fever a city can volte-face between its summers and winters, it is Calcutta. After the sweat and grind of the I past seven-eight months, winters here are heaven-sent. Suddenly a hot, sticky and volatile city becomes happy, mellow and exciting. Moods change, spirits rise and romance once again breezes in.
With the first hint of a nip in the air, woollies and quilts are unearthed and aired out on terraces and balconies along with the residual mothball smell (which never entirely disappears). This is the time when you wake up to misty mornings, rubbing your hands and blowing into it to keep them warm. Suddenly you get to see a flurry of activities on the streets, community parks or by the Lake where the old and young alike are out on morning walks or jogging… people donning monkey caps and intently engaged in animated discussions, dissecting the chilliness of the weather or the escalating costs of fish and fuel over hot bhanrer cha and fresh flavourful phulkopir shingara (cauliflower samosa).
And how can we forget the picnics? Every holiday and weekend sees an onrush of people towards the Victoria Memorial or the zoo or the botanical garden for a picnic, as if it’s a ritual. It is mandatory that there should be one community or club or office picnic where everyone travels by tempos and trucks along with cooking utensils, which peaks out on Boro Din (Christmas). This day has great significance in Calcutta. Park Street chock-a-block on Christmas. (File picture) One of my happiest memories is of sitting on the verandah and sunning myself with orange after orange, while my mother and aunts would go clickety-clack with their knitting needles (a dying art now, I am told) Mangsho-bhaat (mutton curry and rice) is the staple diet cooked over a wooden fire where everybody has a part to play in the cooking process. With so many cooks around, it inevitably acquires a tinge of a smoky burnt flavour that makes it all so special. After that, everybody gathers around to play cricket, badminton or Frisbee.
And talking of Calcutta winter, how can cricket be far behind! Everybody transforms into `experts’. Cricket matches are not only played on the field but even on the streets, terraces and in every lane and bylane. There are endless debates and discussions, critical analyses and expert opinions on the nuances of the game or on the frailties of the topmost players. Serpentine queues are seen in front of the Eden Gardens for tickets of international matches. Then all hell breaks loose as soon as the counters open. Needless to say, all tickets are sold out on the first day itself! It is the season that heralds a celebration. So there are numerous musical soirees, plays and exhibitions. The muchawaited book fair is one of these. Never have I seen so much enthusiasm for books as I have seen in Calcutta. The fair ground becomes a haven for intellectuals, semi-intellectuals, pseudointellectuals and not-so intellectuals. It is the hot topic of conversation in every tea stall, coffee shop and roll corner. People buy books, meet authors or just amble along sampling the marvellous street food. There are mouth-watering rolls, fish cutlets, mutton chops and ghugni. Let’s not forget the haloed phuchka.
The romance of winter ushers in the Christmas cheer. And this spirit seems to rub off on everyone. Suddenly, the city comes alive with lights and decorations. Christmas trees, Santa Claus, balloons, Bethlehem stars are seen in every nook and corner. Park Street becomes a veritable fairyland with lights from end to end. The streets are crowded and restaurants are overflowing. Practically every house is hosting a party or a family get-together because now is the time for alcohol to flow freely. And the plum cakes — all to die for! Plum cakes soaked in rum rapidly disappear from the shelves of Flurys, Dariole, Kookie Jar and Nahoum’s. Even small-time vendors sell plum cakes. And if nothing else, fruit cakes too rapidly disappear from shop counters. For what is Christmas without a cake? It is the kind of weather that whets the appetite and one can relish motorshutir kochuri with aloo dum or even the simple phulkopir chorchori with phulko luchi. All vegetables taste better. In fact, the gobi parathas and mooli parathas with a dollop of butter taste even better. One of my happiest memories is of sitting on the verandah and sunning myself with orange after orange, while my mother and aunts would go clicketyclack with their knitting needles (a dying art now, I am told).
Yes, winter changes the face of Calcutta — from listless to energetic, from somnambulant to vigorous, from cantankerous to romantic. It’s a feeling of a welldeserved holiday, as the strenuous year comes to an end with hopes of a new beginning… it reminds you of the Engelbert Humperdinck song Winter World of Love.
(Anjan Chatterjee is the chief of Speciality Restaurants).
Source: Telegraph India