Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Kolkata in Jhumpa Lahiri's 'The Lowland'

Booker short-listed 'The Lowland' by Jhumpa Lahiri is another one of her Kolkata-USA transitional novels, the kind she specialises in. Two brothers born in pre-Independence Kolkata, through the troubled naxal revolution times. Then one brother (Udayan) becomes a Naxalite, and the older brother (Shubhash) moves to study in USA and hence, their heretofore joined-at-the-hips lives develop in completely different ways. Obviously, tragedy strikes when the younger brother is killed and then starts the journey of Subhash with his brothers pregnant wife, who he marries to save her from an uncertain future. Bela is born and raised, and then she has a child and it goes on and on. 

However this is not a review of the book. This is about the city of my childhood being described on a global stage by one of the best story tellers this age has seen. The novel starts with the two brothers growing up and going to college- Udayan to Presidency and Shubhash to Jadavpur University. Udayan then slowly gets influenced by the Naxal Movement and eventually joins it. I grew up in Tollygunj, next to the walls of the Tolly Club, near Technicians studio. I grew up in the Lowland! In my growing up years, here, the Naxal movement was still clearly remembered, deeply felt.
The time being described in her novel is of course, the 60-s, when the Naxal movement was at its peak. This is the time of my mother's growing up. She lived right there, very close to where our house is now. Here, in the heart of the uprising, I met parents whose children had been taken, never to be seen again. I was pointed out trees, under which someone had been murdered by the police. I was shown fields, or erstwhile fields, where someone's son or brother had been taken, asked to flee, escape... and then while the incredulous boy-man would start running to his imagined freedom, there would be a gun-shot from behind. This was supposed to be an 'encounter'. This is how Lahiri has Udayan die. And this is how, hundreds of a generation ware wiped out.
Golfers at the Tolly Club
Jhumpa Lahiri writes about how Udayan and Shubhash entered the Club, the symbol of decadence back then, while thousands in the city were impoverished, scavenging for food. When we were kids, the Tolly Club was another one of our play grounds. We located a hole in the wall, almost unnoticeable by the naked eye, through which dogs and kids could pass. We would sneak in and play among the verdant greenery. Tolly Club is a golf club and there would often be golf balls lying around. We would sometimes see the odd golfer putting. We were always careful not to get caught, hiding among the bushes, coming out only when no one was there. Then one day, suddenly, we found the hole closed. Someone had discovered it and bricked it shut! That was the end of sneaking in. Much later, I entered the Club, this time through the gates, as a bona fide member of the society. But this I can vouch for, I loved the Club only when I was sneaking in. Later it just became one of those places which I hate- where people come to see and be seen, to proclaim their superiority over the rest of the human race.
Inside the Tollygunj Tram depot...
just as it used to look. To get a seat,
we would catch our tram from here.
When they decided to take trams off the road,
we were amongst those who petitioned against it,
with signature campaigns et al.
Tolly Club is a beautiful place, a haven for birds, and our house garden, which is probably 200 mts from the club still receives rainbow hued guests from the club. This place with its thousands of native and imported trees is the lungs of South Kolkata. When my mother was small, the club was still there, with its odd hole in the wall, wherein she would sneak in with her rowdy group of friends. I have heard stories of how they were caught by the guard and given a hiding and threatened to be arrested if they were ever seen in the premises again. Just like Udayan and Shubhash!
Lahiri describes the locality around the Technicians Studio in absolute perfect detail. It is just as she says in the book. The mosque, the roads weaving in and out, too narrow for the huge Ambassador taxi cars. It was so close to home, that I even felt a bit angry to read her describe MY territory. I felt she stole MY story. Of course she didnt. But she almost described my house, dammit!
The Mosque
She also describes Anwar Shah road, Tipu Sultan's mosque, the graveyard, everything you can see even now if you visit that area. She describes how, during partition, waves of displaced Bangladeshis settled down in the lowlands of Tollygunj, these were called "Colonies" when I was small. Now they have proper names. We have heard stories of people scavenging the gutters for fish and the lowlands for leaves to eat. It was still too fresh in people's memories. Many reminisced with palpable horror, many proudly described how they had survived, one day at a time.
College Street stalls... there are hundreds of these
Part of the staircase, leading past English to the
Philosophy Department
She talks about Presidency College and College Street. She talks about Udayan watching as Gowri descends the grand staircase- "our" staircase! How unhappy we were, when the grand old staircase got a face-lift and the college authorities put golden railings by its side. We loved the staircase just as it was, where history was made when Subhash Chandra Bose, then a student, pushed his professor down. College street, where Gowri and Udayan's love blossomed, was second home for 3 years. My closest friends today are from here and from Jadavpur University engineering department (Shubhash's department). 
Burra Bazaar in North Calcutta... notice the verandahs
(Lovely Kolkata images from www.doornumber3.in)
Then there is the South Calcutta- North Calcutta love story of Udayan and Gowri. Tollygunj is extreme south, at that time, almost a suburb of Calcutta. Gowri lived in the North, where verandahs look down on busy streets. Tolly is a haven of peacefulness, or was, should I say, for things are so different now. When we were children, we would cross the railway over-bridge and my father would joke that the temperature just went down two degrees. Yes, it was cooler, greener, more silent, more liveable. North Calcutta is noisy, polluted, populated and OLD, all caps. But dare you say that to a North Calcuttan. Of course, I hear ya, it is the centre of culture, it is the REAL Calcutta, the traditional seat of the Babus of Bengal...no doubt about it. When we were growing up, North Calcutta was a city, South was still a rapidly growing town. 
The book took me back two decades, in the Tollygunj of my childhood, and then, to the Presidency of my early adulthood. It made me want to go back and see them as I saw them then. It is almost an anti climax now when you go there. Yes the Club is there, the tram depot, which also has the metro station now, and then you cross the Sangeet Research Academy (later than the period of the book) and reach Technicians Studio. You can see the mosque, the market which the book mentions in passing. No, the lowland is long gone. It is bustling city now, in all its squalor and glory. In all its ambitions and capabilities. But it is still my Tollygunj. It is still my Calcutta.

All images from google images.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Kolkata- A Kaleidoscope of Memories by Promita

Kolkata is the city of my cherished childhood days. My Kolkata memories have always been a special part of who I am today…colorful snippets of thought sewn together by loving bonds to create a rich tapestry of unforgettable memories.
For us Bongs, far away from home, Kolkata beckons to us with the nostalgia of days gone by. When I share my childhood stories with my son, it’s a mesmerizing world of enticing sights, sounds and tastes to him…and a mystical sensory journey down memory lane to me.
I tell my son about the sultry summer days, weeks of no-school and no-homework. Lazy long afternoons spent reading in the latticed verandahs - the sun casting lacy shadows on the bright red floors, the antique grandfather clock chiming away the hours. Sneaking up to the terrace to taste deliciously sour mango pickles, playing in the tiny, dingy room tucked away in the corner of roof - the cool musty smell of ages past surrounding me, I'd sit there waiting to be discovered while we play hide and seek.

I share with my son, vivid descriptions of the monsoon rains, flooded streets - wading through knee-deep water…These sound so strange to him that he can only stare at me wide-eyed, trying hard to visualize what I described. I also remember the hot cups of tea with spicy pakoras - a staple during rainy evenings and of course, steaming plates of delicious khichuri for lunch.
Durga Puja is yet another unforgettable memory from my days growing up. Autumn would creep in, with blue skies seemingly washed clear by the rains, the sound of pujor dhaak and the smell of dhoop dhuno in the cool air…the whole city decked in lights and color, fervent prayers to the goddess for all things unattainable - a sense of peace & contentment, a wonderful time for us all.

