Monday, July 29, 2019

To Amisha (someday, Rapunzel)


Someday Rapunzel will chop off her hair
And leap into the forest, undeterred by thorns
That lay waste the garden outdoors
The garden she never knew up close
The garden just beyond her reach. And 
She will taste the wild berries and learn not to gag
She will explore under shrubs and trees and hide
Among the branches when the prince goes by 
And she will know that all witches 
Are not evil and princes are merely men. 

Someday,  I always knew, someday, you
Would leap from my arms, undaunted by storms
That have ravaged the path of your dreams
The path you resolutely follow
The path that leads you away from me. And 
You will taste the raindrops on your tongue
And fly on the wings of every breeze and still abide
In my heart which is forever hovering
Tip-toeing into your deepest nights
Specially when you think I’m not.

Rapunzel has finally found her match
The child and princess now have grown
The forests falls away to show the paths
That lead to lives you are yet to live
Lives without borders: fly true, fly free
Lives where you follow only your dreams
As you leap from tower to tower
And as you flirt with the breeze
You will sling the sun under your shoulder, 
The world is yours to seize. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Z: Zoo #AtoZChallenge



Z was so predictable, Alipore Zoo of course. The famous landmark in Calcutta built in 1876 or thereabouts is the oldest demarcated zoological park in Calcutta. It is visited by hordes of people coming to see the tigers and the monkeys, the elephants and the crocodiles.... specially in December and January. (The highest attendance being 110,000 visitors on 1 January 2018 alone!) It was also well known as the home of the Aldabra Giant Tortoise named Adwaita who was said to have been over 250 years old when he died in 2006.

But ..(there's always a but), I don't like zoos. I know, we must have gone there as children and I am certain I can find some happy memories of the place but I don't like zoos.
Yes, I said it again.
I hate the smell near the tiger cages, I dislike watching the poor animal stuck in there and I especially hate it when the curious onlookers try to attract the attention of the animals.
Some years ago there was this incident when one of the tigers killed one man and mauled the other when those drunken idiots decided to garland the tiger or something like that. Good for him, (the tiger, not the men!) I thought when I read the article. The last time I visited the zoo I was sad to see the gorgeous animals kept in cages. A part of me somewhat understand the need for a zoo, but most of me thinks animals should be left in the wild, doing whatever it is that wild animals do.
So the zoo is a place I avoid. earlier, when you drove past, you could see the elephants but I understand they have been relocated or a wall has been built so that too is denied from the road. For the same reason, I stay away from circuses although we went for many as children. We were not so aware then, I guess. But I have never taken my girls to the circus. Or the Alipore zoo. Sometimes there are rumours that the animals will be relocated to some place in Baruipur in the suburbs. Then the rumours die... The Alipore zoo is in what is now a very busy part of the city, the birds do not drop by as much as they did earlier and I shudder to think of the pollution and all.
No, I refuse to write about the Calcutta zoo!


And the picture is not of a caged animal but of a tiger in the wild. Where they belong! 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Y : Yuva Bharati Krirangan #AtoZChallenge



Yuva Bharati what, you ask? 
Okay. I know. This is cheating. But yes, the Yuva Bharati Krirangan does exist. It’s commonly known as the Salt lake Stadium. And this post is not about the Salt Lake Stadium per se but also about other playing fields in Calcutta, specially the Eden Gardens. 
When we were children, cricket was a game played in winter by men in whites. Dad was a member of something or the other and we used to get tickets to see the match. Yes, ODIs were unheard of,  we used to turn up with cousins and all to watch the test cricket and spend a few blissful days having a picnic under the winter sun. There were no restrictions, we carried our water and food and cold drinks and enjoyed ourselves while watching the India versus England (or whatever) match! 
How carefree and innocent those days were. 
Now we sometimes go to the Eden Gardens, usually to watch an IPL. Don't even ask! Nowadays they play cricket all year found and wear anything but white. Not only do you have one day internationals (ODI), the popular format is T20 where the game is played for only 20 overs. In the days when everyone is a hurry, the pace is fast and furious! there's music and much entertainment, even cheer-leaders who do a gyrating dance whenever a four or six is scored. 
We sit in an air conditioned box and enjoy the food and beverages in the club house. 
But every now and then you will find me escaping to the stands in the sweat and grim to enjoy the real atmosphere and energy of the stadium. 
It is indeed amazing! 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

X: X-mas in Calcutta #AtoZChallenge



As I said, Calcutta is a cosmopolitan city. Here Eid is celebrated with as much zest as Diwali or Christmas. Whether you are Hindu or Muslim or whatever, no one fails to head out for biriyanis on Eid. In my family I believe it is a sin to not have biriyani during a Muslim festival! (Yes, I had warned you much earlier that Calcutta also revolves around food!) just as it is criminal not to enjoy the sweets served during the pujas. 
Christmas, however, is a whole new ball game altogether. It is surprising how the city comes together to celebrate Chistmas. Park Street is lit up like a fairy land. There are stalls selling everything from momos to cupcakes, live music is playing in Bow Barracks and in Allen park and there is a sense of festivity in the air. It’s also the best time of year to be out in Calcutta. There is a nip in the air and the sluggish heat and humidity of the summer is a distant memory. Everyone is out to have fun. The line at Nahoum’s for the plum cakes stretch as far back as you can see and everyone wants some roast and cake and gifts from Santa Claus! 
Christmas has always been special for us. My mum was a Christian and my dad only needed half an excuse to celebrate anything. Also, thanks to that good weather I mentioned, this was also the time of year when most relatives would visit Calcutta. Schools would be over and the new year would be beginning only in January. No one asked us to study, we were allowed to enjoy our winter vacations basking in the sun and jaunting around town. Add to that the cakes and chocolates from Flury’s. 
When my girls were small I had taken great pains to ensure that they had a Christmas tree with all the trimmings. Gifts in stockings, roast dinners, etc, the works. As they grew older I kept threatening that I would cancel Christmas but each year I find myself dragging out the tree…promising myself that this one will be the last! My daughters only laugh in response! Yes, my childhood memories of the Calcutta winters are the best ones ever, be it with family or friends. And if winter is here, Christmas, surely, cannot be far behind! 

