Reminiscences of my favourite city

Clear blue sky, white fluffy clouds floating over the sky and the dance of the kashphul across the field adjacent to my bedroom window! It’s autumn and days before the greatest festival for us Bengalis… I woke up on an all-important Monday morning with this dream. I live in Bombay now and this ‘maximum city’ has showered me all the love and affection that can be given to an outsider who wants to make this city a home. There are greater job opportunities here, options for plush affluent living are plentiful in this city by the Arabian Sea. I love Bombay and no complaints for my life here. But I wonder why there are moments in life when my heart cries out for Calcutta, the city of my birth, the city where I grew up, the city of all possible firsts in my life.

When it rains in Bombay, I cherish the monsoons, but no matter how well adjusted I get to my life here, my mind goes back to the monsoons of my city of joy. I reminisce about the days when I used to come back from college on rainy evenings to the admonitions of my mother. But her harshness would be compensated with the amazing food she would cook for me, followed by steaming cups of tea.

I woke up and got ready to battle out the way to my office in Bombay. An auto ride, followed by my train journey and then a cab ride. One has to get adjusted to the harsh life in order to make it worthwhile in Bombay. Luckily in the train I got a window seat and quite effortlessly my thoughts drifted to one rainy evening outside Victoria Memorial when I had gone for a horse ride while I could see the orange sun drool off to the west… I will never forget that day. The effect of rain and sun had created a breath-taking rainbow as well across my favourite Calcutta sky. As the rain water splashed on my face in the train, I had to shut down the window and my attention went back to how to plan my day ahead.

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Whenever people here in Bombay get crazy over Ganpati festival, my heart yearns for Durga Puja and how I went completely berserk during those five magical days. Right after Mahalaya, the shopping and planning for the festival started. Calcutta turned into a fairy land during Durga Puja. It seemed that there isn’t any kind of sadness or deprivation in this land during the festival time.

Durga Puja

And it is not a festival only for the Hindus. It’s a gala fiesta for people of all religions, essentially all Bengalis. Even beggars of the city greet you with smiling faces on those days. And for me, Durga Puja is synonymous with Calcutta. Bringing in the goddess from Kumortuli, helping in the stage decorations, the beginning of the Pujo on Shoshti, kolabou chan on Saptami morning, the craze for anjali on Ashtami, checking out the dudes on Nabami while pandal hopping and finally the crazy fun of Bhasan day on Dasami. The city belonged to us during those days of unadulterated joy. Even in other places, the festival is celebrated. But my involvement, my memories, my association lie back with the Durga Puja of my favourite city – the city of my birth.

Life in Bombay is very different from that in Calcutta. There is a certain kind of anonymity in Bombay which I appreciate now at this juncture of my life. When I return from office, I get to relax and enjoy my space, sans any kind of interruptions or distractions. But in Calcutta, and during the time I was growing up, such isolation was unthinkable. We all knew each other, we loved to spend time with each other. The entire neighbourhood was one community where we took pride in each other’s accomplishments. Anyone’s ailment was a deeply discussed topic, any death was a reason of mourning for all. And on the other hand, every joyous occasion or event of any family was cherished like a joint celebration. It could be something as trivial as a local badminton tournament. But for us, it was nothing short of the all-important Wimbledon final. Such was my Calcutta; such was the kindred spirit in the land which exudes warmth and love in equal measure.

Calcutta for me is the land of football. Those evenings come back to me so distinctly when my entire family got bonkers over East Bengal and Mohunbagan matches. My father and uncles debated and discussed endlessly over kicks and shots and what not. Back then I felt such antics from adults as pointless exercises. But now I realise its essence. Calcutta and its famed love for football brought back childhood even to the adults. My love to my favourite city for breaking the daily grind of our everyday existence during those memorable evenings.

Here in Bombay, football is still enjoyed and debated, but of international soccer clubs and at sports bar. There is also fun in these experiences, but of a different kind altogether.

