30 May 2016

A Tour of Calcutta


This is an imaginary story about a man and a foreigner girl. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.

It was the first week of December. The weather was pleasant. Rahul went to Jadavpur University to attend a seminar which was organised by the students. It was about the rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India. It was about the rise of 'Intolerance' in India. Rahul was sitting on the aisle side inside the auditorium. The seat beside him was empty. Suddenly a foreigner girl came and sat on that seat. Throughout the seminar Rahul and that girl exchanged courteous smiles. She was taking down notes on a pad. She was listening to everything that the Speakers on that seminar were saying and noting down vital points. Rahul was also listening to the Speakers, but every now and then, he would steal a glance at that foreigner girl.

After the seminar Rahul introduced himself. She also introduced herself. Her name was Paula. She was from Warsaw and was studying International Relations at Jadavpur University. Rahul and Paula became good friends instantly. They exchanged their numbers. She was staying as a Paying Guest near Jadavpur 8B. After the seminar got over, Rahul and Paula went outside Gate No. 4 to have some tea and biscuits. Paula told him that she loved Calcutta but did not have the opportunity to explore the city so far. Rahul decided to give Paula a tour of Calcutta. Since he was working in an office, therefore he was free only on the weekends. So he told her that for the next few weekends he would be her Raju-Guide

On the next Saturday afternoon, Rahul and Paula met in front of Rabindra Sarobar Metro Station, opposite Bhavani Cinema. From there they took a train and went to College Street. He took her to the Indian Coffee House. They sat upstairs since the ground floor was totally jam packed. From above, Paula took some pics of the floor below through her cell phone. Rahul also took some pics from his mobile. He ordered Mutton Kabiraji for both of them and obviously Infusion. He told Paula about the importance of this Coffee House and how the intelligentsia of Bengal would flock to this place ever since it started. In his college days, Rahul had lots of friends who were studying in Presidency College, and he would hang out with them at the Coffee House on weekends. 

The Coffee House is the house of adda for students, pass-outs, poets, writers, journalists, theatre addicts, painters, sculptors, film buffs, political activists, pseudo maoists and a variety of other people. Rahul and Paula had a lovely adda there. She told him about her city. Rahul told her that he loved Polish films and Kieslowski, Wajda and Polanski were his favourite film directors. He also liked the films of Konwicki and Zanussi too. Paula wanted to see good bengali films. She has only seen Ray's Apu Trilogy. Rahul told her that he would give her the dvds of Ray, Ghatak and Sen. He has a huge collection of dvds of foreign as well as Indian films.

Rahul and Paula spent around an hour and half at the Coffee House. From there he took her to Paramount. This place is famous for its sherbats and syrups and is of paramount importance in Rahul's life. He just loves this place and its friendly owners. Paula had a Daab-Sherbat and Rahul had Mango-Mania. From Paramount they went and sat inside College Square for some time. A cool breeze was blowing. A lot of couples were romancing there. After sitting there for almost an hour, they started walking towards the Central Metro Station.

On Sunday afternoon, Rahul took Paula to Victoria Memorial. They went inside the museum. It was a wonderful place. She loved those huge old paintings and all the history related to that place. After an hour or so, they came out of the museum and started walking throughout the entire garden. Paula kept on clicking pics. Finally they were tired and they sat on a bench. A lot of lovers were there romancing all around in this beautiful winter afternoon. Many people were there with their entire families. Children running around and playing among themselves was a beautiful sight.

From Victoria Memorial they came out and ate fuchkas. She loved those mouth-watering fuchkas. They also ate Churmurs. Then Rahul hailed a horse-carriage and took Paula for a ride. She just loved this carriage ride. This was the first time for her sitting in a horse drawn carriage. Rahul and Paula did not sit side by side, instead they sat face to face. Therefore Rahul could take her pics and vice versa. After the ride, he took her to Academy of Fine Arts. A painting exhibition was going on. They went inside to see the paintings. Some of the paintings were really good. They came out and had tea, biscuits and bapuji tiffin cakes from Hari da's shop. From there they entered the Nandan Chattor. There was a long queue in front of the Nandan Ticket Counter. The place was full of people, most of them were regulars. Then he took her to Rabindra Sadan. A musical programme was going on there. They also went inside Gaganendra Shilpo Pradarshashala, which is in front of Sisir Mancha. Another painting exhibition was going on there. Then they went to the Haldiram's Restaurant at Exide Crossing to have some snacks.

Next Saturday afternoon Rahul and Paula met in front of RKM Library at Golpark. They had lunch at Grub Club. They ate mixed fried rice and manchurian chicken there. After lunch Rahul took her to Rabindra Sarobar. They entered from the Nazrul Manch side and walked till the Calcutta Rowing Club. Then they crossed the road and went towards the Menoka Cinema side of the Lake. They sat on a bench for some time as both of them were a bit tired with so much walking. After resting for some time, they went for a ride in one of those paddle boats. Then they walked to the Maharani Shop, near Deshopriyo Park, and had kachoris, singaras, jalebis and gulab jamuns.

