Asia,  Travel

Delhi to Calcutta

It is bright outside. The sun has the personality of summer, its glare reflected off the veneer of ice that coats the road. I can see great slabs of ice on the Hudson beyond, but I am tempted to step out for a few minutes even though it feels like -20°C outside. My great temptation is the resident Great Bernese of our building who is swaying her beautiful, big body through the park. Plus I have not met her yet in person and that seems a shame.

How different it seems to my time in India. For I felt a curious tug to Calcutta this time. Curious because here I had spent my grown-up years trying to get away from it, yet there I was actually lapping every moment I spent in my former home town. The thing about building this feeling called home in different places is that you have pockets of your soul invested in each place. Every time you return to any of those places, you have a reawakening of emotions. Then there is the constant clash running in your mind, the comparison of the old with the new, of keenly felt dissatisfaction at changes, and once in a while, an acknowledgment of the fact that some changes have actually been for the better.

In India, I find caught up thus in a maelstrom of emotions. The weather, the people, the roads, the scenery, the very pace of life, change significantly enough that the mind takes time to slip back into old familiar routines, what the body and mind has been used to for the longest time. It starts with Delhi, the city where I came into my own, but I have a short stop there on the way to Calcutta. So I do not have time to mull over it. I do not have time to see it once again as I used to as a reporter. I have just enough time to spend moments with family and friends and devour the luscious food cooked at my in-laws’. But I had a moment there when I felt unsettled in Delhi. Nothing too grave on the face of it. It’s just that when familiar roads start to look a little unfamiliar, you realise with a start that places and roads can gradually be erased from the mind. How could that even come to be, you wonder?

Then I got to Calcutta and the pace of life slowed down almost immediately. The pace of life seems hurried there only when it comes to eating. While Adi was there for a few days before returning to his parents’, we did eat out as much as we could — egg rolls, Indo-Chinese, more Indo-Chinese, phuchka (street food) over and over again (Adi was on a diet of phuchkas), and breakfasts at local sweet shops…but you cannot eat constantly really, so you take a breath, and you decide to stop before your explode. Though my Calcutta cousins here would like to interject and point out, as a couple of them did, that I certainly do not eat enough. That I do not eat at all. That I am sure to fall ill by the time I turn 60. I do not know if I can accommodate them, but you never know. The human body is a mystery.

Once Adi left, my brother and his family too left for a holiday in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where they had quite an adventure in that they were caught in cyclonic weather, but I was home. There was enough time at hand to bask in the earthy quality of Calcutta. I met old friends, nattered for hours, took out old books from my library room to dust and read, spent time running around the neighbourhood parks and getting chased by stray dogs who for some reason love to chase bicycles, cars (and now I am adding me to the list). I also slowly jotted down recipes from my mother — recipes with no measures, but after spending years in the kitchen, I have stopped carping about the lack of them. Cooking is after all an instinctive art, unlike baking. There were always four different dishes of veggies in every meal. I did not miss eating out. It is something I savour every time I am there in Calcutta, because at one point, ma was ill. She would hardly get up from bed. Clinical depression is suffocating even for the family. And here she is all about the place, chopping and cooking with ease, for hours at a stretch. She has mellowed with age, my mother — which makes it easier to actually enjoy her company (to think that she could grow on me is a most miraculous thought). Now, it has been a few weeks that I have been back in Bayonne, but I still miss it all.

Delhi

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The star of the show at my in-law’s is the cook. Here he is waiting on the fire to barbecue kebabs.
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My in-laws just before we fell upon a Christmas feast put together by my mother-in-law.
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Adi with our nephew and niece
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Boozy sisters-in-law at Delhi Gymkhana
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Christmas Eve with our friends
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Hmm cake, can you even have enough of it?
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The mad as a hatter musician who does exquisite covers of Ella Fitzgerald
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Journalists of Delhi

Calcutta in Colour

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Coz my mother’s fond of these leafy boys
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And they deliver enough bananas and banana flowers to demand a few images
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Catching the liquid sunshine in Calcutta
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Banana flowers. In Bengal, these are used to rustle up mochar ghonto. A dish cooked with potato, a few spices and garnished with grated coconut. 
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Shiuli. Night jasmine. Its fragrance steals over the senses like the sweetest melody.
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Iconic Park Street
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A view of the city’s past glory — St. Paul’s Cathedral and Victoria Memorial — from Monkey Bar
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When the family sans my mother (she eschews fried foods) stops for a round of phuchkas.
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Stepping out for egg rolls with the sister-in-law and nephew
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Coffee with a friend with whom I used to catch the bus to school (in pigtails and glasses).
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My former flatmates who live in Delhi and Kiev
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Ready to gobble up Indo-Chinese at Chowman with Adi and my brother.

Calcutta in B&W

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My father and the vegetable seller 
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Fish sellers
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Phuchka-wallah 
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Eco Park,  a sprawling affair in Calcutta where the Taj Mahal brushes shoulder with the Pyramids of Egypt and the Colosseum too. It is as mad as the chief minister.
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Cristo Rei also shows up near the Pyramids in Eco Park.
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The family gathers over sparkling wine on New Year’s eve. My parents can never keep their eyes open.
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Squeezing into a frame because that’s what family does. My arm features prominently too.