Friday, April 26, 2019

W: Writer's Building #AtoZChallenge

Image credit: File:Writers'_Building_2.jpg


The Writers' Building, is the secretariat building of the State government and the imposing 150-meter long building covers the entire northern stretch of the water body locally called Lal Dighi in the B.B.D Bagh area. 
This building originally served as the office for writers of the British East India Company, hence the name. Designed in 1777, the Writers' Building has gone through several extensions over the years and is currently undergoing extensive renovation.
The giant pediment at the centre is crowned with the statue of Minerva. The terrace also contains several other statues and notable among them are four clusters of statues, christened 'Justice', 'Commerce', 'Science' and 'Agriculture', with the Greek gods and goddesses of these four streams (Zeus, Hermes, Athena and Demeter respectively) flanked by a European and an Indian practitioner of these vocations.
On 8 December 1930 at the time when India was in its struggle for freedom from the British, Benoy Basu, Badal Gupta and Dinesh Gupta headed for the Writers' Building dressed in European outfits carrying loaded revolvers. They shot dead the notorious Inspector General of Police, Colonel N.G. Simpson, infamous for his brutal oppression of the prisoners in the jail. 
After killing the Commander-in-chief Simpson, they occupied the Writers' Building, and soon a gun battle followed in the corridors. Unable to stand up to the numerous forces of Calcutta police, the trio soon found themselves overpowered and cornered.
Unwilling to give themselves up, Badal took potassium cyanide and died instantly, while his comrades shot themselves. Benoy died five days later in hospital but Dinesh survived only to be hanged on 7 July 1931.
Today this area named after the trio and is called B.B.D Bagh. A statue of Benoy, Badal and Dinesh stands in front of the Writers' Building, showing Benoy, the group leader, leading his comrades in their final battle.
A walk in the BBD Bagh park across the street from Writers' (aka Lal Dighi  of yore, or Dalhousie Square to the British) on a Sunday morning is interesting. I would not recommend any other day of the week as this is after all the commercial heart of the city. But the lawns are well maintained and the lake adds to the charm; you can also find anglers sitting patiently at the edge! 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

V: Victoria House #AtoZChallenge



Not to be confused with the famous Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, the Victoria House is the headquarters of Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC) from 1933. The building is old and beautifully maintained!
Now why, you wonder would I pick Victoria House over the memorial? Because the internet is flooded with stuff on Victoria Memorial and hardly anyone mentions Victoria House. Because it's a gorgeous old building located very strategically and flanked by the Statesman House and Paradise Cinema hall. Because it's close to many old and iconic eating joints. And because my dad worked in CESC and I have many fond memories of this building. I would go pretty often, my dad's colleagues even kept a stash of chocolates for me in their drawers...
Those were indeed the days!


Image credit:https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victoria_House_-_Esplanade_-_Kolkata_2011-09-11_00540.jpg#mw-jump-to-license

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

U: Urban sprawl #AtoZChallenge



Ah Calcutta!
A truly cosmopolitan city with a heart to match. Calcutta was never very large. The old city ran north to south and was reined in in the west by the river and in the east by the wetlands. The actual city limits were rather compact: no place was too far away!
The other day I was returning from lake town with my daughter and I was telling her how when we were kids there was no Salt lake city and barely a lake town. When we used to go to the airport we passed large tracts of uninhabited land and jungles! One even heard of the occasional dacoity where now there are only houses and buildings! In fact, as I was telling her the site of the City Centre mall in Salt Lake was inhabited by foxes even as late as in 1998! We have a friend who lives right there. At night, standing at his verandah nursing our drinks we would hear the howls!
All that has changed. Now the city sprawls in all directions, (except west, of course, you'll fall into the river) but seems to be bursting at the seams. Some call it ugly, some say it is a jungle. Thing is, it is not much uglier or junglier that any other urban sprawl! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

T: Trams #AtoZChallenge



The trams of Calcutta is the only operating tram network in India.  
Initially, the first tram in Calcutta was horse-drawn and ran for 2.4 miles (3.9 km) between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat Street on 24 February 1873. The service was discontinued on 20 November of that year. The Calcutta Tramway Company was formed and registered in London in 1880. 
In 1900, the electrification of the tramway and conversion of its tracks began. The first electric tramcar in India ran from Esplanade to Kidderpore on 27 March 1902, with service from Esplanade to Kalighatintroduced on 14 June of that year. 
During my school days I regularly used the tram which had a route right from school to a stop near home. It was nice and slow and gave me sufficient time to dawdle. 
Nowadays, Calcutta has tourist trams, even air conditioned ones, the nicest route is from Esplanade to Khidderpore which runs through the Maidan, one of the prettiest parts of the city. 
Last December we came to know that now there is a tramcar restaurant, one can now have dinner on a tram! A tram takes a two hour route from Esplanade to Khidderpore and back (although dinner means it’s dark so you don’t see much) and serves a nice Bengali buffet meal on the way and back. We had an out station friend visiting and even us living in the city were curious. So on we went. The meal was good, nothing gourmet but sufficient and good and the experience novel. Another lovely reason why Calcutta is my city of joy! 