Rum Balls from Nahoum's
Then came the chilly, clear winters, special memories of Christmas, decorations, walks down Park Street, fruit cake from “Nahoum's”, invariable visits to the zoo, family picnics on the grass, goodies to share – and the fresh citrusy smell of oranges, as we peeled them, juices trickling down our fingers!

The year would wind up with schools reopening but we had Saraswati Puja to look forward to. The spring season was heralded by vibrant hues of red, yellow and orange to match the offering of marigolds to the goddess, a time for budding romance in the neighborhood – some lovelorn “Paara r dada” pursuing his elusive ladylove, all the girls dressed in their first yellow sarees participating in the neighborhood cultural programs.
Just as these evoke my Kolkata memories, for my husband, Kolkata is all about good food. The city has always tempted the discerning Bengali palate with its array of delicacies. My husband’s fondest memories are of delicious mishti from “Bhim Nag”, elaborate meals during family celebrations and hot “kochuri – tarkari” on Sunday mornings with orange, syrupy “jeelipies”. He can talk dreamily about these for hours.
Jilipi or Jalebi
This is why my cousins who have had to relocate to other Indian cities roam the streets like lost souls in their quest to discover “authentic Bengali cuisine” outside Kolkata and when they find some quaint Bong eatery tucked away in a corner of Mumbai, there is a triumphant post on their Facebook page announcing their success!
This culture and ethos of the city can be felt by us Bongs alone. The spirit and pace of the city, the incessant traffic and noise, the adda sessions with beloved friends – are all integral parts of Kolkata. So to end my sojourn, I just want to say wherever I am, I love you Kolkata – my Kolkata of painted green shutters, yellow cabs, azure autumn skies and gray monsoon rains. This is the Kolkata of my dreams!

Promita Bhattacharya currently calls Charlotte, North Carolina home. She has a 10 year old son and a newborn daughter. Promita was born and brought up in Kolkata, studied in Presidency and then shifted base to the US with her husband.  

PS: All images from google images. Click on the pictures to navigate to the websites.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kolkata Getaway: Bishnupur

About 150 kms from Kolkata the ancient town of Bishnupur awaits your weekend tryst with history. Bishnupur used to be the capital of the old kingdom of Mallubhum named after the ruling dynasty, the Mallas. Mallas of Bishnupur are one of the rare examples of Hindu dynasties in India which ruled uninterruptedly for more than a thousand years.
The history of this city can be traced back to 694 AD, when King Raghunath 1 founded the Malla dynasty. In 994 AD the place was named Bishnupur after the Hindu god Vishnu. It reached the helm of its glory at the end of the 16th century and continued till the 18th century, and this is reflected in its rich architecture, music and handicarfts like pottery and weaving.
You can still witness the brilliantly intricate terracotta work depicting the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and other tales of Hindu mythology on the outer and inner walls of the Rash Mancha (1600 AD), Syamrai Panchachura (1642) Jor Bangla (1655) Madanmohan (1694) and many other temples which have withstood the ravages of time.
Durga Puja at the Mrinmayee Temple is arguably the oldest Durga Puja dating back to 997 AD commenced by King Jagat Malla. The rituals followed till date for the puja are traditional to the Malla Dynasty including firing of the Grand Cannon at the time of Sandhipuja (evening puja). Since immersion of the idol of Maa Mrinmoyee is forbidden by the ancient royal tradition, the diety in this temple is said to be more than 1000 years old.
In fact there is history scattered across this place. Apart from the temples, many other ancient relics like the Pathar Darja (the giant stone gateway to the Rajdarbar area), the Dalmadal (the mega sized cannon) or the Ghumghar (especially built to execute convicts) takes your imagination back centuries.
Music enthusiasts may find it interesting that Bishnupur Gharana, developed under the patronage of the Malla kings, is the only Indian Classical Gharana from the eastern part of the country.
To promote local tourism, art and music, the government has started an annual event in Bishnupur called Bishnupur Utsab or Bishnupur Mela, which is held during the last week of December.

Reaching there:
By train: You can either that Rupashi Bangla Express from Santragachi Station at 6.25 am and reach Bishnupur station at 9.40 am or Purulia Express from Howrah at 4.50 pm and reach there at 8 pm. Return from Bishnupur Station is at about 7.30 am by Purulia Express or 5.30 pm by Rupashi Bangla.
By Car: We took about 5 hours to drive via this route Kolkata- Dankuni - Durgapur Expressway- left at Ratanpur crossing- Tarakeshwar- Arambag- Katulpur- Jaipur- Bishnupur.

Stay and food: Recommended place- Bishnupur tourist lodge. You can book it in advance from West Bengal Tourism office at Tourism Center, 3/2 BBD Bag East, Kolkata 700001.
Rooms and service are satisfactory. Tourist attractions are also close. Food is good, particularly the Bengali cuisine. Apart from a restaurant the lodge also houses a bar.
Other stay options are Hotel Holiday Resort, Monalisa Lodge, Udayan Lodge etc.

Getting around:
Cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws are available for local site seeing and most of the drivers also double up as guides with their limited knowledge. Cars are also available on hire.

What to see: 
Depending on your level of ineterst in ancient relics and history, the site seeing of Bishnupur would take you 3-6 hours. Most of the major terra cotta temples are within a 4 km radius. The Archaeological Survey of India maintains most of the sites and levies a nominal fee od Rs 5 for entry to the most famous temples.
We started from Rash Mancha. You also get the tickets there. Rash Mancha is a pyramidal structure built in 1587- 1600 by Bir Hambir in the center of the town, where deities from other temples were brought in a procession at the time of the Rasa festival.
Other major temples are Shyamrai Temple, Jorbangla, Mrinmoyee, Madanmohon, Nandlal, Radhamadhab, Kalachand, Radhagobinda, Radhalaljiu and Jugalkishor Temples. Other relics and attractions which are a must visit are Dalmadal Kaman, Pathar Darja, Ghumghar, Lalbhandh and Lalgarh.
At a distance of about 10 kms from Bishnupur is the village of Panchmura where the local artisnas make the famous terracotta horses which is now one of the symbols of Indian handicraft. You may also visit Jairambati and Kamarpukur, the birthplaces of Ramkrishna Paramhansa and Ramkrishna Ashram which is about 43 kms from Bishnupur.

Bishnupur is also known for its dexterous weavers. The famous Baluchari and Swarnachari sareea are made here. There are many good saree shops around, but we visited Kanishka near Lalbandh. There are plenty of options dor souvenir shopping in the form of terracotta, handicrafts and conch shell items.

Best time to visit Bishnupur is in the winters.

By Prosenjit

Friday, August 30, 2013

Kolkata Getaway: Mukutmonipur

Had enough of Digha, Mondarmoni and Bakkhali on the weekends? Go ahead and take a new weekend feel amidst the red-soil hillocks, lush green forests and unending stretches of rippling waters at Mukutmonipur just about 250 Kilometers from Kolkata.

Mukutmonipur is a less explored tourist destination at the confluence of the Kangshabati and Kumari rivers in Bankura district, West Bengal; a quaint, serene place with a treasure trove of natural beauty. Incidentally the dam project here is reportedly the world's longest man made mud-banked, fresh water barrage (at 10.8 kms)
Watching the sun set here, over this beautiful lake is a treat in itself. The lake is surrounded by hillocks, the most prominent one being the Baroghutu (Baro translating as the number 12 and Ghutu meaning hill/ stone). Scattered amidst this vast water body are a few verdant islands of varying sizes, including one with Bankupuria Mrigadab, a deer park. A 'must do' of the trip has to be the boat ride around these islands, also a unique way of local sight seeing.
In the surrounding areas a few tribal hamlets also provide good opportunity to soak up the tribal flavour, with music and dance, especially if you happen to be there during one of the local festivals like Tusu or Vadu.

