Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Around The World In 80 Blogs - Calcutta, India

I made a commitment to everyday stranger and being the primary cardholder of the better late than never party, here I go...

I also have to admit that lately work and my other commitments have kept me very occupied and I forgot to take pictures, so good people forgive the pictures I stole from the Internet and I fully promise to post my own very soon. Anyway, this is where I stay now and it now feels like home.

I live in Calcutta and I have a love-hate relationship with Calcutta. Also, for those of you who don't know, Calcutta was renamed Kolkata but to me Calcutta it is and Calcutta it will be. For those who want to know more about this distant city, you may click HERE. However, in this post I shall simply mention what I love about Calcutta and what has, despite most annoyances made me stay here.

I moved to Calcutta after being stood up at the altar and after a decade, I can look back and really laugh at that. In part, Calcutta has healed me, restored my faith in goodness, enabled me to laugh from the bottom of my tummy and this is where I met the loves of my life - yes loves - sweetheart, passions and my missions in life. Sounds dramatic, but thats me - surprisingly melodramatic, which may be attributed to this very, very melodramatic city.

There are many, many places to visit in Calcutta and things to see, and when one visits Calcutta, one should know that this Indian city takes art and culture very seriously. When I moved to Calcutta first, I checked out all the touristy spots - the many (dilapidated) churches and the even more interesting cemeteries, the markets, the temples (though Kalighat put me off temples for life), the botanical garden and the bridges. Over the years, I have few favourites that I visit over and over again.

This is St. Paul's Cathedral, located in the middle of Birla planetium and the Academy of Fine Arts. This is where I go sometimes to feel calm and midnight mass at Christmas is traditionally Anglo Indian and very very interesting to me. I go to the Academy of Fine Arts that is located right beside St. Paul's practically every week and it is always very pleasant to look at the peace and calm of the Cathedral during the drive. The Academy of Fine Arts lets out its galleries to artists or whoever wishes to exhibit anything! It is always an interesting visit, as one can bump into famous artists, Calcutta Culture Vultures and a lot of people with intellectual/ arty leanings. Sometimes, one also comes across very talented lesser known artists and it gives me a lot of pleasure to discover and encourage them. So, this is the general vicinity in which I spend most of my Saturday evenings.
After checking out the Academy, more often than not, I like to go to Oxford Bookstore on Park Street, which used to be one of the swisher shopping addresses. Right now, it has dropped in popularity because of the millions of malls that are being built around the city, but Park Street has a charm and air that is truly unique to Calcutta. Oxford Bookstore, I think is well over 85 years old and a great place to browse. Nobody disturbs you, you can read full books without salespeople shooing you, has a great Tea Shop where you can settle down and read a book and sip hot or cold tea for HOURS at an end. You may also come across an old Gentleman in a tie (ALWAYS) pottering about. That, is a dear friend of mine - Mr. Motwani, who I feel has worked at Oxford for ever and if he likes you is most helpful. This behaviour, long forgotten is what contributes to the charm of Calcutta. A visit to Calcutta is incomplete without dropping in at Oxford and Flurys a tearoom, which is another Calcutta fixture. Now, I have LOTS of complaints about Flurys, even though I get excellent service because, well, I eat out a LOT. Foodwise, there is nothing outstanding about Flurys, but the atmosphere is charming and it is the best place to people watch.
Again, for most regular readers of my blog (Ok, who am I kidding - nobody, sigh!), my annoyance with clubs in Calcutta is legendary. Calcutta society identifies itself by the clubs it belongs to. Said society being umm.... on the wrong side of fifty now, which is my hugest grouse, since I am still very much on the right side of 34! Most clubs in Calcutta - Calcutta Club, Tollygunge Club, Bengal Club, The Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (which is practically opposite where I live), the Saturday Club, The Royal Calcutta Turf Club, Royal Calcutta Golf Club, so on and so forth are mostly social clubs. Walking into them, one is transported into another world, and though I feel there is much that I dont like about polite Calcutta society clubwise, it is often interesting to indulge in gossip over a cocktail at whichever club you belong to. That said, MY the good people of Calcutta LOVE to talk! They even have a special word for conversing - "Adda". Adda at clubs over cocktails - that is also typical Calcutta for you. This is a picture of Saturday Club - a club I frequent sometimes and where I again indulge in people-watching! Another really interesting place that I have grown to like is the Calcutta Race Course. No, I don't gamble, but winter afternoons spent at the Race Course, particularly on Derby days is very pleasant. Soft winter sun, beautiful thoroughbreds, the pleasant grounds of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, the Victoria Memorial gleaming in the far distance - interesting and fun occasionally.

Now, most of what I have described above is mostly South Calcutta. I live in South Calcutta and though I am sure there are many interesting places in North, East and West Calcutta, I dont know them well enough to talk about them. Hey, Calcutta is a HUGE 13 million people city afterall! Do you expect me to know everything?
I live close to the Birla Mandir(Temple). Well, what do I say? The picture below looks ok, but the temple itself is very artificial and kitschy. I dont like it at all, though it is a convenient landmark. What I like about the Birla Temple is the concert hall below the temple in the anterooms. The concert hall is used for classical music concerts, plays and the like. Very convenient for me and just a hop, skip and jump away from home!
Apart from Art/ Culture/ temples etc. food is the other passion in Calcutta. People in Calcutta live to eat. I could go on and on and on about food in Calcutta. One never can be ill-fed in Calcutta and if you are, well, you dont know me. Heh!
Sure, there are a LOT of annoyances in Calcutta. The local government, the poverty (an annoyance because one feels helpless in the face of local apathy), the grime, the lack of professionalism, the lack of young professionals my age and the lack of quality entertainment. However, Calcutta is still charming and very interesting. I like to think I am contributing positively and if one has the patience, one may even start loving this crazy city.

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At 4:37 AM, Blogger Helen said...

I loved this post. I so want to see India, and this was like a little sample. Brilliant!

At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for hosting Around the world in 80 blogs! It was so much fun reading about other cities and people's lives.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger ~Easy said...

Thanks for sharing

At 1:05 AM, Blogger kiwiandkitsch said...

very well written, outdone any bong. also like the fact that it is more fact than fluff and empty emotions!! want to get A etc to read it, is there a way to get them to read only this part.

At 3:47 AM, Anonymous Last Train To Panvel said...

Well written, straight from heart. Makes me very keen to visit again after years. From my childhood visits, what I remember most are two things: eating moori and poochkas outside the Victoria (that's the name, right?)Gardens and the other is eating Rasgullas delivered by the corner halwais in kullads when visiting relatives.

I have heard about the 'Addas' in Calcutta and I wish, we had something like that going here too. Are they something like the 'round table' in our old loony bin?

At 1:31 PM, Blogger jinu kurien said...

Nice one for Kolkatta. I've been there once in 2004, stayed at Park street. I ate out at several joints on that street. The only place I remember by name is Peter Cat. I also remember having a good English breakfast at a cafe on Park street I don't know if it is Flury's. And, yes I did go to Oxford.

At 3:43 AM, Blogger dhara said...

Hi Nice blog post. Moved to Kolkata recently so this post will be quite helpful. Checked out ur receipes also, although I am vegetarian , must say they look delicious.

At 8:39 AM, Anonymous Winni said...

its was pleasure reading the whole content, somehow I knew calcutta/kolkata is a place to visit, famous restuarants, Church, temples, art, culture everything is their, Thanks for shring things in details, love to follow you!


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