Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Winter and things I love about it....

It is cold in Kolkata. I still get to hear jokes like “Oshobbho temperature, aar koto niche naambe??” ('tum bade woh ho' temperature, aur kitna niche jaogey?) or “It’s so cold here that I am farting snowflakes”. No, it isn’t that cold, but cold enough for frequent bladder-bursting nature calls, especially during bedtime. And, cold enough for an entire post on winter. So, here it goes…..

1.     Komlalebu (Oranges): They say while listing things, “not exactly in that order”. But I must specifically mention here that, Komlalebu is THE object of desire and undeniably the winner of this list. Eating oranges reminds me of childhood. Baba and I…on a river grass mat on our terrace, with sunshine on our shoulders to make us happy and warm. While he would be busy reading his Anondobajar Patrika, I would peel the orange jacket and savour the bean-shaped carpels.  It’s strange that the reason for liking oranges was not limited to its taste. I loved squeezing its rinds into Baba’s unmindful eyes or spit the seeds from my mouth and play the “let’s-see-how-far-they-go” game. I still love doing both and develop unusual adoration for people who love these too.
Oranges also remind me of picnics. An orange is a must with the breakfast, served in the bus. Dim-Sedhho (boiled egg), Pauruti (bread), Tiffin-cake and an orange.   

2.   Picnics: I love picnics with packed sandwiches, chips, apples, juices and paper napkins. The English khaind of a picnic. I love them.
But when it comes to a Bong picnic (‘Choruibhati’), I will make a ‘Jaa, Simran ji le apni zindagi’ run towards it with all my might. I love the typically Bengally picnic. You wake up early, board a “Reserved” bus with forty friends and relatives, rush towards a window seat/jaanlar dhhar (even though you will not sit for a single second but kneel-down on the seat and play Antakshari throughout the journey), eat the ‘Packet’ (read breakfast) provided to you in the bus itself, which shall be either sweet bun, boiled egg (with the shell) and a banana OR green peas-kachori (sometimes Radhaballabi), aloo-sabzi (aloor dawm) and an orange. If you are lucky, there shall be dessert with the breakfast too: Tiffin cake (worth 3 Rupees)/ Taalshash sondesh (also 3 Rupees, small without raisins)/ Joynogorer mowa (3 rupees, with a raisin).

I love these picnics, where you carry the oven with you, cook lunch at the ‘picnic-spot’, those late lunches, red Mutton curry, badminton, memory games, Housie and Antaksharis. (I love picnics where there are prizes if you win any of the above games).

3.    New Market: This oldest New Market, I think, was born to act as the greatest entertainer, mood-lifter, anti-depressant for all ages and for ages to come. But winter makes it doubly beautiful. Your eyes get glued to her, followed by the heart. If New Market was a human being, it would have been Nafisa Ali. It just gets more beautiful with age.  
During winter, shopkeepers put temporary stalls stuffed with Christmas decorations. Green, red, silver, golden and a riot of all other colours, small and huge Christmas trees, thin and fat Santas, small and huge holes in the pocket, thin and fat bargains.
To add to this charm, the 110 years-old “Nahoums” plays its part. The rich aroma of plumcakes, lemon tarts, chocolate brownies and éclairs, chicken patties and mutton samosas (priced at 1.50 Rupees each). Bliss! If “Nahoums Confectionaries Pvt. Ltd.” was a human being, it would have been Rekha. Ageless, (I wonder if Rekha and Eve were the same person! Since time immemorial, she has maintained herself on an “as is where is” basis), gorgeous, some would find it overrated, but there will be thousands of others who would want to die in its arms. (oh, yes, if Nahoums = Rekha, I am Mukesh Aggarwal)
Lastly but not least-ly, Fairlawn Hotel on Sudder Street. Its Christmas look is to die for, accompanied with alcohol and omelets.

4.    Kolkata – 700 016: Christmas and New Year decorations are the most beautiful in this particular part of Kolkata. Park your heart in this street. The entire road is lined up with lights. In addition to the flowers from Park Street Cemetery, Santa caps, multi-coloured wigs, giant-sized goggles are sold at traffic signals, huge serpentine queues embrace Mocambo and Peter Cat, Duck-festival at Moulin Rogue, Crab-festival at Waldroff, beaf steak and vodka at Oly, “25% off” on the second helping of Blenders’ Pride teamed with loud live music at Trinca’s. I do not know what heaven looks like, but I assume, I can accommodate if it’s something similar to this part of the city.

