Kolkata, The City That Beats In My Chest
My love for Kolkata seem to be directly proportional to the distance between me and the city. In other words, the further I am from Kolkata, the more I tend to miss it. I think that’s a common aspect, though. Do you really miss your parents until the time you start living away from them?
Just like Kabir Suman said, “Ei shohor jane amar prothom shobkichu” Indeed. Given the fact that I was born, brought up and spent almost three decades of my life in Kolkata, this city is indeed a witness to all my ‘firsts’.
- First crush when I was in an all-girls convent school and every boy looked like a potential Aamir Khan.
- First kiss in one of those dark, nostalgia filled by lanes of North Kolkata.
- First drinking of Vodka on the Ultadanga bridge (mixed in a bottle of Sprite).
- First bunking of classes to go for Titanic at the Elite movie theatre in Esplanade.
- First time staying over at a friend’s place and instead of group study, spending the evening gorging on phuchkas and mutton rolls.
They say Kolkata is the city with a soul, I feel Kolkata is a city with all the five senses, along with an intellect, sentiments, and emotions, and of course, a lot of drama! Just like most Bengali girls, just like me.
My Kolkata thrives with life.
And a lot of arguments and debates.
And everything that makes it feel like my own home.
Let me first talk about Kolkata’s food. A simple fish curry and rice after a hard day’s work, or khichuri (a delicacy made up of rice, pulses, and vegetables) begunbhaja (fried aubergine) on a rainy day, or koraishutir kochuri (fried puri with green peas stuffing) and alurdom (spicy potato curry) on a Sunday breakfast, we Bengalis have transformed everyday food into art. The smell, the texture, the spices, and that bit of our love for food gets mixed into all Bengali cuisine making those a gastronomical delight!
A few days back I wanted to cook pabda fish curry for the first time. I called my mother in law and it turned out to be so easy and yet so wholesome and full of flavours. Due to a lack of ingredients, I substituted kalo jire (kalaunji) by mustard seeds and green chillies by dried red chillies and yet that fish curry made my husband say, “Oh! This reminds me of childhood.”. It reminded us of home food which was equivalent to maacher jhol (fish curry) and gorom bhaat (steamed rice).
Sometimes, when I get my hands on nolen gur (palm jaggery) and gobindobhog chaal (a special kind of rice), I try making payesh for the winters and relive the times when we as children hogged on grandma’s pithepuli and payesh during Sankranti.
And then comes Kolkata’s festivals. Durga Puja, with all its grandeur and celebrations will always be most Bengali’s idea of happiness. I still feel sad during Bijoya Dashami, when we have to bid adieu to not only Ma Durga and her family but also to our days filled with fun, laughter, late night pandal hopping, eating bhog (food offered to the Goddess), meeting friends, and doing everything except work. Durga Puja to me is a festival of coming together–of families, communities, neighbours, and the city of Kolkata at large. For those five days we forget our tiffs and fights and try embracing each other as a part of a large, happy gathering. Durga Puja means new clothes, the latest fashions, and of course falling in love even if it’s with your own husband.
I also feel the Book fair and Saraswati Puja are worth a mention. I don’t know of any other city which has made a festival out of books. Leaving aside the bookworms, people go to the book fair to soak in the cultural heritage that is so unique to the city. When I was a child, I used to be annoyed at the people who go to the book fair to just add on to the crowd and not buy books. But with maturity, I understood that if books can bring people together then why should I grudge them the pleasure?
And talking of books, brings me to my favourite place in the city–College Street. College Street reminds me of a word I learnt recently. Vellichor, which means the strange wistfulness of a used bookshop. The word evokes images of shops selling old books, their pages yellowed with age, their musty smell transporting me to a distant land. Memories left behind like the hint of a perfume, between the pages by the previous owners, and sometimes, a scribble giving away a tiny little secret about them. College Street is the world’s largest market for second-hand books and is considered to be one of India’s most famous landmarks.
Why? Allow me to take you on a tour around College Street.
Imagine, a quaint sepia-tinted vintage photo, where time stands still. You amble down the memory lane, into some nostalgic pathway of old books and memories. Old buildings surround you, while you meander through the lanes filled with bookshops and make shift bookstalls. College Street elicits nostalgia in most booklovers from Kolkata. You can find your favourite magazine from childhood that is no more in print; you can come across stacks of complete works of William Shakespeare or Charles Dickens, to an exhaustive Stephen King collection. College Street is a book lover’s veritable paradise. You get lost in the old world charm of literature produced in a host of Indian languages along with books from all across the globe.
When your quest for books tires out your legs after long hours of browsing, you head over to rest awhile at the Indian Coffee House, another major attraction of College Street. Surrounded by some of the most prominent colleges such as University of Calcutta and Presidency College, Coffee House was the cultural hub of Kolkata in the yesteryears. It was once thronged by the greatest intelligentsia of Bengal-starting from poets to politicians.
You can almost imagine few authors immersed in literary discussions, while their coffee turned cold, thick clouds of cigarette smoke emanating from their midst as if from a witch’s cauldron. Well, in one way they definitely created Magic in the form of their films and novels and poetry! Prominent literati across generations including Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, and Amartya Sen were known to frequent this coffee joint, to nourish their minds through discussions with the like-minded.
Finally, you start reflecting on how books are one of the greatest binding forces, even in today’s fast paced world littered by mobiles, tablets and PlayStations. You see books, explore books, and have an experience of how life revolves around books – through your journey via College Street.
So, these are a few things about my dear old Kolkata which I will cherish till my last day. And yes, I know Kolkata might not be your first choice of an Indian metro to live in given the fact that it lags in a lot of aspects from a Mumbai or a Delhi, maybe. But one thing is for sure, like that first love of your life, anyone who’s lived in Kolkata is bound to feel that the city is special with its own quaint charms and no matter where you go, you’ll always miss it in some strange, unspoken way.
(PS: Some parts of this article has been referred from one of my previous articles which was published here.