By Namira Hossain
Sometimes, life takes you places where you did not think you would ever belong, but somehow we can never assess the impact your decision will have on others. My mother’s side of the family is from West Bengal, so I grew up hearing shuddho Bangla being around my maternal grandparents and aunts. Never knew the difference until I went to school where I was teased endlessly at school about saying ‘bolechhey’ rather than ‘bolsey’ and other such nonsense that children do. I suppose that was enough for me to forsake my West Bengal heritage to a certain extent.
The last time I went to Kolkata, I was only 15 years old. I would go there very often as a child with my mother to visit my youngest aunt who lives there. Of course, looking at anything through the eyes of a child paints things a certain way – one can return to a place they remember fondly only to discover that it does not hold the same magic for them. And of course, it can also be the other way around; without any offense intended to anyone, I remember Kolkata as being extremely dirty and I remember the airport filled with throngs of people trying to clutch the hands of their returning relatives through iron grills. As my mother and I touched down on the ground on February 12, 2017 at 10:00am, I was looking forward to seeing how the city had changed, if at all.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the new airport was very different from what I remembered. It was clean and very civilised. The ride to the hotel was very pleasant, after all the hustle and bustle of Dhaka traffic. Our plan for the day was to have lunch with my grandmother, my aunt and cousin whom I had not seen in a long time and then explore. We had lunch at a new hotel and then headed out to Jorasankor Thakur Bari, which was the birthplace of Rabindranath Tagore where he spent most of his childhood and also died.
It is a beautiful property and my mother and I walked around the gardens and talked about Tagore and his numerous affairs. There were sounds of Rabindra Sangeet wafting in the air and people walking around on the ground taking selfies. We decided not to venture upstairs because one has to take their shoes off to do so, so we just admired the flowers and trees that we could see, particularly a frangipani tree which creeped up right next to a hanging balcony, making for a very romantic scene.
We walked out and decided the next place we would go to is the famous old Coffee House in College Street and soak in the atmosphere of old writers and poets past. This establishment was founded in 1876 and housed many people who were big in the Bengali cultural scene back in those days. Because it was a Sunday, the coffee house was closed so instead we decided to have some masala tea from Sharma Tea House which is served in a claypot and is an absolute delight to the senses. The next thing I wanted to try was a Raj Kachori which is a kind of chaat that I had read about in travel blogs. It is a round ball of flour filled with potato and chickpea and garnished with yogurt and tamarind chutney. Afraid of the infamous “Delhi Belly” or its’ Kolkata equivalent, we opted to go to Haldiram, a famous sweet shop. There I sampled the Raj Kachori and my mom’s favourite shingara. Being a fan of spicy food, I found the chaat too sweet for my liking and the shingara also did not measure up to the crunchy little ones you find on the streets of Dhaka. As the sun started to descend in the sky and make a beautiful medley of colors mixed with the smog, I started thinking about what led my grandparents to venture east and how different my life would have been had they stayed back, or if I would have existed at all.