Reaching there from Kolkata:
By Train: The Rupashi Bangla Express from Santragachhi (6.25 am) reaches Bankura at 10 am. Return at 5 pm from Bankura. Also morning Purulia Express. From Bankura, Mukutmonipur is 1 hr by car. The resort you are staying in can be asked for pick up and drop services.
By Car: From Kolkata drive time is about 5.5 hrs. Route 1 (241 kms) Kolkata-Tarakeshwar- Arambagh- Bishnupur- Bankura- Mukutmanipur. Route 2 (270 kms) Kolkata- Dankuni- Burdwan- Durgapur (till here NH2)- Bankura (SH 9)- Mukutmonipur. ROute 2 is longer but with better road conditions.

Stay and Food:
The best option seems to be Peerless Resort. The cottages overlook the lake, making it an ideal spot to spend your vacays. The grounds itself are well maintained and quite spread out with indoor and outdoor games. We found the service quite satisfactory. However we recommend you stick to the Bengali cuisine when you eat here, both veg and non-veg options. Dont forget to sample the Bong speciality Posto (poppy seed), especially the postor bora. A few other hotels like the Sonajhuri Resort of the Forest Dept, and Hotel Aparajita are budget friendly.

What to do:
You probably came here to enjoy a weekend break, so do nothing, if you so please. Just sit in the lap of nature with your glass of chilled beer or cuppa. Take an idle stroll around the place and along the elevated road to the dam. You can drive along the dam. Dont miss a boat ride. You can visit the deer park too. 
Within the resort, you may find game options for all ages. 
You may also go for a day trip to Bishnupur, which is about 1.5 hrs by car, to marvel at the excuisite ancient terracotta temples and relics of the Malla Dynasty. Go souvenir shopping whilst you are at it. Bishnupur is famous for its Baluchari and Bishnupur silk,, so some saree shopping is essential.

By Prosenjit
More information on google and http://www.peerlesshotels.com/mukutmonipur/

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rabindra Sangeet on the road

Here is a good one. Ever since Didi wanted Rabindra Sangeet at road crossings, I have wondered at the sound quality and noise levels... what would the bard say if he knew... now I know. :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Kolkata Beach Festival 2012

The Kolkata Beach festival happened last weekend, 13th to 16th January 2012 and will be a regular feature from now on every year.

Finally some effort into getting tourism a jump start in the state. What with a state which has almost all the natural resources the whole country has to offer, the implorable condition of the infrastructure and facilities has always gone against it. So apart from the Darjeeling- Deegha circuit even localites like myself dont travel in the state. Maybe festivals like the Christmas celebrations on Park Street and now the Beach festival will liven up things.

Mandarmani beach also has started water sports to attract more tourists, and I myself have been to the beach- its heavenly. But here are the negatives which the tourism dept would like to consider:

  1. No drive worthy route to the beach
  2. The accommodation is grossly overpriced, with not enough facilities
  3. Goonda-s often take over the beach- A friend was asked for thousands of rupees when his car got stuck in the sand. The hooligans would not let them take the car out themselves (there were 4 men and a couple of women in the car and they were surrounded by a gang of about 10).

Times of India didnt have many good things to say about the festival:  Better luck next time?

DIGHA: It may take some time for the Mamata Banerjeegovernment to turn Digha from a downmarket seaside town into an international getaway spot like Goa. But on Friday, Digha Beach Festival, which was supposed to be a celebration of tourism, was turned into a political platform. The chief minister certainly missed the opportunity to market Digha by playing to the gallery.
Though Mamata Banerjee did not talk politics, the presence of 20-odd politicians and bureaucrats on stage did send that message. Though the chance presence of Tollywood actors Paoli Dam and Bikram (the duo was shooting a film in Digha when Didi spotted them and sent an invite) did add a dash of glamour, it was all too lost in the crowd of dour netas and babus that incongruously hogged the limelight atop a decked-up stage while artists sat below.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kolkata Kolkata

This videos been doing the rounds on Facebook. Here for posterity. It must be framed on the ad for MP tourism, but it is influence well used. Anyone who calls it a rip off, does not know what they are talking about. Its creative, its well thought, its touching... all thats required for a great ad or video. Way to go producers.

And truly its not just about Kolkata. The Bengal tiger represents Sunderbans, still a great tourist attraction. I wish some more were there. We know about the Himalayan foothills of Darjeeling, the sea of Digha or Mandarmani, the jungles of Sunderban and Dooars, but what about heritage in Murshidabad or Malda, not to mention Kolkata itself, and historical pilgrimage sites of Nabadwip, Dakshineshwar, Tarapith etc. And what exactly is Shantiniketan, a university town, or a heritage site.

I wish the video said more, but it has to portray the most recognizable for everyone, and so it does a good job even on the recall factor.

"Ma Maati Manush" running out of steam?

After threatening to pull out of the Govt after rising petrol prices, and successfully being part of the voices against FDI in retail, one would think Mamata is sticking to her core ideology of being people- friendly. (Though why FDI is not people friendly is not clear to me yet). But there must be a can of worms lurking somewhere when it is politics, innit?

It seems farmers in Bengal are now complaining that the ruling party is no longer receptive to their woes. Point to be noted, Trinamool and Mamata didi's Ma Maati Maanush campaign against the then ruling party is what won them the state and her the chief minister-ship. The Tata factory fiasco in Singur is just one of the instances of the stalling of industrialization that Mamata's party believed in before they came to power. It was an ideology for sure, that cant be denied. The farmer's land is gold. Land acquisition cant be haphazard by any standard. And even those of us who cursed Mamata and her party for taking the jobs away from the state, still believed, maybe, there was a point in what she was doing. That farming land should be protected, that farmers should get their due. And it was time she won to bring that elusive balance between Maati and Maanush, Maanush here meaning the jobs, the industries which would bring in those jobs and perhaps the reversal of brain drain which had happened for decades.

Now latest is that the balance has again toppled. The land given to Infosys in Rajarhat (note here that this land was acquired by the previous govt coming under fire for coercion that time) is in jeopardy. 50 farmers with 20 acres are refusing to part with their land for the Infosys Development Centre. Now Infosys has been shopping for many years for a viable option in WB/ Calcutta. Will this be the last straw and will they take the Tata Nano route? Out of WB and in to the next welcoming state?

Has the Ma Maati Maanush mantra fizzled out? Is Mamata realising you cant keep everyone happy? Or is this another of her wily games, just for the sake of it. When will she, her party and the state, grow up?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Winds of Change 2

Mr Tata sent a congratulatory note and even mentioned in an interview how hardworking Didi is, working past midnight and through weekends. However, the chief minister is going to make public the treaty between the Tata company and the past Government regarding the Singur plant, said to hold a lot of startling revelations. Tata has still been welcomed to build his plant on the available land in Singur having retuned the disputd land to rightful owners. Maati.

The Red bastion, Writers is up for a revamp, from floors to computers. The infrastructure is just not good enough for the new batch of ministers. They might also think of turning "green"er. The Joka- BBD Bagh metro route work has already started... yesterday. She is in talks with the finance ministry, heralding changes in funds allocation for projects. The police force is changing colours, literally, more areas coming under Kolkata Police and changing their uniform from khaki to white. She travels on her black santro, no bullet proof cars for her, and her convoy has 6 cars and 2 bikes as of yesterday, all following at a discreet distance. And she stops at red lights like the common man. Let me repeat that: SHE STOPS AT RED LIGHTS LIKE THE COMMON MAN. Maanush.

Is this the beginning of honesty and sincerity in politics, finally?

Watch this space.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Winds of Change in West Bengal

Didi wins. I am here at the right time. To experience celebrations in green. Crowds on the road laughing, dancing... mikes roaring Ravindra Sangeeth all over the city, blasting eardrums- who needs the sound limit of 60 db prescribed by the Reds?! Traffic gets a new lease of life- autos standing in 3 lanes, taxis parked everywhere, who needs rules when Didi is on board.

