Somaditya’s den | kolkata >> the people

By that BE CAREFUL message what is meant is, you should be circumspect of the local custom and traditions and would try to perceive and feel them to the best of your sensitive characteristics. Make one point perfectly clear, the words – feeling  emotion  passion  sensitivity  sentiment  spirit  sympathy  care – are of paramount importance whenever you are out to judge the Kolkatan way of viewing life; and if you are numb and callous about them, just do this favour to yourself, don’t ever visit Kolkata. However if you are not a beastly businessperson like that, you will keep meeting unexpectedly charming courtesy and warm reception everywhere and literally everywhere in the streets of Kolkata. Bengalis, you will discover quickly, are people, generally happy to explain to you a great many number of things and they feel delighted if they find you taking an active interest in their culture. The keen and passionate shake hands, the excited pats on your back, the enthusiastic hugs, the genially grinning face of an ‘outsider’, the ardent and intense care – are all just small spangles of Kolkatan hospitality. If you do have the privilege to share them – believe us, life would never be quite the same again. – The Kolkatan hospitality is dangerous in that way.

Things actually happen this way – the first Kolkatan you meet will not fail to invite you to his home or to a nearby tea-shop (the chayer dokan) for the sacred purpose of having tea; otherwise he would be sincere enough to invite you to one of his favourite ‘adda’s. It doesn’t really matter whether you end up being present in a ‘tea shop’ or in ‘adda’, because at each of them you will find five friends of your new acquaintance. Each of them will not fail to invite you to an adda of his very own favourite list, and each one of these addas will have five to ten friends. …..In two days you’ll suddenly acquire a hundred new acquaintances, and within a week several thousand !!!!  It is simply dangerous (as we have already warned) to spend a whole year in Kolkata, because you’ll then become a confirmed tea-fanatic, a down-to-bone smoker, a stoic philosopher with doctoral papers on subaltern linguistics and definitely a haggadic tramp with a thin veil of iconoclastic insolence all around you.

All these several thousands of your new friends will be filled with one modest desire: to show you everything that you would want to see, to go with you wherever you’d like to go, to explain every possible thing of interest of yours to you in the Kolkatan context (they fear you might not make out the finer details associated!!) and so on ….. Remarkable people are these Kolkatans. It is pleasant to be friends with them and it is easy to be remembered among them. And again I should mention the flip side of it; you’ll almost never be alone by yourself. The telephone of your hotel or your residence will begin to ring right from the crack of the morning and it will ring as regularly as that in an information bureau. In the rare and brief intervals you’d be left with huge sacks of never-to-be-forgotten passionate letters, greetings cards with every conceivable shapes having all sorts of improvised designs, piles of delightful e-mail printouts and all that. As you get closer and closer to your Kolkatan friends the already mentioned warm embraces will get tighter and tighter, and gradually would be accompanied by invariably more energetic and occasionally painful slaps on the back. But, out of acute exacerbation before you jump to the wrong conclusion, let me make you remind again that ‘informality’ is THE word in the streets of Kolkata . You got to understand that Kolkata is a city and perhaps the only city in the whole of the world where a spirited ‘Hi Mate’ call accompanied by brilliant smile is considered enough to get trustworthy of others; – and that is how life floats in Kolkata. It’s not something serene and sedate, it’s not something frolicking and dazzling L.A like, it’s not something terribly disgusting, it’s not good, it’s not bad – it’s none of them and all of them, in fragments. Life in Kolkata is passionate and spirited, humane and intelligent. Implausibly enthusiastic and light- hearted, simple minded but brightly flamboyant are these Kolkatans- like them or not.

Things are a bit difficult to explain that way, but we warn you once again, if you are somebody snob and ostentatious, if flaunting and pomposity seems two great virtues to you – never are you in greater danger of being misled than in Kolkata . You’d feel awfully lonely and would definitely be perturbed by an overwhelming sense of anachronism. (But don’t worry a bit, the life of Kolkata is anachronism itself, so YOU are in the right track, Kolkata is not – and that is Kolkata . It’s all wrong and that contributes most to Kolkata ‘s flavour.)

Otherwise you would keep meeting wonderful people in the small restaurants  and  cabins, in the teashops and in all the bazaars, in the cinema halls and in the art galleries and practically everywhere. And these casual and considerate men and women would enjoy talking with you and they would always want to make it sure that you see all the bests in Kolkata . These candid, jovial characters would lose no opportunity to ask you about all the untold and between-the-lines facts off your curriculum vitae. This interrogation would go on and on, because Kolkatans form a damn inquisitive lot. These guys don’t have even the slightest idea of where to stop, so they would continue to interrogate you and cultivate you. And during this long and labyrinthical session of investigation you would be continuously bombarded by questions like ‘Have you been to the ‘Nandan’?’ or ‘Have you been to the Coffee House?’ or ‘Have you tried the Pantua?’ – And on would they go, abiding your bewildered response but recognizing your enthusiasm. – And that is Kolkata.

If anybody mentions his home, the wide smile and a gallant humble gesture would invariably complement it; accompanied by the words: “Ekbar cholun na…” meaning – ‘why don’t you come along, right now?’- If you are not in the same terrible hurry as the president of United States , I would suggest you to quietly move in there and make yourself comfortable in whatever way you like. The home may not be the most clean and decorated place of all, but the warmth and the spontaneity of acceptance will touch you.

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