September 14, 2011

Chaltey, Chaltey, Baaton, Baaton Mein

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

सुनिए, कहीये
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.


Niranjana said...

Is that a hand-pulled rickshaw in pic #3? I thought they'd been phased out?
And yes, interesting how cinema shapes our vision of a place and time. Reality was a lot more complex than the "good" seventies, eh?

Nona said...


Anil P said...

Niranjana: Yes, that is the hand-pulled rickshaw. I'm not sure if they've been phased out yet, but in late 2009 they were still around.

Cinema is critical to shaping impressions about a place. And, from what I hear of the 1970s from those who lived that decade as adults, they've many a fond memory of the decade.

And Bollywood scored songs in the 1970s that're timeless to say the least.

Nona: Thank you.

Lynn said...

That is just charming - I'll hear that music all afternoon. :)

Connie said...

Nice job with this post, Anil. It was interesting to see these glimpses into a quiet Sunday there. :-)

Riot Kitty said...

Interesting story about the names. I'd love to live near a neighborhood with so much history, too.

Mitr Friend - Bhushavali said...

Great shots. Esp. I loved the dog sitting in front of that closed shop. So candid pics... Came across your blog and loved it. Do drop by mine sometime...

Anil P said...

Lynn: Thank you. So you liked the song too :-)

Daisy: Thank you. It's a kind of quiet that's different from the one in Mumbai.

Riot Kitty: Thank you. Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) has too much history to it.

Bhushavali: Thank you. Nice to know you liked the posts here. I'll be visiting your place on the Web.

karen said...

Hi Anil! It has taken me ages to catch up on all that I have missed on your blog.. wonderful posts, as ever. I particularly enjoyed your interview on the blogadda site - has Part 2 come out yet?! See how far behind I am..

Anil P said...

Karen: Thank you. Always a pleasure hearing from you. Nice to know you liked the interview. The next part is out and is hosted at the same place.

Unknown said...

My mantra while traveling too. Wander, meander, talk, engage with locals. Love too sometimes happens. :)

Anil P said...

Curry Spice: Couldn't agree more. Destiny needs two walking feet as well :-)

Neeraj said...

Your pictures and description is making me want to visit Calcutta once again :)

R Niranjan Das said...

You have a wonderful travel blog.

Anil P said...

Neeraj: Thanks. And it's a city I would want to visit again as well :-)

R Niranjan Das: Thank you.

Jai Pangaonkar said...

your writing combined with the pics just transfers me to another world Anil. Your blog is chicken soup for the soul.

Indian Bazaars said...

The Calcutta you write about here is one that I've yearned to know again, having spent long summer vacations during school in this city.

A beautiful way to describe a quiet morning in a was great reading this!

Anil P said...

Jai P: Thank you. I quite liked the comparison you drew, and am glad you did not say '... for the mind' instead :-)

Quietitude reaches out in the strength and meaning of its silences, slowing pace down to just the size we can ingest and relish.

Indian Bazaars: Thank you. While there were some hurdles, by and large I liked Calcutta for many reasons, more so the older parts, where there's just the pace one sometimes desires.

You're lucky to have spent time in Calcutta from before. Hopefully you'll be able to experience the same landmarks from before.

Red said...

AP: Mebbe romance did blossom chaltey chaltey in trains, in those days. Gosh that was a long time ago n all. But likewise, I have only seen the mad rush of warm bodies.

But yeah I liked Hrishikesh Mukherjee's films. They were breezy. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I particularly like the breakfast table scene where AP's mom refuses the dad some butter, dunno why I think I'm getting my movies mixed..was it this one or Khatta Meetha ?

Anil P said...

An Iengar Chick: I belive it did. The pace then, as in slow and considered, might've made it possible. Space and Pace, the two key ingredients for romance to blossom.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee's films were believable, breezy but believable, and charming to boot. Each scene was memorable for its gentleness, and good humour.

It's inevitable, given the similarity of settings even if the cast of characters are different, there'd be some confusion in placing the scenes in his films.

An Iengar Chick said...

Space and Pace, the two key ingredients for romance to blossom.

Waqt hona zaroori hai, jagah ka pata nahin huzoor, Mumbai mein waise bhi jagah ki kami hai toh romance toh kahin bhi ho jaata hai, chalte chalte kabhi balcony se toh kabhi...

Anil P said...