Monday, April 22, 2019

S: ST JOHN'S CHURCH #AtoZChallenge




Despite working a mere stone’s throw away, in all these years, I have never entered the St John’s Church or ground. Recently at a heritage walk organized by the Alumni of my school, we visited this precinct and I was enthralled by the place. One would never imagine, tucked away in a tiny corner of K.S. Roy Road, is this little gem! 
Actually, coming to think of it, this is exactly where such places are to be found but wait till I tell you why it became so special to me. 

If you check up the history of St. John’s Church, you will find that the land for construction was donated by Maharaja nabo Kishen Bahadur of the famed Shobhabazar Raj family. It was originally a cathedral and the foundation stone was laid by Warren Hastings, the then Governor General of India. The building is built in stone, at a time when stone was a rare material in India.  So the British decide to “procure” the stones from the medieval ruins of Gour or Gauda which is now in the Bangladesh border and shipped down river to Calcutta. In fact it is said that theminutes book in the church office tells in detail the story of how the ruins of Gaur were robbed to build St John's church! 

Anyway, that was the British doing what they did best, it’s neither here nor there. The church, the grounds just reek of history. I’m serious. You walk in and you are transported into another world. Over time, several monuments etc have also found their way here. The original Balck Hole monument is here in one corner. From Job Charnock’s mausoleum to the second Rohilla war memorial to the Lady canning memorial, it is all here. You can spend quite a bit of time roaming about, soaking in the silence of the graves. And then there is the church itself. It is still used and the day that we went, Sunday service had just ended. 
The interior itself is pretty, stained glass windows to the right, a blue-grey marble on the floor (again, brought from Gaur!), it even has the chair used by Warren Hastings in the office. All very nice.
But what was utterly fascinating was this painting called “last supper” by the German artist Johann Zoffany modelled after the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Only (of course, there is a catch!) the painting is not a replica. Zoffany’s work has little things showcasing India, like a spittoon, a sword, a goatskin bag etc. The most unusual feature of Zoffany's Last Supper lies in the selection of models used to represent Jesus and his twelve disciples, he used people in power in the East India Company at the time So Jesus is portrayed as the Greek priest Father Constantinos Parthenios. Mary is represented by W.C. Blacquiere, the police magistrate of Calcutta during the 1780s. Judas was portrayed as the auctioneer William Tulloh. 
Oh, it is fascinating. Come to Calcutta, I will take you to St John’s Church and perhaps you too will be as fascinated as I was! 


Saturday, April 20, 2019

R: Riverside of Calcutta #AtoZChallenge



As you know, the river Bhagirathi-Hoogly runs through Calcutta, separating it in the west from Howrah. The Hoogly is a distributary of the Ganga (Ganges if you please) and separates from the main river near Giria, Murshidabad from where the Ganga flows into Bangladesh where it is known as the Padma. (From 1975 there is a man-made bifurcation of the river at Farakka.) But, Calcuttans know and refer to the river as Ganga. It is this river that accounts for all the rich silt and alluvial lands of Bengal, and has also often been said to be the reason why people in Bengal are generally lazy. You may know that the water of the river Ganges is sacred among Hindus. My ancestors, it is said, (and I have no reason to disbelieve it) actually also got rich packaging this river water and transporting it as far afield as South India and thereabouts all in nicely sealed cans! 
That aside, when you are in Calcutta no visit is complete without a jaunt along the riverside. Thanks to the efforts of the government now one can walk right from the Princep Ghat right up to Babu Ghat. There is also a Millenium park further north right on the riverside and even a floating restaurant where the food is so-so but the views are gorgeous. Of course the jetties (there are many) have regular commuters from the western bank to the east and vice versa. Drift upstream and you will find the Dakshineswar Kali temple and Belur math. Downstream lies the Khidderpore docks and even further the wonderful mangroves of the Sunderbans. Two immediate bridges, the age old Howrah bridge (one of the third longest cantilever bridge of its time, as my father loved to tell me) and the more recent Vidyasagar Setu (usually referred to as the second Hoogly bridge) connect the city to Howrah and further west. 
But one of the nicest things you can do is head to the river just as the sun is setting (or rising, if you are an early bird) and take a ride in one of the country boats. It's gorgeous. For me and my visiting friends, no trip is complete without at least one such ride. And the views are enthralling. One can end the visit with phuchkas and pav bhaji or jhaalmuri and why not an ice gola too? Wondering what on earth an ice Gola is? Here's a pic of some friends and I enjoying some ice goals (kalakhatta flavour) just two days ago! Yes, they were visiting. Tempted? 



