Encounters with Calcutta

Like with many other things, I have shared a tangled relationship with my hometown Calcutta (now Kolkata), the city of my birth and the city my mother mythologised.

I considered Bombay (now Mumbai) as my home and my father’s possessiveness ensured we never left Bombay to visit Calcutta. In my life I have only been to Calcutta 5 times (twice just for work). My friends were all Malayalees and I assumed my soul-home was in Kerala.

But DNA proved stronger. On the last trip mom and I took to Calcutta almost nine years ago, I was surprised by the city. This was the first visit for me as an adult and I wasn’t thrilled by it. But the minute I landed I felt something, a frisson that tells you you are home again, you fit in, you know these people in a certain way without having ever met them, they are your kin.

The scent in the air, the feast consisting of phuchkas and Ilish maach and porotas, the intense Kali temples, the culture, the songs, summer fairs, exhausted buildings that encompass the glory of the past with the miserable present and the tenuous future, the Bengali accent, everything made me feel at home. Especially the people who dined and feted us. Who made us feel treasured like my uncles who were amazed at how much I had grown in two decades, my mother’s school friends for whom I was just Gita’s daughter, my mom occupying centre stage unlike Bombay where she was Soma’s mother.

It ended all too quickly with me managing to get injured in a freak accident and then I was grounded and bedridden for the rest of the stay.

But when I left Calcutta that year I was wiser and a more thorough Bengali than before. I cried on the way home because I realised that Calcutta was in my blood and it would always be, as it was the land of my parents and ancestors and even without setting foot it would still figure in my dreams and memories.

And just like I carry a bit of my parents within me, I also carry a bit of Calcutta within me. It’s soul knows mine even though I tried to escape from it. It will always remain my home, a place to come back to, no questions asked.

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