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When I was in college, my friends and I used to religiously make trips to Calcutta to experience the much needed balm of civilization and exhilarating freedom that one experiences only when one crosses the threshold from teens to twenties. I also worked in Calcutta for almost two years after graduation and the city remains my long time muse.
I write a photoblog in collaboration with An Observant Owl and I was going through some old notes because I needed to write something for his upcoming galleries on the streets of Calcutta. That was when I thought of this one poem I'd written about my relationship with the city some years ago. When I wrote the poem I wasn't living in Calcutta and what I felt was definitely colored by homesickness and nostalgia but I'd like the reader to understand that after three years of leaving Calcutta, none of the sentiments expressed on the poem ring false for me and I miss her just as much.
Here it goes:
It was love at first touch.
Your roaring pulse in my hand –
Was the symphony of engines droning,
Harmonizing with the shivers
The river –
Sent up your spine.
Pop Quiz: How many nuts and bolts went into this cantilever beam shaped like a perfect parabola?
None. It is riveted. So am I.
An awestruck puppy –
I still stick my head out every fucking time,
Oblivious to the milling, jostling multitude.
I don’t love you for your bhadralok or the machh or the mishti,
It is the stories in folds of your saree.
I sit down with a cup of cha and you will always tell one –
Or make one out of me.
I can’t decide if you’re perpetually stuck in a bad tempered adolescence –
Or are you a wizened withered witch.
I love your sweet sick smell of horseshit and scum and how you parade your poverty
And then you’ll turn around and dazzle me with your intricate delicate richness.
You are convoluted –
Full of ironies and paradoxes –
Stuck in a time warp –
And trying to break free –
Unsure of where to go and what to take along.
When I stumble, you understand
I breathe you and I calm down.
Your warmth, your flavors, your smells, your rhythms, your stupid obsessions, your nonchalance, your stories all feel like
I could finally come home
And hold you
And go to sleep.
That’s how we’re strung –
Like I said, it was love at first touch.
While some of the experiences described are are experienced by majority of people who have lived in or visited the city - anyone will tell you how crowded or dirty it gets or the wealth of colonial buildings that lend an aura of bygone era to the city. Then there are other experiences that are deeply personal. The very beginning describes my very first encounter with the city when as first year college kids we got off the local train at Howrah station and walked to the Howrah Bridge. We just stood there with our hands on the railings and let the sensations of the city wash over us. Also I'm an engineer so I love to geek out - even in poetry. It's riveted.
I hope you enjoyed the poem. I sometimes get the feeling that it works better as performance piece and its better to listen to it rather than read it. I'll get around to that someday.
 Bhadralok: Cultured gentry
 Machh: Fish
 Mishti: Sweetmeats
 Saree: A garment consisting of a length of fabric elaborately draped around the body, traditionally worn by women from South Asia.
 Cha: Tea