Monday, January 12, 2015

Kolkata Ramblings

The city of joy better sounds as Calcutta (doesn't it!) but that's all past tense now. The new dispensation is all blue as an infantile challenge to the reds who have ruled the State of West Bengal for thirty years and have now faded into the blue :)

Thirty years have backwarded the State to such an extent that the saner elements have preferred to seek their livelihood elsewhere (read Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Ahmedabad, not necessarily in that order) and yet, the city of Kolkata continues to thrive, continues to throb with an incredible abundance of life, joyous and playful, despite the fresh bout of hooliganism in blue since the newest challenge is from orange (haha!) but that's all besides the point, since this is not a political commentary, far from it.

The January moon in Kolkata looked equally wishy washy as in Delhi, only difference being in the ambient temperatures. Whereas Delhi was shivering in 2 degrees C, it was a balmy 20 degrees in Kolkata

And the city visibly takes pride in being the safest Indian city, as you can see from this street hoarding erected below the flyover at Gariahat

At 11 p.m. when I was coming back to my place of temporary residence, I was quite surprised to find an open air chess club on guard rails in full flow under the same flyover, on the other side, right at the Gariahat junction 

Old bookshops and bookstores are the best in Kolkata. In this streetside shop, I picked up a copy of The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, as I was quite curious about this book, having noticed several quotes from this book flying around

Read it flat in a day (night included). Sample the following dialogue by Augustus Waters, 17 year old formerly promising basketball player and an amputee with osteosarcoma, talking to Hazel Grace Lancaster, 16 year old patient of Stage IV thyroid cancer -

"I'm in love with you, and I'm not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you"

That's a big WOW, isn't it!

Another evening, I found Magic Dadu (Old man Magic) in one corner of the same place,
when he gently showed me a card with a floating head bobbing up and down, "Would you like to buy some magic trinkets for your kids?"

Mr Ashok Bose is running 70, and has been around selling such magic trinkets for 15 years after retirement. He also does magic shows for little children and it was indeed a privilege to have met him. 

Many shopkeepers, tradesmen in Kolkata are from the neighbouring State of Bihar, like this gentleman, who has been in the city from 1962, selling sarees from a pavement stall in Gariahat. I bought sarees for my mother from him. 

And there are yet other people in various jobs like this rickshaw puller, who was a bit shy when I took his picture. As I write this piece, the memories of our dear old cakeman come to mind; in our college days, this man in a simple dhoti and kurta used to do the rounds of the narrow streets, lanes and byelanes of North Kolkata with a small trunk on his head full of freshly baked cakes, pastries, doughnuts. "Cakeman, Sir!" was his ringing cry.

There is no other city in India with this kind of a rickshaw, which was introduced probably during the years preceding WW II, when thousands of Chinese people flocked to Kolkata, escaping communist rule. Ethnic Chinese enclaves continue to flourish in the city

New Year's eve, I found boomboxes blaring everywhere, the city determined to live intensely in the present. Should hope the new year brings good cheer to the grand old city with new opportunities and new beginnings!


  1. I so enjoyed walking along the streets with you, visiting the bookseller, LOVE the photo of the rickshaw puller, the tales of the lovely gentleman who does magic shows, and - my fave - the Cakeman!!!!

    1. Thanks a lot Sherry. My fav was the still warm mince meat patties, followed by a piece of cake with orange flavored icing on it. These pictures are of course, only of a narrow strip of Kolkata, the city boasts of hundreds of other quaint places about which I shall write, maybe, some day ...

      Wish you a rather belated happy new year, and Jeff and all of you. Peace be with you

  2. Thanks for the update on the city I've always known as Calcutta. I loved your representation of the city and its inhabitants and activities, from the open-air chess club to the rickshaw puller.
    And of course, any city which is known for old bookshops and bookstores has to be worth a visit!
    A most enjoyable post!

  3. Calcutta is a tremendously warm city, Rita and I wish I could visit more often. These pictures are of just a narrow slice of land, and I hope to post more pictures of the riverside, the trams on cobbled streets and all the quaint slideshows!
    Thank you for your kind words