Friday, September 23, 2016

The Udaipur Chronicles (Part- 3): A day out with Nana

(Those of you who have read the previous chapters in the series would know what this is about. Those who haven't, you can take this as a simple, standalone short story as well. From here on in, the chapters of this series would take the similar structure as in this one: some little, eventful and simple stories of my charming childhood in Udaipur. Since this is the first one of those stories, I wanted it to be a special memory related to my late Nana. This one is among the earliest and the most memorable ones that I had of him. Hope some of you enjoy it.)

May 1991, Udaipur, Rajasthan

“Maati baandhe painjanee, Bangdi pehne baadli,

 Dedo dedo baavdo, Ghod-mathod baavdi…”

My eyes fluttered.  Trying to adjust to the searing sunlight coming from right above me.

“Maati baandhe painjanee, Bangdi pehne baadli,

Dedo dedo baavdoooo…oooooooooo

Dedo dedo baavdo, Ghod-mathod baavdi…”

The voice came from the streets below. From the voice – that of a male – and the various musical instruments lending support to it, I could gauge that there was a group of Rajasthani tribals who were performing the song.  The combined sound of different instruments that came along with the song made it sound beautiful. There definitely was an ektara and a pair of khartals being used. Perhaps there were some other instruments too, but my brain did not have the energy yet to decipher them. I just wanted to lie there and enjoy the song; even though I did not understand a word of it (it was in Mewari).  

He seemed like a well-trained singer, the man. And even as his voice faded away slowly into the distance, traces of his raw melody still lingered in my mind.

Somewhere in the distance, possibly in a temple, a bell began clanging, followed by the rhythmic murmuring of some Sanskrit shlokas which I was unable to comprehend. I finally sat up and checked the little, blue digital watch on my wrist for the time. It said 09:03 A.M. Yawning loudly and stretching my hands, I looked around the terrace. At least 15 white beds were spread on the massive terrace floor of my nani ghar. About ten of them were now empty indicating that their inhabitants had moved on to perform their morning ablutions. I, being on my annual summer vacation here, did not feel the need to get up early at all.  But the May sun was already beginning to beat down hard and lying around on an open terrace was becoming impossible.

To my right lay my elder brother who, like me, was on his vacations and was merrily sleeping away. The way he was letting out his light snores, (which were like a horse’s snort as my mother would say) it seemed unlikely that he would be getting up anytime soon. To his right were Himanshu, Maruti and Paritosh, my cousin mamas, all in their late teens, also sleeping without a care in the world; just sprawled on the beds like a bunch of rag dolls.

Last night had been fun. All of us – about 15 of my cousin mamas, my brother and I – had hung out at the terrace; gossiping, teasing each other and enjoying the fresh night breeze before finally dozing off, tired and exhausted. It was kind of a ritual that we followed almost on a daily basis and I always looked forward to it.

A snort by my brother brought me to the present and I realized that it was 9:10 A.M. now. Time was precious in my summer vacations in Udaipur and hence I did not want to waste away any more of it. Giving a last look to the remaining members on the terrace, I finally left.


It was warm today. Really warm. With not a trace of a breeze anywhere. I realized unhappily while brushing my teeth on the stone platform facing our open field. It was kind of like the backyard of the house, only the field here was massive - about 40 yards on either side. The field would generally be used by the young members of the house for playing cricket or for letting the cows roam around for a while. Yes, we had cows as well.

To the right end corner of where I was standing presently, on the stone platform, there was a small cowshed with two adult cows in it: one white and one light brown. The shed was very cozy; covered with a tin roof, and filled with big buckets of water and huge containers of grass for the cows, while the walls were covered with dry cow dung. It would usually emit a very pungent smell due to the mixture of three odors: the smell of the grass, the cow dung and the cows themselves.

This was my favourite area of the colossal house. Since this was the back portion, it generally remained deserted; women of the house would occasionally come by to feed the leftovers to the cows. I came here often in the afternoons or late evenings when nobody would be here to bother me. The cows fascinated me. I loved watching the nonchalant way they went about their business: just munching grass all day long or just relaxing under the cool shed. No worries about any studies or tests. Just eating and defecating all day. Despite the fear of their big horns, I often fed them the grass myself while patting their head lightly. It was something that gave me great pleasure.

