Calcutta For The Soul
It’s said that memories fade with time which is probably a good thing or some of us would find it impossible to go on. But there are certain reminisces that cannot afford to be forgotten. They are like precious keepsakes that need to be extracted from the dusty realms of time. They have to be caressed and fondled with affection; reinforced and perhaps refurbished before being tucked away securely again.
One such precious memory that I’ve guarded fiercely is that of my trip to Calcutta. Over the years it has been revisited a million times; edited and imbued with subtle nuances so to add color and character.
I was perhaps ten, twelve or thereabouts (my mother stresses on the later and she is probably right because I’m pathetically poor with specifics.) The trip would never have come about hadn’t it been for my father, who after one of his numerous travels brought back an exquisite Bengali handloom cotton striped sari of olive green and cream. It became my favorite. My mother looked lovely in it. He also spoke of a land rich in culture that had produced the likes of Rabindranath Tagore, Vivekananda, Satyajit Ray and of course the indomitable Kishore Da. Therefore armed with miniscule amount of education and barely suppressed curiosity, I embarked on my sole journey to the east, with my tiny family in tow.
We boarded the Coromandel Express which I believe covered the distance from Chennai to Howrah in little more than a day. My very first recollection of the place that endeared it to me forever is the memory of delicious, melt-in-your-mouth, spongy roshogollas in clay handis (pots) that I relished with gusto right on the railway platform. I swear, I haven’t had anything more delectable in my life!
We stayed in a cozy guest house favored by the bank my father worked for. It was winter time; I know because I could see my breath in front of my face and the owners’ little white Pomeranian had a sweater on. There were pleasant smiles everywhere and though I didn’t have a clue about what was being spoken, I didn’t mind listening because the words floated in the air like the melodious strains of Lord Krishna’s flute.
On our first day out, I recall seeing trams loaded with commuters, coursing on tracks right in the middle of the street. Having never come across anything similar before, either in Delhi or Chennai, I of course wanted a ride.
We did the usual touristy things. I remember gawking awestruck at the magnificent Dakshineshwar temple glistening in the morning light on the banks of the Hooghly; then trying to battle through the mad mêlée at Kalighat which had my mother utterly riled up and me dumbfounded and overwhelmed.
The Victoria Memorial came as a welcome respite; more so the calm serenity of the Botanical Gardens that also touts the world’s largest Banyan tree. I remember the distinct tang of mustard oil in the air and spending a lazy afternoon strolling the lanes of New Market absorbing the banter of many tongues, the fragrance of fresh flowers, resisting the lure of jewelry and garments, and the calls of hawkers and shopkeepers selling anything and everything from furniture to fish.
The city pulsed with life, from A.M. to night – an eclectic and intoxicating blend of culture, beauty, intellect, relationships and raw emotions. I left feeling thoroughly confused but lastingly intrigued.
So here are my experiences; trivial they may seem but to me they are dearly cherished because they are what I remember my father by– simple, adventurous and carefree.
Simi K. Rao was born in India and has been living in the United States for several years. An Incurable Insanity is her first foray into writing. The inspiration for the story came from what she has seen transpire among and within the immigrant community. Some of the experiences included are her own; some have been garnered from friends and casual conversations with acquaintances. She also writes poetry, is an avid photographer, loves to travel, and is a practicing physician. She currently lives in Denver with her family.