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.