Remembering Calcutta

To play a raunchy actress in Dirty Picture and then follow it up with so contrasting a character as that of a pregnant woman searching for her husband, and play both to perfection, requires talent. Hats off to Vidya Balan. But the hero in this movie was truly the story. Pacy, and with the right amount of twist at just the right moment towards the end.  I was also impressed by the actor who played Rana – the rookie cop who helps her out. Very understated, very shy, very sweet.  But what I loved best was Calcutta. Oh Calcutta. The city, which amidst decay, still manages to exude so much warmth, culture, friendship and color.

I was born in Calcutta. Don’t remember much from that stint. But I am sure that fact has something to do with my love for Bengali food. So in 2003 when my husband was given the opportunity to move there, I was quite bemused. Armed with much ‘Oh you have to go here’ and ‘ you have to go there’ by my mom, who I think was far more excited about me going there, I landed in the city of joy. It was a week before Christmas. The company put us up at a charming hotel very close to Park Street. And the very first evening, post a long and tiring day looking for houses, I decided to walk through Palk Street towards my husband’s office to join him for dinner. I can never forget the way Park Street looked. All lit up.  I joined a group of carol singers just off Park Street and promptly fell in love with the city.

I lived life in Calcutta exactly the way Calcutta expects you to live life there. In the slow lane :).  

I worked with an NGO -on some very flexible timings, did theatre, made loads of friends and ate out at some awesome restaurants. I loved the place. Yes, of course, I do agree that work wise, the place was a little slow. Ask my husband. The very punju, aggressive professional  that he is, Calcutta was a huge shock 🙂

The first time a city bandh was announced, he dismissed the news. What bandh? How ridiculous! Of course, I’m going to office. But baby, they say you shouldn’t step out. They may pelt stones at your car or something, I tried to warn him. To no avail. The building guard was shocked.  No no sir, you can’t go out, he said.

10 minutes. Exactly 10 minutes later a visibly chastened hubby stood at the door. Apparently , a group of men waved his car down, kindly told him to step back home or they would deflate the car tyres.

Around 15 days later, the opposition party announced a bandh. Hubby didn’t even make the effort to venture out this time! But he wasn’t happy about the place. So a year it was. I won’t say I was very pleased to leave the city. I have lovely memories of the biryani at Shiraz, the champ at Ameena, chaelo kebab at Peter Cat, fish curry from a small joint on Free School Street and the many, many other places that we ate at; the NGO where I worked, the P G Wodehouse club readings, hopping into a tram just for the fun of it, walking around all night to visit as many pandals as possible during the puja, reworking on my Bengali which came back so instinctively, and last but not the least- the friends that I made. It was an awesome year of my life.

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One Response to Remembering Calcutta

  1. Scarlett says:

    I lived in Cal for 3 years. Right after having lived in Bombay for 5. And most of those 3 years were spent cribbing about pretty much the same things you’ve mentioned above, plus the pollution, work politics, the heat & humidity which is MUCH worse than Bombay (ha!), how interfering neighbours can be, the Bong-non Bong divide. It was only after I left Cal last year did I realize how much the place had started feeling like home, to the extent that I feel if I go back to India now I want to go live in Cal. I really do. I’ll make my peace with everything I’ve mentioned above because Cal feels like home. It did to me in 3 years what Bombay couldn’t in 5, although I LOVE Bombay! But that’s what Cal does to you once you live there…it makes you one of its own and it makes you very very Bong 🙂

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