Monday, October 15, 2012

Arriving In Calcutta

Didn't sleep all night. I never do when I have a morning flight to catch. So I stayed up filling new songs in my iPod -- songs that will keep me company during my walks in Central Park. The early-morning shower made me drowsy and I mostly slept through the two-hour flight to Calcutta. Had a joyous moment at the Chennai airport when I discovered a smoking room on the ground floor (the one on the first floor had been dismantled about a year ago).

Across the aisle, in the plane, sat a small Bengali family -- man, woman and child. Man perhaps in early forties (triple chin, paunch and thick moustache made him look older, though); woman in late thirties (and exceedingly gorgeous); child not more than five or six. I wanted to steal glances at her but the husband was blocking my vision. He was reading The Hindu. I was desperately hoping that he would pause at Sunday Diary, the weekly column I write in the paper, or at least read this article on Kishore Kumar I had written for the Sunday magazine. I was desperately hoping that he would read them admiringly and then lean to his wife and tell her, "Baah, ki bhalo likhechhe"; after which I would introduce myself as the writer of those pieces.

Nothing happened. He dismissively glanced through all the pages before settling on the Open Page (Sunday version of the edit page). I lost interest in him and his wife and went to sleep. I even had a short dream -- vivid and heart-warming. A real voice finally woke me up: "Ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing shortly at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose international airport..."

Calcutta was cloudy when I stepped out of the airport -- straight into my wife's car. The meticulous planner that she is, she times her entry into the airport with my exit from the arrival lounge, so that neither of us are kept waiting even for a moment. Though I must say I miss the old days when I would spot her familiar silhouette waiting for me inside the arrival lounge. But how can I complain when I don't even go to the airport to fetch her each time she arrives in Chennai?

As soon as I got into the car, I rolled down the window and lit up a cigarette and put on the radio (the RJ was talking about Tagore being a god to all Bengalis, so I switched to the retro channel whose presiding deities are Kishore Kumar and R.D. Burman). Calcutta is one place where you never feel apologetic about smoking in public -- even those who don't smoke are pretty accommodating about a smoker's urge to light up. And then it began to drizzle.

The drizzle; the cigarette smoke; the soul-lifting songs on radio; the festive spirit that refuses to be dampened by the intermittent showers -- it was such a heady feeling to arrive in my hometown-in-law, that too on the eve of Durga Puja. Suddenly I realised that Calcutta is no longer just my hometown-in-law but the subject of my next book; and that I should be spending more time on the streets, with a notebook and pen.