Every time I visit Bengal, the land amazes me. It is so full of contradictions!
It has the best of brains but the atmosphere of most of the government educational institutions is not conducive to education, to put it very mildly. It has the best of doctors but an appalling public health service. It has tens of thousands of skilled workers but non-functioning industries. The carcasses of large manufacturing units at Howrah, Hind Motors, Dunlop and countless other places are mute testimonies.
Political interference has incapacitated the three areas West Bengal was excellent in: education, health and medium manufacturing industries. After over three decades of left front rule, people of West Bengal opted for poriborton- change and brought a government headed by feisty Mamata Banerjee in 2011, their eighth CM and the first woman to assume this office in West Bengal. After 7 years hardly anything seemed to have changed so far. The colleges are more chaotic than ever. Large and medium industries are shying away from West Bengal primarily because of the land acquisition problem, a not so encouraging work culture and fleece mentality of local politicians.
There is disillusionment and frustration among the people, although it has not really reflected in the results of the last assembly elections. There is a simmering discontentment and rage at the way things are going on. Darjeeling is on the boil. There are law and order problems and communal tension in the districts bordering Bangladesh.
But Bengal is an amazing land. It can turn around at the most unexpected way.
Kolkata is a foodie’s delight. It has all kinds of food to suit all taste and budget. The office pada street food stalls offer arguably the widest variety of food in the country at a rate no other city can match.
This time I stayed in Kolkata for three days. Thanks to the amazing friends I have in Kolkata I was taken a food trip for the three days. From breakfast to Flurrys in Park Street (which arguably offers the best English breakfast in the country) to authentic Bengali lunch with mustard hilsa to mutton biriyani in dinner at Shiraj’s the trip was more than soul satisfying.
But about one thing I always wondered- why is that Biriyani in Kolkata has a big piece of potato. I found no potato in the biriyani in Hyderabad, Lucknow, Delhi or any other place.
This time I heard a story regrding why biriyani in Kolkata has potato. It happened in Nawab Wajed Ali Sha’s sojurn in Kolkata. One day he had invited guests for sahi dawat. But it so happened that the required amount of mutton was not available on the day. The cook was at a loss. Then he used potato in the same way he used mutton in biriyani. The guests liked it. They thought it was some exotic vegetable in the royal biriyani. And thus, the humble aloo got a prominent place in the biriyani in Kolkata.
Bharatiya Vidya Bhaban and Sir Asutosh Mookerjee’s mustache
Bharatiya Vidya Bhaban, established by K.M.Munshi in 1938 is a country wide educational and cultural organization. It has two centres in Kolkata. One is located in the ancestral house of Sir Asutosh Mookherjee, who was known as ‘Banglar Bagh’- the Tiger of Bengal for his personality, knowledge and probably mustache.
I went there and met his grandson Justice Chittatosh Mookherjee, who was the Chief Justice of Calcutta and Bombay High Court. His father Ramaprasad Mookherjee and grandfather were also Chief Justices of various High Courts. I met Sir Asutosh Mookerjee’s granddaughter Dr. Rina Bhaduri, who was a Professor and keen to upkeep the legacy of Sir Asutosh in spreading education.
I learnt an interesting thing about Sir Asutosh from Subir Ghosh, author and Principal of Bhavan’s Mass Communication Centre. Sir Asutosh was also used to be known as Gunpho Saraswati. Saraswati- for the vast knowledge on several subjects that he had and gunpho because he had that prominent mustache covering the upper lip. In Odia there is a term for the kind of mustache Sir Asutosh had: torani chanka . It is difficult to translate the word or explain the meaning in English. Odias are fond of watered rice. The water which becomes thick as it is usually kept overnight- is called torani. It is the kind of mustache that filters the torani.
Sealdah is an interesting place. Here the market overflows into the street. You have to jostle through even while walking on the road. There are a row of shops selling marriage cards. On the opposite side you have a row of shops which sells astrological gems and trinkets. There are prominent advertisements of astrologers who claim to have all solutions of all problems.
I often wonder one of them should be made the PM of India. He/she will solve all problems of India.
Tailpiece 1: Astrologer’s Prediction
When the astrologer said that I was born for bigger things in life… little did I know his predictions were so accurate. I moved from M to L to XL to XXL to XXXL to…
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The author, a journalist turned media academician lives in Dhenkanal, a Central Odisha town surrounded by hills. He also writes fiction and radio plays.