As I walked the cobbled route on Red Square, yes, in the land of the communists, the red bastion bid goodbye to the West Bengal throne after decades of uninterrupted rule. Almost on the same day (13th May). There were SMSs hailing a change... finally, excitement, we can look forward to CHANGE.

Yesterday she was sworn in as Chief Minister of West Bengal. The occassion almost beautiful in its poetic justice. She had been thrown out, dragged out of the very rooms she now would sit in to govern a state she had been trying to supposedly "save". Her slogan, "Ma Maati Maanush" has touched a nerve in every brain.

Not that she was the choice of every one, but people were poised for a change of guard. Goonda politics had taken every person who came in touch with it, to the brink of desperation. Every institution was coloured red. Universities, the Police force, the Traffic system! If you did not have the right contacts at the right places then you would not get into the school service examination pass list. Or the college teching entrance. There were people who does not support anyone, but for the lack of a better alternative, she became the obvious choice.

When Buddhadev Bhattacharjee came into power a decade ago he was speaking the rhetoric of a chief minister who would take the state to new heights of technlogical advancement. We were passsing out of our MBA at that time and working in different cities, and the thought was uniform among us Bengalees in various cities in India and all over the world. Perhaps now we can come back. Perhaps the state would provide the opportunities to work, grow... much like Gujarat had done. And a lot of us did come back. But the dream did not last long. Soon we were looking for a path out, as we could just do this much in the state.

Maybe its time for the next wave of reverse brain drain. Brain regain.

At least the signs seem right. Sabeer Bhatia is her PR Manager. She is talking ethical land acquisition, not land grab. She is also talking industry ("We are not anti-industry").

The time of celebrations is over. Its time to get to work. Make it possible for us to come back again, Didi!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pujo 2010

Here I am stuck in Chennai during the Pujo season and Im so sad that I could cry. Which non-resident Kolkatan does not feel this way during this season. The pandal here is crowded by fellow Bongs, and food stalls, and sponsor stalls, and lets not forget- the thakur. But the crowd only reminds me of the teeming throngs on Deshapriya Park or Ballygunj/ Gariahat roads past midnight on pujo days. The food stalls are nothing compared to even my para pujo foodstalls. The egg rolls are better, the mutton chop is spicier, the fish kobiraji more crisp, and the mishti- a-ha aaa-ha. A Bong woman will go gaga over mishti in any form but Kolkata-r mishti!!! Class apart. And the idol itself? A mere doll compared to the fairy tales being woven all over my city. But sigh, I remain content to view the sea in the dewdrop. And promise vehemently never to miss Kolkata Pujo again, ever again.

Chennai has two main Pujo. One in Besant Nagar/ Adyar and another in T Nagar. Like the true Kolkatans, my husband and I, and the little one, went pandal hopping. Hop, and we were done. Well, what with TWO pujo-s and all. The oldest pujo in Chennai is in a place called Kalibari but I dont know where that is. The T nagar pujo seems to have lesser food stalls, but luchi- chholar daal - jilipi breakfast is available even at 1 am. The bhog will start in some time. So we take coupons and wait. The sound of the dhaki finally, finally, puts my heart to rest on Nabami morning, and closing my eyes, I finally feel I am home.

The Besant Nagar pujo is my para pujo in Chennai. It used to be walking distance from my house, but this year its shifted a bit farther but to a more spacious locale. The atmosphere here is "gharowa", festive, lots of laughter, lots of food. I am pulled there two times a day. I dont give anjali, so thats not on the iteranary. I just go and roam around, soaking in the atmosphere, a mere reflection of the Kolkata spirit, but at least, within the confines of this pandal, I can feel it. Otherwise the city of Chennai is bereft of any festivity, and especially at this time- seems naked, bare faced. My daughter is riveted by Durga-s lion, this year as every other. But this year I explain to her the concept of Good over Evil and she seems to understand. My parents are believers. They pray twice a day. We have the usuall Lakshmi/ Saraswati pujo at home too, and my father himself becomes priest for the day. But they never forced their belief on me. I developed a belief system all my own. And my daughter can have hers. Temple, idol, heaven, heart, service- she can choose her own path to God. That was my promise to her.

The show-off here is not too much. Sarees are still basic cotton, and lots of people in jeans around. The women who are decked in finery sort of stand out. On Dashami, the saree I wore for dinner seems too dressy for the ocassion but who cares, this is Durga Pujo and Bongs all over the world would be going OTT (over the top) at this time. The dashami bhog is limited to members of the Association, called South Madras Cultural Association but actually comprising of Bengalis in the area. My husband has not had bhog this year, what with being out of station on work for the first two days, and being at work the next two. He HAS to have bhog. So he pays money and takes membership. Now we are proud members of SMCA and we also got to have bhog, and to top it, dinner on Dashami, invitation to Lakshmni and Kali Pujo.

So, finally, now that the puja is over and Im not missing Kolkata any more, I look forward to the other puja-s here so I can go and have some more Bengali khana-peena and strut around some more in my sari-s.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kolkata 25th cleanest city in India

I stand vindicated people... few days back I had finally, the chance of phoning my Mumbai based friend, who keeps complaining when he comes to Kolkata, about how dirty the city is, (with turned up nose, no less), and telling him, dude... your city is dirtier and now the world knows it. The sugar sweet taste of revenge.

For now there is a list which says Kolkata is the 25th cleanest city in India, which Mumbai is, hold your noses... 45.

Kolkatans have some more reasons to cheer. Salt Lake or Bidhan Nagar is at No 16, even Serampore, which is my home town, is at 30. Cant imagine, can any town be any dirtier than Serampore??? Yeah, MUMBAI can!!!! Heh Heh Heh! In fact, 400 odd other towns and cities can be dirtier than Serampore... the survey covered 423 cities and towns.

The first on the list, Chandigarh and the dirtiest town... Churu in Rajasthan, who lives there... how?

Here is the complete list  for you to check out how your city or town fared.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oh my darling Kolkata, Where have you disappeared??

Lets get right to the brass-tacks, shall we?

My last three days in Kolkata.

Day 1- I had to take baby to the hospital. Park Street- Neotia Hospital. On the way back I had taken the Anwar Shah road route. Road closed. We thought that this was a routine road block by the locality people, its common in this area. So we drove down some alleys to Ashutosh Mukherjee road, the plan was to go straight down to Tolly Metro, where my house is located. Tollygunj Phari crossing- A band of people, holding hands just closed down the street as we cruised to a stop at the crossing, one of the first cars to be stuck. Traffic bearing down behind us already. I got down and asked the police officers how long it would take. "Only they know, sister" is what he said to me. "THEY"- Trinamool Congress supporters, and their chakka jam. This was a spot where I was not familiar with any detours. But the offier pointed out a narrow alley and said you can take this and see what happens. So before our tail got completely blocked we decided to go for it. At 2 pm with a hungry sleepy baby in the car, to think of standing there for an hour or two hours... unthinkable. The narrow alley became narrower and people who moved fast enough were all in there, but we got through it, after much shouting at errant rickshaw drivers, and more silent prayers, we reached home, and lunch.