Trivia 1: Trinca’s is perhaps the ONLY bar in Kolkata (if not in India) where Rabindrasangeet is sung by pub-singers, side-by-side with ‘aaiye meherbaan’ and ‘ajeeb dastan hein yeh’. (A friend and I were eyewitnesses).
Trivia 2: Ah not required, you all know the Trinca’s-Usha Uthhup story.
Trivia 3: Mr. Flury and Mr. Trinca owned a tearoom called “Flury’s and Trinca’s” where Flury’s stands today. Mr. Flury ran away with Mrs. Trinca and their partnership split. :D
Trivia 4: Sorry, this post is about winter and not about Trinca’s. And no, I do not advertise for free. :/

5.    The birthday of Jesus: Christmas automatically leads to the birthday of this great man. I think ‘Borodin’ has very special significance in the lives of Bengalis on account of Jesus being a Bengali himself. A friend says: “It has long been proven that Jesus was a Bengali. He was with his mom for 35 years; he thought his mom was a virgin; his mom thought he was God. Now, these three are common with all Bengali sons. Historians are looking for just one proof before declaring this to the world. Did Jishu use a pashbalish (bolster) while sleeping?”.
Indeed. Jishu was a Bengali. Hence, the enthusiasm.

6.               My birthday: (I decided to give Narcissism some rest. For this particular paragraph, it has taken a back seat. Hence, the smaller font.)  

7.  Visit to the zoo, walks in and around the Victoria Memorial, Rabindra Sarobar (Lake): I love zoos, especially in the winter. During winters, Baba used to take us (us = my brother, my cousins, neighbours’ children, his friends’ children and me) to the zoo every Sunday. We would squeeze into our 1966-make Hindustan Motors Ambassador and zoom towards the zoo. Baba would buy small pouches of nuts and grams for all of us for feeding the monkeys and the elephants. During those days, the elephants were kept in a somewhat open space. They would move their trunks towards the visitors and one could feed them with food and coins. I loved how they could distinguish between the two, by eating the former and depositing the latter with the keeper. I love elephants.

I also love the Victoria Memorial and Maidan during the winters. A walk amidst the fog, steaming hot tea thereafter and realising it for the umpteenth time that I live in the most beautiful city in the universe.  Blessed.
Here is a snapshot of the Maidan winter from one of my favourite photographer-friend. It defines all I am talking about.

8.  Joynogorer mowa, Patali, Nolen gur, Gurer Payesh, Patishapta (Narkoler, Khhirer), Pithhe, Koraishutir Kochuri and Phoolkopir singara: Winter is a foodie’s delight indeed. It reminds me of a friend’s status update:
“Katrina Kaif < Katrina Kaif in a Chiffon Saree < Phoolkopir Singara.” True that!
(I purposely did not translate the above names into English. 1st purpose: Why torture non-Bongs by explaining these? 2nd purpose: I have no clue what they are called in English. Also, literal translations like Peas Kachori or Gobi Samosa can rob them of their taste, food-value and charisma. Like Sandip Ray’s Feluda movies. So….)

9.                   The comparatively long intervals at which arms can be waxed: courtesy: Full-sleeved sweaters.

10.   The New Years and the thirsty-first nights, calendar and diaries: There were times when ‘31st Night’ meant the only night in an entire year when we could go to bed really late. My maternal grandmom would sit with my cousin sister and me, watch the Doordarshan 31st night shows till the end just to see Amir Khan or Madhuri Dixit perform. Yes, star performers performed last.  What joy!!! What immense joy!  

