Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Ubiquitous Bengali Tourist

Hello friends, I am the ubiquitous Bengali tourist. To borrow the Russel Peters expression, wherever you go, I will get you; well I might not be as promiscuous or well endowed as my North Indian brethren, but when it comes to Wanderlust, I am second to none in India. Just cast your mind back to your last holiday (this generalization only holds true for tourist destinations within India) when you were trying to understand the history of the Mysore Rajas or were appreciating the pristine beauty of Sikkim and suddenly your concentration or the beauty of the moment was disturbed by the shrill cry of “Ogo Suncho” (the Bengali version of Aji Sunte Ho.)

Frankly I am everywhere; I take 2.5 vacations each year, during the summer holidays, during the winter holidays and maybe during Durga Puja holidays every alternate year. In between are thrown in the quick sorties to Digha/Shankarpur during unexpected 3 day weekends when the Left or Didi calls a bandh. These bandhs are extremely strategic and usually fall on a Friday or on a Monday; the cause for these Bandh could range from outrage against US atrocities in Iraq/ Afghanistan/ North Korea to the rising food prices (how a strike contributes to decreasing food inflation or helps hand to mouth daily laborers may appear a slightly untenable logic to non Bengalis, but that is not germane to this post.)

The summer vacation is to a hill station to escape the heat and humidity of Calcutta. In this we are guided by our late revered leader, Jyoti Basu who spent most of his summers in London, attracting non-existent investors to West Bengal. Coming back to the more domestic me, i.e. the ubiquitous Bengali tourist, I generally head to Darjeeling or Shimla in the summer. The visit is preceded by visits to the local laundry to collect the woolen wear, last worn during the 7 days of the Calcutta winter. You will be able to spot me easily at these hill stations by my trademark monkey cap and layers of warm clothing even though the temperature is not a tick below 20 degrees and I am talking Centigrades here. I never go alone on vacations and alone includes my immediate family; I always go in a large group comprising of friends and/or family like siblings/cousins, their families and parents and sometimes even grandparents thrown in for good measure. So when you see a large group at a tourist destination, which also the source of a large cacophony of noises, general nuisance, or an eyesore with bright pink and yellow cardigans and sweaters, you should know I am in town. Be scared, very scared.

In the hill stations I visit, I generally stay away from any physical exertions such as trekking, rafting, paragliding; as the Bengali intelligentsia I know better that such physical trivialities do not maketh me. My earlier generation could spout lines from Tagore apt for almost any situation or place, but Tagore is so passé now. So instead I visit the flower shows in the hill stations like Kalimpong/ Ooty where I take photographs. I encourage my family to mingle with the flowers, i.e. tread the flower bed and sit/stand amongst the flowers as opposed to stand next to them. I do not carry a camera and take the photographs with my mobile phone camera; technologically I am really up there and I have the latest camera phone made by my fellow country men in China. I am also not averse to the idea of clandestinely plucking a flower or two from such gardens for the daughter or the Mrs, necessarily in this order.

Coming back to my other holidays of the year, there is the mandatory pilgrimage to Puri/ Digha and if I am really adventurous, to the westernized beaches of Goa. So out come the Bermudas (pronounced as Bar-muda) and the colorful vests, as I display the full beauty of my athletic body on the beaches of Goa; a thing of beauty may not always be a joy forever. The wife is spared this chore and she continues to preserve her modesty in the saree (Honeymoon Travels anyone) and more recently in the Salwar Kameez. I restrict my children and myself to bathing in waist height sea water; the wife dutifully stands on the beach shouting at us and coercing us to not go so deep into the sea and providing us with towels to dry ourselves after we come back from our latest naval exercises (the pun is intended and thankfully does not go below the belt).

Another trait that distinguishes me is my food habits. While Calcutta is truly a gastronomical delight with cuisines and flavors from all over the world, I am more discerning in my choice of food when I travel; after all you have got to watch what you eat. Savoring the local food maybe an integral part of any traveling, but why bother when everything is available in good old Cal. Wherever I go I search for the staple rice and fish curry (called Maach Bhaat in Bengali, which delightfully rhymes with Marxbad) and it is only a matter of time before I chance upon the local Dada Boudi or the Annapurna Hindu Hotel, be it in Chennai or Goa. At times I am a bit more adventurous but only if Chinese or Biriyani is available, but then again it can never match the Calcutta standards.

Let me end my discourse here; the Sumo car is waiting at the West Bengal tourist lodge where I am staying during my umpteenth summer vacation to North Bengal. There are 14 of us in our group who need to get ready before fitting into that solitary sumo car. I sincerely hope that you also are able to take some time off from your busy capitalistic lives and head to the hills, where (after you have read this post) you will look forward to meet or at least can identify me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Dilli ki garmi

I was in Delhi over the weekend to attend the wedding of two of my Joka batch-mates, Tanu and Anant. I was supposed to be from the bride’s side as Tanu had invited me as opposed to my friend Sudhir, who was representing both the bride and the groom’s side, and as is his track record in matters of great consequence, he maintained his impeccable neutrality and impartiality. I think batch-mates marrying each other is a great idea as it not only provides you the opportunity to meet so many batchies in the wedding but also increases your available market by at least 1. The underlying argument is that the batchie getting married is also an once-upon-a-time available market that you have not been able to access and my hypothesis is all the more pertinent as the gender ratio in the colleges I have attended have been, to put it very mildly, slightly skewed.

