Oh! Calcutta

I was in Calcutta over the weekend. I like the city. I guess it was after some 15 years or so that I visited this eastern Metropolis where it starts getting dark at 5:30PM (during this part of the year) itself. Bits and pieces of this neglected city have changed – many parts remain the same. Cars are smaller and therefore quite numerous on the many narrow lanes. There is still a lot of seemingly hostile but good natured haggling over daily transactions, which I admire in this part of the country. A successful haggle results in an exchange of not just currency notes and coins – sweat and grime change hands too. The climate is quite humid and the Ganges is quite muddy furiously blushing at the confession of sins that it brings in all along it’s flow. I managed to fight my way using a few broken, mispronounced words in the local dialect and restrict a particular cab fare to 100 rupees instead of the 120 that was being asked for. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Speaking of coins, I guess this is perhaps the only major city where 25 paise coins are still in currency.  I felt nostalgic since the scene reminds me of my childhood spent in Eastern India – red soil, open spaces (on the outskirts of Calcutta now) and the relatively slow pace of life. And the fact that a 10 rupee note goes a long way here. While I did not board a bus, but was craning my neck to to catch a glimpse of the “cash fans” – the bus conductors here, fold up currency notes longitudinally into slim rectangles and use each gap between their fingers in the palm of their hand as placeholders – the gap between the index and the middle for fivers; the middle and the ring holding up the tens while the ring and the pinky holding on to the fifty rupee notes! I am not sure of this distribution – but I did not get a chance to verify. It looks (or used to) like an expensive fan. I saw this 15 years back and became a fan of wristy conductors. Maybe by now, with a change of government in West Bengal, the conductors have got shoulder sling bags made of leather like their counterparts in Bombay. Maybe not – only citizens of Calcutta that travel in busses can elaborate. The yellow toad-like taxis are everywhere – these run on (2 x reading + 2) meters while the white ones represent the privately negotiated OTC market. These are the dinosaurs on Indian roads – the Ambassadors. The dexterity of the drivers though would rival any accomplished drag racer anyday. Or Pokemon. Or Garfield.

Apropos my earlier post on the pani puri, I did manage to plop some puchkas down my maw. Awesome! Especially when the server kept plunging his dirty stubby fingers in the heavenly soup of pungent tamarind water. Meanwhile IFCI has cantered up. I wrote about it 3 months back on 05Jul’10 and while there does not seem to be any clarity around the digital event regarding its banking foray, the long term resistance has been broken and people are talking about it reaching the 90s pretty soon. I guess I’ll wait and watch for some time.

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About Kaushal
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