Saraswati Pujo and the city of 16

There are days when I feel extremely bored and tired with this city that I have known since my birth. I want to get rid of that invisible umbilical chord which does not let me leave her and yet I cannot bear the sight of her any more – happens quite often nowadays.

But then there are days when she makes me fall in love, again…..and for a lifetime. Just like the unmatched euphoria of discovering the bling in the red from the first bloom of “Palash” across my balcony. I increasingly find it difficult to describe my relationship with Calcutta. She has almost taken the place of that unknown neighbourhood aunt whose turmeric soiled sari is often the most comforting factor in your life – that you have reached home at the fag end of the day and while the world around you might conspire to give you a tough time, you can sleep in peace for the night here.

Why I say this, is again a difficult story to explain. Last weekend was a super busy one for the city. The omniscient Bengali Panjika had wreaked havoc in the average Bengali’s life and the market prices soared with the thought of keeping the goddess of wisdom happy. The Bengali who always find a dilemma between keeping the two mother goddesses happy – Lakshmi and Saraswati and whom to prefer while making a career choice, was again trapped in that debate.

And then there was the Kolkata Literary Meet happening against the backdrop of the majestic Victoria Memorial. The Lit meet, in its essence- epitomised Calcutta. Unorganised yet extremely rejuvenating…sessions which only could happen here in this city which is known for its eccentricity.

So while me and my husband man rushed to attend a particular session at KaLam, 2015 while walking past the beautifully designed Mohor Kunjo (earlier known as Citizen’s Park), we caught a glimpse of the Bengali Valentines Day madness. And truth be told, I was super happy to see all those sweet 16’s clad in their first yellow (“Bansanti) coloured saris and their counterparts in the oddly worn dhoti.

Continue reading “Saraswati Pujo and the city of 16”

Advertisements

Murshidabad through my eyes…

Christmas holidays or “Borodiner chuti” is big in this part of the world. I belong to a city who wears her hat of colonial past with elan and pride and frankly speaking I do not see anything to be ashamed of there either. You cannot change history and if you want to, you belong to the same class of Taliban fellows who were trying to demolish Buddha statues in Bamian, Afghanistan, a few years back. They probably tried a bit too hard to prove that Buddhism had not left its footprints there a few hundred years back. So when anybody asks me what is there to be so proud about Victoria Memorial in Calcutta and why it should be preserved since it is a constant reminder of the British rule in the country, my only answer to them is – my dear! since you asked that question, you made the distinction about ‘class’ and ‘crass’ so clear in front of my eyes 🙂

That part of the rant was necessary, since my chosen destination for spending Christmas holidays with family this year was – “Murshidabad”. Anybody aware about this long forgotten chapter about India’s brilliant past will know that Murshidabad is not only about the famous “Battle of Plassey” that changed the course of the history of the sub-continent. Unfortunately, like many things which I find unbearable about India’s education system, our history books have relegated the pomp and grandeur and the long history of the Nawabs of Bengal and Murshidabad – the last flag bearers of independent Indian rulers in this part of the world, to a mere 8 marks essay type answer in the history answer sheets.

Continue reading “Murshidabad through my eyes…”

The Ambassador-stories of the “Sarkari” car, yellow taxis and freshly minted ‘old’ times…

That Hindustan Motors has decided to stop production of the iconic Ambassador car at its “Hind Motor” factory near Calcutta is almost stale news now. Probably as stale as the Ambassador grew for our changing tastes and everything fast and furious. If I go on to say that the decision made me teary eyed, I will be lying. For long, it was almost common knowledge. The factory situated in the outskirts of Calcutta, near a place called Uttarpara was more in news for constant labour troubles and decreasing in production. We all knew that, Ambassador, once the symbol of India’s elite’s pride and prestige was nearing an almost slow death. Let’s be honest and accept that even though my father always preferred Ambassador over all other cars because of the leg space, boot space and comfort, it was never the ‘in’ thing for my generation. When me and my husband decided to buy our first car almost 2 years back, Ambassador was not even in consideration. Why should it be? It was outdated in design, in comfort and in style.

But this post is not about the things which made  the Ambassador extinct, rather this is about the stories and the moments which will also be a part of our memories revolving around the car which meant so many things to us at different stages of our growing up years.

Kobekaar Kolkata shohorer bukey...
Kobekaar Kolkata shohorer bukey…

From: Here

My first memory about Ambassador cars was not about the car itself but the place called “Hind Motor”. One of my father’s dearest friend lives in Srerampore, an old town situated on the banks of the Hooghly. I remember often visiting their place during winters for the pleasure known as “choruibhati” or “picnic” among us Bengalis. We used to catch a particular train from Howrah station and I always managed to wrestle a sit by the window to see the changing landscape unfold in front of my eyes. The hustle bustle of the city and the larger than life images of the Howrah Bridge later, the stories of small towns nearby Calcutta made me inquisitive…always. And the most intriguing part was about the nomenclature of these places – “Rishra”, “Uttarpara”, “Liluah” and there was another one called “Hind Motor”. My father was my Google during those days and he told me during one of those trips that “Hind Motor” was named after the famous Hindustan Motors factory situated there. That must have been early 1990’s because I distinctly remember him explaining about how an entire township had developed on the basis of the employment generated due to the gigantic Hindustan Motors factory. Being my inquisitive self, I must have asked him about why Ambassador cars were either white or yellow. To that, I was told that the white cars are either ‘private’ cars or ‘sarkari’ cars and the yellow ones are ‘taxis’.