I spit out the toothpaste right on the small mound of soil which lay at the bottom of the stone platform and which led to the beginning of the field. This was the area where most people of the house came to brush their teeth in the morning, despite having a huge wash basin inside. Brushing right in the open was sort of comforting, I admit. And it gave me a chance to accumulate my thoughts peacefully and let my brain get recharged for the day. I did feel odd for spitting the paste on the soil, initially. But realized later that the paste would merge with the soil or would get washed away with the occasional rain.

“Arre, Chiku Bhai! Where were you?”

I turned around to see my Nana smiling at me. He had just entered the backyard from a small, wooden gate behind me, which led to the inside of the house from this end. About 72 years of age, my Nana was a very simple and jovial man who ran a small snacks shop in a busy market of the city. He had been working tirelessly in the shop for more than 50 years and even at this age, never skipped a day of work.

Presently, he was clad in his usual off-white half shirt which was always tucked out and blue trousers along with brown sandals. He looked absolutely spick and span with his white hair combed right back and light moustache trimmed neatly. I must have missed him when I came down from the terrace to my nana-nani’s room – the place where all my belongings would be at on my trips to Udaipur – to get my toothbrush as he was taking his bath then. Now, he was all ready to go to his shop and usually took the backyard gate as it was closer to the place.

“Um…I got up late, Nana. We gossiped till 2 AM last night,” I told him.

Nana chuckled. He just loved it if I was having fun whilst at my stay in Udaipur.

“Want to go to Gulab Bagh, today?” he asked

“Yes,” I replied immediately. Gulab Bagh was a renowned park of the city which also housed a small zoo. I loved it dearly and never missed a chance to visit it.

Nana chuckled again and patted my back.

“Be there with Mammu (my elder brother) at my shop by 4 pm. I will treat you to some tasty snacks and then we will go to Gulab Bagh, okay?” he said with his usual benign smile.

“Okay,” I replied delightedly; already imagining the various delicious snacks I would get to gorge on at Nana’s shop and about the prospect of getting to stroll around the awesome Gulab Bagh again.

Patting my back again, Nana walked away, towards the small grilled gate which led to the street outside. He paused before the cow shed and bowing slightly, gave the cows an earnest 'namaste' before moving away. He waved at me after reaching outside and I returned the gesture. I watched him walk away, slowly yet assuredly: beyond the stone walls of our massive field, beyond the tiny kindergarten school, beyond the dhobi shop; until he finally turned right and disappeared from sight.


The old, broken-down fan seemed to be wheezing at the effort of trying to provide some respite to the inhabitants in the shop. But the oppressive May heat of Udaipur seemed to have intensified inside “Ram Bharose” – Nana’s snacks shop. It was a quaint little eatery located right in the heart of Udaipole, a busy market area of the city.

From what my mother had told me countless times, Nana had been operating this eatery for close to 50 years now. Initially, it used to be a full-fledged restaurant and had such massive footfalls that another shop was opened up just to segregate the customers. However, with time, Nana, who used to manage the shops almost single-handedly, had to sell away one shop and decided to overlook just Ram Bharose, which was now reduced to a small snacks shop: selling tea, ganthiya, mohanthal, and a few other snacks.

It was 4:30 PM now, I checked on my watch again. I and my brother were sitting at one corner of the shop, overlooking the counter where Nana was at. Both of us had a plate of Mohanthal in our hands; made by Nana himself in the shop. This was my favourite sweet and I could never have enough of it. We had been served four pieces of the tender, brown square delicacy in our plates. I had already gobbled up three of them swiftly and was now eyeing my brother’s plate jealously who was just into his first one.

As I munched on my fourth piece, I looked around at the insides of 'Ram Bharose'. The shop had quite the dingy setting: old ceiling fans, old cupboards, old wooden chairs and tables and old-looking bulbs. Even the kadhai (cooking pot) beside the counter, where some ganthiyas were being fried at present, looked a hundred years old. There were a few customers seated out in the front section; one was sipping tea and munching on ganthiya, while reading a local newspaper; one was talking animatedly to Nana about the current political situation which I did not understand at all: I could only grasp words like “Narsimha Rao” and “BJP”.

