Archive for the ‘Calcutta’ Category

Bengalis (by birth) like me do not like to admit that they have a sweet tooth. They land up at a Bengali get together(read : loud exchange of  opinioned ideas on everything and anything) and when offered, push their open palms in the air, like that on an invisible bench press and noisily decline “mishti khaabo naa …sugar achhe“(no sweets for me, I have blood sugar)”. And then after the party, on the way back, ask the wife “do we still have any of that key lime pie you made? “.

And then some days, during the coffee machine chit chat when I am asked . “you are Bengali right … you must love rosogolla?” And the sarcastic genes inside me scream “thanks for the stereotype, again!”. But on the outside, I say ” I love sandesh as much “, totally forgetting the part where I am supposed to go …”actually I do not like sweets at al. I have blood sugar .Instead; I love to use jalapeno seeds as mouth freshener“. But that never happens!!

What I am attempting to draw from the above, is how you could be immensely fulfilled with two completely disparate experiences from the same source. Another example  – when on a perfect day  your wife is giving you the silent treatment, and making spicy onion masala uttapam ,both at the same time!!  As for the female readers, I do not have an example … since men usually are not good with multi tasking!!

So when I watched Kaminey, (something which I have wanted to do since its release last year) it was that whole different kind of happiness feeling. “This is a complete movie” I told myself . Just like ..The Blue Umbrella.  And yet completely, unlike. The source – the creative genius of  Vishal Bharadwaj !! The man who has been proven guilty of being in my list of favorite directors, composers and all of that jazz since his Maachis days!! He started of as a composer and of late made some really good movies.

Now about these two movies. Why did I pick just these two?  Purely because of the experience as a viewer, watching two of his creations which have no one common point that they meet at, be it theme, design or any of those elements that work towards graduating a good story into an awesome movie and yet inspire me to write a post about them. Whether anyone is reading or not!! Wait, I did not mean that. I do care about who is reading. I digress. Let’s get back shall we, to my duo- analysis, or whatever this may be called.

The Blue Umbrella touches you,  for the simple story (courtesy: the esteemed Ruskin Bond). Pankaj Kapoor (side note: I am his fan since his Karamchand days) as usual is brilliant in the role of an aged shopkeeper who desires to own something which does not belong to him. The Blue Umbrella – the prized possession of a little girl. The movie was shot in Himachal Pradesh and just like me, as you watch the film, you will want to be part of that rustic ambience. There is innocence, love, deceit and finally utter kindness that make this a masterpiece. To me that is the sign of a great conversation – one that happens between the characters and the audience. Thank you Vishal !!

About Kaminey, let me start with the music. It will blow you away!! That is, if you are open to the idea of being blown away by music, I mean. Since the time the music released (last year), whenever we are in our small blue car, I have made myself, Onga and his mom listen to Dhan Te Nan as the overture to any journey, be it as insignificant as a quick run for diapers. And I digress again.

And I am back. Kaminey’s story is one which cannot be called unpredictable. But sometimes  cliché, when served nicely tastes good, kinda like how karela (bitter melon) would taste like honey, if Priyanka Chopra were to serve it to me. Talking of her, she did pretty good in her “not so glamorous” role in Kaminey. As for Shahid – job well done, times two (he plays twins in the movie)!! All the actors who acted as crooks, including the Bengali trio did very well, proof being I was rooting for them when they set the house(s) on fire. You see, it is not every day, that you see Bengali men who have an established career as kingpin(s) in Mumbai!! Good story with beautiful songs (which fit in perfectly even in this Satya style story) makes Kaminey one of my all time favorites. Thank you Vishal !!

In essence, this is my personal message to all movie makers – “I have some news for you. If one of your hits was a thriller, guess what, your next one need not be one, unless you are Shyamalan , and even he made some bad mistakes for e.g. The Happening.  So, ..please explore, and make us feel…. what good movie making (no matter what the story) is all about. Kinda like what I heard in the men’s room of Lighthouse cinema (Calcutta) so many years ago – “ khel khatam, paisa hajam” (the show is over, it was worth every penny)!!” The End!!

