An old style house in the lanes of Baghbazar, North Kolkata
Photo by: Mouli Paul. 2017
A well-spent Sunday noon for a Bengali is mostly a scrumptious lunch - steaming hot rice (the rice grains need to be cooked to perfection, which means when put on plate, one can separate each grain from the other), daal and either fried eggplant, potato or pumpkin, ilish shorshe (hilsa cooked in mustard paste) and last but not the least – generous dollops of mishti doi. All of the above followed by an afternoon siesta. I skipped the latter part when I did visit my aunt’s place in Baghbazar one Sunday. The lunch, yes – was the same and as gorgeous as described above and my aunt being one absolute finicky person took great care in serving every part of the Sunday menu. Even while having the food, I appeared a bit restless, all thanks to her continuous fussing – to which my aunt gave me a look and chided, “No one is going to take so much care of you. So, eat. And, eat properly.” What could I say to this? Such love. Quite hard to find elsewhere. So, I just went back to finishing my meal.
Skipping the afternoon siesta part, I went out just with my camera in hand. Baghbazar, a locality in North Kolkata is a treat to your eyes with every step you take. Just like Baghbazar, there is Shyambazar, Sovabazar, Haatibagan and the whole stretch till Esplanade which comes under the North Kolkata belt. I still remember my photography teacher holding a very nasty opinion towards any photographer who thought of the North Kolkata lanes as the only place for sharpening your skills. To be honest, even I feel the same, though not nasty. There is a certain kind of sameness in most of the pictures and it’s quite hard to differentiate one from the other. In simple words, there is a major loss of individuality in your craft and every photographer becomes a part of the crowd. But, sometimes we defy our own selves as well as the valuable words of someone we respect, just to explore the already known. Who knows, you might find something extraordinary in the common? Let the words take a backseat, even if you are not a photographer or an artist, North Kolkata will surely turn on its charm on every passerby with its heritage, colors, architecture and those teeny-tiny shops selling the most mouth-watering Bengali food you wouldn’t find anywhere.
I stepped out in the afternoon sun and yes, it was scorching. The lanes were empty except for two cats trying to sneak around in the garbage trolleys for food. They scampered off seeing me and when I walked ahead, I could again see both of them coming back to resume with their search for food. Occasionally a cycle or a hand-pulled rickshaw passed by and due to the extreme narrowness of the lanes, I had to take shelter of the stairs in the adjacent houses to let them pass. Most of the windows and doors were shut closed. No doubt, the inhabitants were enjoying their much needed afternoon nap. Surely, the whole energy of the place does pull you off to a slumber. On the contrary, the mornings are full of chaos – of school going kids running to and fro, rickshaws hitting each other, aroma of the morning breakfast being prepared from almost every kitchen and so on. I kept on walking but, to my disappointment didn’t encounter anything worthy of capture. Although, there were a lot many things to keep you amused – the colorful doors, arch-shaped windows, and yes – the old-styled wooden letterboxes. Stuck to every door I passed by, they were of the same color as of the doors, differing just a bit in their shade. The thing to be noticed there was the space between two houses. It’s just enough space for one person to make way through. Which means you can actually put your hand out of the window sill and pass on a handful of spices, a bowl of sugar or salt to your neighbor or just ask for the same. And, it’s not just me assuming, but, that’s what happens as I had heard so many stories from my dad of his North Kolkata days. It was one of those narrow passageways between rows of houses that I went in to have a look. Sunlight was peeping in through the trees above and illuminating a bunch of ferns which had grown on the walls. There was a round shaped ventilator, wires running through, moss and a pink colored wall. Kind of too many elements on a canvas and which was quite hard for me to ignore or miss.
North or the Old Kolkata as is called is full of stories, at every corner. Whatever I have got to see till now is a lot less than what my dad had experienced during his childhood. He still gets excited when talking of those moments he had spent in the golis (gully) playing cricket, or leaving back his packed lunch on a corner in his house to have fish fry or biryani. It was his bedtime stories that did spark my interest as a child and truly speaking I have reached nowhere near to writing or talking extensively about this place even after quite a lot of explorations. Coming out of the passageway I remembered that I still had to have my mishti doi and my aunt had specifically kept it in the freezer to serve it chilled. Even, that couldn’t be ignored or missed.