The Ganges, Calcutta and the Namesake

The SAJA Forum points to something interesting. NPR’s “Morning Edition” has been running a series called “The Ganges: A Journey Into India”. The entire audio and a series of diary entries from Reeves is available on the NPR website, along with photos by Heathcliff O’Malley. I found this one particularly interesting because inexplicably, Calcutta is (sort of) home. This made me chuckle, especially the last line:

But Bengalis see the place slightly differently: They also consider Calcutta β€” or Kolkata, as they now call it β€” to be India’s cultural capital and the habitat of an important species: intellectuals.

They refer in conversation to “intellectuals” as if they are a separate class, a professional category like generals or astronauts.

It is illogical that I should think of Calcutta as home in any way because I was born there but grew up in Bombay. I only spent a few summers there while growing up and I have not been there in ten years, ever since my grandparents died. But there are memories, albeit sepia-toned and a little fraying at the edges. Memories of crumbling houses, mango trees, swampy ponds, mosquito nets. And of mutton rolls, phuchka, jhal muri, malai curry, macher jhol, mishti doi, kheer kodombo (yes, food seems to figure prominently). But also of trundling trams; overflowing auto rickshaws; a warm sort of familiarity; gritty, colourful markets; the smell of Tangail sarees; and grandparents. I may have spent my childhood elsewhere but many of its most vivid moments were lived in this vast chorchori of a city.

While on this note, Mira Nair’s The Namesake brought the city alive for me and I could almost breathe the sweet, muggy air of my grandmother’s house again. Well, grandparents’ house but somehow I always think of the house as hers. She was plump and round and waddled when she walked. He face crinkled with laughter often. She made the most amazing Bengali sweets. As a child, I hated eating. She often fed me, deftly mixing the rice with curry and pickle with her white, freckled, spongy hands and spooning it into my mouth despite my protests, which usually subsided quickly. The food tasted so much better than when I fed myself.

Anyway, I am digressing again. The Namesake is an emotionally resonant and techically sound movie in any case but it is particularly brilliant in the way it capture the nuances of a Bengali family–the particular, understated expressions of love, the langorous kurta-clad air of the man, and, of course, the infinitely embarrassing pet names. You can read the reviews here and please go see the movie, if you haven’t already.


Filed under Culture, Film, Personal, Places

4 responses to “The Ganges, Calcutta and the Namesake

  1. OrangeJammies

    You may be porobashi, but if you’re Bangali, some part of Bengal will always stake a claim on your soul :0)
    It’s beautiful to have those memories… maybe you could write more about them?
    Have been planning to go watch The Namesake for a while… I’d better get to it soon….now that you’ve made me want to see it even more!

  2. Aarti

    hey, the qoute brought back some memories….remember how vijay accused bengalis and tamilians for believing that they are the only with a right to culture and knowledge??? aah!! good times!!

  3. Aqua

    can’t wait to watch The Namesake. funnily though it’s not listed on pvr’s show listings.

    I’m not bengali but having lived in calcutta for 3 years, it’s my fav city in india.

    since y’re in blore, you must try “gupshup” the new joint above ‘6 Ballygunje Place”…it promises authentic cal rasta food…unlike what you get in blore ‘paapri chaat with shredded carrots’…eeeeeks!

  4. N

    OJ: You must! And yes, I often think of writing about them…

    aarti: Yes, I do! Sometimes, I wonder if it’s actually true…what do you think? πŸ˜‰

    aqua: As far as I know, it’s not showing at PVR. I saw it at this horrible excuse for a multiplex called Innovative in Marathahalli. It is also showing at Rex though…

    Thank you for the info! Will check it out post haste πŸ™‚

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