An Iengar Chick: If there's space, and the pace is dheemi, there'll be waqt for romance, otherwise what's the use of making time (wakt)? :-)

As for balconies in Bombay, I doubt if new buildings will position neighbours' balconies together, that is assuming the flat owners will not convert their balconies into extended areas of their living rooms, so there goes opportunities for making introductions :-)

But yet, some manage, don't they? :-) Maybe their stars are aligned strongly enough to make it happen :-)

The rest, well . . .

Red said...

If there's space, and the pace is dheemi, there'll be waqt for romance, otherwise what's the use of making time (wakt)?

Spoken like a man!!! But I maintain isharon mein bhi Romance kiya jaa sakta hai, jagah zaroori nahin hai but Waqt rehte ! ~ from a womans perspective.

but yes Balconies are a thing of the past too ! and yes phir bhi thode bahuth bechare se dhablu manage kar hi lete hai :}

Anil P said...

An Iengar Chick: True, very true. Isharon is about subtlety, and subtlety is a language only learnt in less harried places, less harried times, for it calls for patience. A patience that's normally cultivated and reflected as a matter of daily living.

A megapolis which hurries and harries individuals all the time turns patience into a liability if one's to survive it, so there goes subtlety with it, and alongwith it ishaaron too :-)

But yes, there're exceptions like you said, and they somehoe manage. :-)

Red said...

What has pace got to do with romance, everything. But folks who want to, find a way. Like I said aint a issue at all, Anilji aapne shayad notice nahin kiya hoga ab bhi bheed baad ki zindagani mein ek Mumbaiyya ye sab kar hi leta hai ! Rly Stn, Bus stop, coaching classes etc, etc.

End of discussion :D

Anil P said...

An Iengar Chick: Like Bombay that never stops, so don't discussions about Bombay :-)

Folks do and will find a way, like you said :-)

Haanji, woh baat toh sahi hai. Koi koi ye sab kabhi kabhi pad letey hai, so thoda bahut motivation mil hee jaata hai :-)

But this is virtual space hosting these posts, so there's no issue of space, unlike Bombay that has no space, too much pace, so little grace in its fast pace, and there I rest my case :-)

But I'll let you have the last word :-)

Red said...

:) Yes you are right, I can't stop talking about Mumbai even after 18 yrs. My conversations start even today with "In Mumbai..", " When I was in Mumbai..." yada yada yada.

Its an addiction like none other and takes over your senses. And every person feels and lives Mumbai differently.

Tx for letting me have the last word perse. Thanks for the buzz :D

Anil P said...

An Iengar Chick: I think I might've liked the Bombay of 18 years ago more than the Bombay of today.

The reason being, accessibility is such a critical factor in determining if the potential of a city can be realised vis-a-vis a city resident. Often, increasing density, as in population, can negate it, simply because mobility, space to utilise the potential, latitude to imbibe the experience, energy to assimilate etc. are severely tested by tne need to survive the pressures density brings in its wake.

And often, in many ways, they trigger the downfall of a city in certain ways, though it'll survive in certain population centers, but the percolation will not happen, and certainly not down all levels.

To keep my word of letting you have the last word would mean this needs a response :-)

Red said...

Anilji: Agree on most counts, to be able to support the vast increase in population there would be a need for expansion which in turn ruins the infrastructure.

All I see around me now are malls, multiplexes and highrises. Public transportation seems to have gotten worser. One thing that hasn't changed is the fact that human life is still cheaper than moth balls.

Some 21 odd yrs ago I witnessed a havaldar kicking an accident victim muttering "idharich mar jaye toh sala aacha hai " at Malad Stn. Not much seems to have changed from then to now or so I've heard.

But still there is something about the place that I still romaticize about.


Anil P said...

An Iengar Chick: Like someone once said long ago, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

A friend of mine, a Bombayite to the core, now settled in Canada, once told me, "Bombay grows on you". She was right :-)

Red said...

That someone who said what you quoted must be a very wise one coz moi agrees with them.

BTW you had chivalrously agreed to let me have the last toh baaton baaton mein aap bhool hi gaye hai lagta hai.

khair chodiye. But yeah Mumbai is etched into me and now its diffy to take it out of my soul.

Mumbai takes a stranger and makes them her own. The city still has her eccentric antiquetted charm that no one can deny.

Anil P said...

An Iengar Chick: Bilkul yaad hai :-) The last word is yours :-)

Red said...

:D finally !

Anil P said...

An Iengar Chick: :-) :-)