Saturday, May 7, 2011

Nameless In Calcutta!!

Life always doesnt give you choices..When it gave me an internship of my choice, it surprised me (as it has everyday) by putting me up at Calcutta for the next two months..Cal was probably the last place on earth I wanted to be in, my mind already preconceived with negative opinions abt the place which I have been hearing abt since childhood..

Bereft of choices (after endlessly cursing my luckless destiny) and options, I made up my mind to embrace my new domicile after cleansing my cobwebs of horror formed by others opinions. I came to Cal exactly a month ago, and like how ST was bookless in Baghdad, I was "Nameless in Cal"

Without wanting to repeat the mistake of preaching like others did, I leave here a memoir of the events, the magic and the experiences  as I effortlessly managed with prior zero knowledge in Hindi and a negative knowledge of Bangla everyday here @ Cal.

Not having any1 to boss around gives you such unfettered freedom and breaks you free of any shackles. Like it did to me, I walked into this city as a just returned from US grandson of Tagore and put on a " Bloody I know Hindi" attitude. My daily commuting takes me to a place called Hazra, where I get down to get another Billu-Barber buses. In order to minimize my Hindi usage and show people my ineptitude, I talk less and use vocal modulations. I wake up my fellow passenger and ask Hizra? (with an upward modulation at the end). Bhander means stores in Hindi - How the hell am I supposed to know this? The only similar sounding Hindi word I know of was when my third language hindi teacher pointed at a 50 paise animals chart - We all shouted in chorus Bhandar. Is it my fault then when I go to the owner of a shop and ask Sidharth Bhandar? (Again upward modulation at the end - It's a question baba). Pure bliss when some1 screams at you at the top of their voices in an alien language and you stand there giving a Gandhian smile. I seriously recommend all to try it atleast once.

Nitrogen - 71%, Oxygen -21%, CO2 - 3%..All bull crap what I learnt. In Cal, its nicotine smoke - 120%, Oxygen - negative 25 %, CO2 - 5% (Potato is their staple diet, don blame the Bong babes plsss). Everyone smokes is an understatement, They smoke everywhere and anywhere, at places where it is least expected too.. Inside a pharmacy, Inside a sweet stall, In the Eden Gardens, The driver of a public bus, In an auto, In a    (fill it with whatever you want)..Girls, Old ladies and Grandmoms move away if you want, no respect for you..The communists are chauvinistic u see!!!

Chauvinistic communists damn them..But like how India gives its own Indianness to everything from China (Gobi Manchurian Included!!!), CPI (M) is not chavinistic..A travel in the metro will affirm the view..I got into the first bogey and saw a set of seats reserved for Physically challenged and Senior Citizen ( How considerate and thoughtful of them to do that!!!)A series of seats reserved for ladies as well ( How Un-Chauvinistic of them to do that!!) No seats reserved for men in the first bogey,as I traversed in vain searching for a seat until I hit upon the iron-clad Kremlin-like end of bogey..The whole metro doesnt have any seat allocated for men, the women can sit anywhere..As someone who seek equal rights for men, I raised my voice..(With sex ratio already heavily skewed in favor of men and an alarming 1984 like world of gay-hood looming large) Shouldn't men have more seats than women? "How dare you slander women in this Mother India?..Jai Mata Di" the lady stood up and other women synchronizing to form the numerous hands I earned the wrath of Kali..On a different note, Metro is an apt image of the typical bengali lazy lifestyle..You find the bogeys at the extremes teeming with people and the ones at the center reminding you of Dodo's..The stairs are near to the extremes, why do you hav to walk extra? (These people are not lazy, they use their energies optimally you see!!!)

Learning Bangla isn't difficult you see as I realized it!!Caught with a sever cold and bouts of sneezing, I passed on the change to the auto driver and asked Teeke (Aaaah...Chii Damn my cold). Instead of getting a God bless in response, the driver sneezed back too Teek Aaah..Chii..Blown away by their hospitality of trying not to make the diseased feel inferior by pretending to have the disease himself, the auto driver typified heights of goodness..I was later stupefied to learn that it wasnt a show of hospitality but how they speak..So the next time you want to speak Bangla, catch a bout of influenza virus and sneeze at the end of every word..teeckochhi? keymon occhi? it's as simple as that..Was Bengal once called the sick state of India for this? God knows..Or if you really don't wanna get sick, go on grab a pack of Rajnigandha and paint this city red..teek - (gargle nicely)--chii??

And how can I not talk about the distinctly Calcutta-ish Tram?? This is like this dilapidated pieces of junk metal frivolously held on to by regular welding and also by the nostalgic people's wish of not wanting to let go of an unique tradition. Everytime I see it moving around, with the screechy noise and the puff of dust it throws around (to show every1 I'm here) I get reminded of my grandfather who was a commanding police officer at his prime and of whom I've heard stories about..However, when he got old and his health deserted him, I couldn't help thinking of him getting relieved of his pain.. I couldn't see a hero of my mine and one whom I have looked at with respect in a state of shambles..The tram still exists - for good or for bad?, you decide for yourselves..

There are so many other things which I found and enjoyed it as distinctly Bengali..The drivers here are little cousins of Schumacher and cut across each other like swords in a Judo fight. Ironically, these buses stop to pick up people who are highly civilized and stand in a line to get into it..The cars are parked heads on to each other with so little space that every instance you take it out, you get reminded of Mr. Bean..And ofcourse you have the coolest word on earth to refer to everyone that you don't need to remember anyone's names..It fits in the Sir (for a formal use), Dude (for an informal use), Hey ( for an irreverent use), Excuse Me (for a quizzical use) all into one..Pick up their accent and you don't need anything more..Ooohh Dadaaa!!!

As I caught up with my friend, and lay talking all night, my friend suddenly exclaimed "Dude it's 6 in the morning, we have done nothing all night except sitting at this place".."This is what Calcutta can do to you!!!" I said..

This city has its own character..This is Calcutta and 'm loving it :)


  1. damn well written.. putting da pieces nicey.. a coupe of things i'd like to add from ma personal point of view..

    everytime i see a bong g.. i strive to make do seeing half her face.. the rest half is covered wid a extra special,bong specific made goggles.. dunno how dey get this custom made thingy.. but everyone has dem...

    and secondly.. da khulla do.. eerybody from the guys in da auto, to shops to metro want change,.. i guess bribes in da city are paid in coins as well.. bags of 1 ruppee coins going t the babu's house and people saying dada. baari (aah-chi).. no wonder they'e a gvt mint here.. abundance of coins..

  2. Each & every city is different in its own ways, its not the concern of city or people living out there, whether it pleases you or not. At first you are irritated, you crib, you cry & then you try adjusting to the new place..... Once you take a step in that direction, eventually you start loving the place.
    ENJOY your stay at city of Joy... the way beautifully expressed throughly njoyed it.... specially the teek chii...


  3. I loved this Mani..!! All d best to u !!
    And I totally agree with Vibhuti above..That is how exactly I have reacted to Mumbai!! :-)

  4. I can recall my days at Chennai after reading your post :) Good one..liked it.