This post will again bring me back to my favorite muse, Kolkata. With the Durga Puja approaching in about two weeks time, both mind and heart are happy in a way they haven't been in a long time. I shall be in Kolkata to experience the Pujas after a gap of two years. About time.
I also happened to find this article on the web by Manojit Mitra... not specific to the Pujas or anything, (for that you can read this) but what the heck, I'm hoping you'll forgive me the over-enthusiasm and read it anyway...
"The more Kolkata changes, the more it remains the same. How do I justify a statement like that? I don't. You go and find out for yourself. As for myself, I am quite happy to be saying what I want to say about Kolkata. Because I belong here, own it and am proud of this wonderful hellhole. Don't believe there's a better one. However, if you are too insistent, I'll tell you that it's like one of those clowns in the plays of yesteryear -- looks funny, acts ludicrous but is a good chap at heart, wishing everyone well, accepting his own fate without batting an eyelid and carries on when everyone else has left. Do me a favour: don't take it away from me.You can't, because Kolkata's heart never changes. You have brought so many new-fangled things into it, but under the surface, it's heart goes on beating in the same old rhythm. It all started from the mid-seventies when its skyline began to change and high-rise apartments reared their heads. The television arrived, and the indolent Calcuttan (read Kolkatan) took to it gladly. For years, they messed up the entire place, building the second bridge and the metro. More buses, more cars. More and more people. The naxalites slit some throats and went into oblivion. The youth Congress stampeded about for sometime, and fell back. The marxist took over and have been bossing it over, but I am told their stars have dimmed too. It seemed people were desperate to change the Kolkata I knew. Enter globalisation, and new slogans were raised. Posh hotels, restaurants. Food -- continental, Japanese, Thai. Discoes -- all-night dancing. An entirely new vocabulary emerged -- investment, downstream units, infrastructure. Then computers, dotcom, toggling, nerds. The fragrance of millions in the air. Overnight prosperity. Fly-by-night operations. The whole works.In front of me lies a letter from my school buddy, Atin Bose, who's made it big out there in the pomised land, the US of A. What with one thing and another he hasn't been able to visit Kolkata in the last twenty years. "Tell me," writes the sick-at-heart Kolkatan, "has Kolkata changed? Does College Street look different? What about Basanta Cabin..." Rewind to the mid-fifties. The era of innocence. When we were young and the world was green. The buses were crowded even then, but other things were different. The walls bore political slogans. The revolution, we were told, was long overdue.Occasionally, they set fire to trams at the crossing of College Street and Mahatma Gandhi Road. Tear gas, lathi charge, shooting. Run for it. Get into the Coffee House. A haze of cigarette smoke. Endless talkathon in progress at tables. Wodehouse, Eliot, Satyajit, Kamal Majumdar. In a dark cubicle in the ground floor of the Presidency College, professor Tarak Nath Sen taught Hamlet. His thin, artistic fingers shaking in excitement as he explained the scene where Hamlet tells Ophelia, "Get thee to a nunnery -- why should'st thou be a breeder of sinner...". Across the street, Gauri Nath Shastri walked up and down the classroom, in Sanskrit College, lecturing on Ahhijnanshakuntalam. We fooled around. Kabiraji cutlet in Dilkhusa restaurant. Toasts and tea in Basanta Cabin. Radhaballavi and dal in Putiram. Off to Esplanade, for ten paise on the bus. Two aging Anglo-Indians stood at the entrance to Chung Wah restaurant, strumming a guitar and a mandolin. They sang, "When the swallows come back to Capistrano / That's the day, I pray you would, come back to me". Those were the days of of Pat Boone and Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and Harry Bellafonte, Hemanta, Sandhya and Lata. At the centre of New Market was a small coffee shop with a juke box. You could listen to Jailhouse Rock for 25 paise. On Chowringhee Road stood Firpo's. Rich couples relaxed with drinks on its sprawling first-floor balcony. Tangawallas fed their horses where the metro's Esplanade station stands now. Vans of the Tea Board and Coffee Board stood near the tram goomty in the evening, selling cups of fine tea and coffee for 25 paise a cup. Phoochakas? ofcourse, a dozen a rupee. And those glorious all-night jalsas of adhunik gaan. Hemanta, Sandhya, Shymal, Satinath, Manabendra, Utpala. Those fabulous Uttam-Suchitra starrers. We tried to emulate Uttam. Every girl believed she was Suchitra Sen. Those furtive meets in YMCA cabins, walks down the strand, hand in hand in dark cinema houses. Romance!I am told that young people these days have no time for such things. Too busy planning their career, savings pennies to pay for the computer course. That would be sad. But I still find young couples sauntering slowly down lonely streets, lost to the world around them. Can romance die? In Kolkata? I don't believe it. What about those chattering, bag-slinging boys and girls in the Rabindra Sadan complex? The lonely, bespectacled young fellow who goes about singing "Aaj jyotsna ratey shabai gachhey boney"? The blind harmonium player who threads through the jostling pavement walkers on Chowringhee? The frentic Addas at road intersections? Unemployment and insecurity? Closed factories and empty promises? Kolkata will survive it all. I am inviting Atin Bose to come and stay with me. We shall storm the city together, like we did forty years ago. Let the self-exiled brother come home and see. Home is still home."
Oh, I almost forgot the song in all of this...this one is by a Bengali band called Chandrabindoo, known for their satirical, colloquial and humorous (often 'nonsense') lyrics. Their tunes are generally heavily influenced by western music and finding an original tune in their repertoire can take more effort than getting me to wear anything other than white, black or blue, but the lyrics more than make up for it sometimes...ah..I forgive them. I'm not sure who this song was dedicated to when originally written, but I shall take the liberty of dedicating it to the phenomenon of the Durga Pujas...
"Eita tomar gaan
Tumi loadshedding er chander alor shor
Tumi jhorer sheshe shurjo dhowa ghor
Aaina bhora din
Rup shaior er jol
Aalga chhutir rod
Ei khatar bhaje gacher patar naam
Eita tomar gaan
Tumi norom thote shechcha bethar neel
Tumi onno mone ekla pakhir jhil
Aina bhora din
Rup shaior er jol
Alga chhutir rod
Ei mayar poshom haat debar araam
Eita tomar gaan
Oi anchol ghera brishti chhater gham,
Rege mege shishu giyeche bhashan"