Friday, February 6, 2009

Breakfast at Flurys (which, be warned, is more of a brunch)

There are things about Kolkata that do not live up to the expectations of the first-time visitor. And you can find yourself on a hunt for charm. And then there are some things that are better than the urban legnds about them.
The famous Flurys breakfast is one such thing. My first exposure to its wondrous pallette came on a cool January day. At ten o clock in the morning, the four of us stood fifth in line to the busy revamped Flurys on Park Sreet. The glass gates finally gave way and we were shown to the table under an expansive curved glass window that looked without onto Music World, Park Street streets, Cal in general and a couple of beggars.
The menu is prompt and pink, comprehensive, cohesive, luxurious in the most casual way possible. The Quiche has the ability to draw you in at first bite. Taste in your mind a gentle omelette enveloping chunks of mushroom and chicken; its lid a cheesy placid, soft crust; its basket crisp and fragrant. About the size of the average human heart.
The chicken and cheese sandwich is a delightful concoction of two typically affiliated flavours: it is the ideal pairing, done right between buttered toast. The Roast chicken within the roast chicken sandwich is a complete taste unto itself. And it jostles on your tongue with mellow mayonnaise, and vegetable whisks. The french fries do their job - they are cheerful accomplices to the criminally pleasant food, bystanders to fill the nooks and crannies.
The coffee comes littered with cinnamon and the heady nasal flavour with brown sugar are a polished finishing touch to your experience.
But you must be careful. You can't just eat the breakfast at Flurys. You must have it accompanied by fine conversation. In our case it entwined such subjects as off beat cinema, interesting canon and non-canon literature, aspirations, tradition contending with modernity of the kind that itself is the offspring of diverse interaction.
At the end of it all (in our case, the whole reverie lasted four hours - and we could have sworn we heard the waiter sigh in relief when we did get up to leave), let your brunch not go without a dessert from the Flurys shelves.
In our case, this last toast to the experience consisted of the muddy fudge and chocolate brownie - some things are best left undescribed, but let me try. Chocolate spongy, moist, creamy, rich, delectable, deep, dark, aromatic, in a puddle, in the icing, in between the layers, in the pores of the cake, curling tentacles around your taste buds.
'Nuff said.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


It starts well over a half moon and a full before. The Goddess opens her eyelids through sharp glass and crumbling concrete. Through coloured paper plastered all over the city. Billboards stand up, as if by their own accord, and blow the verbal conch shell to passers by. There is something in the wind, as it sweeps by gray figures of clay and seems to imbue it with divinity and makes them sparkle and open their eyes. Wooden skeletons begin to rise over the ground, reaching for the pink clouds of twilight.

Then Calcutta begins to bring down its shutters. Footsteps echo for a while on lanes cut off by stick and rope barricades, and then get lost in the thundering landscape of reverberating drums and many million footsteps falling around all the shrines in the city. Strings upon strings of light are thrown across building like confetti, and they transform brick and paint into luminous, phantasmal life for four nights. There is a lane above which magnificent, large orbs of electric fireflies float. The lights make endless dazzling boulevards of the typically dark alleys, ending only in the spread out, intricate, abode of the Goddess.

The skeletons have transformed into unimaginably elaborate castles for a celestial queen. Hung with tassles, sparkle powder glued to every visible surface, panels carved into ancient, medivel and modern patterns. An entire history of architecture expressed in four scores, a dozen and four hours.

to be continued....

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Monsoon Mutations

Sometimes, They turn down the lights over this city. At 11:30 in the morning – some might scorn and say ‘Afternoon!’- the sky is the colour of unpolished steel. Tubelights become conspicuous within grocery stores and music shops, just as they do at night. Kolkata is enveloped in a mist of dense water and cloud.

Drops of water drip across my car window, molten and heavy, dissolving everything beyond. Magnificent fern-like leaves drip their green onto a wavy fence holding them in. The red of buses drips onto the roads. The soft sky melts into and mixes into the yellow arcs of taxi roofs. The mime academy dissolves silently afar, without a whisper. Bags of garbage are transformed into grotesque bulbuous masses of wasted colour.

The blue buses flow into the mud, and for a moment, the gray city mutates into only chocolate and blue. Bricks of silver emerge from within golden puddles of soil on footpaths. Umbrellas – black, platinum, fuschia, red and azure suddenly seem to blossom. Broken footwear, the thick sheet of water on my window and balconies swirl. An orange God with a beard and four hands stands solitary against barbed wire stretched along a deserted green street.

