This is exactly what my dear friend Antara told me when I told her I am visiting Calcutta for the first time. Those words are stuck in my head and heart forever.
Yet I knew Calcutta, in a way, through my Mum and Dad. They had 14 years of waiting before I popped into their lives and those years were spent travelling around the country.
My mum described Calcutta with a twinkle in her eyes. She visited the city frequently during mid 60s to mid 70s and she had only lovely memories. Trincas, Moulin Rouge,Flurys, China town, Victoria Memorial,Shanti Niketan and so many more.
She used to tell me, Yes people see only one side of it,they say its a big decaying dirty city. But for her,it was one of the most vibrant cities in India.
So I had to make this trip to Calcutta and try to see it through my mum’s eyes and this city fascinated me. Its culture,history, the poets,revolutionaries,the people and the heavy history and burden it carried post partition of Bengal.
I landed in Calcutta from Guwahati with a mix of excitement and conflict. Post Meghalaya I was in a trance, having huge withdrawal symptoms and I was not looking forward to a city, it’s sounds and noises. But there was Priyanka! She was one bright shining spot to my not so clear clouded mind.
She was at the airport. She had come all the way from the other side of the city. We screamed in delight as we saw each other!We made our way to my accommodation, a Backpackers hostel at Park Street. A cool place perfect for world travellers who carried their life and their stories in backpacks.
I was in a mixed dorm of 12 bunk beds and was the only gal in the room. I dumped my backpack and we made our way out to eat. I had nothing to eat the whole day, so we dived into one of those famous Rolls that everyone raves about and this place was right below the hostel. Calcutta assails you with such great food that you will be spoilt for choice!
We had to celebrate our trek and us meeting up with beer, it was long overdue so we went to Oly’s, an old bar with budget prices and zero Customer Service 😊 As we chatted away about the trek, Meghalaya trip and our lives, a good looking guy sitting alone at the next table asked us if we trekked recently.
A lovely conversation happened and he was intrigued about Himalayas.He had been wanting to trek for some time.His name was Ronak,he was born and brought up in Calcutta, a cut Sardarji( no turban and no beard),he was enjoying his beer post work.
We told him to check out Indiahikes and he noted it duly, bid us goodbye and left.This is the thing I loved, meeting new people, interesting conversations with no ulterior motive or baggage. The other city where one could have conversations like that meeting interesting people was in Bombay.
Priyanka and I got into the restroom and once she hurriedly rolled one(You know what I mean 😊) we walked on the streets of Calcutta as we smoked up. It was a good one and such a great feeling to be with this gal! She was in that hangover post trek. It happens all the time. Himalayas have that hold over you and it becomes permanent.
Later we walked towards Esplanade and New Market. As we made our way through the crowd, Priyanka gave me tips on how to, where to, when to of visiting places I had planned. As we devoured Puchka(for the uninitiated, it’s gol gappa/pani puri) and Kulfi Faluda, I was amazed by how delicious the food was here and I would later know that any lane, any part of the town you went to, you would never be disappointed with the food. And yes, I would continue to be amazed by this fiery red hot city.
I had asked Priyanka about Sudder Street, a place known to be a hangout for Backpackers. She rolled her eyes and told me to not go there post 7 pm as it was the place for solicitation aka hookers. I was like really? Because a lot of backpacker forums were mentioning it a place to hangout. Priyanka bluntly told me this,Look if you walk in there, they will approach you too thinking you are offering your services!! I laughed out loud and told her they wouldn’t with the way I was looking right now with my old dusty T shirt,disshevelled hair, carrying my day pack.Then she said well you know Men,they really don’t care! 😁
We were so freaking buzzed and happy high, we laughed our way through crowded streets and enticing smells.It was time for her to leave. I gave a big hug to Priyanka and made my way to the hostel. I would meet her again tomorrow.I was content with the food, the smells, the vibrant energy of the place and this was just the beginning.
I had a list of to-do and to-visit places but the city would let me know strongly that I needed to savour her slowly, not devour her like the Puchkas!
Once I got into the hostel I went towards the sit out to relax but there was a huge buzz with the backpackers drinking and chatting. As I walked in,some of them invited me to join them but I politely declined as I wanted some silence. Everything today seemed like Zip Zap Go. I needed to be by myself.
I retired into my very comfortable bunk bed, pretty much zonked and was ready to zzzzzz when it happened.
A guy opened our dorm door with a bang, dumped his backpack and announced loud to all, Join me for Beers?? 😁