22nd September to 26th September, 2016.
Our drive to Kolkata was rather uneventful compared to our Sikkim drive. The roads were decent, and no rocks were waiting to fall down. We did get stuck in a couple of traffic jams ( the highway is single lane, and if a lorry breaks down, the whole traffic stops).
Thanks to our friend Mohor, we had the luxury of knowing that a family awaits us at Kolkata. We met Suddha Ghosh and Shinjini by 11:00 pm that day. Some meetings are just meant to be, and this was one of those. We became friends over the next couple of days, and that house soon became ours as well. The next two days was what can be best described as a concise study tour of Kolkata.
We walked around streets filled with Devi idols (and cigarette smoke) , ate interesting food at the old Indian Coffee house filled with paintings (and cigarette smoke) and watched youth theater in an old hall ( again, filled with cigarette smoke). Guess it is safe to say that Kolkata smells like cigarettes ( mostly thanks to Ghosh 🙂 ). Here is a little bit on everything we did.
The first day started with a walk down Kumotruli, a part of old Kolkata near the Ghats where most of the Devi idols for Durga Pooja are made. Here, we were joined by Nilayan Dutta, a photographer who seems to know this city inside out. It is amazing to watch how some clay and hay can turn into beautiful sculptures at the hand of the artist here. It is not just the sculpture that is made here though.
Everything that is needed for the Devi to be complete, ranging from decorations, to ornaments, to costumes can be found in these lanes. The river Hooghly near by does give a special ambiance to the whole place, and sitting on those ghats, it is easy to understand why so many from this city romanticise it so much.
From here , we headed to the Indian Coffee house at College Street to witness another Kolkata tradition, as important as Durga Pooja itself. ‘Adda’ or a discussion among friends, usually held over cup(s) of coffee (and cigarettes) is best witnessed at this coffee house. Every table was filled with people passionately talking, singing and listening. It is difficult not to get swept in by the whole atmosphere. It is fitting that this place, which started out as Albert hall, and witnessed many key political and literary movements, is still playing host to these discussions. Soon, we found ourselves discussing our hopes and ideologies at one of those tables. Very soon, we were ordering our third coffee, and all too soon, the bell rang indicating it was time for the coffee house to close for the night. We are sure many of the groups there would have simply moved on to the next location to continue talking, but given our schedule, we headed back home for some rest.
The next day was marked by a drama rehearsal by a wonderfully enthusiastic group of youngsters. A witty tale about Durga and family (a vain Laxmi, gluttonous Ganesh, flirtatious Karthik, geeky Saraswathi and a Shiva high on weed) held our attention, despite it being in Bengali. We were sad to miss the final version, as all too soon, it was time to say good bye to Kolkata and the two amazing people who opened up their home to us.
We will certainly miss the unique and intense atmosphere of this city. We will miss the spicy, mustard chutney and fish kaviraji at coffee house, the delicate taste of potato cooked with poppy seeds, and the sweet tarty taste of the many many sweets we consumed over three days.
But more importantly, we will miss the place that was our home and the friendship that bloomed inside those walls.