Richa S Mukherjee is an award-winning writer, columnist, ex-journalist and advertising professional. She writes across genres and has authored four books of which two are being adapted for screen. She is a blogger and travel writer and contributes to several platforms such as Womensweb, Momspresson and SheThePeopleTv. She is a Sheroes Champ, Blogchatter and Kool Kanya mentor. She has authored several e-singles, anthologies and audio books. Her latest book is The Curse of Kuldhara, the second installment in the very popular Kanpur Khoofiya Pvt. Ltd. series.
Art of living…the Kolkata edition
It was a sticky, hot afternoon. A rotund shopkeeper scratched his ample belly and waved my mother away. ‘Aamar ghoom pacche. Paure aisho ma.’ (I’m sleepy. Please come later.) As a child of 8, I was incensed. Never mind that this dress shopping was part of a promised birthday gift expedition, how could a shopkeeper reject good business for the sake of slumber? Even my childish comprehension of financial and commercial matters couldn’t stomach this phenomenon. The clincher was that he had managed to stay perfectly polite through this dismissal and even addressed her as ‘ma.’ Such a bundle of contradictions! Something, I would gradually learn was a way of life and hardly an anomaly in this delightful city of sweets.
Author and philosopher Matshona Dhliwayo, behind the popular quote, ‘Whoever works hard prospers, whoever folds his hands falters,’ had clearly dished this nugget of wisdom without having a single adda with a Bengali over Biryani. I’m sure he will forgive me for this selective interpretation of his words but they underline some very important aspects of what it is to be Kolkata-vasi.
In the world of today, I think we give a disproportionate amount of importance to the pursuit of productivity, our jobs, means of livelihood. Looking busy is a must. Wearing that weary, haggard look announces to the world that we earn our keep. Try looking for that expression on the streets of Kolkata and you’ll be walking a while and will probably make a few roll and chaap stops along the way. You’re more likely to see a bunch of people every few metres, gathered around impossibly tiny cups of tea, smoking and cackling about something. Does that mean people don’t have important things to do? No. Does this sometimes mean that the Kolkata isn’t highly praised for its work culture and ability to attract business and investment. Yes. But I bet if there was a happiness index specifically for the city, the scores would be pretty high.
During one visit, I remember observing a middle aged gentleman in a balcony across the road. He sat in his chair, listening to the radio, sipping tea and looking down at the road with unhurried movements and a serene, bemused look on his face as if he had the front row tickets to the latest broadway show. Mind you, this is a common sight. It made me wonder when I had last sat anywhere, doing nothing. Its oddly therapeutic. The locals are often branded lazy, shirkers, procrastinators and what not. But I find it terribly charming when the same people make all the time and effort to chat up rank strangers, listen to Rabindro Sangeet for hours, willingly offer directions when they see a lost soul, discuss world matters of immense and no importance over endless meals, scramble to the market at unearthly hours for the freshest fish and haggle sweetly with the rickshaw puller for a reduction of five rupees. In an increasingly alienating, cynical and impersonal world, it is as if Kolkata tries to fill the lacunae created by technology and indifference with music, food, the sweetness of banal chatter and everyday negotiations of life. But I must interject here with a complaint. I was once witness (under coercion) to a two hour long conversation about the best cut of mutton. This, I’ll admit is a bit excessive even for appreciative, old souls at heart like me.
If I were to be a reductionist and capture the essence of this city and its people into something that could fit into your palm, I’d pick a Jhalmuri. Sweet, tangy, crunchy, wholesome and a bit nutty. There you have it. And to really get a feel of it for yourself, that popular song says it all.
‘Kolkata tumi o hete daikho..tumi o bhebe daikho…’
A city that knows how to fold its hands, surrender, eat well, work just a little lesser and enjoy the flavours of life every day with a big, loud smack.
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