The New Year ushered in on a reflective mood with ripples and reflections of the four different cities that we have set our homes in at different point in our lives. These cities have shaped our lives and probably our future destinies as well. However, I realised that two things were common to all the four cities -
- We were always living by the water!
- We were always facing the West – hence Sunset became the most necessary prop in all my emotional interludes at all stages of my life!
And our homes by the water had been:
- Kolkata & the Ganges
- Colombo & the Indian Ocean
- Frankfurt & the Main
- Dubai & The Creek, Dubai & the Persian Gulf
Kolkata & The Ganges
As a child my life was no different from a gypsy. We were moving constantly from one district in West Bengal to another and grew up playing in the shadows and amongst the pillars of old colonial British Bungalows, most of the times situated by a river. My father was in the Indian Administrative Service and deliberately indulged us to be a part of his whirlwind official tours thus exposing us to a life beyond the four walls of a typical school classroom. We ended up travelling to remote and non-remote places, spending many nights and days on various locations which were naturally exotic but inaccessible to normal tourists. We experienced the harrowing of being stuck in the narrowest canals of Sunderbans and also had the privilege of spending nights and days on various rivers in Sunderbans, even on the MATLA river which is well known for her ferocity and huge tidal waves. Memory cards are stacked with special memories from our several stays on the Sagar Islands, situated at the confluence of the river Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. We were allowed to swim in the sea waters and play by the sand even during the nights! On very dark nights the beach would turn gothic (it helped that there were no movies coming out of the Vampire Franchise as it’s happening now) and on full-moon nights the sands would borrow silver glitters from the stars above.
On many occasion I felt that we were actually living on the edge, by the water!
Kolkata was my first urban experience. We were living in the The Magistrate’s House on No1 Thackeray Road in Alipore. This heritage house shaped my childhood and moulded my character (a previous article Touching the bricks of history gives a glimpse into this). ‘Adi Ganga’, an old course of the mighty Ganges flowed by the house. Post-school afternoons were spent running up and down the banks searching for treasure or fishing garbage out of the canal, pretending that they were true blue catches! My partner in crime was mostly my younger brother – a creative genius with an imagination that went far beyond normal childhood fantasies.
Then we happened to move residence to 44 IronSide Road. A niche locality in Ballygunge, spruced up with high-security meant for Government Officials. As our father climbed up his career we climbed down our imagination lanes as our play space was reduced to a 2,000 square-feet apartment from the 20,000 square feet heritage house. Our spirits were down.
However, the Ganges pulled us up…
In Ironside Road, for the first time I made real friends (outside school that is) and played real games. We were engrossed in Addas (a typical Bengali term for banters & chit-chats). I stopped playing imaginary games that I had become used to since my days in the fantasy-evoking environment of the Magistrate’s House.
I started hanging around with a gang (the friendly kind and not the mafia kind). We would gossip and pry on other gangs in our residential compound. And then we started venturing outside the compound. It all started with a cool place called Scoop, an ice-cream parlour – on the banks of the Ganges. For every emotional escapade we drove to Outram Ghat where Scoop was located. I remember the precise postal address of Scoop as well – 71 Strand Road, Fort William! My childhood ice-cream memories has only 2 vector points – Scoop on the Ganges and The Hobby Centre on Russel Street. Today, Kolkata has ice-cream parlours in each lane and by-lane. But not then… And no, I don’t even belong to the pre-Independence period!
Why Scoop should get so much footage is not because of the fact that it served ice-creams but for the fact that every-time we went to Scoop, the Ganges provided loads of thrills into our mini ice-cream rendezvous. One could definitely buy ice-creams anywhere from the ice-cream vendors selling products of Kwality’s, Rollicks etc. They not only had more than enough ice-cream lollies and ice-cream cones and ice-cream cups that haunted us in our dreams. But they were also available 24×7, irrespective of any weather, political, social and emotional condition. I mean, even if an ice-cream vendor had closed shop one could always beg and plead with him to give that last absolutely essential lolly. And he would generously agree! However, the limitation of these ice-creams were the choice of flavours – they were mostly of ‘prét-a-porter’ variety – vanilla, chocolate, two-in-one, strawberry, pistachio… and that’s it!
‘Haute-couture’ flavours like Hot Chocolate Fudge, Banana Split – were only available at Scoop or the Hobby Centre. Maybe 5-star hotels served them – but their peripheries were beyond our scope! We made elaborate plans to reach Outram Ghat just before sunset so that we could jostle through the crowded Scoop and plop ourselves on the revolving bar-stool kind of seats facing the wall-to-wall glass window that overlook the mighty Ganges. Ahh and watch the sun bid farewell to that particular day as we licked on our spoonfuls of ice-cream. No promises of sharing ice-creams among friends, only sharing a few moments of happiness!
Very often we would haggle with the boatmen anchored along the banks of Outram Ghat and buy ourselves exclusive boat rides upto the Howrah Bridge and back. The moment our boat would sail under the Howrah Bridge we would all scream and shout and wave at the onlookers from the bridge above us. Our moment of glory was when they too reciprocated with amazement and waved back at us! The noise above us penetrating through the old Howrah Bridge would baffle us and pierce through our ears and buzz in our brains and minds like an unending hangover long after we had returned home. And why shouldn’t it? The Howrah bridge is supposedly the busiest cantilever bridge in the world and bears the weight of a daily traffic of approximately 100,000 vehicles and possibly more than 150,000 pedestrians – all stuck in eternal traffic jams.
