Sunday, April 8, 2012

One Day in Kolkata!

The end of the financial year brings with it a good amount of pressure at work. That was true this year too. Chance had it that I had to travel to Kolkata (Calcutta), the City of Joy on the 29th of March for some urgent work.
I took the 7.30AM Jet Airways flight from Mumbai. Knowing fully well that the landing approach to Kolkata's Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Airport is very scenic, I chose seat 16A on the web-check-in.
The queues for the security check were unimaginably long, snaking all the way up to the check-in counters. Most of these passengers seemed to be chasing their financial year deadlines.
Our Boeing 737-700 was parked at a remote parking bay at Terminal 2. The drive to the remote parking bay took 20 minutes around the Vile Parle end of Runway 14-32. After boarding I was dismayed that my seat, 16A, didn't have a window. Seat 16F did, so did 17A and 18A. That meant I would miss the wonderful sights of green paddy fields and the lakes while landing. Choosing not to be disappointed, I picked up catching up on lost sleep - a two and a half hour flight is good for that.
At nearly 10AM, we landed at Kolkata. We docked up at the aerobridge. As we walked out of the aircraft, we were greeted by an overpowering acrid stench. It appeared that the staff had tried to turnaround the "situation" by overusing room freshener! The effect was disastrous. That was my welcome to Kolkata!

I expected Kolkata would have undergone Poriborton under the Didi, but somethings cannot change, especially when talk of change is just in the air.
The ride to Church Street was smoother than I had expected - here Kolkata scored over Mumbai. I must admit, I had always found Kolkata (excluding the Esplanade, Park Street, Victoria Memorial area) very very filthy (Howrah is even worse). The stench was still there, actually made worse by the humidity. No Poriborton on this.
I reached the client's place at about 11AM. The business we had to conclude would have taken barely one-hour, but the efficiency of Kolkata office staff is legendary! Till about 1PM, the staff were still preparing the required documents!
At that point, I excused myself for lunch. I had done adequate research on an authentic Bengali vegetarian thali before hand on Google and validated my findings with my friend, Supratik, and his wife Sayantani! As expected, Supratik warned that I would have tough time eating vegetarian stuff in Kolkata, but I had little choice, as Navratras were on. That is the only time when I seriously turn vegetarian.
Supratik and Sayantani recommended Aaheli at The Peerless Inn for a vegetarian thali. At Aaheli, I was impressed by the decor that attempted to portray rural Bengal. And Manna Dey's rendition of Robindro Songeet gave Aaheli an authentic feel. I remember Aaheli had played host to contestants in one of the seasons of The Amazing Race. The contestants had to devour the head of a fish, alongwith the eye, which was found by most contestants as offensive.
My vegetarian thali came - it had rice crackers, lucchis (puris), moong daal, spinach and cauliflower, aloo poshto, baby jackfruit, chaina in cashew gravy, pulao, sweet rice, mishti doi and sondesh! Being in Kolkata and not having fish and mutton is sacrilege. Anything less than that is plain average. By that standard, my meal was average too.
Back at the client's place, they were still struggling with their paperwork. After waiting for another 30 minutes, my patience wore thin. I told them I had to leave if work was going to delayed further. Then they got into action with cries of "Ki korchi?" "Hobe!" "Ami korchi!"
After completing the paperwork, we proceeded to the client's other locations at Chowringhee and Netaji Subhash Road. Now at Chowringhee, I saw another typical symbol of Bengalis, or rather a symbol of Bengali masculinity. In the meeting room, all the officials were gaily puffing at their cigarettes, the room had that characteristic smell of stale smoke (they had been smoking for hours) and the ashtrays were running full. Isn't smoking officially banned indoors in Indian offices? But Poriborton in Kolkata is hard to come!
By that time, I had to take the hard call to change my flight from the 18.15 to the 21.05 red-eye flight.
At the Netaji Subhas Road office, we were assisted by Anglo-Indian staff, who were super-efficient. "Is efficiency ingrained in the DNA of some ethnic groups?" I wondered as we stepped out on to the road. There I saw a particularly reckless and notorious Marwari businessman stepping into his shiny big black Audi. This guy, like many other Marwari businessmen from Kolkata (Marwari businessmen elsewhere are a tone or two better), has the reputation of duping banks, but always manages to get away, which explained his flashy Audi and lifestyle.
The downfall of Kolkata was evident in the way the beautiful Victorian and Gothic structures of Chowringhee, Esplanade and Netaji Subhas Road are crumbling.
So what explains the downfall of Kolkata? Tri-factors, I concluded - Marxism, Bengali lethargy and Marwari megalomania! I would rather substitute Mamata-ism with Marxism, there is hardly any difference.
The final stop was the airport, but before that, I had to stop at KC Das for their legendary Roshogollas and Sondesh! A sweet end to a sour day in Kolkata!

1 comment:

Subhorup Dasgupta said...

I could totally identify with your frustration. Though as a bong, I might feel that your post tends to generalize things a little, I cannot help agreeing with the fact that Kolkata and Bengal have definitely missed a good number of buses. To a great extent, the left front (not Marx or Marxism) is to blame for that, since they chose to adopt an outdated socialist stance that prevented the state from participating in the growth story of contemporary India. In addition, the years in power not only robbed them of their ideology, which in my opinion is going to be the future of the world if it plans to survive, but turned them into corrupt, inefficient and uncaring "absentee landlords." The poriborton too seems to be only superficial. The bulk of TMCs new members are ex-CPM card-holders and cadres. In addition, as first generation power-holders, they are way too busy filling their pockets to be bothered about the correctness of their actions. It is a very sad day for Bengal and Kolkata. Enjoyed your post. I hope you meet more Bengalis and Kolkatans who will help you change your mind about them.

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