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June 2, 2012

One day in my city

So Nikita from IndiBlogger challenged me to write a post on one day in Kolkata.This is for you Nikki!;-)
"Kumartuli has a 300 year old tradition that is unparalleled," I chirped to Nikita.

"Woaah! Jorasanko museum, the Indian Coffee House,the College street and now this!!Feels like I am caught in a time-warp today!!!" Nikita let out an excited smile as we strolled through the dingy alleys of ShovaBazar in North Kolkata.This is the place which houses Kumartuli and it's prized artisans.Home to the god and demon makers who sculpt all the idols which grace the pandals during Durga Pujas.
Gods and demons get born HERE!Durga,Kartik,Laxmi,Saraswati,the asura,the lion,everybody!

For the record,the Rabindra Bharti Museum, popularly known as “The Jorashanko Thakurbari” was the home of the Tagores. The "Ekla cholo re" and our national anthem composer breathed his first and breathed his last in this house. It was built in the 18th century by Prince Dwarkanath Tagore,Rabindranath Tagore's grandfather.Rabindranath and other luminaries of Bengal ,like Subashchandra Bose, were frequent visitors to the Indian Coffee House on College Street.The coffee house later became a meeting place for the poets, artistes, literati and people from the world of art and culture.And the location couldn't be more fitting.College Street houses two of the most prestigious educational institutes of India,Presidency and Calcutta University.
Inside the Jorashanko Tagore Palace!
The College Street Coffee House-been around since 1942.One of the heritage spots of our city.
College Street-a book lover's paradise.Sides of the streets are lined with  small booksellers' stalls.

"It's kind of a sleepy neighborhood," Nikita commented as she gingerly walked around and nervously took out her camera."Is it okay if I click some snaps?"

"Sure why not?" I merrily answered back. "And if someone tells you,you need some kinda membership card to click here,don't sweat it.That just translates as,gimme a quick 25 bucks to sip on some tea and munch on some singaras. And you can click till your batteries run out."

"Singaras?" Nikita threw me a questioning look.

"Samosas in Bengali," I quipped."When something gets popular here,we don't say it sells like hot cakes here.We say,it sells like hot singaras."

"He he," she flashed her pearly whites."Really?"

"No,I just made that up. But once we are out of here,remind me to buy you some,ok?"

Nikita smiled again as we moved around a bend, and landed up where the 'God' workshops were lined on either side of the road. We came upon a charming old house with idols of Ramkrishna and Sarada Maa perched by the side of it.

Nikita immediately took a picture."Who are these people?"

"Holy folks," I summarily replied."Kinda big down here.The bearded guy is Ramkrishna.Mentor to Vivekananda.And yep,Vivekananda is pretty big down here too."

"So Maa Durga isn't the only god worshiped here,huh?"

"Not a chance. We bongs make it a habit of scouting around for new folks to worship all the time."

We peeped into a workshop on our left.A man was sitting on a workbench and did not seem very keen to see us walking in.
"Should we go in," Nikita asked hesitantly."The guy kinda seems pissed."

"Flash him your cute smile,and Open Sesame!" I chimed.

She looked at me annoyed.I ignored her and called out to the guy in Bengali,"Dude!Can we see some sculptor in action here?Like actually giving shape to something?"
By the way,in Bengali,we don't say 'Dude'.We say 'Dada'.But you guys already knew that,right?

The 'dude' pointed gruffly to a guy nearby,who we couldn't spot earlier because he was working behind a shed.

 "Random trivia.There are more than 250 small and big sculptors in this whole area," I informed Nikita as we moved closer to the guy behind the shed.His name,we found out,was Mrinal.

Mrinal said he was  50 years of age and came to work here nearly 30 years back. He added এখানে ই আমার হাতে খড়ি(this is where I learnt work).

"Thirty years," Nikita exclaimed."Spent just sculpting?"

"Yeah,this guy is like the old testament," I jibed."And he has probably thirty more to go.Durga Pujas ain't going anywhere soon."

Mrinal was busy giving shape up to the সিংহ(Lion).Nikita jumped into snapping photos non-stop from various angles.

The Lion,the vahaan,of Devi Durga!

She wanted to know how long does it take to finish an idol from start to finish. Mrinal clarified that it really depends on the size and the design but generally something like the one he was working on could take up to 10 days to finish.  Multiple sculptors may be put to work on one idol, given their availability.

