In another five years, I would have spent more time away from Calcutta than I spent in it. Like the recurrent migraine of those who are doomed to have it, Calcutta is like a nagging pain. It comes close and dares you to give up a few things to be with her. And then I chicken out and she taunts me by popping up at strange places… giving me a lump in the throat, a smile in a crowd, a sudden rush of blood, that thing that gets into the eye.
I see my Calcutta like a shimmering mirage in the strangest of places. As do other exiles from the city.
In the dazzle of South American football. In the mouth-watering mix of rice and meat. In the cerebral etchings of ink on paper. In the strumming of a guitar. She asks if I’d like to go out with her tonight.
On the first day of my new job, my new boss – true to his being the head of a startup in Bangalore – suggested a few food delivery apps to try for lunch. Then, he pointed to a hole in the wall just opposite the office and said, “Or you could try Chakum Chukum… good rolls.” I walked across and soon bit into some chunky mutton pieces and a flaky paratha fried with egg, washing it down with a Thums Up. I later found out the guy who started the shop left his job in an international advertising agency to do so.
And my Calcutta gets delivered to my office desk at lunch every day.
Often Calcutta turns up in the post. In a Facebook post, to be precise.
A friend visiting Calcutta notices that women there don’t use dupattas to cover any part of their bodies. I never noticed this myself but feel helplessly proud when she praises the city for this.
And I ‘like’ Calcutta once again that night.
Sometimes, my Calcutta wafts out from a dingy shop in an even dingier shopping complex. Located on a Gurgaon road, known for its high property prices and deep potholes. The shop guys told me their chef was with Shiraz and of course, they put aloo in the biriyani (and what kind of question is that)?
My Calcutta often flickers past at 24 frames a second.
An ex-colleague makes a film set in Banaras. It makes waves in Cannes and finally wins a FIPRESCI award. The name sounds familiar and I vaguely remember it from a time when I read real books. I search and realise the other Indian film to have won a FIPRESCI award was also set in Banaras. And was made by a tall director from Calcutta.
My Calcutta is lying low in a Bengali novel written in English that – I am breathlessly told – will be read by no less than the American President this summer.
My Calcutta is wafting out from the pages of a Nobel Prize winner’s ruminations about Istanbul.
My Calcutta is raising its hands in protest from a film institute in a Maharashtrian city.
My Calcutta is weeping when a blogger is killed in another Bengali-speaking city.
My Calcutta is laughing at Paneer Butter Masala.
My Calcutta is ensuring bookshops don’t shut down. And Old Monk remains in business.
So, where is your Calcutta tonight?
Inspired by a Calcutta boy's post, which was way better and on - well - Bombay.