Kolkata, Kolkata!

My apologies to the readers for not following the chronology of events in these columns. But then I thought it was not important. So I intend to bring in subjects that were of interest to me in the past without period consideration.

Kolkata has been the city of dreams of my childhood and continues to be so until now. My maternal grandfather had settled down in Kolkata despite the fact that he hailed from Comilla in East Bengal. Not only him, a number of other Muslim luminaries living in the then Calcutta opted to stay back there. There must have been a reason for this. I tried to investigate to find the reason later when I became an adult. One of the main reasons was that they did not have confidence on the Pakistani political leadership. My grandfather elaborated on this by saying that he had greater confidence on the Indian politicians because they, he thought, were selfless and serious in their struggle for the freedom of the sub-continent. And they were fighting for years on end. By comparison, the Pakistani leadership, he thought, were in-experienced and expedient. He, a devout Muslim, thought that the leader of the Muslims, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was not even Muslim in the true sense of the term.

However, during the growing up years, my memory of Kolkata was just about fascinating. I remember my visĀ­its to this great city from a very early age. I shall, however, narrate my experiences from an age when the city impacted my impression about it. We used to go to Kolkata at least once a year with Amma to visit our grandparents. We went from places like Khulna and Kushtia where our father was posted as a government employee. Poor Baba, he could not go to India as an employee of the Pakistan Government. I remember when the train approached the Sialdah station; the lights of Kolkata welcomed us and made us ecstatic. Around eight at night we used to reach our grandparents home at Park Street. They used to live at the second floor of a three-storied building that my Grand Father owned. Rashid, the shop keeper at the ground-floor of the adjacent building, was my first target before I climbed the stairs to our Kolkata home. Rashid knew I was coming and kept a bottle of my favourite orange drink ready. I simply loved this treat. Fanta or Mirinda had not appeared in the market until then. Rashid used to call my favourite orange, Coca Cola Oraaanje. Kolkata was special for me for various reasons. First among them, obviously, was food. The tiny ice-cream shops housed within the New Market in Kolkata were very popular amongst the kids. For me, the chocolate-flavoured ice cream was the most favourite. In those days the special ice-cream shops like the Magnolias or the Kwalities were still not around. And, if they were, we did not know them. The next in line was a kind of sweet usually available in north and north west India. These were of rectangular shape or of the shape of diamond. The shop was called Punjab Shop. We were fascinated by the various colours of these sweets. They were made of 'kheer' (thick milk) and a lot of sugar. Nizam, the kabab shop was around the corner and held little attraction for us kids. Although in the later years and even today it is a very special food place for us. There was a cinema hall bang opposite the main entrance to the New Market. It was called The Globe and exhibited only English movies. The hall, sadly, does not exist any more. It has given way to a shopping mall much to the chagrin of the cinema lovers. The Globe was also famous for street foods available on the pavement beside the hall. All kinds chats were famous in these shops. But, obviously, those fares were not popular among the kids. We, at that age, were more in to sweet stuff.

We simply adored the University area and spent countless hours in the coffee house there with friends and, at times, with our seniors talking about intellectual matters that invigorated us in our youth. The Calcutta Coffee House was a sought after joint those days and I discovered many luminaries from the intellectual world of Kolkata in that place. I once discovered Satyajit Roy in a heated discussion with poets Subhash Mukherjee and Bishnu Dey. It was a matter of delight to have discovered the mortals of our dreams in flesh and blood.

One other thing tat was very popular among us to visit the bank of the Hoogly river. Hoogly is called Ganga by the Calcuttans. 'Gangar dhar' has some minor gardens, street food and a proper restaurant. On occasions, host of our cousins used to flock together in Kolkata and a visit to the Ganga was a must-do. We used to go there by Phaetons drawn by horses. In Kolkata the horses were well-fed and not like the skinny ones of Dhaka. All in all, we as children had a great time in Kolkata at least once a year when we went to visit that extraordinary town.

My story of Kolkata cannot end here. For this city has a lot more that helped us grow in to useful individuals. So, I would continue with my Kolkata episode for one or more episodes when I visit you with this column the next time.

Howrah Station was another high point in my life. I hopped in to a lift, at the Park Circus Tram Depot, going to Howrah and, on reaching the station, got a comfortable seat to sit in and spend hours watching various kinds of passengers. This provided me with substantial materials for my writings later.

Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/showbiz/showbiz-column/kolkata-kolkata-1403725