Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kolkata Chronicles- Part 3

This really happened:

My design teacher walked in for his second period and asked "How many of you are from West Bengal?

Most hands went up. The only exceptions were a foreign student from Bhutan, a half-Telugu half-Bengali girl from Arunachal Pradesh and of course, me, because as I mentioned at the very beginning of. Kolkata Chronicles, I don't consider myself someone who's from this city or even this state for that matter

My design teacher then asked, "And how many if you believe this state has some of the most talented people in the country?"

Once again, most hands went up, but they went up faster this time. Plus there were lots of self-satisfied half-smiles.

Then came the third question, "And how many if you know that Kolkata is not the most developed city in the country?"

This time, no smiles. Just a whole lot of hands going up.

Now would be the right time to tell you my design teacher is known for his quirkiness. Right then, his expression changed and he shot, "That's because we talk too much".

We all laughed but only because we,all know there's sine truth to this. It's like one of those truths that're inferred from experience, like 'People gain weight after they get married' or 'Hot girls are mean' and so on.

Of all the cities I'very seen so far, Kolkata is by far the most talkative. Within five minutes of knowing someone, you can know someone better than you know your regrets. On my second day here, I went to an advocate to get an affidavit signed and ended up finding out his name, age, work experience, family relations, how the biggest lawyers look up to him, his opinions in ragging and the college I was set to go to and God only remembers what else. On a rickshaw, a puller heard me speaking English and familiarized me with his heartbreaking story of wanting to study English but having to quit his education the year they were to start reading English. A lady I shared an auto-rickshaw with told me all about her daughter and then went on to tell me how she was born less than a year after her twin brothers, how she was practically raised by her aunt and how she wishes to have spent more time with her mother.

That's not all. This city functions on 'adda', the conversational forum for friend circles. Basically its a practice as old as the city in which friends or even acquaintances get together to discuss all things big, small, good, bad, entertaining or boring but ultimately always inconsequential. In fact, during pujas, there,s a pandal in Maddox Square where thousands of people gather just for 'adda'. They sit on newspapers in big circles or sometines on benches and the whole point of being there is not so much enjoy the festival of Durga Puja as it is to celebrate the biggest 'adda' festival of the year.

Is all this talking a waste of time? I have to stay here for five years so I'll reserve my comments opon that. All I'll say is that this is just how the city is and without so much of talking, Kolkata just wouldn't be Kolkata anymore, be it good or bad. Yes, I do wish people would express their opinions through actions than they do vocally. But in your life, if you ever crave stimulating conversation full of hyperboles, metaphors, exclaimations and Tagore quotations, come to Kolkata and you won't be disappointed.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Kolkata Chronicles- Part 2

Love is in the air. Scientifically that's an impossibility because air is basically a mixture of several gases and 'love' is definitely not on of them. But if you're an eighteen-year-old girl just starting out with college in Kolkata after newly arriving in the city, you might just start believing that 'love' is something people  breathe in this city.

In my old school, there were very few couples. As harsh as it sounds for me to say this, a lot of these couples had a dumb girl and a stud-type boy in them. Dating wasn't a very big craze. I mean, me and my best friends never even thought about it....Okay, so maybe we did but not that much. By the time we graduated high school most of these relationships had dissolved into friendships. We knew we would mostly be going to different colleges, in some cases even in very different parts of the country.And no matter how much anybody claimed to know about love and relationships, the truth is at the back of our mind that some things don't stand the test of time and distance and its better to end them on a sweet note than drag them till they tear apart.

I didn't have a boyfriend in high school. In all honesty, I wasn't exactly the prettiest or most popular girl in school either and boys didn't particularly want to be with me. It didn't matter because I had friends who were just like me and we had all the fun and bonding we needed. Now, I knew people have boyfriends in college, but when I got here, I saw a lot of people had already been in relationships and it was a very common thing too. I mean, girls my age can very casually say, "You know, my boyfriend did so-and-so and then we went there and doesn't like me going and blah blah blah" and nobody listening will even blink an eyelid.

That was just the first part. Then I saw twelve-year-olds walking hand-in-hand down the street. Some people find it cute. I find it funny.

My first reaction to all this was, well, jealousy. I know it sounds bad, but how're you supposed to feel when everybody around you has a boyfriend/girlfriend and you don't have a single guy paying you any special attention to you? I mean, I go to a good college and have some awesome writing credentials and successfully completed a marathon. I'm very low maintenance, don't spend much on clothes and make-p and take fifteen minutes to take a shower and  get dressed (you have to admit that's impressive for a girl). I'm a catch, people? How come nobody sees that.

