Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Of Luchis and Sourab

Kolkata is a cheerful place. My gurudev was born in this city and this is reason enough for me to well up with pride and joy to have been born a native Bengali. Having been in Mumbai all my life and then having moved to Singapore, my “Bangali” characteristics have been much diluted. But a native Bangali will always be one come hell or high-water.

Kolkata doesn’t change. It’s as if the God of time has gone all around the world morphing it the way he wants, and then has stopped here to do a Rip Van Winkle act - just for the heck of it.

I came here twenty years back and today the same narrow streets meet my eyes. Wooden shacks on the roadside still serve tea to weary travelers as also to the average Bong in need of his three hourly “cha”. Dilapidated cycle rickshawallas still rampant in the city, are pedaled or pulled on foot, by malnutritioned yet ever enthusiastic Rickshawallas. I still fail to fathom the guts and dexterity with which cab drivers in the city man their humongous Ambassadors through the narrow gulleys and bylanes.

“Mishtaan Bhandaars” adorn the sidewalks, as mounds of “mishti doi”, “rabdis”, “rosogollas” and an assortment of “shondesh” in varied shapes and sizes, are made on the spot and sold off the shelf instantly.

The thing that strikes me the most even today is the laidback peaceful lifestyle that people like to follow in this city. Most shops and stores open only after eleven in the morning and close for lunch at one in the afternoon. Three hours and a siesta later, they open again at six in the evening and shut at ten in the night. People and animals draped all over the city , in shops, homes, under trees, and on the sidewalks, is a common sight during the non-working hours of the day. And of course Bengalis simply love to talk, be it business, politics, cricket, football, mishti, luchi or just idle gossip about the “pada”. “Adda” is an integral part of Bengali life, and no matter how busy or late for work a Bengali is, coming across a familiar face on the road, will instantly stop him and his counterpart in their tracks to chat for a while before resuming routine. Great intellectuals have been born of the state of West Bengal. Many revolutionaries in thought and action have been Bengalis. Philosophical, academically oriented and deep thinking, defines a Bengali as does cherubic, talkative and warm. A Bengali vegetable vendor would greet a passing visitor with the same warmth of word as if he had known him for ages. Never one to hesitate when help is required, one thing is certain – when you need him, a Bengali will be there with outstretched arms and generous heart, to ease your pain and tide you through your tough time, till you can take care of him yourself. Even then he will keep checking with you to make sure things are ok – and you’re related to him forever.

Kolkata is a city of Mother Teresa and Tagore. Compassion and art, poverty and generosity, sports and gossip, Victorian grandeur and broken grocery stores, and tonnes of books, form the framework of the city that is Kolkata. And of the people – What can I say? They love to eat and they love their fish. To a Bengali, a meal without “Maach” is like a night without stars. And life without cricket, is like a meal without maach. Sourav scores a sixer and Kolkata cheers as one. Sachin misses a century and Kolkata grieves for a month. Multihued and vibrant – Kolkata loves a good gossip and luchi is of course always welcome. It is a city of little people with big hearts, many people with simple lives, hard lives but contended minds. It is also as I said before, a city of Bengalis – a City of Joy.

------- Shreyasi Majumdar (Pseudo-Bangali)

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