Day 2: My in laws place is in Brahmapur, near Bansdroni in Tollygunj. Its about 4 kms from my parents place at Tolly Metro. And easy to reach if you know the inside roads. This day there is a "bandh" in that area, south of the canal, by the 'ruling party' CPM, so that much tougher to get through. I have a baby in the car, travelling from my inlaws to my parents. I was stopped thrice, the third time they wanted to see my id card. And when I said Im taking my child to the hospital they refused to believe me. I said how dare youstop a woman with a toddler in a car. They got a bit hassled. And when I shouted some more, shaking with anger, they let me pass, to freedom. For a moment, I felt trapped, imprisoned in my own city. For a moment, I realised how some men and women, one group of people with nothing to do on a weekday morning, can hold millions of people to ransom, making them walk miles with baggage and children to reach schools, and offices. For a moment I shed some tears to what my beloved haven of freedom had come to, a dear city, fighting for survival between some bands of ruffians, illiterate, semi-literate, who think nothing of stopping ambulances, and people who want to work, and people who just have to work to get their daily bread.

Day 3: My flight to Chennai is at 5 pm. I come out at 2 pm from the house, the plan is to pick my father from his office in Esplanade and reach airport. Park Street flyover at 2.30, we grind to a halt midway up the flyover. It takes us the next hour to reach Esplanade crossing. Trinamool again, they have closed up one side of the road for a rally. And thousands of cars in the busiest crossing of Kolkata waited patiently for hours to let the police get them through one tiny strip left open, one car at a time. The poor Kolkata police force. Kudos to them. When they retire they would have been there done it all... probably not as adept at encounters as the Mumbai police, but world-best in handling bandhs and rasta roko-s and chakka jams of all kinds. I did make it to the flight, reaching the airport at 4.45, the last possible minute. And they allowed us on, the last passengers, because I had called and told them I was stuck in a Trinamool rally with a kid. Everyone knows about it. Everyone in Kolkata.

Everyone in Kolkata now sigh once again when they hear about another bandh. They curse beneath their breath, all those who will not let a city rise from its ashes. They hang their heads when their colleagues from other cities laugh, they try to laugh and joke along with them. But in the end they know that they are the ones to blame. To have stayed at home during bandhs, fearing lathi bearing toughs- the political supporters, who would beat on the cars and deflate tyres. To have been afraid of being threatened on the road.

As a Kolkatan, Im sorry to say, I am ashamed of what my city has allowed to be done to herself. Im ashamed of myself and of all those I know who has not raised their voice. I fought the toughs to get my daughter and me through... What if we all shouted, if we all screamed, if we all cried out- CHOLBE NA CHOLBE NA... No- you cannot keep me from my work, from my play, you cannot force me to be home for fear, you cannot keep my freedom from me, from us, from all us Kolkatans... if only we could...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Proud of DIDI

Chennai papers were full of Mamata Didi yesterday. 'Duronto' is coming to town... the non stop super fast from Chennai to Delhi. Then there is the "gift" of Didi to Chennai women- all women trains to ply intra city. Then there was the instance of her refusal to move in a bungalow in Delhi and decisionto stay back in the apartment which was originally provided her. Now Mamata Banerjee is being touted as the new face of the Congress frugality brigade. The minister to walks the talk.
Kolkata women had the benefit of Didi's thoughtfulness long back, her last tenure as railway minister. And now we are seeing women all over the country hailing these moves. The need is there... Chennai just came out with the 'Pink Cabs'... all women service cabs for women and children. No more fear when we need to travel alone at 2 am to catch the 4 am flight.
Seeing Didi's face flooding the papers, suddenly seemed not so different from Kolkata papers. And I should say... for once I am proud I voted foryou, Didi.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Generation Me - Learn to Parent your Parents

People in Shanghai can now have two kids. China till a few years back, just stopped short of executing parents for flouting their "one couple- one child" norm. And now this? It seems that the population of China is ageing very fast. "438 Million people in China will be 60 and older by 2050, leaving just 1.6 working age adults for each elder." says Newsweek.

We with our "Hum do, humare do" policy, which was not that strictly followed anyway, would turn out little better. But from my absolute lay persons view, consider this. All my friends are either alone, or have a single sibling. Our parents come from the great Indian middle class of the 60-s to 80-s. They were educated, politically motivated and ambitious about themselves and their children. Most were still single income households. The middle classes decided to stop after their first two. The next class didnt quite. Hence we still see lesser privileged cousins who have 4 or more siblings around.

With time its gone worse. To provide the best for their children many have stuck to their only child. By then we have come into the "upper middle class" strata. We own a house, a car, and gadgets. SEC (socio economic) class A. We are shrinking at a much greater rate than other SECs.

The first to relise it is the doctors of government hospitals. My sister, who is a gyenecologist, have assisted in the births of more than 4 children from one particular woman in the last 6 years. Rest assured, she is not the only one, nor is my sister the only doctor experiencing this.

Another study, another country. USA- "According to futurist Andrew Zolli people born after 1975 could end up taking care of their mothers longer than their mothers took care of them" (newsweek) Women of our mothers generation are likely to live 18 years into their retirement, a new record! Men follow right behind, though. And USA hit with financial woes, is seeing a new trend of having 3 generations or more under one roof.

We Indians have been there done that long enough to know that it is possible to live that way if there is mutual respect. The kids get company, the grandparents get mental peace and joy, and care in their own house, and that goes on to create a more stable society.

The age of the world is changing. And how!

Friday, July 24, 2009

We are all coming to town

Getting used to life in Chennai is so difficult when I think of what I am missing. Another BANDH!!! Yoo hoo! Kolkata knows how to enjoy its bandh days.
This morning I had a fight with my husband about the "Kolkata attitude". He has to say that Kolkatans dont have any aggressiveness. They will stand in line in all their wide eyed stupidity while the world goes by into the entrance. (BTW, I thought that was the Lucknowi "pehle aap" theory.) I replied- do you know where most freedom fighters on our country came from? West Bengal, maaan!
Revoltution is in our blood. "Bhenge dao, guriye dao"... just look at the Maoists.
We are the Argumentative Bengali who can also follow a call to war, are we not? Case in point, Netaji! We are the born non conformists. Whatever the rule says, we would do the opposite. We love our food, and our adda, we love our Victoria Memorial, and we love to hate Victoria and all the gora-s who helped build it. We still cry buckets of tears for our partition, and we still shout ourselves hoarse at the ghoti-bangal debates.
What Kolkata Attitude!!! OK we love our bandh afternoon naps, and we love to do nothing but talk politics and football all day, but pack us into an overcrowded sweaty bus on the way to work and see how our fighting instincts blossom and bloom. Put us in line for a train ticket and watch if anyone wants to come in between. We can stand for our rights just as much as the next non Kolkatan can, so help me God!
And Im coming back to Cal for my much awaited visit. Short one this time but cant wait to have phuchka and Ma-yer haater luchi - aalur dom again!!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hurricane Aila Kolkata ala re

25th May 2009
Started with rain. Hurricane Aila about to lash the city in 24 hours the papers screamed. And Aila just took 4 hours to come to town. And I have not seen anything like this before. An experience on Byepass road just a few days back forced me to stay indoors out of, Im not ashamed to say, fear. (I was stuck just a week back during a Norwester on the byepass.)
I watched the cyclone hit from the second floor verandah with a baby bulbul and a very drenched crow for company, and I should say, it was one of the most fear inducing experiences I have had. Especially that huge sky-kissing coconut tree I could see in the distance, it was like some wild haired hag on a crazed tandav dance. I didnt think it would survive the storm. It did. Coconut trees usually do. The huge flowering champa tree next door, however, didnt make it. We had some casualties in a few mangoes, a jackfruit which fell and broke the asbestos roofing of the shed, and leaf strewn lawn, and the tank cover that blew away.
The actual storm started at about 11 am and lasted well into the afternoon. Then about 3.30 pm a red alert was sounded. The main storm with winds at 100 kmph was about to hit after 4 pm. Offices cleared out in a jiffy. Phone calls to and fro to everyone one knew to tell them what people already had heard. STAY INDOORS.
That big one didnt hit. News said its crashed on Haldia, some say Orissa coast. But it spared us, if it still can be termed sparing. After a couple of cases of electrocution on the roads, due to fallen lamp posts, the power was switched off through this part of the city, Tollygunj. Our power went at about 2 pm.
The latest- 80 trees down, thats the last count some minutes back. Just 10 on Harish Mukherjee Road. Most roads still closed to traffic. 9 dead in the city, many from trees falling on cars and autos. The whole city ravaged. Byepass, my favourite road, clogged.
Only now at 7.30 pm the power has been resumed. The worst, as they say, is over. The rain continues and is bound to for the next two days, says the MET dept. Thats ok. We need some rain. And with the roads no longer getting water logged, the rain is welcome.
Not Aila.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Odyssey Bookstore sutting shop?