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Most days (save the cloudy ones) , as I step out, the Sun meets me, right in the face. That is my – first favorite part of the morning.I get situated in our small blue car, turn on the ignition, wear my seat belt, back up my car, turn on the radio and hit the road. Turning on the radio is – my second favorite part of the morning. It was no different today, till I  heard the clear voices of two students from Presidency College. And suddenly, I was not driving on a US highway anymore.  Instead, I saw myself waltz across the black bricks of the tram lines towards the millions of used books on the sidewalk kiosks. My ears tuned in to the faint tinker from the rickshaw carts and my nose drew in the early morning air, a wistful blend of fresh lilies from flower stores and the black smoke that buses from Sealdah coughed up. I was in North Calcutta, in a neighbourhood, which fondly resides in my memories. My very own ….City of Joy !!  

Back to this morning. NPR is doing a story –  “Along the Grand Trunk Road“. It is a journey, one that will take several reporters through various parts of India and Pakistan. During this journey, they will  illustrate the lives of the common man, as they make their way from one end of this historic road to the other. What has got me hooked, are the real protagonists of this story. This story is not about the high rollers and the big wigs. It is about the others – the ones whose dreams, pains and smiles, build  to make India, one of the greatest nations of the world.

Recently, a friend of a friend of mine, visited India for the first time. It is essential to mention that he (friend of my friend)  is from Germany. He had always wanted to make this trip and hence carried with him a great amount of  interest and a fair quota of apprehension. On the third day of his visit, my friend received a call – “S, …what can I say. India is amazing… I love it here !!“……much excitement and details followed,….. and then finally, before he hung up ……he said – “and the best part of India is, ……there is so much going on around you ….the population, the pollution, the roads, the movies, the cricket…. it is total chaos,…. but somehow, amidst all this …there is a sense of  harmony to this pandemonium…. called life !!  there is a warmth and it is not from the heat. it is from the smile, that every one wears on them….almost all the time“.  

As I  sipped on the first coffee of the day and the off- shore (India) team spoke into my ears, I smiled to myself  …”this is one of my favorite mornings …in a long time” !!

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One of the incentives of being married to a girl from South India is easy access to kick ass South Indian food! ” After having gained hundreds of pounds, since I transitioned from “self” cooking to “herself” cooking, it is but natural of me to delight in my wife’s culinary skills . Now, if she was not a great cook. I would have started this post slightly different. I would probably say, “One of the perks of being married to a girl from South India is easy access to some of the greatest movies”. Now that is a fact, which by the way sits perfectly well with me as well. I am not sure if she can say similar thing(s) about being married to a Bengali. But for that she needs to start her own blog.

My love affair with South Indian movies (mainly: Tamil) began almost the same time, that I started ogling my “baby momma” from the last bench of our engineering class. Back then, I was always humming Tamil songs, watching Tamil movies and gawking (from behind myopic glasses) at a certain Telugu girl…and let me tell you, I was committed to all three responsibilities to the best of my ability. I listened to the songs, for they made me happy, even the sad ones did. Once I had listened to a song I needed to go watch the movie. Unless of course it was movie like Padayappa, in which case, the music would suffice!! And being new to South India, I wanted to feel safe in the company of someone who could speak Tamil and was a treat to sit next to, in the theatre!! For the first time in my life, there was purpose to everything I did!! I journeyed with the stars during those several hours in at Devi theatre and Satyam complex.

Disclaimer : Before I go any further I would like to remind the reader that anything that I say beyond this point on, is from within my limited knowledge about Tamil cinema. I am just another Bengali who used to live in the Kodabakkam area during my undergrad and was exposed (rather densely) to the Tamil film world, both on and off-screen. I am no movie expert and my views are purely based on how I have felt towards each of these creations of art. So what follows is not a review, but an attempt to collate how I felt as a member of the audience.

The most significant characteristic about Tamil movies (from recent years) that I find so absorbing is the style of narration. A film maker picks a simple story and makes it into a 90 minute package of pure entertainment. These are great movies made from everyday life events. They are rich in emotion and easy to relate to.

One of the Tamil directors that I am a huge fan of, is Cheran. I have watched all his movies, the early ones without even knowing who he is. It was not until recently when I found out that Porkaalam is one of his movies. It had one of my favorite songs – “Thanjavur man eduthu . Beautiful words woven with the popular “gaana” style of music by Deva. I digress. It was the brilliance of his movie, Autograph, that got me sitting up and paying more attention to his work. I was moved by the sensitive elements of life in his stories, masterfully played out by artists (including Cheran) who did full justice to every character they portrayed. Maya Kannadi felt too close to me,  since our neighbours in the building we used to live in were two girls who worked as assistants to a make up artist.  