Many of the shop’s customers, in fact, just visited the place to chat with Nana about the current hot topics. Nana had a way of talking about things and he would generally make people laugh out loud with his regular quips or other hilarious anecdotes. On several occasions, I had seen people gathered around his counter and guffawing after every few minutes, while Nana went on narrating some incident or the other with a twinkle in his eyes.

Bored with the proceedings, and uncomfortable with the stuffy weather, I turned my attention towards my brother who was now talking to Hira, the head labor of the shop. In his late 40s, Hira was an obedient worker and a very simple-looking lanky man with wiry hair and a warm smile. I had always seen him wearing the same clothes: beige colored half-shirt having two pockets on the chest and matching trousers. Presently, he was narrating some incident about Nana and a customer who was not willing to pay for the food he had had. From my brother’s muffled snickering, I could gather that this must have been a really funny story. But currently, all I wanted was to be inside ‘Gulab Bagh’ and was getting increasingly impatient. I kept looking around and kept checking my watch: it was 4:55 now.

Getting irritated with my brother’s constant snickering, I turned to look at an old man, who, apparently, had just entered the shop. Wearing a traditional Rajasthani safa, the man was sitting right at the corner table of the shop; away from the hoopla at the counter up front. He had thick white beard and moustache and was wearing a plain blue shirt and a white dhoti. With wrinkles all over his face, he appeared very tired and sat with his right leg curled up on the chair and his right hand resting lightly on it. He took a sip from his glass of tea and then took a small piece of ganthiya from the plate in front of him. Seemingly uninterested in anything, he just kept gazing at the street outside, looking at the cows and cycles passing by, while munching his ganthiya very slowly; almost like a cow: in a side-to-side motion. This reminded me of the cows back at the house. I wondered if he was sad about something or was just a plain boring person.

A snap of fingers near my ears broke my stare. It was Nana, smiling down at me.

“Should we go then?” he asked with the usual twinkle in his eyes.

It was a question both of us knew the answer to.


It felt wonderful to walk beside the vibrant rose bushes and the tall, green trees in ‘Gulab Bagh’. Not just because of the pleasing sight. But because of the overall coolness the greenery provided.

‘Gulab Bagh’ (also known as 'Sajjan Niwas') is the largest garden in Udaipur and was extremely popular among its denizens as was evident from the numerous people merrily strolling around the place along with us. People usually came in here early in the mornings for having a jog or in the late afternoons to cool off among its pleasant surroundings. Built in the 1850s by Maharana Sajjan Singh, the place was filled with an array of beautiful flowers – mostly roses – and countless green trees. It was situated right beneath the banks of Pichola Lake on Lake Palace Road and was about 15 minutes walking distance from our home and about the same from Nana’s shop.

It was 5:15 PM now and the warm weather had simmered down, giving way to a cool breeze. Being surrounded by greenery on all sides, made the breeze all that more pleasant. Up above me, there was incessant chitter of birds, hundreds of them. While I enjoyed the scenery, what I really wanted was to visit the small zoo which was also a part of the place.

A Toy Train suddenly went past us with screaming kids inside it. Yes, Gulab Bagh also had a Toy Train which took visitors on a small (and very slow, I must add) trip throughout the 100-acre park. Holding Nana’s hand, I kept looking back at the Toy Train which had slowly moved past us and disappeared into a turning. I had always wanted to take a trip in the Toy Train but somehow never got the chance to.

A sudden and ferocious roar pierced through the surrounding. So fierce was it that I almost jerked around completely, thinking that a tiger had been let loose. The other people too had been shaken completely. For a second, everyone laughed nervously and craned their necks towards the direction of the noise: the zoo nearby.

Then another roar. This one was sharper and more menacing. The other, heavier roar too followed immediately.

After a second, people began scampering in excitement towards the zoo area.

“The tiger cage…The tiger cage...Let’s go…Let’s go…” said my brother excitedly and began running towards the noise.

