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Facets Of India: Kolkata IS Calcutta

Columnist Hariharan Balakrishnan brings a word portrait of present-day Kolkata.

I am in Kolkata after three decades- with enough time to feel its pulse and talk to the man on the street. I take a taxi and am on my way to the place close to Victoria Memorial where I plan to stay.

The first thing the taxi driver tells me is that there was a Cricket match scheduled for the evening. “Kolkata Knight Riders are playing Chennai Super Kings - Dhoni’s team. The roads will be very crowded. I don’t know if it’ll start by 4 or 8 pm”. We talk in Bengali. I wonder if Cricket is replacing football as the religion of Kolkata.

The morning is balmy and the Indian Summer not anywhere in sight. A few clouds float on the horizon, like cotton dipped in indigo. After a while, there are a few showers.

I check in, and find the ambience good. The counter clerk tells me I am booked for four days, and “check-out time” is noon. I say it’s alright if they charge me for an extra day, but want to rest for a while. He makes a languid phone call, says he didn’t have any “instructions”, but it is OK if I pay for five days.

I go to my room, have a shower and rest awhile. Earlier, I travelled through the night from Bhubaneswar to Kolkata by a Volvo bus. It was no better and no worse than a train journey by A/c sleeper.

In the afternoon, I speak to an elder friend of yester-decades. He invites me for lunch during my stay. I say I am free the next day and could drop in by 11. He lives in Chapel Road, Hastings. I’d been there earlie r- some 30 years ago, when his mother was alive. I had seen that family at close quarters. It was a magnificent building of British times. It has changed. Apartments have come in place of the ‘home’ I had seen. I reconcile to change as a sign of life.

His wife (‘boudi’ to me) has been ill for some time. I particularly wanted to see this gracious lady who was a mother, wife and sister personified. The lunch is excellent- very homely. She insists on staying on till we finish the last bite of bhekti fish. Only then does she retire for a siesta. Raja da and I come down the elevator. He calls for a taxi and I wave to him from below the umbrella. There was a healthy shower. A warm home, cooled by welcome Rain in Summer.

Calcutta Club where I am staying is of 1900 vintage. Its founder-president was the Maharaja of Cooch Behar. I remember Gayatri Devi of Jaipur who was born into that family- and once counted among the ten most beautiful women in the world. Could the Founder be her father? The row of sepia pictures of past presidents had a liberal sprinkling of British gentry, along with Indian elite of more than a century till the recent past. There is also a ‘Hall of Fame’ with pictures of Nehru on a visit to the Club in the 1930s.

Having seen a real Hall of Fame, I wonder if any club anywhere had a “Hall of Shame”. Do you know of one?


To be continued.

H. Balakrishnan
283 Shaheed Nagar
Bhubaneswar 751007
Tel.: +919338246725


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