Trams – Joining Calcutta and Europe

Image From Instagram page @onlyinbengal

When I was a suburban, stodgy kid, I used to wait for our trips to Calcutta for the occasional tram rides. The joyrides used to be sparse though, since we’d be pressed for time to return to our suburban abode, or we might have been visiting some part of the city not connected by trams. The scenario improved when we moved to Calcutta in 1998. It was by sheer luck that we rented a house around 300 metres from the Ballygunge Tram Depot. I would have loved to take the tram every day enroute to my school in Kidderpore, but time was a constraint to romanticism. I had to give in to the mundane daily drill of the school bus and its irritating co-passengers. As a countermeasure, I began to commute to the private tuitions via tram, whenever possible. Sometimes, the route would be from Ballygunge to Tollygunge, where I would alight at Rashbehari to walk the rest of the part. Since this is one of the busiest junctions in the city, the journey would consume quite some time and I loved sitting idly at one of the windows, watching the rest of the world rushing by the street. The gong of the tram would alert few crossing pedestrians, would scare a few and be a fair bit of warning for private buses and vehicles. That window seat meant a different world to me, sitting in a comfort zone, separated from the chaos outside. Recollecting about the other routes – I have hopped trams too, taking one from College Street in the North, dropping off in Park Circus and taking another till Ballygunge. That one used to be a long ride but quite enjoyable through the busy criss-crossing roads in the North, widening up as we approach the Central towards South Calcutta. It would be unfair if I miss mentioning the Maidan tram depot, one of the picturesque ones in the city, within the greens. It’s a delight to watch the trams slowly emerging at a snail’s pace from their depot at Maidan, much like a caterpillar. I spotted one recently, on one of my trips to the Government offices in Esplanade. Didn’t have the time to hop onto one though. Sadly, I still haven’t clicked a single decent photo of trams in Calcutta.

Did you know? The Tram system in Calcutta is the only existing one in India and the oldest operating network in Asia. It goes back to 1873 starting with horse-drawn trams and moved on to electric trams in 1902.

I was obviously delighted when we moved to Brussels as it has an extensive tram network. Although we use the metro rail more than the tram within the city for convenience, I like the trams in Belgium. They’re a bit too modernised in the interior, thus missing the old world charm emanated by the trams in Calcutta. We have been fortunate enough to visit other cities in Europe that have an operating tramway. From the glamorous red trams in Den Haag to the dazzling yellow in Budapest, from pristine serious trams in Amsterdam to cute ones in Prague and red-white beauties in Vienna – we have seen, ridden and loved them all. I’d like to explore more of them, in other cities that we haven’t visited and collect a lifetime of memories in trams.

Do you like trams? Have you been on a ride ever? Share your experiences in comments. I’d love to know.

This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Royal Indian Hotel, Calcutta

Biriyani and Calcutta have been going hand in hand since the Nawabs from Awadh set their foot in the British capital. Royal Indian Hotel in Chitpur is more than a century old (110 years) and has made its mark as arguably the best Biriyani and Chaap in the city. For those unfamiliar with the idea of a Chaap, I’d suggest a quick tour of Royal in Calcutta for this divine experience. Mutton Chaap is an item invented by the Mughals, using the ribs of a goat to their best faculty. While most recipes tend to serve the flat beaten Chaap pieces as a whole , Royal has its own way of chopping them with the ribs to bite size pieces in a delectably rich gravy of its own fat. They have begun catering Chicken Chaap as well, which is a gross misnomer as the birds are not blessed with generous ribs that ooze the same taste and flavour. On our previous visit to Calcutta, M and I were determined to try this heavenly pair of Biriyani and Chaap from Royal, still in quest of the best biriyani in our home city.

Address: 147, Rabindra Sarani, Bara Bazar, Calcutta – 700073 / 24A, Syed Amir Ali Avenue, Diagonally opposite to Quest Mall, Park Circus

Contact: 033 22681073, 9903369147

USP – Biriyani, Mutton Chaap, Firni

Decor

Royal is one of those serious no-nonsense no-frills old-school ‘hotels’ which don’t believe in fancy decor. It’s an eatery with heavy wooden tables and straight-backed chairs with just a jug of water on the table. Located in the busiest and congested wholesale market of Calcutta (Chitpur/Barabazar), the restaurant is cramped for space. The floor above has been renovated and added to the restaurant as I’m told. There’s a separate air-conditioned hall with slightly hiked food prices.

