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My many Kolkata

The end of a festive season grips a nostalgic Avishek Roy with melancholy as he takes a pensive stroll at the city’s many transformations.

Avishek Roy
Wed, Nov 5 2014

Photography: Rajat Dey

About Avishek

An IT professional, I relish reminiscing the past. I have learnt silence from the talkative and kindness from the unkind.

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বরিশালের বাঙাল

শিয়রে ইবোলা

In 1953, six years after one country was divided into two, my grandfather left his birthplace in erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, and settled in Kolkata. He rented a house in Entally in east-central Kolkata. Why India was broken into two still remains a mystery to me!

The despair of partition was matched by a ray of hope of building a new nation. In the 1950’s, the old school charm Kolkata was in the air. Every youth indulged in physical training at ‘Akaharas’, notably the ‘bayam samitis’ of Kolkata.

Various clubs - harbingers of collective prowess and aspirations of a young nation started organising Durga Pujas, the biggest festival of the Bengalis. The pandals were huge, the idols full of elegance and spiritual essence as was the floral offering or anjali to seek the blessings of Maa Durga.

India was adapting fast to the challenges ahead as was Kolkata with an unending stream of refugees. Lack of financial resources never came in the way of the warmth in social, communal (not an antidote to being secular but emanating from ones community) and familial relations. The ‘sindoor khela’ or vermillion play while bidding good bye to Maa Durga on Bijoya Dashami, the last day of the Puja, and inviting her for the next year was  full of ethereal charm and cordiality.

The immersion, commonly known as ‘bhashan’, of the idols in the River Ganges took place in processions and people distributed sweets to neighbors and family and friends to demonstrate the strength of their bond. 

The post-puja open air functions, commonly called Jalsa, were dominated by the golden voices of the bygone era -  Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Manna Dey, Shyamal Mitra, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Pintu Bhattacharya, Arati Mukherjee, Sandhya Mukherjee, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay and many more. The ordinary others were mesmerised by the melody and the music as the narrow lanes and by-lanes of an old city got transformed into makeshift sitting arrangements.

It was not just the singers with their enthralling voices, but the Bengali actors and actresses of the golden days, like Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen hogging the limelight during the festivities in  the 1960s and thereafter. The ordinary people emulated the stars as the conventional wisdom on helping the poor and the needy intensified.

The colorful yet disappointing, the period of hope yet with despair of the 1970s marked its arrival with   bell-bottoms and handlebar moustaches. Enfield, Yezdi and Jawa bikes used to roar the Kolkata streets as they became symbols of flaunting power by the local god-fathers.

Hooliganism, bombings and the tussle between the Left and the Right became more pronounced than ever before. The angry young man of the tinsel town, Amitabh Bachchan, gained popularity by depicting social despair on silver screen, but in the process came to epitomise the harbinger of hope. His hairstyle of partially concealing the ears became the favourite hairdo for a generation.

The worship of Goddess Kali and the associated fanfare depicted the power relations in the social space. As the youth indulged in leisurely time-spending by way of ‘addas’, Kishore Kumar and RD Barman songs reverberated the lanes and by-lanes of  a city well known for its vibrancy.

Blood donation camps and social services became the norm to win hearts and mind as the ordinary people turned eager to make their contribution for nation building and ensure a better future.

The arch rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan became pronounced in the 1980s, as the red and yellow team recruited two Iranians from the Aligarh Muslim University. Majid Bishkar (neither Basker nor Beshkar are etymologically correct) was 23 then. He along with Jamshed Nasiri, gave the Indian Football Association (IFA) League in Kolkata, a new lease of life.

Bappi Lahiri’s Disco music coupled with the steps of Mithun Chakraborty in white shirt, white trousers and white shoes on the silver screen produced the Disco Dancer, who easily stoked the imagination of the contemporary youth.

Flying kites in those days was more of a religion amongst the conservative Bengalis. The terrace of every house used to rock with “KASOR GHONTA”.  Pigeons were there in every person’s house, nesting in the big ventilators. It was a power-game to pet and fly them.

Nuclear families became the norm of the day starting in the 1990s. The intelligent people improvised to their advantage. The scopes for jobs and education increased as did unemployment and underemployment.

The spartan lifestyle of the average middle-class Bengali gave way to consumerism as India embraced economic liberalisation. The young and the old thronged to the new power jaunts like the McDonalds, KFC, INOX etc., as the poor, sick and the elderly were pushed into oblivion.

The Bengalis delved into self-criticism, propagating and preaching, morality, ethics and humanity among friends and families but not necessarily practising them. Calcutta became Kolkata but did it also give away the values she stood for over generations!

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bullet Comments:

Sudeepta Saha (Friday, Nov 21 2014):
Hi Avishek, You truly take pride in your city. It's hard to find someone who loves to be called the son of the wonderful city called Kolkata. You are an example for others who in this busy world may get some inspiration from you to love their city and culture.


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