On Sunday morning around 4 a.m. Rahul picked her up from her place in a cab and they straight went to Tollygunge Tram Depot. Rahul had pre-booked the cab. From there they boarded the first tram and went to Esplanade. Paula just loved this tram ride in this winter morning. The tram went slowly cutting through the fog and mist all around. They both sat on the window seats in the first compartment. The view outside the tram window was spellbinding, especially once it reached the Maidan area. From Esplanade they again took a cab and went to Terretti Bazar to have authentic chinese breakfast. They almost ate everything from pork momos to fish meatball soup. Rahul told her that for the last ten years he has been visiting this bazaar in winter mornings. It is a must for him. After breakfast they came to South City Mall. There they watched an English film at Inox. After the film they hanged out at StarMark and browsed through countless books. Then they had pizza at the Food Court. In the evening they had coffee at the CCD inside South City.

The next Saturday Rahul took Paula to Royal Calcutta Turf Club. This was her first time at horse racing. She just loved watching the horses race against each other. Rahul placed a few bets, but he lost. For lunch they had chicken sandwiches. They both drank beers too. In the evening from RCTC, Rahul took her to Park Street. They walked throughout the entire length and breadth of Park Street. They ate chicken rolls at Kusum's. Then they went inside Oxford Bookstore and browsed through the books. For dinner they went to Peter Cat. It was damn crowded. They had to wait for more than half an hour before they got a table. Inside the restaurant she had a Chicken Sizzler and he had Chelo Kabab. From Peter Cat they went to Some Place Else. The band Saturday Nights Blues was performing. They again had beers. They thought of going to Tantra but then decided against the idea as both of them were very tired. After spending an hour inside Some Place Else, they came out and Rahul took a cab and dropped her home.

On Sunday afternoon Rahul took Paula to Prinsep Ghat. They walked through the entire stretch. It was crowded. Then they went for a boat ride. The boat-man took the boat right below the Second Hooghly Bridge. They both screamed and there was an echo. They screamed again and there was another echo. They loved it. She loved the boat ride very much. After this they came inside the restaurant Scoop and ate some French fries. They sat upstairs near the window. They came out of the restaurant and had elaichi chai from a tea-stall. 

The next Thursday was Christmas Eve. Rahul took Paula to St. Paul's Cathedral for the Christmas Mass. They had to enter the Church by 9:30 p.m. otherwise the gates would be closed. Inside the Church there was a sense of peace and calmness. They both prayed. The Christmas Mass ended around 2 a.m. They came out of the Church building and started roaming on the Church ground. It was very cold. The place was full of believers as well as non-believers.  

On Christmas afternoon Rahul took Paula to Park Street Cemetery. It was very crowded there. After spending almost two hours inside, they came out and went to St. Xavier's College. From there they walked throughout the length and breadth of Park Street again. Now they were tired. They went to Au Bon Pain and relaxed there with hot coffee, chicken croissants and chocolate muffins. Since all other restaurants were damn crowded, Rahul took Paula to Dreamland Restaurant for dinner. They sat on the balcony and had mixed gravy noodles.  

The next day, that was Saturday, Rahul took Paula to the Indian Museum. Since she was a foreigner therefore the entry fee for her was a lot more than what Rahul had to pay for himself. They roamed throughout the Museum. She loved that Egyptian Mummy. From there he took her to New Market. She loved New Market a lot. He took her to Nahoum's and there they ate rum balls and a lot of other delicacies. New Market always has a special charm during the Christmas season. A music shop was playing Christmas carols on a loudspeaker. From New Market he brought her to The Fairlawn Hotel. They sat on the garden and ordered beers. She loved this hotel very much. Rahul loves this hotel very much. 

On Sunday, Rahul took Paula to the ISKCON Temple on Albert Road near Minto Park. They had lunch at Govinda's. It is a wonderful restaurant just beside the temple. They ate Mysore Masala Dosa. From there they went to Eden Gardens. A Ranji match was being played there. Paula was not much into sports and she did not understand Cricket. Rahul taught her a few basic ground rules about Cricket. A winter afternoon at Eden Gardens is a heavenly experience. The Stadium looked majestic. In the evening from Eden Gardens he took her to Howrah Bridge. They walked on the Bridge and went and stood at the middle section. So many people were crossing the Bridge on foot. Paula looked below at the flowing river. It was windy. The river looked magnificent. From Howrah Bridge they again came to Park Street. Rahul loves Park Street very much. This time they entered Olypub. They had beef steaks and beer. The place was choc a bloc full. Among all the Bars in Calcutta, Rahul has a soft and special corner for Olypub in his heart.

On 31st December afternoon, Rahul took Paula to the Zoo. It was damn crowded. From there they went for a walk inside National Library. Then they went to have coffee at New Alipore CCD. Then they went back home. They again met after two hours and he took her to Swabhumi for the New Year Bash. There were Egyptian belly-dancers dancing crazily and DJs from Mumbai were performing. At the stroke of midnight, Rahul and Paula hugged each other and lip-kissed. It was a nice way to usher in the New Year...


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