August 13, 2012

City Returned

Photo courtesy my friend Leah from the summer of 2010.

The Granta piece on Home, pulled the right strings in me. It has been a year of love-hate with the city that I learnt to live in. The city of lethargy, hurt pride, backbiting, and the endless production of nostalgia. Unlike many Calcuttans far more deserving of the epithet, I found more turbulence than comfort in my comeback. The Calcutta Defense Mechanism Against the Big Bad Outer World seemed to have grown. So had its hidden desires to emulate the important icons of the outer world – Mumbai, Delhi, London. Thus spake the long queues of embroidery-hipped denim girls and slick-haired expectant boys and flabby-armed matrons outside the gleaming South City mall. The taboos of clothing, desire, aesthetic and taste had wavered. It was not only the rich Marwari spoilt kids who were frequenting night clubs. Pinstriped IT boys thronged Someplace Else to headbang and backslap over beer. I frequented the ferry on the river between Howrah and Kolkata, only when I started fieldwork. I took touristy boatrides at Prinsep Ghat only when I returned as an adult. I frequented the College Street by-lanes on the way to my archives. These were not re-enactments of the city I lived in as a teenager. This was a hyper-real city that a returning prodigal is invited to embrace. I grimaced at its chaos and lethargy. I tickled its curmudgeon wrinkles.  I marveled at the Trinamool-adorned cloudy river. A return demands that the ‘home’ dress itself up as the long-lost, much-yearned loved one. Not a carelessly cast aside one. Return demands a different route of return be traced. Its monuments are different. Its footprint, its voice, its cartography - different. A home never left – not quite the home returned to.

August 8, 2012


The Shalimar station is hardly a host for mobility. A site of stationary trains. Its well-painted well-being is testimony to its distance from the feverish world of train-citizenship. Trains usually speed by leaving remnant economies of chai, moongphali, urine, family-unions and plastic. Not here, where men put their feet up on the seat, unbutton their shirts. A masculine leisure is mirrored between a stretched-out train and a stretched-out man. This is where the feverish pace comes to a halt. The world is kept at a distance, as one recuperates for the next round. Warehouses and godowns stand guard for cargo and the resting men. Sacks are thrown one on top of the other. Some slipped aside for a quick passage into the grey zone. It’s shining, whitewashed, blue-lined walls are awkward. As if they were all-geared for a green signal, and it never came. Women hunch on the benches of the platform. Without the hint of hurry-anxiety in their eyes. This could be a park. Or their inner courtyard. A whitewashed haven for the halted.