Sunday, November 06, 2005

Akalbodhonay Kolkatay (aka The Homecoming)
After about eight long years, managed to get my visit to Kolkata to coincide with Mahisasurmordini's. Landed in the city on Panchami evening. Saw Kolkata from the air for the first time, and was surprised by the surrounding greenery. Took a prepaid taxi home. It cost me Rs 170 from Dum Dum to Park Circus. (Sigh! Once upon a time a tram journey from Park Circus to Esplanade cost 10 paise!) Anyway, could not recognize the route the driver took till we reached the EM Bypass. (I later came to know that he had brought us through Rajarhat!) Espied a number of pandals on the way and was sorely tempted to get down from the taxi for a dekko.
It was good to be home!

MahaShohsti: Paid a visit to Tangra with Mashi and Mesho for ritual Chinese lunch. Mesho's latest discovery — Mandarin Gourmet. There are probably very few Chinese restaurants in Tangra were I have not eaten, courtesy my Mesho — a gastronome who delights in discovering unassuming, but exquisite eateries. Tucked away in one of the many winding lanes of Tangra, Mandarin was a welcome change from our regular haunt here at Bangalore — Beijing Bites. Tangra food is probably the closest you can come to authentic Chinese, but the food is just spicy enough to tickle the Indian palate.
Kolkata's Chinay para (Chinatown) seemed a ghost of its earlier self. There was a time when Tangra's lanes and bylanes would reverberate with the sound of drums and firecrackers and dragon dances on Chinese New Year. Pretty Chinese girls would whiz past on their scooties and mopeds oblivious to the Dhapa smell. But all that seems to be a thing of the past, there are probably a handful of Chinese families left now. A majority of them, like my friend Kim, has left for Western shores.
On our way back, paid a quick visit to the Maddox Square puja. I really miss the Maddox Square Magic of my college days – when our hearts would beat to the rhythm of the dhak and our spirits soar with the smoke from the dhunuchi; when time flew between adda sessions with friends and jhari sessions with the numerous pretty faces that thronged the pandal! Sigh! Those were the days!
Shoshthi sandhya was spent doing the Behala para circuit with my cousin — the Pragati Sanghas, the Shri Shanghas and the Sabuj Shathis. We were doing this particular pujo porikrama after a gap of an almost 8 years, so part of it was a trip down memory lane. We even made sure that we had phuchka from the phuchkawallah in front of the Manton Bata store.
There we were and there was Ma Durga, with Lokkhi, Shoroswoti, Gansha and Kartik in tow, keeping her annual date with us mortals. And not to forget, Mahisasur, who despite the passing years has maintained his physique, like Manohar Aich (Mr Universe 1952). Mahisasur’s six-pack, his bulging pectorals, his superhuman biceps were intact. And here I was fighting a losing battle with my gradually spreading waistline. Even Kartik, the world’s first metrosexual (impeccably trimmed moustache, stylishly coiffed hair, shaved chest et al) looked his usual dapper self!
So what had changed? I had. Eight years ago, I was the one checking out the ‘boudis’. Now, a new generation was probably checking out The Significant Other and saying, “Boudi-take dekhli?!”

Mahasaptami: Awoke to the sound of dhak. Ganesh's consort kola bou, accompanied by the purot moshai and dhakis, was being taken for her traditional bath.
There is something deeply reassuring about cultural traditions. In a rapidly changing world, these provide us with a much-needed sense of continuity. So, when I went out to the balcony to look at the merry procession, it hardly seemed as if there were eight intervening years between the last time I saw it and now.
In keeping with puja traditions, spent a nice cigarette-filled afternoon in conversation with a friend of mine at the Jadu Colony pujo and then rushed off to meet another at Inox — the mall-cum-multiplex at Elgin Road. The concept of such a money-guzzling entertainment zone is so alien to my idea of Kolkata that we stayed there just long enough to gulp down some overpriced cold coffee. A brisk walk later, we were in the much more familiar and pleasing confines of the Orchid, one of the three Tibetan joints tucked away in a bylane near the Rabindra Sadan metro station.
In my college days, a date meant taking your girlfriend for movies to New Empire and then momos and chicken stock soup at any one of these eating joints. While the subdued lighting ensured privacy, the inexpensive fare meant that you didn't have to pay too much for a couple of hours of intimacy.
Inflation has caught up with this corner of paradise too. A plate of momo (5 pieces) now comes for Rs 35. Still, it's reasonable if you consider their size and the fact that nowhere in India, maybe with the sole exception of a Dharamsala or Mcleodganj, will you get such tasty Tibetan food at such a price.

Later, took the metro back to Rashbehari and then a taxi to Behala, in time for the night show of Salaam Namaste at Ashoka. By the time the show got over it was nearly 12 midnight, but for thousands of Kolkatabashis it was still early evening. Arre dada, it's Saptami and the carnival atmosphere means no one will call it a day (or night) till the sun dawns on another day of festivities.

Mahaashtami: As day broke and the city prepared for the festivities to reach a crescendo, I headed out for Jamshedpur on the Janashatabdi. My first experience of pujo in the mofussils — the stuff of another rambling post.

Will comment in details later but a quick one first: How dare you call Jamshedpur a mofussil?
Exactly what I was going to say!! Jamshedpur's a bloody cosmopolitan town, perhaps more cosmopolitan than Calcutta in some ways. How dare you brand it 'mofussil'? Am outraged!
Fool, Marauder: I was half-expecting such a volley of protests while typing in 'mofussil'. However, let me clarify that in referring to Jamshedpur as mofussil no disrespect was meant. I was just using it in the context of differentiating between Big City pujo and their counterparts in er... Small Towns. If I may also add, that I am extremely fond of Jamshedpur and really enjoyed the time I spent there this pujo. However, I think it will be pertinent to add here that more than one person whom I spoke to in Tatanagar referred to Calcutta pujos as the "real" thing!
Since you half-expected the volley, I must hasten to add that you Kolkatans are half the culturally stimulated intellectuals you are made out to be, and half the big city crap is unfounded as half the population do not know even half the things they are supposed to know.
your writing has the true blending of emotion and inteligence.
your writing made me homesick!!!
i finished reading your post in a jiffy.
after i scrolled down, i was agap to see it was so long.
you have an amazing gift of words. you know how to play with it.
looking forward to your posts. i would cherish it.
hats off to you
I am outraged at Jamshedpur being called a mofussil. Baruipur, yes; but Jam..whatever, NO WAY. Village, I believe, is the appropriate word.

And, erm..the significant other must've been quite pleased with all the unsolicited attention.
Ghetufool: Merci, merci boku.
Kaashyapeya: Bingo! And Thanks. As true blue Kolkatans, we can’t allow anybody to out-shout/comment us, can we?!
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