43 Comments

  • InspiresN

    Nice reading about the fond and warm memories of your trip to Calcutta and Delhi . I can only imagine how delicious the street food must be . It’s wonderful that you could spend quality time with your loved ones . Hope you stay warm in the cold weather here -20 deg can’t even imagine that 🥶 here !

        • dippydottygirl

          New Zealand must have been like a dream. Adi says the pictures remind him of the Norwegian landscapes and I agree with him. I would love to read about your experiences there. xx

          • dippydottygirl

            Two weeks sounds glorious though time must have flown as it always does when you are on holiday. Bring us the North then for now. 🙂 xx

          • dippydottygirl

            In fact Adi is watching the one-day series (cricket) being held in NZ and going on about it …*eye roll (cricket).

          • a mindful traveler

            Haha… we were watching the Test here. Australia and Sri Lanka are playing in Canberra and my cousin happens to be commentator!!! He once captained the Sri Lankan cricket team! That’s my small claim to fame… Lol 😂

          • dippydottygirl

            OMG (and I hardly use it)! One of the best batsmen we watched. You must be bloody proud, Lorelle. I once saw the cricket team at a retreat in Habarana in the early 2000s when I was on a junket to SL. I was thrilled!

          • dippydottygirl

            I was too till my heart was broken with the entire match-fixing scene. It has been some time, but I will never forget that feeling of being conned. When you are fanatical, you do take it to extremes. But those early times are some of the best moments in my life, watching cricket with my father and brother like crazed creatures.

    • dippydottygirl

      It is not a bad time to be there though it will be warm, so be warned. 🙂 I hope you get to do some walking tours. There is much to see. I am ashamed to admit that I have not seen half of it. Whatever I have seen was as a child. And oh the food! Have you been there before?

      • Alex Cochrane

        Been to India before but not Calcutta. Hoping to see an IPL match amongst other things although I don’t know if that wil be happening when I am there. Any recomendations welcome!

        • dippydottygirl

          It is a city you either love or hate. I wonder what your reaction will be, for it can be overwhelming. I hope you will get to go to the old restaurants on Park Street such as Bar-B-Q (Indo-Chinese) and Mocambo (sizzlers). Kewpies (Bengali food) on Elgin Road. There are so many others but these are my top choices. There is China Town where Kim Ling is still good. I am sure you have a list in place already? 🙂

          • Alex Cochrane

            Thank you so much – will definitely try the Bengali ones as I hear Bengali cuisine is excellent. Usually I like intense cities and everyone I know who has been to Calcutta loved it so hopefully I will too.

          • dippydottygirl

            My fascination for gritty places possibly comes from those years of growing up in Calcutta. Here’s to interesting times in the city for you.

    • dippydottygirl

      Thank you Tracey. When it comes to India though, my thoughts and emotions remain bunched up together, so that it is beyond me to sit and write coherently about them. xx

  • Mad Hatters NYC

    I know that feeling of being disoriented in a familiar place well! Things in Malaysia have changed drastically on the surface, and yet not at all below. We’re planning a trip back this year and it be our first visit in six years so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes. Great pics!

    • dippydottygirl

      Thank you, Lynn. Six years is a long time. I wonder how you will feel once you are there. But it will turn out to be grand no matter what. It always does after the tuning of the senses. Where in Malaysia, if I may ask?

  • lexandneek

    Such beautiful timeless photos of your wonderful family! These are the days when you look back with fondness and you have the images to remember them by. Thanks for sharing your experiences! – Neek

    • dippydottygirl

      Neek, thank you for indulging my ramblings. 🙂 How fast everything becomes a memory! Hoping you are having yourself a good weekend. xx

  • Pooja @lostinprettyeurope

    Aw so many beautiful memories from your India visit. It must have been so special to bond with your loved ones. I’d be on a feast over there too! I always say that before going to Nepal but unfortunately my stomach can’t hold up with any spicy street/restaurant food while I am there 🙁 Such a shame. I try my best though.

    • dippydottygirl

      Thanks Pooja!

      What, has your stomach lost its steel since you left Nepal? 🙂 Apart from my mother’s cooking, that’s what I miss the most here. The street food.

  • carolinehelbig

    This is such a beautiful, heartwarming post. I really love all the photos of your relatives and friends (the boozy sisters-in-law is so fun). There’s something about the B&W shots that gives this post a particularly nostalgic feel. I totally adore your line: “…pockets of your soul invested in each place.” I can totally relate to this, in fact, even with places I’ve never actually lived, like when I visit my parents’ home town.

    • dippydottygirl

      Caroline, thanks. I can imagine that you relate to it though I could get only a pittance of my thoughts out here. It had the possibility of rolling into pages. And then what would we do? The more we travel, the more we change places, this dilemma is compounded. What is home? Where am I from? …? I mean so many thoughts but I shall stop right there and wish you a lovely weekend ahead instead. 🙂

    • dippydottygirl

      Thank you, Annika. 🙂 India is close to the heart despite the crowds and the barrage of complaints I have about it. xx

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