Sitting in the flight, I was already loving the sweet Bangla language which people on board were speaking. Though we call the language sweet, the people make it sound sweeter.
To my right, were a group of women visiting their home town on the occasion of Durga Puja. Being an extrovert, I love talking to new people and I stuck a conversation with them. The details that the internet could not give me, these 5 ladies did. In fact the ladies invited for the maha aarti pujo on the eve of Durga pooja. I was elated and humbled.
Landing in Kolkata, quite early in the morning, I found a fleet of yellow taxis lined up. Though the taxi drivers fight their way to offer you their ride, once you choose a chauffeur, they gracious let go too.
The morning in Kolkata is quite bustling. Yellow taxis honking their way dogging city traffic to trams, at its own speed running the course of the day. Hand rickshaw drivers, hopping their way into their work day, it looked as if everyone is running their own show, independently.
My day in the streets of Calcutta as its fondly called, started in the college street. Being a bookworm, it was my paradise. Spread in a sprawling area expanding 1.5 km, you will find books of all age, genre and even languages. I must have bought a dozen or more.
My next halt was to Victoria memorial. One of the most famous and must visit places in Kolkata, It looks nothing less than royal. It is a large marble building dedicated as a memory to queen Victoria. I cannot tell how pleasing the place is. The garden around the place is simply beautiful. I spent about 30 mins here, as my mind was racing to visit Burrabazar.
A popular saying goes, "Anything and everything is available at Burrabazar. Even the tiger's eye is available here if you pay the right price." Each katra (market) is known for a particular item. There are approximately 25 katras in Burrabazar. You will find all kinds of textile in this place. Burrabazar is one of the largest wholesale markets in India. The people working here, the owners are so enthusiastic. They smile, the way they sell their products makes you want to buy everything they show and how do you say No to such sweetness.
Starving, One can smell two things all the time in Kolkata : Fish and Rosogulla. One the most famous places for street food, Kolkata amazed me with its varieties of food right from china town for its authentic Chinese food to Puchka- Pani puri to Kathi rolls. I had it all.
Back to my room, sitting near the window, all I could hear is honking, yellow taxis lined up about 1 km or so still. The traffic of Kolkata can be maddening for people low on patience. Just watching the jam, go me anxious.
Evening time is bustling especially in the eve of Durga Puja. Women have a minimum of 4-5 bags in their hand to help with the preparation. My plan was to watch a dance and D.J. show at Eden gardens. Just about to leave my room, my manager asked me, ‘ Madam, how is it going in Kolkata’ I had learnt a few Bengali words, so I replied ‘ Khoob Bhalo’ . We shared a laugh. He insisted that I visit salt lake stadium. I did have time in hand. Salt Lake stadium is 30 mins away from Eden Gardens. I said, why not!
Massive. Huge. Gigantic. Salt lake stadium is the second largest football stadium in the world. I finally saw a city in India crazy for football and not cricket. A lot teams were practicing there including a women’s team. Seeing them play I was so tempted I sat near the gallery to watch. What happened next was amazing. Seeing me gawking at how they were playing, a woman coach asked me to join in , saying ‘ Today, is a free football training session for women. Join in. Thank god I wore sports shoes. Not being a sporty person, but playing football at the largest football stadium with stranger women cannot be put into words. Divided in a team of 7 players each, I made friends with all. The spirit was so high! I lost track of time, which means yes. I missed the Eden garden show. No regrets. I felt like Messi for 3 hours.
Waking up to my phone ringing, The lady I met on the flight, called me to remind me of the pooja. Since it was going to be a traditional outing, I decided to wear the traditional red and white saree. Stepping out to buy it, the entire street was decorated like a bride. The vibe of the city screamed celebration and enchantment. The hotel manager helped with traditional shop names. I took the tram to reach the place. Such a ride. Slow, easy, I actually caught it while it was moving. It is that slow.
The evening arrived. The time I was eagerly waiting for. Reaching the Kumartuli Park, my jaw dropped. All women dressed in red and white saree, laughing, giggling, making the traditional sound with their tongue and yet, I could find my plane friend. She came running towards me and filled my forehead with laal sindoor saying – Subh Durga astami, ‘Dugga, Tomake dekhate sundara lagache’ [ You look beautiful]
The Sandya Aarti began. The energy I could feel all around me : the feminine energy, looking into the powerful eyes of Ma Durga, I felt invincible. Looking around the place, even with women looking all the same, they looked different. Their eyes spoke. Their feminine power rose.
Back in the flight , I thought to myself, ‘ Why didn’t I visit Kolkata all this while’.