Well, it finally happened. My trip to Kolkota finally materialized. Two and a half eventful days, and I’m a convert.
Thanks to the clock-work efficiency of the Tatas, I got picked up from the airport and dropped at a well-maintained guest house in Salt lake. Had maach-bhaat and bhindi bhaja for dinner, which the caretaker was only too happy to serve thank to my rusty Bengali. The next morning, the adventures started with a phone call from the Kolkata office. They gave me a mobile number and a name. The number, I withhold, the name was Tuntun.
The name didn’t surprise me much since I’d already read a Bengali A-Z of sorts that claimed “G is for Good name. Every Bengali Boy will have a good name like Debashish or Deboprotim and a pet name like Shontuda, Chonti, and Dinku. While every Bengali Girl will be Paromita or Protima as well as Shampa, Champa and Buri. Basically your nickname is there to kill your good name.”
Oh, coming back to Tuntun. Tuntun was my driver designate for the day. A deadly combination of Rajpal Yadav physique and Sunny Deol demeanor. A mean motha’ with a profound dislike of any form of life and an equally profound fetish for trashy music. I was driven to Park Street listening to the likes of Vishwaatma’s “Dil le gayi teri bindiya, yaad aa gaya mujhko India” which roughly translates into ‘Your bindi has taken my heart, I remember India’. Before I could recollect a more shallow poem, I was dropped at hotel Peerless Inn.
I meet Ayan (pronounced ‘awe’ – ‘yawn’ as explained by him) and Arya, my colleagues in Kolkata. By the time we were done with meeting our client, the whole of Esplanade area is swarming with (an estimated 200,000) Trinamool Congress party workers. Now TMC (as the party is called), is headed by this lady called Mamta Bannerjee. I have never seen a more disturbed-looking politician. Ever! The poor lady never seems to be happy. Her promotional snaps always show a woman in a fit of rage. Or pointing an admonishing finger. Or plain constipated!
Anyway, Ayan had the presence of mind to tell Tuntun to wait away from the madhouse and we begin to walk. The worst part was getting 10 meters from the gate of our clients’ office through a sea of humanity hired and transported from the fringes of Kolkata (even civilization) and fortified with country liquor. Then, an hour or so later, we make a pit-stop at Nizams. I eat a much-awaited double-egg-double-mutton roll and a mutton tikiya. Ayan and Arya ordered biriyaani, which I politely decline given my unshakeable support of Hyderabad (and it’s biriyaani). We then digest them with another half-hour walk and half-hour wait and we are finally at the Kolkata office around 5 PM. I meet with Saurav ‘the Rockstar’ Chatterjee, Monami, Ishika, Shibani, Manju and the others who’d come back from Mumbai. Meet a few more of the staff at Kolkata, finish some work and crash! And did those legs hurt …
The next day was pretty uneventful work-wise. We weren’t driven by Tuntun. However, I went to meet my wife’s Pishi (Aunt) and her family. My first-hand experience of Bengali hospitality in Kolkata, and I was floored. Both my wife and my father-in-law have exalted Pishi’s cooking and I found out why. Pishi disappeared for a couple of minutes and reappeared with some Mughlai Paratha, Chicken, and Aaloo bhaja. Then came Rosogolla and Sandesh (Bengali sweets). Finally Pishaji forced me (and I thank him for that!) to have some divine mishti-doi (Sweet Curd). And that, according to her, were starters! I would’ve made her proud were it about a year ago when I was known for my ‘legendary’ appetite. But things change over time and I regretted having lunch… Pishi wasn’t too happy to see a ‘Jomai’ without an appetite. I promise to not disappoint her the next time and reluctantly say my good-byes. Then as usual, to work and then crash!
The third day, I am greeted again by Tuntun. This time, I ensure that both Ayan and Arya ‘face the music’ like I did the first day. We had a pretty long drive to Sonarpur and we were tripping on cult classics like Disco Dancer, Dance Dance, and other masterpieces of a ‘higher’ being called ‘Bappida’. On our way back, we had to ensure the doors were locked, coz we feared that Arya would jump out, but that didn’t happen and by the end of the trip, and we had another believer! I drop them at work, get driven to the airport (about 25 KM away) in 15 mins flat by Tuntun, and take the flight to Mumbai. I had a rather chatty co-passenger named Arnab (pronounced like doorknob, without the D) but his enthusiasm was no match for my sleepiness. Sorry Arnab.
Some things that this trip opened my eyes to:
There are always two sides to any Indian city. The clean side (Exhibit 1) and the other side.
Even Kolkata has bad English. (Exhibit 2)
Bengalis love to eat and to feed.
No one makes sweets like the Bengalis.
Being the jomai (son-in-law) is pretty cool!
Bengali women are pretty.
Malayalis are given ‘honorary’ Bengali status, especially the ones married to Bengalis :)