Friday, April 19, 2019

Q: Quirky Calcutta #AtoZChallenge



Calcutta, despite all its charm and warmth, is not without its quirks. Eccentric things that every other Bengali will do and sometimes have us shuddering in laughter or embarrassment. Yet we accept it as part of Calcutta! 
I know this will not make me very popular with a lot of people, but, here are a few: 

1. Nighties/Kaftans: The women have a penchant for walking to the market in the mornings in their nighties or kaftans and chappals. Some, in order to disguise the nightie will drape a dupatta around their necks like a limp rag and try to pass it off as being more fashionable than the others. Ideal time of year to spot these are in summer! 
2. Personalisation: Every one in the bazar right from the fish seller to the green grocer will address the ladies as Didi (sister) or Mashima (aunty). It is often considered an index of how old you look and can be subject matter of much debate … Even otherwise, everyone becomes a Mama or Mesho or Jamiababu or whatever. Just see what they did to Sourav Ganguly, he’s now everyone’s dada! The examples are countless. My sister is guilty of this too. She will call a complete stranger as her Mama and I will be left wondering when my mother had that particular brother! 
3. Dominance: Bengali men are generally hen-pecked. When you are on vacation, how do you spot the Bengali man? He’ll be the one meekly following the striding woman dragging the child. And by the way Bengalis love to travel. Come school vacations and you will find them in the remotest of destinations while people like me will be trying to blend into the background. If you do not want to see them, choose your destinations carefully and wisely and know that someone else will have thought of it too! 
4. Monkey-caps and Mufflers: Come November, the monkey caps, mufflers and sweaters are out. A mild dip in the temperature will see grown men sporting thick mufflers and sweaters. Even when it is a mild 20 degrees. The poor babies are smothered from head to toe, replete with booties and bonnets and woolies and a blanket for good measure. 
5. School-gate moms: these moms are very possessive of their little darlings. They know their child’s homework, their potential, their friends and every word of that exam that their child has to be ready for. And for good measure probably know all their friends, their friends' mothers and some teachers as well. Their children are high achievers, they probably do their homework even while taking singing lessons, dancing or cricket coaching and attend tuitions as well! These ladies are found hanging outside the school gates, sometimes seated on newspaper as they chatter and eat wait for their child to finish school! 
6. Ombol: What, you never heard the word before? Ombol means acidity. Frankly, I had no idea what it meant till I was in the second trimester of my first pregnancy. But Bengali mothers all know. Don’t have water after shingara, you will get ombol. You had doi at night? Quickly get some gelusil otherwise you will have ombol! Don’t have lemon with your food, sure-shot ombol! You get the drift? 
7. Stools: As obnoxious as that sounds, Bengalis (men in particular) are generally obsessed with their stomachs. As much as they love what goes into their stomachs (a.k.a. food), they also love to discuss what comes out of them. There have been multiple occasions in Court when I felt I needed to run away when some of these discussions went out of hand, so to speak! 

Ah well, I could go on about this. 
So tell me, what other typically Bengali quirks can you think of? Or are they common to everyone, not just Bengalis!? 



Thursday, April 18, 2019

P: Pen Hospital #AtoZChallenge



When I was young, from about age 10, we had to use fountain pens in school. That began a love affair with fountains pens, it is still something I cannot resist buying. My prized possession is the pen that belonged to my father. It was a Parker and he wrote his Matriculation examination with it. When I was going to sit for my Madhyamiks (as the Class X board exams of the West Bengal board is called), he gave it to me. I was over the moon with delight. 
Then one day, he took me to a quaint little shop just off Chowringhee. The Pen Hospital. I couldn’t believe that place existed. Not only did it fix all broken or damaged pens, they had am amazing collection for sale too! Nearby was another shop called Latif’s that fixed cameras. The last time I visited Latif’s he was telling me how business was bad what with digital cameras and big brands and shops taking over the market. Same with the pen hospital, they were saying collectors were few, this was a new world of use and throw! True that, my daughters never had to write with fountain pens in school, it was gel pens that they used, use and throw alright! 
Before I sat to write this, I looked online to see if either shop still exists! I’m please to say that they do! 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

O: OLD-WORLD CHARM #AtoZChallenge


Whether you talk about Calcutta’s famous dhunuchi dance during the pujas or the old pujas  in North Calcutta houses being performed over the years, whether you talk about visiting the old temples of Kalighat or Dhakhineswar, or whether it is the St James Church or the St Paul’s Cathedral, or whether you are visiting Astor Hotel housed in a hundred year old building or enjoying a drink at the Grand Hotel, this is a city where the new lives hand in hand with the old. The No 42 on Chowringhee which is now the tallest building in India (at about 268 meters) stands proud over the Maidan and has changed the skyline of Calcutta, peacefully co-exists with the older buildings around it. Come to Calcutta, feel the old-world charm of the city seep into your veins, this is a city that grows on you. And keeps you hooked! 
That is image is of the busy south western side of busy Dalhousie Square on a Sunday morning. That dome you see is the GPO, earlier part of the old Fort William. That was approximately where that infamous Black Hole tragedy purportedly occurred! 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

N: New Market #AtoZChallenge


Image credit: By Clyde Waddell - http://www.library.upenn.edu/collections/sasia/calcutta1947/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36765939


Long long before there were fancy Air conditioned Malls and markets, Calcutta had it's very own "mall", in Lindsay Street, in the shape of New Market. They tried to name it Hogg Market after Sir Stuart Hogg the then Chairman of the Calcutta Corporation who contributed to its creation in a large was, but the name New Market just stuck. Initially opened to the public in 1874, primarily as a shopping centre for the British in Calcutta (yes, natives were not allowed to shop there!) it is now an iconic part of this old city. No matter what, despite the bustling Spencers and Big Bazars, I find myself returning, again and again, whether for the masala sausages or the ham or bacon or the Kalimpong Cheese or the delicacies from Nahoum! They say you can get anything here, you only have to know where to look!
As children we visited new market often enough. The best movie halls were also in the vicinity. I remember our excitement when denims first came to Calcutta. It was this brand called Avis, and their one shop was right below the famous clock tower which was brought over from Huddersfield in the 1930s. We got our new jeans and ate rolls from Nizam's (another land mark hotel nearby!) and ice cream and were happy.
Simple pleasures!

