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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

KOLKATA DIARIES: Life On Edge

Posted by Chandan Sharma on 12:02:00 AM with No comments
It was as usual a hot and humid day in the city. I threw myself out of the highly comforting AC room (which should reduce the punishment I am about to get for my sins after my death as it was equally painful) of an equally disturbing guest house. It was a surprise that the people living here find it so easy to obey their daily routines. The buses were loaded with people and the roads were flooded with the yellow taxis. The owners of numerous temporary shops (made on the pavements) were busy in arranging their shops to attract customers. It was their daily routine. The shopkeepers or the vendors make and break these pseudo-shops on daily basis. For me it was difficult and full of anxiety, but for them it was just life.
I stood by the tea-stall and asked him for a cup of tea, which he was already preparing. He put the tea and sugar in the milk with his hand, no spoon was required, his hand could judge and measure the right amount of tea and sugar better than a spoon.
“Pani nahi milate ho chai me?” (Don’t you use water in making tea?)

 He stared me with his victimized eyes. The dark circles just below the eyes were complementing his body color. One may not figure out his dark circles without paying constant attention upon his face. He wiped the front line of sweat-army from his forehead with his dirty towel. The second row of sweat advanced, the third row was backing-up. Chai-wala didn’t take much time to understand that his trials of wiping away the sweat was futile. As soon as he tried to open his mouth to tell me something, his attention was snatched by the boiling tea. He quickly lifted the utensil with his bare hands first and then kept it aside. His face clearly indicated how hot that utensil was. He puffed some air from his mouth on both hands and was back to work again. He held the utensil with a piece of cloth this time. The color of cloth was as mysterious as government’s policies for these poor people. He swigged the burn on his hand in the cup of his helplessness and revolved the utensil in circular motion for almost trillion times.
“Doodh me bahut jol hai,jol kyo dega? Log khayega nahi.” (The milk already has enough water)
He finally answered me with his rusty and rowdy Hindi. By that time his little chai-place was swarmed by people. He arranged little tea-glasses in a perfect straight line and poured tea in all of them without stopping while jumping from glass to glass. The first hand, which picked up the glass, was covered by an expensive watch; it was a hand of a police-wala. He was speaking to someone on his SAMSUNG ACE mobile.  
The Chai-wala raised a glass to me. The outside wall of the glass was covered by tea. And my Delhi mind started to calculate the number of bacteria and viruses in that several times used glass. I asked him for a disposable glass. He quickly took out an ultra-small disposable cup and poured the tea in that, without looking at me. His action and reaction-less face clearly indicated that I was not the first example of that Hygiene-Breed for him. The cup was small but beautiful. It was almost like the cups used for Tequila shots in pubs and bars. I took the first sip of the tea, it was the first good tea I had in Kolkata.
The Policeman finished his tea and slammed the glass on the ground. He was finished with the phone-conversation as well. He looked at the screen of his mobile like a lunatic. His face clearly indicated that he was struggling to find the disconnect button. After abusing the manufacture of this mobile, who were eventually not able to hear it, he finally disconnected the call. The Chai-wala looked at him with lots of hope and expectation. The policeman put his hand in his pants pocket and asked the poor chai-wala,
“ Daam koto re?”
“5 takka”
“Boddo goram!! Kobe je brishti hobe?”
He pulled out an off-color handkerchief from his pocket and wiped out the sweat from his entire face. He looked at his expensive watch and started crossing the road. The chai-wala’s gaze chased him until he disappeared in the crowd. The policeman was his first customer of the day, who went without paying. It was not a good omen.
I don’t know that how his earning for the day was affected by not getting those 5 rupees, but he really looked sad. His eyes looked full of anger and it had a hint of saline water in it. He drowned his right hand in a mug filled with water. An expression of relief came on his face for a minute but from the next, he was busy in collecting the money from his customers including me.     
While wandering on the pavements I saw several stalls. It was almost 10 am when I felt that my stomach needs more than tea. I moved briskly while searching for an appropriate place to eat.
‘Panna’s Kitchen’, a red board read. My stomach roared in excitement as soon as the board was visualized. I checked quickly whether anybody was noticing, and I found only me, everybody else had better things to do. I rushed towards the restaurant but my consideration was grabbed by a pleasant smell of Pratha.

An old cloth and plastic sheets were clutched by the railing of the pavement and the other side was pinned to a building. Under this awkward shade, a stove, few plates and a few utensils were resting. It was looking more like a refugee camp but to my surprises, it wasn’t. It was a hotel and the scent of Pratha made from refined oil belonged to this refuge.
A few benches were arranged on the pavement, which was the sitting arrangement. Few people were already busy filling their belly. I took a glimpse of offerings on the plate. Two beautiful Prathe with vegetable (I could recognize only potato in that) and pickle were served. I looked greedily towards the satisfied face of a middle aged man, who had just finished eating. He stood up and washed his hands on the roadside. His musical burp while washing his hands made me forget about the long lessons on hygiene, which I took in my schooldays.
Kitane ka hai?
I asked the lady serving a plate to the customer. She looked at my rather expensive dress and shoes.
“Kuri taka”
Soon, the big pieces of a Paratha (drowned in an unknown potato vegetable) were sliding into my stomach. I am not sure whether it was tasty, but it was enough to make me remember some conventional food with no sugar in vegetable. Surprisingly, I found the taste which I wanted in my food in a place which was not even a complete Dhaba. I felt the joy of eating and concluded my eating in 5 parathe.
I continued my quest of finding joy on the roadsides, pavements, mini shops, little tea-stalls, big buildings, bars, roads and monuments till the sun started to set in the west and shade of night started to gobble-up some street light-less places. I started walking towards my obnoxious guest house crossing the streets of Kolkata…city of joy.
 