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Arandhan – The Day No One Cooked

Image source: Kolkata Blog

Image source: Kolkata Blog

Tomorrow is Vishwakarma Puja in Bengal. While every other festival appears on different dates each year depending on its tithi, Vishwakarma Puja has rooted itself deeply on 17th September and never budges. It’s an enigma created many decades ago and Bengal has been following it religiously since. Vishwakarma has been considered as the divine architect, the God of Engineers and machines. If you are in Bengal on 17th September, you’ll easily spot this good looking deity being worshipped in every factory, press, manufacturing unit and even in rickshaw stands. While other idols sport some weapon or the other in their hand(s), Lord Vishwakarma is proudly flanked by a kite! His arrival brightens up the autumn sky with vibrant kites (that have a name each based on their designs) that look like confetti spread all over the canopy.

But this is not an article about Vishwakarma Puja. It’s about an age old custom associated with the festival – Arandhan (no cooking). It is celebrated in the month of Bhadra, on the auspicious day of Vishwakarma Puja. Typically, the custom involves no cooking on heat for the day. Every item was cooked the day before and stored in earthen utensils to protect them from rotting in the autumn heat. The culmination of the month of Bhadra implies the end of monsoon and onset of autumn in the next month of Ashwin. Arandhan serves the purpose of cleaning up the household after rains and offer a platter of the choicest foods from monsoon to Ma Manasa (goddess of snakes). I think this ritual originated in rural Bengal to protect people from the wrath of Manasa and her army of snakes. Until my generation came into being, our families used earthen stoves (unoon/chulha) before the advent of LPG. After cooking up a storm for Arandhan, the stoves and kitchen were cleaned to perfection. A platter was served on earthenware and offered to Ma Manasa, symbolised by a clay pot placed beside the stove.

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Book Review : Oleander Girl

Blurb View: 

photo 1 (1)Divakaruni’s descriptive, evocative writing makes you race through the book and then mourn its completion. For those who are fans of the author, this is a must-read. For those who have yet to discover her, this book is a must

People Troubled by the silence that surrounds her parents’ death, seventeen-year old Korobi Roy clings to her only inheritance from them: the unfinished love note she found hidden in her mother’s book of poetry. But when her grandfather dies, the young woman discovers a dark secret which will finally explain her past.

‘A coming of age novel in the best tradition, with a heroine who is both infuriating and endearing and most importantly, brave – Divakaruni’s gift is story telling and she is generous with her gift’- Huffington Post.

Review: 

It’s not easy to review your favourite authors’ books. There’s a certain amount of expectation that you already set even before reading it, and most readers like me keep on tallying their projections with each page or chapter of the book. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is one of my favourite Indian authors and I begin reading her books with an anticipation of new layers opening up in our normal human relationships. She doesn’t write about supernatural or psychos or serial killers, her characters are as close to us as ourselves, which makes them more appealing and real.

If you have read Divakaruni’s books, there’s quite often a story involving an unusual mother-daughter pair or sisters separated by distance and fate. The stories are immensely layered with a plethora of emotions, love, envy and often hatred too. Frequently set across continents and generations, there’s a vast expanse of familial tension, conversations, plots and subplots. Oleander Girl is about Korobi, well, mostly her and Rajat, her beau. Korobi is an orphan, raised by her benevolent grandparents with the memories of her mother.

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Book Review : Kachher Manush

51EJsNCuFkL._SX400_BO1,204,203,200_It’s not everyday that I sit down to write about a Bangla book. There are a few that not only tug a few strings at the heart, but pull them hard enough to inflict pain. Kachher Manush (The Close One) by Suchitra Bhattacharya is an epic work in contemporary Bangla Literature. SB was an immensely popular writer over decades until she passed away untimely last year. Her stories have always been as close to our middle class reality as they could. She wrote almost solely about the average Bengali family, one you’d spot around you daily with all its problems, undercurrents of tension and occasional bursts of joy. Kachher Manush was written in the eighties, quite early in SB’s career and yet it portrays the mastery that she had in her craft. The writing waned later though, stories became repetitive, plots became a little mundane, but she produced occasional masterpieces like Kancher Dewal, Neel Ghurni, Dahan and Parobash. Among the good, bad and ugly ones, Kachher Manush is the one I love the most.

