There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Cacophony that quietens me...

By Pritha Lal,
Springville, Utah, USA
Yes, that is the best way to describe my City of Joy – Kolkata. I have never been able to find a definition of what this city means, or has meant to me over the years. I was born here, spent the most beautiful moments of my infancy and childhood here. However I have never lived here for too long and currently this bustling metropolis, where several centuries coexist, remains more of a holiday destination where I come home to my parents every few years.

I welcomed 2013 in this city but was unable to find the right words for a status update for my FaceBook Timeline that could capture what I felt on January 1st 2013. The new year unfolded in my home town, where I was in the most beautiful company of the most important people in my life, my parents, my child, and my husband. I was slightly jet lagged and out like a light on 31st night by 8 pm and spent a good part of 1st at a place very dear to my heart, the Cossipore center of Ramakrishna Mission.
We had rolls from Zeeshan the previous evening and I had the funnest time confusing the kid making the rolls as I could barely contain my excitement while choosing between the “double egg mutton” or the “double egg chicken” and then finally settling for the “double mutton kathi kabab” or some such DECADENT blissful bit of heaven wrapped with extra “lonka and pyanj” ( chillies and onions ) in the ever familiar white paper that gets soggy with the oil but never gets stuck to the roll !!!
I digress, but I always do when I think about this city. Every road our car traverses, every little by lane I walk with mom when we go to the vegetable market, every cross walk, every sidewalk, every traffic light we stop at, every sight that greets me fills with a strange kind of calm even though at times the cacophony can be deafening. It is strange that I never seem to hear the honking or the car behind us or the auto rickshaws rushing past the buses that swerve through the streets to pick up the passengers at the bus stop before the next bus gets there. Instead my mind and my heart get lost in what my eyes see or rather, don’t see.
The slightly misty glass jars with blue tin covers that have “naan khatai” biscuits find their familiar spot on the road side tea stalls where the tea seller, is bundled up to keep himself warm in the slightly chilly Kolkata winter, in a coarse large checked woolen shawl. He has a big aluminum pot ready on the wood fire or a small burner. The Pakka chai (much boiled and spiced tea) is ready to be served in little earthen pots.
The car turns and one sees the colorful saris hanging on lines in balconies. You see a young couple walking with their fingers barely touching and you know they are stealing a few minutes off work, or college to catch a movie or just visit the food court at South City.
It is the faces of people that pass by outside the window of my car that fascinate me even more than the various artifacts. These are the faces I see when I am at an Emporium in Dakshinapan or dining at a mall. These are the faces at the bus stops and auto stands. These are the faces at Belur, Dakshineshwar and Kalighat. These are the faces of my city. A woman in her mid twenties or early thirties, without the familiar vermillion on her forehead or the “loha” in her left wrist. You know she is unmarried, probably taking care of various familial responsibilities and finding her moments of joy in being there for others rather than living a life she may have dreamed of. There is a peace in her face, a silent calm in her quiet demeanor, a steadiness in her gait that has come with time, maturity and the ability to hold her own through it all.
A middle aged man I noticed tried to get on to a moving bus but was unable to, as the bus moved way, I saw he had a cane. The pace was a bit much for him I guess. I was fascinated by the expression on his face as he patiently waited for the next bus, his tenacity intact, his brow furrowed with thoughts much deeper than his cane or his inability to make the last bus. He has a family to go home to it seemed like. He held a small plastic bag with the familiar cardboard packet of mishti, probably something he is taking home to his kids for an evening jol khabar.
No, my city is not about squalor or poverty, it is about life. It is about finding life and living it no matter where you are. The SUVs with the Rayban wearing owners stand side by side at the traffic lights with a couple on a bicycle. The bright orange shidur clearly indicating the newly married duo are residents of some district in Bihar. While the Rayban wearing and Coach handbag carrying couples speed off in their Fortuna, the biker babe and her beau meander into the smaller lanes, her bits of tinsel on her bright red dupatta resplendent in the evening sun.
There are too many images. There are too many memories. Every lane we drive through tells a story of the residents who live in that “para” or neighborhood. Every line on the face of an older man or woman, every giggle coming out of the school “van” rickshaws assure me that the stories of this city will live forever. Each time I come back to it, I will partake of this joy by being a mere spectator, or a listener or maybe sometimes I will have something to say. There is a cacophony of sounds around me, as the new Londonesque ” Trifala” street lights installed at “Didi’s” orders brighten up the streets. Yet in the midst of it all, there is music. These are not just the strains of Rabindrasangeets or Adhuniks at every large crossing or intersection. It is the music of joy in your own heart, the kind that only this city can offer in its own unique, inimitable way.
So do I have a new year update of resolutions for my timeline. No really, I donot. Kolkata and every nuance of this city teach me each and every time to live and make each moment count.
The “naan khatais” are not going up taste any different on the 1st of Jan. Nor will the lives of the maids who take the 5 am train from Canning to come make our homes spotless. The door man at the Taj will open the gates to you just the same and at the end of his shift will take the majestic uniform off, don his clothes and take the bus back home. No, nothing new and earth shattering will happen on the first of the year simply because the city renews every day. If you can feel your spirit do the same, there is your moment of quiet solitude amidst all the noise.

1 comment:

  1. Frankly speaking, the best thing liked about Calcutta, are the taxis. Very efficient, reasonable and co-operative drivers. Wrote about it in Dec (in 3 parts)