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What PD did next in Cal!

29 November 2005
Posted in: Scratchpad | 11 Comments

My Calcutta holiday is already a distant memory as more pressing realities take over, such as deadlines that have to be met, deadlines that have to be faked and deadlines that have been missed. On top of that, the publication of my book is so gloriously uncertain. So perhaps this is a good time to relive the good times, eh?

The first thing that strikes you about Calcutta is that it is so much more relaxed compared to Delhi. The second thing that probably strikes you is a 1980s-style bus that comes hurtling down the road and knocks the hell out of you! Yes, the traffic is AWFUL! The roads are not as crowded as Delhi or Bangalore; and it was quite a shock to find that people actually stop behind the stop line at traffic lights and leave the zebra crossing free for pedestrians! But the driving makes you call upon all sorts of divine powers.

And going by Indian standards, it’s pretty clean, too. Flyovers and cleanliness drives have changed the cramped, filthy Calcutta of old. “Modernization” has taken over, but some sort of old world charm remains. And the schoolkids actually look like schoolkids! The narrow lanes and old houses are still there, but shopping malls and spanking new housing complexes have sprouted all over the city. While hailed by all as a good thing, I was personally a bit disappointed. As for the trams, though depleted, they are still going strong.

The Calcutta Metro, the first in India, is now around 20 years old if my calculations are right. Though it does not have the high-tech sophistication of Delhi’s, it is truly unbelievable. It is cheap and efficient. The trains may not be air-conditioned and the carriages may clang along, but it is definitely faster than Delhi’s Metro; and they are at least three times longer!

To sum up quickly, here’s what I liked about Calcutta:

  • Not having to speak Hindi! I associate that language with disagreeing with auto-drivers on fares and generally fighting with the population of Delhi. Even though my Bengali makes my mother pale, I got along quite well, thank you very much!
  • The people are nicer! But then, that is an automatic given if you’re from Delhi.
  • Everything is so cheap!! Imagine getting a chicken roll for Rs. 12!
  • The taxis! Even though they still seem to be running on the same engines that they had when I was a kid. You can just get into a cab and say where you want to go, and they’ll take you, by the meter! Unbelievable, what? (The only bad thing about taxis is that they are very expensive following a recent fare hike.)
  • You still get ice-cream soda! (For those puzzled by this, ice-cream soda is a term for flavoured soda made by, as I recall, Spencer and Bijoligrill. You only get the latter now. It looks like plain aerated water, but tastes great.)

I had gone to Cal with a checklist. My hits and misses were as follows:

  • Visit the Victorial Memorial: 🙂
  • Eat phuchka: 🙂
  • Eat fish fries and chicken cutlets: 🙂 (right on the first day!)
  • Eat misthi doi: 🙂 (the relatives took care of that)
  • Ride the Metro: :-).
  • Breakfast as Flury’s: 🙁
  • Eat chicken rolls: 🙁 (but I did manage an egg roll at Howrah station)
  • Go to College Street: 🙁

Am I going back in a hurry? Uh, NO. Oh no! Not because I didn’t like it there. Quite the contrary. It was just that our staying at a guest house caused a major family upheaval! Various factions of relatives were mortally offended that we chose not to stay at their homes. Needless to say, if we had, the ones we hadn’t stayed with would have been even more offended!

Family politics in this part of the world need an entire encyclopaedia to explain!

~PD

11 Responses

  1. Kate says:

    Actually, your description of Calcutta makes me want to visit it. You didn’t even have a good time. 😉

    Families everywhere need encyclopedias to explain. They are all crazy.

  2. Marie says:

    What is the problem, Bear?

    I have never been to India. In fact, I’ve never been outside North America. I went to Canada when I was two, and Mexico City a couple of years ago. But alas, no India.

    I have never had a fish fry, but I have had french fries. But french fries aren’t even french! They were made in Belgium.

    Maybe families aren’t crazy, just you and Kate! Yes…yes that’s the answer.

  3. Payal says:

    There’s something wrong with the commenting system. I’m trying to figure out what. Meanwhile, don’t stop the comments, folks!

    ~PD

  4. Kate says:

    Naw, I’ve heard from others who think their families are crazy too. Maybe yours is the only family in the world that is not crazy, Ducksome. 😛

    What is the commenting system doing?

  5. Payal says:

    The commenting system is behaving very well, thank you.

    *insists there was something wrong with it and not with self*

  6. Proteeti says:

    Now you’ve gone and got me homesick for Cal! You should really pay Cal a visit during the book fair (which is what we’re planning to do next year) – it’s crazy, crowded and dusty, but an absolutely wonderful experience. But you know what? I find I have lost my taste completely for phuchkas – the only thing I like about Delhi are golgappas and papri chaat!

  7. Marie says:

    My family invented crazy.

  8. Payal says:

    No, no, my family did… *pauses and reflects*

    Oh dear god! Are we related?!

  9. Marie says:

    I don’t think so! I think someone in my bloodline was from the West Indies, but no one from India.

  10. Kajal says:

    You know, this August, I visited Cal – can’t, for the life of me, call it Kol – with Pro, stayed at Laketown, loved it, and felt like Superman: every hour of the day, the mosquitos, bumbling cretins on steroids that they were, threatened to make for, along with me, the ceiling. I get a mosquito bite, I think of Cal – I have something in my blood that is like manna to the least necessary creatures on this planet. Seriously, though, I’m a probashi and have always thought of myself as being a North Indian, however deleterious to the character that might sound. But after my Cal visit, I’ve – sort of, battling it with diminishing passion – rediscovered my “Bongness” – and I haven’t a clue about phuchkas or the Metro or bloody anything. Just that I’m, at heart, a Bong. (Bong – how onomatopoeic.) I loved Cal. So I went and wrote about my experience on my blog. Payal, give it a scan – it’s http://www.kajalbasu.blogspot.com. Even if you don’t, here’s an aside: it’s nice to know that, at College Street, some Sancho Panza bookseller’s broken away from his master – his vellum – and can tell you to go roll a hoop because he can’t spare the time away from listening to the commentary between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal kicking the life out of a rain-sodden football. Nice. Delhi? No way. The natural astringency of humanity can go hide while the till does its calculations.

  11. Meenal says:

    Hey pal,

    I see that we are not bloggy pals anymore… what did i do to offend you?

    Calcutta …will be Calcutta, I mean the name change will not make a difference to me because Bengalis always pronounced it as Kolkata anyway.

    You were in Cal on the 29th , that explains why we ddnt meet during my India trip.

    Enjoyed reading your blog entry. I was in Calcutta (the only time I have been there)back in 1994. The Metro was fun even then but the traffic jams scared the hell out of me.

    You seemed to have had a lot of fun.

    Like the new format, btw.

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