I arrived at the Kolkata international airport at 8pm of a rather chilly, December evening.Exhausted,as I collected my luggage and staggered out of the airport gates, my eyes fell on a shiny, yellow Ambassador car. Wow! The sight of an Ambassador after so many years awakens nostalgia in a really strong manner. The first amazing piece of information I gathered at the first step in this city is that Kolkata proudly continues the tradition of black and yellow Ambassador taxi services till date. This is probably the only place in India where you can relive those old days with sleepy afternoons, spent in the back seat of a fat ambassador with soothing music of kishore Da songs lulling you off.
Kolkata air is not spine chilling like Delhi, nor is it lukewarm like the winters in Andhra or Odisha, its pleasurable. Just perfect! Riding through the shiny roads to my cousin’s house in New town, I discovered the shy and novice Kolkata that had a branded feel to every thing it possessed. The following morning started with a foggy feel. As I jogged my way out, I stumbled upon yet another nostalgia trigger – The good, old Rickshaw.This three tyred jewel was an integral part of my school life. Just looking at it, I could feel the ‘come try me’ vibe already. One ride was simply inevitable. This ride, specifically, was unforgettable because all my excitement vanished in a jiffy, as the rickshaw puller started pulling the Rickshaw with the enthusiasm of a FZ biker and I was being tossed like a veggie in a chinese dish all the way, holding on to my dear life. I decided my childhood rickshaw puller was much sensible and more normal. Phew!! So to make the return journey memorable in a better manner, I planned to hail a cab. But, what came to my rescue was a golf cart or a battery operated cart, as christened by my cousin’s 4 yr old. This, I thought would definitely be better than my previous ride but dear me, was I right? The driver started like a shy, new bride but later turned into a kin of the Rickshaw puller, Dhoom 3 fame. I returned in almost the same fashion as I had reached there earlier, being tossed and holding on to the supporting rods to save myself from being blown off to old Kolkata in that frenzy.
Kolkata has a laid back attitude which is absolutely infectious.In Various areas of Kolkata streets, I spotted men squatting about in closed circles, playing chess under the winter sun. This is something that is impossible to see in busy places like Bengaluru. Bengali women, I must say are one of the most beautiful of the womanly breed. Those wide, dove shaped, drunken eyes lined thickly with Kohl,plump, curved lips and cute, fluffy cheeks. From an average working woman in a western attire, to a corn seller sitting under a tree down the street, every woman here has a kind of beauty that will make u look back at her again. I have fluffy cheeks and to be honest, I have never liked it much. To me, fluffy cheeks are a prominent feature of children below 9 and that is when it suits them. Adults with fluffy cheeks somehow never attracted my attention. A little secret that I must share with you is most of the times, I walk about with my cheeks pulled in, sucked inward.That makes me feel like a runway model ready to face the world. However girls in this Bengali land gave me an acceptance criteria by flaunting their cute cheeks in such a beautifully, proud manner, I felt at ease displaying mine as well. My pained cheeks got some break for the 5 days we were there.They should be thanking this place.
Food and Kolkata are definitely synonymous. This, I can vouch for, since every nook and cranny of this city is lined with a variety of eatery. Restaurants Ranging from the likes of rich and famous like ‘Oh Calcutta!’ to the simple ‘jhops’ as they call the straw thatched huts which sell simple macher bhaat( rice and fish curry). Often you can catch a glimpse of hot, fluffy rotis being tossed in the air and fall perfectly into the hot case. Alu dum (a spicy potato curry) and roti is a popular treat among the locals. People can be seen standing on streets gorging on spicy puchkaas or digging into hot luchis. A rare but insanely delicious meal that I had here was a concoction of steamed fish and coconut milk. Such tender fish and flavorful rice can make the day of an average non vegetarian. A small talk with a local revealed that if a normal Bengali falls short of nonveg at his house, he drops a slice of raw fish in the boiling water before raw rice is poured into it for cooking. In short, just the smell of fish is enough to kick start a bengali mood. Well, I love fish too, although hens and goats attract me more. Try a normal eatery in Kolkata and you cannot just hate fish anymore.
