I spent this morning sitting on rows of bamboo-rods, gazing at the vastness of the waters of Nalban, as the breeze caressed my hair. I wondered how this place could be so cool in contrast with the heat that radiated from Bengali fishermen who cycled to this place.
Kolkata – a metropolis famed for its fresh water fishes, has a popular satellite city called ‘Salt Lake‘. They say it’s a posh area where residents seldom speak to their neighbours. That explains the tranquil airs that transmit little other than the sounds of chirping birds. Salt Lake is known in the football-circles for its famous stadium. But the multicoloured bungalows that line every street are what catch my eye. The houses that start from a single storey and go up to 5, are painted in all colours imaginable to mankind. These are alternated by some very rustic buildings that have weathered the monsoon and cried their paint out.
I noticed at some distance many old ladies in salwar-kameez and sneakers brisk-walking out of a park, and instantly decided to walk in. This was Banobitan University Park, or more poplularly, Central Park, a sprawling enclosure of green and purple flora that are ornamented by white egrets. At the centre of this park is a lake that is opened for boating from 10am to 5pm.
Bengalis, by nature, tend to exaggerate most things. They scared me into carrying woollens and a scarf to this trip. But I discovered that the light chill in the air didn’t warrant warm clothes. Most pedestrians, however, wore chequered sweaters, mufflers and wrapped embroidered shawls tightly around themselves. I noticed also that the locals love their cotton. They will wear multiple layers to insulate themselves from the cold but will never part with their cotton-clothes.
In Kolkata, there will be new streets, new metro-corridors, new flyovers and even multi-storeyed office-buidings, but some things will never change. The Ambassador is one of them. These taxis from the last century still ply on the narrow Culcuttan streets alongside the quintessentially Bengali rickshaws.
The only thing more enchanting than the places and vehicles in Calcutta are the people. They are loud when they scream and sell their wares, yet soft when they invite you over for a meal; frustrated with the traffic and the political scenario, yet glad to live in their jonmobhumi (birthplace). Their faces hold a million expressions at the same time – anger, joy, pride, disgust, relief, fear, despair, frenzy, abhorrence and love. Perhaps this rare quality of holding so many emotions and still not losing their equilibrium makes Bengalis so beautiful to behold.
I have been visiting this city every year for more than two decades now. But this time, my eyes see what they’ve never seen before. Stay tuned for more posts in the Kolkata-series, as I take you through the heart and soul of my jonmobhumi…