36 hours in kolkata

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Let me first clarify that this is not a mandatory schedule, or a list of top not-to-miss attractions. It is instead how I spent my 36 hours in the city of joy—as a traveller, art enthusiast, and a volunteer, and ended up falling in love with it, despite the lousy weather, crowds, and advertised poverty.

It is an attempt to see the city with very personal eyes.

Kolkata aka Calcutta is not a world city. I would not even call it an Indian city. It is Bengali where the faces are round and everyone and all road signs converse in the native tongue, under a colonial mantle.

The mix, I would like to believe, is unique to it. On one side Kolkata is deeply indigenous when it comes to deities and festivals, and the arts and music. On the other, it nonchalantly wears its monumental British legacy with ease and a stiff upper lip. Somewhere in between, the city has become synonymous with charity.

36 hours is not really enough to absorb all that it holds in its folds. But it sufficed as an engaging enough introduction for me, and maybe does for you as well. 🙂 Continue reading

indian sculpture’s 1,500 year journey at the indian museum, kolkata

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A nondescript placard on the wall reads: “Buddhist Stupa, 2nd Century BC, Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh.”

I turn around and almost knock into a magnificent red sandstone 9-feet high railing and 23-feet high gateway, teetering in awe at its grandeur and proximity. It is covered profusely with intricate imagery of secular life and Buddhist teachings in 2nd Century BC India. Short inscribed labels in Brahmi script record the names of donors.

The monumental piece is nothing short of breathtaking. Much like everything else in the archaeology gallery of India’s oldest and largest museum, the Indian Museum located just around the corner of Park Street, Kolkata, and built in 1878 by the then British Raj.

Arranged in chronological rather than thematic order, the gallery showcases 1,500 years of India’s sculpture art, from which emanate its various schools and inter-linkages, in a seamless story.

Piqued? Come join me on a virtual tour of this collection under whirring fans, encased in a hot humid corridor in a Doric columned colonial edifice. 🙂 Continue reading

a pan-indian carrom board match: volunteering in mother teresa’s hospice

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“Show me your pass. Monthly or weekly volunteer?” A grey, wrinkled guard looks at me quizzically as I stand at the door drenched in sweat, my backpack weighing down on my shoulder.

“I don’t have a pass. I am not a volunteer.”

“Then why are you here?” At this point I am convinced I am going to be turned away and the thought of going back into the sweltering heat is a miserable one.

I am at the Mother Teresa Kalighat Home for the Dying in Kolkata on a day long halt on my way to Bhutan.

I look at him half pleading, half self-righteous: “I have come to visit.”

He points me to the door leading inside with a dismissive wave. That’s it? I feel I have just won an unnamed yet crucial battle. Grinning ear-to-ear with relief, I tiptoe past him and enter a huge hall with scores of low beds arranged in neat rows. It is empty save a couple of destitute too near to death to have the energy or will to rise. The rest are all in the dining area, taking a break. Continue reading