Mind you, this was India of 1990’s. Globalisation had still not swept us off our feet and our NRI relatives were our mini “demi gods”. The 15 days they were here in India, they demanded every bit of the attention they deserved. We used to gape in wonder about the ‘biiiiiig’ cars they used to drive on the picture perfect roads. For most of us, owning a car during those times was actually a status symbol. Just like the instant edge that you had over your friend if your family had a landline telephone connection and your friend’s mother used to talk incessantly with her grandmother while sitting in your family’s living room. And the very few of the cars we knew was “Maruti 800”, “Fiat” and the grand old man- “the Ambassador”. While Maruti had already started making inroads into the dinner table fantasy of the middle class, “Ambassador”, the white coloured one, represented prestige, power and aristocracy.

I remember my father asking one of his friends about the car he had recently purchased. At this point, I must tell you that I have inherited my genes of “sucker for everything old” from my father. So while the uncle went on to lament how great a car Maruti was, my father constantly told him that he should have got an Ambassador. His reasons were simple. Even if you forget the comfort and the space the car provided, the ‘Class’ that it appended to your status can never be forgotten. “Abhijatyo” and the middle class Bengali- ah! that will make for another good story.

Strangely, a very inquisitive person like me also never questioned my father’s beliefs about the Ambassador being the epitome of class. Probably because the answer was written all over. My neighbour, a very high-placed Government Official, used a red beacon fitted Ambassador. And oh! boy, the moment it glided across the South Calcutta neighbourhood I lived in, it drew many a  jealous glances. Everyone knew that somebody very important lived in that house. Be it the parar pujo (neighbourhood Durga Pujo) or a certain cultural evening, everyone used to make a beeline at his house for some funds which he may procure for the association using his contacts for “advertisement”. In every decision he had an upper hand and the symbolism of all of that boiled down to that white Ambassador and the red beacon atop it.

Vintage

From: Here

While I watched this, I often wondered when will my father be able to drive such an Ambassador car which spells authority with such an elan. It would also mean me taking an upper hand over all my neighbourhood  friends. The mere thought excited me much. I used to hear hush hush discussions between my parents where my father told that his promotion is long due and after that he will also be entitled to use one such car. Fully funded on Government money…spelling power, prestige and class! The dream materialised soon after and while my father did not always use his office car, it did mark a key shift in the way others perceived us in the neighbourhood. While my father often generously offered lifts to other office goers in the same “office para” (yes! in Calcutta e have a para for office also :)), I felt immense pride at his achievement. He was a self made man and he deserved every bit of the prestige that the white Ambassador commanded. Incidentally, whenever my father uses his office car till today, he specifically mentions that he needs an Ambassador. Times have changed and the white Ambassador might have paved way for the much more fashionable BMWs in Raisina Hill, but my father remains a strong supporter of the car that contributed in some or the other way the name to reckon with what he is today. And while the landscape of my quiet South Calcutta neighbourhood has changed quite a bit in the past few years, the jealous glances and the glances of importance that my father receives every time the white Ambassador bearing the symbolism of it being a part of the Government machinery,  glides by has not changed at all over the years.  BMWs, Mercs and everything notwithstanding. I wonder what will happen a few years later when the last few remaining cars will be shoved past the Calcutta street keeping in mind the environmental norms and clearances? Will my father raise a demand for an Indica, Indigo or a Dzire? I do not know.

If the white Ambassador marked the journey of my family towards the fulfillment of their dreams, the yellow one will remain equally special for us. At least for me in particular. But like many other choices of mine in life, this was also somehow influenced by my father. Once during a trip to Bombay (he still refers to the city by that name, so do I ) he found it immensely disturbing that the “dikki” did not have enough space to carry his luggage. That is exactly when  he told me that Calcutta is better than any other city in India. Reason- We had “boro dikkiwala” (huge bootspace worthy) Ambassador taxi. The yellow ones. The ones that mark the cityscape to be Oh! Calcutta every time they show up on a movie screen. Remember the recent Bolly hit Kahaani? To think that one could even compare it to Bombay’s tiny Fiat taxis was almost blasphemous for my father. And I adhered to his belief. I still do.

Yesterday evening I was having a random conversation with one of my favourite juniors from college about how end of the road for Ambassadors in India meant death knell for our favourite Calcutta taxi..the yellow ones! He reminded me that earlier the Ambassador taxi was also painted in black and yellow. But I suppose I owe my memory more to the yellow one. The yellow taxi…the ultimate time machine to rush to a 9:00 clock exam while starting from home at 8:30 in the morning. “Taxi!!!!!” that one shout out from my father and I knew that I will well be in time for the exam. Much later, when valentines day became fashionable among us, hiring a taxi to impress the girl you wanted to date became fashionable too. The logic was simple, taxi fares were sky rocketing and the fact that you could hire a taxi meant you had money power. Come to think of it today, how stereotypical the process was. The girls never offered to pay the fare but aren’t you bound to take a few liberties with memories? Rain drenched, Victoria clad Calcutta memories?

