It is bright outside. The sun has the personality of summer, its glare reflected off the veneer of ice that coats the road. I can see great slabs of ice on the Hudson beyond, but I am tempted to step out for a few minutes even though it feels like -20°C outside. My great temptation is the resident Great Bernese of our building who is swaying her beautiful, big body through the park. Plus I have not met her yet in person and that seems a shame.
How different it seems to my time in India. For I felt a curious tug to Calcutta this time. Curious because here I had spent my grown-up years trying to get away from it, yet there I was actually lapping every moment I spent in my former home town. The thing about building this feeling called home in different places is that you have pockets of your soul invested in each place. Every time you return to any of those places, you have a reawakening of emotions. Then there is the constant clash running in your mind, the comparison of the old with the new, of keenly felt dissatisfaction at changes, and once in a while, an acknowledgment of the fact that some changes have actually been for the better.
In India, I find caught up thus in a maelstrom of emotions. The weather, the people, the roads, the scenery, the very pace of life, change significantly enough that the mind takes time to slip back into old familiar routines, what the body and mind has been used to for the longest time. It starts with Delhi, the city where I came into my own, but I have a short stop there on the way to Calcutta. So I do not have time to mull over it. I do not have time to see it once again as I used to as a reporter. I have just enough time to spend moments with family and friends and devour the luscious food cooked at my in-laws’. But I had a moment there when I felt unsettled in Delhi. Nothing too grave on the face of it. It’s just that when familiar roads start to look a little unfamiliar, you realise with a start that places and roads can gradually be erased from the mind. How could that even come to be, you wonder?
Then I got to Calcutta and the pace of life slowed down almost immediately. The pace of life seems hurried there only when it comes to eating. While Adi was there for a few days before returning to his parents’, we did eat out as much as we could — egg rolls, Indo-Chinese, more Indo-Chinese, phuchka (street food) over and over again (Adi was on a diet of phuchkas), and breakfasts at local sweet shops…but you cannot eat constantly really, so you take a breath, and you decide to stop before your explode. Though my Calcutta cousins here would like to interject and point out, as a couple of them did, that I certainly do not eat enough. That I do not eat at all. That I am sure to fall ill by the time I turn 60. I do not know if I can accommodate them, but you never know. The human body is a mystery.
Once Adi left, my brother and his family too left for a holiday in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where they had quite an adventure in that they were caught in cyclonic weather, but I was home. There was enough time at hand to bask in the earthy quality of Calcutta. I met old friends, nattered for hours, took out old books from my library room to dust and read, spent time running around the neighbourhood parks and getting chased by stray dogs who for some reason love to chase bicycles, cars (and now I am adding me to the list). I also slowly jotted down recipes from my mother — recipes with no measures, but after spending years in the kitchen, I have stopped carping about the lack of them. Cooking is after all an instinctive art, unlike baking. There were always four different dishes of veggies in every meal. I did not miss eating out. It is something I savour every time I am there in Calcutta, because at one point, ma was ill. She would hardly get up from bed. Clinical depression is suffocating even for the family. And here she is all about the place, chopping and cooking with ease, for hours at a stretch. She has mellowed with age, my mother — which makes it easier to actually enjoy her company (to think that she could grow on me is a most miraculous thought). Now, it has been a few weeks that I have been back in Bayonne, but I still miss it all.
Calcutta in Colour
Calcutta in B&W