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Friday, February 8, 2013

It's February again

Once again it's February all over again. The unusually chilly January of this year is wearing off bit by bit; if you take a walk in the sun for fifteen minutes or so, you feel that itchy, prickly feeling that usually defines the cut-off between dry skin and the first droplet of sweat. And yet, the temperature drops at night - drops sufficiently to keep the quilts from being packed away in suitcases with strategically placed mothballs: the occasional sweater is still there; and so is the boutupi (can be roughly translated to 'bridal cap'; it is an incredible invention to ward off cold while sleeping).

No, boutupis are not the reason that I love February (even though I simply love boutupis, and think they are the greatest invention since sliced bread). They rule. But that is not the point. This post is about February. Boutupis will be covered in another post.

As I have mentioned before, February is the best month to be in Kolkata; and Kolkata is the best place to be in February. The mild sweat - the kind that does not tire you or stink, but has that certain feel-good aspect about it - is here now. The early mornings and the late afternoons give you the precise amount of sunshine your otherwise starved system craves for all year: it's so immaculately measured that you almost think that it cannot be a natural phenomenon.

The city smells of heaven. It may be flowers. It may not be. It simply smells of a Kolkata February. Of something soft; something fresh; something invigorating; something comforting; something primal; something relaxing; I have no idea what, but it is a feeling that my limited vocabulary cannot portray.

No longer is Park Street crowded with noisy banters of teenagers in colourful woollens, no. The seamless laughter has given way to solemn faces, back to their mundane lives at the end of the rather short-lived Kolkata winter. They look forward to another long year ahead: but they look forward to it with a smile; and the reason that they smile is the Kolkata February.

The rustle of the leaves; the full bloom of the polash; the sheer bliss of standing on Bijon Setu, watching trains go by as the lukewarm breeze caresses your face; shorts; the first proper bath after two months of bathroom horror; the effortless waking up every morning; the urge to read more without having to climb inside the smug safety of a blanket and feel drowsy after fifteen minutes. February has it all.

And then, there is the Book Fair. Yes, I know that Flipkart and Indiaplaza (and even College Street) have better offers, and they have free home delivery as well. The Book Fair has been shifted to the most obscure corner of the city (albeit for valid reasons), and it gets virtually impossible to find a transport back. And yet, as the mid-day sun melts into the mellow afternoon, the Book Fair pulls you with a grappling hook attached to your belly. Or it feels like that, at least.

It's also season-change time, of course. It's when the mothers all over West Bengal - from Darjeeling to  the Sundarbans - warn their children (irrespective of their ages) to wrap themselves well; as the afternoons melt into evenings, worried mothers appear on the balconies: What if my son catches a cold? His head won't be covered when he will return home - this is why I always ask him to carry a scarf! But is there a single soul who bothers to listen to me...? Kiro'm him porchhe (roughly translates to 'the dew is forming', but it hardly captures the essence: you need to reach out into the heart of the Bengali mother to know what she means)...

With its inefficient and inadequate efforts to become an international city, Kolkata has managed to reach nowhere: it has lost its pomp and grandeur, its tag as the cultural capital of the country, and yet it isn't even close to where had intended to reach.

Despite all its ridiculous attempts to change, it has managed to keep its February intact. The quilt on the bed baked in the dry mid-day sun smells the same as it used to a quarter of a century back. The innocent morning sun still welcomes you to get up from bed early and bask in the freshness; long walks in the melancholy evening still allow you the luxury of what-would-have-been thoughts about old flames; the trains look just the same from above; the air kisses your face the same way it has always done - like the whiff of perfume that is left with you, almost as an afterthought, when that girl walks past you to get off the bus.

The Book Fair has not changed either. The traffic situation is hideous. The entire thing reeks of gimmicks and a terrible lack of management, and the free entry has really not made up for them. The entire thing looks ugly and artificial, but then - once you step inside, the same magic that has always made you peek inside each and every stall, eye one book after another, ask the seller about the quality of the book (and get an honest answer) still works. The feet still ache the same way; the crowd swarming around Benfish could well have been from 1990s; and the mothers - the quintessential mothers - still cover their helpless, too-young-to-protest sons with monkey-caps (an ugly boutupi).

These things, unlike a lot of others, have not changed. Girls in yellow sarees still look pretty when they blush to match the polash as they team up with other girls to meet their own boyfriends. They have not been able to take away the innocence of a February love; the dreams that come with it; the aroma and flavour that make the memories of the relationships so memorable; the way the eyes of the young boys light up when they see their see their feelings reflected in the affectionate eyes of their girls.