Actually, you can take many! To tell the truth we were definitely the last of the imaginative young lot Calcutta had seen. Forum was the only mall that we knew of and Saraswati pujo and Rabindra Jayanti in my school were equally important as Valentines day. I went to a co-ed school and I know many of my guy friends perfecting the art of calling a ‘taxi’ with style and elan. All to impress his sweetheart! To think of it that the sweethearts have exchanged hearts with somebody else nowadays is a different story altogether 😛

But if I tell you that all of my memories about the yellow taxi are happy ones, I will be lying! The pain of catching an obnoxious taxi and begging the driver to take you to your desired destination, most often during peak office hours or rain, is one thing that every Calcuttan knows. I have fought with them, threatened to call police and have been often threatened at. Fighting, as you see is in a bong woman’s vein and she does not believe in taking taxi refusals lying down. Another thread of quarrel was picked up when two people almost at the same time manage to sit in the same taxi with precision which would have earned India a few more Olympic gold medals. While the taxi driver often suggested that ‘sharing and caring’ is the way to go, I protested. While the fight snowballed, so did stories. The rogue taxi drivers were often the villain but right now I can remember one who used to patiently wait for me at around 8:40 in the morning near Tollygunge Bangur Hospital. My in laws house in Calcutta is nearby and since I was always almost late for office, this taxi wallah bhaiya would decline all other passengers round that time and would wait for me to arrive. I travelled all the way from South to north and reached my office situated near Salt Lake. He earned a handsome amount every morning but somewhere that was not all the consideration that he had in his mind. The fact that loyalty can be known in a city which is increasingly turning out to be a much colder and scarier shadow f its former self was comforting thought.

If I had to end this memoir of mine with one another memory, it will definitely be about the yellow taxi which heralded the beginning of our every summer vacation. While all of my father’s and mother’s friends decided to meet at a particular time beneath the ‘boro ghori’ (big watch’) of the Howarh station, it was the big dikkiwallah Ambassador taxi that was always called to stuff in all the luggage.

Probably, their days are also numbered now. One by one they will vanish from the face of the city and with them, the stories of our childhood, our growing up years, moments marred with short stories, stories of love, betrayal, the moment of fetching a taxi to hide your tears after heart break, the moment of fetching a taxi to reach home quickly to deliver the news about your first job, the moments of taking my pregnant neighbour to the nearby hospital in a taxi since no ambulance was available…and the good news which later travelled back in a similar taxi, the smell of Calcutta written all over it once you step out of the Airport and a swarm of warm yellow happiness engulfing you…all that and more.

Calcutta will move on. The newer lot of taxis are lot more smarter and good-looking. They have car charging points, newspapers, GPS enabled dashboards. There are different varieties of them all. They are also often called cabs nowadays. But for us ‘taxi’ will always remain the good old yellow Ambassador car, just like the ultimate symbol of “Sarkari” prestige will be the white Ambassador. And if not for all of that, there is one reason why my father’s generation and probably some of mine will never be able to forget the Amby or the Ambassador. Remember ‘Aranyer Dinratri’  and the car that the four gentleman drove? Yes, it was an Ambassador.

Calcutta...a few years ago!
Calcutta…a few years ago!

(My own click)

P.S. – What happens to Hind Motor now? The thriving township – is it dead already or has the children moved to Delhi, Gurgaon or Bombay in search of a much better life.

Revisiting Classics- “Agantuk” (1991)

This is not a movie review. In fact, I am not qualified enough to be a movie critic. It is my humble take on the movie and a few lessons learnt about life in general from Ray’s last onscreen venture.

Agantuk (The Stranger) is a 1991 Bengali language movie written, directed and scripted by the master whom we Bengalis often prefer calling “Joy Baba Maniknath” (Satyajit Ray). It is based upon Ray’s own short story “Atithi”. But be rest assured that this is not a bong woman’s garrulous overdoes of why Tagore and Ray were the best thing to happen to India and Bengalis in general 🙂

Agantuk is the story about the dilemma that an upper middle class Bengali couple residing in a palatial house in the Calcutta of early 1990’s goes through when the wife’s maternal uncle decides to pay them a visit after 35 years. The ‘uncle’, who had been a briliant student and a painter, had left home as per his own wish to see the world. “Wanderlust” as he describes himself in the movie. The wife (Anila), played succinctly by Mamata Shankar, is the only living relation that he knows of and one who was only 2 years of age when he left home. The husband (Sudhin), played by Dipankar Dey, is a well placed corporate executive and has also inherited a huge amount of his deceased father’s property and priceless art collection. All of a sudden, just before the most celebrated Bengali festival ‘Durga Pujo’, the wife receives a letter written from Delhi by a man claiming to be her long lost uncle,in chaste Bengali, that he wants to visit them for a week before resuming his journey elsewhere. He mentions that there is a probability that there will be doubts about his identity and they were free to decline the overture. While the uncle also mentions about the ancient Indian tradition of treating one’s guests as god, the first thing that strikes the niece’s wonderfully decorated world is the fear of a thief impersonating as ‘someone’ about whom nobody knows. The husband is quite sure that this is a part of a plot to steal something from his deceased father’s art collection. While the wife is ready to give a benefit of doubt and see for herself if the uncle she never knew had indeed returned to his roots and to see his last known blood relation, the husband’s materialistic concerns blindfolds him to believe that this man is an impostor. In between two of them, there is a third member of the family, the child Babloo/Satyaki, who seems to be excited to meet one of his maternal grandfathers, who might be or might not be the real one.

