Theme: I was about to cross the road when …
I was about to cross the road when I noticed the small pan shop near the small temple still there as it had been 13 years back. Only the man now sitting there was a total stranger. I tried to get the reminisces of the past when I was a kindergartener. I lived round the corner so while going to board the bus for school with my dad I passed his shop and he would look at me smilingly. All I did then was notice his fat tummy and the red colour he had on his lips. Mom had always warned never talk or entertain any stranger, so I never smiled back at him. Who would have thought that after 13 years his , a complete stranger’s face would be what I would be longing for. Perhaps this new man was his son. I crossed the road and passed the pan shop but this time nothing happened. I now took a turn and put my feet on the very much changed but still familiar dusty road . a panorama of memories came flooding by of the childhood , innocence , laughter , childish anger, stupidities which seemed right at that time,the smell of phuchka , pakoras …. It was like my brain was too small to hold all the memories together.I smiled at myself and walked. After some time I felt I was lost. I couldn’t find the house where we used to stay. An old lady came to me and asked “ki khunjchen?”(what are you searching for?) .. perhaps she saw my confused expression I thought. I told her the address and the name of my landlady. She showed me that the address was just two after two buildings. I was so surprised. This house which seemed so magnificent at one time , the biggest in the street was seeming like a dilapidated shack in front of the tall modern buildings. This house was a venetian blind. The doors and windows marked the British era. I went to the gate but there was no guard now as their used to be earlier. ‘DEY’s lock’ the board was still there . But now it had lost its sheen. I went inside slowly as a stranger should. It kind of hurt me that once upon a time I used run through that gate after coming back from school and speed upstairs to Dida(my landlady as I used to call her). I wondered how age, formality , distance and time have taken it all.
I went upstairs and a maid came out and asked me “ke aapni?”(who are you?) I felt kind of insulted because suddenly the thought came this is my house, I know every corner of it and this lady is asking who am I ? but I composed myself and replied politely. She went and told the old lady my name. while she was gone I was picturing dida in my head . Her complexion was white, she had the hair style like Lady Diana, since her husband did business during British raj she presented herself like an English lady. Very punctual , disciplined she was mum had told me. But all I remembered was that adorable smile she always had whenever I went to her. Then I heard she herself called out my name in a very feeble voice. 95 years old, shining white hair, innumerable criscrossses on her face due to wrinkles . She still glowed and she smiled at me gaily and eagerly asked me to sit down. And we chatted of the new as well as of the old times.
This had been a routine since we left Kolkata. Every year I come with family to stay in Kolkata. That is what generally happens with people staying outside their native place. When I get down from the train at Howrah I engulfed in the call of hawkers, some thousands of daily commuters waiting for the local train, the guava seller , the cucumber sellers, and then I take deep breath which normally smells of sweat and dust but still the aroma is like that of coming back home. And then you have to literally jostle your way out to come out because Howrah is always crowded and busy. Well I won’t use the word crowded here I would say it’s always full of joy, laughter , excitement , cries of children , people rushing to catch the immediate next local train, gossips of ladies waiting, the coolies running,… always hustling bustling showing how the common man thrives in this metropolitan city.as we come out we can see a row of eateries which are not very elaborate but are fresh and affordable on which thousands of people survive who come from far off places to work in Kolkata. also people running to reach the jetty to catch the immediate launch to cross Hooghly river which flow by the Howrah station.
As I sit in the big yellow and black Ambassador cab and pass over Rabindra Setu, Howrah bridge as it is popularly known , the sight of glistening waters of Ganges cools the body and soul even in the humid heat of summer in Kolkata.
They say you can even get a tiger’s eye in Kolkata. For two reasons one Sunderbans is very near, and two from pin to piano the city exhibits a lot of variety of products. In short, a boon for shopaholics. On one hand you get tea in earthen mugs for one rupee fifty paisa even in this era of rising prices and on the other you can have a five hundred rupees tea in tea parlour of Dakhinapan.
I descend the stairs that take me to the underground metro stations. As a child I found it very interesting how that tunnel kind of thing takes me underground, then we would insert the ticket in the given space, go through the revolving bars and catch the metro train. The whole city with its buildings, roads ,cars above me . A female voice would announce the next station’s name periodically. I actually thought a lady must be squatting on top of the train with a mike. I smiled at myself as I was thinking of all this and I saw a number of eyeballs staring at me as if I had gone crazy smiling for no reason. Nothing has changed much except that the crowd has got more dense and a few new stations have been added to the usual Tollygunge to Dum Dum route. I got down at Esplanade.
I see the street lights reflecting on the mortar roads of New Market as I cross it. Whenever I come here (that’s generally for shopping) and I see the huge shopping spot in front of me . The British created this place keeping in mind the streets of London so that they don’t miss their country much. And this is one of the most spectacular places of Kolkata. Everywhere there are ladies arguing with the shopkeeper about the prices and the vendors calling out loudly to every other person with different relations –“o didi dekhun na”( o sister please come and see) although everybody is a stranger to everybody. The place is so colourful. Clothes, jewellery, daily household items, vegetables, fruits, flowers, furniture, everything you can expect in a metro city. The hospitality of the shopkeepers amaze me. I left the place with a few bags in my hand. This is very inevitable I always end up buying little extra than what I had planned. Be it New Market or Gariahat or any other market I am always nostalgic. These places remind me of the time when I used to go out with my family especially during durga puja to get new clothes.
I took a cab and the aroma in the air brought back the yearnings of the past… I see both- weathered walls of old houses and the sky touching buildings. I took a deep breath the air smelled of egg roll, chicken roll, rasagullas,the flower shop,the fish market and most importantly it smelled of the beautiful childhood I had spent in that city.
The night before the day I am supposed to leave has always been a night full of longing to stop that moment there itself, to be there forever but feeling helpless as you cannot help it.
As my transport ascends the Howrah bridge and I see the Ganges flowing by I fight back my tears. I see the good old station in front of me. A number of coolies surround me. I see my train coming towards me or rather I see my home going away from me. And with a tear in my eye and a promise in my heart to be back next year I depart.