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Look who’s shining now!

Calcutta Shining has always been the slogan of this page and I’m honoured to have just completed three years on it. Writing for it every fortnight, helps me to relax, unwind and let Calcutta deeper into my system — though it often lacks one of its own! To you, who love the city or love to hate it, thanks for reading the column, and more importantly, thanks for reacting. Wherever I go, whom ever I meet, they invariably have something to say about something I’ve written. That really makes me Feel Good.

Time to continue our Calcutta Shining campaign. Ours is different from other Shining campaigns in three ways: one, we don’t use tax-payers money to propagate it; two, we never forget to highlight our failures and the areas in which the city has lost its shine; and three, we never do it for votes.

Let’s start our current Shining brainwash with our showpiece, the event that led this week’s Feel Good factor: ABV. Our ABV stands for A Brilliant Venue. The stretch behind the New Market, in front of the KMC headquarters, was indeed A Brilliant Venue for the Calcutta Carnival, organised by Concern for Calcutta recently. Though other Shining campaigns can boast of how many more kilometres of metalled road their ABV has laid in the last few years, our ABV, unfortunately, cannot. This Carnival has been organised over the last couple of years on the long stretch in front of the Market. This year, due to the underground parking construction work, we had to shift the venue. But, like other ABVs, ours too is getting better with age. It pulled in a large turnout of party workers and others at the rally in and around Chaplin Square.

Without inflating figures, like other parties do in these most gullible of times, I can assure you that several thousand people attended our fun-for-the-family-rally. What is noteworthy is that these numbers were achieved without arranging transport for our supporters and without paying them a single rupee as attendance fees. Yet they came from different walks of life. Many came to admire the flowers and vegetables on display at the Flower Show; some came to pick up Krishnanagarer maatir putuls and madoors from Murshidabad. Many came to gourmandise on the varied mouth-watering fare; some came to scrutinise the fair and lovelys.

Some came for something and went back with something else. My father-in-law and I went for the rock ‘’ roll — I for the rock, he for the roll! I wanted to hear one of my favourite bands, Krosswindz, perform; he wanted to have his favourite Nizam roll. I enjoyed the double-chicken more than he did, while Krosswindz won a new fan. Considering that he’s into jazz, Krosswindz should Feel Good about it. Nizam’s, on the other hand, isn’t Shining half as much as it was till the 70s.

But sitting on the street and tucking into a roll next to Chaplin Cinema with the whiff of many an unofficial urinal in the vicinity, brought back memories: memories of khiri and kati rolls that melted in your mouth; memories of Jamal’s voice ranging from a deep baritone to a shrill yell, depending on how urgent the order was. In fact, my fellow party hoppers and I voted more for ‘Bihar’ than for ‘Nizams’. We’d say ‘lets go to Nizams for rolls’, but we’d mean ‘let’s go to Bihar!’ For the uninitiated who may not have partied as hard as we did, UP and Bihar are bang opposite Chaplin, while Nizams is in the Society lane.

This is where the kati-roll was born in the 1930s. Today in spite of there being roll shops as far away as Perth and London, Calcuttans abroad still miss the original roll. One of them is so sentimental about his ‘roll man’ that he sends Jamal an annual 50-dollar tip and his salaams.

Of course, we let our taste buds roll on other fare as well. You bet we didn’t spare the prawn kabiraaji cutlets or the halim! If you want me to stop, because you can’t take it any more, not to worry! There’s another Calcutta Carnival on March 14, at the same ABV again.

I was most pleased that the audience was asking for more at the informal Calcutta Quiz I conducted at ABV. Part of the reason for the demand was that the participants were the audience. Every time someone answered a question, there was a prize. They answered almost everything I threw at them: ‘what great convenience were Calcuttans gifted on February 28, 1943’ — the Howrah Bridge or Rabindra Setu was opened; ‘what is Vat-70 in a country liquor or bangla modder dokaan’ — it is the best stuff available — one better than Vat-69!

The only ones they didn't have an answer for were: ‘what is common to Krishna Chandra Dey, Bankim Mukherjee, Ramtanu Lahiri, Tarapada Chakraborty, Jnan Goswami and K L Saigal’ — each has a part of Diamond Harbour Road named after him; ‘what in Calcutta got its name from one Chandranath Pal who owned a grocer’s shop’ — Chandpal Ghat, because boatmen and passengers bought groceries from his shop, which was near the ghat.

Besides fun and food, there was a ‘concern’ side too at the Carnival. President Khokon Mukherjee, his team and Extravaganza, who managed the event deserve special praise for providing a Feel Good opportunity to the often-neglected rural craftsmen of Bengal to sell their creations. I was quite impressed by the designer-candles being sold at the Silence stall. Silence, an NGO raises funds by selling handmade products made at their workshop. The profits are used to help differently-abled people by setting them up in life.

Pakistan returned

Another Shining moment was when the members of the TTIS Peace Mission to Pakistan were invited by His Excellency, the Governor of West Bengal, to share our experiences with him. We did. So did he: of his days in Lahore; of the time Muslims pushed his broken-down car while pre-Partition riots were raging in other parts of the country; of how Mohammad Ali Jinnah paid for his ticket when he was being thrown off a train.

The youngsters zapped their host, just like he zapped them. Deeptaman Roy sang the Pakistan national anthem that his principal, Bhakta Sunder Sharma, had taught him. His Excellency commented that this was probably the first time since Independence that the national anthem of another country was sung at Raj Bhavan and he was happy that it was Pakistan’s. He took the students on a tour of his palatial home, not forgetting to tell them all about Curzon’s Lift, the oldest in Asia; and how Bill Clinton’s security men didn’t allow their boss to use it; how Clinton apparently didn’t believe that Sri Viren J. Shah used the elevator six times a day; and how he did after the Governor used the lift and Clinton walked up the stairs.

All in all, it’s been another Shining couple of weeks as Calcutta abandons the stairs and takes the lift to progress.

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