We then scooted to another work shop which seemed some what more elaborate than the previous one.It was one long dark alley lined with idols on each side. With artisan perched on ladders and work benches and hard at work even on a Sunday afternoon. My companion clicked some more pictures as we entered into the labyrinth.

After ambling around a bit more,we came out on the streets from the narrow lanes.There were teenagers there who had fancy cameras dangling around their necks, in their trendy attire. It made for quite a sight in this otherwise modest neighborhood.

"Guess we ain't the only shooters around," Nikita observed amused.

"I am pretty sure,you are the only shooter here with a degree in Biochem under her belt from the University of Toronto," I winked at her."By the way,they celebrate any sort of Durga Pujas in Canada?Any bong community or that sortofa thing?"

"You kidding me?Durga Puja and Bongs are everywhere,"she chirped enthusiastically.

The local youth who hung out at pan shops and tea stalls seemed unaffected by all the wannabe photographers thronging the locality. They must have been seeing this for a while. We decided to join some local folks at a nearby tea stall.

"This stuff is strong!" Nikita opined as she sipped on the strong reddish roadside tea.
Kolkata tea in an earthen cup,called a Bhaar.Strong stuff!!

"Yep.You need the boost.We will be headed to the Hooghly river now."


"A Ganges tributary beside our city.We will be taking a boat ride.But before that,we will have some singaras."

"I want some rasagullas," Nikita pouted.

"Kind of cliched,don't you think?Everyone coming down to Kolkata wants rasagullas.There are plenty of other sweet dishes around."

"Like what?"

"You totally need to dig those pearly teeth of yours into some sandesh,mishti-doi and cham chams.For the record,misthi-doi is sweet yogurt. And sandesh and cham cham you just have to find out for yourself."
We call this delicacy Karapaker Sandesh. One small nibble,and you will wonder why these sweets ain't made all over India.  
Mishti Doi!!And yup,we bongs have a fetish for the earthen  cups.
And this ladies and gentlemen is the Cham Cham!This stuff is so sweet,we even refer to people we love and adore as Cham Chams.#true story#

"And all this is gonna happen after the boat ride?" Nikita raised her eyebrows questioningly."It's already three thirty.I have to return to my guest-house."

"Trust me,you ain't gonna regret it.Also,there is the largest flower market in Eastern India right under the Howrah Bridge.The everyday-ness of it all, the heady mixture of scenes you encounter there and the photogenic marigolds.You and your camera will have a field-day there."

"OK.Anything you say,Mr.Biswas," Nikita smirked naughtily."Hope you will not take advantage of a girl from Toronto who is just here on a sight-seeing visit."

"Oh! I was thinking of ripping you off your Canadian dollars and leave you stranded in some strange lonely place," I joked back.

"I am trained in Krav-Manga," Nikita lifted her chin defiantly."I can totally kick your butt.Forget Canadian dollars.You won't even be able to rip off the chocolate dollar candies I have in my purse right now."

"Who needs dollar candies,anyway?I can totally have some Malpoa instead."

"What's that?"

"Why don't you try it out yourself?"
Chaanar Malpoa-Made from chaana,which is sweetened and finely ground  Indian Cottage Cheese.Yep,we bongs have a veritable sweet tooth to reckon with.#Ami sotti bolchi#
"Lemme guess.And that too will happen after the boat ride?"

"Definitely after the boat ride," I winked.
Vidyasagar Setu  is a bridge over the Hooghly River in West Bengal, India. It links the city of Howrah to its twin city of Kolkata.Don't tell me that you want to miss a boat ride in this delightful setting.

~The End~



  1. This was a lovely post. Virtual tour of North Kolkata (you could have added some more details from the South and Central area as well though. Kamartuli took up almost half the post. Nonetheless, this was a very informative post for those who don't know little knick knacks about Kolkata. :)
    P.S.- Isn't Mullick Bazar Asia's largest wholesale flower market??

    1. @Swarnali According to the Internet,the flower market under Howrah Bridge is the largest.:-D No idea which is correct.And you know,I wanted to portray those portions of Kolkata culture which are totally unique to Kolkata.So I skipped Victoria Memorial,Indian Museum etc.And I was left with Kumartuli and rest of North Kolkata.And then bongs are synonymous with Durga Puja.So I thought why not devote time to the sculpting behind the Durga Pujas.

