Tag Archives: Calcutta

Thoughts on Love on a Grey Calcutta Morning

By Devjani Bodepudi

“When love beckons to you follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden. For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth……

But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears. Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love. And think not you can direct the course of love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.”

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love; And to bleed willingly and joyfully.”

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

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When I was about thirteen, I came across these beautiful lines in a poetry anthology I was given at school to study. I was in love then, so I memorised the lines then, not knowing what they meant. I only knew they were beautiful and talked of love being vast and holier than anything that I had known before.

There is so much love inside us all. The love in me is destructive sometimes. It comes out with a fierce desire to protect and as a result it may destroy. I’m thwarted at every turn because the ones I love will make the choices that they must. I describe it as shouting at a soap character on screen, willing them to make the right choice but they can’t hear me. The script must play out, the show will go on, and in the end, the hero will be heartbroken. There is simply nothing I can do.

The love here, in Calcutta seems magnified. Everyone loves to extremes. It’s like watching a strip of magnesium burn brighter than the sun only to be left with the remnants of a memory. It is a starburst in the darkness and clinical correctness of a laboratory.  I think everyone here is chasing that starburst, that momentary elusiveness of wonder and lust.

I’ve heard stories of couples who have been married for years, have children, respectable positions in society, just let it all fall away because they’ve ‘fallen in love’. It happens everywhere, I suppose, perhaps more so in the West. People get divorced all the time. But somehow, it feels like it’s been sought out here, deliberately. It’s necessary because the poets have written about it for centuries. We’ve taken Romeo and Juliet to heart and Tagore’s heroes and heroines must befall heartache and tragedy, as it is the only way to love. Despair is a prerequisite to happiness and truth, it seems.

Growing up and in my teens we were exposed to the story of Sarat Chandra’s Devdas, in all his cinematic glory. That tragic drunk, inebriated with his own sorrow, the courtesan, made transcendent through her grief, the simple girl next door, within reach but tainted through poverty. As Indians, I think we’ve come to worship such love, but I was able to move on thankfully. I think it’s like dancing in the rain; there is pure joy in drowning in the tears of the gods. To fully experience love, one must drown in it first. One must first be left bereft of hope until an angel appears and lifts you up and whispers in your ear, “you will love again and this time it will be for an eternity.”

But what is Love? I did not know what it was until it filled me up with contentedness and content. It is that which stopped still the longing and searching and swallowed the void until light poured forth from every pore. Every droplet of self was wrung from my being until there was only elation.

Love asks of nothing. It is whole. It will be you, who will give, willingly, as you are nourished with its enduring strength and its midday warmth.

I suppose we must all learn the ways of heartbreak and rejection first, like rights of passage. Perhaps our hearts need to be broken and set in the form of the perfect vessel to allow Love to enter. I wish I knew.

All I know is that I am blessed with Love. I pray that those whom I love, will find it too, that many-coloured bird that sings of joy and strength and patience and peace.

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In Pictures: Calcutta’s Fading Trams

Kushal Sakunia profiles the fading Tram services of Calcutta (now Kolkata) in this memoir

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Kolkata is the only city in India that still has trams. This year, the city’s tram service is celebrating its 150th Anniversary. However, over the last two decades, lack of investment,
inadequate maintenance & a sharp fall in passengers have led to a decline in their status.
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The first tramway service in Kolkata was run between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat Street on 24 February 1873. The service was discontinued on 20 Nov. Again Metre-gauge horse-drawn tram tracks were laid from Sealdah to Armenian Ghat. The route was inaugurated by the Viceroy, Lord Ripon, on 1 November 1880.
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By the end of the nineteenth century the company owned 166 tram cars, 1000 horses, seven steam locomotives and 19 miles of tram tracks.
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Electrification of the tramway was done in 1900. Calcutta Tram is the oldest operating electric tram in Asia. By 1943, it had a total track length of 42 miles.
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There are seven tram depots and nine terminals and one workshop. Today, the fleet has a more than 300 trams, but rolls out around 125 trams a day because of low passenger traffic & lack of funds for maintenance.
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According to the state transport department, though CTC earns about Rs 50 crore a year from its tram and bus services, it spends a lot more on salaries to its workforce of about 6,500.  There is a yawning gap between earning and expenditure. According to reports, it sometimes finds it difficult to pay its employees on time.
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Over the years, a number of services have been shut down. With the CTC finding it difficult to find funds for the daily maintenance of an old fleet, more and more tram cars are being taken off the road.
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The trams in the city carries around 16,000 passengers a day, but the traffic continues to fall.
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The image of the good old tram trundling along rickety roads and a rain drenched Maidan may vanish forever under the horrific image of a tram full of the stench and stink of fish and vegetables. The CTC would soon be using the second-class compartments of some trams as goods carriage to ferry goods.
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In a bid to rescue and revive its old glory, the CTC has recently rolled out air conditioned trams. It has to be seen if this struggle for survival yields any result.
Hoping this make you relive the charm if you had been a user ever 🙂

Dilli ki Hawa – 1

How does a quintessential Bengali feel when s/he comes to Dilli for the first time? Sampurna Majumder narrates her experience.