Monday, April 15, 2019

M: Murari Pukur #AtoZChallenge





If you head eastwards down Vivekananda Road, you will pass Maniktola and reach a canal. Cross the canal and take a left. Another two hundred yards or so later, there is a narrow lane going in. Follow that winding road, to your right there will be a gate. Enter. The house is gone now, but the garden remains. And the pond. That is where my heart resides.
When they were breaking down the house, the masons refused to work, they said it was haunted. Each time they tried to remove a brick, someone sighed, asked them to stop. I trust it was my father's soul. When I heard, I went and got a brick back. They were able to break the house, thereafter, no ghosts. Irony.
I never wanted to sell the place, I still would hold on to it if I could. But life is not always ideal.
At the time that the house was built, Maniktola wasn't there. It was all jungle and grass. My ancestors built their garden house there. And what a gorgeous house it was. There was another one across the pond, for the ladies! My dad inherited it and there are countless memories of that house and those gardens. I know I have written about it often. We sometimes cribbed when we had to go, but now that I would not crib, there is no place to go.
Irony.
My Calcutta would never be complete without Murari Pukur, the land that I have lost. 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

L: Lower Circular Road Cemetary #AtoZChallenge

                                      Image courtesy: lower-circular-road-cemetery

When anyone talks about cemeteries in Calcutta, they tell you to visit the South Park Street Cemetery, famous for supposed ghosts and what not. But when I talk about a cemetery, I am talking about the Lower Circular Road Cemetery, also known as General Episcopal Cemetery. It’slocated on the crossing of Park Street and Lower Circular Road and houses some of my ancestors. The Lower Circular Road Cemetery was established on 1840 and is still operating as a functional cemetery. It contains approximately 12,000 graves including many former British East India Company employees, among others. 
My mother, you, see, was Christian. I actually sometimes think that a cemetery is so much nicer than a cremation, you have a place you can visit where maybe something still remains of the person you love.  The Lower Circular Road cemetery was close to where I lived while growing up. (So was the South Park Street one but that did not have that feel to it, you know what I mean?) That cemetery was on my list of walks, growing up. Not for the ancestors, not for the ghosts, but just because it was a pretty place to be in! My mother sometimes asked why I went there, was I just morbid? I don’t know, but I used to claim that Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s grave kept calling to me! 
Go figure!

Friday, April 12, 2019

K: Kumartuli #AtoZChallenge


 Image courtesy Vidya Chandy on one of our excursions in North Calcutta! 


Kumartuli is a traditional potters’ quarter in north Calcutta located between Chitpur Road (now Rabindra Sarani) and the Hooghly River. Calcutta is famous as a sculpting hot-spot which not only manufactures clay idols for various festivals but also regularly exports them.
As I explained earlier, when the East India Company decided to build a new settlement (Fort William) at the site of the Gobindapur village, most of the existing population shifted to  Sutanuti. While neighbourhoods such as Jorasanko and Pathuriaghata became the centres of the local rich, there were other areas that were developed simultaneously and the villages of Gobindapur, Sutanuti and Kalikatadeveloped to give rise to the latter day metropolis of Calcutta
Under orders from British East India Company, separate districts were given to the Company’s ‘workmen.’ These neighbourhoods in the heart of the Indian quarters (yes, Black town) acquired the work-related names – Suriparah (the place of wine sellers),  Colootollah (the place of oil men), Chuttarparah (the place of carpenters), Ahiritollah (cowherd's quarters), Coomartolly /Kumartuli (potters’ quarters) and so on. 
Most of the artisans living in the north Calcutta neighbourhoods dwindled in numbers or even vanished, as they were pushed out of the area in the late nineteenth century by the “invasion” from the direction of Burrabazar as the city expanded. In addition, Marwari businessmen virtually flushed out many families from north Calcutta. The potters of Kumartuli, who fashioned the clay from the river beside their home into pots somehow managed to survive in the area. Gradually they took to making the images of gods and goddesses, worshipped in large numbers in the mansions all around and later at community pujas in the city and beyond. 
I do not like to take my car when I visit Kumartuli, usually with out of town friends/relatives. We take a cab or the Metro to Shobhabazar and walk to the artisan’s area through the narrow lanes which can take you back in time. Kumartuli is a visual delight.  It is even more interesting if you can make it in the weeks leading up to Durga Puja but even otherwise, one can find idols being made. As they say in Bengal, in 12 months there are at least 13 pujas. 
In any case, it is always interesting to see how the idols are made and then painted so delicately and beautifully be the craftsmen. It is indeed a novel experience and one of the reasons why Calcutta remains unique. Once we are done with exploring the lanes and the tiny huts that house the families as well at the huge clay models, we have a tea (or two) in a clay pot and then take the narrow lanes twisting and turning and (maybe hop on to a tram or rickshaw if it’s too hot or you do not feel like walking) go through the labyrinthine lanes to Burrabazar and down Chitpur road for a well deserved lunch of Biriyani at Royal!  Sometimes we even land up at the riverside at Jagannath Ghat, having headed westwards in our ramblings… and I don’t get bored with this ‘tour’. We just turn a different corner and come up with something new!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