Anyway coming back to the topic of the post (after another of my numerous unproved hypothesis), the Delhi trip was one of the most enjoyable trips in recent memory. The last time I visited Delhi was way back in 2006 to interview for FMS and it was not a case of once bitten twice shy, but that is another story all together. This was the first time I was actually gallivanting in Delhi without a care in the world and the experience was truly a paradigm shift (also called p-shifts by certain individuals who have moved up the value chain by causing re-orientation of goals and visions of the institutional frameworks) if ever there was one. After MBA college I have always been chomping at the bits to use the p-shift expression in work and what must be a shock to many readers (let me rephrase that as a majority of readers so as to not betray any disillusionment about my blog’s popularity), I have never been able to use the term in 2 years of consulting ppt making. Coming from Calcutta, Delhi was truly a p-shift for me right from the airport, the roads, the cosmopolitan crowds, the shopping malls, well the works basically.

Sudhir and I were staying at a guest house in GK-I and I was pleasantly surprised to find that is was located adjacent to the GK-I M Block Market, which my worldly wise friend Mr. Ghai had told me was one of the dhams to visit in Delhi to get darshan of the Deviyas of Delhi. So after arriving in Delhi on Saturday morning and checking into the guest house, we started on our Delhi tour, the first stop being the M Block Market. Apart from the obvious, two things particularly caught my attention: i) even a local market in Delhi was almost as big as our much fabled New Market back home in Calcutta, and ii) how cars in Delhi are parked at angle to the footpath – I am not sure if this leads to better space utilization considering the reduction in space available for the thoroughfare; I beseech the Evil Anakin to please take out his famous Reynolds pen and draw the trade-off diagram.

M Block Market being ticked off from our list, we realized that we needed to buy a gift for the marriage. One of my office colleagues had told me that Select City Walk Mall would be a good place to buy a gift and so following her suggestion we headed to Saket. I was surprised to see so much lane discipline in the Delhi traffic; a lane had been demarcated separately for the buses and not even one passenger car was using that lane; compare this with the Calcutta traffic where cars and especially autos give two hoots to traffic discipline. The first impression I had of the City Walk mall was that this cannot be India; the designer stores, the expensive looking cafes and restaurants, the high proportion of foreigners milling about with the desi junta and the extremely high style and beauty quotient of the women was something that I would not have believed to have existed in India had I not visited this mall. I remembered my student exchange days in France and the rest of Europe as I spent the rest of the idle afternoon at the European café sipping a beer and eating a Doner Kabab.

In the evening Sudhir and I met up with a couple of batchmates, Zubin and Arijit, who work and stay in Gurgaon. We were contemplating going to DU colleges like SRCC, LSR to check out the admission crowd but thankfully better sense prevailed and we went to a café called Big Chill which is said to be famous for its desserts and college crowd. I can vouch for the first, as I happily gobbled down a waffle and a cheese cake, but not the second as my friends with deceit and ample dexterity consigned me the wrong end of a corner table, i.e. the chair with its back to the crowd. Hence I was left to stare at un ugly film poster on the wall and concentrate on my food, which fortunately is never a chore for me.

After Big Chill, we went to a pub called TC near the IIT Delhi campus. Zubin apparently knows the owner of the place and so we had no problems entering the place even though we had no female company, as usual if I may add. The atmosphere inside TC was quite good with rock music playing and the fact Zubin knew the bartenders on first name basis helped in getting the drinks quickly. The crowd poured in as the evening progressed and the place was soon buzzing. However, Sudhir and I had to leave to attend the wedding which was the main purpose of our Delhi visit, but we decided to come back to TC later in the night after marking our attendance and getting photos clicked at the marriage; clearly proxy was not going to work this time. We had the TC stamp on our wrists and so hopefully would be able to enter the pub later on in the night; as Zubin said, once a TC always a TC. Just when I was about to leave TC, a very cute girl entered TC and so I entrusted Arijit with the arduous task of ensuring the girl remained in the pub till I came back from the wedding.

At the wedding I met a lot of my batch-mates. The WTF-ers (which I think Anant to this day insists stands for Westside Top Floor) were in attendance in full force along with others like Jolly-paaji albeit without his phone, Supriya, Aditya and Kirti. I did the customary congratulating the couple and smiling for the group photo and then sat down with Rambo (who incidentally was mistaken by many to be the groom because of his attire) and Supriya to roll out my stock of PJs. Supriya, who I used to call Urmila in 6th term due to some now forgotten arbit reason, as usual made fun of my PJs, but I think she really liked them and was happy that thankfully something has not changed.

I was at the wedding for an hour or so as the non-alcoholic non-non-vegetarian fare was not exactly manna to my Bong taste buds. I headed back to TC where the place had become jam packed with people and where the cute girl was still there; Arijit sure knew his stuff.

The rest of the evening was the normal drinking and trying to dance attempt at the pub with the usual highlight being provided by Zubin and his interaction with unknown girls. The girl in question this night apparently had a dragon with 3 left feet and 1 right foot tattooed on her arm and when Zubin pointed out this anomaly to her, she called him weird; Zubin had an animated discussion with her boyfriend and after lot of gas and little action, the matter ended amicably. We stayed in TC till it closed for the night at around 3am and then we headed to the ComeSome food court in Nizamuddin railway station. The food there was just about edible and nor were there any kamsin kalis to write home about. Sudhir and I came back to our guest house at about 4am and already started planning for our next trip to Delhi.

On Sunday I met up with two of my friends from office, Sahil and Shishir, both of whom have recently quit the company. While Sahil has a mobile phone website startup company ( along with the usual chicken and egg curries, Shishir is preparing for the civil services exam in his efforts to increase his NPV.I spent the afternoon with them at the Castle 9 pub in CP and was happy to find that there exists in Delhi a middle and an upwardly mobile class as well apart from the High Society HS crowd I had seen in Saket the day before. Unwillingly I had to leave for the airport in the evening and thus ended my 2 day trip of Delhi; I think have already started linking the city enough to come back sometime later in the year, maybe during the Commonwealth Games.