He was fascinated with wildlife, my brother; especially tigers and lions. Back at home in Calcutta, he had a habit of watching various nature documentaries on television very minutely. He would watch them for hours at end and make me watch them too. Although they used to bore me initially, I was slowly beginning to take a keen interest in them. My brother would excitedly tell me what the documentaries were about in detail as my six-year-old brain was too young to grasp them entirely. Listening to his stories, my interest in wildlife was now peaking steadily.

Presently, he was dragging Nana and me towards the zoo. His broad spectacles couldn’t hide the gleam in his eyes. The roars were now increasing in velocity and he was now literally running; past the enclosures of the birds, the monkeys, and the bear.

“Won’t you be scared?” Nana asked me with a smile.

I shook my head and quietly walked ahead, trying to catch up. But to be honest, I was a little scared. Some of those nature documentaries about lions and tigers had given me nightmares. But I was intrigued as well and did not want to miss out on this moment.

There was a huge crowd gathered outside a couple of enclosures and I could understand this was the place of action. I could already spot my brother in the crowd, his eyes wide in wonder, his mouth hanging open.

I and Nana finally made way through the crowd to stand at the end of the group and saw that this was a fight between the inhabitants of two enclosures: an adult tiger in one and a fully-grown Indian lion and lioness in the other. Both the enclosures were built side by side and only a steel mesh separated them. Apparently, the lion had been irked by something that the tiger had done and both he and the lioness were furiously roaring away at the tiger. Not one to cower down, the tiger was giving it back with full might; roaring with his entire mouth open, his nostrils flaring dangerously and tail moving angrily.

It was a fascinating scene and it had us all rooted to the spot. My heart thumped madly and I could literally feel the ground reverberating with the noise that was being created by the three animals. There was absolute pin-drop silence in the crowd which kept building up with every second and every roar. The birds above in the trees were all making a great cacophony while the three big cats went at each other. I realized that I was clutching Nana’s hands very tightly now. He hadn’t noticed this, though, and was transfixed by the scene in front of us.

Suddenly, the tiger stood up upright and began banging at the mesh separating the two enclosures furiously. It seemed that he wanted to break open the barrier between the two and have a real go at his neighbours. The lion and lioness seemed to be taken aback at this. And although they continued their roaring, one could feel that they had been matched.

The lion’s pride was obviously hurt and he too got up and pawed at the net for a while. But the tiger’s eyes seemed to be possessed. He continued banging the mesh with force and continued to outroar the lion and the lioness combined.

After what seemed like hours, the lion finally gave in and turned his back. While both the lion and lioness continued roaring, their velocity had certainly lessened. Both of them now moved to the corner of their cage and sat down: their backs to the tiger and ear twitching slightly. The tiger, after having asserted his point firmly, now finally came back on all fours and nonchalantly moved away to his shed at the corner of the cage; not giving a second glance to the hundred eyes that were fixed on him.

The crowd began slowly dispersing. Everyone had been amazed and was murmuring among themselves about the incredible fight they had just witnessed.  My brother came running towards us and still had that awed expression on his face; his curly hair appeared to be standing at an end.

“That was an amazing fight,” he said in amazement.

I realized that I had been holding my breath and finally let go.

We now began walking away. Nana thumped my back and asked, “Did you have fun?”

I nodded: still too awestruck to mutter anything. My brother, meanwhile, kept recounting the fight several times as we headed towards the exit. He was literally bouncing on his feet and kept giving us minute details of the tiger and the lions’ expressions through the fight. It seemed that he was not likely to forget it in a hurry.

I could hardly concentrate on what he was saying, though. Even as I held Nana’s hand tightly and even as the skies above turned a beautiful mix of orange and pink, I could not get the menacing roar and the frightening eyes of the tiger away from my mind. It seemed that I was not likely to forget that in a hurry.


I shifted uncomfortably in my bed. I felt restless and could not sleep.

Looking around at the terrace, I noticed that all my cousins had peacefully drifted to sleep. No one had any images of a ferocious tiger troubling their minds, after all.

