Teensy weensy houses below me. They look so much like a makeup palette that it cracks me up. Leaving my dear ole Bangalore behind, I’ve climbed aboard my airplane and I can see the endless ocean through the window after taking off. Skimming the edge of the East Indian border, I can see the water sprakling enticingly, calling me to it. The Bay of Bengal, so appealing, is tearing at my heart string. The sand seeming like a winding, long, narrow wall between the land and the ocean. Amar Calcutta amake daakche!
While mom alreaddy warned me about Bengal being scorchingly, blisteringly hot, I didn’t think it’d be worse than Chennai. Boiiiii was I wrong! The moment I stepped into the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport terminal, I felt the heat waves parch me dry! Not hindered, I carried on and got into the cab to the guest house.
Gone were the Kannada scripts on all the banners and advertisements. On rare occasions, there were Hindi and English words written in places, but I already knew that navigation is going to become a task here. While my mom and uncle chattered exuberantly in their dialect, I just stared out of the window, fascinated by the newness of everything.
Having arranged transport to the guest house, I started worrying because all I could see around me were tiny shack like houses with corrugated roofs and barely there chipped off painted walls. The streets are very narrow and snakelike. Without a map, you’re SURE to get lost in this maze. My heart sank when I assumed that we’d be living in such conditions for the next 10 days.
Suddenly, while I was consumed with such depressing thought the car stopped in front of a beautiful three-storeyed green building. To my right, there was the Hooghly river and I could see the boats bobbing on its surface. Be still my heart, I said, for this was far better than my assumptions. We were blessed with an A/C in each room and a nice, big living room that faced the river. We were on its very banks and the garden had a gate that led to a bridge that opened out to a sitting area RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RIVER!!!
After taking a breather, we set out to meet all our Bengali relatives. Armed with gifts for them, we climbed aboard a toto and marveled at all the marquees put up for the upcoming Durga Pujo. Totos are adorable little vehicles similar to an auto rickshaw, but it is smaller and open on all sides. Meanwhile, my mom was the happiest I’ve ever seen her. She met her cousins after 15 years and everyone couldn’t stop praising her.
The beauty of Bengal is that everyone knows everyone. It’s a very close knit family and all my relatives live within 2 minutes of each other. We hopped from house to house and in each house they showered us with fresh, hot samosas and mouth-melting rosagullas. There was no shortage of food here. Every street has a miniature sweet shop and a durga marquee. Each marquee was unique and beautiful and intricate in its own way.
More than street dogs, we see cats here. Little kittens roam about freely and walk in and out of houses leisurely. Families pet them, serve them milk and food, take care of them and let them free to roam about the town.
With no totos in hand, we wound up taking a cycle rickshaw back to the house. By the end of the day, we were exhausted but content.