“CALCUTTA”

Jodhpur Park, 5: 35 p.m.

The burner was rain-splattered. There was a tear in the blue tarpaulin overhead, which went uncared for unless rainwater plopped into the tea that was slowly simmering. Simmering now; it would boil over soon enough. But Bablu da turned down the knob at precisely the right moment, before it did. 8 rupees for a bhaand.

The burner took a break. Calcutta is a city that often seems to be, to the outsider, on an endless break. You’d be envious of its languid vacation. Men women children yellow cabs mini-buses hand-drawn rickshaws sprawled across the asphalt bed, inhaling the tar and the light blue sky all at once. That’s Calcutta for you. The City of Joy, of culture and heritage and music. To her lovers, Calcutta’s cacophony is music. Hot debates over steaming cha-shingara is an orchestra. The dull hum that sets in every night, as the brown oil-soaked paper covering the egg-chicken rolls sticks to the plates, is a lullaby. Calcutta’s lovers are probably among the most possessive. After all, it’s the city with a soul. Argue with that, and you may subtly or not-so-subtly be labelled vapid.

It was all very laughable for a while. A city with her people and their eccentricities. It was cute, almost. But for how long does one laugh at isolation? For how long do you find yourself amused when you’ve walked the entire stretch from Park Street to New Market and felt nothing but empty and alone?

I was always asked why I don’t say ‘Kolkata’. ‘Kolkata’, ‘shohor’- names given to a city by her lovers. Excuse my gendering of it, but Calcutta to me has always been feminine: the bashful beloved, the cruel mistress, or the cool and aloof singer at the downtown bar. Or it could be conditioning. I don’t know. I haven’t bothered to find out. That is how it has been, you see. My romance with Calcutta, however fleeting, has always felt like a hand-me-down raincoat. Friends who had inhabited this metropolis for years had often resembled condescending, elder siblings. The things they own are simply…better. And now that I have them too, I better value them, love them. The lack of romance, however, was more my own. Never felt second-hand. And that bothered me. I struggled to experience Calcutta. I went to College Street, strolled among the lawns of Victoria, sat sipping cha at Princep Ghat as dusk resisted the night. Calcutta did not become shohor.

Coming back to nomenclature. ‘Calcutta’ is endearing, yet foreign. My relationship with the city has been an exhausting and persistent process of inching closer and shrinking away. I was always heavily aware of being on the outside. Calcutta doesn’t belong to anyone, but her people do belong to her. I yearned for the sense of belonging that I never felt, be it in Maidan, in Coffee House, while flicking the ash off a dying cigarette, or in the by-lanes of Shobhabazaar. Park Street remained a blur of neon lights and Chinese food and debates over the steak at Oly Pub. Despite living in the southern part of the city, it never grew into my go-to place for a night-out. Yellow cabs flitted in and out of sight, from my 27th floor balcony. The world down below with a million people, dreams in their veins and coals in their hands, did not have to make sense to me. If only I could get a little closer.

Romance is Bablu da’s steaming bhaand of perfectly coloured tea in rain. But Calcutta and I were locked in a long-term relationship, and there was no love lost between us. We gave each other space, and too much of it. We were respectful to each other, and did not stop its turning into cold civility. I had typed ‘but’ instead of ‘and’ in the previous two sentences, but hit backspace each time. Because I don’t know if there is any regret anymore. I knew regret. I had seen it on the face of the old manager of Paramount, as a twenty-something abused Lenin, and ordered sweet lime juice instead of daab-er shorbot. Regret was Au Bon Pain in place of Music World. Regret could be spelled out.

How do you spell nothing?

I can be apathetic. I can be distasteful. But I can’t refute Calcutta. Every time the air-hostess welcomes me to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, the city and I greet each other like old lovers who neither accept nor reject one another. We are going to spend some time together now. Struggle, to tolerate, if not love.

Image by Deyasini Chatterjee


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Vagabonding ft. Chai
Ramblings from the life of an insomniac Lit major living by Stevenson’s aphorism: “The great affair is to move”, and trying to make sense of life and its squiggles.