In just more than a year, the bookstore chain Odyssey, is all set to shut shop. The location of the store is Anwar Shah Road, opposite Navina Cinema Hall. The books/cds/toys went on sale some 6 months back and seeing that the sale never lifted, I was wondering whats wrong. Seems they cannot sustain the business model.
South Calcutta has an Oxford Bookstore near Deshapriya Park, a Starmark at South City Mall, and a Crossword inside Shoppers Stop at the same mall. Gariahat footpaths are a booklovers haunt with plenty of second hand book/magazine stalls. Starmark at least seems to be doing whopping good business, but that may be due to the sheer strength of location. All the head honchos of the bookstore chains agree that location is of prime importance. Maybe Odyssey should have been inside South City mall, it would have given good competition to Starmark. Or a location like Park Street would ensure footfall and spending customers.
The biggest sadness is this is one shop where the employees and custpmer service was really impeccable. I used to take my 2 year old child, have been doing so since the shop opened, and not once did I have a problem with her pulling things down or sitting in toy cars. The shop floor assistants would happily take care of her and even give her rounds on the toys she loved best. I have to say Ive bought more than enough books after the sale came on. I will miss Odyssey.

Monday, May 4, 2009

An Article on Kolkata in New York Times by Somini Sengupta

This is a New York Times article link a friend sent me.


Here is what my friend Esha, who is herself a regular contributor to websites and journals, had to say about it:

"It looks like the NY Times article is from a different era. None of the new developments have been mentioned. The clubs and restaurants mentioned are from our grandfathers' times. In the list of hotels - ITC Sonar, Hyatt, HHI and Taj Bengal are missing. From the past, Netaji has been misrepresented and Ray not even given a mention. The photographs are misleading to say the least. What else can you expect when she visited brothels and post offices instead of Science City or South City?

There many many more things in the article which irked me but I don't think my comment or the comments of like-minded people made any difference. Maybe you know people in the Indian media who can set this wrong right or something."

I dont know anyone in the media but if anyone who is reading this does, then its up to you to take that step. Here is my take. This article was published on 3rd May of 2009. Reading through it I had to come back and recheck the date, or the year, for it seems to be written ten years back. When did Ms Sengupta last set foot in Kolkata? Probably then. Hand pulled rickshaws, beggars on Kalighat streets, abject and acute poverty, Black-White-Grey areas, people who dont order in restaurants, Coffee House waiters who complain and stay glum, are these not so last century? Not having two square meals in Kolkata?? I agree poverty is still a pressing problem, especially in the outskirts and villages in West Bengal, but really???

The hammer and sickle is also so last generation now Ms Sengupta. Now you will see DIDI's face screaming at you from posters everywhere. This is a city now where the hammer and sickle is somehow trying to keep its handle-hold. If it will succeed is still to be seen, after the 13th May elections. And streets are marked all right. You just need to keep your eyes open. The streets are as marked as any other city in India. We are not comparing to New York again, are we?

Just in the last few years so much change has happened in this city, it is still weird that people are stuck to the college street- kalighat temple- tram ride mode. My friends and colleagues visited in 2007. Yes there were the tram rides and college street, coffee house, my alma mater, Presidency College, these are fixtures. But we also went to the bustling energy of New Market, the tram ride to Gariahat to see one of the cheapest and largest street markets of the world probably. (BTW I had been a regular at Coffee House at one time, and the waiters are not GLUM, they are just OLD and SLOW. They have been used to generations of revolutionaries, thinkers and gossipers spending hour after lazy hour in the establishment. They LIKE that!!! And also, the same building houses Rupa publishers, Chakravarty and Chatterjee publishers, for books at great discounts, and some pretty amazing finds, like the old old man who used to live in a room full of type writers and papers. Oh, and Coffee House has been revamped just last month into a new and improved...)

We went to the Ghats. As a tourist in Kolkata how can you not. You have to take a launch ride or at least convince a boatman for an hours trip on the river. Its the loveliest thing I have done in the city. The mighty Ganges, the two massive (and worlds busiest) bridges on both sides of you... Kolkata and stuck in time??? A future time maybe.

Sengupta claims women were kept in purdah and her grandmother studied till the age of 13. My grandmother is a double MA (Hindi and English), her sister is a PhD in Sanskrit. My grandma is 82. There are two sides to every coin. Doctors, lawyers, even pilots, women in Bengal have been more progressive than her counterparts in the rest of the country. Every girl (and every boy, for that matter) is trained in one form of art at least. You will find singers and dancers and artists in every home here. Education is given a level of importance which is sometimes irritating, in the way parents will goad their children for studying. But even here attitudes are changing. You do not have to be an engineer or a doctor any more. You could be a fashion designer or an actor... Sabyasachi, the Kolkata designer making waves around the world today, is the apple of every Bong mothers eye.

The piece on Netaji by Sengupta, I am reproducing here:

Calcutta has another guerrilla hero: Subhas Chandra Bose, who broke away from Gandhi’s nonviolent movement to raise an army against the British. The central narrative of his erstwhile family mansion on Elgin Road, now a museum of Bose memorabilia, is his “great escape” from house arrest. Red footsteps on the balcony mark how he tiptoed out on a January night in 1941. The gray Wanderer in which he was driven away sits in the driveway. In one gallery is an extraordinary collection of photographs, including Netaji — “respected leader” as he is known — shaking hands with Hitler in 1942; apparently, he took help where he could get it.

Good she wrote this in a New York paper. :))

Where to eat: I have not been to as many eateries in my city as I would like to but limiting the list to 3 is downright insulting. :) Even I could do better than that. One of my posts would be dedicated to eateries in Kolkata, promise. Send me your fav food place list to payal@spearhead.co.in.

SENGUPTA, the author of the discussed article is The New York Times bureau chief in India.

Kolkata is a mixture of Kalighat temple and Sector V. It is a combination of Metro Railway and rickety buses whose tyre-bursts kill people. There is a Science City and there are the tanneries. There is a bye pass road, and there are the narrow gullies of North Kolkata. There is Pizza Hut and Anadir Cabin Mughlai Paratha.

Honey, I could just go on and on. But whats the use. For people like me, it is nostalgia which paints the city in rainbow hues. For an outsider, Netaji and Tagore and sandesh with "truffle-like injection of palm syrup", is all there is to the city maybe. Like all outsiders of yore, they still revel in the pictures of ragpickers and Howrah Bridge, and refuse to see the living breathing city, like any other city and yet so unlike, where millions go to work (as rickshaw pullers as well as software engineers) in the morning and get back to homes and families to join the table at dinner.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cross Connection- new Bengali movie

Heard a new song on radio- Tumi Nei, sung by Anjan Dutta, music by his son Neel Dutt. The song is good, but I cant post it here, there is no online version. The music release has happened though and the cd would probably be available in the market.
The song was very sweet, nostalgic, emotional. At first I thought it was composed by Anjan Dutta himself because it sounds just like any of his songs. Neel has taken after his dad in the music chords. :)
Dont miss it when it comes out on you tube.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Crime Rate, Books, Kolkata and Amartya Sen

... not necessarily in that order.

