THE GOOD, BAD & UGLY
As soon as I stepped into my home, Deepika asked, “How was your trip to Kolkata?” And this question was asked by three different persons over the rest of the evening. My answer remained a casual, “Fine” to all such questions. The next question inevitably was, “Did you enjoy the trip with your friends” to which my answer was a bit more enthusiastic “Yes”. I was extremely tired, every part, every bone in my body was aching, so I took a Paracetamol and went to bed early and got up briefly around midnight to wish Ayush Happy Birthday. Next morning I thought about the recent Kolkata trip and the only words that came to me are The Good, Bad and Ugly…
After much deliberations and consultation with Deepika I had decided to go when she convinced me that she will be able to take care of Rolf, the aging Chowchow nearing 14 years and down with arthritis.
The seven of us took the Indigo flight on the 5th February morning to Kolkata with lots of imagination to do things that were not possible in our previous visits. The primary one being going to Shyambajar 5-point crossing to taste the famed Kochuri of Aadi Haridas Modok and Kosha Maangsho with Parota of Gol Bari besides having Biriyani at Arsalan and going for shopping spree at Gariahat/ Rashbehari Avenue. Also try the famed Kolkata Phuchka (Golgappa). As a rule, we had decided not to inform any of our numerous relatives of our visit to the city to ensure we have a quality time amongst ourselves.
It is said that all wishes never come true and promises are made to be broken. We could not visit the shops located in Shyambajar because of paucity of time. Let me give you guys the details of our itinerary to understand what all we wanted squeeze in during our short trip of 3-nights stay in the city.
The visit was to attend the marriage ceremony of Debrup with Debmita (son & daughter-in-law) of Jallu aka Debabrata Raha, our childhood buddy and very close friend of mine. The events where our presence was solicited and necessary were two… the Sangeet on 6th evening and Wedding on 7th evening. Jallu had graciously exempted us from attending the other functions such as Haldi & Mehendi ceremonies. So we had half day of 5th, 6th and 7th February 2023 to explore and satiate our desire.
We landed in NSCB International Airport around midday and after collecting our luggage came out where Soni picked us up and took to the hotel Mayfair Tower, Hossainpur, Kasba, Kolkata. We decided on this hotel at the insistence of Jallu who had booked the hotel for the 6th & 7th night for his guests including us (11 people). We checked into the hotel and decided to go out for lunch… Soni suggested Azad Hind Dhaba on the Kasba Road… he had been to this place many a times and vouched for the food and hygiene. I am glad we agreed and accepted his suggestion as we all enjoyed a hearty meal of Tandoori Roti with Mutton Rara, Chicken Bharta, Daal Fry as well as Daal Makhni with salad and curd. We came back to the hotel to rest a while before proceeding to Soni’s home for an evening get-together. We had insisted on simple food consisting of Ghee-Bhaat-Aloo-Dim-Seddo and Kosha Maangsho. He told me to make the mashed potato & egg mixture when reach his home and I readily agreed. In addition to these, he had made fish fries to go with the drinks and since I don’t take fish, there was boiled egg with salt-n-pepper for me. Chhoti, our niece was delighted with the small present we had taken for her. She surprised us all by getting a cake at midnight to celebrate the birthday of Pralay aka Pelu. We had a fun filed evening full of banters which took us back to the teenage days. Shoma, being a delightful hostess, took good care of us with refilling our plates and we ended up bellyful by the time we left for our hotel.
The following day was marked for shopping especially by Alok aka Gutloo who had promised to get at least 3 sarees for Arpita his wife. We had a frugal breakfast of Luchi-Sobji and tea keeping space in the tummy for later day binging on Kochuri and Kosha Maangsho at Shyambajar 5-point crossing. Soni arrived around 12 noon with the cars…his own plus three more hired for the day. I must say that it was the foresight and pain taken by Soni to arrange for the transportation which made our movement cutting through the city not only smooth n easy but time saving as well. A big thanks Soni for his foresight and making our stay in Kolkata comfortable.
