Monday, October 21, 2013

Episode 2 - Taxi & Beyond [From P For Pheesh]

I have been writing a weekly column for the Bengal based site - - started by Derek O'Brien and associates since August 2013. I will be reproducing those articles here in my personal blog too. Here's part 2. [Original link]
For all the talk about the lazy Bangali enjoying life in slow motion with a cup of milky tea and the morning paper, Howrah Station is an anomaly. It is in a perennial state of motion. There's more energy and speed on the platforms than the trains that chug into the terminal. Standing on the platform feels like being in those fast forward scenes in the movies where things around one character seem to move at a much faster, almost cartoon like pace.
Once off the train, the usual sequence of events would be Dad following the coolie - who seemed to be in a constant rush to catch the next train, all the way out of the station. Mom holding on to me and my sister with both hands, bags strewn over all our shoulders, following in the blazing trail left behind by the coolie and Dad. Remember, this is much before the age of cordless telephones, let alone cellphones. One goods laden cart coming between us would mean losing sight of Dad, and a series of frantic Lost & Found announcements from the Inquiry office.
If this wasn't enough, the road to the taxi stand would be laden with the land-mines of private drivers – ever ready to take you anywhere from Belghoria to Bulgaria (lifted that from an old Kolkata newspaper tag-line) for free, and give you a chilled Frooti for the honour.
Finally, after tackling the crowds, keeping up with the Usain Bolt-Yohan Blake combination of the porter and my father, and tactfully dodging the driver's promises of flying chariots, we'd reach the official taxi queue - row after row of the iconic yellow ambassador taxis waiting for their passengers; the guy at the pre-paid taxi counter, playing his match-making role of assigning passengers to their correct cars with unparalleled efficiency and boredom.
The sun starts to get stronger in its fight against the wintry morning around this time of the day. The smoke from the nearby food stalls make the air thick, and the smells of the last shingara (samosas) and tele bhaja (vegetable fritters) from breakfast start to get replaced with the aroma of starchy steamed rice and the frying of the fish about to go into the curry.
We finally reached the front of the queue, paid the fare to Jadavpur and started to load our bags into the cavernous boot of a yellow pre-paid taxi...

Episode 1 - Let The Journey Begin [From P For Pheesh]

I have been writing a weekly column for the Bengal based site - - started by Derek O'Brien and associates since August 2013. I will be reproducing those articles here in my personal blog too. Here's part 1. [Original link]

"Oh, Bangali? Which part of Kolkata are you from?"
If I got a taka (or Rupee as the rest of India likes to refer to the currency) for each time I was asked that question, I'd feature prominently in Bengal's wealthy list by now. Just to put it in perspective, 96% of West Bengal's 91 million residents live outside of its capital. I happen to be one of those 87 million.
Growing up in Asansol - a steel-coal-rail town of West Bengal on the Bengal-Jharkhand border, Kolkata was 'the city' for us. Almost all of us had relatives in Kolkata, and that meant at least one vacation a year to the epicenter of all energy. I particularly remember the winter holidays to my mashi's place in Jadavpur. We'd start preparing for the two hundred-odd kilometer trip with the fervour of a journey to the poles and back. It would be an early lights-out the night before, as we had to catch the Agneeveena Express (then called the Asansol Express) at 5:30 in the morning. The excitement peaked as the auto wallah rang the door-bell, piercing through the calm of the wintry morning. After taking up our reserved seats and more importantly, placing the luggage in a carefully chosen location so that it would be visible from all angles, the chaa-jhal muri breakfast would begin. If it was a weekday then once we crossed Durgapur the "daily-passengers" would start streaming in, taking up half a seat at the ends of the four benches facing each other, and then tie the ends of a handkerchief to whip up a quick fix bridge table. Barddhaman was the psychological mid-way mark, and once we crossed that station, the countdown for Howrah junction began.
As we crossed Liluah - the penultimate station, the beeline for the door would begin. Everyone would start guarding their bags and other accoutrements with an added zeal, remembering to check their pockets every now and then. No sooner than the platform appeared by the windows, the coolies in their red uniforms and metallic arm bands would swoop down into the compartments, swiftly ignoring the single men and going straight for their target audience - families with large suitcases.
Finally the train would come to a standstill, the mad rush to be the first to get down on the platform would begin, and the next part of the journey would start - getting a taxi.