The blue lines across yellow taxis become spattered till I fear they will turn green. A dove behind a bus flies into this amalgam of elements.

Thunder cracks and explodes somewhere, and rumbles into the landscape. Vision and sound cease to exist and become a liquid whole.

Where the sheet of water breaks into droplets, everything in the landscape is magnified and condensed at the same time through each of them. Only one spell of rainfall and the city has become fantasy.

If I’m not high on Kolkata, I must be drunk on vintage Cal.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Independence Day and one or two Culinary Adventures

Kolkata has many culinary adventures to offer those brave of palette. And a few misadventures. Rolls at the canteen opposite my building at university look like absolute gems. Delicately crispy and glistening, the tingling essence of street food emanating from them, stuffed with untold treasures of poultry, eggs, vegetables and that magical chutney roll-mkers brew in their basements across the country. It wasn't a bad experience by any means till I reached that stringy, pulpy piece of elongated flesh within. I had asked for chicken, not every unidentifiable body part of it.

South City Mall was alive with orange, white and green on Independece Day weekend. A massive India cut out flanked by swirly coloured vases blessed all those busy emptying their pockets in sales on all floors.

Independence Day was, as usual, a day I swell up and bulge with pride and revel in all things wonderful about India. All societies have glitches, but there is None in which I would rather live.

Papda is a fish cooked whole with head and tail and fin. My first experience with this creature was my finger getting caught in its cooked jaw and its nose nuzzling me everytime I reached out for the cottage cheese. The hypocrit in my non-vegetarian acts up when animals are served looking like animals. But what the heck, being a hypocrit is not a good thing. I proceeded to take a bite.

The Bistro cafe inside Shopper's Stop is a quaint little place for a small meal. A word of caution though - their Hot Dark Chocolate sounds exotic, but you might sense a whiff in it of your childhood and the bournvita (or whatever brand of milk chocolate your family bought) you had to consume daily. The sandwiches are light. The mousse cakes and pastries look elegant. So when you're done empying your pocket at all the sales, head to the Bistro.

It is here I observed that Calcuttans have a thing for foccacia and pizzas. More than other typically Western snack food. These are vibrant, like Kolkata is. They offer a sense of completeness in themselves, a bit like Cal. And everything is above the surface. The politics, the olives, the cheese, the breeze, the babycorn and the underground, the diversity, adversity and South City, the salt and the Salt Lake. The rain, the brain drain, the dust, the crust. The culture, the squelch, the chicken, nit picking, the Bangla, L'Angleterre.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Return of Kolkata

I had imagined that blogs were periodical momentary things; expressions of a desire to tell. This one keeps coming back though. There is something about the chocolate and the blue of this city that refuses to be kept sealed away. It must be produced with a flourish on the screen.

So what have I been up to, you ask?

I have been reading Chomsky while caught in a road blockade even as Bangla slogans hit my ears, yellow-taxi drivers get down to stretch and beggar girls with sparkly green bangles stare. I have been exploring the nooks and crannies of bookstores for a French dictionary. Forgetting to return food court debit cards and then losing them for good. Awaiting Independence Day and the flag hoisting. Awaiting the left parties' bandh of 20th August which should hopefully shut down the university too. Dabbling with the rain. Hypermarketing. Wondering what charms lie within the National Library, what enchanted objects stand stacked in its shelves.

I've been watching the children of the proletariat, dressed in perfect punk, trying to fly kites at night on dirt mounds. Neon green T-shirt, bandana, ankle length faded light blue jeans, and a blue scarf around his neck, he tugs at th string while the other dressed in the simplicity of singular underwear and golden hoop earrings throws the kite up at the other end. Afar, another kid sits on debris, chucking stones at the kite. And then a fourth appears with long thread, his kite high, and running.

Old men magically appears from behind run down brick walls to gaze at Bangla movie posters. Students of International Relations order fried fish and sit under trees, in front of political posters.

And I have even begun using the word Calcutta. I knew the city would make me change something about myself.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Temptation

Here are a few of Kolkata's temptations - Praline, Chocolate Swiss rolls, Chicken envelopes, Strawbery squares, chocolate boats, chocolate squares, eclairs, evasion slices, chocolate triangles, rum balls, fish curry, plum cakes, chocolate chip cakes, fudge, brownies, mango slices, grilled bekti fish, corn puffs, vegetable patties, dream cake, choco-fantasy, muffins, cup cakes, chocolate cake, black forest, mousse, gelato, truffle, vanilla, hilsa, prawns, crab, shrimp, seafood, chinese, sizzlers, fish cutlets, ramen... and a few thousand others.