For a long time the flyover that connected to the second Hoogly Bridge became our favourite haunt. The second Hoogly Bridge was still being constructed. We would ride/drive up to the maximum point permitted on the flyover and look down from above the city as dusk engulfed Kolkata. We would wait till the entire city lit up gradually – the many lights on the grounds of Victoria Memorial switching on, one by one till the entire building lit up – the marble facade in the distance turning into a stunning white. And gradually tiny little lights would switch on and glitter on the skyscrapers in city’s eastern skyline. The entire view would be quite unreal – as if it was a movie set with a hand-painted sky forming a backdrop to skyscrapers made out of cardboard – all made to look artificial under the studio arch-lights!
On the other side the orange flame of the sunset from the Western sky would drape the Ganges and we would stand there speechless and breathless – insulated from the noise of the home-bound traffic, the ruthless commotion of the jostling crowd or our melancholy that might have landed us there in the first place. It gave us a sense of power as we felt the Ganges flowing through all the pains and joys and tall the glory of a decadent city and yet end up making Kolkata look so ethereal!
The other thing that often fascinated me was how the entire city of Kolkata in all its festival fervour landed up on the banks of the Ganges on the last day of Durga Puja. Every autumn Kolkata is gripped by the festival frenzy of Durga Puja. The Divine Goddess Durga (or Maa or the Mother as we all very reverently call her) is glorified ceremoniously for four days and on Mahadashami, the final day of the Durga Puja, the clay idols of Goddess Durga and her four children – Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Karthik along with all their weapons and accessories are finally immersed into the river.
People from almost every neighborhood (Para) in Kolkata ends up at the same destination – the banks of the Ganges. Amidst the vigorous drum beats and smearing of vermillion on cheeks of known or unknown faces, the gentle tap of unknown elderly hands on our heads blessing us – we all dance together – absolute strangers bonded by the same culture that we have inherited. We probably have the same wishes and the same prayers – the elderly may be wishing for longevity of their loved ones and the younger ones wish for better grades in exams or maybe a better boyfriend or a girlfriend or a better pencil box?
I danced with all my friends – be it Christian or Muslim – we would enjoy the spirit of the festival as one, though Durga Puja was primarily a Hindu festival. The vibration in the air, the smell of the clay from the flowing Ganges, the energy of thousands of people of all ages, the hope reverberating through the city – everything could be felt here.
I am so glad that I have been able to entrap within my soul, millions and millions of kilojoules of energy to recharge my childhood memories of Kolkata & the Ganges. And trillions and trillions of kilojoules of the same to inspire me for a lifetime!
UnBlogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals. While you enjoy seeing them please don’t use them. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.
Writings on Kolkata:
♦ Terraces and Beyond – Kolkata
♦ Living by the water with sunset as prop – Kolkata & the Ganges
♦ Touching the bricks of history – The Magistrate’s House, Alipore
♦ Auto, my ultmate road crush – Kolkata
♦ The unlikely twins – Oberammergau & Kolkata
Bengali Food Banters you’ll find in my blog:
♦ Traditional Bengali Cuisine… In ‘Slight’ Details! – An etymological explanation to the Bengalis’ food festish
♦ Pickles… Mother (-in-law) Of All Pickles! – My Pickle Nostalgia
♦ Momos in Tiretti Bazar – The Last Chinese Remnants! – A chinese Bazar near Poddar Court
♦ Phuchkas in Vivekananda Park – An ode to Dilipda’s ‘world-famous’ Phuchka
♦ Bengali Sweets That Came By Parcel! – Gujia, Jibe Goja, Abaar Khabo & Jolbhora
♦ Rôshogolla (রসগোল্লা) – Bengali’s Own Sweet – An essay on the most famous Bengali Sweet
Bengali Food Recipes you’ll find in my blog: (Do click on Recipes, Reviews, Events for a complete list of all food banters)
♦ Mutton Kassa With Red Wine And Red Grapes – Bengali Fusion
♦ Khichuri As Harbinger of Hope & Kolkata Soaked In Rains – Traditional Bengali/Indian
♦ Hot Garlic Pickle… The Pickled Diary – Episode 1 – Indian Pickle
♦ Firni or Ferni, Ramadan or Ramzan, Mallick Bazar or Karama? – Indian Dessert
♦ A Tale of 2 Cities & Naru/Coconut Jaggery Truffles – Traditional Bengali
♦ Phuchkas in Vivekananda Park – Indian Street-food/Snacks
♦ Kaancha Aamer Chutney/Green Mango Chutney – Traditional Bengali
♦ Notun Gurer Payesh/Rice Pudding & My Dida – Traditional Bengali
♦ Rasgulla Macapuno – When a Filipina Turns Bong! – Dessert; Bengali Fusion
♦ Mango Lentil Soup/ Aam Dal – The Summer Combat – Dal; Traditional Bengali
♦ Easter Egg Curry – Side-dish; Bengali Fusion/Traditional Bengali/Continental
♦ Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté – Side-dish; Bengali Fusion
♦ Yoghurt Aubergine with Pomegranate – Side-dish; Bengali Fusion
♦ Purple Haze Yoghurt with Purple M&Ms – Dessert; Bengali Fusion
♦ Icecream Rasgulla with Blueberry Sauce – Dessert; Bengali Fusion