I first watched Agantuk as a child with my parents. I do not remember the year, but I do recollect that my father had told me that it is indeed one of Ray’s finest works. Needless to say, I understood very little about the context of the movie, but at the same time I was never bored. Perhaps, it is the unique story telling capacity of Ray, that along with the kids (Babloo and his friends) in the movie, even I wanted to know what happened during a full Solar eclipse or a full Lunar eclipse. I re-watched it a few days back along with my husband and I realised why my father was correct about the movie being one of Ray’s best (click here to watch the movie with English subtitles). Anybody who is conversant with Ray’s work will probably count “Pather Pnachali”, “Charulata” or may be “the “Goopi Bagha” series to be the best works of him, but I will place “Agantuk” on a much higher pedestal, may be just after “Charulata”.

Utpal Dutta who plays the role of the stranger uncle in the movie delivers probably one of his most nuanced performances of his life. His acting calibre, like Ray’s directorial calibre, is beyond any question. But what is worth remembering that , Dutta and Ray together convinces you to be a part of this journey of discovering “who is this stranger?”. Deep down, Ray convinces you to reassess your views about yourself, your roots, your tradition and the human civilisation as a whole. And perhaps because of his genius, he manages to do it in extremely simple ways.

One of my favourite moments from the movie is the scene where the wife/niece asks his uncle, about whom she is still not so sure of, that how could he write such wonderful Bengali since he has spent most of his life abroad in the west. He answered that one’s mother tongue is something very close to heart, if one wants to forget it out of his own will he can do it in three months and if not, then probably 35 years is also not enough. While Ray remained a social commentator of the times he lived in, this particular aspect is a stern reminder of the times we live in too. I hardly see kids these days pronouncing Bangla or Hindi, two Indian languages I know, without mixing a splatter of English in to it. While this might be fashionable for the parents, I wonder how the beauty of multicultural and multilingual society will be lost in a few years from now. I will be happy if my children can read Shakespeare or JK Rowling in English but I will be happier if they do not need a translation to understand the beauty of Sunil Gangopadhyay or Leela Majumdar.

Agantuk/The Stranger (1991) [From: Here]
Coming back to the question about the journey of discovering “who is this man actually?”, the husband insists that the wife should not be carried away by emotions and insist on seeing his passport. While the uncle shows his passport on his own to the husband, he makes a valid argument about what does a passport prove? His name, his identity? No! A passport may be forged anytime (and we thought only our generation is fighting the crisis of identity theft in the wake of the popularity of social media) but more than that, it is a never a proof of human conscience. Later in the movie we see that the conscience which made the wife/niece to distrust this man and forced her to carefully remove two valuable figurines from the living room, replacing them in their original positions when the husband invites one of his friends to meet this man. The wife is convinced that he might be his uncle and not a thief but on the other hand she also fears that he might have come back after so many years to claim his share of family property.

The story takes a sharp turn when the husband’s friend visits their house to take a test of whether the uncle was truly genuine or not. This friend, played by Dhritiman, was known to be a lawyer with the ability of being bitterly straight forward. The uncle presumes that this might again be a visit from over inquisitive friends of the couple as the other day, but what ensues is a debate over what is civilised and what is not. The uncle’s views about the simpleton tribal life, people considered savage by the world that we belong to, the ones with whom he had spent a considerable time in South America and even in India, before he left for the west, irks the friend. He is convinced that the man claiming to be his friend’s wife’s maternal uncle is a fraud. He tells that to him on his face. While the couple is left red faced, they find that the man is gone. Ray depiction of Dhritiman’s characters is about being one of us. The ones like us who believe that civilisation is a licence to cut trees and then complain about the increasing temperatures. One like us who may decide to stick on to an age old belief of marrying a girl to a tree but on the question of some ancient tribal man and woman exercising their right of expression in matters of sexual choice, we do not think twice before dubbing that to be promiscuous.

The idea of development and civilisation as a whole is challenged when Dutta’s character questions about the homeless asking for shelter in the very ambitious city of New York. His questions on what we call as an advancement of technology is something that all of us have been thinking, but yet to find an answer to. If technology gives you power to destroy an entire city by just one click on your remote control, is that the progress that we are looking forward to? And then what gives us right to tag the lives of men and women in the forests as ‘backward’? By the end of the movie, I realised that Ray etched the characters of the husband, the wife and the straight talker friend as a reflection of our city bred selves. The parameters of urban life has changed since 1991, but at the core we still remain “Kupomunduk” (the frog who can never never leave his known surroundings and broaden his horizons). In fact the insecurities have always increased. The wife faces the dilemma of accepting his uncle and yet cannot overcome her doubts behind the actual reason of his return. The property factor plays on the minds of both the husband and wife while they try to be perfect Indian hosts. The friend is someone we all can relate to. It is us actually. In the race to be the brightest and the best, we indeed forget the simple joys of life.

