Tuesday, October 12, 2004

oh kolkata my calcutta

Does anyone recollect the Calcutta where marketing on the occasion of Durga Puja used to be in the Harlalka opposite Medical College or in the India Silk House on College Street or the Kamalalaya Stores on Dharamtolla Street? Does anyone recollect that purchase of footwear would be kept in abeyance till the day when all the latest designs and prices would be disclosed on the last page of leading newspapers? Does anyone recollect a park called Wellington Square where Political parties would organize meetings on Saturdays?

Kamalalaya Stores was the only Departmental Store where one could get lost for the whole day, without realizing it. It stocked every conceivable object from safety pins to suitcases. There was a Section devoted to toys and a wonderful refreshment room – a visit to both these was a must after completion of purchases. In order to make the experience more memorable, one need no carry along all his purchases. They would automatically move to the Centralized Delivery counter located at the exit. Private cars were not as common as they are today, therefore, the uniformed guard would arrange a taxi for you, if you so desired.

For those with shoe string budgets, there would be products aplenty in the various Hawkers’ Corners.

Does anyone recollect trudging along to see the Durga idols at the Headquarters of the Fire Brigade or the one at Beadon Street? Both were famous for innovative designs – I still remember the idol of the Fire Brigade where Asura was depicted as kneeling down in front of Devi Durga and pleading with outstretched arms for mercy. Or the idols at Beadon Street modeled in lines of Ajanta frescos. There were also the celebrations at Baghbazar where the fair was an added attraction. Microphones all around would air melodious songs released on the occasion and rendered by renowned artistes like Sandhya, Lata, Asha, Protima, Hemanta, Shyamal, Manna Dey and Talat Mahmood. There also used to be parodies by Mintu Dasgupta or comics by the duo Bhanu-Jahar. Hit films would also be released during the Pujas apart from Special editions of popular magazines. An author then had the liberty of writing as per his own choice. Unlike today when he is commissioned to write on a specific subject. The reason is obvious – with so many writers in the market, there is every likelihood of repetition of themes and subjects if left to individual tastes and fancies.

Of course, there existed a great cultural divide between residents of the North and the South. Whilst the former were more conservative, their counterparts were more liberal, progressive and advanced. Soon after the release of that beautiful cinema ‘Hatari’, a restaurant of the same name opened on Rash Behari Avenue. It was an instant success and would be patronized by the youth of both North and South. Subsequently, this divide kept expanding, especially with people from other parts of the country preferring to settle down in pockets of South Calcutta. There were Malayalees, Maharastrians and Bangaloreans. Kolkata welcomed all of them with outstretched arms and, from them, emerged luminaries like Usha Uthup, Thankomani Kutty, Derek O’Brien and Dr. N. Vishwanathan.

Kolkata today is a maze of flyovers and potholes.

A change of name is not an indication of a change of character or culture. The roads get waterlogged even now, as it used to fifty years ago. Does anyone recollect that song – ‘the ladies of Calcutta…’ sung by Peter Sellers in the film ‘the Millionairess’.


6 Comments:

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2:36 AM  
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4:07 AM  
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3:17 AM  
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12:44 PM  
Blogger kyle phillup said...

Aloha prabir ghose,
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8:45 PM  
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