She was a widow, someone who flaunted societal rules to enjoy life. He had been enamoured with her but chose to move on, knowing he wasn’t strong enough to face up to his family and society to marry her. At-least that’s what he told me. Over the years my father has let small clues spill about his past. He lived in Calcutta early in life, at the start of his banking career. From him, I pieced together a picture of the girl he had met here. One who loved to dance the twist and drink lots of cha. When he speaks of her, I see the look of a man frozen at the crossroads of life from which he has never really moved and yet lived a lie. But leave, he did. Then, it was my turn to meet the city.
Image: courtesy http://www.buzzintown.com
Calcutta, had always seemed to be in a dimension apart. As if it were this planet existed on one plane and that exalted epitome of imagination on the other. Did I have enough soul to be accepted into its fold, I wondered as I walked through Park Street hand in hand with a man who was born in a street not too far away. He, whose parents met in this city fifty years earlier; they had been together since.
Turning up at Trinka’s—me in a kanjeevaram sari enroute to a wedding—we were ushered in past the rows of music lovers waiting patiently to the knee-bump-knee table. Perched on a narrow chair I could hear the ghost of Usha Uthup belting out to the crowd. Why does the past always seem timeless and the present difficult to pin down?
Mistaken for a foreign bou at the Indian Museum, being Lokhi at the family wedding, watching bemused as my husband wolfed down puchkas on the street, meandering through the now defunct Oxford Bookstore, lunch at Flora’s (served by the waiter who would never leave but when it was time for the other world) haggling for Pashmina’s at the government showroom, culminating in gin & tonics at the Oberoi.
I came – a tourist. Coming away with the knowledge of a new way of life. It wasn’t the architecture or the experiences, nor any one person. It was the collective. There was power in the us here. It needed the us to create that net of support, where you could free think and be understood for what you expressed.
My comeuppance? Having a small shard of the soul of this city embedded in the person I spend my most waking hours with. My own private reservoir of inspiration to dip into whenever the adrenaline of the modern connected world proves too weary to hook into; for I am surrounded by a cat’s cradle of coincidences, all linked to this space.