J: Jorasanko #AtoZChallenge





Jorasanko is a neighbourhood of north Kolkata so called because of the two (jora) wooden or bamboo bridges (sanko) that spanned a small stream at this point.
It is famous for the Jorasanko Thakur Bari which is the ancestral home of Rabindranath Tagore (Thakur in Bengali) who needs no introduction, but apart from that, it was also home to Kaliprasanna Singha (author, playwright, and philanthropist), Krishnadas Pal (Indian journalist, orator and the editor of the Hindoo Patriotand others and can be termed as the cradle of the Bengal Renaissance. This area was earlier known as Mechua Bazar.  

In school, we were made to study ‘Shahaj Path” when we started reading and writing Bengali. Although 'Shahaj Path' means 'Easy Reading",, to me at least, it was anything but. And yes, it was written by Rabindranath Tagore. While growing up I was never a big fan of Tagore’s works. Liking Tagore was too clich├ęd and common (if you know what I mean) and I did not understand a lot of it. The rebel in me just could not accept that I enjoyed reading his poems, specially the historical ones in "Kotha O Kahini". The fact that we ended up reading a lot of Tagore’s works in school was another sure shot way to ensure we never would want to read it ourselves. 
BUT. (There’s always a but). 
My father used to quote from Tagore. He had a few favourite lines and even now whenever I hear those lines, no matter what the context, his face floats in front of me, accompanied by a smile that I would kill to see again. He laughingly used to say that whenever you are at a loss of words, look up Tagore’s works, he will have said something! I started reading Tagore’s poems after my father died, really. I memorised lines that struck a chord and discovered for myself that indeed Rabindranath Tagore has something or the other to say about practically everything!  
My father also used to tease me that someday I would fall in love with a Bengali man and the love sonnets would come handy. Well. I did fall in love with a Bengali but his knowledge of sonnets were (thankfully) as wanting as mine! 
I leave you with a few lines of poetry, which still whispers to me in my father’s voice, in my ears: 

“Aji hote shoto botshor porey
Ke tumi poricho amar ei kobita khani
Koutuhol bhore,
Aji hote shoto botshor porey.”

The poem goes on for some more lines. Loosely translated, (by Tagore himself), it means: 

“Who are you, reader, reading my poems a hundred years hence?
         I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the spring, 
         or one single streak of gold from yonder clouds.
         Open your doors and look abroad.
         From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the
         vanished flowers of an hundred years before.
         In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning,             sending its glad voice across an hundred years..”



Wednesday, April 10, 2019

I: Indian Museum #AtoZChallenge

                                                      Image Credit:Indian_Museum,_Kolkata

Calcutta is an old city, boasting of a lot of ‘oldest’s and ‘first’s. The Indian Museum(also referred to as the Imperial Museum in the texts of the British-India era) is one such. It is the largest and oldest museum in India and houses rare collections of antiques, armour and ornaments, fossils, skeletons, mummies, and Mughal paintings. It was founded by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta in 1814. The founder curator was Nathaniel Wallich, a Danish botanist. History tells us that the the concept of having a museum arose in 1796 by members of the Asiatic Society as a place where man-made and natural objects could be collected, cared for and displayed. The objective began to look achievable in 1808 when the Society was offered suitable accommodation by the Government of India in the Chowringhee-Park Street area where it still stands. 
Today there are many galleries and exhibits, among them, the Egyptian collection, the Indian artefacts (which include a Buddhist stupa, the ashes of the Buddha, the Ashoka pillar etc) are notable. Also, there are four galleries dedicated to natural history. 
Now I am not a museum person. I do not enjoy museums, no matter where in the world it is and generally avoid them, barring a few where I take my children while on vacation. It’s hardly surprising that I have not visited the Indian museum in a while (translated, 30+ years!) but I have heard that it has been nicely restored and attracts visitors from all over the globe. We used to be forced to visit the museum in our school days, usually at an age when we were unable to appreciate either the history or the significance of the displays. I recall running about the halls, getting thoroughly bored and getting yelled at by the teachers! One year apparently our section was so naughty that the school decided we should be punished. So while all the other sections went to the zoo and the Botanical gardens and stuff, we were taken only to the Planetarium. And that was even more boring than the museum. We used to take off our shoes and socks and promptly fall asleep! 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

H: Horticultural Gardens #AtoZChallenge

   Picture credit: Nandini Sett nandinisett@gmail.com


The  Horticultural Garden of Kolkata is a famous green space, owned by the Agri-Horticultural Society of India. Covering 21 acres of land in Alipore, this garden is known for its fabulous collection of trees, flowering plants and other varieties of vegetation. It has an impressive infrastructure and is one of the most well-maintained gardens across the country.

There is a sprawling and well-manicured field in the garden, a greenhouse, a fruit orchard orchard, rose garden and even a garden for different varieties of xerophytes and orchids! One of the winter attractions in Calcutta is the annual flower show hosted at the Horticultural gardens. 

The Agri Horticultural Garden includes a research laboratory, library and training centre, which facilitate horticulture studies. Nurseries and a florist shop are also present within this garden's complex, from where visitors can buy plant saplings and flower bouquets.
As children , we visited the horticultural gardens often. My father was an avid gardener and he often went to but saplings, seeds, fertilizers and what not.