Life has changed. Doordarshan has been replaced by Big Bens, Tantras, Undergrounds, Roxies, house parties and the likes. But there’s one thing that has sustained the child in me. The top 100 songs of the year on the radio on the 31st. What suspense!! The breathless gasp, the wide eyed enthusiasm and a long-cherished dream that their No. 1 would match with my No. 1 song……and the ear-to-ear grin when you find…..yesssssss, that has actually happened! Certain ‘woohoo’ feelings cannot be sufficiently described with a single “Woohoo!”.  This feeling is such. :)

@Calendars and diaries: Like most Bengalis, I have this obsession too. I love collecting calendars and diaries. Till today, I couldn’t figure out why! Once stuffed with calendars, I strategically start placing them. ITC or Taj Mahal Palace desk calendars find their places on the work table (reasons? If I say them loud you will call me cheap). “High on art or creativity” calendars will always be saved for home. The calendars from Xerox shop, grocery shop or jewellery shop (with Shiv-Kali photos) find their places behind the kitchen doors. They are meant for drawing circles around important dates, birthdays, anniversaries, when gas needs to be booked, when the Aquaguard guy needs to be called etcs etcs. Pocket calendars from the Calcutta High Court Bar Association is however the most revered of all …..for the ‘red dates’! (Holidays, that is.) :D

Diaries: There was a time when I used a diary for everything. Writing drab daily incidents, song lyrics, making paper boats and planes (with messages on them), penning love letters, calculating expenses from my pocket money, how much to save for making phone-booth-calls to my newly acquired boyfriend, quotations, list of books I plan to buy this Bookfair, comparative analysis between Amir Khan and Salman Khan in AAA, keeping roses and leaves inside the diary to see what happens to them years later, taking down notes……o God, the list is serpentine. I miss writing diaries. :(
But I never miss collecting them. :D

11.        Weddings, Biriyani at winter-weddings, the joy of wearing heavy silks with ease, relief from sweat- smeared makeup, pullovers and blankets laden with the smell of naphthalene, the warmth of wearing freshly ironed clothes, Poush mela at Shantiniketan, Handicratfs fair at Central Park, Boroline, Glycerin and lipbalms (fruit-flavoured. I use them so that I can eat them. That’s it).

12.  Book fair: Like, I miss the Maidan Book Fair like a missing eye. I mean, even after all these years, the Milan Mela-Book Fair seems a distant stranger with whom I can’t relate. If you love books, you might as well like any book fair, anywhere in the world. But then……well, no proper explanation.
Maidan has stuffed us with heaps of memories. If Durga Pujo is the greatest of Bong festivals, Book Fair would be a close second. I am talking about no-Flipkart, no-Infibeam days. I am talking about days when going to Oxford Bookstore or Crosswords weren’t this popular or even non-existent. We would wait for the Book Fair, keeping a year long list ready. (In case, the pocket didn’t allow all of them, College Street would buffer).
There was this one aspect about Bookfair which induced a thousand butterflies. I felt like a queen when one Ms. Suchitra Bhattacharya or one Mr. Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay signed their books I bought. Yes, you get to meet authors at the Bookfair, speak to them, drool over them, and get their books signed! *fainting again in excitement*.
Apart from books, I loved the Ajkaal and Bartaman stalls, their black and white photographs and their captions/catch phrases. I loved those oil dripping Benfish batter/ butter fries and felt extremely amused at the same long queue every year in front of Mousumi Prakashoni! :D
The excitement, the dust, the crowd, the smell of books punctuated with “Pinky, tumi jekhanei thako, Guild office er shamne chole esho. Bunty tomar jonno opekhha korche” made me feel ecstatic.  

Also, watching happy faces buying books made me insanely happy. I would stare at one particular ‘him’ for hours, when he chose patiently and bought one book each for ALL his family members. ALL. (parents, sibling, cousins, aunts, uncles, best friend, sibling’s special someone, his own girlfriend, girlfriend’s brother, girlfriend’s cousin…….phew! And, himself) He would carry several packets from Dey’s, Anondo, Penguin or Deb Shahityo Kutir, filled with books, filled with happiness. (You guessed it right. Reason #111088 behind “why I married this man”).

On that note, Happy “last days of winter”, everyone!


  1. Phata-phati..!!
    Left with a feeling of nostalgia for the Maidan Boi many memories..! Am sure all book loving Kolkatans have their share of beautiful Boi Mela memories.
    Anyway, enjoy writing more this winter, dear writer..while I delight reading your writings under the blanket!
    <3 Banhea

  2. Shotti daruuuun likhechish..... Feeling refreshed..... Looking forward to see some more write ups from you....

  3. Needless to mention its AWEshadharon

  4. Ore Pagli... Mon ta ki bhalo kore dili re...! Love you for this post... and otherwise.... And "Jishu was a bengali..." :D Super se bhi upar!