Calcutta Memoirs!

Photo of Calcutta Memoirs! 1/5 by Riyanka Roy

Sitting in office, today, was like one of those usual busy mornings when there's a lot of work to be done, I suddenly came across this video which brought back thousands memories that are boxed up and keeps tickling me every time I go through old albums...

The city where I was born, and where I grew up.

I still remember those lanes that led to my school, and a friend's house next to the school, where I've spend hundreds of lazy afternoons. I used to wait for the school bus, standing in front of a shop that sold hot "kochuri" in the morning, and it was always crowded. The school bus gave a short tour through the crowded South Calcutta streets as it picked my friends, waiting at different stops.

And then, stepping out of school and landing up in University opened the door to a completely new world for me. It was during my college days that I actually started exploring the city, got closer to her, and fell in love with her every now and then. Thanks to a bunch of friends who accompanied me in this journey!

Walking down from college to home was something I loved, and I had numerous reasons for that... For the friend who accompanied me and the conversations we had, the Benfish seller that offered Prawn cutlets in front of Dakshinapan, the Elaichi-chaa at Gariahat, and more!

Another much loved place was Lake, next to Southern Avenue, where mostly the couples flocked during the evenings. I was in love with the calmness that lingered there; looking at the still water and sipping on 'lebu chaa', I had headt-to-heart conversations with a friend, before he left the city. And then, I would go there to just take a walk, and gaze at the newly constructed sky-scrappers on the other-side of the Lake.

My parents had moved to Bombay by that time, and I had more freedom than ever, to hop around the city and explore the hidden gems.

There were countless days when I bunked college and roamed around Nandan, or took a walk around the St.Paul's Cathedral. Tibetan Delights, a shabby restaurant in the dingy Elgin Road lanes, serving excellent momos and soup which turned out to be my favorite.

Photo of Calcutta Memoirs! 2/5 by Riyanka Roy
Victoria memorial.

A friend, who came from a far away land, used to insist me to get my books and to sit and study with her at the gardens next to Victoria Memorial. We hardly read a line, and spend the afternoons laughing and gossiping. It seemed like she knew Calcutta more than I did, and I often used to wonder how she knows all the details about the places. Perhaps that's the way things unfold - we are always more eager to know about things that are distant to us. Surprisingly, she showed me a lot of Calcutta that was unknown to me for almost 22 years. It was more fun to explore with her because people (autowalas, shopkeepers mostly) got amazed when she used to speak in Hindi and at times, in broken Bangla.

Some of the weekend mornings usually began at 5, when I headed towards Territi Bazaar along with a couple of crazy friends who never failed to accompany me. Territi Bazaar offers the best Chinese breakfast in town, and although many people may say it's overrated, I believe it's not the food but the entire ambiance that makes everything perfect. I still remember that morning, when it was raining heavily as we were eating our bowl-full of meatballs and soup. It was just us, and a few lamas who also ordered their momos.

The most obvious place where we headed after a hearty breakfast was Princep Ghat, one of my favorite places in the city. I could sit there for hours, looking at the boats sailing down the river. I've been there in the evenings as well, and wondered how the whole view changes from dawn to dusk. I've seen the shadow of the bridge falling on the river and the water reflecting the glittery lights of the bridge, and the kids playing on the mud at the bank, and then taking a dip.

For people from other cities, it'll be difficult to understand the diversity that prevails from North to South, be it the lanes or the houses, or the people and their lifestyle. Growing up in South Calcutta, I've always seen the dynamism and modernity of the city, unfolding with time. When I explored North Calcutta for the first time, I felt the strong heritage that the city still holds. North Calcutta is dotted with century-old buildings, criss-crossed by hundreds of narrow lanes.

Photo of Calcutta Memoirs! 3/5 by Riyanka Roy
College Street.

The smell of old pages still lingers on my mind as I think of those afternoons at College Street, hunting for old-copies of Political Theory books, and then gorging on chicken cutlet and coffee at the Indian Coffee House. I often overheard the intellectual conversations going on around me - this is where ideas are formed, debated, debunked and mulled over. Another reason for bunking college and going there was to have 'Daab-Shorbot' at Paramount.

Photo of Calcutta Memoirs! 4/5 by Riyanka Roy
Marble Palace, North Kolkata.

While tourists and residents flock to Victoria Memorial, not many are interested in discovering the Marble Palace, which is one of the best preserved and most elegant houses of 19th century Calcutta. The palace, built by wealthy Bengali merchant Raja Rajendra Mullick in 1835, houses collections of western sculpture and Victorian furniture, as well as paintings by European and Indian artists and other objects of art. Not very far from here is Jorasanko Thakurbari, the place where Rabindranath Tagore was born. I've been there once, and it is exactly the same as described in Tagore's writings. I went there with two of my friends, and we made sure not to miss Golbari'r "kosha mangsho" (special mutton) since we were on our venture of exploring the lanes of that part of the city.

It might just sound too clichéd, but like every other Bengali, my favorite time of the year was DurgaPuja, when the city seems to have a make-over, with the glitter and glamour everywhere. A couple of years back, I thought to venture Kumartuli, the place where the idols are being made. Some half done, some yet to be colored, some big, some not-so-big, each of them had a character, a charm, an aura.

As we walked down the lane, and reached Baghbazaar Ghat, we saw hundreds of men carrying idols of Durga Maa, wrapped in plastic sheets, sailed off to distant lands across the river Hoogly.

Photo of Calcutta Memoirs! 5/5 by Riyanka Roy
Durga 'bhashan' in Hoogly.

The much-awaited four days of the year, and the Pandal-hopping, and gobbling all the street-food, the late-nights and craziness unlimited. For all those who wants to feel the real vibrations of "The City of Joy" should visit during Durga Puja. We used to make plans of where all to go, and what all to eat... for a foodie like me, Durga Pujo was a time for 'pet-pujo' as well. The entire city rolls with a madness, dances with the music 'dhaak', and a different smell fill the atmosphere.

There's so much that the city has to offer, I guess I can never pen-down everything. Now that I've moved out of the city, I look back and cherish all of that. All the memories are intrinsically weaved with certain people - those people who added colors to my life. As I'm writing this, all of them are lingering on my mind...I am thinking of the friend who accompanied me for 'phuchka' during the evenings, and especially before exams; the friend with whom I walked down the narrow lanes of my neighborhood; my college friends who injected a different level of madness altogether...

To "The City of Joy" and all my favorites there!