Background- The London Bookfair 2009, where the market focus this year is India. Speakers have included Amartya Sen, Vikram Seth, Sunil Gangyopadhyay, Anita Nair, Dalrymple, Prasoon Joshi, among a host of other Indian writers in English and vernacular languages.

Amartya Sen who took the podium on the first day, 20th April went on to link crime rate and love for books. He commented that Kolkata has "the lowest crime rates in the world due to the civilising effect of books", reported The Telegraph.

Excerpts from his speech:
  • “Does the culture of books influence the life of the city in any profound way?”
  • “To consider one remarkable feature, Calcutta has, by a long margin, the lowest crime rate in the world, including the incidence of homicide and murder. While the number of murders per hundred thousand people per year varies between 2 and 10 per year in many cities in Europe and America, and between 15 and 50 per year in many cities in Africa and Latin America, the homicide rate in impoverished Calcutta is only 0.3 per cent — a fraction of the rate in any other city in the world.”
  • “Indian cities generally have low murder rates, around 2.7 on the average (rather like London but much lower than American cities like New York or Chicago), but Calcutta in particular beats them all — even the famously peaceful towns of Singapore and Hong Kong — in terms of the lowness of homicide rates.”
  • “Does the peculiar love of books and culture, and here I would add Calcutta’s fondness for theatre, too (often produced at very low cost), have a role here? I don’t really know, and there is no rigorous work on this that has properly tested any of the possible hypotheses.”
  • “It is abundantly clear that the standard explanation of crime in terms only of economic poverty does not tell us much about the incidence and causation of violent crime, including homicide. There is certainly some research to be done here.”

Like all Kolkatans he also has his heart strings tied with College Street and said that these stalls teeming with books have influenced many a brilliant mind including Satyajit Ray and even himself.

  • “It was in one of the College Street bookshops, called Dasgupta’s, that my friend Sukhamoy Chakravarty found at the end of 1951 a copy of a recent book by a brilliant economist Kenneth Arrow, which would radically influence my direction of work. I often wondered whether my life would have gone very differently had my friend, Sukhamoy, not been such a book hound.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kolkata is going the New York way

Yeah right...

I only mean with the city wide black out. April 19, Sunday evening will go down in history as the hottest April 19th ever... 41 degrees, was 5 above normal- reported one daily, 13 above- reported another. And just when Kolkatans were snuggling into their comfy air conditioned 24 degree living rooms to watch a bit of IPL on TV, BOOM... yeah, literally, BOOM went the lights, fans, AC-s, TV-s all over the city... and well, the street lights and traffic signals and hospitals and metro railway and airports... you name it.
Pic from The Telegraph of Park Street during the black out.

Of course, Kolkata Knight Riders lost their inaugaral match. But thank god no one was watching TV to see our Hero (seen here in action yesterday) make 1 run. Take his captaincy away, and the Expert Boria Mazumder, (who was my senior in Presidency btw, who knew one day I would be quoting him), knows something about the stinking (pun not intended) atmosphere of the dressing room in lovely South Africa.

Anyway, unable to stay in the house we decided to take to the streets in my comfy ac car, it has a music system also, godbless. Seems like every one had the same bright idea. We were bored sick of South City Mall, that being 5 minutes drive from home, so we decided to make a picnic of it and drove all the way to Mani Square. And God, was that a bad idea. Their parking is not well equipped to hadle a sudden surge of cars, it was mayhem right at the entrance. Inside, the mall kept plunging into darkness every fifteen minutes, which lasted 5 seconds in the shopping area but in the over crowded food court, we were at one time sitting in near pitch darkness for 15 minutes or more.

The food court itself was in the throes of the worst kind of chaos. No one knew the meaning of a queue. Once you manage your coupon, its a mad rush of loudest-shout-first-serve. Or longest-arm-first-serve. Im just five feet two, my arms arent that long, but hell, my voice is pretty darn loud, is what I found out yesterday!!!

One word of caution for people carrying babies or toddlers. Unlike South City, this mall is not todddler friendly. The drops are not totally covered. There is half a foot gap between floor edge an the glass railing, any tiny foot could get stuck there. If you are parking on the upper floors and you want to take a pram through the fourth floor entrance, then its a hassle with a largish step over which you have to carry your baby's pram by hand.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mani Square- Food Court

As food courts go, this one is worth a visit. Allegdly with 25000 sq ft, situated at the top floor of the mall, the seats are clean and still new. The seating is interesting with individual tables or tables surrounding pillars. The food range is more or less fine, not as extensive as the one in South City mall, but will do. One draw is my personal favs, SubWay, Crepe Station, and the juice bar. There is a yummy cake shop but its so far down the line that diet conscious people will always have second thoughts once you reach there. Bad positioning. Thali-s are good.

Its a good option when you are looking for a quick bite before a movie or a visit to the game zone. The multiplex is right there, on the same floor. Makes things easier. Once you are there and have time and money of course the other restaurants will beckon. But we quite enjoyed ourselves having lunch there.

Pocket Pinch- One plate food with a juice and a pastry/dessert will cost about Rs 150- 180 per head.
Service - Self service of course, but even then, some shops are a little slower than the rest in the preparation.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Restaurant- Machaan, Mani Square Mall

Finally made it to the Mani Square Restaurants and food court. Let me talk of Machaan first. One of the most interesting restaurants I have visited recently.
The entrance itself piques interest, it has a tribal mannequin complete with spear and gear... and once you enter, wow, its a jungle in there. Literally...

Atmo- The place is darkish, trees, leaves, over hangings everywhere the eye turns. Once the eye gets used to the light, you see things, oh really really. An elephant just by the entrance, a giraffe at yonder corner, which even calls (! never heard a giraffe call before, so cant vouch for authenticity) and moves its long neck, a monkey hanging... sorry... swinging from the branch there, birds of all feathers, including a woodpecker which pecks (not fast enough, that I can vouch for, Ive heard wood peckers peck!!!), an anaconda, is it, on that side? Holy moley... its an artificial zoo, the only real thing about which is the weaver bird nests, hanging in profusion. There are even plastic parrots everywhere.

The service is attentive and quick. The food is good, nothing extraordinary. My watermelon juice was good, we did not have any mock tails. The bill comes to around 500 odd rupees per head with a starter and a main course, and without dessert.

Verdict? Good for a visit with kids, it will give them a lot to talk about. The surprise factor works for it, but after that they got to improve the food and drinks, and reduce the prices a bit, to work in the recession market.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kolkata safe for women drivers???

Time: 10.30 am
Place: Salt Lake Sector 3, near Stadium
Bus No: WB 02 Y 1928

The road is itself bad, horrendous. Anyone travelling that route will know your car is at a risk if you dont go at 20 kmph. I was coming from byepass road toward Salt Lake, travelling to office near PNB. The bus was one of those private buses ferrying people to office in Sector 5. As I was negotiating the potholes, I was at the extreme right of the road, almost touching the divider but for a few inches. I saw the bus hurtling down from behind me, and slowly inching right, directly towards my car. I honked with all my might, braked, stopped. the bus simply came and hit my passenger door.

Of course I was not at fault. And hence, of course, I had to do something about it. My passenger door was anyway quashed. But I wanted to take the driver to the police. I drove right in front of the bus, in the middle of the road, the bus was trying to swerve and flee... and stopped. There was enough space on both sides for traffic to cross, I had made sure of that. I got down and approached the driver. Even then I could see men hanging their heads out of the window shouting at me to move. Then it started.

The men ranged from my age- early 30-s to late 50-s. They surrounded me, first 5 then 10 then slowly maybe 25... surrounded me and started shouting, abusing, just short of touching. I said call the police, I want this sloved. The moment I said police, they started banging on my car. I was inside the car then having taken down the number of the bus. They started hitting my car on all sides, screaming at me to move. They started pushing my car. A mob of grown educated working men... they were getting late for work.