 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

KOLKATA DIARIES: The Awakening

Posted by Chandan Sharma on 12:14:00 PM with No comments

I rubbed my eyes and tried to recognize the blur ambience through my dozy eyes. ‘Oh, it is Kolkata.’ Last night was a bit difficult, despite of a working AC in my room, I could not get a nice sleep. New places have been problematic for me, specially for sleeps.  It was supposed to be a busy day. I picked up the mobile to see the time; it was 6:15 am. I took a long breath. I threw my blanket aside and jumped out of the bed.

After getting fresh, it was the time to brush my teeth and take a bath. I went towards the bathroom mirror to take a close look on my face. My dark color was deepened and sunburns of yesterday were quite visible. The oil glands of my face have got an ultimate companion in the form of humidity. I closed my eyes and tried to console my heart.

When I opened my eyes, my attention was grabbed by the ‘BINDIS’ stick on the corners of the mirror, as many as 6 of them. The first one was round and big, green color. All others were also round but red in color. I thought about the beautiful Bengali ladies who stayed in that room with their husband, boyfriend or family. It was hard for anybody to say that how many people have stayed there before me. They all would have come with different purposes and different mind-sets. Had the walls of this room could speak; it could have told us a splendid set of stories.

I ordered a cup of tea for me and it was over-boiled to an extent which was far more than required. It made it bitter and heavy. As soon as I had the first sip of the tea, I remember a line from a Hindi story called चिकित्सा का चक्कर written by perhaps ‘SUDARSHAN’ (not sure).  स्वाद ऐसा की मुर्दे के मुंह में डाल दो तो वो भी तड़पकर रह जाए’. I felt as if my stomach had jumped into my mouth. I kept the cup of tea aside and waited for the breakfast to arrive.

After a while ‘AMAR’ (the boy taking care of guests in that guest house) brought my breakfast. Bread and omlette with butter…exactly as I ordered.

‘omlette ki chini milano aachhe?’ I asked sarcastically.

‘Na’

He answered and quickly moved towards the stairs. He had no time for my petty sarcasm. I closed the door and finished my breakfast. Despite of my speed and urgency, it was already 11 am.

I moved out of my house and walked towards the main road. I took a taxi and asked him to take me to ‘SHIVPORE’. He casually acknowledged me and started his meter. After travelling 15 minutes or so, my mind started to push me to call my friend Prasun and ask him about his address. I do not discard my intuitions normally.

‘Is it SHIVPURI?

‘NO, it is ‘SHIVRAMPUR’ and once you reach there ask for ‘PONDIT PADA’.

My friend just saved my time and money to go in vain. I asked taxi driver go to ‘Shivrampur’. He acknowledged again and nodded his head. After going through an ordeal in that taxi for almost 40 minutes and asking around 8 people about the address, I finally was able to leave the taxi. Prasun came to receive me.

After all the greeting and Namaste formality, it was the time to have some ‘NIMBU PAANI’. I wondered whether this was the thing which was found during ‘SAGAR MANTHAN’, at that time, people may have called this ‘AMRIT’ but now it was ‘NIMBU PANI’.

After all the news/gossip exchange, we felt that we were running low on energy. So, it was lunch time. Rice, Fish, Daal, Lady-Finger and Jack-fruit. I don’t know whether everything was so delicious or I was so hungry, but either ways it worked. Later I came to know that there was sugar in all the vegetables and I wondered that it still tasted so good. So, putting small amount of sugar in food is not that bad, it is just that you should know, how much to add.

After a long gossip and tea sessions, we decided to go to ‘South-city mall’. An AC mall seemed like a good idea. We booked a taxi and went to south city mall. Being from Delhi, malls were not a new thing for me. In fact, I was tired of going into different malls and seeing same kind of expensive culture but this time it was different.

I entered the mall as soon as I got off the taxi and felt the serene touch of AC on my sweat-clad body. It was like a touch of your first love…deep and soothing. I could not move far from the vent of air for almost 5 minutes. After experiencing the 5 minutes of cool air, I moved in. Lots of showrooms, restaurants, food courts, game-courts…none was of my interest. While Prasun and his friends kept themselves busy in those showrooms I found suitable place for me in ‘Crosswords’. I found a copy of hand written diary of ‘Rabindranath Tagore’. As I turned the pages of that diary my hands shivered. The creation of one of the greatest was in my hand. I could see how he wrote and then cut certain words to find the best combinations, same as we do while we write in out copies and diaries. Though I could not read the entire writing but I could feel the soul of his creation.

Drowned in the memory of literary excellence of English and Bangla, I stepped outside the mall. A rush of warm and humid air collided with my face. I took out my handkerchief and started wiping my face.

Small stalls, hawkers and peddlers had occupied the street right outside the mall. It had all kinds of things starting from fruits, water, chaat, tea, books, crafts and everything which comes in your mind. Generally big malls do not allow such small peddlers to set their business near it. On one side mall was standing proudly with its AC, expensive showrooms, food courts and much more, and on the other side these poor peddlers were trying to increase/gather their livelihood from there. What diversity…ah!

Everybody had talked about the city of joy and its rich culture, but grievances of these peddlers remains constant. I felt a pain in my heart. We feel happy to purchase a creation of a person who no longer exists, no matter how expensive it is. But feel reluctant and negotiate to the highest extent to purchase a piece of craft which is being sold by a person trying to survive in this harsh world. Perhaps we respect the creations of ‘Rabindranath Tagore’ but don’t understand it.                       

Just when I thought that ‘KOLAKATA DIARIES’ will be a simple memoir and I have found what I wanted to pen down through these blogs, I realized that journey of KOLKATA DIARIES is not yet over:

“I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,---that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.”

                                                                                                                     -Gurudev