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.