Thursday, May 1, 2008

Calcutta

The week after Dubai, it was on to Calcutta. Jasvir was heading to Canada soon, so this was the best time for me to go to Calcutta to visit him and his parents. Calcutta was also my first foray to the East of India.

In Calcutta, I saw:
  • St. Xavier's (where my dad did his 12th)
  • Indian Museum
  • Victoria Memorial
  • Bengal Engineering College - Shibpur
  • Kali Temple
  • Botanical Gardens
  • National Library
  • Saturday Club
  • Howrah Bridge

I liked Calcutta for its greenery (there is none in Gurgaon and Delhi's greenery is sickly and dying). I also liked Calcutta for its slower pace of life and friendly people. It was nice to be able to walk around and not be 1) accosted by rude people or 2) cheated out of money, somehow.


It was also nice to see places of significance to my family. My dad spent 12 years in Calcutta. I can now relate more to his experiences having seen his high school and his college.

Victoria Memorial was the highlight of Calcutta because it gives visitors a detailed history of Calcutta and the British influence on this city. It really makes you believe that the British came to India simply to do business, and they found a country that just couldn't run itself and in the vacuum they easily took over.

The low point of the sights was Kali temple. It was dirty and crowded. I paid 100 Rs to a kid to show me around the temple, when in fact nothing was required. Inside the temple, some crazy quack Brahmin tried to read my palm and charge me 500 Rs for the fortune it told. I told him to get lost and I gave him 50 Rs. Then, as I was leaving, I saw something interesting. There is a daily ritual at the Kali temple where goats sacrificed to Mother Kali. This happens in the morning and evening. It just so happened that I was there in time for the evening slaughter, I mean "sacrifice".

But first, worshipers needed to pray to the stumps where the execution would happen. They actually put their heads between the two sticks where the goat's head goes. Their conviction was amazing, but crazy, to me, nonetheless. Then, the goats were brought in. Manjal was then applied to the heads of the goats - 3 in all. Two big ones, and 1 small one. Then the 'Brahmin' preist came in to the deed. First, though, I had to move. I was standing in front of the idol for Mother Kali. I won't go into the details of the sacrifice because it's not really pleasant.

At first I thought how barbaric this whole ritual was. Then, however, I realized that these goats were going to die and become mutton anyways. So, the slaughter was just made public and was done in honor of a goddess. Still, it was a sight I'll never forget.

I will need to make another visit Calcutta because I would like to go to the Sunderbans. The Sunderbans are about 6 hours away. It's hard to see tigers there, but still the forest atmosphere is nice, from what I've heard.























5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You kindled nostalgic memories in me! Some of my best years were in Calcutta. I learned to speak and dream (I am not kidding!) in Bengali. Saw countless Bengali movies spent weekends in Bengali friends' houses. It was a lot of fun. On a more serious note, ours was the last batch of stundents to graduate from BE College on time (1969). The Naxalite (comunnist) movement started right after that and for the following few years there was so much disruption in the classes and exams in BE College and other universities that students took one ear longer to graduate.

-dad

Anonymous said...

Another note: Each of our dorms had their own goat "sacrificing" place and one year, this place was right below my dorm room. Almost every afternoon they would slaughter a goat and if I happened to be in the room (either no class or bunked a class at that time) I could see the killing and hear the poor wailing of the goat. I have seen it so many times that I got desensitized to that scene. Sad though:-(

-dad

Anonymous said...

I also remember the Institute Hall because that is where we went on a Hunger Strike during my second year there. The strike was done because the security of the students in the neighborhood had become grossly inadequate; students were getting beaten up by jealous neighborhood gundas. The Hunger Strike was total. The entire campus students lived on lemon juice for 72+ hours. the dorm kitchens were only making lemon juice. Students took turn to sit in that Institute Hall to show solidarity. Students' Union directed the activity. Parents who tried to sneak in foods were sent back at the gate. Several students fainted and were admitted to the internal medical hospital. Finally the Chief Minister of Wet Bengal (equivalent to the Governor in US) visited the campus and promised immediate action to enhance security and the strike was ended. We had to resume eating very slowly to avoid shock to the stomach. Those were interesting times.

-dad

Anonymous said...

I still have a dream of going back and settling in Kolkata. Any mention of the place makes me feel nostalgic, flooding me with fond memories. I have spend the best years of my life there...Sometimes I feel that Delhi has made me quite insensitive....I cannot agree more with your views on Kolkata. People there speak to you with warmth, which I miss than anything else here....Hope someday my dream comes true.

Manjusha

Anonymous said...

U completely forgot the Sheesha lounge experience !!! U should write some more on Saturday club and Sheesha.. I am sure it was different compared to Delhi/Gurgaon !!!
I am glad you have similar opinions on Calcutta as most of us do. Even though people feel the city is laid back... it has its own charm and definitely one of the better cities in India to be brought up. Amazing schools and clubs !!!However, the city needs to be more agressive in getting private investment !!! Overall, I cant agree more with the comments posted by the others.

- Jas