Friday, July 5, 2019

Where Have They All Gone....An Ode to Calcutta

Sometimes very rarely one takes a break from the normal routine of life. Remembering old passions,half formed ideas of escapades that now seem silly. Of situations one thought one could never get through but now only the edges of that memory is all that remains. A nice warm glow.

Listening to the voice of the Nooran sisters singing at the Nakodar fair, the voice washing over me leaving distant echoes. I was born in Bengal and most closely it reminds me of gusty winds of a Nor'wester leaving the wood frames of old windows rattling in passing.

Of how closely we are mixed. The Bengali and the Punjabi, Hindu and Muslim....so many great cultures mixed since the times of Alexander that it is now difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. Of food and dishes that define our heritage but are those Persian, Afghan or Greek?

This idea that is India.

Hinduism has been a religion of patience, absorption. Sufism is its closest companion. Song, dance and the gentle sarcasm of Bulle Shah, the faithful stupidity of Heer and Ranja.The voice of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali and Begum Akhtar.Of listening to a record of  Mehdi Hasan singing "Ranjish Hee Sahi..." building up to a crescendo.

Of Ghalib and Zauk, Mir and Momin. With every passing year, the aficionados of Hindusthani classical music shrinks until pockets are left like puddles drying after a spell of summer rain.Yet nationalists say that they are for the country!How much or how little do they really know? Of listening to snatches of conversation with my father compared to whom I am pretty near illiterate.

Of "Faguner Mohonay..." and Rabindranath's famous"Akla Cholo...."

Each one from North, South, East and West know small intricacies of their culture that no one else knows. Culture and old traditions disappear like our wildlife and our flora because we are too busy with unimportant issues.

My rant is not to bring back lost glory(really?), culture has so much bearing on who we are and how we navigate life.

In my first job at ANZ Grindlays Bank, meeting many iconic Punjabi businessmen like Mr Malhotra who used to own Blue Fox, amazing zest for life, stories being one amongst legendary characters now long gone. Meeting a bunch of Anglo Indian clients at Ripon Street who were more "Propah" than the British. The Bohra Muslims....Paintwalas Batliwalas who have run their enterprises and make Calcutta what it is....the most giving, sophisticated yet effervescent city in India.

Maybe it is my ode to Calcutta but I wonder where did those old risk takers see in a marshy land that is hot for 13 months out of 12.A pimple beside a mighty muddy river that we love to dirty yet it is our holiest.

Should Old acquaintances be forgot and never thought upon,The flames of Love extinguished and fully past and gone,Is thy sweet heart now grown so cold,that loving breast of thine;That Thou one canst never once reflect,on Old Lang Syne
                                                                                                           - Robert Burns

For Mr Nair, a man from Kerala who chronicled Calcutta and its myriad loves,of Punjabi families like mine who came seeking wealth and never went back.

I would love to hear stories of migrants who made this city it's home over the decades

vishal.prabhakar71@gmail.com  twitter:@dzanjo71 M: +91 9831554477


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