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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kolkata: Chilly Scenes

I had read some years back the book called 'Chilly Scenes of Winter' by Ann Beattie.
I still remember having stumbled upon the book one lazy summer afternoon, at the American Center Library, Kolkata.
It was not just discovering a popular classic. It was also a case of self-discovery for me.
It was an instance of serendipity.
The poignant tale made me cry, made my thoughts crystallize on a number of things.
The association was total.
And - of course -
Most of my readers are perhaps aware of the wonderful manner in which the book chronicles a year in a man's life after he loses his girlfriend.
And those who haven't read the book, must read it whenever they get a chance.
But the reason I started talking about the book in this post dedicated to Kolkata in winter, is that I would like it very much to see my favorite city - Kolkata - chronicled in contemporary literature (Bangla or English) in the wintry delights and/or pitfalls.
I am yet to come across such a piece of fiction (be it a novel or a short story) - if any of my readers can illuminate on the same, I'd remain grateful.
One of my friends had asked me to write about Kolkata's unique thrills in winter; let me confess that I am not much of a winter-lover so I think others can do more justice to that. However, I oblige by making a mention of just some of the delicacies and delights typical of Kolkata.

The chilly days & nights are just a few. Winter has a short stay in Kolkata. Though it nags and bothers distressingly at the fag end of the season. The chilly scene is enlivened by roadside dwellers and the bunch of homeless people who light up a bonfire with twigs, leaves and what not - unaware of the carcinogenic consequences, they even do not hesitate to burn rubber and plastics.
In my childhood, winter meant three wondrous things:
a mandatory visit to the zoo,
being treated to circus & magic shows, and maybe a film too, if my parents were in a mood to over-indulge,
and, last but not the least, the wintry food fare: ranging from the fresh seasonal vegetables & fruits, to the sweetmeats - notungurer rossogolla, sandesh, and paayesh.
Kolkata isn't as lucky as Delhi when one thinks of the relish of extensive & lavish delicacies from the eponymous Dehlvi cuisine; however, we are lucky enough to be spared the intense bite of the chilly winter that makes me dread Delhi in winter!
The circuses and zoos have become passé, what with the politically correct stand on the animals (can't lament on that too, if the animal rights issues are given a fair consideration) and the local sweetmeats have taken a backseat or are often lost in ignominy as the pizzas, pastries and other confections have gained our preferences.
Yet, winter makes us nostalgic.
And, the wintry blues rule.

Post Script: Today is the death anniversary of Job Charnock; without him there wouldn't have been the thriving city of Kolkata as we know it; Job Charnock died on this day in 1692. I dedicate this post to that servant and administrator of the English East India Company, traditionally regarded as the founder of Calcutta (Kolkata).


Sounak said...

Why just the sweets made of nolen gur (date palm jaggery), the gur/jaggery itself is so damn yummy! The sweetness melts in the mouth, and winters are really made so special by that taste itself, buddy!
I miss being part of the era when the winter fairs and the circus stunts used to enthrall millions of people in the city of Kolkata, all through winter. Even the zoo has lost its charm, the recent pronouncement on the elephants being taken away from the zoological gardens makes the zoos go even more colorless.
Winter may be a season of bleak desolation, in literature or films, but the Kolkata winter at present can surely have its spice retained thanks to the flocking of the people in warm woollies to the city's current attractions, viz. the shopping malls, the multiplexes and the food joints. The eternal attractions like the low-key fairs and the ever-present, now Go Green, maidan are also there to beckon us.

Dibyendu Paul said...

Am Simply a winter freak. I always wait for this season. The most happening reason is This is a season of "pitha"(Bengali sweet dish)made by my mom, Its just heavenly. Next thing is whenever I get spares I make sure that I access the bed with the blanket.. The next thing is its a season for holidays and we can make the most of the holidays in this season only because of the chilly weather..

