I stood for a while on the gate of my bogie, after spending a splendid night in my 1st class coupe in Kolkata Rajdhani express. With all beautiful thoughts about the city of joy-Kolkata running randomly in my mind, I tried to push myself out of the bogie. As soon as saw people outside the train, I realized that this city is also the city of humid climate and dripping drops of sweat. I took a long breath, as if wanted to store the fresh air-conditioned air of the train in my lungs for as long as I could manage.
I stepped out of the train. Two eyes were staring at me, two big and beautiful eyes. A Bengali lady with a red and big round ‘Bindi’ stacked on her forehead was gazing at me. I was about to smile at her but I noticed a red spot hiding under her hair, ‘she is married’ I concluded. On one hand, her big ‘Bindi’ indicated a traditional Bengali lady and on the other hand her hardly visible ‘Sindoor’ was a symbol of newly married girls. I moved on with my useless observations.
‘DADA, TAXI CHAI?’ A hurried man asked awkwardly. I understand a little Bengali but it should be loud and clear. He read my face as a psychologist and paraphrased his question, ‘DADA, taxi lagega aapko?’ Though still not in complete Hindi but was quite understood. ‘Behala jana hai, kitna kiraya?’ He didn’t answer but smiled, somehow it seemed similar to a victorious smile. ‘DADA, aapse kya kiraya, 500 de dena.’ He almost started to snatch my bag from me. I protested and continued to pull the bag, for a while a tug-of-war took place between us. He realized that he cannot pull the bag from me and surrendered.
I proceeded straight to pre-paid taxi booth. A long queue was impatiently waiting for its turn. I became a part of it. Soon, the first drop of sweat dripped from my forehead and disappeared into my eye-brows. I took out my handkerchief and tried to wipe out the sweat and as soon as I did so, a new layer of sweat appeared on face within no time. I forcibly puffed a breath out of my mouth to reduce my restlessness. BEHALA- INR 200, finally I got my slip in my hand and jumped out of that twitchy queue. I started walking towards my taxi while the queue watched me enviously.
It was a long fight between me and layer of sweat. Every time I wiped it from my face if reappeared. But I didn’t lose the hope and kept on fighting until my handkerchief reached its saturation point. The Owen-clad taxi led me to Behala crossing Howrah Bridge, victoria palace and millions of people.
‘MANI-KANCHAN GUESTHOUSE’ was my destination. I stepped towards the receptionist. A middle-aged man greeted me in Bengali and in return, I smiled. I asked him about the room my friend had booked. His eye-brows jumped for a mini second which screamed loudly his inner voice, ‘Ah…non-Bengali.’
I rushed into my room and threw my bag on the bed. I hurried to the bathroom to take bath. I think for the first time in my life I felt so urgency to take a bath. Life is strange…isn’t it? While I was taking bath, somebody kept in knocking my door with constant chant if ‘DADA’. I deliberately ignored him and concentrated on the ‘divine cold water’ pouring on my face from the ‘angelic shower’.
I looked at the bed closely. The bed-sheet was as old as Kolkata. A red spot on the bed sheet was a witness of a brutal murder of a mosquito and blots on it were giving me an obnoxious feeling. I opened my bag and took out my cloths.
I ordered fish-curry and rice for me. A plate with fish curry, vegetable, Daal and rice was there within no time. I was hungry and the presence of that decorated plate made my mouth flooded with saliva. I tasted the vegetable first, it tasted sweet. I tasted again…it was really a bit sweet. All of a sudden I realized that Bengali put sugar in almost all of their dishes. I tasted everything and apart from ‘Daal’ everything had an essence of sugar. I controlled my anger and concentrated on rice, Daal and pieces of fish. It was weird because I don’t like having veg with non-veg, but it was demand of stomach. Sweat, meanwhile ignored the fan and continued to bother me.
‘I want a different and AC-room.’ I declared in front of receptionist. He quickly understood that I was not in a good mood. He managed for a different room without any delay after I agreed with the revised rest for the AC-room. I went inside the AC-room which was better than the earlier one. Not great but still ok. I took a long breath and fell on the bed as a falling tree.
I opened my eyes slowly after an hour. The sweat was dripping insanely from my body. I stood up from the bed in a flash and switched on the button of tube-light, but it refused to glow. There was no electricity. I rushed to the reception yet again to ask them whether they have power back-up. The person on the reception was fighting with the sweat with the help of a hand-fan. I got my answer. AC room is of no use without light. Am I being too finicky about all these? The question echoed in my mind. The electricity came back and I saw the outline of my body made of sweat on the bed.
I stepped towards the market area and found it very crowded. Sweat, crowd, noise, traffic, unknown-language and pollution, I wondered why Kolkata is called a ‘city of joy’?
Slowly I merge with the crowd and became a part of it. I stopped wiping layer of sweat from my face. I saw happy faces enjoying tea on the roadside stalls. All of a sudden, old ones, youngsters…everybody seemed to be happy. They were not bothered about any of the things which were troubling me. This crowd was alienated from the issues of Bengali, non-Bengali, fair, dark, cast or community. They were enjoying every bit of their life. But the question was, how?
What is true happiness, the luxuries, relatives, friends, money or something else? May be I can learn it from these roadside dwellers more than the people in AC-rooms and travelling in AC cars. May be I can learn many things from them in a few days. These days would teach me about the real happiness and inner joy. It is just the first day and I have already realized that my frustration was much lesser than it was couple of hours ago.
I carried a candle, a hand-fan and some ‘DOI MISHTI’ (Doi =Dahi, thanks to Bengali friends) with me while returning to my AC-room, Moni-Kanchan guest house, behala, Kolakata – the city of joy.