Pokkisham is the latest Cheran movie that I watched. I had not read any reviews. I never do. I think it ruins the “wow” factor that cinema deserves. It is a love story, one which is spun out of pain and emotions that will make you want to reach out into the lives of the characters and redo the story all over again.Parts of the movie were filmed in Calcutta and the scenes portrayed, brought back to me, glimpses from my childhood memories of the city. What was most admirable was how Cheran was successful in preserving the 70’s look of Calcutta. Cheran is just perfect in his role and as always so is Padmapriya and together, they acquaint us with how one’s love and life can sometimes part ways for good. And when that happens, it hurts bad and truly nothing can ever make that pain go away. We get through life with that pain, every moment of it, knowing that things could have been different. Sure, there are other movies which touch similar topics, but nothing I have watched stirred me the way this movie did. And I think art like this is not to be compared.

What Pokkisham brought to me, was an aide memoire about the definition of true love!! What a lot of us hear about, some experience and some will never know. Over the years, I have become, what I would like to believe – Cheran’s biggest “non Tamilian” fan. Someday if I do meet him, I wish to stand up in honor, shake his hand and tell him – “thank you for sharing all that beauty!!

I leave you with the  last scenes (sorry no subtitles), when Nadheera sheds silent tears for a love she deserved for a lifetime!! A lifetime, too late!!

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"scoot over …….!!!"

Husband and wife got married to each other (not unusual, I would say ….). Things went fine, till the time came when they had to share the ….space under the buzz of the ceiling fan. Warm summer nights in any tropical paradise, can be (for lack of better word) … little sticky.Wifey was in discomfort and expressed with subtle annoyance…”Ektoo shorey shoyo naa” (“scoot over a little”….in polite newly wed Bengali). Next morning he was nowhere to be found. Just for the sake of the story telling, let us imagine the wedding celebration was situated in a rented house near Shyam Bazaar. A month later, one of those blue inland envelopes, was dropped through the small hole in the post – box which also had a sign under it – “TO i LET” ……..(“haraamjaada gulo”..damn those kids playing cricket in the sun all day and messing up people’s marketing tools) ………to lure ….potential tenants (or the needy)…..!!

Father of the Bride(from a month back) picked up the delivery and dropped it into the lap of addressee.She recognized ….her name (not the handwriting), tore through the blue barrier and read it …twice, thrice …. she lost count. “Shorte shorte Ahmedabad chole esechi ….aar koto shorbo?” (That scoot has brought me to Ahmedabad….do you want me to keep going?….in polite “full of contempt” Bengali) !!

Change in roles……

The sticky situation of my relationship with a “time pass” between 9 a.m and 5 p.m (or much later….) has called for a move !! There is no contempt, but a lot of bags and boxes and as a matter of fact I am sitting on top of one right now, as I try to type out the post, clearly hoping that spell check works. This has also been the reason why I have been away from reading posts on my dear blogger friends’ blogs and been unable to provide my useless 2 cents (or more) in their comment spaces. But this is not for long. Maybe till the end of the month and then I shall be back…..heehaaahaaa !!

Thank you Savitha for your kind email, checking if everything was O.K. It moved me to beg for some time from Her Highness and attend to a quick post. I shall now retreat to my corner of the accommodation which I have been assigned to “clear out” at the earliest. For the benefit of anyone’s doubt, the husband and wife reunited and lived happily ever after. Kinda like the couple in the song from Sharaabi !!

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Common belief is,……. if a member of the community has spent “x” number of years across the defined geographical boundaries, it is but naychural to refer to him/her as NRI. A derivative of this stereo type (or not) conclusion is that when these “en.aar.eyes” are on a visit to their swades (home land), some very concerned family members stock up on all kinds of protection against germs (read:bottled water, hand sanitizers etc.). What follows is expert (read:free) advice on what are the do’s and don’ts of consumption……. for the safety of the innards….(you see) !!

The dos include……(in the interest of time and potential disinterest that the reader may experience ……. I shall limit it to two items…)

  • Charnamrita (Holy water served in Hindu temples), which clearly is not made from “bottled water”….but then I do not want to talk about the likes of those too much. It may hurt a lot of readers’ (like I have a lot of them …… ha ha) sentiments and I definitely do not want that…..(but on a side note, Satyajit Ray’s Ganashatru is a good watch)
  • Anything fried (in mustard oil from glistening slender bodied ……..tin cans) served with chaa (tea :not made from bottled water, with insane amount of sugar in it ….that makes you want to refer to it as …..sweet mud water) when the “en.aar.eye” is emotionally blackmailed to visit his/her great grandfather’s childhood friend in Midnapore (which by the way, was not so well connected …. even a decade back)

The don’t(s) are plenty and again …….”in the interest of time …….

