The same fellowship [Himsagar Fellowship] that took me to Bihar brought me to West Bengal some time during the first week of March. When I got off that Howrah Rajdhani, it dawned on me how much I’d missed the sun in the past two odd months since I’d moved from ‘home’ - given that I was in Delhi and Bihar during the months of January and February (also known as winter). I think I’ll attribute this to me belonging to the coast. Thus I’ve learned that sun, sea, sand (and humidity) are coded into how at home I feel in a place.
So yes, I had missed that big shiny orange-yellow ball of fire.
But there was one more thing I’d missed. Walking. The streets of Calcutta lent itself to exactly that.
The morning after I came back from Holi at Santiniketan was a day spent well. Here’s why:
It was a day that was supposed to begin with a more planned and organized walk with a group which didn’t materialise. I think I may have created my own trail – one I might not be able to plot as accurately a second time around though.
There wasn’t so much of a destination or a route in mind– except that I was keen to explore Calcutta on foot (with little or no help from a map or a taxi for that matter). That I had one more soul happy to tarry along was only more rewarding.
Starting off at the Hazra Crossing in the south around 10 in the morning, the weather and the number of people plus vehicular traffic on the road felt just about right. We walked along the Sarat Bose Road (off Maddox Square) on to the Loudon St soaking in the sun (obviously) and the sights around us. If anything, we found the street names rather interesting (and sometimes entertaining).
|The streets have names ...and such fancy ones|
|The Bard also goes places|
|Mashroom, anyone? :P|
Painted white and blue, the pavements are as pavements should be – broad, unrestricted and clean (something the Mumbaikar in me had only begun to experience). It’s no surprise then that it wasn’t until we were on the Shakespeare Sarani Road that a growling tummy brought us to a halt somewhere near the Birla Planetarium. We’d jaywalked over 3 kilometres for a good one hour when we decided we could do with a little help – so we grabbed a roll, sipped on some icy cold sugarcane juice off the streets and decided to hop into a bus to head to Synagogue Street north of the city.
If you think (like we did) that you’re going to walk into the synagogues then you’re mistaken (like we were). I forget the number of times we circumnavigated the same spot until we realised a tiny gate would lead us to not one but two of the three synagogues in present day Calcutta – The Neveh Shalome (built in 1831) and the Maghen David Synagogue (built in 1884).
|See the gate? That's what it looks like once you're on the inside|
|While circumnavigating and figuring out the entrance|
|Following the caretaker towards the Neveh Shalome synagogue|
|Inside the Neveh Shalome synagogue|
|The entrance to the Maghen David Synagogue|
|The Torah (holy book of the Jews) at the Neveh Shalome synagogue|
|Business ideas, anyone? ;)|
If, like me, you didn’t know a majority of the Jews in Calcutta came from Baghdad. A caretaker at the Neveh Shalome synagogue (which means ‘oasis of peace’) was kind enough to not just open up the synagogue just for us but also share facts about the place and refer us to the website (Jewish Calcutta) that would tell us more. From him we learnt that the last marriage officiated within the premises of the synagogue was in 1982 and that there are about 30 Baghdadi Jews in Calcutta at present.
It’s the architecture that’s standing tall (with a lot of effort being put in for its maintenance) after all these years that left me speechless – and I’m no expert on matters of architecture.
Another bus ride later we were outside Mother House – which unfortunately for us was closed for visitors in the afternoon so we made our way (on foot again) to the South Park Cemetery (also known as the Park Street Cemetery). What seemed a mere 10 – 15 minute walk a little less than a kilometre down the street wasn’t as easy since we’d yet again underestimated our tummy’s pangs. But the cemetery we did go to before pigging on some excellent chicken biryani at Rahmania! But I digress…
A thought I was left with after walking through the many tombs was that while life itself is unpredictable, death is no different - for almost everyone who was buried here was European (in all probability from the days of the East India Company in India). A cemetery for a people of not only a different era but even a different continent! Makes my curious mind ask whether the generations that followed ever wanted to know about their ancestors and where they were lived (and died)?
Our last stopover for the day was the Victoria Memorial which is stunning to behold – except for the part where they expected us to wade through gravel while they were painting the sidewalk within the premises!
|The Victoria Memorial|
In the days that followed I continued to pursue my love for walking through the city. I grew to love the city too - even when I hopped out of taxis and metros.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again (and again every time I’m in Kolkata) – I’ve been there thrice before this stint for the fellowship but only as a stopover city. And it has given me the vibe of a place locked in a time capsule from yesteryears
May be it is.
You don’t sniff aristocracy (or its remnants) as much elsewhere in India (do you?)
Nor are you able to absorb in the quaint picturesque views all around you.
But it has been kind to someone who hails from the coast on the other side.
Sunshine and humidity
Santiniketan and Sundarbans (next up on the blog)
|Cacophonous streets of Calcutta|
|The yellow brigade, you see it?|
|Instagram handle @NomadicThunker|