A wonderful afternoon in Kolkata

After a sumptuous lunch at home, I sat down in my living room right before my favourite view. Through the windows, I could see my small verandah, almost an awning of sorts. Beyond the awning, two tall plantain trees and another tree in the back yard were directly in my view. If I focused out enough, it felt like I could only see foliage.

As I was looking out, listening to some quiet music, the sky grew dark and a wind began to blow. The leaves of the plantain trees fluttered like elephant’s ears in the breeze. Imminent rain filled the air with its smell.

Within minutes, oceans came down in full fury.

I walked out to the verandah to smell that earthy fragrance of rain falling on thirsty leaves, to hear the sound of patter in the trees, to hear the splattering of water on hard ground, to feel the spray in my eyes. As I stood taking it all in, I suddenly remembered how, as a little boy, I used to stand in the same spot that I was standing on now and watch the rain for hours. I would rush home from school to catch the rain from the verandah. On the two holidays of the week, I would take a stool and sit in the verandah watching the rain fall from the sky, through the leaves, down to the ground.

The 1978 monsoon was especially powerful. The ground floor was completely flooded. The water level had come up 15 feet or more almost to the level of the first floor, which is where we were. I would sit in the small verandah with my friend from upstairs. We would make paper boats and throw them down to the water hoping they would land just right and sail away.

Somehow, I had just chosen the exact same spot where I used to sit, or stand, nearly 30 years ago.

A wonderful way to spend my afternoon.

Recovering from malaria can have joyful moments.

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Calcutta: You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave

Yesterday’s article in the New York Times got me a bit nostalgic about Calcutta. I scrounged around to see if I had any old b&w photos from my family’s collection which showcased the city. Couldn’t find any. So I uploaded some of my recent Kolkata photos onto flickr.

I was recently struck by the wide roads, greenery, and open spaces of Calcutta in Satyajit Ray’s Parash Pathar. The movie was made in 1957, and Calcutta looks like a beautiful city at the time. The crowds are far thinner, there’s a lot less cars on the road, places like Alipore seem like sleepy leafy neighbourhoods, the maidan area is like a park. So I browsed around for some old photos of Kolkata and came across a few links posted below.

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A walk in Calcutta

Somini Sengupta’s written a heart warming piece in the New York Times about revisiting Calcutta (or Kolkata as it is officially known now). She’s spot on about so many things that make us love Calcutta: the architecture, the green shutters, the addas around Presidency, the second hand book stores in College Street, the rock and jazz music that’s still authentic and true to the roots, the Chinese food, Tolly club.

One could gripe that she missed the Bose Institute of J.C. Bose, one of India’s greatest modern scientists, the puchka-jhaal-moori-chicken egg roll triad that makes up Calcutta street food, the wonderful but crumbling architecture of the old mansions in North Calcutta, the fabulous classical music events such as the legendary Dover Lane music conference, watching a game at the Eden Gardens, and walking by the Lakes in south Calcutta.

But Calcutta is a city that cannot be covered in 5000 words in a magazine spread, or a full length novel. It’s a place that one may hate in the beginning, especially after living in cities that work more efficiently. Live there long enough, and it grows on you, and then you love it even as you despair and moan and grumble. Calcutta has a way of charming you slowly, and pulling you in. Before you know it, you’re calling it your city for the rest of your life, even if you may never live there again.

A Walk in Calcutta