The landing at Calcutta airport is simply beautiful. We see water everywhere – on tracks, in fields, on the road. Irregularly shaped small water bodies lie here and there. Unnamed little streams flow haphazardly in different directions. What E’s Mom had said about Calcutta being flooded seemed to be true. Half of Calcutta land seems to be covered by trees. I like that.
When we exit the airport, pushing through crowds, it is raining. We are greeted by E’s Dad and we hurry into the car, half drenched. I sit comfortably, chatting with E and her Dad, glad not to be subjected to the rains and mess outside and look at the rainy sights outside. I can’t stop clicking. I know, I am behaving like a tourist in my own country but hey! I’ve never travelled to Calcutta before!
I look outside the window mesmerized. Not that there were any mesmerizing-type sights but I was just SO EXCITED about being in a new city and getting the opportunity to explore it. Calcutta, as I remember from my past short visits, is a congested city. You get to see lots of poverty here. I don’t see it this time. All I see is old stone buildings with colonial / Victorian railings and balconies, wrought iron lamp-posts, traditional houses with colourful wooden doors and windows and old name plates. It amuses me that I am so enthralled by these old buildings today while some years back, I had ridden on these very roads thinking of Calcutta as nothing but an under-developed congested city.
Loyal Kolkataians listen to Kishore Kumar and R D Burman & continue using Ambassador taxis. Tiny shops do their business below chawl-type old, crumbling houses. Vintage bright blue coloured buses stuffed with people and snail-like trams garnish the city.
We take a turn into a side road off the main road and I hear some singing sounds. I exclaim – Oh, mosque! E, her Dad and driver, all start laughing much to my embarrassment. Apparently, that isn’t the namaaz coming from a mosque. That is Ravindra sangeet! They play it, it seems, so sooth the public in disturbing times!
Calcutta seems to be a chaotic but a laidback place. People don’t hurry and rush here and there as if there’s no tomorrow, like people in Bombay do. The aware, intellectual Bengali is modest, simply dressed and real. I don’t see much of flashy stuff here.
After freshening up and having lunch at E’s place, we pack up and leave for E’s maternal Uncle’s place at Ukhra, which is around 4 hours away from Calcutta. We stop at Fancy Market before we proceed for the highway.
Fancy Market is where you get smuggled imported goods at throw-away prices. Of course, you need to bargain and the genuineness of the product is highly doubtful. We go there since E’s Mom knows an honest person there who gives them good deals and never cheats. We buy shampoos and stuff from there.
We touch the highway soon but you hardly feel like you are on a highway since it is so crowded. We aren’t able to move much because of the bad roads and heavy traffic. Its dark in some time and we are barely half way through. Considering that it is a night road journey, I have panicked and lost half of my wits because I am so scared. To top it all, it is raining. I squeal and express fright every now and then confusing and distracting the driver.
We cross Durgapur and reach the village of Ukhra at around 9 pm. Most shops are closed. Some villagers are hanging around each other’s shops in groups chatting. I don’t see any women outside. They are probably taking care of household chores. We cross mithai shops and I am dying to lay my hands on a few rasgullas.
I stumble out of the car on reaching E’s Uncle’s place (and immediately spot an old house situated on the opposite side of the road) and am greeted by my new hosts. The whole of E’s Mother’s family – Uncles, Aunts, Cousins.
I am given a warm welcome and the excited family members talk to each other all at the same time. Bengalis are generally excited, loud individuals and I should expect no other sight. A cousin has come over from the US and today is Rakhi. Enough reasons for the whole family to break free from their schedules and reunite. I am introduced to everyone and made to sit at the table. While E’s loving Mom and Aunts serve Muri-Chop to me, I look at everyone trying to connect relations. Who is whose wife? Who is whose son? Who is whose Mother? Urgh. Let me eat first.
Muri-Chop is the staple evening snack of Bengalis. Muri means Murmura in Hindi or puffed rice in English. Chops are potato cutlets. I realize later on that Bengalis eat Muri with almost everything.
I smile a lot and try to be as polite as I can. I am not used to being around joint families (mine has been a nuclear family and I have lived outside my home for more than 10 years. So, I fear that I might say something impolite which may be considered rude or ill-mannered) and am careful about what I talk. I have a nice time chatting with E’s cousins, who are all of the same age group, while the family sees old family albums, joke with each other, and tease each other. 2 little kids play around and cry occasionally. A typical family reunion.
I watch as sisters tie rakhi to their brothers. Relations that were not created by blood seem to have been formed as ladies tie rakhi to men they consider their brothers, even though they aren’t their brothers by birth. I watch all this silently, understanding, but not really feeling because I’ve never had a brother.
We have a very heavy dinner of simple rotis, sabzis and lots of mithai. I love the sandes and can’t say no when I am offered another one. We also have another Bengali mithai called Langcha, which is nothing but a sort of a gulab jamun shaped oblong. I am so stuffed in the end that I want to throw up.
Some family members start leaving, leaving me wondering as to what the plan really is. All I know is we are supposed to go to E’s Nani’s place the next day but am clueless about where she stays, when are we supposed to go there and where are half of the people moving to? Everyone is amused at my confusion.
I am also dead tired and E finally leads me to our room. I am confused – is this a house or a palace? It is huge! The bedroom we are given is majestic with a closet room and a living room sized bathroom. I quickly change, freshen up and lie down to straighten up my poor back. I feel scared a bit because the place is so huge and there are so many dark windows around. I fall asleep thinking that I will wake up early the next day so that I can click snaps of the location around the house.
A satisfactory day one ends.