Tag Archives: Kolkata

Street Food: Calcutta Durga Puja–Shoshthi Shaptami 2014!

If you’ve lived in one of the great Indian mega-cities for any length of time, one of the things that you can never forget is the street food. But street food during a festival like Durga Pujo? You have to see it to believe it.

Calcutta street food
Phuchka, Shoptomi morning

I’ve only really lived in one Indian city, Calcutta/Kolkata, and even though I grew up almost on a daily  diet of various kinds of street food (my parents being a little less strict about this than many and my stomach having grown most resilient via this eclectic exposure) I wasn’t prepared for the number, scale and magnitude by which street food culture had proliferated in the city during my absence of fourteen years and the subsequent fifteen annual Durga Pujo’s I had missed.

The crowds in front of a pandal, Behala, Kolkata
The crowds in front of pizza, coffee, ice cream, paan, coke

I took all these pictures on Shoshthi evening and Shaptami afternoon, the first and second of the five days when Pujo crowds are only warming up. I just walked a little in the evening, barely a ten minute walking stretch from my parents’ place to the major road in my area. It’s a very middle-class neighbourhood and didn’t include any of the city’s major intersections or Pujo-visiting destinations or markets and must be a very miniscule picture of the city’s crowds and street foods this Pujo.

Yet, just as the spirit of the Goddess inheres in the smallest Debi idol in the tiniest by-lane in the littlelest poorly-lit Pandal as she does in the award-winning enormous mega-Pujo’s, I’m hoping that this chronicler’s mini-attempt at reflecting the spirit of the season will convey a little bit of the excitement and anticipation regarding how the Goddess has transformed a city of a 4.4 million people (14.38 million if you take the metropolitan area into account and swelling during Pujo) into a cosmic food court. Continue reading Street Food: Calcutta Durga Puja–Shoshthi Shaptami 2014!

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My Durga

Thursday had dawned like any other Thursday with the beep-beep alarm going off on the cell phone. A sickly dawn spread across the dark sky outside and the city paled across the river preparing for another day same as the last one. Continue reading My Durga

Magic spaces in a globalized world

IMG_5267The sky lit up with a million iridescent fragments last night lighting up the dark surface of the Hudson and the hundreds of boats that had gathered there to watch the July 4th fireworks in reddish, whitish and bluish hues. There were crowds all along the edges of the water, on the piers facing Manhattan from the Jersey side, on the boardwalks and on the tops of buildings. Continue reading Magic spaces in a globalized world

When clothes travel

The new clothes I brought over from India last week, like many of the other times I travelled, are sitting on a shelf, carefully folded. So did my embroidered sandals sit in their boxes for the entire previous year from when I brought them over from a Kolhapuri emporium. I basked in the knowledge that they were there, a piece of home tucked away in the closet.

When clothes travel over vast distances, they give rise to many phenomena, including fusion in the fashion of the times. But sometimes they also do strange things to people.

A professor in college I suddenly remember, for example.

Even in the Calcutta summers, when the concrete outside our college building grew so hot that even a drop of water disappeared immediately as it fell on the ground and the street dogs curled up in shady corners of the canteen to rest and no one shooed them away, our professor was always dressed impeccably. Dark trousers, full sleeved shirt, tie tightly in place and big black boots.

The staff room for the professors was relatively cool, shielded from the heat by thick walls of the famous building built in the British era.  Everything  else was engulfed by the sweltering heat in the afternoons. Even the railings of the verandah (that you had to walk across to reach the English Honours classrooms where we students waited) were like superheated rakes in the scorching sun.

No matter what the weather, which was mostly very hot and humid, our “Sir” was always dressed the same even as we sat in out thinnest cotton salwar kameezes under the noisy fan listening to his exposition of the wild storms in Riders to the Sea. I half expected him to vaporize inside the contraption of boots and shirt and trousers one day but he never did.

Sometimes he would tell us stories about his time in England at Oxford or Cambridge, about how he rode a horse in Hyde Park in the early mornings while people watched him admiringly. There were other younger  “England-returned” professors in the department, but they had dropped the tie and embraced the open shoes and sometimes appeared in cotton Punjabis on hot days, but our professor  never did.

Many years later I was reminded of “Sir” when I had a similar (but reverse) experience in the New Jersey cold. It was at a gathering on the occasion of Saraswati Puja, the annual festival in honour of the Goddess of Learning all Bengalis take very seriously. Continue reading When clothes travel

Bottledworder is back

Delhi airport
The Delhi International terminal was amazing.