Kolkata smells like thin yellow spicy jhol over flavourful slices of fish and steaming pure white rice. And a bit like a delicate puchka ball filled to the brim with tangy spice water, red chutney, green chutney.

At the hypermarkets, tandoori pomfret, pre-done in a tantalizing orange spicy sauce sits near packaged bekti, hilsa and whole glistening snapper. The mangoes are green and large. Freshly baked cookies - chocolate, ginger, wheat, raisin, coconut. Bread that smells of an oven.

Live grills of the world at your table. A full Bengali meal, complete with fried vegetable, pasta, steamed pudding, and kheer. Mutton gravies and chicken curries. And all of this to be had with stuffed naans, parathas, pooris, bhaturas, rotis, lacchha parathas and tandoori rotis - some glazed with butter.

Vada-pao - delectable potato with intense green chutney between two pieces of spongy bun. Dhoklas - delightful yellow cubes. Masala tea - sweet and steaming. Gulab jamuns - sugary, syrupy, kind to the palette. Cool rasgullas, soft Sandesh of many kinds, curvy jalebi, spirally imarti, crispy fragrant samosas.

Desserts that melt in your mouth. A city that's as good for your palette as it is for your imagination.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chaos Theory

Anti-Imperialist Day, themed around Neruda, will be celebrated (or merely commemorated) by the Arts Faculty tomorrow afternoon at the University's indoor stadium. A bunch of young women around the poster proclaiming so, just stood around for a while, wondering what in God's name Neruda was.

Traffic tends to get very chaotic in Kolkata sometimes. Just when you're making easy attempts to fall into the culture and spirit of the Bangla land, you're brought jolting to the real world by blaring horns, four taxis, a truck, two buses (chocolate and blue) and a gentleman in a white helmet all caught up in different directions at the crossroads. So you sigh and concentrate your energies on the wet foliage around you - perhaps the curling balconies far away or just the rainy platinum sky.

Dance classes are on offer everywhere. Western, ball, salsa, and the kind where they make children do funky things to music and pretend its an extra-curricular activity. One sees advertising for pilates and yoga as well, aided fully by not altogether skinny women grinning at the prospect of some future glamour. It's inevitable, this obsession with physical exercise, in a land that is the horn of plenty when it comes to confectionary.

There is a beautiful Greek Orthodox church here, yellow with angular gold lettering above its tall door. A golden temple in the green and gray of Kolkata's urban jungle.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Colours of Cal

Mongini's is a big thing on Kolkata campuses. In my personal opinion, of the three kinds of chocolate cake they offer (Dream, Bar & Fantasy), Choco Fantasy is the best. Its light and sweet around, like a home-made sponge, and decadent in the middle with a wavy layer of grainy chocolate sauce.. or is it cream?

My Bengali friends in Delhi tell me it is not entirely customary to call Kolkata 'Kol' for short. They say its still 'Cal'. And it is for some people. But I'm new here remember? Kolkata is the only Calcutta I have ever known.

Some walls here are decorated with detailed mosaics. The tiny rugged polished coloured tiles on these tell stories. I pass a few on my way to University. These bear elaborate motifs of India's freedom struggle, tribal movements, tribal art, cultural patterns, violence, revolution and celebration. A tall wall elsewhere bears a sky scraping mosaic of Mother Teresa, with every kind line on her face and every generous fold of her sari done painstakingly in tile.

Today I have learnt to say in Bengali that according to Hobbes, life in the state of nature, is solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short. Much to the sheer thrill of my classmates.

Forum Mall, near Park Street, is a quaint little round about of a mall. It has this truly incredible store of goodies and bling - elegant fake flowers, belts, earrings, headbands, bowls... quite a pot-pourri of pleasure. The food court takes its chillie chicken very seriously. They make sure theres as much chillie in it as there is chicken. I recommend the Pizza Hut instead.