I now know what it smells of. I possibly do. The Kolkata February smells of my childhood. Of the days without responsibilities. Of the days when every day was a special one. Of the days when boys had to muster courage to talk up girls. Of the days when Pheluda was the world. Of the days when we were served coffee only on special occasions. Of the days when a small packet of miniature plastic animals made us ecstatic. Of the days of buying sweets for the guests who had arrived, and look at the plates with hope - what if he suddenly looked at me and decided to be generous?

The little, innocent bits of joy that have always been there but have eluded my senses throughout the year all turn up to hold me captive in February. And leave me hanging, craving for more.

To hell with your cherry trees, Neruda. I want to do to her what February does to Kolkata.

62 comments:

  1. last line ta khub khub bhalo laglo.

    Kintu eto mon kharap holo je bolar kotha noy. I miss saraswati pujo. I miss khichuri. I miss boimela. I miss college er dupure class kete adda. :-(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shiggiri chole aay. Jhotpot. Ki korchhish baire theke?

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  2. Replies
    1. I wish it was provocative enough to lure you back. :(

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  3. :-) darun. Abhishek, Neruda, Pheluda, boimela, halka him, soru pujo....was trippy. :-)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I wanted to write more. Alas, my vocabulary is too limited.

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  4. Saraswati Puja :) You missed that one...

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    1. When do you think this happens?
      "Girls in yellow sarees still look pretty when they blush to match the polash when they team up with other girls to meet their boyfriends."

      Delete
  5. a delicious post!enjoyed every morsel of it as i kept being tempted to close my eyes to go back to those childhood days,without reading the next paragraph!

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    1. Your childhood days are, well, years after MY childhood days. However, that does not take away the essence of what you said. I know what you mean.

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  6. Wow, this is so beautiful. Suddenly made me miss Kolkata so much.

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    1. Kolkata is SUPPOSED TO BE missed. That's the greatest USP of Kolkata.

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  7. Awesome read. It made my February morning delightful and the long bus ride to office worthwhile. I want to write a sequel to it. Will you allow me?
    P.S: I loved the last line. :)

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    1. Of course I will allow you.

      The last line was obvious, though.

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    2. I'm a bit intrigued. Why did your first comment not contain a picture, and your second comment did?

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  8. Darun!! aha! those childhood days :)

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    1. Tomar childhood mane to shei jokhon Bangladesh toiri hoyni, tokhonkar kotha...

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  9. February is most painful.This month makes the contrast between my boyhood and adult life all the more starker.It laughingly tells me that I can't turn the clock back.
    Da,the season doesn't wisper to me at all.Maybe it is more like an undigested figment of your memories.

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    1. Dhri (Is your real name Dhrishtyadumna? I'll be delighted if it is):

      I guess we're talking the same thing. We both love our Februarys. We are both reminded of our childhood days. We are both affected the same way by the month.

      It makes me happy. It makes you sad. But in the same way.

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    2. Haha. Take your mythology googles off Da.My real name IS Dhari.
      And by any chance,is your better half/lovers/wife's birth month february? Or maybe May?

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    3. Hello, Dhari.

      No, it's not February. May (mind the pun) I ask why?

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    4. Read the last line of this post again: " I want to do to her..." .'her'?
      I don't feel this is about vday which falls in this month.

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    5. Erm, that was in reference to a rather famous Neruda poem. The 'her' bit is, well, the 'she' Neruda had addressed...

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    6. Pardon my ignorance.But Byjove why would you want to 'do' a woman who is somebody else' lover to begin with and already in her grave?

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    7. Groan. Doesn't this harmless, otherwise innocuous have a right to be poetic once in a while?

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    8. I know.
      Just stretching your patience.
      I presumed spring season,like Neruda's muse Matilde,reminded you of someone special.And it's not always about the month now,is it?

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  10. Why is February shorter than the other months? Is it because our childhood memories are short and sweet?

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    1. I have never thought of it that way, Krishnenduda. Now that you mention it, the 28-day phenomenon may not be a coincidence altogether.

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  11. Simple pleasures of life.Does not beat Mumbai's monsoon season though.

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    1. To each his own. Couldn't really come to terms to incessant rain for days at a stretch, bringing life to a standstill - and still having to commute to work.

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  12. I'm a delhiite and book fair is on in Delhi.And february reminds me of roses.I can't detect any special scent in the air. Will i love your city even if i'm an outsider or will i be impervious to its charms?