The opening pages are laced with hope and anticipation. Titir, a teenager in full bloom in the eighties Calcutta has just appeared for her Secondary examinations in school. She awaits her alcoholic father Aditya’s homecoming from a hospital. SB does a wonderful, rather wistful job in narrating the ambience around Titir as she waits for her mother Indrani to fetch Aditya home. She lives in a huge house, in a ‘joint family’ that we were so familiar to in the previous century. Titir’s family comprises of little islands, bound loosely together by her ailing grandfather. Her paternal uncle Sudip and his wife Runa have aptly named their son Atom, probably in apprehension that they would live as a nuclear family sometime in future. Aditya’s youngest brother Kandarpa is a wannabe actor who lives in horns of dilemma, tethering between right and wrong. SB describes these islands through the eyes of Titir’s elder brother Bappa, who admits being the smallest isthmus, waiting to sever his ties with the dysfunctional family soon by applying for a sailor’s job.

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Fish and Bliss

There is a lesson that the age old Bangla cuisine teaches us – prudence. One might not easily believe it, given the history and evolution of the elaborate Daab Chingri and the uber rich Sorshe Ilish. But it is not every day that you sacrifice puddles of oil to cook Golda Chingri or grind mounds of mustard seeds on your sheel nora (oh, forget that already, there’s the ubiquitous pungent branded mustard powder). It is the daily fare – the humble Rui and Katla that we so lovingly call Kata Pona, omnipresent in the Bangali kitchen in its various avatars. Shove aside the runny machher jhol with potol or a subtle garlic tomato machher torkari that finds its way in the morning platter of rice before heading for school/college or offices. If you live outside Bengal and crave for something fishy and spicy apart from the jhol or jhaal, you’re in for a treat with just three pieces of fish. If you have a kid at home, or an overgrown one like my better half, this will bring lakes of smile on their faces.

fish chop

#BanglaKhabar

Since my father lived away from home and Bengal for a considerable period, the cooking bug in him became fairly active. I’ve heard stories of him quizzing the cook in his college hostel kitchen for quaint Bangla vegetarian recipes. He reproduced them later, and more importantly, taught my mother most of it after marriage. Stationed in Kanpur for twenty years, baba would crave for the crispy hot aromatic Fish Chop (croquette) among other telebhaja that rule our province. Fish or mutton chops weren’t frequent in every telebhaja shop in Calcutta as the non-vegetarianism in them would make the harmless Aloo or Mochar Chop untouchable to a lot of people.

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The Legacy of Sunday Mutton

tangytuesday

To elucidate the aroma of mutton curry wafting from the kitchen, especially on a Sunday afternoon is nearly impossible. It’s easier to cook the mutton than even give a try to illustrate the labyrinth of emotions it evokes in me, and most people of my race. It’s a phenomenon evolved over a hundred years and a tradition well worth preserving. Before drifting (and delving) into the history of Sunday mutton curry, let me add a cheeky disclaimer that ‘mutton’ refers to goat meat for every instance I write about it. Being raised in Bengal, I had no notion that red meat in general (lamb, goat, pork, beef) is referred to as ‘mutton’. For me, goat cannot be replaced with any other animal for ‘mutton.’

Image Courtesy: Neha Banerjee

Image Courtesy: Neha Banerjee

From lores narrated in both of my families over years and reading old Bangla stories, I’ve formed a hypothesis on the origin of Sunday mutton. In the early 20th century, educated folk from rural Bengal migrated to Calcutta (the only city then) in search of clerical occupation. They stayed mostly in rental accommodations, hostels and as paying guests for five working days. Come Friday afternoon and they’d venture for the ancestral home in different districts of Bengal. When they’d arrive home, mostly late at night, their jholas would carry fruits, candies, sweets for the children, an occasional piece of jewellery or saree for the wife and daughter, and – on frequent weekends – mutton for the entire family. Children would rejoice; I have a sneaking suspicion that they’d root more for the meat than frugal candies, like me. The wife would blush and begin preparations for the mutton curry the night itself or the next afternoon. Of course in monsoons, the mutton is replaced with Ilish, but that doesn’t take away its glory in the other seasons.

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Memories In March

Image Courtesy: BlogAdda

Image Courtesy: BlogAdda

Memories are best served cold. They are created while you’re young, so you can carry them inside your head till it is alive. As you grow old, day by day, it’s time to ruminate on the memories, warm them up and have them served apiece within a mundane daily routine. There are some that don’t taste the same after days or years, and then there are others that sizzle up with time and fill your senses with longing for loved ones.