Everyone here recommends New Market. When you get down at this very British and long red building, its an absolute festival. Inside, there is a labirynth. Picture a neverending maze of little shops, yards of sequined cloth, mannequins and pinched dresses, cutting edge of downmarket fashion, stationary, books. Picture again an expanse of gleaming vegetables, in scores of wicker baskets. Large caracsses of food-to-be and flailing poultry. Winding lanes and little roads. Shops full of crystal and glass ware - delicate women, vases wishing to be Ming, lotuses with facets, plenty of blue and pink and clear. And a sense of utter peace in the quietest of its bylanes, where grocers recline in the evening breeze of their fans, a broom sweeps sober dust and heaped spice is cool.

Why is there so much peace in Kolkata's bustle?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Oh Culture!

If you live in a North Indian cosmopolitan, you will only hear about Bhojpuri cinema and never really know what it's about. Not so with Kolkata. 'Jaan De Deb Tohar Khatir' ('I'll give my life for you' in Bhojpuri) screams a poster and underneath the words stands a violent looking woman with large blue frightening eyes. Snakes crawl around the title. What a way to attract an audience, I say.

A lot of interest of late seems to have been generated in Kolkata about a genre of fiction newly popular in the subcontinent - graphic novels. Bookstores are full of these. And in the intelligentsia hankering after picture books, newly packaged Phantom and manga seem also seem to be getting picked up. I personally think the 'intellectuals' have begun to realize that pictures in books are not such a bad thing after all. Kids have known it for years - and now its time for the old and wise to delve into illustrated literature.

College Street is one of those places that old Kolkata residents speak of in hushed and reverent voices, their eyes overcome with a happy tear or two. Let me describe this place to you. Get down somewhere around Presidency college (Calcutta University) and there it is. Miles to your left and miles to your right, on both sides of the road stand stalls upon stalls, piles upon piles, readers upon sellers and vice versa, of books. There is probably a fancy statistic somewhere about how many times you could travel to the moon and back if you put all these books end to end. New tomes and second hand flipped pages seem to fly about with fairy wings of their own. Stacks jump in your way if you try to walk away from all this too fast. The musty smell of books, made more intoxicating by the humid heat of Kolkata in July ensnares you. Mysterious narrow paths transport you to another world where engineering literature and the English canon spill out of small and ancient shops. Marxist writing, computer science, political theory, Sigmund Freud, Bio-technology and 'How to study for IIT' line the way like cobbled stones.

If that's not your style though, you could always take refuge in the sanctified, cool environs of an Oxford Book Store on Park Street. But then where's the old school glamour in that?

The Rain of Revolution

They take their politics very seriously here (or is it 'we' now?). I mean rallies and protests on the university campus when the year has barely started.

We had, armed with dream cake and chocolate cake (ahem), emerged from the little canteen opposite the International Relations when we came face to face with an SFI march. They bore an anti-establishment message, naturally and roared with slogans in chaste Bangla. Well, it could've been pidgin Bangla, but what do I know. They carried effigies of straw to burn, no doubt.

It was only for a moment that we struggled with the dilemma of attending class versus joining the rally. Attending a Global Politics lecture wasn't what we were going to discuss around the fireplace when we retired. We would fondly reminisce about how fiery and political we were and how deeply moved by the idea of revolution. So we decided to ditch academia and follow. Actually, most of us just wanted to see the effigy being burnt. So off we tip toed. But then the march left the campus and disappeared into the oblivion of the city. So we did end up attending class.

The march was protesting the Indo-US Nuclear deal. The American student in my class commented wisely upon this, "I'll just pretend I'm French" and ducked away from sight.

Bengalis have the most fascinating expressions for describing cowards. Really. I've forgotten the one I learned today, but it had something to do with getting hit by flowers.

The Dhoklas everywhere in Kolkata are fabulous. And it isn't as if yours truly hasn't had a lot of those in Gujarat. Kolkata seems to be good with all kinds of food. For those less familiar with Dhoklas, I would implore them to think of cheery yellow fluffy cubes, like moist and airy brittle sponges, with a flavour sweet, salty and tinge-y at the same time. And chillies.

I have finally been witness to the mad ruckus and utter celebration this city goes into when it pours. Not rains. Pours.

Think of traffic bumper to bumper - gigantic buses, monstrous Ambassador taxis, autos, a whole amalgam of brown, blue and yellow honking relentlessly. The thick shower of rain clapping against windows, walls and the earth. The dark steel sky and the thunder loudly from it. Water puddles, and the soaked wet-ness of narrow lanes and city spaces. Umbrellas, watery shoes, deep ponds by the side of the roads, the dark green overhead becoming darker green. You're so close to the splash, whoosh and spatter wherever you may be.

