CalcuttaScape : Sujata Parashar

Image Courtesy: Author

Image Courtesy: Author

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.

Oriental Seminary School. Image Courtesy: Google

Oriental Seminary School. Image Courtesy: Google

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.”

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CalcuttaScape : Timothy Jay Smith

Presenting a new section to the readers : CalcuttaScape. It would be a guest column on One and a Half Minutes, in which published authors will write about their experiences on visits to Calcutta. I will be approaching non-resident authors who have visited for a vacation or stayed in Calcutta for a short while.

I know, dear readers, the first question cropping on your mind would be, why Calcutta? I’m not sure if I have a satisfactory answer for this one. It is my city, at times it has been my muse, it has been a companion in my early adult years, it has been a witness to a major part of my life. This is probably my way of paying a tribute to Calcutta, by bringing to you words flown from famous authors, on a city that never ceases to amaze.

The first one in this column is from an American author, Timothy Jay Smith (winner of the Paris Prize for Fiction 2008) reminiscing two of his visits to Calcutta in 1978 and 1990s.

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Enduring Calcutta

I boarded the train at a way station north of Madras; and it was still called Madras then, not Chennai. I had managed to avoid buying anything resembling a Madras shirt—those myriad colors swirling in soft fabric worn so ubiquitously by the Sixties flower children. Perhaps now they are called Chennai shirts, but I hope they’ve retained the name Madras. The word defines an era well beyond a fashion statement.

Traveling third class, I stepped over dozens of feet—in sandals, sneakers, one foot bloated with Elephantitis—and found a spot on the wooden bench. I stowed my backpack under it and sat down. Across from me was the strangest man I had ever seen: stick skinny, smeared with green paint, naked except for a revealing loincloth, and fingernails so long that they had looped back on themselves. By contrast, I could not have been more ‘normal-looking’ in my jeans and button-down blue Oxford shirt.

And everybody on the train was looking at me.

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