And most of my Nice explorations in terms of my writings and in terms of my personal space too is from this season only so it is very spacial for me ..

mehul said...

Winter means cake + popcorn + hot chocolate + cinema + craziness under the quilt + hopping to the cultural soirees all over the city ....
hence winter is special for me,
and more special since Kolkata has its own colors & charms in this so-called bleak season.

Piyush said...

Thankfully, the weather anomalies, that commonly have been affecting almost all the places globally, haven't played a spoilsport to not deliver the wintry chills - and hence thrills - in Kolkata!

Swarnali said...

The winter is my favourite season..This is a season of "Pithe" and the colourful woolen dresses to me..
Hence winter is so special for me..Cause i was born on a chilly evening of this wintry season!!

Arunima said...

hmmn...is winter special to me!! no i dont think so...though it does make me nostalgic to close my eyes and think about the winters of my childhood...because after i grew up and Manipal and Bangalore came in my life, so called winter is conspicuous by its absence..and no i dont miss it either...
But your post on winter in kolkata is surely an enjoyable read as always and the snap that u have added is simply fab :)

arun said...

Winter in Kolkata is too short-lived. But it is jam-packed with special events & feasts for the senses.
My favorite Kolkata event is the book-fair that is held in the month of January. Book-lovers from all over come to celebrate this unique literary festival.
Next, I love hanging out with friends and folks, out in the open, in and around Kolkata. The Zoological Gardens, Botanical Gardens, Nicco Park, Science City, and Aquatica top my list of favorite haunts.

Anirban Halder said...

I love winter, though I am vulnerable to cold weather. I hate the humid summer of Kolkata. The last summer was simply terrible, with 'Loo' blowing.

Winter essentially means a bit of dressing up (in jackets etc), ejoying lots of seasonal vegetables, sweet delicacies- 'Notun gurer rosogolla/ sandesh', being able to eat a lot of favourite foods- both healthy and junk without caring about stomach upset and smartly covering the stomach bulge, if any from this indulgence, under the jacket, visit to the zoo and fairs and enjoying the Christmas releases.

raj said...

I can never understand why the winter season makes me so nostalgic....

Is it because of the season itself, or is it because of our vintage associations with our city - Kolkata?

The people of Kolkata are not too fond of the biting chill that of course is just a rarity in the otherwise hot & humid Kolkata. But it is fun to look at the people trying to put on as much woollens as they can in the few days when the winter season gets the license to chill all.

ANOOP said...

Being new to Kolkata, I am not much aware of the city's traditional wintry delights. But I can vouch for sure that the sudden dip in mercury (to about eleven degree celsius) made me shiver and enjoy the chill. The foggy mornings, the northern winds and the lazy mornings make one discover the city in a rare kind of beauty.

reema said...

Autumn and Winter are both best seasons for visiting Calcutta/Kolkata. For the city's folks as well as for the visitors to the city, it is a great opportunity to enjoy the special delights. In winter, the gastronomic delights are aplenty, and so are the tertiary attractions. Kolkata rocks in winter!

sakagaze's laziest student said...

The city might get cold but the people are warm. So All Izz Well!!

asmita said...

Winter’s coming-
I can feel it
In my skin, my bones, my world,
The dark hazy shapes in the distance
Like monsters threatening my existence.
Men walk along the road
Kicking up dust in every step,
Their mouths parched
Their eyes hard
Cursing through their cracked lips.
Nature feels it too-
Waiting with silent trepidation
For winter to strip it off its leaves
It fights a battle
To give me-
My patch of gold on my bed.
The afternoons are long
Reading books
With my back to the sun.
Huddled figures
Clad in rags
Inches closer to the fire
Their eyes….
Speaking more than words
Tales of their lives of dire.
The world for me
Is closed a room
With a cloud of smoke
Near my window
It’s those roaring monsters
Puffing away
Choking me
My eyes burning, my throat drying
But they say-
It’s just winter coming.