Friday, 30 October 2009

Where one city ends and another begins

I am in Kolkata right now.

The 'Coffee House' part of this blog is from Kolkata and its famed addas (chats) of the India Coffee House. The blog was supposed to reflect my part Kolkata part Mumbai identity.

Yet I realised that I have begin to view the city from a tourist or travel writer's eye.

Right from the attempted scams at the airport (tips to load your suitcase by pulling it from your hand or proposing to locate a cab which is in front of you) to rude, disinterested, non change returning, men manning the prepaid counter, the airport loo which was out of a Ramsey horror film and the four men who sat in the front seat of the cab I hired to the cabbie who will charge twenty Rupees extra to take you home and the joy of the Metro Station just opened outside our house and the bewildered attempts to place stations called Mahanayak Uttam Kumar (Tollygunge), Netaji, Masterda Surya Sen (my Bansdroni) and Kobi Nazrul Islam).

So when does a city start becoming a stranger? I have been in Mumbai for ten years now. Another five and I can officially call myself a Mumbaikar apparently. In the process I romanced Mumbai eateries on my food blog, presented papers on it in research conferences on Mumbai and now write on it on the B A's Mumbai Metro Twin too.

Is ten years enough to make a city a memory? While I did live for eighteen years in Calcutta, I was not born there. I moved in when I was eight. My parents weren't born there either.

Calcutta remains the central city for all Bengalis who don't live in Bengal. The mother ship. The lodestar. Our Jerusalem. I am no different.

I guess a city is also made of its people and its memories. I am writing this post on my dad's desk which used to be my study table through school and college. In my room where I navigated through those awkward teen years and hit the twenties with baggage such as Rambo and Juhi Chawla posters. I went to Park Street earlier today where every step brought back million memories. And walking around our building where I moved in when I was ten is a Cinema Paradiso flashback sequence of Durga Pujas and Leo Mattel plastic Mauser guns and Star Trek transmitter made with two match boxes and a rubber band.

Then there is the warm fuzzy feeling of being with family. Discussing and listening to problems and plans and stories from the past and flipping through sepia hued albums... my mother who thinks I have lost weight, have had a nice hair cut and write with a certain 'grandeur' to my grandmother who thinks I have put on weight (!) and then plies me with fish curry and sweets a week after she came out of the hospital. Plans for my grandfather's ninetieth birthday the day after and my little brother who insists on treating us to expensive restaurants.

I guess a city can fade away from our lives as we move on. But its memories and its people never will.

And so I sit at home and think of returning home. Waiting for the caffeine to go out of the system. Brushing away my mom's entreaties to call it a day.


Scarlett said...

Very well-written post. Actually touches the heart.

Rhea said...

:-) I feel the same way about the same city now. Very poignant post.

The knife said...

Thanks Scarlett, Rhea ... the question of identity is a perplexing one

k said...

Loved reading this one as much as you must have loved writing it