The joy which the couple rediscovers while they trace the uncle near an Indian tribal village near Bolpur. Surprisingly, the uncle never faces a question about whom he actually was in their surrounding, nor about his motive behind the visit. Perhaps when you do not fear losing out on something, you are more open towards it. The couple apologises to the uncle who tells them that he will claim his share of family property. He leaves for his desired destination soon but are taken by surprise to find that the uncle had transferred his share of the property in his niece’s name.

His parting shot of advice to Babloo, the couple’s kid who grows much fond of his grandfather is not to be a “Kupomunduk” and to explore the world. Perhaps a bit of advice for all of us. In our day to day existence in a cubicle bound life, we often forget the charm of ‘wanderlust’. But even more than that, we tend to forget the importance of keeping our minds open. We boast of 5000 year old history and tradition, but nowadays even tradition seems to be measure in per sq ft basis 🙂

Perhaps this story is also a ringing truth and a reminder for us  Indians who take immense pride in our culture and legacy. But the mould of idol worship that we have prepared over the years for our icons and the complete intolerance towards any criticism or satire towards them or for famous personalities in our living history, is something that we need to get over. All of us may not be lucky or rich enough to travel across the world, but we have a far more feasible solution closer home- Books. Reading opens doors which we may not have imagined earlier but on the other hand intolerance and the belief that what I think is the only way round is disastrous.

P.S. – The movie remains special to me because of the house it was shot. Those kind of houses with red flooring and beautiful windows and balcony are quickly disappearing from the face of Calcutta. My guess is that the house must be somewhere in Ballygunge. Do not know if it is still there though.

P.P.S.- Is it only me or Sujoy Ghosh deliberately named Parambrata Chattopadhyay’s character “Satyaki/Rana” in Kahaani? The eternal bong dilemma about Bhalonaam and Daaknaam 🙂

Of Moments, people, faces and sweet nothings!

Long back I had done a post about pictures which generally make me happy. Its Part II time and while this has nothing to do with writer’s block, it is definitely something relating to things which have kept me going in the past few weeks when I have missed home like never before. Why? Well, there are times when you want to be with your near and dear ones and this was one such time 🙂

So without much adieu, I present to you a set of pictures which never fail to bring a smile on my face. *Ting*. As I have always said, photographs are amazing things. If time travel was real, photographs could be our very own time machine. It actually is 🙂
P.S.- Most of these pictures are borrowed from the internet and discovered during endless hours of surfing. I do not intend to breach anybody’s copyright and if there is any dispute, I will be happy to share the credit or give due acknowledgement. Also, as far as possible I will be scribbling down the sources beneath the images.
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From:Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)
(From: Here)

10 sacrosanct things about Calcutta

I am yet to come to terms with NRI life and NRI gossip. A few years ago a Bengali movie called “The Bong Connection” had provided quite a sneak peek into the NRI bong’s life where the only thing they discuss is fish, Kolkata and gold jewellery. In case you do not know, half of the world’s economic crisis will be solved if all the gold stashed into the average Bengali’s bank locker is liquidated and traded in the open market. The comic insanity of all the discussions strike me more nowadays as I have begun to attend these kind of gatherings nowadays. The first and the last thing that everyone discusses is Calcutta.
These men and women have decided for good (for Calcutta’s good, not theirs), not to stay in the shit hole of a place called Calcutta. But I have no words to describe their obsession about her.

“Arre Chhaya di, did you buy this new Dhakai from Calcutta…and this jhumko…so pretty, is it from P.C. Chandra?”
“Uff! it was so hot this time in Calcutta…and all those loudspeakers blaring Rabindrasangeet. Isshhh! Tagore would have died”
“Did you knowI have purchased an apartment in New Town…I appointed an interior decorator to do it up. But that area is a so infested with mosquitoes.”

Now. This is one logic I have failed to understand. All these NRIs have a fancy apartment in either South City, Lake Gardens, Jodhpur Park, Salt Lake and New Town and what not, but they are never going to stay over there. All their lives they will cook, clean and complain about the snow in New Jersey but that show piece apartment needs to be there. Why? Only because your mother’s sister’s cousin’s daughter will come up to you in one family wedding and say-
“Uff Chaya mashi, your apartment is so nice….”
And because you will over hear somebody in that wedding saying to somebody else- “Arrey, she is an NRI, no dearth of money…just showing off her Dollars…have you seen the Sitahar she is wearing? Must be worth a few lakhs” and the sadistic pleasure derived from that hushed sigh that follows is an overwhelming feat.

A few days ago, I was stuck up in one such gathering where people were discussing sports and suddenly it was all about Sourav Ganguly. One person who thinks he is the only fitness freak Bengali born in his generation disclaimed – “Oh! cricket? that is not even a game. and if there was one lazy sportsperson ever born, it had to be Sourav Ganguly”
Whoever reads my blog frequently or knows me, will by now know what was going inside my head. I felt this inherent urge to slap him but I decided to behave civilly and not pay attention towards him. But it was not meant to be. Another quipped- “Oh! yeah, Sourav…ask anybody from Calcutta, they will say there never was a much better captain than Sourav.” And everyone started laughing.
That was it. I decided not to be a party to the conversation any more and moved towards the thing which pacifies Bongs like me, the most. Food. And then I decided to write a few pointers about things which are sacrosanct about Calcutta. Ones which we do not like to be snubbed about. Chances are that you might meet someone like me who will not take all that lying down. Read on.