    2. Its the same one!! The Mullick Bazar one is the one under Howrah Bridge :D
      Yeah bongs are synonymous with the rich heritage we have here!!Nonetheless,the post is great :)

  2. An interesting record for them to whom Kolkata is but a distant land! But yes, i totally love the sweet..cham cham is my fav. m yet to try malpoa though, guess it wont be available in Delhi!
    I suggest you to write more of such stuff...would love to read it from u :D


    1. @saraj glad you feel that way.:-) Although I am not very good at this kind of writing.:-(

  3. Wow, this was a great read! Humorous, informative, and catchy! I felt like I was right there in Kolkata. Samosas.. I mean, Singharas, is my favorite food ever! and yumm I love rasgullas too, and now I have to try the cham chams. They look delicious! I love how you described the culture. It seems to be a very religious, traditional and conservative place. Rich in culture and traditions. And wow, a boat ride! Couldn't have asked for a better end to the journey! ;)

    Thanks for being such a good Kolkata guide for a girl from Toronto. :)

    - Nikita

    1. @nikita culture and tradition is there,but kolkata is not so conservative anymore.I decided to bring your character to a part of Kolkata which is steeped in tradition.'Coz that's a face of Kolkata people don't often get to see these days.Even the ones living in the city.:-)

  4. Mishti doi, sandesh, cham cham!!! :/ Rohu's sweet tooth is screaming!!
    Wonderfully delightful post!!

    1. @rohu :-)Come down to kolkata for a sweet fest,mam:-)

  5. Woah...nice post Rahul. I surely will put "Visit Kolkata" on my to do list now. The sweets look so tempting. I love Sandesh and Rasmalai...I am sure the Kolkata's authentic ones taste even better than the ones we get here . Now, my mouth is watering :)

    1. @pooja :-) Yep,kolkatans do know how to make their sweets tempting...;-)

  6. That's a nice story you wrote. I was totally into it, and could feel the virtual tour! Oh, I love mishti doi, and shingaras are my favorite, never tried cham cham though! This was a nice Bangali post, loved reading it :)

    1. @Dark Angel Never tried cham chams??:-O You live in kolkata,right????:-D Thanks for the appreciation tho.

  7. A feel good post!
    After one month in Kolkata, I had developed a severe unliking to this place, its weather, its rush, the traffic and the usual khich-khich of locals (no offence, but it is true!). Your post presented glimpses of the beautiful Kolkata which I haven't seen yet. Will definitely visit that scripture place and Vidyasagar Setu in the next weekend!

    1. @Amit Yup.I feel ya.I personally feel Kolkata has changed for the worse in the past few years as well.:-( But then again,it is the city I grew up in...:-D So I get used to it....

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  9. Reading this made me miss Calcutta :) The Howrah Bridge and the Coffee House.. I remember them so well :) Beautiful read.

  10. One post...for that matter, even 10 posts aren't sufficient to cover Kolkata. Though not a bengali, I spent a major part of my childhood in a small colony just about 4-5 hours away from Kolkata, in Jharkhand - I must've visited the city more than a few hundred times, yet could never get enough of it. :)

    The Indian Coffee house and college street made me nostalgic.

    1. :-D So you got a Kolkata connection as well,huh??? Awesome!!!!!

  11. Rahul.. you made me soooo nostalgic. I have lived in many cities in my forty odd years but nothing compares to Kolkata. They say home is where the heart is and my heart is in Kolkata. Mishti doi, singhara, cha in bhadhs, jhal muri, phuchcka- ar koto ki jinish gulo miss kori!!! I miss the emotional outbursts, the addas and culture that dogs your foot steps. Mumbai is about as dirty as Kolkata but looks filthier!!

    I misss the Kalboishakhir jodh brishti, the music and the poetry. It is sad that Ekla Cholo had to become popular only after AB sang it on Kahani..

    Kolkata also has very nice jazz scene ( at least it used to).. The cakes and pastries at Flurys- Peter Cat on Park Street.

    The book fair, Rabindra Sadan..I realized recently during a visit to the city that trams are now not plying in most parts. I could not relate the city to autorickshaws. I found the malls a culture shock as much as the multiplexes and the type of films that are made these days ( autograph being one of them). Coffee houser shei addata aaj ar nei...

    1. @Meera Why don't you write a blog on your experiences in Kolkata?:-) This comment was so beautiful.COvered so many stuff which even my whole blog didn't.I will be looking forward to a blog from you.

    2. Yes Rahul. Good idea. I had sort of touched upon it in two of my posts

      The first one is the feeling of acceptance that I have experienced as a non bengali during my days there and the second is about a school reunion that I attended last year in the city.

      But sure, I think I should do one exclusively on the city - actually there should be an entire BLOG dedicated to the lovely city :P