Behind the dwellings and commercial establishments on Nirmal Chandra Street are more dwellings along narrow lanes that convey residents along to their homes. The lanes are wide enough to let two residents pass each other but not if a two-wheeler were to be parked in the way.
From the road there’s little to indicate the layers that wrap neighbourhoods along tight lines, only relieved by brightly painted doors and windows and lanes sectioning them into blocks while cutting through the neighbourhood.
Into one such neighbourhoood we had sallied forth on a winter morning in Kolkata. When we turned left into a lane branching off the Nirmal Chandra Street the Sun had just about managed to rise above the street-facing homes to light up the houses behind, and it was barely an hour shy of noon.
Around a scooter parked in a lane connecting homes, four school going children had gathered, likely discussing their plan for the day off from school. Sundays are unusually quiet in the older parts of Kolkata.
There’re few people about in the morning, and those who’ve stepped out for an errand or accompanying another for public service exams usually conducted on Sundays will meander about or bask in the winter Sun reading newspapers roadside.
In the winter Kolkata embraces the Sun early in the morning. It’s no use turning to the clock to confirm if it’s still night, not when the winter dawn stirs at a time when it’s still night elsewhere. It was the farthest we had traveled east. And it was the earliest we had seen the Sun rising.
Except for men bathing around a water tank on a footpath along the BSNL – Entally Telephone Exchange building, and later around another water tank in Monilal Saha Lane, there were few people about, among them a barber who had set up an impromptu shop at a street corner. Round the corner behind him the street ran empty.
On Sundays the shutters of most shops along the road were still down with a few exceptions like K. C. Mookerjee & Sons. The Iron & Hardware Merchant probably had a tradition dating back from 1836 to keep alive.
Chatterjee Paul & Co. were probably under no such compulsion and it’s likely they dated back just as far back in time as K.C. Mookerjee & Sons did. Alongside Nirmal Chandra Street, Chatterjee Paul & Co. had also listed Wellington Street, the original street name. If anything, mails addressed by the former name would still find its rightful way.
Chatterjee and Mookerjee are Bengali Brahmin names, a formidable community in the Bengali cultural landscape, admired and respected for its contribution to the Arts, as ubiquitous as the famed yellow Ambassador taxis. And like with most non-Bengalis, those from my generation and from the one before were first introduced to the names Chatterjee and Mukherjee courtesy the classics both filmmakers entranced the Indian audience with, their middle of the road cinema tapping into the goodness of India that Indianness is often associated with, or at least used to be.
While Hrishikesh Mukerjee moved the Indian masses with Anand, Chupke Chupke, Gol Maal, Anupama, Abhimaan, Guddi, Khubsoorat, Aashirwad, and Bawarchi, Basu Chatterjee tapped into the everyday India of his time with the timeless films Rajnigandha, Chitchor, Choti Si Baat, Khatta Meetha, Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, and Baaton Baaton Mein among others. Together they defined a culture and froze it for successive generations to tap into while reminding those of their generation of an India of before, of the 1960s, of the 1970s. Their themes move me still, and the songs even more so.
I first imagined Mumbai local trains from Basu Chatterjee’s 1979 hit, Baaton Baaton Mein, and as a kid I actually believed that romances blossom in Bombay local trains after watching the kindly Uncle Tom introduce the Bandra Boy Tony Braganza to Nancy Perreira to the background score of Suniye Kahiye, Kahtey Suntey Baaton Baaton Mein Pyar Ho Jayega as they travel from Bandra to Churchgate on the Western Line. It was not until much later I learnt that the reality of Bombay of my time was very different from that of Basu Chatterji's time when it was still possible to fall in love Kahtey Suntey Baaton Baaton Mein.
It’s a song I never tire of, an imagination I’ve never abandoned, an era I indulge myself in through films of the time, yes, of a time when Nancy’s mother, Rosie Perreira, initially apprehensive of letting Tony marry Nancy since he was earning only Rs. 300/- per month, finally relents to the match upon learning that his pay would increase to Rs. 1,000/- per month after his probation period.
Suniye Kahiye, Kahtey Suntey Baton Baton Mein Mein Pyar Ho Jayega
कहते सुनते बातो बातों में, प्यार हो जाएगा
ये पहली नजर का, उफ़ क्या असर है
तुम्हारी कसम डगमगाए से हम है
नहीं जिस पे काबू, ये हैं कैसा जादू
मेरे लिए तो, सच भी भरम है
घटा, चाँद, बिजली, बरखा, पवन में
शामिल हो तुम मेरी हर कल्पना में
तारीफ़ मेरी इतनी करो ना
उड़ने लगू मैं, कही आसमां में
तुम्हारी अदा है, वो सब से जुदा है
चाहा हैं तुम को इसी वास्ते
हम बेखबर है, तुम बेसबर हो
उस पे हैं देखो नए रास्ते
It’s perhaps indicative, and maybe even instructive, of the streets and the city of how signboards will sometimes chaltey, chaltey remind the traveller of an entirely different context and baaton baaton mein hee transport the meanderer back in time, to once familiar signposts.