Not even my elder brother. Lying absolutely straight on his bed, he was peacefully snoring away beside me; his glasses still intact on his nose. His face looked so relaxed. Perhaps he was replaying the incredible fight he had seen at the zoo today in his dreams, I assumed.

I, meanwhile, was having a torrid time. The roar of the lion and the tiger kept echoing in my mind and the moment I would close my eyes I would see the angry face of the tiger growling in fury at me. Even the clear, open sky with the shining moon and the cool breeze did not help.

Despite being surrounded by no less than 15 people, I felt scared. Perhaps it was because my bed was placed right at the end of the terrace, just close to where the railing was, and with no one to my right. What did not help was that the terrace felt really eerie at nighttime. Looking at the opposite end of the huge terrace, I felt that the tiger would spring up on me any moment from the darkness and devour me alive.

I shuddered and turned myself sideways, facing my brother. Although I was five years younger to him, I already reached his shoulders now. He was still snorting away peacefully, just like a horse. I moved a little closer to him and felt a little better. I then quietly tried to hold his hand. Back home in Calcutta, where we sleep on the same bed, I had a habit: I would hold his hand, without him ever noticing, whenever I would feel scared at night. On several occasions, whenever I had felt frightened or was unable to sleep, I used to quietly hold any part of his hand; arm, wrist, palm; and then go to sleep. This gave me an assurance that I wasn’t alone : my brother was there, right by my side. That realization would make me feel calmer again. He never knew about this, though, and I never dared to tell it to him either.

As soon as I tried to touch his hand now, he suddenly moved it to scratch his nose a little, before putting it back down and resuming his snoring. I smiled and after waiting for a couple of minutes to ensure that he was deep in his slumber, I quietly held his arm and closed my eyes.

I felt lighter almost instantly. Yes, this was much better, I realized. The horrific images in my mind did not scare me now. For I knew that even if the tiger did come charging at me from the darkness, I had nothing to worry about. I wasn’t alone anymore. My brother was with me…

Monday, September 12, 2016

Oh Calcutta! My Calcutta! – The Prelude

I have always had a conflicting, sort of a love-hate relationship with Calcutta. Always.

As a child, life was filled with some delightful memories of wandering around the lanes of the quiet neighbourhood of Shovabazaar (in North Kolkata) where I grew up in. Back then, I wasn’t allowed to go out with friends and hence made acquaintance with the different alleys of Shovabazaar and its surrounding areas. The sondesh, the bazaar, the maath (playground), the bandh days, the many festival celebrations; all of them contributed in making my life pretty charming back then. What helped the most were the Durga Pujas where my entire neighbourhood would transform into something magical, something unrecognizable and would leave me enchanted and thirsting for more on those four remarkable days.

A gorgeous painting by artist Ananta Mondal which captures a beautiful essence of Calcutta

Things began changing, though, as I grew a little older. Aided by a group of school friends, mostly Marwaris, who would constantly ridicule anything and everything Bengali and an elder brother who had begun despising every darn thing about Calcutta – the traffic, the transport, the job situation, the food and what not – I too began slowly getting influenced by this notion. I too began finding faults in everything wrong with my city and would scoff and even get exasperated at the locals who seemed to be living their life here with much ease. 

What did not help matters was that by this time I had found love in another city – Udaipur, my nani ghar. The unconditional love and affection I received there and the barrage of memories I created made me feel that this was the city I deserved to be in, not Calcutta. Every time I would return from Udaipur to Calcutta on my summer holidays, I would feel miserable and while entering the city would loathe it to the core of my heart. I blamed Calcutta for taking me away from my wondrous world of Udaipur and would find satisfaction in deriding it for everything.

Things took a turn for the worse when, just after finishing my school, my mother got seriously sick. The next two years of my mother’s ailment were the darkest days of my life and Calcutta too bore the brunt of it. Several issues cropped up in the family and seeing my mother’s distress I yet again began blaming Calcutta for it, very savagely. I believed that the city was a dark omen for my family and had shed its ominous shadow on my life. I remember going out during the Durga Puja that year and feeling absolutely despondent from inside. I was not being able to enjoy any aspect of the city then and was convinced that I and Calcutta were now broken up forever.

