I never thought in my wildest dreams, that I would get a chance to go to North India and when I got it, I never thought that I would be staying in the City of Joy for over two months. My initial training to get into the corporate world was waiting for me there. YES, the City of joy, KOLKATA was waiting for me.
Coming from a small town, (Kundapur) the word Kolkata on the appointment letter came as a serious jolt to all at home and of course to me too. Everybody was apprehensive. Advices were pouring in from all sides, left, right, top, bottom, inside, outside; I must have got more advice than a pregnant lady would have got in her 9th month. That’s the way it is. But I will never forget the valuable advice my uncle gave me. "Don’t worry. Everything is cheap there. Food, clothes etc etc. You get two big big vadas for 5 rupees". This really gave me some confidence which I badly needed. Yet this was all like Preparatory exams. The actual thing was still very far. The big day was yet to come. I still remember the day 23-03-2006.
The train I was to travel on was to leave from Mangalore at 1:15 pm to Chennai, and from Chennai we had to catch another train, which would eventually take us to our destination. To drop six of us, there was battalion of at least fifteen at the station. All were sad. And this made us more sad. I can imagine what people in the gulf must be going through after their yearly trip back home. Again, no shortage of advice. "Keep an eye on your luggage", "Take your wallet even when you go to the bathroom". "Don’t roam around alone in the station" and then the best and the most universal, I guess, from all mummies around the world "As soon as you reach Chennai, give me a call".
Accepted?.thus we started our journey to Kolkata from Mangalore. As I said there were six of us. Four guys and two girls. All from the same college and waiting for our carefree college days to end. Not really waiting, but all good times in life come to an end and it was no different with us.
We did not face any problem in Chennai station and safely boarded the train bound to Kolkata. Again no problems, since we were in a group. Our real difficulties started, once the gang of eunuchs started doing their rounds. My second experience with them, first time was in a Mumbai train. The eunuch had pulled my cheeks and kind of blessed me. But there I had to confront only one, here it was a GANG.
The first gang came in and I was ready with a 10 rupee note in my hand. After they went away, the real josh came in, God alone knows from where. I thought "I’ll never take out money, next time come what may". But even before the gang was in the adjacent Bogie, a ten rupee note was ready in my hand. Then again the same josh. "What can they do, we shall see". But then again, a 10 rupee note was already ready just in time. My friend had found a better way to escape from the GANG. Whenever he heard claps, he used to climb up onto the upper berth and pretend that he was fast asleep. He saved a lot of money by doing this. But whenever he wanted to come down, we used to clap and the poor guy had no option but to really sleep.
Thus amidst fear and fearless Josh, we finally reached KOLKATA the next day and were welcomed by heavy rain and flooded platforms. Even though Chennai and Kolkata are famous for pickpockets, we never had any trouble from them. Maybe the look on our faces was such that even the ?chors’ would have given us some of their booty.
The first look at Howrah and I am sure anybody and everybody from South will yell "AYYAYYO". Once you get out of the station, the AYYAYYO will become lengthier. It’s so crowded that you will end up putting your finger in your partners nose, thinking its yours and the best part is even your partner wont know it. That’s the first impression I had of Kolkata. But I m really glad that in the course of the next two months my opinion changed. Who says "First impression is the best impression". Never go with old sayings. All are not true.
To start with, we were put up in a nice hotel in a clean and nice locality, unlike my 3 other friends, who had to go through a slum and even walk knee deep in water when it rained and mind you it rained heavily for the next couple of days. Training facilities were excellent in a very good locality (CAMAC STREET). Forget about the training, I would like to narrate more about this beautiful city.
I found it very difficult to adjust to the timings there. The day breaks at 5:30 in the morning. The first sight of the sun and that too at 5:30 am was not something I was used to. Back home, my day began only when I heard the bell from Mummy and that too not before 8, leave alone 5:30! You can just imagine what kind of impact the Sun in Kolkata had on me. The sun also sets early at around 5:30 pm. The entire routine of mine, which was so dear to me at home, was disrupted by this hot ball of fire.
One more thing which I did not get adjusted to was the food. In fact I struggled, for the entire two months. My weight which was 58 kgs came down to 54 kgs; I was very very used to fish curry rice prepared by mom, with an aroma of coconut oil all over. In Kolkata, with great difficulty we guys found a Vegetarian hotel, run by a man from Udupi. "Fish curry nahi, tho Veg hee sahi". It was to be our adda for the next 2 months. People here have their own Bengali style of cooking fish. It is a kind of sweet fish (Hilsa I guess) and also the preparation is sweet. So our tongue which was accustomed to spicy curries, could never take in that taste.