  • Fuchka (please use caution and pronounce it as “foo” to avoid potential audio effect of profanity….it means paani puri in Bengali) and jhaal alur dom (potato cooked in hot and spicy sauce, garnished with cilantro)…served in small bowls made out of dry sal leaf…… by generations of magicians with goodies on the cane stands ….at almost every street corner …..in the residential areas (….. or maybe not) ..of Calcutta
  • Rolls …….if you have not been to Calcutta or have been but have not had a couple of hundreds of these, your taste buds’ life is as incomplete as Jerry’s) ………available at sidewalk kiosks …at almost every street corner ……..(you get the drift …)

Now……. when I visit India (hence …. the definition and the prologue) it is with extreme pleasure that I reverse the dos to the donts and vice-versa…….I include Her Highness in these ventures as well. Much to my delight she is a great co-conspirator (another Wah Taj …moment for me) and together we close our eyes and moan in pleasure as we dig into the beauties at every available chance that we can squeeze in between our other food expeditions. ……..

The rolls come in all veritees……paneer tikka roll,mutton tikka roll, fish tikka roll, vegetable roll, egg roll, vegetable egg roll, reshmi kabab roll, you name it … they have it …. and you experience the greatest seduction of all times …. when you witness the end to end process ….

  • Step 1 : Fire up gas stove to a temperature of 45921 degrees (any unit of measurement)……resting on top of this calm firework is a huge taava (flat frying pan usually made of seasoned iron) …..where the festivities will begin…..not soon enough
  • Step 2 : Take a scoop out of the dough mountain lazing near the stove station…and then transform that amorphous mass into a dough baseball (sans stitches)………slap this onto the “multi-gon” shaped marble …positioned daringly close to the stove…..add some oil (from the 100 year old plastic can which is missing its cap for the last decade or more)…..proceed to convert flattened ball into a perfect circular plane by rigorously massaging it from all angles……use hands for this activity ..the same hands used to change the CD on the player
  • Step 3 : Add more oil to the deceptive taava and start making a paratha (pita bread smeared in oil/butter) from the output of Step 2 ….this involves timed flipping of the circular plane (and not the taava….that would be a recipe for intense burn)….. .at the same time initiate a different kind of sizzle on another corner of the …deceptive taava….. this spot is for the filler ….like chunks of meat or symmetrically cut pieces of paneer (goat cheese),maybe some potato, …definitely ….some onion,bell pepper,drizzles of vinegar and soy sauce, green chilli sauce,gol morich (ground pepper), ajinomoto

(please excuse me as salivate and then proceed to continue ……..

  • Step 4: Blind the customer with the culinary smoke as he/she waits…. mesmerised by the aroma …..then pop the question …..”Kucho lonka debo” (Would you like some hot pepper sliced under a microscope??)….gather vital information from response
  • Step 5: Use the flat ladle to work on the filler ….. while calmly using bare left hand to drag and drop the fluffy paratha on a conservative square butter sheet ….within moments of that ….hold and lift the paratha (in the left hand) to the same height as the edge of the “even more deceptive taava” and drag and roll the filler on it …..ask the customer if he/she would like to attack this….. right here (save on the packing) …. or take it home …(loser…)
  • Step 6: Add …..cut pieces of cucumber (a whole cucumber would be odd),…… cut pieces of onion (“a whole…….”) …and then based on # 4 add the hot miniscule slices (…..or not) ….roll it up…with bare hands….ignore the of droplets of sweat that have joined the party ….tuck the extra paper at the end …..and hand it to the pool of drool waiting to be fed …..

Having experienced such exhaustion (in anticipation) for a delight like this …. we could not care less for any diseases that can ruin our visit(s) …. we devour several of these … then go home and put away a strip of the mint balls ….

It is the memory of these six steps that have been haunting me for several months now …. and finally today .. I gave in …. I told Her Highness …. “I am going to make a couple for both of us“…and she said …”I want the kucho lonka with mine “…..right on baby …. (another…. Wah Taj moment) now we are cooking…….but I cheated …in a couple of steps !!

