Friday, March 19, 2010

Ohhh Calcutta

It's official - I am calcuttan once again or should it be a Kolkata-ite? Needless to say the transition from being a Delhiite to a Calcuttan (I'll go with this for now) isn't an easy task, but then who says life is easy? It took me two weeks to realise that I now stay in Kolkata. For those two weeks I was living out of my suitcase - mentally still stuck in the holiday mode. Then Ma-in-law pointed out, "ebar kapor gulo almarih tey rakh.....ekhon toh kolkatatei thakbi" (put your clothes in the cupboard now that you will stay in kolkata).

It's been a month. But each night I go to bed wondering why do I feel like an outsider in my own city? I mean , I was born and brought up in this city for godsake! Attended school and college here. And then I left.

Now after a decade I have returned home ...armed with a bagful of memories. But reality has changed. I do not recognise this city or her people anymore. I look at her with the awe reserved only for outsiders. I see, I observe and I register...renewing acquaintance with my birthplace.

I have always been fascinated by people. One of my favourite pass time is to observe people and make intuitive guesses about them - what kind of a person is he/she, what kind of work do they do, how is their life, how are they feeling at that exact moment, what is their relationship with the person with whom they are chatting over a cup of coffee, etc etc etc. Until now this had been just a hobby. But ever since I have relocated to Calcutta, this has become a survival tool. I feel I have to understand the psyche of the city by getting to know her people. It's a desperate need to blend in, to belong once again. And for that I have to get a feel of the place by observing, talking and mingling with the faithful - those who never left.

But I have a confession to make. The separation of a decade has converted me - slowly but surely. Delhi has seeped into my cells and made a home in my heart. Delhi, with all its rudeness, its aggression, political highbrowness, indecent flaunting of exhorbitant wealth, is home. Delhi, with its maginificent wide roads, its historic monuments, its metropolitan culture and 'I-care-a -damn' attitude, is home. I now look at Calcutta with the eyes of a Delhiite and thus feel out of place. Some friends here comment that I am now a 'Dilliwali' - and though I would die before I admit it in front of them - I think that maybe the conversion has indeed happened. Like an authentic, spoiled 'NRB' (Non Resident Bengali equally snobbish and pseudo as the NRI) - I complain "Ufff the heat here is unbearable (conveniently forgetting the soaring temperature of a Delhi summer). People here sweat so much and they stink (As if north Indians have an in built fragrance generator to help them combat body odour). OMG what are these people wearing - didnt that go out of style like about 7 years back? (ya right - the Punjabi aunties in Delhi are the fashion icons of India). Everybody uses public transport here - and am I seriously expected to travel by a public bus - you must be outta your mind! In saddi Dilli everybody goes to the local market to buy vegetables in their spare family car (pollution, global warming, what?)" - Yes people - I am a Delhiite and proud to be one!

Now having said all of the above, I must also accept that I am not immune to Kolkata's charms. Waking up to the scents and sounds of the city is sheer bliss! Only here my mornings start with the rickshaw horn going 'pyan pyun' (cant spell it right), the sizzle of fish being released into hot oil in kadai (every bengali household has this utensil in various sizes) and yes, a baul or a minstrel (Mihir Pal - just had an early morning chat with him) singing devotional songs right under my bedroom window. Please note: for the princely sum of twenty rupees Mihir Pal obliged and sang requests too :-)

Among other things, Kolkata is also one of the cheapest metros in the country and you can easily stuff your face in any decent joint in the city and pay atleast half of what you would in Delhi. A foodaholic's paradise - the variety and flavours on offer here are simply unparalleled. You know you are a true Bong from Kolkata if you are intimately acquainted with these terms and it doesnt seem like I am talking gibberish: 'Chittoda's eshtew', 'Gol barir kosha mangsho', 'Paramount er shorbot', 'Anadi r moghlai', 'Ralli's er mixed chaat and kulfi', 'Oly pub er beef steak and world -famous- in- kolkata kashundi' etc etc etc. And words like Aliya,Rahmania, Shiraz, Arsalan are household names for you. I am sure any Bengali worth his fish can add atleast 50 more names to the list but I am restricted in my knowledge due to the handicap of a NRB status!

