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.
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.
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.
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.