The City of Joy

Ten is an impressionable age and Kolkata (for me still Calcutta) is a fascinating city. With the given promises there could be only one conclusion love at first sight.

I spent my childhood in the picturesque surroundings of Shimla. And still I miss it: the birds” call, gurgling brooks; the green pastures and the majestic snow clad Himalayas. The Mall and the Ridge they remained swarmed with people, tourists and honeymooning couples. The air was clean and the atmosphere calm.

In contrast Calcutta is a complete chaos. Cyclone of lorries, buses, taxis, handcarts, scooters, cycle-rickshaw, horse carriage, motorbikes and bicycles swirled in a kind of collective madness. The honking of horns, throbbing of engines, buses” horns, cart bells, carriage bells, the clamouring of loudspeakers it is like competition to see who could make the most noise. Then there are double-decker buses, overloaded with people who clung in clusters to their sides. Some of the buses lean over at such an angle that the onlooker feels that they would tip over any moment.

My love on Calcutta grew on me. I was amazed at the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. During one of my annual visits I saw a small cart on two wheels carrying two passengers. A man was pulling it.

I turned to my father and said there are even human horses in Calcutta. My father could not suppress his smile and told me it was rickshaw.

Visiting Calcutta on my winter vacation was a routine for us. At that age we (I and my brother) knew about only one train Kalka-Howrah Mail that used to take us from the non-descript Kalka to the hustle and bustle of Calcutta. Almost 48 hour journey from Shimla to Howrah is still etched in my memory. We have traveled umpteenth time but the routine had remained the same. We used to brush our teeth in Delhi railway platform before having breakfast. Lunch used to be at Tundla and my uncle used to bring luchi (puri), subzi and chatni at Mirzapur for dinner. The train used to stop for just two minutes in Mirzapur and all of us we two brothers, my elder sister and father used to crane our necks pushing our heads tightly against the window bars to have a glimpse of our Babul Kaku (uncle).

A small statured man with our dinner packed in bamboo basket Babul Kaku used to shout “Mejda, Mejda” (he used to call my father by this name meaning brother) even before the train could come to a halt. We used to get down in a line to pay pronam to kaku by touching his feet and he used to say one liner – “Gita (my aunt) had sent some luchi and subzi for kids”. And then the train starts crawling again and we are back in the train.

This was the routine of our journey. Only variance was when was studying in Varanasi, used to come to meet us at Mughal Sarai.

And within 30 hours of the journey, passing through farmlands, rivers, villages and cities the train from Kalka brought us face to face with the cacophony of Calcutta..

Standing almost 4 ft in my socks, looking down at the “Chor garod bazar” from our ancestral house of “Matri Sadan” in Entally gave me the first glimpse of Calcutta. The morning was enchanting when the cling-a-clang of milk bottles used to wake me up. The milk from Haringhata neatly packed in half-liter bottles was left at door steps and later was collected by the house maid. Small school going girls wearing sarees and evening air filled with girls practicing Robindra Sangeet enchanted me. And then the saraswati Puja and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose”s birthday all gave Calcutta a new look.

In last three decades the Calcutta has changed – not only in its nomenclature but also in its character. The sarees have given way to salwar kameez. The local dialect is now a khichadi mix of Bangla and Hindi. The mangalsutra has replaced “polla and shakha” and the Robindra sangeet has made a way for jazz music.

It is not all the Bengali cuisine in weddings have given way to lachchedar paranthas and matar keema. The skyscrapers vie each other to block the fresh air. The economy has shifted to the hands of marwaris and Esplanade resembles more or less CP of Delhi.

Okay, Calcutta is decaying but so what. The love is blind.

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