A few months later my mother passed away. And things changed. Very peculiarly this time.

After my mother’s passing, I went into my shell and for a good 12 – 15 months just refused to meet any of my friends. After contemplating about shifting to a different city for a while, I gave in as the idea did not feel prudent. Curiously, it was during this period that I found my love for Calcutta in its truest sense.

This is a phase that I have never discussed with anyone but it actually helped me reconnect to my city and also enabled me to get over my grief. To combat the loss I had faced, instead of meeting my friends, I decided to meet Calcutta. I would leave my home – I had shifted to Behala by then – in the morning and go about wandering in different nooks and corners of the city. My usual route would be to walk along the entire stretch of Rabindra Sadan to Chandani Chowk – about 4 Km – and explore different places each day. After having a light snack at Haldiram’s, I would take a round of Metro Plaza (a shopping arcade in Maidan) and then walk towards Park Street. Here, I would spend an hour or so in Music World (a large music shop which is no longer in existence) listening to various music albums and then proceed to the Oxford Bookstore right across the street. Here again, I would spend a good couple of hours browsing through different books and soaking in the quietness of the place.

On other days, I would get down directly at Park Street and walk straight towards Free School Street (also known as Mirza Ghalib Street). It’s a bustling lane filled with various hotels and an array of shops. I especially enjoyed visiting the second-hand bookstores and the dusty, old record shops which took a lot of my time. And after having a delightful sandwich from a small shop located right at the end corner of Free School Street, I would enter Esplanade. This was the place which allowed me to completely let free. Sitting at Hogg Market, strolling through the insides of the massive New Market , spending time at a couple of small book shops right below the Sreeram Arcade, and eating puri sabzi at a shop nearby, I found peace like never before. The mango juice shops and the Chinese shoe-wallas in Bentick Street further helped my cause.

No matter how much time I spent in these places I never got bored and kept coming back and kept discovering new places and things to love and connect to. Spending some of my late afternoons at the banks of Babughat made me realize then that I was falling in love with Calcutta again. Like a man who, in order to heal his ailing heart, goes and finds love in the company of a woman, I went into the arms of Calcutta to let my wounds be healed.

Things went smoothly the next few years as I entered a new college and made new friends. Along with them, I savored the various places I had discovered and along the way, also came across new places to fall in love with; one of them being the entire stretch of Gariahat and Golpark where an assortment of items, including second-hand books, are sold by pavement shops and which really caught my fancy.  

Those were the golden days between Calcutta and I. So much so that for close to six years in this period, I did not even visit Udaipur and was not really missing it either. But then, as in the past, things changed again soon.

Some issues surfaced at my workplace and a phase of struggle began. Also, immediately after, my brother, along with his family, decided to leave the city for good and shifted out of here because of his own professional issues. This left me alone with my father in my house and a period of frustration and loneliness followed. Health issues, along with the endless political matters plaguing the city, for which I had developed a keen interest by then, began gnawing at me. Yet again, I found a reason to hate Calcutta. Yet again, I began contemplating ways to get away from the city.

But over time I have begun to realize that the more you hate something, the more you let something posses your mind negatively, the more it will get to you. Over the past few months, I have attempted to shed this baggage of hate that I had developed for Calcutta and am beginning to take little steps towards appreciating it for what it is and falling in love with it all over again. This, here, is one of those first steps.

Through this series on my blog, I attempt to explore Calcutta - the different hidden and magical facets of it - and bring it out. For as long as I am here, why not try to take this journey which may help me see my city in a new light? I believe Calcutta holds a lot of magic beyond its Howrah Bridge and Victoria Memorial and much beyond its deep-rooted political culture. The kind of magic that perhaps resides in its dusty lanes and is often overlooked by its residents. That is the kind of magic I wish to tap into.

I don’t know yet what shape this series would take. To be honest, with the stories I plan to uncover, I wish to take a ride with you. A ride where I, along with you, can be charmed by this beautiful city. I just pray that in between I do not find reasons where I begin to hate the city again. No, I am quite tired of that feeling.