My vocabulary has also increased by leaps and bounds since my return to the city. Some words and expressions which I recently learned and re-learned include:

1. Enti r bari = Entire house/independent house (courtesy: brokers helping with our house hunt)
2. Bombay cutting er bari = House with a contemporary style, usually white in colour with border of a contrasting colour (courtesy: same as above)
3. Hostell = Horsetail aka Ponytail (courtesy: neighbourhood kakima/aunty)4. No poblem = No problem (this one was easy to comprehend wasnt it?)
5. Chanp achey = 'There's pressure' or 'this may be tough'
6. Mata (T pronounced as in tomato) = An idiot
7. Mairi bolchi = I swear I am telling the truth
8. Dhhop = A lie
9. Adda = Chatting with anybody about anything at any time of the day (also a national pass time for the average Bong)
10. Jol khabar = Snacks (supposedly light morning/evening snacks which may consist of puri & sabzi, kachauris, samosas/shingara etc.)

Please feel free to add to the list :-)

And last but not the least, Kolkata has ensured that I get reacquainted with Bangali kalture (culture) through the most common medium - Rabindra sangeet! So every Wednesday between 8:30 - 9:30 pm my hapless neighbours stuff cotton into their ears as I exercise my vocal chords under the guidance of my 'teacher' - a dear kakima (aunty) with the voice of an angel.

So far so good. But will I be able to live and work here and start my life afresh? I don't know. Will let you know as soon as I find out.

signing off for now. Goodnight.


Jasleen said...

Well well welll...told u not to leave delhi hahaha...loved ur blog, it's so you (the dilliwaali... ahem)...please write more :)

joyie said...

Hi, this feels strange, I left Cal for Mumbai about the same time you did (or maybe a couple of years earlier), and was there just a few weeks ago.

For all the time spent away from her, I've missed her to my very core. I feel an inexplicable love for the city and love EVERYTHING about her -- her values, charm, people, 'kalture', innocence, politics, everything.

It's strange because in the years that I did live in Cal, I was always too 'westernised' for her... choosing to play the guitar and singing country songs over learning ranbindra sangeet, going to clubs rather than joining an adda in a para. But somehow, Cal had, in all that time, obviously seeped into my very being.

But maybe, if I had to shift and live there permanently now, my rose-tinted glasses would develop a few cracks. Who knows? But in the one week I spent there recently, I felt so peaceful. Like my soul was finally breathing again.

I wish you luck with living there and hope you start to love and accept the city once again. And sorry for taking up so much space. Cal can make me very emotional!! And please keep writing, love reading your blog.

Timorous Traveler! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
deblina said...

i guess this is a common syndrome for all of us belonging to this generation and belonging to the city of joy! i mean people who have ever left Kolkata for better prospects. there is a strange complicated Love-Hate situation we are in with the city. when we stay there we overtly criticize it to other progressive metroes and try to prove ourselves to be modern n not traditional bongs- when we stay away we always have this home sickness & long-to-get-back feeling, also fight with anyone and everyone in favor of mamta, sourav and other claim to fames. but as soon as we are back thre again to stay permanently we are restless to escape-

nidsishere said...

every city has its own charisma. when u start living in it, it casts a spell that bounds to stay with you 4ever wherever you go. then comes another one that spell bounds into its own. I BELIEVE: every1 is carying a peice of the city they've lived in, with them, wherever they go.

Priyanka said...

Being away from the motherland forced me to realise the true worth of my nation. Let us talk about state of india which is above religion,region,caste,creed,language....n enjoy the diversity of culture,rich heritage,food,love,respect which I do not find else where....Henceforth I feel proud to be an Indian and missing my nation like anything...!!

rajrupa said...

To Calcutta,
Much abused, much loved
And always interesting………….