Watching young ones in the family grow up is a beautiful process that enriches one and makes for endless memories. I’ve had the scope to witness my young sister-in-laws (SIL) transit from school to college and transform into beautiful ladies from cranky teenagers. For a large part though, we’ve been living in radically different cities and corresponding through occasional phone calls, text messages and holidays. The moments spent there would be hurried and sporadic, in a frenzy over a few days to soak away the minutes slowly into our togetherness. We’d catch a movie, hop off to lunches, meet at their places, our place and any other relatives nearby, sneak away time for a chat on the terrace while mothers and aunts carried on their chitter-chatter. Each holiday would remain a collage of these moments, with images popping up in our minds months later, causing roars of laughter on either side over a call.

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CalcuttaScape : Kulpreet Yadav

Image Courtesy: Google

Image Courtesy: Google

Kulpreet Yadav is a bestselling author, motivational speaker, and Founder-Editor of Open Road Review, one of Asia’s leading literary magazines. Shortlisted in various writing contests, his short stories and essays have appeared in over 30 publications. Kulpreet is represented by Red Ink Literary Agency, and his latest novel, The Girl who loved a Pirate, is India’s first thriller based on marine piracy and hijacking. Passionate about Creative Writing, Kulpreet also mentors aspiring writers at schools and colleges and has spoken at many literary festivals in India and abroad. He lives in New Delhi.

Connect with Kulpreet at Website | Blog | Magazine | Startup

Kolkata Sets You Free

Called the ‘City of Joy’, Kolkata’s charm has had a profound impression on me. In fact, I attribute my becoming a writer on the two-year stint that I did about a decade ago in a place called Haldia, about three hours from Kolkata.

But you might ask how can one experience joy in a place that is so overcrowded and almost always on the brink of violence motivated by volatile political parties? The answer to this can only be found if you visit Kolkata.

I began to write my first novel while I waited for my train at the Howrah railway station in 2006. Until that point, I had no idea that I wanted to become a writer. I had been a regular reader, someone who enjoyed reading books for leisure. But something snapped in my head that winter morning at the Howrah railway station. I had eaten machher-jhol as a late mid-morning meal I remember and was waiting for my train which was running several hours late due to fog. As time went by, I found myself scribbling furiously in a small diary that I was carrying with me. By the time the train arrived, I had written the initial chapters of what was later published as my first novel.

hilsa

Hilsa at Gariahat Market.

I think there is good reason why Kolkata is called the City of Joy. To my mind it’s because the city motivates you to be creative which in turn makes your life joyful. I’ve a few Bengali friends and I have found them to be friendly, kind and helpful. From meeting them and eating Hilsa at their homes in Kolkata, to shopping at the New market and the Gariahat market, and eating rosogullas and phuchkas, Kolkata has the kind of energy and vibration that always fires up my creative side.

If you want to do something imaginative like paint, write, or create music, you should consider heading for Kolkata. This city will set you free. Like it did to me.

Bhalo thakben

Kulpreet

—————–

Book Review : Made in India

Preview: 

Image Courtesy: b00kr3vi3ws

Image Courtesy: b00kr3vi3ws

He was the boy with gold in his hair.

As a child, Biddu dreamt of going west and making it big as a composer. At the age of sixteen, he formed a band and started playing in a cafe in Bangalore, his home town, At eighteen, he was part of a popular act at Trinca’s, a nightclub in Calcutta devoted to food, wine and music, At nineteen, he had college students in Bombay dancing to his music. In his early twenties, he left the country and ended up hitchhiking across the middle Fast before arriving in London with only the clothes on his back and his trusty guitar.

What followed were years of hardship and struggle but also great music and gathering fame. From the nine million selling King Fun Fighting to the iconic youth anthem of made in India and the numerous hits in between. Biddu’s music made him a household name in India and elsewhere.

In this first public account of all that came his way the people, the events,the music tours and companies Biddu writes with a very sense of humor about his remarkable journey with its fairy tale ending, Charming, witty, and entirely likable, Biddu is a man you are going to enjoy getting to know.

Review:

Made in India and Biddu are synonymous with my teens. The name still invokes a lot of nostalgia when we used to go ga-ga over Alisha Chinai’s stylish version of ‘Made in India’. It was sensual, melodious and a revolution at that time with Milind Soman in the video. That’s when I first heard of Biddu and loved his music subsequently in numerous tracks.

Since music is interesting, the autobiography of a musician must be too. That was my idea when this book came for review and Biddu didn’t disappoint his readers. The story begins where it should, from his childhood in 1940s and ’50s. What struck me the most is humour, at times it veers to satire on various subjects. India, right after independence still allures me and I wanted to read an account from someone who’s lived in a different part of the country (having heard stories from my father who lived in Calcutta during that era). There was unemployment,  a new Government ruling the country, lot of British people still serving and living in India, and Bangalore was a serene, cute little city.

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