I am sort of fond of these three words: Deja vu, Serendipity and an Old flame. I was reminded of all the three when I found that I was going to Calcutta – or Kolkata – the city of my dreams and imagination.
In our school, around fifth grade times, we had a Bengali teacher visiting us, and he taught Rabindra Sangeet to a selected group. I only later realized how lucky I was. My mother, a teacher of Gujarati language, used to bring translated stories and novels written by Benagli authors.
So, when, finally at 47, I set my foot into Clacutta, it was Deja vu all the way. I was footloose and fancy free – I almost felt I was coming home to the people whose lives I had witnessed so closely and so vividly, with my vista woven round the Badi (bungalow) of Thakurs, Pukurs, the Ghats on the river Ganga and the Darshan of Ma Kali – all at the delicately colored heels of the fellow commuters in Calcutta.
Inside the Gurudev’s birthplace, home and the place where he breathed his last, among various rooms, one can also see a theater where he staged various plays that he often wrote, scripted and directed – and acted into. One can reach this place easily by Taxi or a bus. The approach to the estate is just like the narrow lanes or POLES that many other cities (like Ahmedabad) have.
Very close to Thakur Badi
(Thakur’s Bungalow), there is a marble house – now turned in to a museum. Unfortunately, I was not aware that it remains closed on Mondays and Thursdays for maintenance. I happened to visit on a Thursday, and could visit only Thakur Badi.
Well, I was also asked by a thoughtful friend to go to the nearby Boipara. Boipara literally means the Book Bazar, and you have to see it to believe it. Entire street lined with bookstores, and a particular one, Dasgupta and Co. is running since 1887. While I was at Thakur Badi, I asked fellow visitors about collection of poems written by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. They mentioned a 64-volume set containing all his poems and their compositions with notations (swarankan, complete) by Vishwa Bharati. I actually found the set, and acquired four on a trial basis, along with a guide on reading Bangla.
Then there was the morning at River Ganga, crossing it in a ferry, going over to Belur from Howrah. I took a ferry from Babu Ghat, from there caught a train to Belur and from the station, paid a KUDI (20 rupees) to the Riksha puller to get to the Belur Math – this is the place where Ramkrishna and Swami Vivekanand meditated. The Math has a large hall, where crowds wait in silence for Darshan to open.
I missed the visit to their bookshop since I had reached just in time for the
Darshan, and then the temple as well as its bookstore remain closed until 3:30. The memorial places and small shrines surround the Math – in some, the mortal remains of various saints and disciples of Thakur Ramkrishna, as well as his wife. I liked the one where Swami Vivekanand meditated: it was a
tree of Bilva (often thought to be the favorite of Lord Shiv) – the old one is no more, but they have planted a new tree in the same place. Just behind the position of the photographer, there is a river – and boats ply to and from this place. Unfortunately, I saw no boats and this went from here to Kali Ghat by taking a bus – all with the help of the local fellow visitors, who sometimes spoke Hindi, and sometimes Bangla – but they were utterly helpful, very specific in detail and sometimes went out of their way to help – like the lady who came with me to a place where I could board the bus, and the lady (Nupur Didi) who changed her plan to visit the dakshineshwar temple and instead came with me to the Kalighat and Kali Temple. During our long bus ride, we spoke little. But once on foot, we could talk and I found how simple Bengalis live their devoted lives. Nupur Didi’s husband worked as an accountant in the West Bengal Electricity Co., retired and now gives free service to Ramkrishna Mission. The day I met her, her husband had come for some work to Belur, taking her along and she wanted to go to Dakshineshwar.
I happened to ask her the direction to Kalighat, and she decided toaccompany me to get the Darshan of MA (Mother) herself.
Now whether you saw it on Google Maps before or not, but you would stand still just as you
are hurrying your way to Kali temple and Kali Ghat and read the board “Nirmal Hriday”.
Yes, if it rang the bell, you are right – this is the workplace of mother Teresa.
It is from here that you move on, first go the the Ghat (They say it is the place of Adi Ganga), offer whatever you like from the usual accessoriesthat women fancy – bangles, Kumkum, Alta, flowers, whatever. Of course, it is a pity the river is too
polluted to stand there and enjoy the view. When I complained about it to the vendor from whom I was buying the Alta etc, he informed me that Didi (Mamta Bennerjee) has recently approved the plan to clean the river and it would be cleaned soon. Amen. By the way, her house is quite nearby
at the approach to Kali Temple.
This is a very important place for the devout Hindus. It is said that after Sati, the wife of Shiv immolated herself at her father’s Yagya because he insulted Lord Shiv, the lord was so enraged as well as grief-stricken that he simply kept her body on his shoulder and roamed the world. Devotees requested Vishnu to help the lord overcome this trauma, and Vishnu used his Sudarshan Chankra to cut the dead body of Sati into pieces. One of the toes from her right foot fell here and this is the place supposed to be alive with Her presence. I was lucky to have reached the temple just after the Bhog, and could get the Darshan at closed doors within the inner sanctum sanctorum.
If you are moving about in the city, you will soon stumble upon this magnificent building – the Victoria Memorial where the Viceroys once lived. Of course, the stories about sightings of ghost Darbaar with the Englishmen and the Indians dressed in their traditional formals is a hoax – it appeared in the news, but my taxiwala said it was all a stunt (he believed that Bhoots are everywhere, though).
To a book-lover, another building is
eye-catching. The national public library. It is said to be the first in this part of the country, but I had no time to go in and get a glimpse – just like I could not go into the Voctoria Museum, which is one of the largest museums in the country. In the evenings, you would also catch a glimpse of two famous, iconic bridges of the city – the unmistakable ones even from a distance:
I believe this is called the Iswarchandra Vidyasagar bridge, supported by cables. And there is this other, famous Howrah bridge – The older one. It has another name officially, (Rabindra setu), but everyone calls it Howrah bridge. Ishwarchandra bridge is also called the second Howrah bridge.
On the third day, I went to Joka – the area where the Indian Institute of management is located. Original plan was to go to Shantiniketan, but we were advised that one needs at least two full days to enjoy the place fully. So, off I was to IIM-K. And what a place.. the buildings dot the banks of the lakes. There is a lot of inspiring greenery, left in its natural wilderness..
Again, I had gone there at a short notice and had no time to alert any one about my arrival. Luckily, I found Ujjal Da at the Publication department – he was the one who communicates with me about my case study recently accepted by the IIM-K journal, ‘Decision’. He took me around the entire campus, we saw various departments, library, centers and all. It was such a treat seeing those places where people were working in the middle of quiet wilderness. I got reminded of Ashrams of the old times, and IIT Madras.
Oh- Calcutta – it is such a soulful place, its sumptuous snacks notwithstanding. We had our friends Ketaki and Pundarik Shah taking us to the must-visit food joints of real Calcutta. We had the coconut patties and pumpkin sweet (Name???) among a mountain of food at Hindustan Club, followed by some more delicious street food, then lemon Shikanji, then Orange and Sitafal Kulfi (now this is definitely an excess!!), topped by a paan. One other morning, we also dared out guts and went for Kachauri, Singhada (samosa), Chamcham, Khaman, Mishti Doi (Sweet curd, MUST_EAT at Calcutta) – FOR BREAKFAST.. yes, and our souls gained strength from the spirit of Kolkata. I am devoted now!! But in case you are wondering who this handsome Yogi is, I must tell you it is my son Anand, at home after Puja.