This post is a belated birthday present to her.
A hot sultry summer. I was seven, my uncle was investigating the noble Harshad Mehta’s intentions and so we took a long vacation to Calcutta. My first impression of Bengal was water, lots of it. My second impression was of greenery. Sweets. The Bengali language. I was smitten even before I saw the Howrah bridge.
Calcutta then seemed to me as suffering from a massive colonial hangover (yes even at seven, I had such thoughts, I am exceptionally intelligent). I heard of the teeming poverty, and the black hole of Calcutta, in a huge apartment, cloistered from the harshness. Lazy afternoons, walking in parks, mishti dohi for treats. Lots of books and patient grandparents.
I still remember the day we took the metro. I was thrilled to bits. Imagine! An underground train; this is what foreign must be like. A fascination for the subway born then, and even after several rides in various megalopolises I yearn for that first ride from Kalighat to Esplanade. Amma and I took the tram. I look positively cute in those photographs (sigh!) and the city looks Orwellian. Huge buildings loom over and trams amble insignificantly, tracks gracefully merging, separating and merging yet again.
Tushanga was my first friend in the city. I was absolutely in love with her, the long hair and her cute Bangla. To me the language sounded like pearls dropping in milk. We played every day, the silly games of an innocent era, long gone. She lived in a huge building, devoid of an elevator and I ate sweets her mom fed me.
Dakshineshwar was scary. Huge. Full of beggars and strange men. I was strangely captivated by the aarti. The dhol pounded, cymbals clanged and the conch blew out, calling to the Goddess. Ancient tunes, designed to rouse primal emotions and mere mortals could only sway to the rhythm. Mesmerizingly captivating, antithetical to the silent placid Hooghly flowing beside it.
I wish to go back again. The years may not have added wisdom, but I am more knowledgeable now. A part of me wants to gaze shamelessly at hot girls, another wants to make sense of communism. Addas. Rabindra sangeet. Absorb literature. Take the metro. I want to roam the streets, savour mishti dohi again. Bite into a roshogolla. Be enchanted by the aarti to Kali maa. Listen to a beautiful girl’s thoughts in Bangla.
I want to go to Calcutta.