1. Calcutta’s tram, buildings and just everything about the old world charm of the city– While the ‘noveau riche’ will sneer at the old mansions at Chowringhee and call it dirty and what not, do not ever (EVER, ever in Arnab Goswami style) try to crack that joke in front of a true blue Calcuttan. Because, for him or her, that tram ride from Shyambajar, that boat ride over the ganges from Bagbajar ghat, those narrow alleys of Mohunbagan Row or those old Mansions in Pathuriaghata or Janbajar will never lose its charm. You either know it or you do not.

2. Food– Ok! this should actually be on the top, but nevertheless, this is THE most important thing for a Calcuttan. When you are in Calcutta, be sure that you are in Food lover’s paradise. Be it the Kosha mangsho of the famed Golbari, or the High Court para street food, Haldiram’s chaat, Peter Cat’s iconic ‘Chello Kabab’, Mocambo’s ‘Prawn Cocktail’, Arsalan’s Biriyani, Azad Hind or Balwant Singh’s dhaba, or be my Lords more’s Kalpana Sweet shop’s famous “nolen gurer sondesh”, never ever argue about food with a Calcuttan. Period. There cannot be anything better in terms of variety and price like the food you find in Calcutta. We can fight among ourselves about whether “Arsalan” is better or “Aminia” but you say one thing against Calcutta style Biriyan’s potato, you are gone!

3. Phuchka– I could have clubbed “Phuchka” along with the food part, but a true blue Calcuttan will know how much emotionally connected are we to the Phuchka and our favourite Phuchkawallah. While I write this, I am having almost a Niagara Falls bursting out of my tongue thinking about Rajender’s phuchka in Dakshinapon. I attended college and later worked for sometime in Hyderabad. One common mistake that everyone used to make there was- “What is so different about phuchka? Arey that’s same as Panipuri/Golgappa/Panibatasha etc etc” And every time they said that, I used to pity them. Because they do not know what makes Calcutta’s phuchka so special. My mom often tells its the dirt, but if it is so, let it be 🙂

(Image Courtesy: Me)

4. Football– Nowadays I see people saying- “Oh! I am not interested in Indian football, I am more into European football”. My husband was one of them. A die hard supporter of Manchester United, who even though was a Bangal by birth, never supported East Bengal in a match. You must have guessed that he now keeps track of every match that the Red and Gold brigade plays. Also, when in Calcutta, you have to be eitehr East Bengal or Mohun Bagan. Have to. You have no other choice.

5. Love for everything English and Imperial about the city– Many people say “why do you make such an icon out of the Victoria Memorial? It reminds of the imperial past.” May be, probably, yes. But the city where I come from was also once the Empire’s second city and there is no denying that many things good about the city is a gift of our imperial heritage. If only destroying Victoria Memorial, or not taking your daily cup of tea while basking in the sun at Tolly Club during the winters could make one more patriotic and wipe out a chapter of our country’s history as such, then probably we would be in the same league as the Talibans who thought that by destroying Buddha statues in Afghanistan could actually mean that a historical fact like presence of Buddhism in the country, could be denied. We are, thankfully, not that obnoxious. And for us, USA might mean all the money nowadays and all the new sprung clubs in the city may give you membership at the drop of the hat, “Bilet” remains London and memberships of “Calcutta Club ” or “Tolly Club” remains the ultimate measure of your social standing.

6. Sourav Ganguly– As discussed above, Sourav is Sourav. Dada is dada. At leats he had the courage to fly his jersey in the epitome of English stiff upper lipped bastion aka “the Lords balcony”, what did you do apart from fleeing the country at the best possible moment?  And you still do not believe what a great he was? Check this.

7. Living conditions– “oh! Calcutta is so dusty, so dirty, so unclean”. Yes. Agreed. But then have you ever considered the population density of the state? The next thing that comes is “There is nothing in Calcutta. No economic revival, nothing”. Yes, we have our problems. But we do not fudge our GDP figures. Also, why do you always end up talking about the high living costs in other cities and that even if you got a lower package, you would not mind shifting back to Calcutta? because, even if you argue about high property prices, rents and very high living costs in the city, you still know, that it is one city which is cheapest to live in. And have you ever bothered to visit Salt Lake’s Sector V or New Town?  Besides, name on Indian metropolis where these problems are not there and the costs are as low?

8. Culture and College Street– This is one thing that every Calcuttan will swear by. And if you think anybody who is into ‘culture’ in Calcutta will be a jhola carrying middle aged man, think again. Times have changed and we have rockstars with long hairs and driving a brand new SUV in the scene. Fact is we love finer things in life, and there is no harm in flaunting it. If you do not have it, it is entirely your loss 🙂 And we may have so many “Starmark” and “Crossword” stores across the city, but in case we do not find one particular book that we are so desperately looking for, we know where to search for it- “College Street” or “Boi Para”. If it is not there in College Street, it is probbaly not published. And while in College Street, how can you miss a trip down the romance of the turbulent Calcutta of 70’s in the iconic “Coffee House”. I can give you a secret tip here. If you really want to woo a true blue Calcutta boy or a girl, take him/her for a date there. He or she will be blown away…completely! No CCD or Barista can do that for you.

