I have to confess something before I go any further. I have been told (read accused) that I have Bong love pouring out of my pores. For my non-Indian readers, Bong is an endearing name for Bengalis, people who come from the state of West Bengal in India. So the incidents that I will write here, although truly heart warming, are also being written by a die hard Bong, who tries to see everything concerning Kolkata, in a very favorable light.
Having said that, we can now move on. I was going to Kolkata, the city where I was born, after 3 long years. I had left India with one child, was going back with two. My daughter was 6 and son was fifteen months. Although my heart was singing ‘I am coming home, coming home/Tell the world I am coming home’, I was busy making sure the baby didn’t scream bloody murder and the girl didn’t constantly kick the seat of the unfortunate fellow sitting in front of her. After eternity, I felt a sudden lurch in my tummy, it was a wonderful feeling really, because it meant we had begun our descent. Between crooning to the baby and reading the twenty third book to the daughter, I managed to glimpse outside the window. And my heart filled with an inexplicable emotion of joy, longing, love. The sweet,little houses down below, the lush green pastures, the silvery, serpentine roads, the tiny little bodies of water, the palm and the banana trees all were calling out to me. I didn’t live in Kolkata since I was 26, but no matter! Kolkata was the witness to my coming of age, my childhood, my youth, my falling in love! No matter where I live or how far I go, coming to Kolkata is
I was almost getting teary eyed with emotion when the baby started shaking his head and screaming. Ears were popping and that can be pretty uncomfortable for anybody, especially little guys. So romanticising Kolkata went out of the window, I got busy settling Ryan. Finally, the airplane parked, the ladder or whatever they do to get us down, was in place. The immigration was a piece of cake since I had filled out all the forms, without a single mistake! I really am amazing! Baggage collection was a different ball game altogether! There were literally thousands (I may be exaggeraing a bit) of people, completely oblivious of any personal space, was jostling each other, shoving and elbowing to get close the the carousel where the luggage was coming. I, like a mad woman, parked the carriage with the baby, spoke sternly to my six year old to stay right next to the carriage and joined the fun. But in vain, I was pushed away. I could have gotten into the spirit of the game and jumped right in but I had to keep an eye on my children, since I live in constant fear that somebody will take them. My husband calls me a helicopter mom, but that’s a different story!
When I was just about ready to cry in frustration, and ready to let out some choice expletives against my ill-mannered fellow Bongs, a man came to me and asked me for my luggage tags. He had the identification hanging around his neck, an official porter. Now, if you have grown up in India, you are taught at a very early age to watch out for con men, along with your ABC’s and 123’s. Never, ever let people make a fool out of you were my parents’ mantra when I was growing up. So the first thing I said to this man was ‘I have no Indian money, can’t pay you!’ He gruffly said this to me ‘Didi, I have been watching you for a while, trying to get your luggage while managing your children. You don’t have to pay me, just give me your luggage tags!’ Totally humiliated, I handed him the tags. Not only did he gather my luggage but pushed it for me while I pushed Ryan’s carriage till I met my parents waiting for me at the lounge. Without a word he turned to leave! I asked him to wait, got money from my dad and gave him. He did say it wasn’t necessary, but he took it.
My father and I went to the same university. He got his degree in Engineering and I got mine in English. I had to get my transcripts from the university so I went to the office. My dad came with me. I was a woman in the wrong side of 30, yet the clerks in the head office of the university made me feel like an unsure teenager, in a matter of minutes. Most of them were drinking tea, reading the newspaper or just chatting about Tendulkar’s century. One or, maybe two, were writing in a very important looking ledger. The lady who I had to talk to dismissed me quickly ‘Come back in 15 days, these things take time!’ she turned to her colleague to talk about the new pattern she was knitting. I got my cue, get the heck out!
Seething in anger, I followed my dad to a canteen to get him a cup of tea. ‘No wonder West Bengal is going nowhere, the work culture is terrible, no wait, the work culture doesn’t exist!’ I vented to my dad while he looked around him with a pleasant smile on his face. I knew I had lost him, he had gone back to his university days and I was going to have to listen to some fond memories. I didn’t mind, though, it was sweet. Its kind of fun that we went to the same school. He had his memories, I had mine! We entered the canteen which he frequented – a lot, as a young student. He ordered his tea and because the manager wasn’t busy, started telling him how he and his friends used to come to that canteen all the time. They spent some glorious days in that very place. The young manager was very sweet, asking him which year and all that. When his tea came and dad reached for his wallet, the young man stopped him saying ‘Oh no, don’t pay for it, it’s on the house. You have spent such good times here, its for all those memories!’
Me? I was melting, melting. Kolkata was working its magic on me again! I was very close to even forgiving the knitting lady, who should have been working on my transcripts. Very, very close.