Calcutta Cameo: Of Fetidness and Joy!

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Humourist Soumya presents two snapshots of Calcutta as he saw it, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

During a recent visit to my hometown – the city that defies definition, a couple of scenes, framed by the rattling windows of the city’s cacophonic local buses, stay frozen in my mind.

The first was outside a graffiti-covered public convenience opposite a medical college, where the integrated easing of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Isaias, aided by a mild shower, was inundating the cratered sidewalks. A series of strategically placed half bricks formed a bridge across this stream.

A bevy of pretty young leftist student activists, saris delicately lifted with one hand, placards clutched in the other doubling as umbrellas, protecting their heads from the drizzle, balanced precariously while crossing this bridge all the while loudly heralding the death of American imperialism in a sweet falsetto. On the way, the revolutionaries passed a nameless wayside shrine.

In flagrant contempt of the indoctrinated instructions, the arms raised in slogan were brought down in genuflection, paying obeisance to the opium of the masses. The traffic jam eased. My bus moved on.

The second was the mouth of a micro narrow lane called, say, Baker Street, leading off a busy thoroughfare. This lane was famed for its many gourmet ethnic eateries. The street was evenly paved with slime. A few feet from the entrance, on a ledge on a wall, a kebab joint did roaring business. A plastic sheet held up by a contraption of ropes, poles and bricks, protected the customer’s eye – but presumably not his nose – from a huge pile of festering garbage a few feet away. Numerous people stood in the slight drizzle devouring prawn cutlets and Tangri kebabs on the lee side of this sheet. Right opposite a dimly lit signboard on top of a dull red doorway proclaimed: “Valentino’s Bar (air conditioned)”.

A two-foot square space outside the door was paved with red tiles and was free from slime. A uniformed doorman stood passively by on one side. The graffiti-covered walls on the sides were adorned by many posters, some torn and fluttering.

Prominent among them were two identical large posters, fairly new, advertising some sports magazine which displayed large attractive blow-ups of Steffi Graf. A nude lunatic, one of the city’s many such strays, was staring entranced at these. He next gave each poster, in turn, a smacking kiss and seemed entirely pleased with himself. My bus moved on, shifting the scene from my window.

This was not a cliché from a pseudo-surrealistic film at Nandan (or Sakuntalam, as the case may be) but a frozen scene from the drama of Calcutta.

This, it seemed to me, was the essence of the city we hate to love!

©Soumya Mukherjee

Photos from the Internet

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Soumya Mukherjee is an alumnus of St Stephens College and Delhi School of Economics. He earns his daily bread by working for a PSU Insurance company, and lectures for peanuts. His other passions, family, friends, films, travel, food, trekking, wildlife, music, theater, and occasionally, writing. He has been published in many national newspapers of repute. He has published his first novel, Memories, a novella, hopefully, the first of his many books. He blogs as well.