THE BONG CONNECTION
"To understand Puja, you must understand Calcutta. And to understand Calcutta , you must understand the Bengali. It's not easy. Certainly, you can't do it till you come and live here, till you let Calcutta suffuse your being, invade your bloodstream and steal your soul. But once you have, you'll love Calcutta forever. Wherever you go, a bit of Calcutta will go with you. I know, because it's happened to me. And every Puja, I am overcome by the magic of Bengal. It's a feeling that'll never go away."
I rarely do enjoy reading Vir Sanghvi these days, but these words, I must acknowledge. Because he really does resound my feelings. I lived in Calcutta, following the heels of my father's posting. Like other places before it, I called it home even if I knew I was leaving someday. Leaving the people, the memories, my rooms that were full of my wall-scribbles, the loves, the places on the street, and the parts where you suddenly came-of-age.
I look back at my first day in the city. I was just a 20 year old lost in the crowd - I took refuge in the chaos of Chowringhee, chugged along slowly at a tram's pace, wept with joy in the city's beautiful rains, and drowned my sorrows in a puchka.
My most resounding memory of the city, is an early morning. On my way back from Pune with some friends from college in 2004, our 2nd class compartment (that was lashing with rains all night as we crossed the Bengal countryside) moved into Howrah station at 5am. The tracks were wet. So were the platforms. As we drove back home towards South Calcutta, I was drinking in the rain lashed roads. I was breathing an early morning of the city. People waking up slowly, hand-pumps working, water-bearers tip-toeing like ballet dancers, the breeze caressing my face, crossing Howrah and going home.
And that is what I miss the most. And that is why I'm almost tearful when I see Durga dancing in the Bengal monsoon in Pather Panchali.
Calcutta - I miss the little things. Walking early in the morning crossing Gariahat market, drinking dhap, eating a singhara at Gol Park, sleeping in class, listening to history lectures in Bangla, being clued out, taking a tram ride from Rashbehari Av to Maidan, buying my camera in Chowinghee, doing a telephonic interview with Bappi-da, pillion riding a bike in the lanes of Tangra, writing Final Cal Uni Exams in Tollygunge, watching an auto get stuck in tram lines near College street and overturn....
The other day I was in JNU in Delhi getting myself registered for an M.A in Arts and Aesthetics. I sought help from a senior on campus regarding a problem of procuring my Migration Certificate from Calcutta University. He asked me surprisingly, "Tumi ki Bangali?!" I've always felt this inside-outside connection with places....and at moments like these when a stranger is curious about my ethnicity or my home, I can't help but ask myself...is my home neither here nor there....or is it everywhere?
Going back to subject of Pujas, I witnessed my first ever Bhashan or immersion last year on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi. I still remember all the vivid colors and the chaos of the people and the idols jostling together to and fro to the hypnotic beats of the dhakis. I found myself in that crowd of music and chanting...I found myself coming alive trying to capture the moments as best as I could with my camera. Maybe I was certainly lost before this. As the goddess fell in one instant into the water to melt into it, I too melted a part of me along with her.
And then here I was back to the city of my early 20's after 5 long years. It felt surreal to be back, to be able to identify with the people and the places and yet be an onlooker...through a camera viewfinder. How still similar is the city to Louis Malle's 1969 film Calcutta? I didn't feel any change after five years...it felt the same..the same old world. I was unable to place my feelings about my relationship with the city.
How did I look at the city six years ago? I kept thinking...jogging my memory to put words to a subconscious feeling. And I could only come up with one explanation - it was home. Those lanes, and bylanes and cornershops, the windows, the geography and the modes of transportation, everything everything was seeped within. So well sunk into the soul...that five years later...coming back to it all was as much a displacement of myself, as it was when I came here for the very first time.
Calcutta, Oh Calcutta...I still haven't figured you out.