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Calcutta on a chariot

Today is Rath Yatra. As an Indian, its tough keeping track of all our festivals. There seems to be one every single day.

A very cute deity picture appeared in the local daily as an advertisement and that is what informed us, the outsiders, of the event.

It is surprising how many such events a single city can have. Marketers opportunity indeed! Apart from a handful (a million?) of the population, there is not much involvement of the middle and above middle classes in these events, unless ofcourse there is some political affiliation.

Bengalis seem to like two things, one is things to eat and the other is intellectual pursuits. It is ironical however that a place which gives the world so much talent, itself hasn’t grown with the rest of the world.

Reading an eighth grade textbook with a neighbor’s kid enlightened me to some historic facts. Amid many yawns that history textbooks bring, it was almost like a modern day thriller.

In short here is what happened:

1500s: Europe wanted cinnamon for their bread. and silks. They form trading companies and set asea. They find Bengal, a treasure trove of natural resources, gold and silks.

1600s: they establish east India trading companies, after bowing a part of the profits to their queen.

1700s: last of mughal rulers died. British companies look at the divided princely states and start their policy of quietly  annexing states one by one. They promise to protect one ruler of a princely state from another, however, they annex one state after another.

1800s: Industrialization begins and Europeans want coal for their trains and markets for their “manufactured” goods. They kill the self sufficient cottage industry of Bengal and start sending in imported “manufactured” goods to the natives. An age of plundering and corruption begins. They take the 16 year old son of the last ruler, give him passage to the royal family in Britain along with a British military doctor, as his guardian. Shrewdly they get the young king to pass over the family jewels to the crown. The Kohinoor diamond included.

1900s: world wars happen. Britain transfers debt of war to India and exits.

2000s: Neo colonials, unscrupulous traders and political machinery still carries forward the legacy of loot and corruption.( I need to stop here, otherwise they put people in jail)

People tend to turn a blind eye (?) and carry on work as if nothing happened. Education machinery works overtime and kids are brought up to be prepared to be “educated” and mostly they leave the state.

Then some religious event happens and all unite to celebrate the forgotten prosperity and good times. Of some 400 years before.

The Rath yatra today, celebrates an event of 625 years before.

 

 

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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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.

————

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Baby you can drive my car… Part II

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Continuation of previous Post.

Bombay is the heart of cinema in India, called Bollywood, aka Hollywood.

“You have such wonderful interiors!”. I gaped soaking in the ambiance contrasting to the shabby exterior.

“You have wonderful taste!Where did you get these prints from?”

“They took the car and covered it themselves. No charge to me.”

“How many such cars are there?”

“About five of us, I guess!”

I snapped the pictures of these living canvases of Bollywood personas before alighting.

Running a quick search on the net, discovered an artist behind Taxi Fabric. Interesting.

 

 

“Aajaa meri gaadi mein baith ja”… Part I

Saturday morning is generally quite lazy. After a few kilometers walk and a cup of beverage, it is more so. Rather than walking back, I decide to take a cab. Saturday morning at 8.00 am is in no way a good time to find a cab easily on Nariman point. Overpriced Merus and Cool cabs line against the street, waiting for an unassuming tourist to step out from Trident. I am in no mood to pay price of a Starbucks coffee for the short commute, so do what comes naturally to many Bombayites; hail a kaali peeli.

Kaali-Peeli , translated : Yellow-Black cab; comes in many versions. Gone are the days of the oversized Ambassador, the linear Fiat; now we see stout Korean brands, most newly bought; zipping past and stopping only if they like where you are going. (!)

So, when I spotted a kaali peeli, I got a bit disheartened.

“The old Fiat!” I sighed and waved to the driver.

He caught my eye and soon trudged down the road with his 1990’s engine roaring while I waited impatiently.

I almost shut my eyes while I mumbled out the destination.

It was just a moment, …then…Blink! Blink!

My seat was a canvas of colour. Bollywood colours and dialogues made me a captive audience.

Then I asked him about the interiors.

( to be continued tomorrow)

Vibrant morning!

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Its early Sunday morning. Sounds of Traditional Drums. Bright orange turbans. Carpeted stretch of road. Loudspeakers blare music. An MC somewhere in the distance. Selfie Point! Runners. Lycra Sportswear. Branded footwear. French perfumes.

Pavement dwellers watch the show from the comfort of their (un)homes, lying on the cardboard sheet which is their bed.

“A Marathon?” Trying to make sense of what is this fuss about.”Whats that?”

 

Night lights

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As the day turns to night,

Glows an amber light,

Not of the warm sun,

But something magically fun.

 

Living on an island city

While each day I hope this will not be my last monsoon here and pray somehow that changes, it may be inevitable in the near future. Mumbai, is not a place you can comfortably afford to rent a house, leave aside buy one. The ones where you really may love to stay would have been already occupied by some crumbling construction, unyielding tenants or forbidding prices, unheard of sometimes. Recently at a seminar, one prominent chairman of a real estate company remarked that inequality is rising. I wondered what part of the balance I am on, maybe the one that is tilting down. Definitely not the one where the subzee ( veggies) are bought by the army of the the cook, maid and the driver of the least preferred car (generally a sedan) of the family.

Talking of grocery, south Mumbai is having a crisis of a type. The daily needs shops are disappearing. My favourite icecream shop shut and was soon after replaced with baskn robbns (Intentional typo). Then one monsoon, Akbarallys, one of the oldest shops in fort had an umbrella sale. I picked two but didn’t pick the other one I really liked. Next time thought I. That next time was not to come. Today they have metamorphosed the once crowded departmental store into a men’s store. This for one thing completely restricts even my entry into the shop. Gloomily, I made my way to the next nearest departmental store for groceries today. Disappointed at not even finding basics stocked, I hastily retreated along with another couple going through the door.

“It looks like it is about to shut down.” remarked the gentleman. We exited into the street, they towards the interior of the colony and me crossing Indian Merchant’s Chambers gate to complete my walk on marine drive.

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Years ago, Marine drive was known as “queen’s necklace”. The warm glow of yellow light would hazily gleam as though beads strung together. Till around 6 months back. Then some D@#$ decided to save on the power bill, changing the look to some cheap white plastic beads.

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“The look of Kala Ghoda is changing” I mentioned to a designer who said that she had been involved in the project.

She gleamed. I expressed my unhappiness as if my playground had been tampered with.

“The new plan for that area, I know the people who are working on it. They will take care of the look” She reassured.

Somehow I am still not convinced. But movement is inevitable. When cities die, you need to move on too.

A Bridge on the Sea

Almost middle of the month, I wonder if its the last April here. Being a traveller, everything looks new. You notice the lovely intricacies on pillars that others miss. You stare the Edwardian styled windows at the traffic signal. And you feel amused, not angry when you see women jostling for space trying to catch the evening train, while you walk slowly at a leisurely pace. Then one Sunday, while everyone is fatigued and tucked away home or the neighborhood mall, you take a drive and the empty streets wearied by the daily rush, welcome you. You get moments to admire the Bandra Worli Sealink and see what Bombay is all about if it were empty.

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You start on the bridge and to the left you see the buildings on the other side of the coast, the sea in between.Sometimes there are a few shipping boats anchored here.

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As you cross the heart of the bridge, the strong supports engulf you and then seem to disappear behind you, although you are going at 50 kmph.The sea is below you.

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Midway, when you are in the heart of the bridge, you get a steel cage, are you invincible or are you vulnerable now?

You move further and the “Town” part of the city welcomes you.