When I first started reading Kalkatta Chronicles, published by Readomania, it was with the expectation of vicariously visiting a city I had only known about from afar. The various stories I had heard led to a yearning within me to visit the stately capital of West Bengal. Unfortunately, a lack of opportunity kept me away. With its rich literary, cultural and historical heritage, the city of Howrah Bridge and Victoria Memorial has always been an enigma.
Supriya Newar’s Kalkatta Chronicles not only offers a tour of the city that’s always been a distant dream for me but also proves to be an amusing read – one that brings to life the flavour of a bygone Kalkatta.
The first story is such that it will bring back memories of the cage-like cubes that were called lifts and operated by a liftman who would most often be missing. This particular story may well have played out in any building but somehow the language and the tone is such that it would transport you to the city that the author grew up in.
And this feeling of nostalgia and deja vu comes through in each story. The stories may well be set in an unfamiliar city but the tales they tell are universal. Memories of covering your books with brown paper or filling your pen with Royal blue Chelpark ink come rushing to mind. And while a bespoke tailor who waltzes in at his fancy may not be familiar to you, the feeling it evokes is one of you having experienced it closely.
My favourite part of the book has to be the chapter titled Chhuk-Chhuk Gaadi. To say that it brought back myriad emotions would be an understatement. Vivid images from my own childhood flashed through my mind as I read the author’s travel experiences. Train journeys that led to small indulgences at the A H Wheeler stalls, inane conversations with strangers, vendors clanging the metal opener against the glass bottles as they strolled through the train cars looking for customers, and arithmetic problems put to children as two trains crossed each other are some of the incidents that one relives through Newar’s vivid words.
The many stories will take not only those from Kolkata down memory lane but also those who may have grown up miles away from it. It, of course, retains the distinctive Calcutta flavour and serves it up in a flavourful mish-mash that’s sweet, spicy, and fragrant, just like the famous Sandesh.
Images and memories in the form of stories evoke the feeling of warmth and joy, making this not just an interesting read but a celebration of what was once Calcutta.
The book isn’t just a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the memories last well into the present moment long after you’ve put the book away. The feeling it leaves behind is not much different from the one you get when the car has moved farther down the road and the reflections in the rear-view mirror have faded away into the distance.
It definitely is a must read for someone who is familiar with Kolkatta and also for those who’ve never been there. For not having visited Kolkatta doesn’t haunt me as a regret anymore.
The book, along with the varied characters and stories, amuses and reminds me of their as well as the city’s idiosyncrasies. The thought that I’ve already been to the city, thanks to Kalkatta Chronicles, crosses my mind.
And, as Supriya says, ‘it’s the thought that counts the most.’
A faint smile, a taste of joy, and a memory that you cherish – that’s Kalkatta Chronicles for you.
Did you enjoy reading the review? Which is your favourite book based on a city? Do share your thoughts and comments via the comment box below.