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Calcutta tip from Coco Chanel

Two former Calcuttans, one settled in Mumbai and the other in Delhi. Both have written books on the city they grew up in, one making us fall in love with New Market all over again and the other going beyond Calcutta and weaving in Nandigram and other parts of Bengal into his cityscape.

Actor Jayant Kripalani and journalist Indrajit Hazra discussed their books, the city’s underbelly and some very Calcuttan qualities in a session titled Woe Calcutta. They were in conversation with journalist Sandip Roy.

“I’ve grown up with them (pimps and prostitutes). We used to fly kites together as kids. So I never thought of them as the underbelly,” said Kripalani, going on to narrate how he and his wife once bumped into a pimp on Free School Street who turned out to be his one-time acquaintance!

For Hazra, talking too much about underbellies is a whole new cliche and “ I stay away from cliches”.

As the two speakers dissected the city’s pluses and minuses, Kripalani quoted Coco Chanel: “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.” That, felt the author of New Market Tales, should be Calcutta’s attitude.

Kripalani professed to be as much in love with north Calcutta. “I prefer the architecture and streets of north Calcutta. I love its theatres too. I wish I was born in north Calcutta instead of the New Market area. Then my book would have been different,” he said.

For Hazra, author of Grand Illusions..., the city is not an isolated entity. “The edges of Calcutta are bleeding into Bengal and there is a lot of Bengal in Calcutta. It may try to be an isolated island but it is not.”

Both authors said they loved Calcutta but did not miss it. “It is like coming to your mama-bari,” said Hazra.