Travel Tales

Bengal Sojourn (Quirky Travel Tales)

Calcutta sojourn, calcutta taxi

Welcome to Day 2 of #BlogchatterA2Z Blogging Challenge. Today I go back to Bengal.

I started my first job in Calcutta, a city I had heard and read about but had never visited. I went straight from my college, bag and baggage to join the campus placement company. It was a long train journey from Pune to Calcutta. My accommodation had been arranged by the company so there wasn’t much to worry about, except for the nervous anticipation about new phase of life, work, meeting new people and officially starting the adult life.

As the Howrah station was pulling close, the train jerked and slowed down, a bunch of coolies appeared from somewhere and hurriedly climbed up the train. They got around passengers checking if anyone needed porters, few of them engaged with haggling clients in Bengali and fixed the jobs, some other still went around from one end to the other looking for prospects. As the train came to a halt slowly, people started getting down. I pulled out my heavy non-wheel suitcase from under the berth and two more bags. The waiting porters caught a glimpse and I was the prime target now. Some more porters got into the compartment from the platform and now it was a bunch of ten jostling to carry my luggage. A burly porter lunged forward and caught hold of my suitcase. ‘This is my work’ and he announced to others, ‘Go back’. I was stunned. I told him don’t touch my stuff, I will get down and talk. Nothing doing. A fight had already erupted between porters who had climbed in before and grabbed all the business and the ones who were waiting at the platform. There were loud arguments, sweating hot heads ready to fight with fisticuffs, it looked like a trade union war straight from a 70s’ movie. All the passengers had nearly disembarked with me stuck inside with luggage and surrounded by porters fighting near the exit. I was scared as hell not knowing what to do, so I started screaming at the top of my voice like Mamta Di and told them I will not give my luggage to any of them, I will call the police. Looking at my sudden change of avatar, they got down cursing each other ‘what a waste.’ Some went out and waited by the side hoping I will give up and call one of them. I didn’t. Somehow I managed to pull all the luggage down and sat down on the suitcase comfortably till the bunch gave up and finally disappeared. Thus began my exciting stint with Kolkata, oh no Calcutta!

The city turned out to be very different from what I had imagined. Born, brought up in cantonment areas and smaller cities, I had very different expectations from a Metro city. Howrah station, black and yellow taxis, fiery outspoken people everywhere, crowds, mad traffic, old rusty bridges, it seemed I had entered a bygone era form pre-independence time. Having seen Pune, Mumbai and Delhi I was surprised and bit scared.

In a few days, joined by other trainees, we started exploring Calcutta on weekends. Park Street, Coffee House, Nalban Lake, Camac Street, New Market, Garihaat Bazaar, Calcutta Metro, Tram rides, one by one we explored the city and the layers came undone page by page. This was truly a city with a soul and an old one at that. Art, Music, Culture, Books, Paintings, Concerts, Addas, street food gave the city a unique charm.

The locality where I stayed had a’ Kishore Kumar Fan Club’ board pinned on a tree near the grocery store. Curious, I asked the grocer about it and he gave me a number to contact the ‘Convener’ of the club. I did phone him to find out more and got an exclusive invitation to attend the bi- weekly meet. I accepted the offer and went next weekend to be greeted by group of talkative youngsters, some in college, some preparing for jobs, but all of them crazy fans of Kishore Kumar. They met in a vacant space in market area with guitar and casio and drums. These addas, I realise now, have more talent than some of the contestants on television music shows. Calcutta is a storehouse of connoisseurs and artists. Most of these are artists born out of a true love for the art form and not for the fame or publicity, art can bring them. The famed Bengali love for food is known worldwide. It’s not just the food but the whole emotion attached to it, right from planning every meal that involves the entire family. Food is serious business here with ample time and attention paid to buy the ingredients fresh, elaborately prepare dishes and serve with a lot of thought and ritual. Even the street food is delicious. I savoured puckha(pani puri) every day at the corner outside my office without a care for my delicate stomach. Jhaal Muri, Puchka, Rolls, Sandesh, Mishti Doi are synonymous with the city.

Every February, Calcutta hosts one of the largest book fairs in the country. Not knowing what to do on a lazy weekend, I headed to the book fair at a huge Maidan near Park Street. Now, I had seen Delhi Book Fair which is an indoor organised commercial affair. Calcutta Book Fair was more of a cultural event with artists, writers, handicraft artists, musicians donning guitars manning the stall. The eclectic collection of books, book lovers quietly going from stall to stall, families, people of all ages and walks of life were present looking to own a few precious ‘bois.’ Even those who couldn’t afford to buy many, visited to buy at least one boi (book). It was an event I’ll remember for a long time. I have a wonderful collection of Hindi books, art prints, miniature leaf paintings, handmade diaries and some rare finds in my collection, from the Book Fair.

Calcutta grew on me, slowly and steadily. I started venturing out on my own later, visiting many landmarks, leisurely walking at National Museum, enjoying romantic boat trip by the Ganges Rajesh Khanna style, Shantiniketan weekend-dos, Dakshineshwar, Belur Math and many others.

I left the city in two years after I got transferred. I am sure a part of me is still left behind. Someday I will go back and find it. Till then, I miss you Calcutta.

(इमेज क्रेडिट: travelphotographer, Pixabay)

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