Your wedding gown, the muga sari you inherited from your mother, your father’s favourite neckties, the hand-embroidered tea-cosy your grandma so lovingly gifted your better-half, can all be preserved with moth balls. But what about the memories that you have collected down the lane, growing up? How do you hold on to them? You ponder; you write diaries or even better, publish them in the form of a book, sharing and bequeathing your cherished childhood. That is exactly what one of our members did. Read on….
‘Kalkatta Chronicles’ is one such story of all and sundry who grew up in Calcutta when Kolkata was known as Calcutta to the Bengali and English-speaking and as Kalkatta to the ones who spoke Hindi at home.
At the Library @ DI, not only do we promote reading, we make space for Adda too! ‘We celebrate scientific and literary achievements and encourage creative minds of members’, said Leslie D’Gama, the Junior Vice President of DI. On the evening of 16th of June,’23, member and the author of ‘Kalkatta Chronicles’ and ‘Kolkata Classics’, Supriya Newar was in ‘adda’ with our very own quick-witted Raju Raman.
An ‘adda’ is an integral part of Calcutta. It’s neither gossip nor PNPC (only a Calcuttan can figure out this acronym). A chit-chat maybe, but it definitely has more dimensions to it than banter. It is an exchange of ideas, opinion or knowledge with a generous dip of fun. The author added, ‘it’s not flippant’.
During the adda session, both Raju and Supriya expressed their indignation when people mispronounce their beloved city as ‘Kawlkata’. Once when someone had reminded Supriya that she was not a Bengali, it offended her. Raju added fuel to fire when he explained that even though Bengali is not their mother tongue, they have more right to call the city their home than the odd Bengali guy who has lived all his life in California (and the likes), visits family in the city once every alternate year and organizes the annual Bongo Utsob many shores away. Point noted.
‘Kolkata Classics’ is an anthology of poems featuring words, phrases, sounds and terminologies that are unique to the city. Supriya explained why a poem in English is titled ‘Chhata’ and not umbrella. Our adda wound around the various uses of this house-hold article from being used as a weapon to shielding oneself from sun and rain, and also from the prying eyes of onlookers while in a romantic rendezvous at parks or in the grounds of the Victoria Memorial! We pondered over how it has metamorphosed from the long, wooden, J-shaped-handled black object carried by the Babus, to the fancy, pocket-sized article that operates with just the click of a button. The not-so-insignificant chhata played a significant role in various Bengali movies too, including Pather Panchali. Raju narrated a hilarious incident when he played with the word ‘meeting’ that was taking place between two ‘love birds’ under an umbrella. The room was in splits.
From Chhata to Maidan to Machh, Mishti and more, Supriya has made a successful attempt to capture it all. She told us, “Being born in a baniya family, living in North Calcutta, I have always been a hard-core vegetarian”. Over the years she made many friends who took it upon themselves to ensure she does not miss out on the delectable delicacy they call machh! Well, have they been successful in their attempt? Ask her and she will beamingly tell you.
“From jonom to date
I’ve stayed niramish’
Some of my friends however
have teamed up to conspire
To try and make me have
if not chingri then ilish!”
The poem titled ‘Pheriwala’ invites special mention. Supriya recollects the rhythmic cries of the hawkers that ring like music to her ears even today. She has penned the soundscapes well. Raju had all of us enthralled when he mimicked the sounds created by the numerous Pheriwalas, like the ‘Sil-kata wala, the boti-dhar wala, the ghoti-gorom wala, the kagoj wala. This brought a huge round of applause from all, including various Council members, who took precious time off to join the adda. The mention of the ding-ding of the tram, the pride of Kolkata back then, brought forth a flood of nostalgia among the ‘adda-givers’. The hand-pulled rickshaw, which many activists feel, is a curse to mankind but forget that it is what brings food to the tables of these immigrants from Bihar, highlights the human angle of the city. It is to be noted that most diplomats posted here, make it a point to repeatedly come back to their friends in Calcutta long after they have set sail to far-off lands. Such is the warmth of the residents of the City of Joy.
It was rightly pointed out that part of the background of Calcutta was borrowed from the Raj. Among other things, it comprises the Babu, the baniya (think Barrabazaar), the bureaucrat and the British (their progeny and their club culture, to name a few). Some traditions, sadly, are slowly taking a back seat and are on the verge of fading away somewhere in the wilderness of modernisation. Supriya said that her book is an ‘ode to the lost world’. She also recalled her student life at MHS, known only as ‘Modern’ to the general public, especially to the man who sold textbooks to the girls; long before the days of Bengal Stores. One had to pass on a ‘pink slip’ with the names of books written on it, through a slit on the shutters of the shop. Thank all your Gods in heaven today if you do not get ‘the pink slip’ at your workplace! Mr. Newar, Supriya’s father, told us how he would grab the brand-new Hindi Literature book, to read poems by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and Jaishankar Prasad, as soon as the pile of textbooks landed with a thud. It was indeed a touching recollection of sweet days bygone.
Have you ever witnessed hearing a ‘Das ka panch, das ka panch’ outside a cinema hall? If you have, you are surely in a trance now, going through a plethora of memories, reminiscing your college days and the summer of ‘69! And I will leave you at that, to treasure and cherish the golden days of Priya, Globe & Minerva.
In the words of our poet; since,
“A good adda session
needs suitable facilitation
With cha, coffee and other liquids
in ample circulation”
our adda session was replete with tea and snacks.
Members and guests clearly enjoyed the adda session judging not only by the applause, laughter and feedback, but also from the sale of books which Supriya was kept busy signing till late. We wish Supriya’s books find a place in every library of the city and in the hearts of all Calcuttans. Books are available at every leading bookstore in the city as well as online.
Wrapping up, Rajashree Kundalia, Council member and Head of the Library Committee delivered the vote of thanks by reading out an excerpt from the poem Immersion from Kolkata Classics.
“An ocean of goodbyes
Drumbeats, prayers and moist eyes
Immersed in Ganga she sets sail
Aschhe bochhor abar hobe
The belief, the hail.”
Calcutta, Kalkatta or Kolkata, over it, you can toy
But it remains for us, our City of Joy!