“My City never sleeps and can never live down her boisterous indifference whenever there are those dark rain clouds hovering across the skies of Bengal. I know her vanity and inanity and sick desires and yet cannot do anything to redeem her glory that is rightfully hers. Calcutta my beloved is a cat crossing the thoroughfares of sorrow and desperation like myself, Calcutta my desire is myself driving my auto in confusion into the night. My City nowadays never even dreams her colonial dreams of grandeur and divide and rule. My City never ever sleeps the sleep of the dead or divine.”
Although Calcutta is known for its poverty, it's a compelling city, a city with a soul, and a visit here can be one of the richest experiences on Earth. Your first impressions might be overwhelming; expect a bit of a shock.
In many ways Calcutta seems familiar: the English street names, the architecture, the English language. At the same time the context is so foreign. The effect is very odd, sometimes even frightening to the Western visitor.
Some visitors to Calcutta don't like the city at all and won't say one good thing about it. Often these are people who travel through Calcutta as quickly as possible without taking the time to look around and get to know the city. Many people who come to volunteer see only poverty. It's a shame to miss what Calcutta has to offer.
Some things to see and do in Calcutta:
Take a ferry up the river to Belur Math and Dakineshwar Kali temple.
Visit the Botanical Gardens and see the Great Banyan Tree.
Go to the Birla Planetarium, one of the largest planetariums in the world. Daily programs are in English, Bengali, and Hindi.
See a movie at the Nandan Cinema Complex, and look at the museum dedicated to Satyajit Ray.
Take the two day, one night boat trip to the Sunderbans Wildlife Reserve. Try to spot a Royal Bengal tiger. You might see crocodile, python, wild boar, Rhesus monkey, kingfisher, monitor lizard, king cobra, or otter.
Take the Metro to MG Rd. Station. Walk to College Street and look at the sidewalk bookshops. College Street may be the world's largest outdoor book market. Go to the Albert Street coffee house at Calcutta University. Talk to some students and possibly make friends over tea and samosas. Sometimes the conversations at the coffee house can be quite animated.
Go to the race track and bet on the horses, or watch a cricket match at Eden Gardens.
The Marble Palace must be the most eccentric museum of art in the world; Victorian bric-a-brac stand next to masterpieces by Rubins, Reynolds, Murillo, and Titian. Tagore's house is near the Marble Palace and is now a center for dance, drama, music, and other arts.

rajrupa said...

Travel the length of Chitpur Road to explore the most clich̩ Рromantic artery of Calcutta. Begin in Bentic Street where the shop signs and sounds are largely Chinese, the smell of leather stronger than that of exhaust fumes open drains.
Visit the Jampukur Rajbati. The very first look promises extraordinary things.
The old Park Street cemetery, that opened in 1769 and closed in 1790. It filled rapidly, and its inmates, if one might call them such, mostly died young. This “city” within the city, with its shadowed walks and architectural extravagance is one of Calcutta’s most interesting sights.
The Armenian Church, though it is more recent than the oldest grave within its walled yard, but it is the most ancient Christian church in Calcutta.
Visit the 100 year old Jain temple
The Old Town Hall on Esplanade Row West, a building of generous and elegant proportions raised in the year 1813. Indifference has banished the old ghosts. But some of the charm and glitter still cling to the grand stairway, with its empty marble pedestals, wrought iron lamp brackets, decorative stucco and the remnants of chandeliers.
Go to the Calcutta Book Fair.
Visit the Victoria Memorial.
Tour the Indian Museum, go to the Zoo, and see Science City.
I can go on and on and still have a lot more to say…………… as I mentioned, it’s a shame to miss what Calcutta has to offer. The city is much abused, much loved and always interesting. Experience the joy of falling in love with Calcutta and you will love no other city as much.

Timorous Traveler! said...

what you are going through is called DKL (Dilli ka laddu) syndrome. Management nerds would call it "post purchase cognitive dissonance" (je tv'ta kinlaam taar pasher tai beshi bhalo chilo, issshhhhh!). other popular kolkata lingos include "aaste, ladees" (in bus, when a lady gets down), "byapok" (super-excellent), "kelo" (catastrophy), and many many others. a round in the college campuses will act as a refresher course) anyway, congratulations on a well-written and well-picturized blog.

aditi said...

Super writing :) ekta boi lekh...tor modhe ache :) what I distinctly dislike about Kolkatar lokjon is the bhishon akorshon towards jhogra...for no reason, at the slightest opportunity Kolkatar lokera bhishon jhogra kore...nopes come to think of it ....I don't want to be a Calcuttan again...the forever arguing public have ensured that...

@nand said...

hi, I am delhiite much in the way u r, coz my native place is Madhubani. Came accross ur blog while searching for a name by which one could refer to a resident of kolkata....was stumbling on the idea of calcuttan or kolkata-ite....even after reading ur blog am still confused:D....would take the help of an empirical research by asking people on the bus stops here in kolkata (on an internship here in kolkata). this is important for me coz i cant think of any other way of introducing one of the characters in the story i am writing....was fun reading this piece...wud u tell me y did u settle for calcuttan and not kolkata-ite...