Kolkata, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bengal and Calcutta or Kolkata as it is now called is a place I have wanted to go to forever. The people I met who came from there were a large part of the reason. Unfailingly brilliant conversationalists, intellectuals, liberals all. Another reason was the many bengali films seen at various film festivals over the years. We are speaking of the land of RabindraNath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, RamaKrishna Paramhamsa, Vivekananda, Chaitanya MahaPrabhu, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jagdish Chandra Bose. I know this is now reading like a history textbook. But there is no way one can speak about Bengal and not speak of history, so illustrious is their heritage and so sizeable is that single state's contribution to original thinking be it in any field. I was just so curious. And to be there during their famed Durga Pooja is any travellers or experience junkie's dream. Another very important reason to go to Kolkata was also to meet my long time virtual friend and artist extraordinaire Dithi Mukherjee. I have watched with admiration her art grow from strength to strength and evolve to a degree that spoke of deep dedication and an undeniable inner light.  
I was not sure how to even begin making a post of the what went on to be a some of the most deeply enriching  and nourishing days spent this year. So here is the 1st generic post about Kolkata, visual impressions, a quick cleaning of feet in the soil of Kolkata before stepping into the experience that Durga Pooja is.
 And so I reached Kolkata, to be met at the station by Chandi Da, Dithi's trusted driver. And Chandi Da was one more reason to make me fall in love with this place, such was his quiet enthusiasm in describing the city to me. And through my days in Kolkata, it was Chandi Da who drove us through the winding streets of North Calcutta with masterfulness. Please do not be surprised if you hear of various anecdotes about Chandi Da in the subsequent Durga Pujo posts, you have all been duly introduced to him.

 All one had to do was look up. This brand of crumbling old world beauty was everywhere. Every turn of the road, Every gate that opened seemed to be a story waiting to be heard.


Remnants of a colonial past.

I am a vegetarian and all the Bengalis I know are serious carnivores, so I worried if I would get decent vegetarian fare in Kolkata. My fears were baseless. On all the days of my stay there I hardly repeated a dish, I was treated to different kinds of vegetarian fare at all meals. I have to say this of Calcuttan weather and water - I have never before eaten so much deep fried and rich food consistently without a problem to my digestive system. How does it work?  When i say this all the bong I know smile knowingly. Its is clearly some well kept secret known only to Bengali's.
 This city has its quirks. On a busy street where there is hardly enough place for people to walk suddenly on the roadside springs up mini shrines of Gods and goddesses. Some are mobile shrines like the one shown above on a cart or a make-shift table. So people are going about their business and some people bow down  and pray religiously to these gods with people walking all around them. Now one could argue that this was so typical of India, but everything that is typical of India seemed to jump out at you and say "Look at me, I am real" in this city.
I thought this was real from a distance, but the closer I came I realised - a life size fake cow! standing by the side of the road, pretending to be the real thing. I told you - quirky.

You know this is my weakness. I promise you the Kalighat post will have a LOT more of Bengali script.
 Kalighat was an amazingly alive experience filled with the most interesting people. But that is another post.

But the Kolkatta experience is a people experience, whether it is on the streets, whether it was the families I met in old Kolkatta homes. My trip was made by Dithi with whom I stayed, with whose husband and family I have formed bonds that will last a lifetime. My trip was made by Dizzy Hellboi, (whose name I can't get over) who was orginally named Diganta Gogoi by his parents, ace street photographer, by the super happy times that Dithi, he and me spent cracking up mostly and most naturally shooting, doing our own thing in harmony.
 My trip was made by the many many beautiful old people who lived in their beautiful old homes, who have earned many a wrinkle with a life well lived.
Tradition, families, acceptance and love. I got to see and experience all of this to full in this trip to Kolkatta.
This is a picture of Dithi with Irene Dutta's mother. A lady who shines with her light of love. Who welcomes people into her life and family with her love.

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