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It is said that you can always take a Bengali away from Calcutta but never the other way round. Well, so being the quintessential Bengali there was no reason behind my not missing the City of Joy. Though I loved gorging on the Dal Makhni, Tandoori Chicken and other north Indian delicacies, I did yearn for the delicious Chingri Maachher Malaikari and Sona Muger Dal occasionally. dsc_01011

Thanks to the south Delhi locale of Chitto Park, my gastronomic longings always found an way out to ease themselves.

It was the month of February. The biting Delhi winters had already begun to subside. The warmth in the atmosphere came as a relief. There was certain feel of festivity in the air; it had to be and why not, after all it was Basant Panchami or Saraswati Puja as it is known as in the eastern part of the country. I called up D a friend of mine who also belonged to Calcutta; asked her what was her plan for the day. ‘Nothing as such.’ ‘Shall we go to Chitto Park and savour our taste buds?’ I asked. ‘Sure thing’ pat came the reply.

chittaranjan-park-kali-mandir-crpark-5_400_300We met at the Central Secretariat metro station, hopped on an auto and headed towards Chitto Park. Just as we entered the by lanes of the locale sign boards and hoardings written in Bengali welcomed us. We went towards the famous Kalibari. The first thought that came to our mind was the khichudi bhog of the puja. D suggested we should try our hand at this ‘royal cuisine.’ I agreed. We went up to the backyard of the temple where it was too crowded. We bumped into  a lady clad in a dirty sari, looking haggard. We asked her which way the bhog is being served. She replied ‘Khaachuri furai gichhe!’

With a sullen face both of us boarded an auto and headed towards Connaught Place and stepped into KFC.

From Iyer to Hait…The Journey Continues

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Gurulakshmi Iyer- Hait writes about her transition from being a South Indian idly-dosa lover to a full-on good Bangali Bou, cooking great maach bhaja and maacher jhol and celebrating Durga Pooja with all its fun and frolic. A Must read.

Over the years I have realised that when something has to be written, the best thing to share is one’s own experiences, and to share experiences of life no one needs to be a great orator or a poet.

Being born and brought up from a conservative middle class Iyer family, who are mostly contented with Thayir Saadam and Urookaai, I never from childhood times reflected those typical Iyeric qualities. Neither did I like Thayir Saadam nor was I content with it. Though being brought up in Mumbai, Amma and Appa always ensured that me and my sister have our cultural roots imbibed somewhere in us. My mom’s friends -all gossip Maamis- used to tell her “Your daughter has Saraswathi sitting in her tongue” in a typical Iyer dialect since I knew all the Mantra chants by the time I was 12.

My mom would be very happy and imagined that I would get her similar praise from a family I would get married to (yeah, she believed I would marry an Iyer). I was a rebel from the very beginning but still never had believed or imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that I would marry anyone else than a Tamil. See for yourself though what destiny can do. I am Mrs. Hait now from Ms.Iyer-Tamilian to a Bengali – youngest Bahu in a conservative Bengali family.

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Once upon a time when smell of fish curry or fried fish used to be YUCK, not in my last thoughts I knew that it would be the staple food of my in-laws and I would myself fry maach to serve them. Now that’s the destiny you see.

I remember this instance when one of my dad’s friends got a shaankha for me from Calcutta (now Kolkata) when I was around 6 years of age. Only after wearing that did I came to know that it is to be worn by married Bengali women. I realized it after being teased by my Bengali classmates. Marriages are made in heaven and I realize this now when I have to wear shaakha and paula and that the incident that happened 20 years back was an indication. Incidentally, I have still treasured that small sized shaakha with me.

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Difference in the customs and culture seemed tremendous when I tried to know Bangla culture before marriage. I still remember, the first time in my life, when I saw fish marinated for frying at my in-laws place. My mind, heart and body together said yuck but to not be an odd man out and be a good Bengali bou and to not be a thorn in some yes, I actually learnt making maach bhaja and maacher jhal.

Whenever I sit back and think, I wonder with astonishment how I switched from sambhar rice to a totally different cuisine. The Kanjivarams, Dhaakais and Balucharis have not made much of a difference though. Blowing of conch shells on all auspicious occasions was the strangest thing for me after marriage since it wasn’t considered auspicious for Tamilians.

Durga-Maa

I had heard prior to marriage Bengalis talk about the fun and frolic that Durga Pooja brings. My feelings were ‘big deal’ because Phadke Road during Diwali was great fun too. But all this remained till I attended my first Pooja after marriage. The change in thought has been such that I wait the whole year for the Durga Pooja to come.

The maangsho bhaat that my husband Debasish and many Bengalis relish is like a Balaji or a Karthik or a Sriram enjoying Thayir Saadam,Thokku and Inji Puli. The daak naams (nicknames) like Totun, Boomba or a Topu are as funny to me like a Pattabhiraman or a Venkatakrishnan to Deb. These small things meant both of us, Debashish and I, always had equal reasons to smile.

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The good thing was my husband and I got accustomed to each other’s traditions very easily. Once that happened, the rest was cakewalk. We both now feel equally comfortable celebrating a Varalakshmi Nombu and Lokkhi Pooja and preparing Kozhukattai and Shirnni as Naivedyam. Love broadens the periphery of thinking and it was the love and respect that helped both of us sail together in a country where even today Inter caste marriages are looked upon as taboo.

Hence for me Journey continues from Ms.Iyer to Mrs.Hait…And, believe me, Pal Payasam and Rossogolla can rock together!!!