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My first stop in Kolkata was Manicktala. Manicktala ensconces five of my beautiful student years and I hadn't been back since 2000. I know the place like the back of my hand. My life in college revolved around Duff Hostel at 32/8 Beadon Street. Everything good, bad and ugly culminated eventually at day-end in the hostel. Manicktala had changed little since my last visit. The historic clock tower was still coated in that same ugly and much faded red and blue softdrink advertisement. My favourite lassi stall still stood at the crossing. Here one can have a soothing glass of delicious lassi topped with nuts and raisins at Rs. eight a glass. There is another lassi stall behind Free School Street, very popular with Western tourists and truly world famous in Calcutta. Anyway, that's a completely different locality. Let's stay in Manicktala for the moment. The only visible change was the newly laid tram tracks. Manicktala crossing was otherwise a life threatening tangled mess of steel. Now, the freshly laid tracks lay snuggly embedded in concrete.
Early morning hunger drew me to the stall which sold hot kachori and aloo. That shop entertains a mad rush even on Sunday mornings. Amazing. Breakfast over, I headed for Duff Church. It offers a bed and clean washrooms to weary travelers. It has two dormitory styled rooms. The room was a little damp this time and the mattresses emanated a musty odour. That was fine for me. I was going to be here only for a few hours. Besides, backpackers cannot be choosers.
The bath was refreshing. I put on a fresh set of clothes and checked the time. 9:30 AM. Oh, oh! I was going to be late. I was going to be late. I should have been in Salt Lake by now. I sped off to catch a bus.
I noticed on the bus that I wasn't properly zipped up. I had to zip up discreetly. Embarrassment galore.
The weather was a bit on the warmer side, but not the uncomfortable sticky kind of June nor the piercing dry sunshine of December. I have lived in various cities all over the country but the City of Joy is a favourite. There are volumes of bouquets and brickbats about Kolkata because a few lines simply do not suffice. New Delhi is charming but very introvert and aloof. I could not bring myself to love Delhi. I feared it. Gurgaon is a toadstool that sprouted because the rains fell on the desert sand. Halucinogenic and poisonous. Bangalore is lively and youthful. Not all can keep up with it. Kolkata is a cradle for birth, death and everything in between.
It was an unexpected boon for me that the office in Salt Lake was running on IST. The meeting didn't start until 11:00AM. It was an uneventful interaction and everything proceeded as hoped. I was back in Manicktala by 2:30 PM, visibly and mentally fatigued. I flopped onto the damp mattress. The sun had gone down when I regained consciousness and due to which there was a major alteration of plans. There was absolutely no time for a quick tour and certain commitments back home prevented me from stretching my visit for even a minute. The only things left for me to do were to take a quick shower, pack the bags and leave for the bus stand.
The following plans had to be struck out of the itinerary. A walk down College Street - one cannot fathom what hidden gems lie to be picked up from the used-book stalls for paltry sums. A walk down Chowringhee, the hub of the city and time permitting, gorge on a Black Forest at Kathleen's in Free School Street. I have heard rumours that the quality of the cake isn't what it used to be, but I had to find it out myself. Oh! And another thing. I have always made mandatory pilgrimages to Sreeleathers to pick up a pair of shoes everytime I am in Kolkata. This isn't a store for fashion buffs but for practical people. One can get good sturdy shoes at reasonable rates. Perhaps some other day.
Another benefit of traveling by bus is the free tour you get as you enter or leave the city. On our way out, the bus routed through fluorescent Red Road, AJC Bose Road onto EM Bypass, onto Dum Dum and then slowly faded into the stark emptiness of rural Bengal. I totally lost count of the number of flyovers we passed through. Three? Four? Five? Could be. The entire AJC Bose stretch is now two tiered and it was an inexplicable experience viewing Nandan (Bengal Film Centre) and Kolkata Information Centre from a totally different angle. If the number of flyovers can be equated to development, then surely Kolkata is on the fast track.
Back on the highway, overcome with nostalgia, I quickly dozed off. It wasn't only the city that was unwilling to let go. It was perhaps also the memory of a young lass of days long gone, fortified within the by-lanes and dilapidating edifices of Calcutta.
Let memories remain. 5:54 AM Permalink 0 comments