  • the paratha …. was …(sigh) …..frozen
  • egg white … instead of ..you know…
  • no butter paper …
  • no Thums Up® in the stead of which …… strawberries to appease the habenero burn

after effects : much appreciated husband, content wife ……end of a marathon post ….. nice !!

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Run down the flight of stairs…… make sure that I don’t step on the cat poo near the Saha residence…cannot but like the Dutta family….rewind … it is not them … it is the really nice metal door…and then the Jhunjhunwala’s….wait…is that a new bicycle..for that nerdy Guddu ….and the smell of pure ghee (or Dalda®)…. a few more steps and then the walk from semi darkness into broad daylight and then the strong smell of Arial® washed clothes on the nylon strings, almost touching the top of the red Maruti 800® which belongs to the family from Punjab….another hundred feet (or so) …look out for cars and tires sinking into the ageless pot hole near the flat (apartment) community gate …that right there – is water, courtesy: several sources like rain, radiators,rice starch…and the unthinkable …..and then make the small turn…..that is what this post is all about …about Nona and his corner….!!!

So here is a relocation – Madan Chatterjee Lane,Calcutta to Oak Tree Road,Edison.Last week we drove to Saravana Bhavan® …my craving for Rasa Vada and memories from their Arcot Road Branch (Chennai) catalyzed the one hour drive.As we concluded stuffing ourselves, I asked the server ….” do you carry paan ?? “..knowing so well that my chances of getting a response in the affirmative was really slim.Turned out that my chances were non existant.”Only over the weekend” – he said and that was the end of that conversation.We (the team) talked about how we could be eating at any place on the avenue in the Windy City , walk out and get treated to freshly made magic.I also reminisced about the ones kept on ice outside of this Moghlai food paradise near Jamuna Theater® …and then it hit me …..!!

No matter how far I drift away and how classy (read:not necessarily fulfilling) the 4 feet by 4 feet space that I am dining in, ..it is the post meal indulgence in a “meetha patta, sada paan” (sweet leaf, no condiments) put together by none other than Nona is what I miss the most. During the summer holidays when I would come visit, it would be the post lunch (read:huge range fresh water fish dishes and rice and overpowering each other’s voice in conversations) ritual, that I looked forward to. I would be asked to run down the stairs (hence the first paragraph) and get paan for everyone (well almost all except myself……ironic).I remember how I had everyone’s choice memorised, Baro Mama’s (Mom’s elder brother in Bengali) with extra cloves, Didu’s (Mom’s mother in Bengali) with unripened supari and so on. Last but not the least mine (noone asked me what I wanted, I knew exactly what I wanted) with nothing in it but the fenugreek seeds.I had to chew it up (it melted in my mouth) and gobble it down in a short period of time (precisely the time needed to walk really slow from Nona’s kiosk, to the fourth floor green door)…..

Nona (that is truly, his real name) is as old as I am.We both have grown out of our shorts and our Bata® Rs.99.99/- sandals (probably the only mundane similarity between the two of us).As I changed schools and friends and shoe sizes, Nona grew up from a teenager to a father of two kids.I moved out of the country and he and his wife and kids moved from the polythene shelters to a “one room” accommodation.He has not seen beyond the corner of Girish Park (about three blocks from his work location) and his village in Bihar. His kids do not have the safety factor of a car seat and his wife does not shop online for natural coconut water sold in fancy packing.His Diwali festivities do not include $5 – Bhel Puri at the Indian Heritage carnival. He does not know about junk food or about signing up later for a weight loss program.His meals are cooked over the coal fed – mud stove in aluminium vessels and consumed under the medley of the street lights and the kiosk bulbs. He uses news paper cut outs for wrapping his end products.His father now wears the thick glasses and smokes on his beedis,smiling from behind his royal moustache….warmly letting me know that he recognizes me and wishes well……

It has been a couple of years, since I last visited Calcutta (I cannot bring myself to say Kolkata) and during that time, I missed…. stopping at that corner.I have the convenience of blaming it on lack of time and other scheduled visits at relations which seemingly weigh heavier.Not good enough..nowhere in the books of nostalgia does it warrant my behaviour as acceptable.He is not the Mithunda poster fan, radio blaring and red tilak adorning “paan wallah” as usually stereo typed in movies…but even he were all of that … I still want to go back one day …..and tell him ….”thank you for making me miss you and your paan from across the seven seas !!”….

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