Kolkata, and a Life of Small Things

This time I realised I didn’t have Ram Ray any longer on my list of favourite people to meet in Calcutta. He always indulged me to a good meal every time I visited the city. I tried to not look towards Tivoli Court as I passed by this time. RR wasn’t around.

The winter book fair as the bongs call it, Boi Mela, it was on full swing with the last of the leftover avid readers, writers, dreamers all flocking to the make shift book shops.

Baba rushed from shop to shop like a child in a candy store and, and I indulged him just like he had indulged me as a child. He didn’t need to tell me how much he loved me. I could sense his happiness all along.

We walked into the Bangladeshi literature store. There I met Md Rida a Bengali Muslim school teacher who happened to also be a writer. We forgot as we spoke in Bangla about the difference in our religion that threatens the nation today. He was sad that my reading skills are abysmally low in my mother tongue or else he would recommend his best writing. I was sad disappointing him.

As I stepped out into the Calcutta winter, I saw nostalgia in Baba’s eyes who lost his extremely intelligent older brother to the Chittagong uprising and his home to the division of Great Bengal. Inspite of the history he still seemed to love Bangladesh.

Life as they say is a return to your roots. We yearn for mom’s food when sick and weary and in the same way we express best in our mother tongue. Religion never occurs in matters of the soul. Soul food, soulful music and musings are all about familiarity. Here religion, gender is irrelevant and the rest of the narrative is all a political game to create delusion. People are just people everywhere!

I had the opportunity to meet my Pishi and Kaku, my aunts and uncles, all along I was aware, I don’t know who I can meet next year. It’s now and not tomorrow. Relatives are not perfect but they know your nickname and the small memories that linger long after you have left those lanes and that identity. It’s fulfilling to enjoy without judging.

We ate Chinese overlooking Park Street in Baba’s fav restaurant. I ignored that he has one kidney working as I watched him enjoy the chow as he calls it. I didn’t play police. We spoke of Calcutta and his tryst with the people of his past. We laughed as a sadhu came up to him and asked him direction for the local liquor store, he asked “Bangla Kothai pabo”?

I went to this 91 year old building turned into a gorgeous cafe, Roastery Coffee House Kolkata, and bumped into Jagatbandhu Saha, the waiter who served me my morning hello with my favourite brew in Bangalore. The first time I sat alone in a cafe, I was conscious and over time enjoyed this time away from the constant cacophony of home chores. As he served me my coffee, I started writing out of the familiarity of the cafe last year. One day he opened up with me and I recall our chat that noon. He told me he missed home & wanted to return to his mother. I could sense an ardent return to the roots and his pang. I didn’t know how to let him not feel alone so I decided to give him some Bengali Sondesh, a very light sweet, that you can devour at least four.

After few months he met me on the steps of the cafe gave me a packet with four sweets in it, touched my feet and said “Didi, Ami bari jachi“, that he was leaving for home. What are the odds that he saw me from the kitchen in Calcutta this time came running to hold my hand and say he remembered me. We bid farewell to meet again. The world is round. I think I may have touched Jagatbandhu that day as his eyes had a faraway look.

I realize over and over again life is about the small things, the rest are just the mundane details.

Meanwhile Ma is happy that Baba is out of her hair for awhile. She loves her space and her alone time. Though after the beer in Trincas Restaurant my Baba dialled Ma and asked her if she saw the last episode of some serial they both watch. They exchanged serial information and I just smiled knowing how stuck they are through the anger, resentment, dependence, familiarity, love and respect of the years of togetherness, yet also alone in their separate rooms of reconciliation.

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