We stayed in the city of Jabalpur for so long that it never occurred to us that transfer was inevitable feature if you are working for Government of India. We were the outliers, having stayed for two decades in a same bungalow build during raj era time was unprecedented. It never occurred to us that eventually this was a temporary phase which got stretched way beyond normal duration. Our life in the cosy township of Jabalpur was our comfort zone and were dishearten with the news of my Dad’s transfer order to the city of Calcutta. We as family were bit lost how we will settle down in the big city like Calcutta. It was in the year 1992 our family shifted to Calcutta and in those days, I was stationed at Ranchi pursuing my engineering from Birla Institute of Technology.
When I visited Calcutta my mom and dad were already settled along with my sister in their new home. They were being allotted ground floor house at CGO complex, Belvedere road, Alipore across the road to Command hospital, Calcutta. Our house was small in size what we had at Jabalpur. It took us a while to settle down. We had a little kitchen garden with a good quality soil and were able to grow carrots and radish for our salad. My visits became more frequent to Calcutta since Ranchi was just an overnight train journey to Calcutta. Since my dad was posted at headquarters so we had more family time together. Especially during Durga Puja vacation it was first time we had pleasure of our Dad’s company at stretch for a week at home. Plus, the stress of work on him was comparatively less since it was no more direct involvement in industrial production environment unlike past. I never missed an opportunity to bring over my friends from college during my short visits to Calcutta from BIT Ranchi. My Dad use to make nice delicacies for us since Parkinson disease has restricted my Mom’s movement without support.
I got an opportunity to explore the city of Calcutta during my college summer vacations. I ventured out to explore the city and took all forms of public transportation available. I had all free time on the earth and went out to explore the city within my limited budget. Travelling on an electric tram within the city at a snail pace was fun. My dad’s office was located at walking distance from iconic Eden Garden’s stadium. We use to board ferry from Babu Ghat to reach across Howrah railway station. The view of Calcutta along with Hooghly river (distributary of Ganges river in West Bengal, India) overlooking Howrah bridge (also known as Rabindra setu) from ferry was panoramic in nature and simply breath-taking. From Howrah station we use to board local train to visit my college buddy Rajesh’s house at Hindmotor, Uttarpara (Municipality of Calcutta) where iconic Ambassador cars were being manufactured. Hospitality at Mr. Sharma’s house was the reason I use to make countless visit and many times stayed over for few days at Rajesh’s place. Period while we were stationed at Calcutta only yellow colour cabs used to be available for a ride across the city and all were Ambassador cars. Ambassador was manufactured from 1958 to 2014 with few changes in its outward appearance during production lifetime. Though the original design was from Morrison Motors Oxford, but this car was recognized as an Indian car for decades.
I have always been a fan of Hollywood movies and while visiting Esplanade which we can say is downtown part of Calcutta had lot of movie theatres. I always use to indulge in three things invariably while visiting Esplanade, eat road side chicken egg roll with Thums-Up, watch Hollywood movie and visit Oberoi Grand. Architect of this hotel which dates back to British Raj has always been a source of attraction for me. I use to take a walk around the lobby of the Oberoi Grand, knowing it well it was beyond my means to afford even a cup of coffee during my college days at Grand Hotel. Though I look forward to my next visit to Calcutta and would like to raise a toast at Chowringhee bar, Oberoi Grand Hotel. Calcutta was the first city in India to have metro train and in parallel it also had hand pulled rickshaw pullers too. I had the pleasure to venture out to explore the city of joy on a metro train, once in a while ride on hand pulled rickshaw and multiple times on local buses. Public transportation within the city was affordable for the common man. My fondness for books at reasonable price would land me at College street often.
Calcutta during summer can be awfully sticky and wet. Due to humidity we use to restrict our exploration during summer to vicinity of my house. We had few landmark buildings like Victoria Memorial, Taj Bengal and National Library at a walking distance. The best part was that we had lot of family time together which we missed immensely during our Jabalpur stay. We use to go for a long walk up to Victoria Memorial before dawn on Sundays along with our Pomeranian dog and enjoy the open space of Maidan area for running around. In comparison to Oberoi Grand, Taj Bengal hotel had much bigger lobby. Taj Bengal outlook was much modern but the touch of British aristocracy clearly reflects in the aura of Oberoi Grand. Couple of times we even went for a morning or evening walk to offer our prayers at Bhawnipore Gurudwara. Near the Belvedere estate we had a road side shop selling misthi dohi (sweet yogurt), rasogullah, samosa, kachodhi along with chai in kulhar (earthen cup). This shop was always filled with its patrons and the food preparation was simply mouth-watering. Whenever guests visited our place, my Mom use to assign me a task to get fresh samosas, rasogullah along with Mishti dohi from this shop.
My hide out was National Library which was barely three minutes walking distance from our home. I sincerely cherish countless hours I had spent reading at National Library. It has a massive classic collection of books covering wide variety of subjects. It is rather India’s biggest library which dates back to pre-independence days. Artistic bend of mind in Bengal is clearly visible the way they have maintained this library, out of box theme one is able to witness while visiting colorful pandals during festival time, literature, art and music is so well blended in this part of the world.
We had a second-hand fiat car and on some special occasions my dad drove all of us with great difficulty to an ice cream parlor at Princep Ghat near Vidyasagar setu which was opened for public in the same year 1992 when we came to Calcutta. Overlooking Hooghly river while eating ice cream was always a pleasure. Calcutta gave us an opportunity to rediscover ourselves as a family along with our family dog. Our adorable dog Tony was a great source of bonding within the family. Every member in our family was very fond of him. He lived for seventeen long years; he was our family well-wisher; my family took great care of him and in return he gave us unconditional love.
People of Calcutta are emotionally attached with sports especially soccer and cricket. Cricket is a sport which unify this country. I had couple of occasions to witness international cricket matches at Eden Gardens, stadium. Along with my friends we had first-hand experienced outburst of emotions which is unparalleled anywhere across the world, especially when Indian cricket team had registered victory or loss in the city of Calcutta. Though India in my life time never qualified to play world cup football, but still this tournament is celebrated as a festival here in Calcutta.
In India communist party have been elected in majority through democratic process multiple times in the state of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. While we were stationed at Calcutta, CPI-Marxist was at helm of affairs in the state of West Bengal under the leadership of Jyoti Basu who was a senior veteran leader of CPI-M politburo. He was also educated in England but was Marxist at heart and gave stability to the state of West Bengal during his regime. He governed the state of West Bengal for more than two decades as Chief Minister. Member of my community are greatly indebted to late beloved leader Jyoti Basu for protecting them when nationwide riots broke out in the year 1984. He was a competent leader and respected all across the Political parties within India.
My father got his transfer orders in the year 1994 to Head Ordnance Factory Dehradun. We could complete only two years of our stay at Calcutta. But those two years were very memorable and we as a family had a fond memory of City of Joy. Meanwhile I completed my engineering the same year(1994) and got my first job at Jamshedpur. I did get couple of chances to visit Calcutta for my official assignments, but they were never more than a day or two. I do look forward to visit the city of joy with my family again, which now is known by its new name Kolkata since 2001.
Written By – Yogi Bhogi Sardar