We left the hotel for Gariahat around 12:15 pm… only Ashish aka Hathi Bhai stayed back to nurse his upset tummy promising that he will join us after a while. The first stop was at the Kanishka Boutique at Gariahat which specializes in designer sarees of their own unique designs. In earlier occasion I had made my choice in 10 minutes and bought the saree for Deepika at a reasonable price. However, this time nothing showed up as a “must buy” item and the prices have been set at an exorbitant level. We left the place and proceeded on foot through the hawkers stalls on Rashbihari Avenue to Kimbadanti a shop specializing in kurta-pajama-dhoti. I wanted to buy a kurta for Ayush and was happy to find one that would fit him nicely. Gora and Ramashish bought a set each for the wedding evening. Then, we proceeded to Triangular Park to check on other stores that Soni had earmarked for us.
At the Bhojraj, a saree shop, Alok finally found what he was looking for… a Tanchoi Saree, handwork on silk fabric. In fact, I liked the saree and would have bought it had he not picked it up. As we were coming out my eyes got stuck to a bunch of cotton sarees (Dhakai) and I picked up one which I was confident Deepika would appreciate. Meanwhile, Ashish called up and asked for our location as he had left the hotel feeling better after taking a variety of medicines to calm his tummy.
Once he was near we told him to continue further up to Deshopriyo Park at Bishnupurer Kanishka, a relatively new shop for sarees and other artifacts from the district of Bishnupur, WB. This was a shop with lots of options and I could select a saree for Deepika in less 7 minutes. Soni and I helped Alok decide on the two sarees amongst his shortlisted ones.
As soon as we came out, Soni mentioned his urge to use the washroom and I told him to go back inside the shop to look for it. While waiting for him, we found the “Phoochkawala” right outside to our delight. It was good but not outstanding… I have had better ones at Esplanade and at our very own Chettopark market. The phoochka acted as an appetizer and we suddenly felt hungry. We had planned to go to Shyambajar 5-point crossing for the Kochuri and Kosha Maangsho but it was already past 4 pm and peak traffic times making it almost 1.5 to 2 hours travel time. This forced us to abandon Aadi Haridas Modok & Gol Baari for another opportune time. I insisted we go to Arsalan at Park Circus, the flagship outlet. As it turned out, we made the right choice… the food and service was impeccable and we had a hearty late lunch of Mutton Biriyari with Korma and finishing it with Phirni.
I had no idea where we were heading but was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be Outram Ghat on the Ganges. We missed out the sunset but had a nice view of the lit up Howrah Bridge at the distance and few cruise boats passing through. We also had Kullhar Chai there and saw two local trains come and go on the single track that runs besides the ghat.
On the insistence of Ashish we went to the Peerless Hotel to meet Indro and his family at the Aheli Restaurant. It was decided that we will meet around 7pm and have few drinks before proceeding to the Sangeet Ceremony of Debrup-Debmita. However, when we reached at the restaurant, there were no signs of Indro, so I called him up only to be told that it will take at least an hour for him to come. He could understand our situation and told us to carry on for the Sangeet Ceremony. Ashish was adamant and insisted on staying back as he was one who had invited Indro and family. We left him there and went to the hotel to freshen up and dress for the occasion which had a black or blue theme.
Sangeet Ceremony was a grand affair with lots of singing and dancing. Both Debrup & Debmita have a musical background with Debrup already becoming a Celebrity Singer at the state level. The youngsters made the evening come alive with their vibrant singing and their well coordinated choreography energized the gathering. We were introduced with two of Jallu’s friends from his Jabalpur school days. I realized those two blokes are just like us, if we had more time we could have got along very well. There were no liquor at the venue, but Soni arranged a bottle of whiskey magically. Siladitya and I had a peg with him as did the Jabalpur guys and then we joined back the festivities. I think Soni finished off the rest of the bottle because the later events of the evening indicated to that possibility. On insistent demand of the Langtoos, Pralay aka Pelu sang a popular Bangla song for the young couple which caught on with the audience and they joined him in singing.
Our dear friend Abhijit who’s son Indrajit got married on 17th January insisted that we all visit his home for lunch during our visit. I told him to make it a brunch on the 7th morning which he agreed only to break his promise. To an extent, it was our fault as well…we reached his place well past noon which perhaps he had anticipated and made arrangements for lunch at a nearby restaurant in Salt Lake area. The arrangements were private allowing us to relax and open up with the family. Abhijit’s wife Sukla told us that initially they had planned the event at their home only but just two days ago their pet dog (a cocker spaniel) had bitten her on the leg out of the blue and she was in much pain to do all the cooking. They were very upset with the dog but I told them that a pet dog will only do such dastardly act if it was in discomfort for some reason or agitated by some events at that moment. I advised them to show it a good veterinarian immediately and get a CBT done to eliminate any internal issues.