Okay, so I was just kidding in the last paragraph. My first reaction was, well, nothing. Yes, I do think people start dating a little early in Kolkata, with every school probably having a lot of couples. And yes, I don't understand relationships and don't particularly want to be in one. But maybe that's just because I'm not ready for it or because I grew up surrounded by people who very cute and childish about these matters. I mean, we talked about Robert Pattinson but never thought about what it would be like to actually be with a boy. But that doesn't mean I will be judgemental about people who date at a young age. But still, I reserve the right to laugh when I see twelve-year-olds acting like they're madly in love. I'm in Kolkata, which is evidently a very romantic city, but there's a lot of time before it rubs off on me. Till then, I'm going to watch others fall in and out of love and be just a wallflower in this department.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kolkata Chronicles- Part 1

Let's start with the flavor of the season- Puja.

For those of you who don't know what Durga Puja is, here's some info- It is believed that Goddess Durga was created by the Gods to vanquish the demon Mahishasur. After a battle lasting ten days, Goddess Durga finally defeated Mahishasur, thereby saving both the earthly as well as the heavenly abodes. Goddess Durga is the embodiment of power, justice, beauty and motherhood. Durga Puja celebrates the worship of this Goddess Durga.

Even though Durga Puja has its religious as well as mythological significance, you don't have to come to Kolkata to know about that. Basically, you don't need Kolkata to know what Durga Puja is, but you have to come if you want to know what it could be.

Even though Puja falls in October-November, its arrival is preceded by lots of shopping. I started my classes in college in Auugust. It was also the time when I moved into my new room. I was still new to the city back then. My eyebrows went up and my jaw fell when someone asked me "Started your Puja shopping?" I mean, Puja was still months away and my parents never really cultivated the idea of festive shopping in me. For two months, I watched my friends and roommates shop while I didn't buy anything. But as Puja drew closer, I decided I couldn't go out wearing my old clothes when everyone else is wearing new, so I bought a top from Gariahat. You see, the festival shopping gets to you even if you're stingier that Scrooge.

When I first told my classmates that I was planning to go back to Mumbai during Puja, they all had one reaction- 'You're mad'. Nobody here can imagine leaving Kolkata during Puja time. Its the one time of the year when people go all out and have all kinds of fun without feeling guilty. You know the day has begun when you hear the rhythmic beats of a 'dhaak', the percussion instrument that's widely used during the festival. That's when you get out of bed and get dressed in your newest, finest clothes. You head out to your neighborhood puja 'pandal' to seek blessings from the Goddess. There's the 'anjali' in which the priest recites a mantra and people repeat after him. After that, 'prasad', which is supposed to be food blessed and touched by the Goddess, is given out. That's followed by the 'bhog'. People seat themselves along rows of tables for the food. No non-vegetarian food is served.

After that, its time for the fun part.

While some people busy themselves in the 'worship' part of the festival, others let loose just before evening. That's the time when you go 'pandal hopping' which is the local term for going around the city to see what's up in the other pandals. You may ask why go elsewhere to see exactly what's happening in your local pandal, but that's a stupid question here. Every pandal is unique, be it in terms of the idol, the decorations, the food or the people. But the real motivation behind pandal hopping is to see all the theme pujas.

Theme pujas are a recent concept. The organizers pick a theme and design/decorate the pandal accordingly. Even the idols are befitting to the theme.  I was forced to admit that the people of West Bengal take the concept of ‘experintation’ to a whole new level when it comes to Durga Puja. Everywhere in the world, people try to come up with new ideas to jazz up their festival. But here, coming up with a new idea for the pandal is an old idea. Innovation is the tradition.  Just imagine the amount of work and creativity that goes into making these pandals and you are bound to be amazed even if you’ve never have the opportunity to experience it all in person.

Now comes the sub-festivals. By ‘sub-festival’ I refer to those things which have become typical puja traditions over the years but actually have no religious value. For example, someone told me that there are short-term couples during puja.  Know that sounds weird, but here’s what it means- People pick out someone to date just for the five days of puja so they can hang out together. I don’t know why they do it or even why a lot of people do it and hhhave never really seen such a couple, but if people tell me about it it must be true. I’m sure there are more of such things that go on during puja and with time I’ll find out about those too.

Did I enjoy puja? Well, I don’t go out much and can’t hang out for the whole day and eat junk food without getting sick, but in my own way I did enjoy puja. I enjoyed watching the city transform as the festival drew closer. I enjoyed my own visit to Gariahat market to buy a new dress. I enjoyed some of the cultural shows I watched in my neighbourhood pandal. I think everyone must come to Kolkata during Puja time at least once in their life. You may love it, you may hate it, but it will surely invoke some emotion from you because it is a sub-culture in itself.