Sujata Parashar, is a bestselling novelist, short story writer, poet and activist. Her debut novel, In pursuit of infidelity (2009) was a bestseller. The second in the series, In Pursuit of Ecstasy (2011), was long listed for the Economist Crossword Book Award 2012. Her latest novel the third in the “pursuit” series, In Pursuit of a Lesser Offence, was released earlier this year. Her book on poetry Poetry Out and Loud, was awarded the first prize in 2012 by Butterfly and the Bee, a literary agency. The popularity of her first poetry book encouraged and inspired her to come out with a sequel to the first one titled, POAL – II in 2013.
Presenting the sixth article in CalcuttaScape by Sujata Parashar.
Kolkata: a city of Haat – bazaars and more…
My association with Kolkata (or Calcutta as I still like to call it) goes a long way back. It goes back to my childhood days when my dad told us stories of his own growing up years. The backdrop of most of these stories was the City of Joy and its people. Dad was the fourth among six siblings – five brothers and one sister. The family lived in a village near Dhanbaad (Jharkand). His father was a Zamindaar and a homeopath doctor. When dad was about eight, he was sent to Calcutta to live with his step – brother after his dad passed away and the family came under financial strain.
Dad lived in Kolkata till the age of sixteen and then fled home to join the army. He married mom after he was commissioned and became an officer. Mom was the girl he loved and belonged to the royal family of Raniganj, Asansol. Both my parents had to face stiff opposition for their marriage but finally their love for each other overcame all odds and they were married in a small ceremony.
Dad loved to talk about his Calcutta days with my brother and me. And I loved listening to his stories. He would often recollect and share bits about his school life in Oriental Seminary; the pranks that he played on his teachers and how he bunked School just to watch Western Cowboy movies. But among all the little tales of his past what attracted me most was his narration of the weekly trips he made to the Haat-bazaar near his home to buy fresh vegetables and fish for the house along with his helper. His vivid description painted a fairy tale land, to my young mind, which was always celebrating something. A city which loved its children, food and music: kind vegetable vendors who addressed him as “Khoka” or “choto babu.”
A bus conductor who loved listening to robindro songeet on his radio and never charged him the bus fare because he thought dad was cute to help his bou di (sister-in-law) with vegetable shopping. A small-time restaurant owner near the Haat- bazaar who fed him with a bowl of chicken curry and a slice of bread every time he went there but never took money from him just because he thought dad had such impeccable manners.
Years later dad was posted to Calcutta (on deputation) at the Cossipore Gun and Shell Factory. I was doing my College from Jabalpur then and visited him during my summer break. Dad took me around the city and I finally realized why he still loved it so much. Kolkata was exactly the way he had described it to me when I was younger.
I absorbed in the various sights and smells of the city delightfully. Undoubtedly, there was something special about it. Despite the crowd, humidity and the dust and noise there was something serene about it. Since our residence was near the Ganga I used to wake up to the splendid early morning view of women offering prayers at the ghaat. Also however busy people were everyone wore a ready smile. They had a knack of making even a stranger feel like a part of their family. It made me connect with the city almost immediately.
Places like the grand Victoria memorial, Kolkata Race course, St. Paul’s cathedral et al. have managed to keep the stories of the ‘Raj’ alive. Also, I absolutely loved visiting the Rabindra Sadan – the hub of the Bengali culture in the city. I had never before seen so many young and talented people gathered at one place to learn, display and share their passion for music, theatre or exhibiting their artworks so freely. Another couple of things Calcutta is rightly famous for are: food and shopping. I bet any foodie would love to settle down in the city. From fresh green vegetables with strange names to sea food and all kinds of meat; you name it, and the city can dish it out for you at a nominal price. I also went crazy buying cotton dresses and shoes for myself and my friends at the Esplanade and New market. Both the places are a shopper’s paradise. In short, the four weeks I spent in Calcutta will always remind me of it being a city which is soothing to the soul and bristling with joy.
Review of Sujata’s latest novel In Pursuit of Lesser Offence coming soon!