After a tummy full lunch of mutton curry, fish fry, dal, aloo bhaja with rice and sweets we returned to the hotel to get ready for the main event…the marriage ceremony which had a schedule start at 4 pm. I had to pack “Our Collective Blessings” for the young couple In a nice decorative box which Ashish had arranged… I put some chocolates and our collective blessings in it and wrapped it in colorful paper with the citation. A “Brooch” of a butterfly or Projapoti was added to signify the auspicious occasion of the joining of two hearts in the bond of marriage.
I had with me a Bengali Babumoshai style Kurta and Pant-Dhoti for the occasion but had to abandon it as both started malfunctioning… the kurta button refused to stay put and the dhoti string kept getting loose at the slightest movement. Luckily, I had a back-up plan and changed into another set of kurta-pyjama!! The ceremony finally started around 5 pm… we could hear Vedic chants and Rabindrasangeet from our hotel room. The ceremony was quite different and unique from the tradition. It was conducted by 4 women priests from an organization called Subhamastu meaning well-being of all… This organization headed by Dr. Nandini Bhowmick, a PhD scholar in Sanskrit had taken the relevant verses from the Vedic rhymes, then added few Rabindrasangeet to match the verses… making the whole thing audience friendly unique experience. Later, some celebrities of Bangla cultural background came to bless the couple…my friends who happen to watch Bangla television channels could identify them and got themselves photographed with them. I could identify only Srikanto Acharya and he was too tall for me to stand next to him!!
We had a wicket down in the form of SuroKhuro who had a stomach upset and couldn’t join the merriment. We took leave of Jallu around midnight came back to the hotel. I went to check on SuroKhuro who was feeling better after a handful of medicines both allopathic and ayurvedic. My room was in a mess courtesy Ashish who had crashed out without changing his attire and all his belongings were scattered over the bed. I had to clean up the mess before hitting the pillow.
The decision to stay at the FabHotel Mayfair Tower for the 5th night was on the insistence of Jallu who had booked the same hotel for his wedding guests including us for 6th & 7th night. Suranjan or SuroKhuro reached the hotel ahead of us and checked-in after much persuasion with the hotel management which is understandable because the booking of the 5 rooms was under my name. When we reached there to check-in, we had to wait for more than half hour as the “receptionist” was busy reconciling earlier check-ins. The rooms were truly pigeon holes, the linens including pillow covers looked used and dirty with all kinds of mark on them… there was a 5 or 10gm soap piece but no towels in our room.
The linens and pillow cover wasn’t changed even after our repeated requests… was provided with only one old faded towel. After lunch on day one, I went to the Spencer’s at Acropolis Mall and bought 2 towels for our room and used it to cover the pillow as well. There was no concept of cleaning the room at this hotel… the dustbin remained filled with all the trashes of 3 days till we vacated. The second incident happened on the morning of day two; my roommate Ashish called room service for 4 cups of tea… I was sitting close to the telephone so I could hear the other side as well…the person at the desk reconfirmed the number of cups…twice. The call was made around 8 am and at around 9 am when we were getting ready to go down for breakfast, the waiter came with just one cup of tea placed on a big tray. If he had accepted the mistake, I would not have lost my cool but he insisted that the order was for only one cup. As it is hotel experience wasn’t great and the attitude of the waiter blew the fuse of my temper and I let out few choicest expletives towards the hotel itself.
We cancelled our order for the tea and went down to have breakfast arranged by Jallu through the hotel catering. There were luchi-torkari and butter toast with banana and tea. We were about to finish our breakfast when the full team of hotel staff confronted us aggressively and shouted, “How dare you abuse one of our staff member”. We initially told them that we haven’t abused any person but the hotel itself, but they were adamant. Patience was running very low and SuroKhuro towering over them and Alok lost their cool and gave them back in the same coin. It was clear that no standard facility can be expected from the hotel till we were there. It did not matter because we weren’t going to use any going forward…we bought an electric kettle to make our own tea (of superior quality)!!