This is the city of my birth. This is the city which I have loved and hated with equal measure at different times. And this is the city which I promise to make you all fall in love with. Because Oh Calcutta! My Calcutta! our trip is not done yet. In fact, I feel it is just beginning…

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Sunday Morning Bazaars

There’s really something charming about the Sunday mornings from our childhood, isn’t it? As adults, we keep reminiscing about those alluring Sunday mornings which were filled with watching cartoon and other TV shows, gorging on some delightful snacks prepared by our mothers and playing our favourite games. All of these hold true for me as well. However, there was one particular aspect of those Sunday mornings from our childhood that I feel we don’t discuss enough: the visit to the bazaar. Now I don’t know if all of you had similar experiences but the visits to the neighbourhood bazaar certainly played a significant part of my childhood Sunday mornings.   

Usually, around 8 in the morning, my father would dutifully note down the list of items to be brought from the bazaar from my mother in a small piece of paper. Sometimes, even I would be assigned the task of jotting down the list. This would generally lead to me getting impatient as my mother, while coolly going about her tasks in the kitchen, would drone on recounting the endless items on the list. My impatience stemmed from the fact that I needed to return in time to catch the early morning cartoon shows and hence always wanted this chore to be done with promptly.

My impatience, though, would soon fizzle out as holding my father’s hands and clutching a green-colored nylon ‘jhola’ in one of my own, I would walk towards the bazaar nearby. Sovabazar, the quaint north Kolkata neighbourhood where I stayed at during my formative years, was a busy and simple hub teeming with all kinds of people. On Sunday mornings, especially, it would be abuzz with myriad activities. The local modi ka dukaan, the multiple mithai shops, the ration shop, the hair salons and even the medicine shops would have long queues outside them.

My father would stop ever so often as most in the neighbourhood would exchange greetings with him and chat for a few minutes, usually passing a “Chele ta khub lomba hoye jacche (Your son is growing too tall)” comment. I would give them a weary smile and observe the people bathing jovially on the street from the uninterrupted and brownish ‘Ganga’ water coming in from the taps located at various junctures throughout our locality while some old Bengali songs being played from a radio somewhere nearby added a distinct flavor to the scene.

An artist's impression of a typical Indian bazaar

After walking a little further we would come to the Hathkola area which was famed for its delightful snacks. My hungry Sunday morning tummy would gurgle as my nose would take in the varied kinds of aroma of tasty snacks coming in from different shops. I especially loved gorging on the piping hot puri subzi from a little shop there. The puris would be small in size and the hot alu subzi with it would have little cubes of potatoes swimming in spicy gravy and topped with roasted jeera. I found the puri subzi from this particular shop incredibly mouthwatering and would merrily gorge on them to my heart’s content. The swarm of people ravenously gulping down the delicacy outside the shop surely agreed with me.

Also, if I was lucky, I was treated to a plate of bread- omelet sometimes from a busy shop there (being a vegetarian this was an activity that my mother was strictly against but something which I couldn’t resist). For some reason, I never liked the bread and always enjoyed eating the omelet on its own. My guilt at eating a non-vegetarian snack would evaporate as soon as the silky, smooth skin of the omelet would touch my tongue. Suffice to say, I never really got to taste an omelet like that ever again.

The best bit – in fact, my greatest fillip – of visiting the bazaar on Sunday mornings was the magazine stall just outside the subzi mandi. In those days, I was absolutely in love with a Hindi children’s weekly magazine ‘Champak’ and could never have enough of it. The Sunday morning visits to the bazaar gave me the opportunity to grab my ‘Champak’ from that magazine stall outside the subzi mandi. As soon as I would near the stall, my heart would race and my eyes would scan the stand to spot my magazine. With every new ‘Champak’ cover my heart would leap in joy and I would stand there exploring its contents and smelling its pages. My father would then tug at my hands and drag me away from the stand, requesting me to read the magazine at home. In fact, gawking at magazine stalls – a habit I had acquired from my ‘Champak’ reading days – is something which has stayed on with me and today, it is my friends, usually, who drag me away as I strain to scan these stalls.

