into that .

Graciously Yours!

P.S. : This post is in no way a ridicule of the Indian society or our Government. No nation, society, religion or culture is perfect. But there’s always hope that things will get better, sooner or later. And this is what some of us are hoping for.

Picture Courtesy : Pinterest.