The long trip to Calcutta is over and I am back in New York. It’s difficult to believe that one can be in the midst of the scorching heat of the sun one day and so much snow the next. In both places, people will smile and say you haven’t seen the scorching sun/ real heavy snow if you think this is it!
Continue reading Bottledworder is back

Global Indians: Distance and the World

When I was a child in Calcutta in the late 80’s and early 90’s, we didn’t have the internet. When we wanted to see the world, we looked at a big globe which belonged to my brother. We would  twirl it round and round and look at all the countries separated by blue oceans and black lines, coloured in different colours and marked in little letters.

It would give us a thrill to check out countries that we had never discovered before. We looked at the antipodes that were the furthest from where we were and tell each other that it was night there while it was day here. That seemed so strange. Many of my friends’ favourite game was a rapid fire round of naming countries when you had to respond by naming the capital city.
Continue reading Global Indians: Distance and the World

What gifts to buy in a global culture?

I’ve been looking for gifts for the past few days for my impending visit to India from New York. And I’ve been looking in vain.

Last year I bought some bottles of perfume with people’s names on them –unfortunately not mine but say Calvin Klein’s or Elizabeth Arden’s or even Justin Bieber’s.  Sometimes they were not names but only initials. They appeared everywhere–clothes, shoes, leather handbags–with shiny tags that said CK, MC, AB, CD, EF, GH or something else.

I suppose that in the realm of gift-giving, even if there was some confusion as to who had given the gift, there would be no confusion as to whose idea it was. Calvin Klein’s.

But on my way, at my long layover in Dubai, I realized the folly of carrying these several bottles of unnecessary fluids and leather bags (yet so necessary for the human condition) over long distances.

Dubai airport was a great, wide, beautiful, wonderful mall which happened to also have airplanes. And it was newer and more sparkling than any mall in New Jersey or Florida.
Continue reading What gifts to buy in a global culture?

Possessing books

I went to listen to a talk at the New School in Manhattan yesterday. But this post is not about that talk. It’s about something incidental I spotted in our aimless wanderings preceding the event.

It’s about books.

But to understand what I mean you have to listen to my whole rambling story.

I had to take an underground train ride below the Hudson river for about half an hour to cross over to Manhattan from Jersey City.

When I entered the depths of the station on the Jersey City side, bright sunlight was still making the Manhattan skyline shine magnificently across the river. I came out back to the surface of the earth on 6th Avenue at 14th Street on the other side of the river, a bustling thoroughfare full of cars and people and chain restaurants.

I’m used to a certain spacious ambiance around school campuses.  But campuses here in the city are very different. When I came out and entered the street off of 6th Avenue on which the building with the auditorium was located, I was surprised.
Continue reading Possessing books

Telling Stories (Part 2: The Arrangements)

Continued from: Telling Stories:(Part 1: The Confusions)

The little blind lane on which my parents’ flat is located in Calcutta is very narrow but by no means sleepy. As you pass by the other flats you notice a mixture of old and new buildings. The new buildings rise up perpendicularly–straight from the road–while some of the older  buildings have benches made of cement in small verandahs adjacent to the street beyond which the actual rooms start.

collage
collage (Photo credit: **tWo pInK pOSsuMs**)

As I walk by my eyes glance over the verandahs, the curtains slightly ajar or the doors half open. A woman sweeps her balcony behind the metal “grill” of the railing. A green curtain is half closed behind which I  see an elderly man sitting on a wooden bed in front of the TV, his head hidden from my view by the wooden shutter. A section of an old painting shows itself on the wall through a half open door. Voices float out of the homes in various different sharps and flats. I hear pots and pans clanging in the background as the domestics talk loudly to the women of the house as they clean the vessels. A voice floats out. Someone practising singing at dusk with the singing master. [Still has a rather long way to go, I think, that voice,  as I pass.] A dog with four newly born puppies lies curled up on a cement bench on a verandah waiting for the domestic help to come out with a bowl of rice.

All bits and pieces of complete stories waiting to be told.
Continue reading Telling Stories (Part 2: The Arrangements)

Cafes and the city

I’m writing this blog as I’m sitting at a café. Cafés have character and this has one.

This isn’t a big name-brand café but a very successful one. It’s in SoHo right in the heart of Manhattan’s artists’ studios and big fashion stores. The café is fairly full of artists and fashionistas while a new breed of finance professionals whose offices have moved here are drinking coffee here too. In fact, the latter comprise the majority. Continue reading Cafes and the city