If there is a season that particularly suits Calcutta, it would be that of the rains. As the downpour further blackens the faces of decaying buildings, roads turn into heaving brown oceans, and the smell of telebhaja mixed with that of the gutter comes in waves, the lethargic Bengali spirit gets a shot of life. It is the opiate flavoured time — forget work, a rainy day is time for chilly chicken (dry) accompanied by rum and Coke, and, of course, adda. Adda and work are two antipodal points in the Bengali imagination, and given the frequency with which one comes across the former word, in radio and TV programmes, magazines and movies, nobody can dare raise any doubt about the great Bengali laidback spirit.
This spirit is fattened on nostalgia for all things gone or going — from the songs of Hemanta and Kishore, somnolent afternoons, ilish cooked by mother, Coffee House to Darjeeling. For those not belonging to the club of belatedness, this obsession can create strange problems. My father had a habit of listening to songs of Jaganmoy Mitra, Talat Mahmood and Hemanta while staring out of the window at nothingness. The melancholy notes of these songs invading every corner of the house meant that my father was in the mood, which was not to be disturbed in any way. Once my sister had inadvertently lifted one of these cassettes from my father’s trove to listen to on her morning walk. She was back within 15 minutes, spluttering red-facedly that she had her legs in knots trying to match her stride with the songs, the weepiness of which unravelled in interminable, gloopy loops.
If nostalgia really makes people feel warmer (as a recent study has shown), then Bengalis in general and Calcuttans in particular are hot. After all, the ability to cherish absence and loss is inextricably linked to the art of loving, as the archetypal lover, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (equalling the might of our very own expert in the field, Devdas Mukherjee), would testify. Replacing Paris with Calcutta, all Bengalis can proclaim to their Neeras boarding the goodbye-forever flight with Bogartesque aplomb, “We will always have Calcutta.”