I made one mistake. I did not take photos. My camera phone was there. I wish I had taken the photos of the screaming mob and posted them everywhere so that employers would see them, families would see them. Men, employees, surrounding a lone woman in a car and abusing her, trying to intimidate her into moving away. This is what men in Kolkata do. Nincompoos, good for nothing backboneless savious of society. All rise.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shishu Sadan, Thakurpukur

Priyanka is a student of Class 9. She writes- poems and short stories. Her poems are well thought out protests against social ills, against smoking, or a call to youngsters to rise and serve their country. Her stories are memorable, full of ghosts and villains and innocent girls. She is bright for her age. She sings a little, dances a little. She could have a bright future, maybe graduate with honours if she tried, and study further and have a good career of her choice. She has a career of choice. She wants to be a nurse. She will complete her 10th and go for nurse's training. Why, you ask? Priyanka is an inmate of Shishu Sadan, an orphanage, that she was sent to when she was 5, by her mother. Her mother is the only earning member of a family of four and could not afford to keep her at home.

In Thakurpukur, near the Cancer hospital, tucked away is this home for needy girls. With an inmate count presently of about 100 girls, between 5 and 18 years of age, it gives shelter to girls who have lost either or both parents, or are too poor to be sustained by their family.

The girls go to school in nearby areas, education is in Bengali board. They are sent here by relatives or aquaintances and probably get the childhood here that they would have otherwise lost. They study, play, sing and dance, cook and do some gardening too.

The orphanage is not in very pristine condition though. The main rooms are fine, though like very old homes without maintainance, they have paint peeling off the walls showing plaster, furniture a mix of metal, wood and plastic. There is a 'teacher in charge', a lady in her 50-s who, the girls told me, takes good care of them, much like a mother. The caretaker is a man of 45-ish, and seemed to me to be kind and simple, with the wellbeing of the girls as his primary concern. Apart from that I did not get the necessity of the presence of the couple of men that I saw, one with half open shirt and bad manners, the other most probably the account keeper.

The living area of the girls have no separate gate or boundary but can be walked to easily from the reception rooms. The bedroom consisted of 2 attached sheds, with open asbestos covers. It would be open to climate influences, both in winter and summer. The bedroom seemed at that time to be quite unkempt and unmanaged, beds all falling on each other, floor unswept, untidy to my somewhat finicky eyes. Maybe I was expecting something unrealistic.

But the girls looked happy. They study and learn to sing and dance and some art, when they get some volunteer teachers, the orphanage cant afford to get paid teachers. They have a cook who they help in teams to prepare all meals. That is how they learn to cook. They have to leave when they complete their 10th standard. Some of them become nurses, others go back home and I never really got to know what happens to them. I did not hear of even one girl continuing studies. They are too poor to afford it.

It is a great thing that these girls are getting a chance at life. They are not spending their childhood working i people homes as maids, getting abused, or cooking in tiny rooms with a dozen siblings to take care of. They are normal, leading normal childhoods. I just wish something could be done that they have a normal adolescence and normal adulthood, continue studies till a level, and work in respectable professions which gives them financial independence. Only that could pull them and their whole families out of the muck that is Indian poverty.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pujo is round the corner 2

Roads are blocked already. The parallel lanes and shortcuts to Southern Avenue have become a traffic trap. You run into half blocked roads if you dont know what to avoid. By lanes leave only one car width space and during peak hours when all roads are busy, it becomes horrific. Gariahat is buzzing. The usual throng has swollen to 4 times its size. Pandals are being built. Last minute shoppers are in their usual frenzy. Its mayhem out here. And we are lovin it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pujo is round the corner

Pujo time is here... as of today 25 days to go... and nothing remids you of those 5 days than white clouds on blue skies. E M Byepass is usually a pain to cross in office hours. A 10 minute drive on empty road takes up almost an hour. But nowadays this is what I have for company.
This was taken standing in a jam at the Ruby crossing. But the best views are just before you get on the Chingrighata flyover. The horizon is so wide you can see the curve of the earth here. Green fields, blue sky... it almost makes me cry on some days. This is what I will miss of my city most when I leave.
Btw they are widening the roads at both the Ruby and Science city crossing circles. Finally!!!

Monday, July 28, 2008

New Bookstore- Odyssey

Odyssey is the newest chain to start operations in Kolkata. They have set up shop on Anwar Shah Road, opposite Navina Cinema Hall. The ground floor of this swanky structure has the book shop, the first floor has stationery and childrens section while to second floor has music, perfumes, watches and home decoration. A cafe is set to start serving soon.

The staff is very courteous, to the point of embarassing me into buying something... but they should have a pat on the back for their politeness and helpfulness. I went with a baby and had very little problem, with all of them coming forward to babysit while I browsed.

The collection is not bad, though I still think it does not better Crossword. But it can give a shop like Starmark a run for its money.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ladies Of Calcutta

Hey Ladies & Gentlemen,
Do you know there is this old song dedicated to the laides of Calcutta. I am quoting the lyrics below. I have an UPits colleague who loves Kolkata, he spent sometime there in the 60s or so. He told me about it and then I did a google. So here goes the song....
I've kissed the girls in Naples;
They're pretty as can be.
I've also kissed some French girls
Who came from "Paree."
The Spanish girls are lovely;
Oh, yes, indeed they are.
But the ladies of Calcutta are sweeter by far.
The ladies of Calcutta will steal your heart away;
And after it is stolen, you'll say--I've kissed the girls of Naples;
I've kissed them in Paree;
But the ladies of Calcutta do something to me

I know the words are rather silly. But that song was a big hit in 1960 and apparently busted the charts again in 1967. And hey I like it and being one of the Calcutta ladies I am really excited to discover this.I nipped it from this blog http://www.pressrun.net/weblog/2007/03/ive_kissed_the_.html

Friday, June 27, 2008

Books, bookstalls and lending libraries of Kolkata

I am searching for a cheap lending book library near my office in Delhi. In vain. In Delhi cheap and near-by are two alien concepts, which the city or its population never seems to have heard of. Anyways while searching in the Internet and asking people around, I cant help but compare the situation with Kolkata.

If I say every nook, crany, para (moholla) of Kolkata has its own pet library and book lending facility I would not be exgarrating at all. Read on a bookworm's experience.

A bookworm like me could hardly be satisfied with the ration of one book per week that our school library had fixed for us. My parents put me to Ramkrishna Mission Library, but that was also not enough. So with some fellow worms I set in search of alternate source of books. And soon enough we found it. Very near to our school was Golpark and it has lots of pavement bookstalls. So those stalls became our source of M&Bs, latest bestsellers et al.

While in school I heard of this lending library called the Orchid. But Orchid, though nothing compared to Delhi, was a bit expensive and my father refused to let me take membership. I remember how disappointed I was. The moment I started earning money through tuitions, I got a membership to this vaulted library. Now it is a tiny shop, just off the Rashbihari Raod, tucked in a by-lane. But what a treasure trove it is. Some weeks I used to visit this place as much as 4 to 5 times, take 4 to 6 books at a time. At times by the time I used to reach, they would have half the shutter down, but due to my special status as a very regular lender they would reopen their shop and let me quickly pick some books.

When I shifted to Delhi, the Orchid man was as sad as me. He invited me to srop in whenever I was visiting, but I never did go back.
I hope Orchid still survives.

No mention of Kolkata bookstalls can be complete without discussing the famed pavement bookstalls of College Street. Though I did my college which was situated on the very College Street, oddly enough I never did browse there much for books. Maybe I was not intellectual enough by Kolkata standards!