Kalkatta and Kalkatte wale in Simla of the Sixties
Bauji would always say, reflectively, “Kalkatte walon me badaaaaa dimag hota hai” and I would agree with him as my bosom buddy, alongwith I, was a strong contender for the much coveted first position in class. And whenever she would stand first with a second position coming my way….I would, always, envy “Kalkatte walon ka dimag” doing the trick or was it that being favourite children of the “Maa Kalkatte wali” doing all that magic. Whatever may have been the reason but I was in awe of anyone from Kalkatta. And as far as Bauji was concerned I am sure that he must have encountered Bengali colleagues in official work that made him strongly develop this idea.
I, too,was in awe of all Kalkatte wale log in Simla…the residents or the tourists.
As our school, the Lady Irwin school, was just opposit to the Railway Board building and this was the only road through which all the tourists, alighting from the train from Kalka, would walk past to reach their place of stay which would be the guest house at Kali Bari temple premises. Watching the hordes of Bengali tourists, walking in a big group, chatting nonstop in Bengali, walking past our school, would make us all look at them.
It was a sight to behold….men and women, old, young and kids, all would walk animatdly watching a grupo walking towards the Kalibari guest house where they would be putting up. The men, from top to bottom, would be dressed to kill….kill the cold wheather of Simla in the month of June! What a fun it would be gor us to watch!
When it would be the most pleasant season of the year for us, the Simlaites, the tourists would come draped in monkey caps, woolen socks and hand gloves….. to save them from the cold wave that Simla is famous for all the tourists.
The men invariably, would be clad in white dhoti, spotless but crumbled because of long arduous train journey, woolen socks, newly bought for Simla holidays, visible under their dhoti kinari, and dragging chappals or sandals on their big feet, trying hard to fit in because of thick woolen socks ! A woolen shawl, cream or light brown in colour, with fine embroidery on the sides would be on the shoulders.
The women, attired in cotton or silk sarees worn in typical Bengali style would complement the men in sophistry. Thick red Sindoor in the central parting of their thick black hair and a big red vermillion bindi on the forehead would look so graceful especially as the gold chains in their neck, Shankha, gold and iron bangles on their wrists would make a tinkling sound. I would look down at their feet searching for Altaa designs but their petite feet would also be covered under thick woolen socks in their big sized chappals!
Some kids would be carrying earthen Surahees while coolies in blue shirts, with a brass number plate on chest, would be following with big bags in their hands and bigger attachees on their back.
I would be in such an awe of them since they had travelled from Kalkatta to Simla changing train at Dilli. Perhaps a train journey to Kalkatta was my favourite account to listen to as Chandra, my bosom friend, travelled to Kalkatta every winter holidays. I envied her so much for this as the best I could dream of was to be packed in tight seats of truck-faced buses, cramping our legs to accommodate big bags under the seats to our native village in Mandi. A journey by train was a dream for us, a distant dream….and travelling to Kalkatta was a near to impossible dream!
All these visitors would be seen without monkey caps and woolen socks…..relaxing in the cozy Sun of Simla later when they would find Simla weather not as dreadful as they had feared it to be! What beauty and grace would ooze out of the women, in loose hair, black and long, starched cream sarees with red borders and delicate feet adorned with Aaltaa moving around the Guest house of Kalibari temple complex.
I would watch them during my to and fro walks to the school via Kalibari road. And my resolve to have a train ride to Kalkatta would become stronger with every passing day. It was so strange that Kalkatta remained the only place outside Simla that I wanted to visit…if I ever could get a chance! I learnt a smattering of Bengali from Chandra both speaking and writing and would feel so enlightened while writing it as it gave me the feel of Bong Bhadralok!!
Life moved on…I forgot about my dream to have a train ride to Kalkatta…I was out of practice of Bengali language, had forgotten about Shankha and Pola…till finally I went to Kalkatta. Though I was fifty years of age at that time I felt like an excited school girl on first visit to her favourite destination.
Suddenly all those memories came back to me… all those accounts I had learnt about Kalkatta during my school days! When we would put our head down on the desk and would be all ears to listen to stories of Kalkatta where Chandra would spend her winter holidays, every year!
I wanted to roam around like a small excited young girl, hopping from one bus to another going from long ride to Dakshineshwar ghat to Kaali Ghat…buying Shankha, red bangles, Sindoor from the sheds outside the Kaali Ghat temple. I did what pleases me the most…hopping onto buses and trams. When I stood waitng in long queues to have darshana of Maa Kaali surrounded with Bong Bhadralok….I felt so much at home. I felt I had met all these people sometime back in Simla when I was a small girl. All the places looked so familiar. I was sure that I had visited all these places someday in the distant past as I had such vivid recollection of all of them. The images had turned into stamped impressions while growing up in Simla of the Sixties and listening to all those livid accounts! It was strange that the minutest of details that I had listened to and imagined about were so much similar in actual. I could, suddenly, read the signboards written in Bengali and could enter into small functional conversation in Bengali!!! I wondered at the power of human brain to remember all details even if those were stories listened to during childhood!
The world seemed so much small and beautiful to me as growing up in Simla had opened up vistas of dreams by the wide and varied experiences that filled our life with excitement and dreams!! Dreams put in my eyes while our teacher directed us “close your eyes” and down your head” and we opened the ears to see the picture of a world….created with words!
Kalkatta and Kalkatte wale in Simla of the Sixties