My ‘Champak’ firmly held in one hand, we would then progress to the subzi mandi – the actual point of these visits. While I don’t remember the precise name of the bazaar, what I do remember is that it was huge and was divided into countless sections; each serving a different purpose. The first one on entering the mandi was the meat section having fish, chicken, and some other meat products. The unpleasant smell of the meat and the culling of the chickens right in front my eyes would make me nauseated and averting my eyes from them I would sprint ahead.

A little ahead of that, right at the center of the mandi, was a giant shed and was the main section of the market. It was divided into various small stone cubicles, with lanes crisscrossing them for customers to walk and surf the items with ease. This was the place where potatoes, onions, lemons, green chilli, dhaniya patta and an assortment of other eatables were sold. The din that was created here by all the vendors desperately crying “Ashun! Ashun! (Come! Come!)” in an attempt to lure the customers to their cubicle was just immense.

An artist's impression of a typical Indian subzi mandi 

I also had a rather peculiar habit then. As my father would be busy collecting the items from his list, I would start imagining how it would be if I was left alone in this shed. I would visualize myself living in one of the stone cubicles of the shed, right at the deep end of the middle lane, with everyone else gone. Just me, quietly sleeping in the corner cubicle, in the company of the comfortable darkness and solitude and without the pressure of any mathematics test the next day. Strangely, I found this idea really comforting and would envision this picture on my every Sunday morning visit to the shed.

After coming out of the shed, we would be greeted by a small lane filled in a straight line with countless grocery shops mainly selling various kinds of daal, rajma, chole and similar stuff. Here my weirdness would come into effect again. Standing outside those grocery shops and looking at the various daal neatly placed to the brim on jute bags, I would itch to put my hands inside them. Soon as I would get a chance, I would completely immerse my right hand inside one of the daal bags, preferably something small and soft like ‘moong daal’, and then wrap my fist around them. For some reason, the feeling of the soft daal caressing the skin of my palm made me feel very good; like having a soothing massage of my hands. My father, on noticing my absurd behaviour, would repeatedly tell me “Haath hatao (remove your hand)” but I would always find a way to do it again in the adjoining shops.  

By now, almost all the items on the checklist would be ticked and we would then progress towards our exit of the mandi which would generally entail us passing through the pottery section. Now this was another part of the mandi which really had me captivated. Unlike the rest of the market, this section would be extremely quiet and had little shops selling an assortment of pottery items; it had a distinct cozy feel to it. I loved watching the owners of these shops – some quietly relaxing as their own pot-like bellies moved up and down while some busy in catching their customer’s attention by drumming their fingers on the pots like a tabla to show them their various features. A nice, earthy smell, along with the resonating sounds of various pots in all the quietness made this section quite the charming place for me and even as I would exit the mandi, the smell of the pots would remain in with me.

Even though the cartoon shows and reading my ‘Champak’ would be on my mind, leaving the bazaar would leave me feeling gratified and I would already, in some part of my heart, look forward to come back there the next Sunday morning. As I grew older, though, the visits to the bazaars with my father slowly began diminishing. My love for ‘Champak’ too withered away and I slowly began finding excuses to avoid those Sunday morning bazaar visits.  It is something which I regret doing.

Today, I stay in a completely different area of the city and the bazaars here, although quite similar in structure, just don’t have the same magic. Perhaps certain things are just very different to the eyes of a child. For me, as a kid, that bazaar near my old home was a whole new world filled with endless wondrous happenings. In fact, in its own little way, the Sunday morning visits to the bazaar have helped mold the person I have become today. It opened me up to some very different and pure emotions and feelings that still bubble somewhere in my heart. I also believe that the myriad things that I saw on those visits and the way I observed and perceived them so deeply have helped me as a writer as well.

As an adult, however, a bazaar has just become a place where I buy my everyday stuff. I do wish, though, that for once I could borrow the eyes of my younger self when I visit my neighbourhood bazaar one of these days. Perhaps I can then find a way to somehow immerse my hands in a sackful of ‘daal’ without feeling stupid and also rekindle my love for ‘Champak’ along the way.