Oh ! Calcutta ...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Disclaimer : The use of the name of a reputed restaurant in the aforementioned city as the title of the post was purely situational, albeit intentional. Any offence to the restaurant owners is most regretted.

I'm back home. After what was probably the most taxing day of my life. Calcutta has sucked me dry in just 16 hours.

It started in the evening of Saturday, when I, accompanied by Papa rushed into the Asansol Railway terminus, hoping to get reservations in one of the AC coaches. As it usually happens with no-hopers like me, we failed to get a single seat in that coach.

So, we had to settle for the ordinary chair car.

That the Black Diamond Express ( Don't think it deserves to be called that ) did a record-rewriting feat...it reached Howrah at 2300 hrs! I swear.

As if reaching Howrah at 11 PM was not enough, Papa and I had to wait for 50 minutes in front of that effing pre-paid taxi booth! I was on the verge of killing the moronic clerk at the counter who was taking ages to issue the tickets, but, considering the fact that I had a very important examination coming up, I relented. Better sense prevailed.

So we were finally in the taxi after what seemed like an eternity. The night was reasonably cool, and I stuck my head out of the car's windows not unlike the poodles you see in rich people's cars. We drove past the Eden Gardens, which looks a hundred times more imposing against the night sky - boy, Calcutta is sure blessed to have an arena like that! The race-course was next, the magnificent SBI building and several other landmarks before we entered the locality of New Alipore, where we'd put up for the night...

If you thought we'd had enough drama for the day, you haven't been more wrong in your life! We couldn't find the house! The taxi driver didn't know that part of the city well, and we had to face another harrowing 30 minutes before we stumbled into House No. 744, totally deflated...After a quick shower and a late-night dinner, we crashed.

The next day would be another pot-boiler (literally), what with the mercury soaring all the time. And so it was. My exam was at 1000 hours, so we left the house at 0840, hailed a taxi and set off for the Ballygunge Army Camp, 'cause that was where my exam centre was allotted.

A huge gate with armed sentries greeted all the examinees once we were there...Parents were not allowed inside - only the examinees could proceed into the precincts of the camp. I bade my father good-bye and started what was going to be a long walk to the Army Public School.

As I had expected, it was an enormous campus. There are several 10-storeyed apartments for the servicemen which I walked past. There also seemed to be a hall where films were screened - there was an 'Aaja Nachle' poster outside it! There were a lot of trees all around, which were a welcome relief to these sore eyes of mine, which thus far had grotesque images of yellow Ambassadors and epileptic ( that's the word to describe them ) public buses seared into their retinas. I passed the Kendriya Vidyalaya on my way to the Army School, which I finally reached after a ten-minute walk. It was 0910 hrs at that time...there were another 30 minutes before we would be allowed inside the school. Till then I sat down on the pavement watching a game of slam-bang cricket being played by the locals on a field that was totally wet and slushy.

I will not bore you with the cumbersome details regarding the exam and how it was for me...I'll fast forward to 1300 hours when we left the camp in another yellow taxi (you get nothing else here) which soon swerved into a Tata Indica in its attempt to weave out of a tight spot. There was a plastic protector on the fender of the Indica (luckily for the owner) as a result of which there was not a single scratch on the Indica's side. The plastic protector was martyred in the process.

Next, there was a heated argument which saw the blame being passed on from one driver to the other after which it settled on the driver of our taxi - the Indica guy had scored a moral victory there - we hurtled along to New Alipore, and yes, this time we found the house right away.

We finally left Calcutta in a Volvo B7R bus which left from Esplanade at 1700 hrs. The bus, for some hitherto unknown reason, stopped for a long time at a stop (pun not intended) near the Eden Gardens. Looking around, one could see the pavements bustling with people going back home from work and, of course, the hawkers - How can I forget them? Every hawker had several Kolkata Knight Riders' faux tees and roughly the same number of customers. The light in the skies was dimming as the Eden's floodlights were beginning to warm up. The bus finally set off for Asansol after idling for 20 minutes. I'm still trying to figure out why the engine was kept running.

I settled down on 'the most ergonomically designed seat that has found its way into a bus plying in India' (Some CNBC show said this), reclined it a little, and started switching between the FM stations of Calcutta. Tripping on Bengali songs was fun. The efficient aircon made life even more comfortable.

The sky started to rumble after a while, and before anyone could blink, it was a full-on thunderstorm. The raindrops fell on the reinforced glass of the windows creating a staccato of muted thuds. The sky had gone all but black now and the flashes of lightning would light up the horizon from time to time. "There goes the IPL match at the Eden", I thought.

The rest of the journey was pretty much uneventful - there was a typical 80s blood and gore - heavy Hindi movie 'Gardish' that was being screened in the bus. It stars Jackie Shroff and XYZ maybe - I couldn't care less. I turned up the volume on my Motorola, and listened to several of my favourites.

So, we were back home at 2100 hrs, Sunday, the 18th of May.

A hurried meal. A cold shower. Falling face first on bed. Setting the AC to 16 degrees C.
Home isn't bad, really.