So, where's your Calcutta tonight?

In another five years, I would have spent more time away from Calcutta than I spent in it. Like the recurrent migraine of those who are doomed to have it, Calcutta is like a nagging pain. It comes close and dares you to give up a few things to be with her. And then I chicken out and she taunts me by popping up at strange places… giving me a lump in the throat, a smile in a crowd, a sudden rush of blood, that thing that gets into the eye.
I see my Calcutta like a shimmering mirage in the strangest of places. As do other exiles from the city.
In the dazzle of South American football. In the mouth-watering mix of rice and meat. In the cerebral etchings of ink on paper. In the strumming of a guitar. She asks if I’d like to go out with her tonight.

On the first day of my new job, my new boss – true to his being the head of a startup in Bangalore – suggested a few food delivery apps to try for lunch. Then, he pointed to a hole in the wall just opposite the office and said, “Or you could try Chakum Chukum… good rolls.” I walked across and soon bit into some chunky mutton pieces and a flaky paratha fried with egg, washing it down with a Thums Up. I later found out the guy who started the shop left his job in an international advertising agency to do so.
And my Calcutta gets delivered to my office desk at lunch every day.

Often Calcutta turns up in the post. In a Facebook post, to be precise.
A friend visiting Calcutta notices that women there don’t use dupattas to cover any part of their bodies. I never noticed this myself but feel helplessly proud when she praises the city for this.  
And I ‘like’ Calcutta once again that night.

Sometimes, my Calcutta wafts out from a dingy shop in an even dingier shopping complex. Located on a Gurgaon road, known for its high property prices and deep potholes. The shop guys told me their chef was with Shiraz and of course, they put aloo in the biriyani (and what kind of question is that)?

My Calcutta often flickers past at 24 frames a second.
An ex-colleague makes a film set in Banaras. It makes waves in Cannes and finally wins a FIPRESCI award. The name sounds familiar and I vaguely remember it from a time when I read real books. I search and realise the other Indian film to have won a FIPRESCI award was also set in Banaras. And was made by a tall director from Calcutta.

My Calcutta is lying low in a Bengali novel written in English that – I am breathlessly told – will be read by no less than the American President this summer.
My Calcutta is wafting out from the pages of a Nobel Prize winner’s ruminations about Istanbul.
My Calcutta is raising its hands in protest from a film institute in a Maharashtrian city.
My Calcutta is weeping when a blogger is killed in another Bengali-speaking city.  
My Calcutta is laughing at Paneer Butter Masala.
My Calcutta is ensuring bookshops don’t shut down. And Old Monk remains in business.

So, where is your Calcutta tonight? 

Inspired by a Calcutta boy's post, which was way better and on - well - Bombay.


Wingedream said…
Oh Calcutta ! I've only felt you such through the eyes of others.In a painting,movie,street,conversations,book, a poem and so often in a protest! And you make me miss her so much.And i seek her in the now!
K.Chakraborty said…
11years from Calcutta. Can refer to the feelings expressed through words.
Anirban Halder said…
When I decided to do blogging way back in 2006, there was only one subject that came to my mind- Kolkata. I never wanted to write a personal blog (I didn't qualify). It wasn't my city of residence then, just the city that fascinated me, and the one where my father was born and spent his childhood and my mother lived till she married. The city has an unexplained charm for me, maybe because of my bloodline. OK, so was born my blog Kolkata Curry. I wish to write posts that touch the spirit and soul of Kolkata, but I often end up writing food posts (related to the city of course) thanks to invites as blogger. That's precisely why I loved your post. I've been following your blog for years. Was missing you on the blog for quite some time and it's great to see you back.
Unknown said…
Oh! কলকাতা...
Apurba Kundu said…
This is wonderful! I wrote a post on Calcutta when I lived there. You can find it here
Anirban Halder said…
Hi Apurba, read the post. Loved it! It is not easy to love the city. Do come to my blog and drop a comment. It will be good if you let me know how you thought it was at
Chandreyee said…
De-lurking for the first time in years of following this blog because you asked the magic question. I can feel your Calcutta; in many ways, it's mine too. But today (the past few days, actually), MY Calcutta takes the misty shape of used book stalls in Gol Park and conflicting, varied memories around it. It's the lasting magic of old books, the smell and feel of blotchy pages marred by hand written notes, the heady feel of ownership and the lasting images of some of the words read. There's more about 'my Calcutta' here:
Unknown said…
It was an awsome read, really. Emotions come gushing even as I roll around in my bed on a Sunday afternoon siesta, where else but in Calcutta. Like the tortoise who was suppposed to lose the race to the hare, Kolkata is slow, unsmart, uncouth. Yet it has this X factor about it, something that generates Rays, Tagores, Mother Teresas, and even Yasser Arafats from its motley of laggards. সত্যিই কললাতা কলকাতা।
ektap said…
When I hear a ceiling fan, when someone mentions load shedding, when I see corn being roasted by the road side.

Every single time when I miss my grandma.

Thanks for such a lovely post! I just returned from a ten day Calcutta trip. Your post made me homesick all over again.