I did not inherit those genes. At one point of time Baba had these bid cemented pots built on the terrace. Each was rectangular in shape and approximately three feet by one feet and two feet in depth. He filled them with soil and told my sister and me that we had one each where we were to grow whatever we wanted. Excited, one Sunday, we accompanied him to the horticultural garden and got our seeds and stuff. We planted them. Within a week I was bored out of my wits. I dug up the my plot and the seeds to see if they 'growed'. I built what were meant to be mud huts and generally mucked about. My sister's plot however was beautifully kept. She grew cucumbers and radishes and lemons and things like that while I just made tea out of mud and water and an old kettle with holes that no one wanted.

It's always been that way. My sister still loves her plants and has a good collection of them in her little verandah. She is happy when the lilies bloom. I do not share her excitement. She also regularly visits the annual flower show at the horticultural gardens. The picture above is one taken by her at the 2018 show. Me? I don't have a green bone in my body. I tried tending to a cactus while in college. It died on me.

Monday, April 8, 2019

G: Ghosts of Calcutta High Court #AtoZChallenge






I've always been fascinated by ghosts and ghost stories. Calcutta abounds with such stories. And the High Court building in Calcutta is as good a place as any to catch these elusive spirits! 
The High Court at Calcutta was established in 1862 and is India’s oldest Court building. Construction of this beautiful neo-Gothic building (based on the Cloth Hall, Ypres in Belgium) was completed in 1872, ten years after the High Court was established. All kinds of cases, including criminal trials were heard and adjudicated here. It is an old heritage building and as with most historical buildings, the High Court building is considered by many to be one of the most haunted places in the city, with rumours floating around that some corridors are avoided even during the afternoon! 
While looking up ghost stories of the time I find that apparently there was a newspaper article in the 1980s which talked about how bloody footprints appeared from nowhere on the second-floor stairwell and abruptly disappeared into one of the courtrooms, with no signs of them thereafter. There is this other story of how a British judge spotted his wife while working late into the night while she was supposed to be in England. Soon a telegram arrived to announce the fact that she had died at the time of her appearance. There are court employees, lawyers, visitors and night guards who have, over the years, claimed to have seen a lady moving around the corridor. Is it the ghost of the British lady, or the relative of someone who was hanged to death in the Court premises? 
They say if you listen carefully, late in the evening one can hear the rattle of chains of  criminals or the cries of others who wander these halls, still searching for justice. 
In all my years in the High Court I have had occasion to stay back till pretty late. 
Once after a long winded arbitration, I was walking down from the second floor library where we used to sit. I was alone. The Court building was deserted and empty. The lights were low. After Court hours certain gates are locked so I had to take a circuitous route to find a gate that was still open. As I walked down that long arched corridor between court room no 8 and court room no 1, I thought I heard footsteps behind me. I stopped, hoping it was someone I knew so we could walk together. But the footsteps stopped too, the gloomy corridor was empty. I continues walking and heard those footsteps again. As I reached the staircase to the ground floor, the footsteps faded. I walked a little fast .. faster than necessary to the waiting car.
A prankster, or a ghost?  
Truth? Or fiction? 
I’m not telling but there are now walks in Calcutta that take you through historic and old buildings at night, including the Calcutta High Court, in the hope of spotting some of the ghosts of Calcutta (trust me, there are many!) 
Coming? 



Saturday, April 6, 2019

F: Food #AtoZChallenge





After that article on Dacres Lane, (see D), you may be wondering why I am talking about food. You see, in Calcutta, one cannot NOT talk about food.
Bengalis in particular love to eat. They will spend half their savings on that perfect hills or the prawn cutlet and not blink an eye. Even while eating lunch, they will be wondering what they will eat not only for dinner, but also the evening snack.
In earlier times, most of such snacks etc were made at home. I have happy memories of my mom making evening snacks of dahi vada and nimbi and gaja and chikkis on a regular basis. As families have grown smaller and and people have been moving into unit families, the habit of home cooking has sadly dwindled. Today few brides know the intricate spices for a shukto or will know how to make that mochar chop, much less how to cut the banana flower.
Even otherwise, with the changing times, many, many eateries have spring up all over the city. Of course there are the classics like Shiraz, Royal (for the Calcutta biriyani), Badshah, Nizams, Kusum (for Kathi Rolls), Tangra, Waldorf, Mainland China, Bar-b-q (for Chinese like no Chinaman has tasted!), Mocambo (for baked crab and steaks!), Peter Cat (for Cello kabab), Golbari (for the mutton kasha), Cafe, Apanjan (for the fowl cutlet and fish fry), Zaraanj (for the Raan kabab and kali daal) Kasturi, 6, Ballygunge (for the Bengali delicacies just like grandma used to make), India Restaurant (for the Galauti kabab) etc, etc, etc, the list is endless.  Now loads of newer places have mushroomed all over Calcutta. earlier a meal out meant you headed for  the Park Street area but now you can get a gourmet meal practically anywhere! And food delivery services now ensure that you are constantly satiated!
I'm not even venturing into the five star hotels and the ones like Fatty Bao and (my daughters' favourite) Cafe Mezzuna!
You get the drift?
Food and the Calcutta spirit. Calcuttans and their food. Don't try to separate the two.
And each one of us have a few places we are passionate about. I am certain after reading this I shall be told about the places I have missed/not mentioned!!!     

