Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Its been 2 years...

After 2 years in a cold, wet country (for the better part of the year), I was sceptical of myself in dealing with the Calcutta heat and humidity as the plane cruised above the Deccan plateau. A few more hours and it would be an end to an excruciatingly long journey not so much in terms of the flight hours but it was the wait for a connecting flight that made me age and tire at a rate I thought could never exist. But that’s different. I was humming “Country Roads” almost all the way from London to Calcutta. Yes, I was excited. But I was also worried about the heat. I was never a fan of heat and humidity, which I why I loved my years in Pune and Sikkim. The weather accompanied with great company compensated for anything that I might have missed out on for not living in a Calcutta or Mumbai. The weather in London was simply perfect for my taste.
At Calcutta airport, after having gone through customs I stepped out and for a moment felt I had stepped into a sauna. Out came the hand towel, and for a moment I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the crowd. I remembered noisy, but my ears had forgotten how noisy. The drive back from the airport was nice and quick. At which point I realized not much had noticeably changed in birthtown. Calcutta greeted me with mild weather and rains for the next couple of days. And then it showed its true colours and the temperature went straight to the 30s and I was left gasping for breath. But there were things to be done, friends & relatives to meet. I soldiered on through it all with a trusted hand towel. Reminded me of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy”. Hehe…

A couple of days and then the ‘lazy’ city transformed into a throbbing and pulsating living thing which would dance, sing and pray for Goddess Durga. Unbelievable but true. The average man in the city turns into a bundle of energy as they traverse the length and breadth of the city to have a look at as many as possible of the 3000+ idols in place across the city. There of course are a few major ones, which will always find a place on the ardent pandal-hopper’s list. And then there were folks like me, who knew the city when it was Calcutta and not ‘Kolkata’, of the times when pandals were crowded but not so much that it would sap the energy out of you, of times when even weather seemed to cool down to allow the revelers respite from the heat and even treat them with a cool breeze. Such folks, laze about at home, visit a few handful of the nearby pandals and generally go about their pandal hopping on the telly. And of course a personal deterrent was the weather.

Despite that, I went about a fair bit and did dig into what I saw. A little bit of the street food (which is honestly to die for), a little bit of the lighting, the glamour, the glitz, the unshakeable enthusiasm of people from all backgrounds. Before I knew it I was in the groove, I could go on and on. Till I returned home! It was on one such trip that I took a walk through a section on North Calcutta, while giving a visiting friend a short tour of the ancient bylanes of Baghbazar, Shyambazar, Shovabazar (including the palace) and Kumartuli. I had always wanted to do that, yet it took me all these years to finally manage it. Kumartuli in particular where the artisans give shape to the deities and are then transported across the world. Situated almost on the banks of river Ganges, the sculpture area is a narrow street. A walk through allows one to peek into the various stages of idol construction. 

Idols at Kumartuli

 Meanwhile, certain things did hit me straight in the eye, primary being the cost of living. It seems it has sky rocketed. Maybe it was always increasing at the same pace, but being part of the system I adapted as things progressed. A gap of 2 years certainly does have a jarring effect on the senses and sort of made me withdraw into a shell. I end up questioning the validity of the pricing strategies used. My mind questions, why certain products which used to be cheaper in India are no longer so, and the ones which are apparently cheaper are not worth the money. I’ve been told its all about the inflation. I do not understand that well enough. All that I know is I’m left wondering why should I be paying more for something which has not improved in the 2 years I have been away. Funny bit is I see more people spending in Calcutta. Is it the plastic money or is it for real? I don’t know, but I wonder. I was also left wondering as to why the authorities are keen on laying new tube line without taking care of the other infrastructures which need urgent repair. They said Bengal was improving. I agree. I see developments which are wonderful, but I also see things which required attention but didn’t get what it deserved. Some have been tended to but it resembles hogwash, some have been well taken care of. In a single stroke, Calcutta has progressed yet managed to stay where it was. It is so contradictory.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Big cities...

There is something about the big cities, the metropolis. They never sleep. there is always a part of it which is always awake, keeping the city alive giving it a breath of air whenever things seem to dull down and make it all seem vaguely mundane. The bright lights, the shady corners, the softly lit cafes the pubs playing with darkness, the blaring music of a nondescript nightclub, the guys with their gelled up hair, the girls in their skimpy clothes and at times garish make-ups - nothing changes. Travel as far and wide as you might nothing ever changes. I started walking in a big city, not a global metropolis but a national one for sure. I ran in another, I studied in another and then I spent a few years nestled somewhere in nature's garden soaking in its beauty learning to appreciate and yet.... and yet the city in me never went to sleep, it remained awake, throbbing, pulsing for a release, waiting to live up again... perhaps also make up for the lost time. Lost time?? Perhaps!! To the rational minded there certainly was not waste of time, but to the heart of a city it perhaps was. And so, the self came back to a pulsating metropolis and since then has hopped from one to another, across continents and intends to travel far and wide, to soak in, and sink the teeth into what can only be termed the only homogeneous culture of the world. The global culture, the common religion - the big city!

Apart from the well known attractions which cities like NY, London, Mumbai etc offer, one gets to see a myriad cross-section of the population, the haves and the have-nots, and some stuck somewhere in between leading a heavily compromised life in hopes of a brighter and glittering future. It is this section of the population which really captures the imagination, drives the plots for so many novelists and movie-makers out there. It’s the common man who drives the cities, who lends the cities the much needed character which sustains them over time. London wouldn’t have been what it is today if not for the common man who walked the streets for the past 2000 years. The great fire of London which wiped out the plague wouldn’t have happened if not for a fire in a bakery as a result a lot of the cities physical grandeur would have been different than we see it now. Great men make history, common men sustain it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

10 ways to get late for work

Having observed my travel patterns to work over the past month or so, I have managed to come up with this list. Feel free to add if you wish.

  1. Wake up way past the usual hour.
  2. Wander about listlessly in a groggy state in your pjs
  3. Stroll instead of walk to the bus stop
  4. Miss the bus, then miss the tube and finally miss the train - all by a whisker
  5. Train services deciding to halt in the middle of nowhere, halfway through your journey for 30 minutes.
  6. Engineering works (this could lead you to skip an entire day's work)
  7. Tubes playing up with - signal failure, someone being sick, someone raising the alarm
  8. Realising you forgot your phone/railcard/wallet while at the bus stop and then going back to get them.
  9. Get caught in a downpour with no transport and a brolly to see you through - find a shelter to keep yourself dry.
  10. And finally set off for work, realise you have locked yourself out without the keys to the front gate and wait till one the neighbours does happen to step out and thus let you out. - oh the joy!! :P

Meanwhile a click from Salisbury. Thought would share it.

The cathedral spire, originally uploaded by ConfusedSam.