Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hmmmmmmmmmmm Calcutta

Hmmmmmmm Calcutta !!!! Not able to say Kolkota still - Just got back from a five day work related visit to Calcutta and let me see if I can share effectively my feelings about this city .....

Till I went to Calcutta for the first time which was exactly ten years ago, the city to me was first just the home town of all the Bengali friends I grew up with in Delhi; and then as a member of a totally cricket mad family, it was the location of Eden Gardens but most of all , to the Hindi film aficionado that I was (and am) it was the city of Howrah Bridge . Howrah Bridge – these two words not only meant Calcutta but carried with them images of Ashok Kumar and Madhubala and Helen and the incredibly romantic and mysterious aura of the film and its evocative music – till today the visuals of Madhubala singing Aaeeiye Meherbaan with Ashok Kumar and K N Singh vying for her attentions or Helen cha cha ing to Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo takes me to the Calcutta of my childhood imagination. . Eden Garden of course now brings to my mind pictures of Vinod Kambli walking away from the pitch in tears after that miserable match against Sri Lanka and as for my Bengali friends they were gorgeous looking, their mothers so gracious in their Dhaka Sarees, their fathers handsome and intellectual , they sang so melodiously, painted the most beautiful pictures and to me were the most cultured, talented and admirable community .

On that first visit we stayed with dear , dear friends and for most of the time we were pampered in the warmth of their home and hearth .Of course as local tourists in Calcutta one “did” all the usual, expected tourist attractions but with two young distracted sons and a slightly disinterested husband it wasn’t much to write home about . We were en route anyway to Darjeeling so Calcutta remained an en route stop.

Since then I have been to this city at least five times, the latest ten days ago and work has brought me here each time. Surprisingly (?)it is in the midst of visits to physicians and hospitals and patient group meetings that I have been able to understand , appreciate and grow to love the city for what it really is – a grand old dame , definitely past her prime but with grace pride and dignity intact . Each time I have felt this wonderful, warm city reach out to me just a little bit more than before and slowly wrap her tired but welcoming arms around me. And every time I have this urge to wipe with delicate care and love all the grime and dirt that lies upon her sad countenance for I know that the most indescribable , incredible beauty lies beneath. Slowly, little by enchanting little bit , she has been enduring my ministrations and allowed me to see tantalizing , heartbreaking glimpses of the beauty she once was.

So let me take you with my dear friends Rajat da,Naren and Neel ,my tirelss escorts in between appointments and meetings on a pictorial tour of this beautiful city the way she let me see, feel , hear and enjoy her bounty - from the trams and ricksahwas cheek by jowl with the yellow taxis and Metro, her lakes and the Hoogly , havelis and hovels, roadside Masala Dosas in North Calcutta streets and saffron laced tea down Elgin Road in the cricket fans watching Sourabh Dada on make shift TV screens on Shakespeare Sarani -yes, the only Indian city where the Bard has a street to himslef , but promise to look at her with all the love and awe she deserves.

Sarma Tea House, opposite the ancient Gurudwara on Elgin Road , where the tea is sweet, rich, thick with aroma and laced with saffron strips and served in matti ki gilass - ambrosia no less and if you are hungry then there is puri aaloo or samosas and kachoris that can be washed down with one more chai . And if you ask him prettily , as i did , telling him how absolutley delicious the chai was he will give you a re fill on the house. People walk on to the sidewalk at all times , or ride up on their motor cycles, cars or like Mr Crow here simply perch on someone's car for a hot , tasty meal.

And if you thought Calcutta was all about Rossu Gulla and Mishti Doi well then think agian - for my friends in Calcutta , hard core Bhadralok all of them it was dosas - dosas on the pavement in North Calcutta that Rajat da took me to can rival Mani's in Mumbai or Sharavana Bhuvan in Chennai .
And then Naren treated me to breakfast at , hold your breath, Ramakrishna Lunch Home in the Lake District after an early morning row at the Rabindra Sagar Lake courtesy the Bengal Rowing Club...RK Lunch home where people have to wait for at least half an hour to get seating space on any given day / time. Inside the rather innocous doorway of the ground floor of a 1952 aparment block are marble topped tables set in dormitory style - stark and simple , with servers in sparkling white veshtis and benign smiles serving you piping hot "Madrasi breakfast delicacies " as Noren put it And if that is not enough , just around the corner is Udipi Home proudly displaying on its board " We are hounoured to have served the Honourable President of India Shri Abdul Kalam on his visit to Kolkota"

I don't know why I keep writng about food -Let me move ahead to some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen...Long windows with wooden louvres, balconies that look like works of art and a treasure house of paintings and sculptures in the "Marble Palace" or Mullick Bari hidden amidst gullies and goonchas Guru Dutt wrote about in Pyasaa....see for yourselves

Mullik Bari - Ancestral home of the Mullik family of Zamindars - Marble floors in colours of the rainbow , a billiard room the size of a Ball Room , Belgian Mirrors the whole length of the wall that make you look like a million dollars , original , ORIGINAL works of Ruebens and Ravi Varma , marble Venuses and Apollos and a courtyard with intricate stone work and actually words fail me ..I thought i had wandered into Alice's wonderland when i saw the pelicans walk by my side !!!!!

. And when i walked out of Mullik Bari it was another kind of wonderland that still awaited me ...the lanes are narrow and the buildings block out the sky - underneath years of grime and decay though one can still see the breathtaking wood work on the balconies and doors and windows. The roads are busy and NOISY - I don't think anywhere else is the "Horn OK Please" dikkat obeyed so blindly - every one is honking and oh so LOUDLY !!

In the middle of the road suddenly amidst the trams and rickshaws there is temple where undisturbed by all the chaos the good Lord is being propitiated.

Then of course with Shourav Dada back in the picture there is another kind of deification going on - at the traffic signal of Shakespeare Sarani a hurriedly put togehter "come watch Dada thrash them" party is gaining momentum - The tricolour is flying high and the TV installed under a canopy of a colouful bed spread and the crowd is going crazy - "Dada! Dada!!"

Oh ! Calcutta indeed !!!! and i will leave you with a few more shots of what else ? Howrah Bridge -


Optional said...

Great pictures. Great architecture.

reviveramesh said...

and this one is even better - aged very well - I mean the tangy writing style coupled with the food episodes ;) should seriously become a FOTO journalist...