Talking more about their style of cooking, Bengali’s use mustard oil in place of our coconut oil and I believe they love potatoes. In whatever they cook, you can find a huge GOL MATOL potato in it, be it fish curry or Biryani..You get nice rolls on the roadside for really low rate, but you have to eat at your own risk, not the vendors. Bengal is famous for their Sweets or "Mishti" (as the Bengalis call it). Among Mishti, I guess Rosagulla rules the menu. Awesome taste and simply fingure licking when served hot and in the traditional cup made of leaves. Not even a single drop of that sweet water would fall down; everything will surely go down the throat. Well I am very happy to have made most of it by tasting almost all kinds of sweets, the Bengalis had to offer and believe me it is not at all expensive. I think I am really lucky to have come to Kolkata at a time of the year, when Durga pooja was just round the corner. The pandals, sweets, music, just unbelievable. It reminded me of our vodle fest. There was a festive mood everywhere, even among us, though it was our first time. That’s the feeling Durga pooja can instill in you.
Being a young boy, I think it would be an injustice not to mention anything about Bengali girls. According to me when the song "Chedwan Bori Amche Gaanvachi" was sung, the singer had not been to Kolkata. If he had, he would not have written that song. Well girls from Mangalore are pretty too. But second to Bengalis, I must say : -)
Coming back to the road, the transportation in Kolkata is simply amazing. You can find all kinds of transport like the old Tangas, rickshaws, taxis, buses and the more modern Metro. The Metro is simply mind blowing. Had just heard about it, but the first time I traveled in it, I thought I was not in India, but somewhere in wonderland, just like Alice bai. The time sense of the Metro is just so immaculate that you need not wear a watch if you are sure of the Train timings. But the stations underground are overcrowded during the peak hours. But it’s worth traveling and inexpensive too. There are also Trams, which roll by the roads, a good means to travel short distances and if you have plenty of free time.
I have talked about Food, Transport, Girls and now something for the Ladies. What else, but Shopping! Men, don’t take your wives to Kolkata, and if you commit that grave mistake, don’t blame me. Look I have already warned you! Ladies can find all kinds of sarees, salwars and what not, for reasonable rates. In fact I found a superb saree, which I thought I would buy for my wedding, but God knows when that day will arise. Yes, it would be a bonus if that saree will be worn by a Bengali??.
Well, I think the only problem bachelors face in their pre-marriage days is, when they are forced to wash clothes. This is where the DHOBI comes handy. And the same happened to us. The man was a genius, not only in washing, but also in talking. He somehow managed to talk to us into giving all our clothes to him. He came every evening between 9 to 10, collected clothes and was ready with the clothes washed (not sure) and pressed by next day. God alone knows what we would do without him.
There are many places in and around Kolkata, which are worth visiting. Like Murshidabad, a place of palaces. Iskon Temple, Sunderbans (the habitat of our own diminishing Royal Bengal Tiger), Victoria Memorial, Science City etc etc. But being a Catholic, I would say if ever you visit Kolkata, don’t forget to drop in to the Mothers House. I had a chance to visit and will cherish every moment of it. The very place where the Mother was buried brings in a kind of divine feeling .The tomb, flowers around it, the cotton with her blood, the praying nuns. The museum has all things used by the Mother during her lifetime. It was my best experience in Kolkata, and I am very happy and grateful to God, to have given me this opportunity on my last day in Kolkata.
Coming back to our day to day experiences, we were strict Sunday Catholics, as most of us are. Every week I saw a man coming to collect alms in the church. Very tall, quite old. I used to think to myself "Is he a Mangalorean"? Maybe he had similar thoughts about us. But on the eighth week or so, my Friend and I were looking at the notice board and she was speaking to me in Konkani ,when this man walked up to us and started to speak in KONKANI. Well I thought to myself, "Uncle, where had you been for the past two months, at least we would get some Pork!". The uncle was settled in Kolkata for over four decades and was from Bantwal he told us.
And finally, a last thing to share. Due to non stop rains for three days, I got fever. I went to a doctor recommended by our company as they had ties with that hospital. The doctor was nice, soft spoken, took me around and was very polite. No time was wasted at all. Everything was swift. And so was the bill. The consultation fee alone was Rs 400 apart from medicines which came up to another 100. My fever which was not accustomed to such high rates did not bother to wait for me to take medicines. It just said goodbye then and there. Only later I came to know that this was the hospital, to which our very own DADA visited whenever he was ill. But unfortunately, on that day he was fine.
Well that’s Kolkata for you. It was a great experience in my life and being away from home can teach you a lot of things .If I ever get an opportunity to visit this place again, I would never say NO.
Author: Anil DSouza- Halealve- Kundapur