Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I'm writing this from Calcutta, the city I was born in and a city I'm visiting after two years. I haven't had much reason to come back here, but yesterday when I was driving through the heart of the Gangetic delta in southern Bengal, a place from where I can trace my roots from both sides of my family, I felt a weird sense of hollowness. I'm a fourth-generation city dweller from both my parents sides, and while driving through the lush freshly-planted paddy fields down the fantastic new Durgapur Expressway, the final-part of the North-to-East stretch of the Golden Quadrilateral, I saw things that should have been natural to someone from my families a century ago. You can't really picture a nicer pastoral scene than the stuff I saw yesterday. And then I saw Calcutta.
You know, I sometimes wonder why Bengali's who have moved out of the city have this massive fascination for the city, a weird sense of romanticism also, and I know that if I say something to the contrary I will be crucified by a whole host of senior editors and Delhi-baiters. Calcutta is an unique city, it is possibly India's only major city that is linked definately to one culture - Bangla. There is no other community in India which is so strangly linked to one city as Benaglis are - strange considering the city is a fairly young city in the scheme of things, particularly by Indian standards. I guess that might be because there has been so little inward migration into the city from elsewhere in the country, outward migration on the other hand has meant that Calcutta's (or Kolkata if you please) has lost its best and brightest for over half a century.
The reason I'm carrying on about this is because after my grandmother's death my father and I discussed the fate of the house in Calcutta, and while we haven't come to a final decision, it seems increasingly likely that the house where I spent three years of my life will possibly be sold off. I'm proud of being Bangla, not for the reasons some often say they are proud of being Bangla, and yes Bongs are irritating parochialists, my Bangla has improved manifold ever since I started journalism, it is still 'probashi' Bangla and understanding villagers was an issue yesterday (god, colloqualial rural Bong is insane), but I would say that my Bangla isn't half-bad. Its just that I do feel this strange attachment to this city, and selling the house would not be as traumatic as cutting the umbilical cord, and I can't quite make the perfect analogy over here, but you know it will be as if something will be missing.
Anyway, I am feeling awfully sentimental about Calcutta this time, but something tells me that I will be glad to get out of here tonight. I am coming back in a few days, making it twice in under a week, very strange considering I haven't been here two years.


Anonymous said...

K Baba
Again you have misspelt definitely. It is definitely (repeat DEFINITELY) and not definately.

Anonymous said...

K Baba
Calcutta is a unique city. And not "Calcutta is an unique city".

Anonymous said...

K -- your 'probashiness' shows when you naively proclaim "I'm proud of being Bangla, not for the reasons some often say they are proud of being Bangla".... what the dickens is a Bangla? Either you're a Bangal (which you're not as you belong to "Poshchim Bangla" and are therefore a "Ghoti") or you're a "Bangali" or "Bengali" -- depending on whether you're saying this in Bangla or English.... But Bangla is not an ethnic classification, it's a language. Bangali is what you are and Bangla is what you (think) you speak pretty well....

thalassa_mikra said...

Ha ha - if you think Mednipur colloquial Bangla is bad, try the kind they speak in my mom's village (technically Bardhaman, but heavily Bankura influenced). The last time I was there, it took me a full 5 minutes to comprehend what my cousin was saying as I was hearing the village dialect after years.

Actually, come to think of it, Mednipur would be worse, because it's heavily Oriya influenced.

I really like Cal, but that's not what makes my heart feel pangs of sorrow on quiet winter evenings. It's the pastoral landscape, the water, the green, impossible green of the land. That's when I want to read Jibanananda Das and weep.

Anonymous said...

Can we please, please have ONE blog in Indian journalism that isn't overshadowed by the bong mafia? Probashi, ghoti, bangal, or whatever?
It has always been extremely irritating how everything and everyone in English Indian journalism, depending on the generation goes back to Calcutta.
your parents' generation; it's all about x da, or y di or who did what on aveek sarkars carpet. (If you haven't heard that story, ask your mom/dad/bong boss)
If they're your generation it's this whole Amitav Ghose/Roots stuff. I know it's your personal blog, but the worst sin for any writer is to get predictably boring.
This one's supposed to be about media; not displaced bong angst. PS: I'm bong, probashi, and a journalist.