I paid a flash visit to the City of Joy this month. Kolkata was the only major metro that I was not familiar with (I was born in Delhi, grew up in Mumbai, have family in Chennai and have stayed in Bangalore). Moreover, the artistic associations and all the many people I’ve loved, who hail from that place, beckoned.
One of my first thoughts was, the food was delicious! Everything from the roadside phuchka to the traditional home-cooked meal that I was served, to the maple syrupy pancakes I had for breakfast at a cafe across the street to the pop Chinese fare I devoured at a mall. We Mumbaikers really don’t know much about food, do we? Where’s the time for us to enjoy it when the train is 3 seconds away, when a bratty filmstar may come bearing down on us in our sleep, when terrorists may bomb our offices or our restaurants or even just mow us down on the roads? We live in perpetual fear and worry, a fact that’s glossed over and over-glamorized when terror strikes the city with that hated phrase, ‘The Mumbai resilience’. Sometimes you need to leave home to understand where home really is. I don’t know if the City of Joy will ever be home to me but it certainly was a comfortable, welcome haven to me.
I was also delighted at the responses to my saying that I was a writer. Here, in Mumbai, that statement is met with an unimpressed (and disinterested), “Oh. Good, good.” with the obvious attitude of ‘That’s not really a job’. At best, I can hope to be mistaken for a script-writer since apparently that’s the only paying work for a writer and well-paid work is the only kind that matters to the average Mumbaiker. The people I met in Kolkata, instead, asked about my writing, talked to me about literary influences and were genuinely interested in what the world was like for a contemporary writer.
I came back to a birthday and overwhelming gestures of affection from friends and family. For perspective, that very evening, bombs exploded across South Mumbai and my phone, thus far buzzing with birthday wishes was inundated with phone calls checking on my safety. Mumbai, how long can I continue to call you home when I don’t even feel safe here anymore?
Much happened, all of which I’m still processing. But Kolkata gave me memories of a pleasant (well, not literally, the weather was sweltering) laidback city of delicious food and gentle people going about minus the stress I see in my own city. While I collect my thoughts, here are two distinct images I caught on Marvin:
Proudly displayed on the wall of an ice cream parlour:
Spotted pasted on the walls of a bylane.