 

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I miss Calcutta for this passion it used to generate. And probably the city has made me whatever I am today – passionate and fiery. The city which had a dominant communist influence for 34 long years has made all its residents politically conscious. That craze for politics is never there among the youth of any other states. In Bombay, my contemporaries are better aware about many other business events. But politics certainly takes a back seat for them. My love for politics was passed onto me by my father. He was an active member of the Communist Party of India and quite a popular leader. At home we had numerous discussions of how the state was functioning. We never took any harsh ruling or irrelevant judgment without any protest whatsoever.

My father even took part in boycotts, protests, bandhs all over the city. This spirit has time and again been criticised by people all over the country. They say such defiance hampers the business prospects of a city. But for people in Calcutta, standing up for a cause which they believed in passionately holds more relevance than earning a few more bucks.

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All these are probably making the city of joy poorer, unpopular, but the city believes in living up for its principles, for the causes it is passionate about.

Bombay is a city of amazing charms. For decades people not only across the country, but all over the world have made this city their home. Marine Drive, Worli Seaface, Chawpathi Beach during monsoons become so inspirational that varied stories and poems have been penned on them. Bombay and its Queen’s Necklace image has received international reckon. I love these places in Bombay but while having lemon tea during a sunset in Marine Drive my thoughts drift over to the endless discussions and debates over chai in a mud cup. We Bengalis whose childhood have been spent on Calcutta live up to our ‘Argumentative Indians’ image. I remember days when we discussed almost the entire world over cups of tea, coffee and pakoda at Nandan and CoffeeHouse. During those days we didn’t spend hours in CCDs and Baristas. CoffeeHouse in College Street held an ethereal charm for us.

And that brings to another magical place in Calcutta – College Street. Can one ever one fathom of a place that’s lined only with books? Lanes and bylanes heaped with books of all kinds. They say if a book is ever written, it will find a place in College Street. And book lovers can spend days poring over pages at corners even without buying the books. Calcutta shows the way to achieve happiness even when one doesn’t boast of an impressive bank balance.

Among the multiple things that I miss about Calcutta, is its winter season. Bombay sadly has no winter and even though the weather becomes moderate during those months there is no thrill of braving the chill during the bitter cold November, December and January of Calcutta. I still cherish the feel of the warm woollens, the thrill of wearing the super stylish leather boots, the yummy hot spicy phuchkas on winter afternoons, returning back after a long winter day to steaming hot Mom-cooked food and sleeping under thick quilts late on winter nights.

Winter was also the season of fairs in Calcutta. Subhash Mela, Bidhan Nagar Mela, Lexpo, Flower Shows and the mother of all fairs – Calcutta Book Fair. My father had first taken me to the Book Fair. It’s amazing how books can have such a tantalising impact on the psyche of a city. The city vibrated with the spirit of books during those two weeks of the fair. Television, radio stations, newspaper offices buzzed with every small detail about the fair. In short, the coming together of thousands of books and its lovers  in one place can be an experience that’s unique to the city of joy only.

For Calcutta, books fairs, film festivals, music concerts, protest marches, football matches, newspaper readings, culinary extravaganzas, book readings hold more significance than minting money. So people like me might have left the city for greener pastures elsewhere, but time and again, their hearts cry out to seek the joys of their favourite city.

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2 thoughts on “Reminiscences of my favourite city

  1. Believe it or not…. though I have never been to Kolkata – through books & articles I have an yearning to visit this city.
    Your blog post – kept me hooked till the end- bcoz its very similar to my comparisons of Mumbai with Aurangabad [ the city from where i did my schooling]
    Even my recent blog post- is about Aurangabad.

    From the City of Joy to the City of Dreams – u can write a book by this title given your vast experience in both cities.

    Like

  2. Thank you so much for your comment. Feels great 🙂 Please share the link of your blog where you have written about Aurangabad. I would love to read it.

    And I love the title, ‘City of Joy to the City of Dreams’. It’s so beautiful. To be honest I did not like the title of this blog myself. Did not find anything better so put it. So thank you.
    And please plan a trip to Calcutta 🙂

    Like

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