Renowned author Santosh Bakaya, co-editor of Darkness There But Something More pens her many hued musings on Kolkata, the city that never fails to charm her. Visiting Kolkata in the sultry July heat for the launch of two diametrically different books – one an anthology of spooky ghost stories and the other a book of verses, Santosh writes about Kolkata’s sights and sounds in a series of diary notes.
It was in December 2015 that Rhiti Chatterjee Bose and Lopa Banerjee cajoled, coerced, browbeat me into coming to Kolkata for the launch of Defiant Dreams – collection of women-centric stories curated by the two of them.
Well, I thank my stars that I fell to their persuasive skills because Kolkata and its people just swept me off my feet.
Kolkata was love, and on my second visit, I realised that it still is – pure, unadulterated love.
And, yes, I do believe in love.
This time Rhiti was not around (how I missed her!) but Lopa Banerjee was joined in her cajoling tactics by the young and very promising writer, Subhajit Sanyal who for some quaint reason insists on calling me ‘Boss’!
“Boss, you are coming, are you not ?” He asked over the phone repeatedly.
“Di, you have to come, no matter what!” This was Lopa Banerjee.
The occasion was the launch of two books – Let the Night Sing – the debut poetry collection of Lopa, and Darkness There But Something More – a collection of prize winning ghost stories co-edited by Lopa and me.
So 27 July 2017, saw me on a Kolkata bound plane. Sarathi Lokenath ji and Lopa Banerjee were at the airport waiting for me, smiling brightly through their grogginess.
“Let us have tea at Sharma Tea House. It is very popular,” Sarathi Lokenath ji aka Partasarthi ji suggested.
I understood the reason of its popularity the moment I had the first sip.
I looked around.
The pavement dwellers were still sleeping the sleep of innocence. I noticed some sleeping blissfully on their carts, apparently, with not a care in the world. The dogs and cats also moved around sleepily, the languor of the night still clinging to them, like a second skin.
My mind, though, still in the grip of sleep, thought that Sharma tea-stall should have been better called The Gluttons’ Den. It was not eight 0’ clock, yet, but the people who had congregated there were eating away, not just slurping on delectable tea. I could see mathis, aloo-poori, parathas, sandwiches, and what not, piled on their plates, and they were gorging on them with an enviable panache.
We left the breakfasters holding on to their bursting platters, and hopped into the car, my eyes feasting on the sights and sounds of a city I have come to love.
Just then there was a call from my dear friend, Ipsita Ganguli .
“Di, where are you?” She was breathless with excitement.
“Heading towards Lopa’s place. When are we meeting?”
“I will be there at Weavers’ Studio for the launch of Darkness There But Something More. The entire Sunday evening is for you.” I thought that there was a bird at the other side, excited and chirpy.
This bird had hardly stopped chirping, when the bird sitting by my side also found her voice.
“I hope the launches go off fine… my girls are keenly looking forward to meeting you, you know Di, the weather here is so humid, and Subhajit is also excitedly looking forward to your arrival….” Before she could tell me about his level of excitement, the phone rang again.
“Boss, have you reached?” It was Subhajit, who was in the middle of writing his first year English Hons papers .
“Yes,” I said, fascinated by the profusion of yellow coloured taxis plying on the busy road.
“Oh my God, I am so excited… so excited…!”
I don’t know, whether it was because of the high level of excitement in his blood, or something else, the phone suddenly went silent.
My mind was now again open to the early morning sights and sounds of the City of Joy.
In the early morning cacophony, I heard a symphony serenading me, beckoning me, welcoming me into the heart of Kolkata. Strains of Rabindra Sangeet wafted across to me from houses skirting the road, and also the fragrance coming from a profusion of marigold flowers being sold on the pavement. My exhaustion seemed to vanish.
It had clasped me to its heart, and I had willingly walked into its warm, sultry embrace. Through the car window, I caught heart-warming glimpses of a city which was slowly shedding off last night’s languor, and jumping headlong into the maelstrom of another humid, sultry day. Happy sighs erupted from the innermost recesses of my being and merged with the Kolkata air, my eyes riveted on the moving collage of rickshaw pullers, buses, cars and pedestrians all set to conquer the challenges of another July day.
“My girls must be sleeping, but when they get up, they will be very excited to see you,” Lopa remarked.
Needless to say, I was also looking forward to meeting Rimli and Mithi, her two delightful daughters, who had stolen my heart on my last visit.
“Madam, you must be tired. Once you reach home, please sleep for some time, you will feel refreshed,” ParathaSarthi Ji said solicitously.
“Yes,” I said, trying to ward off sleep which was trying to overpower me.
“We are home”. Lopa chirped and I stepped out of the car.
Memories of 2015 overwhelmed me from all sides as we started climbing up the stairs.
I recalled Mithi and Rimli crushing me with spontaneous hugs and not leaving me out of their sight even for a minute. I had related stories to them and they had sung and danced for me, and Mithi, who, I had noticed, had the makings of an artist had drawn sketches for me, one of which I still possess.
Time really flies, and how!
The moment I stepped into the house, I went straight to the room where the girls were sleeping soundlessly, rustled their hair, and tiptoed out of the room. It was only 8 am, and the launch of Lopa’s debut poetry collection, Let the Night Sing was ten hours away, but I could almost hear the fluttering of butterflies in Lopa’s very being.
“Didi, I am very nervous,” she mumbled.
“Don’t be. Everything will be fine,” I assured her, looking around at the traces of the girls’ artistry strewn around the house and remembered Rimli, who hero-worships her elder sister, eyes glowing with admiration, gushing, “You know, my sister is a great artist, but I am just learning.”
I had not slept a wink last night, and was feeling very sleepy,
“You sleep for a couple of hours, you will feel fresh.” Both, Lopa and Parthasarthiji said in one voice, and I jumped at the opportunity and dived straight into bed, but not before seeing off Parthasarthi ji, with the assurance of meeting at the launch venue in the evening.
Ignoring the cawing of the restless crows, and the yodeling of the restful pigeons sitting on the window ledges of all houses, I was soon sleeping.
TO BE CONTINUED….
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