What is calm before a storm? A morning in Calcutta!
An apt prefix to the hustle and bustle of the heritage city. An early morning walk through the alleys gave me the perfect opportunity to witness the city wake to action.
In the metro city of Calcutta, it is still quite likely that you would be woken up by the faint noise of chirping birds; sparrows are most abundantly found all over the city. It all begins at home and gets quite synchronous as I walk down the lane; it is the scrub of the coconut broom being used to clean the outer porch, accompanied with the next door Kakima’s (aunt) stern instruction to the maid, “Bhalo kore pocho” (clean it properly). The hurried wring of a milkman’s bicycle distributing milk is narrowly followed by “Khub jol meshachho” (milk is really watery) and then his embarrassed grin is a real treat to watch.
The infrequent hurr of the grocery stores’ shutter interrupts the silence on the main road. There are some laundry stores who still operate on the traditional coal heated iron boxes; it is quite fascinating to walk through the mild smoke from the freshly incinerated coal, glistening in the mild sunlight. As I walk past the rickshaw-wallas, I hear the soft thud of their dusting cloth against the seat and then shops selling sweets and savoury breakfast pose the best of all; the grind of pestle, the hiss of dough in hot oil. Luchi (puri) and sooji (halwa) is a popular tiffin option amongst mothers for their school going kids. The aroma of freshly brewed tea fills the small confectioner’s store in the corner while the milk van stacks and empties the Mother’s Dairy milk baskets harmoniously at the dairy vendor.
The soft morning hustle is suddenly overpowered by the honk of a school van; the cheerful cacophony of kids few excited and the rest mournful about school is subtly synchronized with the mothers instructing their kids, “tiffin ta kheye nish ar bhalo kore jol khabi” literally translating to: finish your tiffin and eat loads of water. Yes, in Bangla, we eat water as well! Most mothers gather to drop their kids at the bus stop and then head to the nearby tea-stall for a morning halt; I marvel at the variety of their conversation. One starts about her sasuri (mother-in-law) and nonod (sister-in-law) first in a subdued voice and then ends in a high pitch while huffing and puffing; this is closely followed by another on a varied scale about other kids and teachers at school; then the next lady cued-in on a serious tone about the changing school curriculum but soon transitioned to the latest theatre and movie releases. Last but not the least, Bengalis and sarees go hand in hand; the last woman drops the bomb of purchasing new sarees for Durga Pujo and it was just May!
Early mornings are rushed up in any city and Calcutta is no exception; everyone choses to stuff themselves in the bus tilted at an angle of 10 degrees vertically. It is quite fascinating to see the conductor in old buses, rattling out the names of bus stops like a rap song; Shyambazar, College Street, Lenin Sarani, Esplanade. He hangs out of bus gate hailing out to passengers on top of his voice while tapping along the bus’s tin roof; it reminded me of the beats to “We will rock you”. Needless to say, the commotion among the on-board passengers starts rising at the extensive attempt to get more passengers in; all in all quite a dramatic experience even before one begins their day at work.
The vegetable and fish vendors come next on the charts. they lay down their fresh morning catch and it is customary for at least one member from a Bengali household to make a Bazaar visit in the morning. Most of the bazaars are quite chiefly located and you would sniff the frenzy the minute you walked into one. I invariably spotted a handful of customers and vendors engaging in their love hate relationship bargaining for the best deal while some buyers insisted on the freshest buy, “Pocha ta diyo na, bhalo dekhe dao” (don’t pack the rotten ones, check and give me the good ones). The Kali-bari bells across the road went dhong-dhong-dhong constantly reminding us to be the best version of ourselves.
So, that was a brief glimpse into a typical start of a day in Calcutta; it is absolutely mad and chaotic and hence I chose to marvel at it patiently.; all in all I guess you can take a Bengali out of Calcutta but never take Calcutta away from her!
Stay tuned for more Pujo update on food and more.
Credit : https://www.amritanandi.com/post/calcutta-mornings