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Kali ma la land

“Invoke the Goddess in you!” shouted a billboard lit by the strong halogen , next to the crowded flyover. Of all the places that I’ve stayed in , Calcutta has the most powerful design message in its traditional jewellery. Women all over India do love to play dress up and ironically its the age group above 30 that is more experimental and loud.

Come Poila Baisakh ( Bengali new year) and you would see “Goddesses” everywhere. Kolkata gets its name from the famous “Kali” temple at Kalighat, the fierce looking form of Durga, the feminine personification of “Shakti”.

The color blood red therefore is found almost everywhere. Whether the powdery sindoor, the reddened lips, that pallu of a shaada palla shari, the hibiscus offerings or simply the round red bindi on the forehead to signify the third eye.

Contrast it with pure white of jasmine flowers, coconut & pure crisp cotton.

Kohl eyes complete the look, eyes outlined aka the goddess removing any leftover vestige of mortality and transcending into the next dimension.

Welcome to Kali Ma land.

sincerely,

A North Indian Spectator.

Walking through a Bazaar

When the Spring Equinox ends, the day is celebrated in many places in India by various names. In Bengal its called “Pohela Boishakh”. A north Indian might call it “pahela Baisakh” with a lot of tongue curling.

The little pavement shops were dressed for the occasion. A lot of Red, glitter, pottery painted with designs and a Haal Khaata, or an accounts book ready for the morning ritual.

I sometimes wonder the need of an accounts book. Majority of the Bengali Hindus are not really known for their business acumen. That is left to the Marwari community and this prosperity is evident by their really large houses in the poshest localities of the city. Even then, they would get down from their Audi, or the least a mercedes, as the entire family, and extended family, would plan a sunday trip to the Jhalmuri wala. The matronly mother would then order a dozen or so jhalmuris (a kind of a mixed salad with puffed rice), keenly noting the amount of sufficient almonds to go into it. The eldest male member would then make the payment after sufficient negotiation with the roadside vendor.

The rest of the Bengali community has two major occupations, one is slaving for the above community and the second is the intellectual class; who’s children leave Calcutta for better prospects as fast as they grow up. And they do extremely well, …. but outside Calcutta.

Then the mind wanders to intellectual Bengalis and the name “Amartya Sen” comes to the mind. I haven’t googled him yet, but I believe he is known for his studies relating to poverty which got him a noble prize.

The gaze then shifts back to the roadside dweller, a sickly thin lady, wearing nothing but a blouseless sari and eating the scraping from a used curd bowl.

Wonder if she has heard about him too. I suspect not.

Locked Out!

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I forgot the password. It actually took a year to recover. Do I have a simple explanation to it? If I were to give an excuse, there would be many. Ever since we have this trend of alpha numeric codes with multiple special characters interspersed, password creation has become a chore. Increasingly most of our dealings are going online. Password creation increasing directly proportional. Need to remember and age both take their toll as the mind stresses itself to juggle with many new characters, meant to be different each time.

Over the last one year from the previous post, I’ve changed residence four times. A physical “home” to be took precedence over a web “homepage”. Real locks and keys took precedence over the digital ones.

The experiences, though were gained. Traveling through Calcutta. Discovering new places, to eat. Thanks to mobile apps , travel and food is both available at click of a button but the joy of discovering the hidden markets beneath temporary plastic sheets, on either sides of the road is unexplainable. I feel a certain sense of joy at discovering a 100 year old sweet shop, sampling roadside food, picking a kalamkari skirt at a bargain deal from these streets. Then, the frustration while communicating with a sleepy shopkeeper at 2:00 in the afternoon as Calcutta shuts shop for their siesta.

Watching the palash tree bloom, then the copper tones and then the gulmohars. I must say that I have a nice view. Sometimes, its good to be locked out. Now I’m back.

Birding Morning in Kolkata

It was 5.30 am. The sky had just started clearing up the slumber of the night. A Coppersmith Barbet held a twig of grass in the beak and prepared for the dawn ahead.

Next, a grey headed Mynah announced that it was 7.00 am and that the sun was unbearably hot.

A Black headed Oriole “hid” behind a tree, but her colours and call gave her away.

Kolkata Colours

Driving down the main and busy streets of Kolkata , you sometimes miss the beautiful architecture hidden behind the many wires of our civilized world and the din of our technological motors. Look closely, you see the pattern, colors and story behind it.

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Traditional Indian Jewellery

It must have take some of these ladies at least a few hours, if not a week, to dig out their precious ornaments and coordinate it with their garment. And these ornaments are all from different states of India. They have been able to demonstrate pretty well “how its to be worn”.

Park Circus to Chetla market

Kolkata sleeps early. So when by chance I met a certain gentleman (whom the local newspaper later reported was a Mr. Poddar) at around 9.00 pm somewhere on the street, we were intrigued by his car.

“It’s a custom made car….” He said. The vehicle was a twin seater with huge wheels resembling a Go-karting sportster. We were amazed at the unusual vehicle. What we didn’t know that he was probably just returning from an exhibition of these jet setting beauties at a prominent mall.

Fast forward to Chetla market. Nestled at the backside of the outrageously priced Alipore Road is this humble settlement on both sides of the road. Gracious local shopkeepers invited me to view their merchandise.

“No, I’m not interested in the fishing nets, but can I stand here and wait for my cab?” They seemed surprisingly courteous.

The road was lined with buses. Tomorrow is Election Day. Cars are moving at snail’s pace. Its takes us 45 minutes to cross a 2 km stretch. Somewhere in a building nearby, a supervisor seems to be giving instructions to party workers in Bengali. A hand cart vendor tries to negotiate the road. A pedestrian tries his luck as well in an attempt to board his bus. Among this chaos, a premium styled Jaguar is also stuck with the same fate. With traffic, it equalizes the rich and the poor. No one furthers faster.

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Cab stories

This is a city you can’t move around without cabs. Is it long unconnected stretches you ask? Too much traffic, you get the answer. One way traffic at different times on different roads. So if you are new and caught on the wrong side of the road, heavens bless you or the miraculous stop to traffic by a friendly traffic policeman.

While the yellow cab is on its way to be phased out, you can’t but help noticing the “No Refusal” printed on its side. Its refreshing, up to the time, you actually reach the cab and are told various reasons why you should not be traveling by the cab to your destination.

Enter Ola cabs and Uber. Taxi hailing turns pleasant and air conditioned. You wait, and wait and wait for your “one minute away” cab. The one minute distance showing in Ola is perhaps by Air. The roads and the cabbies are a different story.

Kolkata calling.

Elections were on in Kolkata. The city branded itself in Blue and White. The railings were blue and white, the LED covering itself on its quaint old world lamps was also the same colour. Some random thoughts follow.

Too much traffic. Its like Bombay , but moving in slow motion.

Too many traffic rules. Too many one way restrictions.

Fresher air than Mumbai. More trees. More birds.

Too hot and humid. Again combine Bombay and Delhi weather at its worst…or maybe its the dry spell.

Beautiful old world buildings. Same issue as Mumbai, neglected and covered with telephone wires.

Parks. Schools. A city that studies.

Stark Rich Poor Divide.

Poverty. Saw a beggar woman licking an empty bowl of curd.

Better lighting than Mumbai/Delhi for historic monuments.

Sleeps at ten.