This language is simply adorable. Once I stopped by a hawker and asked him a certain address. He could hardly speak Hindi. Sensing his difficulty, I conveyed to him that I can understand Bengali if not speak it. He seemed relived but the sudden gush of Bengali that flowed out of his mouth left me startled. The sound of Bengali words is like music. I actually forgot why I was there and just stood there stupefied, listening to this man blabber. Whatever he said sounded like music. They speak with a hundred ‘roshogollas’ stuffed under their cheeks. Apart from food, Bengalis reflect a lot of intellect as well. A quaint,little, busy street lined with a multitude of book stores in an old corner of Kolkata represents one of the best jewels of intellectual properties present in the world. It is said that college Street, as they call it, is considered to be meccah for anybody preparing for any kind of entrance examination. Name a book and you get it. Often i find pretty saree clad girls with hands full of bangles hailing cabs on busy park street. Where else would you find an old tram rambling down the cemented roads unconcerned by the modern age cars swishing by it. Just like you would respect an elderly, new generation traffic in Kolkata allows trams to pass by with all due respects. There is a lazy feel in the air of Kolkata. A fruit seller I came across was weighing my fruits when a street guy came yelling at him” Aiii, tumaar kaache aamar 1 taaka aache(Hello, You owe me a rupee)”. The shopkeeper gave him an angry look and yelled back ” tumaar kaache aamar 3 taaka aache.(Hey, you owe me 3 rupees. When will you return it?) ” and shrugged the plastic bag hard murmuring abuses under his breath. It was amusing to see the other person squat away. I forgot the fruits, enjoying the small quarrel between them until the fruit seller called me ‘didi, e lo aapka saaaaaman’. The thick and raw Hindi accent from a Bengali tongue is just as amusing to hear.
The word ‘shopping’ pricks all the girly ears up and let me tell you why Kolkata might just be ‘the’ place for street shoppers. Hop into the overcrowded New market and ladies, you wont ever get disappointed. A volley of colors displayed conspicuously by a heap of bags spread across one side of the street, dazzling stones studded in bangles ,beautiful earrings in dirt cheap rates, kurtiz and stoles galore, a range of eateries and small stalls selling the famous kulhad-wali-chai are just some of the examples on offer in New Market.
Care to walk back in history and meet our revered Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa? Check out the Mother Wax Museum in New Town.
One visit to a quaint,old street in a quiet corner of this lovely city will take you to Kumartuli. It is a treasure cove of a zillion artists working diligently on the idols of Goddess Durga. The street is lined with a lot of artisans both old and young, busy with their little hammers carving wonders out of clay and straw. The first idol of Goddess Durga to be worshiped in Durga Puja is claimed to have made in this place.
Feel the thrill of celebrating Christmas with hundreds of strangers thronging the popular Park Street on Christmas eve. Check out hundreds of strangers walking together to create hoot waves, while admiring the stunning decorations and paparazzi throughout the entire street walk.
So, if you want to satisfy your sweet tooth with some quality,delectable sweets or want to take a break from your hectic schedule and go on a snooze mode(I hope the Bangalorians are hearing!) or feel like trying out a different genre of Biryani or are possessed by the explore-your-history fever or are a bookworm who can spend her entire life crooned with a book at a cozy corner of one of the finest libraries in India(like me) or take pleasure in enjoying small joys of life like a kulhad wali chai at Rs. 8 (That cheap..yayyy) or check out all the modes of transport(ferry,trams,rickshaw),all in one city or just want to be with some beautiful people around, you know where to head to.
I cant wait to be there again, because Bengal has a lot to offer and my plate just cant seem to get full.
Bengal, u r just khub bhaalo!!