Tonight ends my month-long holiday, during which, for the first time in my working life, I was technically jobless and therefore not answerable to any boss. I was answerable solely to my desires and curiosities, which took me around the roads and streets of Kolkata, partly on foot and partly by taxi. My constant companions were a notebook I'd purchased from Chennai airport and a black matte-finish Sheaffer fountain pen that I treated myself to on my very first evening in Kolkata.
Until now, Kolkata was my hometown-in-law, where I made the annual obligatory visit, usually during Durga Puja. Today Kolkata has become a mistress to whose arms I would like to go back as often as I can. She's like the bespectacled woman living next-door all these years who you never gave a second glance until one afternoon, when you spot her on the balcony, fresh from bath, her long lustrous hair left loose and her eyes wearing not a pair of specs but dreamy sensuality. I got seduced easily.
Give a dilapidated look to the buildings of London, then suck the permissive air of Paris and implant it over London and people it with Bengalis -- Kolkata would be that city. It is a different matter that most people living in Kolkata may not realise this -- most of the time they are too busy being agitated or angry. The cause of their anger could be anything under the sun, but it's mostly about politics, sports and work.
When India lost to South Africa in the World Cup, the family friend I was watching the match with remarked angrily, "India te ektai captain chhilo, shey holo Sourav Ganguly!" -- India has produced only one able captain, that was Sourav Ganguly.
I also happened to watch the final with him. Moments after Dhoni hit the decisive six and the Indian team rejoiced on the field, he remarked, rather bitterly, "Ei shob to Sourav-er ee toeri kora chhele" -- These boys have been groomed by Sourav, after all.
That's the typical Bengali man. He is, however, effectively neutralised by the Bengali woman. She can be deliberately coy or outright blunt, but she is almost always ravishing and intelligent. She loves to talk -- though, unlike the man, not about things that do not have a direct bearing on her life -- but also knows how to let her eyes do the talking. Doesn't matter if she is English-medium or Bangla-medium, south Calcutta or north Calcutta, domestic help or the lady of the house.
Some images and sensations shall always remain etched: her hair sweeping across my face while I leaned to light the cigarette dangling from her lips as the taxi zipped through the wide empty road along the Maidan; hanging on to every word spoken by Sunil Gangopadhyay, the most popular writer in Bengal after Tagore, as he recalled the time spent with Allen Ginsberg ("He taught us that poetry is a 24-hour occupation"); the taste of aam panna sold on College Street; walking up and down Park Street, as if I was in Soho; sitting 80 feet above the Hooghly, on the deck of a ship turned into a hotel, sipping chilled beer while being caressed by the river breeze; digging the fork into delectable kebabs at Peter Cat and Mocambo; and, above all, the voice of Kishore Kumar! Every other song played on FM channels in Kolkata happens to be either sung by Kishore Kumar or composed by R.D. Burman -- listening is believing.
I am back in Chennai now. I had to be. Tomorrow, I take up a new job and return, after five long years, to Mount Road. It was on Mount Road that I worked for the first five of the 10 years that I've lived in Chennai, and those were the happiest years of my life so far. Tomorrow, hopefully, is the beginning of another happy phase. Kolkata, please wait for me.