I first visited Calcutta as part of a school trip which took us on further to the beautiful Darjeeling. We stopped for a day in the city, and specifically Howrah railway station. An entire bogie of the train which comprised us students and teachers from two different schools who were part of the trip spent the night at the station. Calcutta hit me like one of those waves you don’t see coming, are incapable of defending yourself against and end up getting swept away unresistingly.
It was perhaps, the start of my infatuation with Calcutta. So far, my equation with Calcutta had remained that of the onlooker who saw the city through the gaze of the cinema that was set in it, the stories I read based in it. This though, was different. This was the city, live, pulsating, and irresistible.
I visited it next, as a guest of dear blogging friends who had become a sisterhood. I stayed at one’s lovely home, was taken around the city by them all, hosted for a lavish Bengali home cooked meal at another’s and this was when, I realised, as John Green famously said, that I had fallen in love with Calcutta, “like you fall asleep, slowly at first and then all at once.”
The imposing Howrah bridge, the constant buzz of conversation through the streets, the Victoria Memorial, the slow dignity of the trams that move across the roads, the manic energy of Pujo, the beautiful women of the city, with their kohl lined eyes, cotton sarees and sharp features, the phuchkas, the haunted eyes of the rickshaw pullers, the Chinese breakfasts, the culinary gluttony I committed at Flury’s, the street food that ensured I wrestled with the button on my trousers every time I made a trip to the city, the predominance of monkey caps that promptly came onto heads at the slightest suggestion of a nip in the air, the hustle bustle of New Market and the shopping that would not be contained, the leather goods that had me throwing wads of cash from my wallet at the store owners and the awe at the Dakshineshwar Kali temple. There was all this. And there was so much more.
There is something about Calcutta that calls out to me, some connection I cannot quite pinpoint but which stays in my veins and flares up when I visit the city. I feel a kinship, a bonding that does not come from the peripheral encounters one has had with it, but goes deeper, far deeper to something the consciousness knows. How else can I explain why in Once Upon A Crush, I not only made my protagonist, Rayna De, a Calcutta girl, but also managed to get in place, the sense of the city through the book though it appeared fleetingly. The food, the festivals, the culture, the people. How else can I explain why, The Face At The Window (due out soon), my fifth book, has Calcutta making its appearance again, as the place where my protagonist is brought up in, moves away from, goes back to, and moves away from, as life takes her through its various meanders and fluxes.
I wait for when the city calls out to me again.
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