Sunday, May 10, 2009

Calcutta - Nostalgia/Romance

Calcutta time again...found this article on Calcutta and how young romance bloomed in its 'good ol' days' in 60s and 70s. A stark difference from how things work today. Achingly penned by Jyotirmoy, from the website India Mike. Read the original content here.

"One of the unique features of the mid level eateries of Kolkata was the “Cabins”. Basically these were cubicles along the wall with curtains or swing doors. Some four or five people could sit at a table in these cabins. During the evenings families dined in these and those would like to have their tipple in privacy would choose these, New Cathay in Esplanade was one such. On the days when the horse races took place you could find great scholars of numerology, astrology, equestrian biology and all such sorts pouring over sacred literature & frantically doing a series of extremely complicated mathematical calculations. In the evening you found the same people most of them drinking to get over some financial misfortune and a very few drinking to celebrate the gains.
During the slack hours of the afternoon courting couples mostly students would enter the scene. The waiter would lead them to a cabin & take the princely order of two cups of tea & a plate of finger chips(French fries were unknown)
After some time of delicious intimacy if by any chance you happened to look at the curtain you found a pair of feet under it. And if you
didn’t have the chance & the tea was getting too cold or he was too tired waiting on his feet for you to see it, the waiter would transmit a signal via a very discreet cough. He would deliver the stuff & get away & wont come back to show his feet for a long time probably would doze off to a slumber induced by the monotonous sound emitted by the antique ceiling fan.
Basanta Cabin near the Hedua on the Cornwallish street was known for the congenial atmosphere provided by the kind & friendly owner. He had over the years seen some great romances blooming there & attended many a marriages that followed the courtships at his establishment. The words like dating, seeing, didn’t arrive. People fell in what is called in the local lingo as “Prem”, intense love. You became brave, honest, compassionate & so sure of life. “Otho mein jawab ane do, kamshini pe sharab, Oh Khuda tera Khudai palat dunga..”(Let words come to my lips & blush to my beloved, Oh God I will change the way you lord)
There were no pubs or discs and no going on a drive. So you went for a walk in the Botanical gardens & ate peanuts, or took a boat ride near the Strands. The boatmen would row to a buoy, tie the boat & disappear on the other side of the boat leaving you alone. After the predetermined time they would noisily take up their oars & the helmsman would again come back to his position on the side you had been seating. You went there after if finance permitted to the Gay Restaurant (Gay meant happy & just that) and sat with ice creams looking at the big ships sailing by. On some days you would go to the sprawling
Maidan(after metro construction a fraction of it remains) & sit down under one of the magnificent old trees. There would be hordes of goats grazing around. Some of the chai wallas would buy some fresh goat milk which the young caretakers sold on the sly. One of them would come and squat very close to you. Public property so you cant do any thing except buy tea from him & he will go away. No sooner had he left a vendor of Shar e botrish bhaja( vendor of a concoction that had thirty two & half ingredients) would appear. As the dusk fell & the birds flew back over the dome of Victoria Memorial you walked back to Chowringhee & went to Anadi Cabin. After a Moglai Parotha & tea you took the tram this way & she took the bus that way.
For having some entertainment together you went to the
Rabindra Sadan on the morning of the birthday of Tagore. You waited for Chinmoy Chattopadhya to sing the wonderful love songs by Tagore & wish you could sing like him & what a cooing would that be! You wept at the prospect of an imaginary separation when Hemanata Mukherjee sang Jakhon Porbey na more payer chinha ei bat e(When you don’t find my foot marks any more..)
When you had progressed further you took the suburban train or a bus from Esplanade early morning & went to Diamond Harbour where the
Ganaga meets the sea. You walked miles on the embankment with the salty air ruffling your hairs & sat down while the gentle waves lapped at your feet. Ate rice & egg curry at the tourist canteen & bought Jai Nagorer moa( a fragrant ball of puffed rice cooked in the jaggery made from juice sapped from date palm trees) & shared them while returning back to Kolkata.
All this went on when the city was plagued with acute shortage of food & every other essential commodities, baby food had did the vanishing act. Soon the cries of “Bel
phuler mala nebe go”(Would you buy a garland of fresh Jasmine) or Chai baraf kulpi baraf( Do you want kulfis) in the lanes at night gave away to shouts like “Chalbe na chalbe na manbo na manbo na” Thousands came out with radical political views & soon the worst & the biggest armed political warfare started. Streets were deserted after dusk. Thousands of bright young men laid down their lives, bombs were being made at every nook & corner often the hands of the makers were blown off accidently. Indigenous R&D produced “Pipe guns” Not a single family was to be found who hadn’t lost a near & dear one. Para military police unleashed unprecedented brutality.
Love left the city. “Sat
mahaler swarnapurir nibhlo hajar bati”(The thousand lights of the majestic seven floored mansion went off one by one”
After a long period of darkness from the bloody mud of the city & mangled flesh & abandoned bones rose great writers like
Samaresh Bose, Shanker, Sunil Ganguly, Joy Goswami & others. Little magazines appeared, some disillusioned men in a small house in Behala started writing the lyrics of Mohiner Ghora guli(Mohin’s horses, the first folk rock band of Bengal) A very very tall man pawned his wife’s jewels to make films that would stun the world.
Love again returned to soothe the tormented souls but that’s another story


Prashant said...

so mr.chatterjee. -which one of these charming acts did you adopt during your era?

Ron said...

I've been to a restaurant years ago in North Cal which still had the cabins. Before you ask, it was a family outing and not the other kind...was too young then for that :P

But this is totally familiar, not just because of the novels I've read but also because..umm..I discovered my Dad's diaries when I was 16...written when he was in college. I read them all of course *blush* and the descriptions here could have come straight out of those pages. I guess all Calcuttans from those times have pretty much done the same.