9. Festivals– A friend of mine was once shocked to hear that I, even after being a Bengali Hindu, eat meat during the days of our biggest festival- “Durga Puja”. The thing is, for us Calcuttans, festivals are more about celebration of life. Yes, we are religious. I offer my prayers and I believe I am a good Hindu. And that is why I celebrate Eid and Biriyani and Christmas and Plum Cake with equal fervour. Recently, my German laguage teacher asked me to write an article about Carnival in my hometown. I told her we do not have a “Stadtkarneval” (City carnival), because we have many. Durga Puja is one of them and so is Christmas in Park Street.

10. Christmas and Park Street– I was saving the best for the last. One person who had no idea about what Park Street was all about was terribly disappointed about “Someplace Else” since the people performing over there did not belt out many Bhangra or Yo Yo Honey Singh numbers. Please do not get me wrong, I love Bhangra, but you surely need a much better understanding of Music to fit into the Park Street class and elegance (I am aware that nowadays Trincas play raunchy music to attract crowds, but I hope that is an one-off scenario). Also, if you have not seen Christmas in Park Street, you have not seen how a city’s population which goes to sleep while remembering the names of some or other Babaji and votes for Communists (?) during elections, celebrate a festival which is a reminder of the days of the Raj, with such elan.

                                                         

(Image Courtesy: Me)

I am sure there are many more. I will be glad if anybody wants to add to this list. And for those NRIs who cannot stop musing about Calcutta, I have understood one thing they sorely miss in life- the life they have left behind, the charms of the city which was once their first love. One separation they are yet to come to terms with. Calcutta is like Waheeda Rehman. She grows on you. Love her, hate her, you just cannot ignore her. And while I wrote this down, a sense of Happiness and at the same time, longing, engulfs me. I hope I get to see her soon. Because, Calcutta is the only place in this whole world that I will ever call home. Happy reading 🙂

Special post- Chandrobindoo turns 25!