Written by Deyasini Chatterjee

Updates monthly

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SWINDLER’S LIST

“For how long do these two plan to waste my time?” the cranky bookstore owner thought, as he glared at the two men browsing through titles of the same section for the past half an hour. They seemed to be well dressed and conversed in soft whispers, grinning occasionally. He finally heaved a sigh of relief when they walked towards the counter. They nodded at him once and exited the shop, leaving him fuming. He shook his fist at them and turned. Only later would he realize that half of his expensive pen collection was missing.

A cool wind blew past them, spreading earthy fragrance carrying the promise of rain. One of them caught a pamphlet and stared at it until his friend finally cracked and asked.

“Well I’m knackered. This man here looks like you Sanjay, don’t he?” They read and re-read the paper fluttering in their hands and smirked. “Looks like we’ll have some more fun today.”

A light drizzle made them smoothly steal umbrellas from passers-by without a break in their gaits. Soon, they reached their destination. A large tent swayed in the breeze over the trees laden with flowers and fruit. Much of the audience was already seated. The journalists directed their crew hither and thither, arguing with the security guards, trying to secure all angles for the tardy minister. They had a hard time pacifying other dignitaries on stage, most of who claimed to have pollen allergies and grumbled until they received refreshments. The two swindlers adjusted their disguises and delicately coughed at the harried security guards outside the venue.

“Do you realize how long you have made me wait?” Sanjay began his tirade. “I’ve been sitting in my car waiting for God knows who to come receive me. I’ll not tolerate this shabby treatment any longer,” he shouted with an air of unmistakable authority. The organiser profusely apologised for his oversight and led him onto the stage, flattering him all the way until his righteous anger had cooled. As Sanjay delivered a generic speech, peppering it with false promises and unachievable targets, Amar had a field day pocketing purses and accessories. He chuckled when a garland of folded currency was graciously presented to his companion.

The real minister finally arrived with his entourage and shouted at the flustered organiser who was too shocked to apologize. It was almost dusk and tiny stars had already started peeping out of the sky. Sanjay and Amar were long gone. Later when the press reported the incident, one of the people interviewed answered, “What difference does it make?”

 

Written by Tript Kaur
Image by Sanna Jain

Dedications

If you were to write something, would the person you dedicated it to
Be the person who makes you laugh a lot?
Can you tell if someone is being earnest, in jest?
If you can hear the same joke over and over, and still laugh,
If you can hear someone tell the same joke over and over,
And still listen, and still laugh, each time,
Maybe you’ve found dedication,
Because I read a book on the psychology of humour, dedicated
‘To Myra, who keeps me laughing.’

Written by Anushmita Mohanty
Image by Kanishka

I Made a Thing

The making of the thing didn’t happen without provocation. A certain gathering had been made, and people try to impress people in gatherings, particularly those of the elite kind. In any case, the thing being made had intricacy involved, references were made within it, and the overall effect, in the end, was quite funny.

“What did you make?” someone asked the maker, laughing.

“Just a joke, you know,” laughed the maker right back.

Within the community, it was quite a masterpiece of a satire, when all was said and done.

They all chuckled, laughing, grinned, giggled and looked at the thing.

It was a small rock, one populated with green stuff (the maker called them trees). There was a vast amount of blue, and apparently, that was water. Somewhere in the corner of the rock, a species of animal was busy with fire, as if it was the most interesting concept in the world.

When asked, the maker said, “It’s funny now, but give it a few thousand years, it’s going to be hilarious.”

Down on the green rock, the species of animal was busy with the orange flames and the fact that you could grow plants to suit your purposes.

Quite a clever little joke.

Written by Tanvi Chowdhary
Image by Sanna Jain

S’Laughter

My aunt laughs a whole lot,
And half the time it is glad.

A reluctant chuckle at a silly joke,
A grin cracked at her sheepish child,
Laughter that shakes her frame
Dissolving into giggles and breathless gasps.

My aunt laughs a great deal,
And only half the time is it glad.

A self-effacing smile attends her silly little opinion
Which goes out dressed like a sillier, littler joke.
(These are important matters, and she wouldn’t know.)
Prefaced appropriately by one of those softening grins,
The sharp edges of her rage have to be smoothened to a nicety
And the whole thing is so hilarious
That she then joins in, in their laughing away of her,
Dissolving into embarrassment and studied silence.

My aunt ‘laughs’ a great deal,
But she laughs a whole lot less,
And certainly,
Not half as much as my uncle does.

Written by Swathi Gangadharan
Image by Stuti Pachisia