Like politics, rain here - it rains absolutely; touches everyone.

Monday, July 7, 2008

This & That

A boy, no taller than a computer table chair, marched to the edge of the sidewalk, where kept was a plastic makeshift bucket. He splashed himself in the manner of a bath once. Then twice. And then splashed the crow sitting on a stone in front of him. The bird didn't even flinch. It eventually shook itself a bit, and reconciled itself to bathtime.

Posters of 'Resist Lyngdoh' have gone up on university boards and walls, in defence of the rights of students to contest very political and party affiliated union elections. Politics, it seems, on Kolkata campuses, is very Bengali. And very Red. These two elements seem to be present indiscriminately on every poster across the breadth of the university.

It has been suggested to me to visit New Market for shopping and Nahoum's there for its rich plum cakes. These shall both be done soon. Chocolate & the Blue leaves no plum cake unturned for its readers.

I had no idea that Rasgullas (Roshogollas) could be eaten hot.

There could be a bus strike on Wednesday. Which might mean no classes. Which might imply a visit to an Inox theatre for the latest Bollywood fare.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Adventure of the Woodcutter (and some tea)

A rainy afternoon at Tea Junction is like soul therapy. Imagine the dark and soothing noise of thunder and the rush of rain falling swiftly on the glass around. An earthen cup of spicy tea, and plastic spoon cutting through the flavour of dhokla and chillies. The warmth of people and tea steam. Strangers around tables on very low stools. Scalding hot and sugary sweet gulab jamun. In Kolkata, you sometimes refer to samosas as singhadas. Imagine rich singhadas, their corners touching the growing expanse of tangy, sizzling red chutney.

Kolkata leaves you curious again and again. Today, I observed a gentleman by the side of the road. We had stopped at a red light, and the gentleman I speak of was engaged in a unique sort of activity on the footpath. Garbed in formals - white shirt and all, his laptop hung on the iron jutting out of the metal fence. The mango tree overhead had shed a few branches in the rain, and the guy would pick them up one by one, and attempt to break them into smaller pieces. And not just break them. He would place each between two bars of the fencing and snap sideways. And he did this repeatedly in all sincerety. Not dressed like one who might need firewood to cook on, and with all the calmness of one who, in fact, could not possibly have anger managment issues, he continued to do this, till the light had turned green, and we had left him behind.

There is a Youngman's Repairs Service Store here. Perhaps the boys being trained at the Boy's Training Association come here to be repaired. Maybe since 1918.

After ten days in this city, I don't find my chancing upon many Music and Dance training centres strange anymore. This is a place steeped in the classical arts and in literature. Speaking of which, a new Starmark bookstore opened at Mani Square today. Notebooks here are cheaper than at the hyper-market.

Oh, and we all know malls are created to make people shell put money. But to actually name one Mani Square (pronounced almost and nearly exaclty like Money Square) isn't quite that subliminal, don't you think?

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Daytime.

If you ever find yourself alone in a university campus, and all your friends have left for home, the best thing to eat is dream cake. What is dream cake, you may ask. Dream cake, my friends, is packaged cake with cream in it.

My university has a number of canteens. Quite a number actually. They're not all dingy and some are quite pleasant. But the only one with an elaborate menu was the dingiest one. And I was seeking adventure. So I ordered myself chowmein - some spark of oriental wisdom suggested it might be a safe option. The chowmein was given to me, thin and heaped, and I found myself an empty table. Now this dog comes along, and he looked friendly enough, so I didn't bother shooing him away. So he lolls for a bit, sniffs around a few others, navigates the underside of chairs and tables strewn about the place. Then he stops by a table, puts his paws up, and shoves his nose into someone's leftover food.

Now, my concern obviously was not the leftover food. It was, in fact, the reusable steel plates this beast was licking. "Bodi!!", yelled fellow consumers. And the Bodi (sister in law in Bangla, and a term commonly used in place of the more North Indian Aunty or Behenji) lept from her chair behind the wooden counter. She bellowed, and then her cooks bellowed, and then a few others, till it was quite a riot. Wet cloth was thrown at the dog and chairs shaken at it.

Naturally, I chose to leave. I would have left even if i hadn't seen crows pecking at food on another table.

