Friday, July 30, 2010

Chalo Chalo

Landing at the Kolkata airport never fails to entertain and educate in the ways of the utterly unpredictable and excitable Bangali (pronounced Bongoli).  This time, I was amazed to see three well dressed policemen standing close to the arrivals gate, one held a placard for 'Miss S. Butter'.  I walked past, then as an afterthought, pulled out my camera and ran back (ignoring suggestions to be careful lest I get myself arrested), but the placard holder had vanished.  Presumably Miss Butter had been on our flight.  The remaining policemen were greeting another passenger who had on a large, black cowboy hat.  This might look incongruous in any other part of India, but in Kolkata, no one would even give it a second glance, probably figuring that the man was a fan of Mithun-da (the ancient actor who still plays hero with flamboyance if not flair).

I paid a brief visit to the toilet, where two airline staff were busy drying a saree beneath the automatic hand dryer.  No one minded.  No one cared.  We just washed our hands, shook the water droplets off and left.

It always takes a few days to reconcile to the immense contradictions of this city.  If it were possible to run a city entirely on temperament, the Bangali would gladly do so.   As of now, I suppose it runs partly because of the large number of (despised) immigrants from other states.  But the Bangali temperament is what provides the charm and the spirit of unpredictability to this city.

Fancy that...

It is only here that the American embassy has been assigned a prominent place on Ho Chi Minh Sarani (lane), an eternal reminder of a lost war.  The Zambian consulate happily faces a 100% eggless pastry shop.

British remnants are strewn all over and have acquired, over time, their own Indian interpretations.  Park Street, not quite what it was, still has a number of fascinating shops.  Flury's- the European style tea room is going strong and just outside it squats a villager who has brought an exotic range of cacti and orchid-like plants to the city to sell.

Pavement outside Flury's

Food is of overwhelming importance as almost every street in the city indicates.  It may be in the form of posters, restaurants, sweet shops or immensely popular, little pavement stalls.  This is the season of ilish- the highly prized fish equated to salmon (but much superior) that swims upstream from the Bengal estuary towards fresh water, to spawn.  The city is overflowing with it - it's in markets, restaurants, houses.  I even saw a bus carrying a huge poster of delicious ilish.

Ilish everywhere
This is not really the season when visitors come to Calcutta- the monsoons can bring the city to a definite halt as soon as the rains begin.  Water rises rapidly, as if there were flash floods and little waterfalls appear at the edges of flyovers.  There are power cuts and the weather is sultry.  But, the air is fresher, the city greener.  The last of the mangoes are still available and there are mushrooms, ferns, pineapples and of course - ilish in mustard to eat.  So, we happily say, Kolkata chalo, chalo (let's go, let's go to Kolkata).

Passionfruit mousse cake from Flury's

1 comment:

Romesh said...

Thanks to your interesting article, we are anxiously awaiting winter holidays to 'Chalo Kolkata'. (by Romesh)

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