It is often told that Bengalis find expression for all their emotional travelogues (Calcutta to Howrah!) in Tagore’s songs. That Dadu has given words for all our emotions, upheavals and more is something I dare not debate. As a quintessential Bengali, I very well know the effect “Aaj Jyotsna Rate Sobai Geche Boney” coupled with “Old Monk” had on my friendly neighbourhood dada- umm, let’s call him Poltu da, after a painful break up with the “Shundori” (Beautiful) girlfriend who did not think twice about trading his undying love for the MBBS husband. Ah! that typical bong fascination for “lyengi”. 
Lyengi is actually an art in Bengal. One that has given rise to so many poets and singers who wrote odes to their lady loves with moist eyes and good old “Old Monk”. But then again, the 90’s Bengali men and women who decided to not to remain unaffected by the changes that globalisation was gradually doing to their friendly “chayer thek” wanted a more vocal alternative for their everyday being. Be it love, politics or just being Bengali. Everything which a Bengali loves.
And then came Chandrobindoo. The rest they say is history.
As a Bengali girl growing up in a South Calcutta neighbourhood in 1990’s, remaining unaffected by the Bangla band scenario was impossible. I liked Bhoomi and some works of Cactus, but it was Chandrobindoo who made those overtures of Poltu Da during Durga Pujo bhashan or the continuous efforts that he made to appease the snob daughter of Mr. Chatterjee in our neighbourhood, utterly believable. Their first album had a song called “Sweetheart” and it was more than true that Chatterjee uncle’s daughter had, while introducing her NRI fiance to us, had taken a special exception for Poltu da and called him- “Oh! Sujoy, meet Poltu…he is like my brother you know…he stays just opposite our house”. This was 1999. NRI husband meant the big ticket to fame and she did just the same. While the above mentioned song described the Bengali woman’s fascination for their “Pistuto” brothers (“cousins”), we saw more of the rakhi brother game being played just in front of our eyes. That was the first pillar of truth Chandrobindoo established for me, even though I heard the song much later but I could make an instant connection 🙂
To say that Chandrobindoo only gave voice to a heart broken lover’s whims will be such an insult. If there was anybody who brought “humour” and “sarcasm” to the already cluttered Bangla band scene, it was them. Chandrobindoo appealed to all those Bengalis across the world who could understand our shortcomings as a race. Their song “Aamra Bangali Jaati” came during a time when we had just started jostling for our space in the world map post the globalisation. Calcutta as a city was waking up to the changing times. The times they had understood that those days of brutally romantic 70’s and 80’s were over. If we had to survive and make the city tick, we had to fight…but! there is always a but in a Bengali’s life….the fact that we as an ‘intellectual’ race had to rub our shoulders with “Paanjabis” and “Meros” was completely unacceptable to us. The stiff upper lipped uncle in my neighbourhood often discarded the overwhelmingly popular Information Technology revolution and the predominance of “Made in America” in our lives as a ‘Capitalist conspiracy’ and that actual “Bilet” was always London and never New York! So when Chandrobindoo decided to poke fun about our stake to intellectual supremacy via the Nobel laureates that only Bengal seems to have produced, it never sounded odd. We all do that. Period. We all say “Marwaris have no kaaalturrr” and then share social space with them in Calcutta Club as we have to accept a hardworking race’s claim to economic supremacy. It is even ironical that we Bengali often claim to be the “most modern, secular minded and non communal” beings. Yes! even after those ‘Paaiya’ and ‘Mero’ jokes.
This is where I feel Chandrobindoo touched the perfect chord with our generation. Their lyrics, penned by the oh! so charming Anindya and the one and only Chandril, reflected the story of our lives. My father always thought Rabindranath is the best thing to happen to literature (and I still think Sourav Ganguly is the best thing to happen to Cricket), but I also understand that the definition of what is best can never be decided in societal terms. More so when, today we are waking up to the rise of the entrepreneurial risk loving Bengali who does not mind opening their own start ups.
If that last paragraph made you think that Chandrobindoo was supposed to make light hearted music, when did it become so heavy on us….relax! For me and for everybody of my generation, Chandrobindoo will be the ones who made those expressions of love and falling out of love so easy, so gentle and so believable. I sometimes wonder whether it was the fact that the very cute Upal and the very charming Anindya in front of the microphone that made those words so believable. Anindya will probably be the only bearded man in the history of this mankind that I had a very special soft corner for. Apart from Robi Thakur that is. (That bit is always understood. I am a Bengali :P)
I met Anindya once in the Calcutta Book fair. I took his autograph and conveyed to him about how much I liked his songs. All along, I gushed like a school girl. My husband was standing besides me and he could not believe it was the same me who was still sometime ago fighting with the very obnoxious Calcutta taxi driver for a ten Rupee change!
Well! to think of what made the romantic songs, the ones I consider among the many of their songs to be my favourite, tick and stand out is a question that cannot be answered without a reference to the city which makes all of us “fall in love”. The city that has “Ei shohor janey amar prothom sobkichu” written all over, for (admit it) many of us. (That is a Kabir Sumon song. Just for the uninitiated.)
Calcutta, has been a character in many of Chandrbindoo’s songs. I cannot imagine the innocence of giving up everything for love or as the way the love of out lives wished happening in any other city in this world apart from Calcutta. May be it is my imagination, but in this world of everyday rush from our pigeonhole apartments in Borivali, New York, Gurgaon or Rajarhat to our air conditioned office spaces anywhere in this world- can any place offer the solace, the peace, the warmth and the love of a life long forgotten in the meandering lanes of North Calcutta?
The answer will be an overwhelming No! We all crave for that life that we left behind. I have never lived in North Calcutta. I have never lived continuously in the house I prefer calling “Home” situated in a South Calcutta neighbourhood since I was seventeen. But still, most of my memories of the life I so much loved/love, still belongs to that place. The times when the neighbourhood Poltu da sang “tomake shonabo Joy Goshayi/ Tomar babake meshomoshayi to woo the girl of her dreams which often turned out to be every girl who crossed his path! His efforts to say “Tumi amar CPM/ Tumi amar ATM/Tumi amar series premer seshta” was commendable though! 😛
I am sure there were Poltu Das’ aplenty in all our lives. All of whose “Modhyobitto bhiru prem” (the faint hearted middleclass love) never came true 🙂
But does that stop us from falling in love? No! Because Chandrobindoo’s music often celebrates the quirkiness of the unachievable. Be it love or be it the need of societal approval (again!) or the celebration of the only thing that remains constant in a Bengali’s life- the long standing companion which we often prefer calling “paashbalish“.
As Chandrabinoo celebrates twenty fifth year of their existence, let’s raise a toast to the ones who made our growing up years the most memorable ones. The years that have often turned out to be the “bhindeshi tara” of our lives. But for the men who made the journey memorable (staring from the time I was introduced to their music by the humble(?) “Duniya DotCom” by two classmates), all I want to say is please keep making the wonderful music. Some people say that the unique humour that we associate with Chandrobindoo’s songs have waned, but I think if you do not make songs like “Bola Baron”  or “Muhurtora” now, then may be the musical journey of our generation will not mature. Officially, “Aparajita Tumi” it is not a Chandrobindoo album, but the overwhelming presence of the two Chandrobindoo front men makes me include the song.
The later is just an overwhelming culmination of the journey that we have all undertaken in our lives.
As they say “Muhurtora, Muhurter kache wrini”, we all have those memories and those moments which makes this incredible celebration of life possible and an amazingly beautiful journey. As an ardent fan, I am happy the maturity in their music shows. Please keep on giving the background music and lyrics for all our everyday struggles in our lives….for those forlorn nights which are made memorable by the whisper of those long forgotten memories 🙂
P.S.- I was in two minds about writing this post in English. Things which are close to heart, like Chandrobindoo and their songs, deserve the beauty of expression in Bengali, my mother tongue and the language the band had chosen as a medium of their creative expression. But I decided to stick to English primarily because if there are any non Bengali speaking reader of my blog (I presume that people read my blog…I am a bit self obsessed you see :P), they deserve to know the beautiful music Chandrobindoo makes. Secondly, the inherent Bengali-ness of their songs make them ethereal and universal. Do you spot the incoherence and dichotomy? That is what marks the journey of the maverick music makers of my youth and an entire generation of Bengalis special. Happy Birthday!