The taxis in Kolkata are very shiny. I've seen them being scrubbed clean by their drivers myself on occasion. And I mean scrubbed. The rain helps of course. Nature's very own hose for unwashed cars.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

La Francophonie, La Bling

Interesting things are bound to happen in an International relations class. Our professor wanted to know if we knew of any Neo-Marxists. And then a yell from the back of the class - Rojha Lugjhemburg! Scared the wristwatch off of me!

The mall at Salt Lake City has a densely delightful junk jewellery stall. The place is loaded with the stuff - beads, silver, gold, bracelets, colour, shine, bling, glass, plastic, wood, earrings, rings, women who take too long to go through the ring tray, cheap necklaces and expensive bangles. I am a Bling fanatic. And I was completely overwhelmed. So overwhelmed in fact, that I actually came away without a single purchase. Go figure.

I've seen a Mime Academy in these parts. An entire academy for the silent art goes to show how liberal Kolkata is about its mainstream. The offbeat and the uncommon in metropolitans like Delhi finds itself pedestals and devotees here.

Go to Saurav's if you want genuine Bengali cuisine. But go to Caught n Bowled at Salt Lake to feel crickety. And while you're there, check Haka out. The furniture and decor of the place are so East Asian, it's like the real thing. Haka, by the way, is a Chinese place.

I believe Mark Twain has spoken poorly of the German language. The University has offered to teach us one of the two languages - German and French. I had frankly wanted to study the former; it sounds so much cooler. But the utilitarian world we inhabit has its own considerations, so French it is - more widely spoken, one of the U.N. languages and generally more useful than German.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Landscape & the Oddities

Imagine driving through Kolkata. Imagine a long river of cracked grey wall. SFI poster. The sickle of Marxist thought. The Spiritual and Philosophical Institute of something. A hand pulled rickshaw with the proletariat at one end and the middle class at the other. The lone white cat on the stone slab underneath a straw roof.

Imagine buses blue and brown. Ornately carved windows and the apperance of a chocolate slab on wheels. The curls and arrows of the Bangla language painted on signboards. The well worn flyover. The Howrah Bridge, stringed and fine tuned. The Hooghly underneath, swelling, hazel and vast.

Close your eyes and picture. Heavily draped trees in lush, lustrous green. The constant drizzle of water. Tram tracks on the roads, half drowned in muddy puddles. An ambling tram hooked to the wires overhead. Yellow taxis dotting every cranny of your landscape.

Young people, sunned people, resolute people. The saris, the checks. The white helmets and traffic lights. The buildings right out of a beautiful European city destroyed by the World Wars. The whispering curves of balconies, red bricks, ivy and weed crawling over yesterday, domes and pillars, rain washed, sun dried, neglected but kept.

I saw a 'Boy's Training Institute' today. I'm not sure what this means, but apparently, they've been training boys to do something since 1918. Heh. Cheap thrills.

Curious Curious. Kolkata leaves you curious all the time.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Land of Dada

First of many lessons learnt about Kol: Do not bother with blow dries and hair styling. On a rainy day such as this, all it took was five seconds out in the humidity and poof went my silky straights into a state of dishevellment, frizz and horror.

We got our phones recharged at the same hovel we had purchased our number. Why we keep reappearing at thus hovel, my friends, is simply because it happens to be the closest source of all goodies Airtel to our present accomodations. Speaking of accomodations, in a room behind the library I spoke about earlier, is the billiards room. And all the cues largely headless. What I'm trying to say is, if you were to hit a ball with these metal tipped sticks, you would most likely damage the ball and have your opponent laugh at you. We shared a cue and played a casual game. Your author made a few points herself (even made a few flukes look like pro work).

Perhaps one of the most incredible things about Kolkata is that you can buy the most beautiful chocolate fudge cake - 500 gms, chocolate sauce, shavings and the works, for a mere hundred and fifty rupees. And this can be substantially disorienting for an ex-Delhiite. Delhi bazaars wont let you smell, nay, look at cake for anything less than 200. And the purchase was made at one of the upmarket bakeries, not at a corner store with fly infested shelves.

If ever a claim was made that cricket could sell, and I mean really sell, it would find adequate citation in this city. Advertising uses cricket as often as language itself. A leading newspaper compares a drop in the competition's circulation to a dropped catch. Indian Premiere League sponsors continue to find a crowd with an enduring IPL hangover. Mahendra Singh Dhoni grins at you from every fifth billboard. Theme restaurants (not just Saurav's) and pubs abound. Cricket is everywhere. It's reassuring, all this love for the sport. I am someone for whom the fleeting glimpse of Eden Gardens through bushy trees and branches was like pilgrimage.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

How Bangla are you?

