5 Slices Of Memory From A Childhood In Kolkata
I woke up today feeling different. Usually it is waking up with the self-loathing and lethargy in the morning as I hug a cup of coffee and hope it goes away. But today was different. I felt something was missing, I was missing something. It was nostalgia. I was missing my childhood along with it the city which was connected to it.
I was missing Kolkata.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. Moments you feel dreadful, bored, terrible at the present moment will one day be one of your most cherished memory. Same with the memories of the city I grew up in, went to school and played in the flood waters in. This was a time before the shopping malls, the selfie taking crowds and even the coffee places trying to kill you with diabetes. If you were there with me, you would certainly remember it not only in your mind, but somewhere even deeper.
#1 Winter Mornings
If there is something most magical about city, on the top of my head would be the winter mornings. As I stood waiting for my school bus, seven in the morning on those January mornings basking in the golden light from the winter sun while the smell of the leaves burning comforted me like a vanilla infused pipe tobacco.
I miss those mornings now, whenever I get a chance, I like to wake up early during winter, go outside and take a whiff. The smell is not the same, the sweetness is gone, the wheels have progress have turned the air into something mundane, functional.
#2 Kolkata Book Fair
It is no wonder, that most of my other memories from Kolkata would be associated with things which only happen during the winter. Kolkata Book Fair (not the one which happens now) would be something I would look forward to. You see books were a very important source of entertainment for us, before all the selfies and the youtube videos and everything.
There were also no huge bookstore in malls where you could browse every possible title on the planet. There were constraints on our lives which made us enjoy every little part of it and the Book Fair was part of it. We used to make a day or two out of it, holding my fathers hand with one arm and the other arm clutching the packets full of the new books I was just bought.
#3 Howrah Station
You might say, why do you mention Howrah Station, it is a dreadful place. Yes, I hated it too, stuck in a jam along Strand Road in a taxi sweating profusely on the way to a train to take us somewhere. I hated the fact that the coolie might even run away with the luggage and I was dragged along like a inanimate object while my father tried to keep up with him. But, going to the station meant something. Travelling had not been trivialised like it has been now, everyone is either in Phuket or Dubai. Travelling meant something significant, even it was to somewhere simple like Puri. We took pictures to keep as memories, not to show off to people on Facebook how great our lives were. Howrah Stati0n was the doorway to this experience, hence the station still lingers in my memory.
#4 Picnics in the Zoo
Sure we did not have malls to hang out in the 90s. Picnics in the zoo were always a mess. Some kid would be puking, some would get lost, half of us would be punished. But the memories of hanging out in the zoo on the crispy winter day with the smell of peeled oranges all around us is a memory I hold dearly.
#5 New Empire and Lighthouse
This is the memory which saddens me the most. The decline of Kolkata’s grandest movie theatres. I loved movies and my childhood was filled with stories of my grandfather telling me how silent movies used to play before Independence in New Empire with a live pianist just below the screen. Lighthouse and New Empire has been an integral part of my childhood. From my father taking me to watch Mrs. Doubtfire to watching Independence Day in 1995 to sneaking in to watch American beauty, the cinemas are gone but they fill up corners of my childhood memories.
I have been away from Kolkata for more than a decade. Surely, I have started forgetting things about the city, sometime the name of a street or a building, but whenever I meet a fellow Kolkatan and discuss about our childhood, all of them come rushing back as it if was yesterday.
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