Tracing a versatile past
A caveat is in order. Supriya Newar and I share a Kalimpong connection: her maternal grandfather was one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in this picturesque town in Darjeeling district, where I started my career at IAS – and that really created a link and link when we first met. at the Poetry Café of the Kolkatta edition of the Valley of Words. After reciting his charming poem in Hindi about what the “bartans” in the kitchen felt when they lost their “utilitarian purpose” to stylized wedding ceremonies in farmhouses and wedding palaces, it evoked a such a feeling of nostalgia for the kitchens of yesteryear. where herbs, spices, pickles, jams and all sorts of condiments jostled for space even as the hearth was still warm pouring out an array of delights. We agreed that the beauty of poetry transcends the language in which it is written. Even more in a city like Kolkatta where Bengali, English, Hindi and Urdu intersect at each passage!
Giving a flavor to this very versatile city of Kolkata is its offering, “Kolkata Chronicles: Rear-View Reflections”. In over ten short essays and four poems (two in English and one in Bengali and one in Hindi), Supriya speaks of a Kolkata while still Calcutta, and subjected to load shedding, ancient lifts and bespoke tailors. Upper-middle-class children who attended convents covered their textbooks and school papers with brown paper and accompanied their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts to matinee performances, and sometimes to the old “New Market.” The supply of comics and books came from a bag that served as a lending library, the Trring Trring of the black phone with the huge phone book were status symbols. Common families went on vacations and excursions for journeys in still steam-powered trains.
Today’s YOLO generation, with its obsession with FOMO, may or may not appreciate the sheer nostalgia with which those born before color television will enjoy Supriya’s writings – for it opens up the world as it was until at the end of the eighties. The opening of the economy in the 90s saw new apartments, shopping malls, designer brands, air travel and the acceptance of men and women interacting with each other outside the immediate family. It also saw the emergence of Kolkata as a cosmopolitan space in which interaction was not limited to the “social class” one grew up in, as commerce, education, politics, media, art and academia have given many people the opportunity to create their own unique identities.
‘I am the ‘bodo saheb’, in the corner office,
Somewhere in Dalhousie,
Earl Gray and a tee off start my day at RCGC
The ‘who’s who’ gathers for my galas
at my bungalow
Were bearers in livery with mighty portions,
Help conversations flow
Hanging on my walls is an MBBS or London Bar.
You will often catch me saying, My pleasure, or asking your forgiveness”.
Allow me to share with readers a flavor of each of its chapters. An ‘Uplifting Ride’ is the story of ‘open-air lifts’ that were turned with a ‘heavy brass key’ by a succession of operators who were aware of their ‘power’ to take a person high or keep it in place. hold. These elevators were still in use in the writers’ buildings until the secretariat moved to Nabanna across the Ganges, as well as to the BCC&I headquarters which used to have the settings and kitchen of colonial inspiration at the Palladian Lounge. The bespoke tailor reminds me of my own Abdul Bhai – even when I buy the fabric in Dehradun, I send it to him and pick it up when I visit Kolkata. Wrapping books, copies and gifts was a joy, and certainly much more personal than sending a greeting online. Middle-class families invested in ‘inverters’ to ensure at least a few lights were always on and had their own favorite ‘ticketwallas’ who procured tickets to favorite movies at ‘choice’ theaters , of course at a high price. This generation may not realize that half the charm of going to the movies was the simple pleasure of being able to get a ticket, and that a “first day, first show” was a time of joy and jubilation. to share with friends and colleagues with great taste. And the traveling Kitab-Walla got magazines like Illustrated Weekly and Dharmyug – sadly, the two couldn’t keep pace with changing tastes – in addition to popular comics ranging from Archies to Amar Chitra Katha and the wonder of Tintin.
Supriya still enjoys calling and receiving calls on the landline, and naturally her Trring Trring chatter makes the instrument and its ecosystem – PP numbers and personal pocket phone books with important phone numbers – worth reading. I’ve saved a few too, and there was definitely a personal touch to those little notepads. Rail travel wasn’t just about reaching a destination; they also concerned paraphernalia that accompanied rolls of pax-bedding, suitcases, trunks, toilet bags, tiffin boxes, and a water carrier and steel goblets. The AH Wheeler booth would provide the reading material for the trip. The “homemade” is mouth watering with the descriptions of pickles and papads. But the best bit of this collection is the story of “New Market”, and the freedom and anonymity it granted the very conservative women of Marwari households with the family matriarch who slipped into Karcos to an egg roll – a delicacy very frowned upon by a household where even garlic and onion had passed. As she puts it, “For a place called ‘New’, New Market is both old and neglected…over the years this mess has only grown, peddlers devour its sidewalks , its lanes continue to be littered and waterlogged in the monsoons.Its material decay is undoubtedly a pitiful sight…but in this age of instant gratification, New Market rises like a great flame of Calcutta; its tower of the clock unrolled, showing the time exactly as it stands there and in many other nooks and crannies of the city: again”.
Opinions expressed are personal