Friday, April 5, 2019

E: Emotions #AtoZChallenge



                                            Image Credit: emoticons.html


Bengalis are an emotional lot. Hence in the city of Calcutta, there has always been an abundance of it. Whether it were the processions of our childhood or the next door aunty screaming because someone interrupted her afternoon siesta. People in Calcutta are so involved. A cabbie driver once gave me a long lecture on travelling in a cab when I was visibly pregnant. I have lost count of the number of recipes I have exchanged with random strangers at the market while buying vegetables or fish. There was that cop once who caught me speeding and let me go because I pointed to my toddler and said she had to go potty! Living in this city sees instances like this all the time. This city has heart. And passion. Specially when the discussion is about politics of football!
Why, during the World Cup football finals, entire localities are painted blue or yellow in support of Argentina or Brazil. Those two far away countries vie for space in the city, no matter how deep into the night the matches go on. I have had loud amicable arguments with complete strangers because I support Germany, most of them with my fruit seller and mutton seller who are die-hard Messi fans!!!
Calcuttans are sentimental too. They resist change. Just because that floor in that old house was made of red cement by the great great grandfather, they will look forlorn when someone replaces it with pristine marble. Likewise they want to hang on to their old delusions of grandeur and culture even when it is hanging in shreds!
Fortunately (or unfortunately) this is changing. Today, the streets are clean and well lit (although some people will complain about the light in their eye) and people (specially the younger generation) are moving with the times. This is a city on the move. Critics will say we are moving backwards but that is not always the case. It is still relatively safe for women alone. I will not deny that Calcutta does have its fair share of anti social elements and eve-teasers but it's still a happy place to be.
For instance, this is one of the cities that still serve beef. We do not allow anyone to tell us what we should eat or where we will pray. We do not like interference barring the dubiously well-intended, unasked for advice that is freely handed out by friends and strangers alike.
Just because.
No, don't contradict me about this now.
You see, I will get emotional about it!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

D: Dacres Lane #AtoZChallenge

                                      Image credit: dacres-lane-food-hood-town-absolutely-not-missing

Dacres Lane. Also known as James Hickey Sarani. 
That narrow stretch running perpendicular to the Great Eastern Hotel (now Lalit Great Eastern) and Esplanade which was where street food for office goers possibly originated in Calcutta. 
Located just off the busy Esplanade, it has catered to millions of office goers, a fair number of tourists and adventurous souls like me. To be honest, I have not been there since my youth, considering it faces a bit of dilapidation and there are far more eateries in place. 
But one cannot deny that this is still a heritage in the city’s food landscape. 
And we are not talking about phuchkas and chaats and the usual fare you see nowadays. Here, the signature dishes in Chittobabur Dokan is ghughni, stew, fish roll and khichuri, correct me if I am wrong! 
This entire lane is still strewn with restaurants and food stalls dating back to more than five decades. Forget the few air-conditioned places in the vicinity (there are some ) and you will find yourself on an outdoor (often rickety) wooden bench balancing a steel plate and enjoying one of the most flavourful yet simple meals ever. The stew used to be a favourite; served with vegetables and a big chunk of mutton or chicken, it was humble and comforting. 
Some years ago international chef Gordon Ramsay had set up a stall in Dacres Lane trying to outdo sales… I do not think he won!
Dacres Lane is not for the faint-hearted. Nor for those with a weak disposition. I have not been in years, but writing this has suddenly evoked memories… anyone coming with me? 

For, as Oscar Wilde said, "after a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations!" 




Wednesday, April 3, 2019

C for College Street! #AtoZChallenge


                                         Image credit: college-street-kolkata.html

You cannot talk about old Calcutta without a mention of College Street also known as Boi-para (literally, a locality for books). And what a locality it is! It's home to the largest second hand book market in the world and books call out to you from every nook and cranny. As children, when we went there, it was overwhelming. Those days you couldn't get any decent book except in College Street!  The shops in Gariahat or New Market were pooh-poohed by the older generation, specially my grandfather and no self respecting Bengali would pass up a chance to miss a visit! As the name suggests, College street is located near several of Calcutta’s academic institutions, among them, Calcutta University, Presidency College (now University), Sanskrit College and Calcutta Medical College are but a few. When these institutions came up early in the 19thCentury, that stretch of road between Harrison Road (now M.G.Road) and Bow Bazar became a haven for the city’s intelligentsia.
One can spend hours browsing this stretch of road dotted with hundreds of bookshops. And at one time it also was home to India’s biggest publishing houses. The bookstores range from standard brick built affairs to small makeshift stalls made from bamboo, canvas, or even sheets of metal or plastic. Each stall owner can tell you a story that goes back years.  It is said that any book ever sold in Kolkata can be found in College Street. Rare books have been found, hidden between first editions and raunchy thrillers as well as school and college text books. 
And of course you have to have sampled the staple of  College Street : the Coffee House. In every Bengali’s heart there is no place that has been loved or romanticised as much as the Coffee House. Right from the first time their eyes met, right to the impassioned speeches and political discussions of their youth, to the afternoons of camaraderie, every father has a story to say, every aunt has a tale to tell. Songs have been sung reminiscing those golden days of youth and who is to say how much poetry has been written or imagined in those halls! 
I leave you with a link to a famous Bengali song, “Coffee House-er shei adda ta aar nei, aaj aar nei”, a song reminiscing the carefree languid days of youth: