Stumbling onto a cache of rare books in College Street, ones I had been looking for quite some time (I need them for a secret project), I was feeling like A. Raja after the 2G auction, the treasure-hunter who had finally reached the end of the rainbow. Thus in a state of light bliss, I floated into Coffee House, one of the last surviving bastions of Kolkataiaana.
Flying to Kolkata from the US is an awesome adventure. First of all, there are very few flights to the city (For some reasons, international carriers, after a few years stop serving this city (British and KLM being two examples) even though I have never seen a flight from a European city to Kolkata empty in all these ten years I have been doing this route). Which not only severely limits your options but always makes the flights packed to the rafters. Second, more often than not, the companies put their oldest planes to this route—if there was a possibility of giving a box-rickshaw (the kind that takes toddlers to school) with wings for their Kolkata bound passengers, I am sure they would have.
But then, what truly makes it such an enriching and life-changing experience are the people.
I will be honest. The only reason I went to the Kolkata Book Fair today, barely a few hours after a grueling flight, was to see my book being sold there.
And there I found it. Right next to Linda Goodman in the references section. The urge to turn around and exclaim tearfully to the store clerk, in Alok Nathian fashion, “Beta tumne yeh kar diya” was immense.
And then I figured it could have been worse.
I could have been kept besides the “SMS for love” collection of books , whose pages bristle with pre-written SMS-s for those spontaneous times when you must express what you have in your mind, typically by skipping vowels.
Getting out of a numbered parking lot (essentially places in the dirt under trees with signs) in Jadavpur University, my old “alu matar”, I immediately had a knot in my stomach. It was then I told myself “No silly, you dont have a class test today. That was eleven years ago.” Conditioned reflex. I tell you.
The last time I had been here at Jadavpur University had been 1999. Salman was seeing Aishwarya, Buddhadeb was still considered a Communist and Azharuddin was our knight-in-shining armor idol. So yes I was anticipating a whole lot of changes.
You could not walk on the footpaths of Gariahat in those pre-Operation Sunshine days (Operation Sunshine being the controversial drive to clean Kolkata’s footpaths of illegal hawkers that became the first nail in the coffin for the CPM in Kolkata and marked the rise of the Big M) without being assailed by them.
“Sale boudi sale” [not to be translated as Bhabhis for sale but Bhabhi, we have a sale"] they would shout, a never-dying cacophony that seemed to emanate from the bowels of Hell. As you tried negotiating the narrow rope that was left of the sidewalk, you would bump into people standing and bargaining, their sweat mingling with yours, with directed howls of “Ashun dada ashun notun shirt wholesale” [Come Dada come new shirts at "wholesale" prices] aimed at your eardrums making you stop in your tracks, just in time for someone to stomp your right toe.
This tedium would sometimes be broken by comic relief provided by cries of “Boudi boudi blouse niye chole jacchen” [Bhabhi is running off with blouse] as a hook of some garment hanging from the rope strung across the footpath would catch the hair of some lady walking by or by a violent diversion provided by two shopkeepers, angry at being undercut by the other, hurling the most poetic of abuses. And no sooner had you crossed the zone of clothes-salesman would you be set upon by the “greeters” of illegal egg-roll shops that lined the footpaths. They would literally hold you by the arm and with avancular words of empathy (“Boy, you look tired after school, why don’t you have some chicken cho-men with extra sauce?” or “Going to tuition son? Ei Bhola whip up an egg roll double pronto for this gentleman right away”) entreating you to sample their wares while you tried to extricate yourself from their grasp, your senses nevertheless drawn to the chunks of meat of doubtful provenance sizzling like a seductress on the tawa .
Aah the sheer joy of destroying public property. [Picture courtesy Telegraph and Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya]
Here are two Kangress supporters from Kolkata smashing windows of a public bus as the city faces yet another debilitating bandh.
Observe the heavenly bliss on their countenances. [The Telegraph calls it "gleefully picking up road dividers and attacking a state bus"]
This is what their entire lives have led up to, one moment when their ordinary useless existence, spent playing bridge on local trains, forcibly extorting subscriptions for the community Pujos, watching Rojgere Ginni, attending Didi rallies and in general doing dadagiri (and didigiri), come to fruition.
[Warning: long post]
On a lazy Sunday, Misses (or as the traditional Bengali bhodrolok would say “songsar” or the more bourgeois would say “phemily”) and I were discussing the dying traits of the traditional Bangali and his culture (pronounced kaalture), traits that would be lost in a generation or two as he becomes globalized into that mythical beast known as the “Bong”, assailed by the integrating and homogenizing influences of cosmopolitanism.
Here are few that we identified.
It’s seldom that in a picture with 2 ladies and that too when one of them is as fantabulous as Claudia that my eyes wonder over to the gentleman in the center, playing the role of a don.
But in this case, what else can one do?
March, Year of the Lord 2009. [Link]
“If Trinamool Congress comes to power, we’ll show what is called development. Tell me why East Midnapore’s vast coastline, Digha, cannot be turned into Goa? Or northern Bengal cannot be developed like Asia’s Switzerland, when we’ve all resources available in these regions?” Mamata told a press conference in Kolkata.
“Kolkata is an international place and it will be transformed into London, if Trinamool Congress comes to power,” added Mamata.
March, Year of the Lord 2013.
Sudarshana, tumi aaj mrito. [Oh beautiful lady, today you are dead]
Are beautiful women, like industries and jobs, migrating away from Calcutta ? Is female beauty, in its most pristine Bong form, dead and dying in the city of Joy? This article in the Telegraph argues it does.