'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

A Farewell To Kolkata

A word on the title: The 'a' there is deliberate - Life often makes me revisit places, not only as a tourist. I have left Madras/Chennai, bag, baggage and everything, on no less than 4 separate occasions. I had never planned to have an address in Calcutta but have just finished an eventful 2-year spell in that city. And lurking among 'the shadows and silence', there may be more farewells to be bid Cal.

Towards the close of my spell in Cal, braving some terribly sultry weather, I revisited some old haunts in the city. Jorasanko Thakurbari was near-empty and felt very familiar. The pained and neglected look on the short-lived 'Kavi Patni' Mrinalini Devi's face in a c.1900 photo made me feel just as sad as on my first visit here. The metro was crowded as usual. The usual pub on Park Street had the usual smattering of lone bulls of varying middle-ages. South City Mall had the usual crowd and six-foot plus, bikini-clad mannequins. And precincts of Howrah station were the same smelly mess.

The one new place I checked out was Swami Vivekananda's ancestral home. The main building was not open to public on the day but, thanks to a sagely contact, I still got to see a doc video showing how the Ramakrishna Mission managed to save and restore this building which had gotten occupied by 54 (!) different families (mostly illegal squatters) in the decades following the Master's passing(*). The nitpicker in me felt the restoration had been overdone - at least from outside, the place now looks too grand like an elegant palace turned luxury hotel, which it is not. I am told, among Swamiji's personal effects on display somewhere in there are a pair of boxing gloves (he is credited with pinning down a leading pehelwan from Madras in an impromptu bout held at Marina beach). And there is even a wrestler's club (Mugur) - appropriate, since Advaita Vedanta (of which Vivekananda became a great exponent and champion) is also said to be 'Mohamudgara', the Mudgara (Sanskrit for Mugur) that smashes (or squashes?) the delusions (Moha) arising from the cosmic illusion of Maya.

A parting gift: A Mugur-like influence made me buy the complete works of Upendra Kishore Raychowdhari (Satyajit Ray's grandfather) - a massive hardbound 800 page tome (it cost just over 100 bucks(!)) that added nearly a kilo to my already unbearable baggage. A week downstream, I can say it was a very welcome acquisition. Despite the effort involved (the Bangla 'juktakkhor's are a great pain to the uninitiated; and my vocabulary and grammar are still rudimentary), I am now reading 'Chheleder Mahabharat' and 'Mahabharater Katha' with great pleasure.

Upendrababu (1863-1915) was a remarkable pioneer who wrote many children's books and stories (a century later, his style remains a high-water-mark for both readability and richness of detail) and even popular science articles. Right now, I don't know Bangla well enough to read his essays on dinosaurs and stuff - one of them has a picture of a brontosaurus, forelimbs raised as if in supplication - but given the time available, I might manage, soon.

Upendra has also inspired me to visit Premendra Mitra's Ghanada series - every bit, India's answer to Tintin. More on all that later!

(*) - I am aware that there are narratives in which Swamiji's ancestral home was not salvaged from encroachers but seized from its legitimate residents - that is par for *any* course.