City Travel – Calcutta Memoirs, Bengal
Like a painting.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
If French novelist Marcel Proust had lived in India, he would have lived in Calcutta.
The city is like a faded watercolor painting. The Delhi Walla visited it for a week.
Unlike Delhi, the old houses in Calcutta still survive. The green shuttered windows of crumbling yellow mansions preserve a genteel elegance of literary conversations and afternoon naps.
I visited a retired woman in Charu Market whose modern-day flat was steeped in the same ambiance. Hardbound works of Rabindranath Tagore were stacked under her bed. DVDs of Satyajit Ray’s films were stored in a drawer – next to her plasma screen TV. A tanpura was kept beside her dressing table. The woman made fish fry for me.
One evening I made a pilgrimage to the city’s Jewish cemetery — Calcutta has less than 30 Jews. The graveyard has hundreds of tombs.
One morning I boarded the Tollygunge-bound tram; the continuous rattle of its creaky wooden floor added a comforting rhythm to the city’s traffic sounds.
The same day I had club sandwich in Park Street’s famous tearoom Flurys. The toilet was filthy and the waiters huddled together and cracked jokes to each other.
Calcutta cabs are yellow.
Each day I passed the hot and humid afternoon hours inside the cold lobby of The Grand, where I would sit under a chandelier and read.
The walls in Kalighat and in many other neighborhoods are painted with hammer-and-sickle signs under which sleep the city’s homeless.
The rice-eating men in Calcutta have huge paunches, which they display in public by rolling up their shirts.
One late morning I bought several back issues of National Geographic magazine from a pavement stall in Esplanade. When I was leaving Calcutta, the coolie carried them as I headed towards my train at Howrah railway station.
Satyajit Ray’s city