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    1. Spend a year, mate, to see why February is special here. It is unlike anything you have savoured before.

      You will fall in love with Kolkata in a month. The city grows on you before you realize what's going on.

      Oh, and the Kolkata Book Fair is a must. You cannot compare the frenzy to anything else barring the Kumbh Mela. And it's the frenzy of the, well, enlightened. :)

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  13. Can't get enough of reading this post. Had to re-re-read it :)

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    1. See what a Kolkata February can do to you? Mwahahahahaha.

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  14. Oh C'mon,every city grows on you,whether Mumbai,Delhi or Kolkata.We all are creatures of habit...and Abhishek is one proverbial frog in the well who happens to have fierce loyalities-and strong dislikes.

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    1. ummmmm...... beg to differ! Been trying to make a habit of Delhi for over a decade - unsuccessfully!

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    2. Mumbai simply did not grow on me. If anything, it sucked the life out of me.

      Delhi is slightly better, but still - it has never grown on me.

      Both cities are way more cosmopolitan for my comfort. The mad rush does not leave time to take a moment away and admire the cities that have played a role so significant in defining our lives.

      Delete
  15. अभिषेक ,अत्यन्त सुन्दर पोस्ट । जिन्हें हिन्दी समझ में आती है उनके लिए मेरे कवि-मित्र राजेन्द्र राजन की यह रचना।वसंत के बिम्ब- बेतरह गिरते पत्ते इसमें भी हैं।और BHU का स्थापना दिवस भी वसन्त पंचमी को होता है।
    वसंतोत्सव

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Afloo-da, I am writing this in English because my Hindi is simply terrible. However, do tell your friend that I loved his lines.

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  16. Feeling homesick :(

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    Replies
    1. See what I meant? See what the Kolkata February does to all and sundry?

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  17. Darun and AM Kolkata February has indeed made you cheerful:) You have successfully replied to all the comments.Beautiful read.

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    1. Yes, the Kolkata February makes me both happy and sad simultaneously.

      PS: Thank you.

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  18. Very weak story. You need to do better.

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    1. But it isn't a story! It's totally non-fiction!!

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    2. by mistake i put the comment here. This was an ok post. have to try better to touch people's hearts

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    3. Thank you for the honest feedback. I will definitely try to improve.

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  19. sigh!!! I've been to Kolkata only thrice. But I can FEEL your words.... More so, because I often pine for the days when I woke up to see the sun streaming in through the the clouds, and the leaves of the coconut palm to glint off the backyard pond in my Kerala home. Nostalgia has no language, does it? :-)

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    1. I agree. Nostalgia has no language. In fact, it is a language in itself. I know what you mean when you say you can FEEL my words. I'm glad I could make you feel them.

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  20. A reader sent me a link to this post of yours, Abhishek. I live in Calcutta and yes, I love it in February. Lovely piece. And thank you for writing about the girls in their yellow sarees.

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    1. Thanks, Sue. It's heartening to see a fellow Kolkatan sharing the same feelings.

      Also, if you have lived in Kolkata in your tweens and teens, the yellow sarees remain etched in your memory forever.

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  21. I do not know you, but I am, like you, enthralled by the City. Have lived/worked in other cities before I decided to come back to Calcutta. In spite of all its problems Calcutta is the only truly modern city in India. Cosmopolitanism is not in the steel and glass, the sanitized roads nor Sushi bars - it is about the people. Calcutta is an anarchic's dream.

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    1. I know what you mean. I agree 100% that cosmopolitanism is about the people, and only about the people.

      Also, it's impossible for anyone to live in Kolkata and not be enthralled by her. She is simply too sexy for comfort.

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  22. North-e [ Kolkata noy/ cow-belt India toh noy-i ] September er sesh theke November projonto ekta particular weather hoy, that is quite synonymous with the feel that Kolkata gets in Feb [ feel-wise, else it's more intense there].

    Oi Sorot-Hemonto bypar ta tomader ekhane thik jome na. Tup tap him pore, ami vor bela uthe balcony te porte boshtam, khub bhalo lagto.

    A gradual change used to usher in and around me, and with everything the surreptitious curtain of winter used to lift in the background.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. আরো কত উত্তরে? কাশ্মীর? মঙ্গোলিয়া? উত্তরমেরু? :O

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  23. Replies
    1. আচ্ছা, অতদূর যাইনি কখনও।

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