"Have you lived in Kolkata before?"
"Do you have family here? Relatives?"
"Are you Bengali?"
"Ever visited Kolkata before this?"
"Nay, madame."
"Do you know how to speak Bangla?"
Another answer in the negative, and thus concludes my first conversation with a kid here. Awe follows. I choose my adventures, and therefore am, adventurous and cautious all at once. Kolkata is one of those adventures. This is a culture, I was told, would be an altogether new experience for someone not even distantly Bengali. But being here is making me feel two things very strongly.

Indian and Human.

Human is what you are with everyone when somewhere you begin to belong without qualifying to. What I mean is, you're told you'll have nothing in common with them, and yet you feel right at home from the moment you take the first breath.

We purchased our new sim cards from an absolute hovel of a place (pardon the language). A square foot by two, possibly, and crammed with everything that you could attach to, put in, put on or add to, your mobile phone. No discomfort though. None.

In Kolkata, the people take pride in their language and legacy, without feeling the need to gloss it over. A "posh" Delhi bookstore would scarcely display visible and numerous volumes in Indian languages even within their recesses. But even mall bookstores here give Bangla literature pride of place among the British, American and diaspora confetti.

On several occasions, people will take for granted that you know the language. Apart from a few unmentionables (concerning lizards and people's behinds - i know, i'm horrible!) and the sentence "I know Bangla very well & I am a big devil", I know nothing of Bangla. But at times, its so fast, I have to wait for the torrent of words to get over before I can slip in my sheepish smile and say, "Sorry, I don't understand...". But it doesnt happen a lot. Kolkata is on its way to becoming wholly metropolitan, even if it falls a little behind now.

I caught a glimpse of the Victoria Memorial. It struck me like the Taj Mahal. White, tremendous and unreal - like a bygone era shimmering in the centre of a maidan. The Maidan is lush. We stopped at a red light and by the side of the road, grazing, were a fawn horse and a colt. In a more gracious age, one would have just gazed upon them and sighed and felt at peace. But we're not the 17th century anymore, we just have to take that fuzzy cell phone picture of all things beautiful.

The tennis court at the club here is magnificent. Wish I could say the same about the library.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

All this Respect for Women is driving me nuts!

Let's not forget the seven years I've spent in Delhi, trying very hard to avoid being pushed, nudged or stared at for no reason in all public places, without exception. Kolkata is surreal that way. A Delhiite can actually get offended by the sheer lack of obscene attention she gets from guys here.

So South City Mall looks like a decent enough place to hang out, even though the teenagers here insist it isn't. We've found a hypermarket underneath the mall, deep within its basement. And it truly is hyper. Just a massive space where they're willing to sell you anything from plasma TVs to popcorn. Aquariums of live prawns and crabs line the walls of the meats section. You stare, and amost feel sorry for the blue clawed sweeties. But then the words "crispy fried" come to mind, and you're so willing to be cruel and eat up the creatures again. (My apologies, vegetarians).

Pollution is one of Kolkata's chief troubles. Diesel vehicles can't seem to keep the diesel fumes out. The way to University is headache route. *sigh*

What wouldn't a good painting, polishing and retouching job do to the city? Here it is, just sitting there, all that magical architecture crying out to be glossed and displayed in all of its magnificence. Kolkata has the potential to be world class and to draw world tourism to itself. If only I had an unlimited supply of paint, brushes and the permission...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The First Wind

Kolkata has the innate ability to confuse the casual onlooker, in the most tactful sort of way. It catches you off guard around every corner. The moment you begin to forget it, it sneaks up to you. For anyone Indian but not even distantly Bangla, the experience of a new Kolkata is both fresh and familiar and surprising in how deep and embedded culture can be.

So far it has been very warm and very full of chocolate confectionary. I can’t complain. The kookie Jar and the Flury’s are in season and all’s right with the world. The malls are just as they should be everywhere in the world – cold, commercial, colourful and uniform. The streets are throbbing with life. There are very beautiful buildings beneath layers of dust and streaks of rain. The ache and the Gurudeb Robindranath resound in my head as I take this tentative first step towards expressing most simply and honestly my encounter with a city nothing like any other in which I have lived.