Mishti Doi : Kolkata Diary

Dr Ksh Imokanta Singh *

Myriad reasons for travelling .. But it makes one grounded, adjustable, understanding and many more .. It dispels Frog-in-Well syndrome .. Especially for stagnant people like me.. In fact there seems to be no negative points, except for reducing bank balance .. But is that negative thing ? Spending on oneself and others .. It's enjoyable in this age of G-pay etc.

U keep scratching the screen until you are broke .. there are shady people who despise this e-revolution, saying they prefer cash payments .. Beware of such people.' That was how I updated my Facebook page, with some emojis, the evening after we came back (the last few lines were added as extra beat (Manaokhatpa) to tease and irritate those people).

This time it was Kolkata (Thanks to my colleague Joyrita, Deputy Resident Commissioner of Manipur Bhawan at Rowland Road for letting us stay; Bikom and Bebe for hosting us, feeding us, arranging conveyances and most of all making us feel it like home away from home; and Uttam and Jamshed for driving and showing us around).

This time it was solely for authentic Bengali food, street food (Panipoori, chaatpapdi, Jhaal muri etc.) and fun. Kolkata is not new to me at least. I have been coming here since 1991 (as if I come quite often here). Other visits were meant to be for some specific purposes including official ones which were for one or two days. How much one can learn of a big city like Kolkata in such a short span ?

Every time I come here, I am lost in the Bhool-bhulaiyaa (maze), especially with the rapid infrastructural development. My wife and children had been insisting that we should go to nearby Kolkata just for having some good time, if not Singapore, Bangkok, Bali etc.

When 2023 came I decided that this year should be meant for travelling, probably as new year resolution to distract myself from being sweetly stagnant like Mishti Doi (sweet dahi, a Bengali dessert) and also diesel engine, especially in the winter. So, I went as a producer, documenter and a happy appendage of the tour. We had two full days in our hand which meant a few select places to see.

Kali Ghat Kali temple and Dakshineswar Kali Temple were reserved for my wife. Zoological Garden, St. Paul's Cathedral, Birla Planetarium, Science City and Eco Park for all four of us. The rest of time for the cardinal exercise of shopping. One common thing in all the places we went was people, lots of people.

My wife has been trying to extract some power from the godly world, so Kali for her. In Kali Ghat, we experienced both the entrepreneurship of Kali runners which my wife happily termed as 'spiritual karbarwala' and the magical influence of the Goddess and crowded temple. Dakshineswar was comparatively more peaceful and grander, as per her assessment, except for those shop-keepers shouting for customers to buy puja samagri.

From the queendom of Goddess, we came to the kingdom of animals, including Homo Sapiens. Happy to see our own Sangai (brow antlered deer), though with barren ground and a very small creek (iram) which badly replicated the floating natural home at Loktak Lake of Manipur. The main attraction was the Bengal tiger, facing the visitors and giving photo opportunity to them.

Alas! the poor animal seemed to be visually worn from the constant human gazes. The shabby lioness (or was it lion without mane?) was also furiously growling, with grooved belly, reminding me of the Discovery, Animal Planet and Planet Earth channels. Alongside, Homo Sapiens had their own good time picnicking, putting their meals on the widely spread bed sheets.

At the end, I wished the zoo had been somewhere beyond the hustle bustle of city, beyond the high rise buildings which genuinely dissipated the feeling of being with nature. St. Paul's Cathedral was simply overpowering. Escaping from the din of the street, entering the prayer hall, standing there in pin drop silence and connecting to myself for some moments was peaceful, to say the least.

After this spiritual sojourn, we moved to the kingdom of celestial bodies, the Birla Planetarium, the Tara MandaL Planetarium at day time, the antithesis of day time itself, trying to prove that stars are still there during the day time, challenging the power of the Sun. It tried to show us humans' curiosity to discover and then capture the space, imposing our known images on them, in the form of constellations, be it that of hunter's or bear's.

Then, I did not know what the end was since I went to the dream world since they created the ambience of what night should be. The real night was approaching when the city became alive. We had to give in to my son's passion, Malls. Time for Forum Courtyard for three of them. What could I do while waiting for them ? Lo, there it was, the Netaji Bhawan just across the road.

It turned out that the time was not right for appreciating fossils and museums but for real and kicking activities. I had to satisfy myself with some quick clicks of the car (alone and also with me) Netaji used for the great escape on the night of 16th& 17th January, 1941, the Audi made Wanderer BLA 7169. What a timing I wondered later. I was fortunate enough to visit him on the 6th January before his escape, on a lighter note.

Since the whole Kolkata was kicking, we thought why should we be left behind and we also started kicking with food and of course some drinks (soft for kids and not so soft for adults). When the ship was let loose, winds of creativity automatically blew in. While in Bengal, do as the Bengalis do.

Chirodinitumi je amar; jugejugeamitomari ... came out effortlessly. Surprised, one of my Bengali hosts asked me, `Do you speak Bengali?' I did not know what he felt about my singing and pronunciation but I was literally flattered, though I did not tell him that I had been mimicking this song for quite some time without really knowing the meaning but for the sake of being a die-hard fan of Kishoreda (I started sensing how, sometimes, Bengali letter 't' was spoken as `to').

Morning follows night (or is it so?). Next day started with the Science City where we continued with what was not covered in the Planetarium. We chilled out in the Arctic, enjoying sledges with reindeers and sled dogs, driving with snow vehicles and bedazzled by the Aurora Borealis, with 'Life under the Arctic Sky 2D' at the Space Theatre.

The Eco park came calling then. Such a huge one with equally huge lake, that too within the city boundary. It served as a valve to absorb tensions of all sorts. Just walking beside the lake, where springs played with lights of various hues, was enthrallingly refreshing. Also, the Seven Wonders at one place! They stood there making us wonder and wander. The day was wound up with shopping at the new Bazaar.

Coming back, we passed through the Park Street, still bathed in the Christmas lights. We were surprised by the Christmas decorations in many places also other than Park Street, especially in a city where Christian population was negligible. Our companion Jamshed cleared the air saying that the city was decorated for every important festival, be it Durga Puja or Eid or Bara Din.

A secular or religious move of the Govt ? May be people's move. My daughter, a fashion (trend) aficionado, has been keeping her watchful eyes on the women (poor men!) on the street and places wherever we went. Finally, she burst it out aloud, 'Bengali women are not that beautiful and trendy enough as compared to Manipuri girls and women.'

Surprisingly enough, I was thinking on the same line. Where had all those Bengali beauties gone ? The last night was planned for the Bengali delicacies at the Bhawan. Main course was the famous Ilish Macher Jhol with mustard seeds. It was yummy indeed.

Time for flying back home the next day, from the ocean to our sweet pond. We carried back our experiences and memories and most of all, the core Bengali item, the Mishti Doi. Why Doi sounds so familiar to me? Because I call my daughter Doi (from Thoi).

* Dr Ksh Imokanta Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 19 January 2023.

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