Though we had vowed neither to inform nor meet any of our numerous relatives scattered over the city, few of the Langtoos decided otherwise and went on to meet and greet them which affected not only the time schedule but raised logistics issues as well. I was upset because three of my cousins with whom I am quite close lived within a radius of not more than 2 km from the hotel but I avoided visiting them and called them only on the last day before leaving for airport to apologize for not meeting them.
When the spat came, it was unexpected from the source as well as the time…
We came back to the hotel from Sangeet Ceremony venue post midnight. Gora and I were sharing the seat space in Soni’s car…as we got down, Gora went to the front passenger side to say “goodnight” to Soni and asked him to pull down the window. Soni came out of the car and started the barrage of abuses directed to all of us particularly towards SuroKhuro, Gora and myself. His angst was both justified and irrational…
Apparently when we visited his home for the dinner, SuroKhuro while chatting with Shoma, in his inimical way said, “Bouthan, why don’t you tell Soni to cut down on his smoking and drinking?” At one level, I understand he has no right to comment on his personal choices but on the other hand, as a friend he only meant his well being.
Topshe was with me when I was mixing the Aloo-Dim-Seddo at the kitchen table; Gora walked in looking for us and joined the chitchat… Soni too came to fill his glass from the whisky bottle kept on the table… Gora pointing towards Soni lightly asked Shoma, “Has Soni reduced his smoking?” She replied in the negative and told Gora, “You are his friend, you should counsel him…he doesn’t listen to me.”
It was time to warm up the dishes and lay out on the table, to make space picked up the whisky bottle to keep it in the cupboard from where Soni had taken it out. As I opened the cupboard, I was fascinated by the sight… there were a sizeable number of bottles, mostly empty or with residual whiskies in them…the photographer inside me couldn’t resist the temptation and I took a picture of it. Next, in a lighter vain I posted the picture in our closed group with the caption, “The Treasure Trove”. Only two people reacted with “Wow” and emogies but Soni took umbrage as to why I clicked the picture and posted it… He kept repeating that he is a “private person” and nobody has a right to take photograph inside his house…blah blah blah…
He also said that Shoma felt insulted because of the comments on his smoking and drinking habit… he went on and on saying he does it at his own expenses and doesn’t question about our habits. He kept shouting at the top of his voice and hurled choicest expletives to anyone trying to calm him down. I said “Sorry” for my action but it fell on deaf ears… then just to shut him up I too shouted back and told him to go to hell. Probably that helped and he agreed with Gora to inside his room to settle the issue instead of creating a scene on the road in full visibility of the hotel staff and other guests.
I was very upset with his behavior, especially when everyone who had seen my post said that they thought it was the cupboard in our room where Jallu had kept the bottles. Indro even thought how we could have finished off so many bottles in just one night!!
I was terribly hurt by his words and action because he was and is more than a buddy… he is my brother. Next day I refused to talk to him and sit in his car. In fact, later that evening I thought of giving it back to him but refrained because I realized he was badly intoxicated and whatever he had said was under the influence of alcohol. Indro and Gora kept prodding me to patch up but I told them, “Not today, he needs to realize the enormity of his words and action”.
We did patch-up with a hug before leaving for the airport. However, it was a lesson for all of us…
(1) We must not criticize a friend in front his/her spouse…
(2) We may be childhood friends but still have no right to comment on anyone’s personal choices…
(3) We must not infringe on someone’s privacy, howsoever tempting the image might be…
2 thoughts on “Kolkata Safarnama”
It was a nice experience. Good gathering of batchmates. The wedding was a new concept, a bit dramatical, much different from the normal wedding rituals. Nice narrative!
The kind of events that happened during our Kolkata visit, our journey through the city and photographs you clicked and our numerous stories of agreeing to disagree on so many issues left me thinking that you will release the entire story in your column in two parts. However, I must admit that it has been quite nicely narrated in a single part. Better to forget the unpleasant events and carry on with pleasant memories. Visit of Indro and his family made it exciting and I was fortunate to get medicines prescribed by Judha for my one week old stomach problem.
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